Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pilgrim Romance?

How do you remember the Early American Pilgrims?  Is there a romance story hidden in all that tradition?  You might be surprised. Today I am revisiting traditional history, an old legend thru the "The Courtship fo Miles Standish" A poem by Longfellow.

Painting of John & Priscilla Alden
If  you are like me, you do not consider the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims to be very romantic. It is a story of religious persecution, a group of people fleeing their homeland to live freely. It is a story of hardship, and tragedy, as many of the migrants who fled Europe to escape religous persecution and start a colony died that first hard winter. We don't think of the pilgrims in a very good light, either, due to the constant images of stark black clothing and high buttoned collars. But, alas, popular and folk history sometimes paints a picture of groups that fit outside of accepted cultural norms of the day in a way that is unappealing and less than accurate. The pilgrims had a belief system that differed from the popular one of the day, and so they were percieved as being very grim and sour by their contemporaries who wrote the popular history of the age. For example, in the painting above, note John Alden's RED stockings. Yes, red. The puritans did wear colors, and red was among them. There is a record of one of the pilgrim immigrant women having a scarlet cloak, and no, this has nothing to do with The Scarlet Letter (a fictional story, by the way.)

What do we know for sure?

Migrating Adolescent girl meets Ship's Cooper; Is it True Love?

The oldest girl on the Mayflower passage was Priscilla Mullins. She was 17 years old. She came with her parents, Puritans William and Alice Mullins, and a brother, Josepeh. Not a lot is known about Priscilla as a girl. She survived the horrible first winter when many of the company died, so she must have been an very healthy young lady indeed. This we do know for certain, as historic documents support it.  Priscilla Mullins married John Alden, a cooper who was hired on as a crew member of the Mayflower during it's docking at South Hampton. John Alden was not a member of the pilgrim party setting out on this adventure, and when they landed, he was told to go or stay as he wished. He chose to stay. We don't know why, but speculation, and romantic imagination could easily make the reason his affections for Miss Mullins!

Longfellow's Implication: The Courtship of Miles Standish 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a descendent of Priscilla Mullins and John Alden. He wrote the poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish, in 1858. It was claimed that he wrote this from part of a family history handed down by oral tradition (ah family legends!).  It involves a love triagnle between three pilgrims.

Imagine that!  Those stuffy old pilgrims falling in love?

Here's the gist of the love story: Miles Standish and John Alden, being single men, shared quarters in the village.  Miles Standish, a military captain, was rather rough and intimidating. Both men had a fancy for the young, single Priscilla Mullins. Miles coerced his friend, John Alden, to go speak to Miss Mullins for him, to tell her of his wish to marry her and to outline all the reasons she should do so. John went to visit Pricislla, himself being smitten with her, but determined to deliver the message to the young woman on behalf of his friend, Captain Standish. As he meets with her, he goes on and on, plying her with all the reasons she should marry Captain Standish:

Excerpt from "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1848 :
Till at length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great Captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me,
Why does he not come himself, and take the trouble to woo me?
If I am not worth the wooing, I surely am not worth the winning!"
End of excerpt.
 NOTE, If you wish to read the full dialogue excerpt of this pivotal exchange between Alden and Miss Mullins, click on the tab at the top right hand side of the webpage.

The story goes on, with John Alden arguing at length about all the virtues of his rival for the lady's affections, Captain Standish. He talks about how brave the captain is, how he comes from noble stock, even outlining his ancestry a little to impress Miss Mullins. He talks about how any woman in the colony, nay, any woman in England would be proud to be the wife of Captain Standish. Alden goes on and on in the poem, until finally the wise Priscilla stops him cold with an important question: 

'Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes overrunning with laughter, Said, in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"

  Indeed! Why didn't John Alden speak for himself. Priscilla didn't want to marry a stuffy old military man who claimed he had not the time himself to woo her. Smart girl. After this, the poem relates that John Alden and the Captain have a falling out, because the hot headed captain feels his friend 'betrayed' him somehow by having feelings for the girl himself. In the end, Priscilla married John Alden. So there you have it, a little bit of speculation, a little bit of folklore handed down from oral traditions from one the Alden family descendents, Longfellow, an epic poem, quite long by the way. I could not give the entire excerpt here, but if you enjoy reading classic poetry pick up a copy of Longfellow's works and dive in. (Check the tab above right for an excerpt of the poem)

Famous Descendants 

Priscilla married John Alden, and they had many descendants, many of them famous people.  Aside from Longfellow, some of the notable descendants of this true life couple are Marilyin Monroe, Orson Wells, Vice President Quayle, Adlai Stevenson III, John Adams, Frank Nelson Doubleday (founder of Doubleday Publishing) and Dance Teacher Martha Graham. Impressive, to say the least. 

For more info on the Alden family click here

 Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.  Hope you enjoyed this little backtrack into the story of the pilgrims, with romance as the subject.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dark Heroes vs. Bullies, a discussion of Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff



I have always been attracted to the darker heroes, those biker guys, the scary guy in the room. 

I like vampires, rock stars, pirates, vikings, highwaymen and the like. 

Bloom as a pirate! Yes, Please!


Do you see a theme here?  Yes, most of my heroes have been dark ones. 

Heathcliff is no different. I was attracted to him through the movie, not the book. Really, I was attracted to Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff, as the guy was so hot he scorched my soul when I watched the movie.  His woeful blue eyes did me in, literally. 

I saw my hero stereotype in him: tall, dark and dangerous.  So, is it any wonder when I think of Donovan O'Rourke, aka Donovan Beaumont or Count Rochembeau in my novel, Dark Hero, I visualize Ralph Fiennes in the starring role.   

Those woeful eyes will mesmerize you!

