I am delighted to welcome Dick Anson to my web site today, on the fourth day of his ‘The Woman Who Made Me’ blog tour!
Dick- it’s over to you…
“The Larger Picture”
What’s the most popular romance novel of the past 100 years?
People who collect statistics about such things are going to tell you it’s Margaret Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND, and not many people would disagree.
But why is it so popular? It doesn’t even have a romance novel’s traditional Happy Ending. Scarlett and Rhett go their separate ways in the final chapter after sharing so much passion, excitement, conflict, and hope. What a downer for readers who’ve been caught up in their love story for more than a thousand pages.
Well, a big part of GWTW’s popularity may be due to the fact that it’s love story doesn’t take place in some static, isolated, stage-set fairyland that could be anywhere (or nowhere at all, for practical purposes). It’s set against the vivid Blood and Thunder background of the American Civil War and its aftermath. The Greatest Calamity in the nation’s history. A war that shattered the society of the Old South and impacted the lives of everyone caught up in it—including Scarlett and Rhett. This Larger Picture gives their love story an emotional resonance that makes it seem really important to readers.
The same can be said for several of the classic “Great Novels” of world literature written by acknowledged Literary Giants. Like Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, set against the chaotic background of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia. Boris Pasternak’s DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, which takes place during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War. And William Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR, playing out during Napoleon’s disruptive conquest of much of Europe.
Funny thing, though. Each of these Masterpieces never quite comes off as an effective love story made more compelling by its larger historical setting. Because, for reasons unknown, the Literary Giants who wrote them insisted on filling them with less-than-inspiring main characters.
For example, Tolstoy made his aristocratic lovers total airheads who never had the foggiest notion of the significance of the social chaos they were living through.
Pasternak insisted on carrying his story of love and frustration on the weak shoulders of an “Ashley Wilkes-type” main character.
And how many pages of Becky Sharp’s irredeemably self-centered bitchiness can we put up with before wearying of Thackeray’s novel?
Only the “amateur novelist” Margaret Mitchell makes it all work for us. By building GWTW around lovers we can’t help caring about. No wonder it’s so continually popular?
Today’s novelists have the same opportunity to add GWTW-style overtones to their love stories. While I wouldn’t dare say that my new romance novel THE WOMEN WHO MADE ME (just published by OC Press as an eBook) can touch the greatness that is GWTW, it does have a strong, unique lead character whose love story plays out against the Larger Background of greed-driven Wall Street skullduggery leading to the 2008 Financial Apocalypse. An event that drove America off a cliff into its worst Economic Crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. By setting the nation on a downhill road to pervasive unemployment and an impoverished middle class, devoid of hope.
Lead character Robert Gardner spends most of the novel telling readers about the two compelling women he loved at different points in his life. First, his beautiful and elegant Aunt Martha, with whom he carries out an impassioned, secret love affair during his late high school and college years. And years later, red-haired Svetlana fromBrooklyn, whose warmth and insights help him come to terms with the corrosive guilt and shame over the terrible things he did during his greed-driven career on Wall Street.
But there’s more to Robert’s life than simply pursuing glorious women. When the novel opens, he’s serving time in Federal Prison for the “money crimes” he committed as one of Wall Street’s richest and most avaricious Corporate Raiders. The kind of Screw-Everybody crimes that were the stock-in-trade for Wall Street Sharks like him.
This is the Larger Background against which Robert tells us about the remarkable women he adored. Adding significant Overtones to what can’t be dismissed as “just another entertaining erotic romance novel.” Because it’s also a novel that can tell us some important things about the World and Ourselves.
This is the secret Margaret Mitchell seemed to know in her bones. And used to write the most popular novel of the last hundred years.
So it turns out that exciting, vividly-told, mass-market love stories can be ideal platforms for getting today’s readers up to speed about the major socio-economic problems that threaten America’s future. Far more effective than the inevitably learned non-fiction tomes about the current Economic Crisis that have appeared in the last few years. While gushed over at length by “serious literary critics” in intellectual journals like the New York Review of Books, few people actually read them. Because they’re written in long, bloodless, academic paragraphs. Devoid of the living, breathing Human Realities that make fiction novels like GONE WITH THE WIND so gripping.
Many thanks to Dick Anson for dropping by today!
If you’d like to buy his new e-novella The Woman Who Made Me, it is available from the OC Press and all other good e-format providers