I’m newly returned from vacation at the same place where Loretta is now (Cape Cod, Massachusetts.) Like Loretta, my vacation involves much reading, plus a great deal of therapeutic knitting. Also like Loretta, I, too, am by nature the proverbial whiter shade of pale, and can cope with the beach only with copious amounts of sun block. Bronzed goddesses, we are not.
But now that I’m home, I’ve been thrown into a whirlwind of frantic activity that is destroying any shred of lingering vacation tranquility. There’s endless laundry, endless packing, and endless trips to Staples, and Ikea, and the Home Depot, and Barnes & Noble, and every other place with smiling salespeople eager to relieve me of my charge card. In short, it’s time to ship my son back off to college, with the vast quantity of worldly goods that teenagers seem to find essential for survival.
And when the time comes to say good-bye, I’ll cry.
There’s absolutely no good reason for this, of course. Such separations are a necessary part of growing up. My son is happy, healthy, and handsome, and he has finally learned not to talk with his mouth full. His school lies in an idyllic setting snugged in the mountains, deserving of its nickname of “Happy Valley.” He has plenty of friends and a steady, charming girlfriend, two part-time jobs he enjoys, and always makes the Dean’s List. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, he’ll call home often, and e-mail, too.
(And my more reasonable side reminds me how much perilous things could be. One of my closest friends just packed her youngest son off to West Point, where, as she says, “he has spent the summer playing with guns and grenades –– but under adult supervision, of course.” It’s what awaits after graduation that worries her the most, and with good reason, too.)
Yet still I’ll cry, just as I cried when I first left him at nursery school. In most matters, I’m sturdy and sensible, but there’s something about goodbyes that reduce me to sobbing water-works that would do a hired mourner at a Victorian funeral proud. Goodbyes may mean the beginning of a new chapter in life, but they also signal the ending of another one, and that, I suppose, is the part that gets to me. I cry whenever I see a bride and groom go off in their bedecked honeymoon car. I cry at Romeo and Juliet, and at cheesy telephone commercials. I cry when I drive friends or relatives to the train or airport. Both Royal Harlot and Duchess ended with farewells (which I suppose shows that while they had romantic elements, they weren’t really romances), and I cried — sobbed! — as I wrote the last pages. When I worked at colleges, I’d cry at every graduation and reunion.
I don’t even want to consider how I would have handled the kind of farewells common in the past (and in
our books) is beyond me. In the time before globe-hopping and instant communication, any farewell could well be final. A woman sending her beloved off to fight in the Crusades, or at Gettysburg, or the Crimea, might not learn his fate for months, or even years, after his departure. Going off to make one’s fortune could be just as hazardous, whether that fortune lay in London, or the California gold mines, or halfway around the world with the East India Company. For every new immigrant eager for the first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, there were others lamenting what was left behind, as in this famously poignant painting by Ford Maddox Brown, “The Last of England.”
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this is one more reason why historical romances can prove so satisfying for readers. The French
Lieutenant’s Woman may still be waiting for her lover, but in our books, devotion is always rewarded. Our heroines sleep with tear-stained love-letters beneath their pillows, but there’s never any doubt in our readers’ minds that the heroes will return. No proper romance hero or heroine is faithless. No one changes his or her mind, or gets too lonely and finds someone else. Love will always survive the tests of distance, time, and bad communications. The promise that “they lived happily ever after” carries with it the additional implication that they lived that way together, without any further goodbyes or separations.
If that’s only one more example of what makes a “sappy romance novel,” well then, so be it. Among happy fantasies, surely always coming home must be one of the happiest, and the most satisfying, too.
So where do you stand on farewells? Are you stoic, or a sentimental weeper like me? And do you find a good farewell in a romance serves to heighten the magic of the reunion? Or do you prefer a good-bye on the last page that leaves the future more open for the characters — as in, say, Gone With the Wind?