‘Will you marry me?’
And there, finally, is the question the reader has been waiting for, the joyous culmination of chapter after chapter of will-they-won’t-they? The second option, of course, was never going to be a goer, but the writer has been clever enough to slide the awful possibility into the reader’s mind. The reader closes the book with a satisfied sigh and daydreams while she puts the Monday wash through the mangle.
Okay, I’m talking tongue-in-cheek here. I confess I haven’t read much ‘pure’ romance, at least not for a long time, but it isn’t difficult to see why the genre is, and always has been, one of the most popular. The happy ending is de rigeur, the marriage proposal the cherry on the top, if you want to be traditional about it. It’s feel-good fiction, and goodness knows you can’t have too much of that.
The question might be as old as time, but what about the setting? The times they were a-changing, as Ursula Bloom pointed out in a brilliant little promotional film she made for the Ford Motor Company. The ‘modern girl’, she says, with some excitement, was now more likely to be proposed to in a car rather than on the settee in the drawing room. The film was made in 1950 (and yes, it was all about selling cars) but Sir John Betjeman had got there first with his description of the in-car proposal in his wonderfully funny, romantic poem, A Subaltern’s Love-Song, written in the early 1940s.
Clearly smitten by his companion, he writes with a sense of wonder of ‘the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice’ as if he can’t believe she’s really there beside him in the passenger seat. He is supposed to be taking her dancing at the golf club. Instead, he tells us, ‘We sat in the car-park till twenty to one, and now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.’
Of course, Ursula’s and JB’s courting couples being firmly middle-class, having a car at their disposal was never going to be a problem. The rest still had to make do with the front room and a bevy of interested listeners at the door.
If there was a proposal in the first place.
While the old-school romantic novelists were penning the perfect, sigh-inducing proposal scene, in the real world many a couple were foregoing the niceties and plunging headlong into wedding itself – you’ll know what I mean. I don’t imagine the girls involved were too bothered; they had more pressing matters on their minds.
The lack of a formal proposal need not necessarily lessen the potential for the big romantic finale in a love story. Without giving too much away, the scenes around that kind of scenario in my 1960s-set novel ‘Dirty Weekend’ (Crooked Cat Publishing, May 2015) are not short on romance; it’s just more gritty and dramatic. A gift, in fact, for the writer.
In today’s romantic fiction, the happy ending is more likely to be a down-to-earth ‘happy for now’ rather than the ‘happy ever after’ implied by the proposal, although, given the current fashion for weddings, marriage may still feature in the plot. If it does, the proposal will be chalked onto a bridge above a flyover, spelled out in sushi, or, horror of horrors, delivered in front of a live audience and millions of cringing viewers on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. (Is that romantic? You tell me). And it won’t always be the man doing the asking.
But however it happens, one thing’s for certain; there won’t be a front room or a settee within a hundred miles.
PS. If you want to read Sir John Betjeman’s poem, A Subaltern’s Love-song, you’ll find it here: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/subalterns-love-song
You can find Deirdre’s second published book, ‘Dirty Weekend’, here:
Blog group: http://thewriteromantics.com/