But, reality check here!  Yeah, Fiennes is beautiful, compelling, mysterious in the role of Heathcliff. I could fall for Ralph Fiennes--I should say I HAVE fallen for Fiennes.  Heathcliff, the real Heathcliff from the book, not so much. 

 The Essence of the Character Heathcliff: 

The rash of movies depicting Emily Bronte's Character Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights cast him in a role the author probably never intended--that of the tortured romantic hero.  You see it in the 1939 Black and White film verison with Laurence Olivier.  Heathcliff pining for Cathy after she marries the other guy, the rich guy in the neighborhood. That Heathcliff falls apart, and becomes sort of pathetic, and yet as a movie hero icon in this version, he remains fondly in our hearts.  That version of Heathcliff was pretty tame compared to the book, and to the 1992 Movie starring Fiennes. 

Olivier as Heathcliff in 1939

The real Heathcliff, speaking hypothetically, as he's a made up character, is quite vicious and brutal.  No one wants to have him pining after them. In this day and age, such behavior from a guy you're dating would be considered stalking, worthy of a restraining order or moving a few states away to get away from him.

 Case in point:  When Heathcliff and Cathy are together, he's okay. He's not terribly mean, but you can see a little vindictiveness in him.  In the book, and this is vividly portrayed in the 1992 Movie as well, after Cathy starts seeing Edgar Linton, Heathcliff becomes sort of neurotic and creepy. He talks to Cathy, telling her he tied up a starling nest of baby birds so the mother bird couldn't feed them. When Cathy asks him why he is so cruel to the birds, he says, " Well, you weren't here to see them so there seemed no reason to keep them alive."  YUCK!   Warning flags go up. 

Can you imagine dating a guy like that today. 

"Hey, I drowned the kittens the barn cat had yesterday." 

"Um, why?" 

"Well, you were out with that other guy, so I didn't see the point of keeping them alive if you weren't going to be around to see them. 


Run fast, very fast. Don't look back. Just get out of there. 


Heathcliff's cruelty is legend. He kills his fiancee's dog and hangs it in front of her. He mistreats his wife, beating her and mentally tormenting her just to antagonize her brother, Edgar Linton, and make hime come fight Heathcliff to rescue his sister,  (cuz her brother married Heathcliff's obsession, Cathy!) And it just get's darker and darker from that point on. Heathcliff becomes a devil, literally. He abuses his wife, his child, his servants and stops at nothing in his quest for revenge upon those who hurt him or who he believes hurt him. He becomes a tyrant, devouring and destroying the lives of those who come near him. 

Does this make him a worthy romance hero? HELL NO! 

If you read the original storyline, and skip the movie versions, you'll see nothing to admire and love about Heathcliff. He's crazy, bat-shit crazy. No one wants that kind of man in their life. Particularly not in a time like in Wuthering Heights, in the 18th-19th century, when a man ruled a household by law. I watched the old 1939 version of the book with Olivier. I watched the 1992 version of the movie. And I read the book. I couldn't stand Heathcliff in the book and wished someone would walk on stage to kill him. It was a very dark book. Yes, it's entertaining, but it's not romance. 

Let's stop romanticizing a manical bully. Please. 

Cathy did the right thing in choosing Edgar Linton as her husband. Edgar was kind and good. Heathcliff was just plain mean and malicious. Sure, Cathy and Heathcliff pine after each other. But let's be real. If they ended up together, they would have been miserable. Heathcliff would have eventually become cruel to Cathy in the end, if they married. And Cathy would have turned into a vindictive bitch, just like him, a harridan, a plotting, scheming witch. Instead, she died, and remained lovely and tragic in everyone's minds.

So, in my original statement above, I said I like dark heroes. Bad boys. The dangerous guy in the room, the pirate, the viking, the highwayman, the vampire.  Let me clarify my meaning a little bit. I do not like cruelty, nor do I long for a man like Heathcliff to make my life miserable. I'm not into a 50 shades of Grey relationship nor do I enjoy BDSM games. 

I am  attracted to the dark side, the bad boy, the vamp, the highwayman, the pirate. But those dark heroes are just that; HEROES.  They may seem questionable, and linger in the shadows, but when the bad stuff comes, they will step in and save the kittens, the heroine, the town, the world....... they will act with honor and courage to defend the helpless. They are HEROES. That is the premise of my series, Reluctant Heroes. The men in the series are loners, with secrets. They can be a little dark, on the edge of the page. You wonder at times if they are the hero or the villian. But in the end, they will stand strong and defend those in their care, or those weaker then themselves. They will not abuse them. 

Wesley preparing to defend his lady love 

Wuthering Heights is a cautionary tale. It's not a romance novel, so let's quit romanticizing Heathcliff and put him where he belongs, in the hall of fame of villains, not heroes.  Donovan Beaumont, however, the character in Dark Hero, is not a bully. He's a recluse and believes himself to be misanthropic, but he continually picks up the broken and discarded of society and takes them home, patches them up, and gives their lives hope and purpose. He's more like the benevolent lion king on the island of misfit toys.  He rescues the girl, and her younger brother.  He offers to help pay off her older brother's indenture. He takes in refugees from the world. Donovan will stand up for the broken and oppressed, he won't stomp on them like Heathcliff would.

 I may have found the physicial face of Donovan Beaumont through the 1992 Movie version of Wuthering Heights with Fiennes cast as Heathcliff, but that's where my fascination with Heathcliff ends. I admire his dark looks and masculine beauty, but that is as far as it goes . . . Ralph Fiennes, however, still makes me swoon. 

Fiennes has that smolder factor in his eyes
Thanks for joining me. May all your Dark Heroes be just that----HEROES!