Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Greatest Historical Love Story Ever - or is it?

Gone with the Wind: is it the greatest fictional love story ever written?

Clark Gable & Vivienne Leigh: the movie image.

Published in 1936, it became an immediate bestseller, and Margaret Mitchell received critical and popular attention. In 1937 it won the Pulitzer Prize, and then quickly adapted to a movie in 1939, which won ten Academy Awards. It was categorized as “A Historical Romance”.

And, we all know it was set in northern Georgia during the drama of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction years. The prime characters were Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler (above image), Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. The novel itself addressed romantic love, unrequited love, jealousy, obsession plus survival and destitution post wealthy lifestyle. It covered the social structuring of gender and class during that period of history: timeline American Civil War 1861 – 1865 = 4yrs and reconstruction years, though the latter left vague in the movie.


Now let’s compare fictional romance with a real-life Historical Romance.

The great love affair between Horatio Lord Nelson, Admiral of the Fleet and Emma Lady Hamilton:

Emma Hamilton had remained faithful to Sir William Hamilton since becoming his mistress in 1787 and his wife in 1791 - William being considerably older than Emma. Nelson too, had been loyal to his wife as defined of good husband, but had indulged with courtesans. Neither marriage had given Emma or Horatio the fulfilment of love and romance they’d craved, and both had fallen out of love with respective partners.

When Nelson and Emma met for the first time, besotted best expresses the intensity of feelings between them, but it was a hopeless situation. They were both married and he was due to sail to war. 

The second time they met, in Italy, the love they felt for one another could not be denied, and during the flight from Naples and the struggle against the French they fell profoundly in love, and by May 1800, Emma was pregnant with Nelson’s child. There is of course, much more to their story, inclusive a long overland trip from Naples to England accompanied by her husband. Once they were back in England, Nelson moved in with the Hamiltons for a while, but turn of events such as befell them, he later arranged rent of a house and set up home with Emma. His wife refused to give him a divorce. Again there is too much to tell in one simple blog post.

Needless to say, when Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar news reached Emma and she was devastated, but worse was to come. She lost every thing because although Nelson had made provision for Emma and his offspring whilst at sea he had failed to name her as a beneficiary in his will. His wife laid claim to all his estate despite no children of her own. Emma ended up destitute and it is said she died a pauper-cum-prostitute: no proof as such.. 

Nelson and Emma’s love affair lasted 6 yrs. It was an intense, emotional romance that swept them away on a tide of genuine love that knew no bounds yet ended in terrible tragedy: for both.

Funnily enough, Emma & Nelson are featured in my novel: Venetian Encounter: the first half of the story set in Naples!


Napolean and Josephine: Another great love affair, or was it?

The story of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais is supposedly the most passionate and stormy love affair in history.

When Josephine's husband was executed at the guillotine during the Terror in Paris in 1794. She refused to mourn his death and soon became mistress to several prominent politicians of the time. In 1795 Josephine had a brief affair with Napoleon. He was 6 years younger than her, and she didn’t even like him. It was nonetheless a politically motivated affair conducted by third parties. Napolean, though, proved utter smitten much to her annoyance and pursued her with intent to make her his wife. She did eventually marry him in March of the following year after an intense an all-consuming love affair for his part, whilst she indulged lovers besides. In 1810, after years of failing to produce an heir for him they both agreed to divorce.

A happy and sad affair is this love story and poor old Boney (Napolean) besotted, whilst Josephine was swayed by power of favour and greed. 


War And Peace: again a fictional story, but is it a mere Historical Romance? 
No, for it does not have a single hero and heroine, it has several of each. Yet the Hollywood movie “War And Peace” supposedly based on the novel by Tolstoy, depicts one heroine, one hero, and sort of anti hero.

Movie image.

With Napoleon's forces controlling much of Europe. Russia is one of the few remaining countries unconquered by Napoleon. So it is a Russian epic story of war and the Rostov family, the Bezukhov family, and that of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky’s family. 

The principal characters consist of soldiers: Nicholas Rostov, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Pierre Bezukhov, a self-styled intellectual [knows what's right but still does wrong] and is not interested in fighting. Pierre's life is irrevocably changed when his father dies, leaving him a vast inheritance. Although attracted to Natasha Rostov, (Nicholas' sister) Pierre gives in to baser desires and marries the shallow, materialistic Princess Helene. When Pierre discovers his wife's true nature the marriage is ended. 

Meantime Prince Andrei is captured and later released by the French, and returns home only to watch his wife die in childbirth. During a visit to the country months later, Pierre and Prince Andrei meet again: cue old friendships/hate/jealousy/desires etc. Prince Andrei sees Natasha and falls in love, and the course of true love gets tough, plus this is one hell of an epic and it would take blog after blog post to write a full synopsis. So go buy the book and read the damn thing this time, don’t rely on the Hollywood version, which is just one snippet of love snatched from what is a multiple story of lovers, their lives and their families. Suffice to say there is death, heartache, misery, loves (plural) and both happy and sad ending. 

Which of the above is the greatest love story ever told beside that of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet? Bear in mind all were written more than fifty-years ago. 


For me, the greatest literary romances are Gone With the Wind - War & Peace - Lorna Doone and Frenchman's Creek.  These novels are strong on emotions and the greatest conflicts of all, unrequited love or intense dangerous love affairs!  I loved Carver Doone (wicked anti-hero) in Lorna Doone, but I'm drawn to bad boys. Captain Jean Benoit Aubin - Frenchman's Creek: again a bad boy. But, I'm also happy indulging Jane Austen's gentleman heroes, and dark entities with Bronte novels.
How about you?