It’s so great when readers comment on blog posts and raise new issues and perspectives. In the discussion of last week’s post on Friends & Lovers, Sharon brought up the topic of ex-lovers who remain friends, such as Mélanie and Raoul. “While I love stories in which lovers are the best of friends, I feel it more fascinating and challenging reading about former lovers who remain friends, as in the case of Mélanie & Raoul. Ever since I started visiting your blog, I’ve always felt ambivalent reading the correspondence between Mélanie & Raoul: on the one hand I want to know more about their connection, and the way it changed every step of the way in Mélanie’s marriage to Charles, yet at the same time I also feel I don’t want to know much more about them. It’s somewhat unsettling.”
I’ve always found ex-lovers fascinating to read about. There’s so much history before the story even starts, so much built in intimacy and often so much built in antagonism at the same. Just think of the scene where Victor and Ilsa first walk into Rick’s, and the follow-up scene where Ilsa returns to find Rick alone in the café with Sam. “Of all the gin joints in all the world…”
I often find myself rooting for ex-lovers to get back together. As I also mentioned in the discussion last week, part of me wants Rick and Ilsa to run off together, even as part of me agrees with Rick that she belongs with Victor. Again following on last week’s discussion, I definitely root for Tracy and Dexter (who are actually ex-husband and wife) to get back together in The Philadelphia Story. I love Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth finding each other again in Persuasion. There’s a tantalizing hint in Much Ado About Nothing that Beatrice and Benedick have been romantically involved in the past, which can add wonderful depth when it’s played up in productions. Bath Tangle isn’t my favorite Georgette Heyer, but I like the set up of the couple who were once engaged being forced to interact again. My friend Penelope Williamson’s mystery Mortal Sins has a fabulous love story with a pair of ex-lovers whose past is as rich and complex and full of twists and turns and deceptions as the mystery they are attempting to unravel.
When my mom and I wrote our Anthea Malcolm Regency romances, one of my favorite set-ups was in our book A Touch of Scandal. The hero and heroine have had a brief, illicit affair which ended in tragedy five years before the book begins. It was so much fun writing Fiona and Gideon’s first meeting in the book. There were so many layers, so much repressed emotion and unexpressed feelings between them right from the start. They jumped write past the formalities of a couple meeting in a Regency drawing room and were steeped in emotional intensity from the start.
But what about ex-lovers who don’t end up together? Who (unlike Rick and Ilsa) aren’t even the romantic focus of the story. But who still care about each other and may remain friends. It’s a fascinating and tricky balancing act for a writer. As Sharon pointed out it’s not so much that it’s disturbing to know a character had prior romantic attachments as to see “proof that their connection was real and solid, not just something that could be glossed over and mentioned in passing. I could remember two other romances in which the friendships of former lovers seem more like that of friendly acquaintants than that of true friends. It doesn’t seem so with Mélanie and Raoul.”
By the time of Secrets of a Lady, Mélanie loves Charles whole-heartedly, but Raoul will always be important to her, in ways that are difficult even for her to define. Loving someone doesn’t sever all one’s ties and connections and loyalties to other people. Elizabeth George does a wonderful job of demonstrating this, I think, with the tangled relationships among Tommy, Helen, Simon, and Deborah in her series. In Mary Jo Putney’s The Controversial Countess (which was later reissued, in an expanded form, as Petals from the Storm), the relationship that really fascinated me was between the heroine Maggie and her former lover and fellow spy Robin. I didn’t precisely want them to end up together. Part of what intrigued me about them was that they were such good friends without being lovers any longer. I remember reading that book late in to the night, driven by concern over Robin’s fate and wanting to make sense of his relationship with Maggie. I knew Maggie and Rafe, the hero, would survive and end up together, but I was worried something horrible would happen to Robin (that he’d die or turn out to be a villain) in order for Maggie and Rafe to have their happy ending. Fortunately, Putney is too skilled a writer for that (and Robin later gets his own book and his own happy ending, but I didn’t know that the time).
One of the things I enjoy in writing the Fraser Correspondence is exploring Mélanie’s relationship with Raoul, how it evolved during the early years her marriage to Charles. Her marriage obviously pulled her away from Raoul, as her ties to Charles grew stronger. And yet at the same time, Raoul was practically the only person she could confide in openly (the other one being Blanca, and Mel tends to be protective of Blanca). It’s a challenge to write their letters, because, as Sharon said, “the more I read of their correspondence, the more it seems their connection would be a lasting one, perhaps weakened somewhat in time after Secrets of a Lady, but it would never be severed.”
Perhaps that’s part of why I like writing the Mélanie/Raoul letters. One of the themes of The Mask of Night is both Mélanie and Charles dealing with the complexities of their relationships to Raoul (who in different ways has been a major influence on both of them). I love the way series let one explore how relationships evolve over time. As I’ve mentioned, I have a idea for a love story for Raoul in a subsequent book that I’m very excited to write. Which may shift the relationships among my characters, but won’t change the fact that he and Mélanie will continue to be friends :-).
I’d love to hear more takes on the Mélanie/Raoul relationship and literary depictions of relationships between ex-lovers in general. And, in keeping with this topic, this week’s Fraser Correspondence entry is Raoul’s reply to Mélanie’s letter of last week.
February 13 update: I’m blogging on History Hoydens today. Do stop by and leave a comment!