Happily-Ever-After = Marriage?
Do we still expect a romance novel to end with a proposal or marriage? Rachel Dove talks about reader expectation, how some much-loved books have dealt with this subject and how times have changed.
Now, as Beyonce says, if you like it, you should've put a ring on it.
In romance novels, we kind of expect the Happily-Ever -After, but does a proposal still stand in modern day society?
I asked readers from Facebook's The Book Club, and the answer? A resounding no. One reader even astutely said that they thought that the characters being in love at the end, after the conflict, was more important than a proposal, and some readers even thought the proposal a little stale at times.
Take some classical and modern romance books and see how they end. Gone With the Wind - no proposal at the end, in fact, he leaves her. Twilight is more traditional even with the vampires added in: virgin bride, impregnated on the honeymoon. Romeo and Juliet, they marry but then die. Wuthering Heights, they die. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, no proposal, and well...you know.
Does the lack of proposal detract from the book? No, not at all. I bawled like a baby through most of them.
Some sub-categories need the proposals, depending on the era of the setting, take historical or heartwarming. They have to be true to the morals and ethics of society and the characters within them, so it would be unbecoming for them to 'live in sin'. Their characters would see marriage as a right and natural progression, and I believe that this is true to their devoted readers.
In modern day society however, a contemporary romance novel would be less likely to feature a proposal at the end of the book. Often, the characters get together at the end, fighting off horrible ex partners/love rivals/work issues and whatever other conflicts keep people apart as they do in real life. After three dates, a person is more likely to produce a condom than an engagement ring, and this reflects society's more open outlook on dating. We live in wonderful times, where same sex marriage is not only obtainable, but is also championed and written about by many authors, and rightly so.
Our world gets bigger by the day, more people have children later, or not at all. Women are freer than they have ever been before, and we are still banging on those glass ceilings and fighting for our rights. Do women want that proposal to be validated as a person, as they did in history? Does a man of good fortune still feel in want of a wife?
I remember in my twenties thinking how archaic an institution marriage was, and now I sit here in my thirties, wedding band and two children later, blubbing on the couch to Don't Tell the Bride. What changed me? Love of course. Family, too. But more importantly, compromise.
Pride and Prejudice is a prime example of conflict resolution ending in a proposal. Mr Darcy is haughty, snobbish and dour, and Elizabeth is fiery, independent and stubborn. It would have been a very boring (and short) book if they had simply met and married after a short courtship. Who would read it? We readers will the characters to get together, but we love the journey. We scream at the pages, want to bang their heads together, and swoon, clap and cry happy tears when they finally cave in and tell each other that really, they quite fancy the pants of each other.
So, I think a proposal is very much dependent on the characters and their journeys, or the demands of the time, rather than just that it is expected nowadays. It is very much the love conquers all that we want to see, the fact that no matter what, they will be together and face the world hand in hand.
Not all of these stories end with the relationships intact, but the love leaves an indelible mark on our hearts. With over one in three marriages ending in divorce, it's a big reason to root for the love to blossom, bended knee or not.
Rachel's latest release, The Flower Shop on Foxley Street, is out now. For more information check out her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
How do you feel about proposals and marriage at the end of a romance novel? Are they necessary for a happily-ever-after or is knowing the couple will stay together enough? Tell us in the comments or use #PutARingOnIt on Social Media to join the #PHS community's conversation on this topic.
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