Sunday, October 15, 2006

Plato and Theoretical Musings on the Role of Children in Romance

In my previous post I examined a few of Plato's ideas about love, and how they might relate to the romance genre. In the Symposium, Socrates tells the assembled company about a conversation he had with Diotima, in which they discussed the nature of love. Diotima states that:
to the mortal creature, generation [i.e. procreation] is a sort of eternity and immortality,’ [...]; ‘and if, as has been already admitted, love is of the everlasting possession of the good, all men will necessarily desire immortality together with good: Wherefore love is of immortality.
Several weeks ago (unfortunately too long ago for the post to still be available online) Dick, a poster at AAR who believes that homosexual relationships are not suitable for inclusion in a romance novel, stated that: ‘I think that, in the case of romance fiction, the relationship of the h/h implies fruition’, i.e. in his opinion the lovers must be a hero and heroine, because homosexual lovers cannot create children together, and there is no possibility that they might do so. His statement did not imply that all romances must include one of those epilogues in which the hero and heroine appear, surrounded by their numerous progeny, but he did think that at the very least by the end of the novel there should be a possibility that the hero and heroine will one day have children together. This is, however, a very literal interpretation of fruitfulness, and one which also excludes older lovers (who were also discussed in the previous blog), the infertile and those who are childless by choice. It seems to me that this focus on children and childbearing could be very upsetting and offensive to many readers of the genre. Certainly a recent article by Lynn Harris, in Glamour magazine examined the emotional consequences for the infertile of a culture in which celebrity pregnancies and births are so prominently discussed and photographed:
“What we’re witnessing in our culture is a rampaging, almost hysterical fixation on pregnancy and babies and how having them will transform your life and allow you to reach nirvana,” says Susan J. Douglas, Ph.D., professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and coauthor of The Mommy Myth. “For infertile women, it’s like a giant megaphone of guilt and shame.”
Plato's Diotima argues that the offspring of the soul are the more worthy outcome of love:
souls which are pregnant —for there certainly are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies—conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain. And what are these conceptions?—wisdom and virtue in general.
I've got a few more ideas about the various roles which children can play in romance, and I'll take a look at them another day, but I wondered how other people felt about children. Are children (i.e. offspring of the hero and heroine, not adopted children, younger siblings etc) an essential part of the HEA in a romance? If not, do you expect to see some growth towards wisdom and virtue (i.e. 'spiritual offspring') in the hero and heroine as a result of their love for each other?


  1. Obviously, some reader feel that children have a place in romance and others do not. I'm in the latter camp, and in real life am childless by choice. However, I don't think that even admirers of the secret baby plot want to see children born to heroes and heroines who haven't matured and grown up themselves. That is, I believe that a necessary prerequisite of any romance is that the protagonists grow and change and make themselves worthy and accepting of love.

    Anybody can fall in love, but a romance is about how people overcome obstacles (usually emotional and/or intellectual ones) to arrive at love and commitment. It's about two people with initially diverging goals who eventually come together and unite for the long haul. If children are part of those shared goals, then fair enough.

  2. I've never really thought about the role of children (born yet or not) in Romance novels. The truth is, I doubt many people do. In "Bet Me" by Jenny Crusie, it is made clear that the h/h are not going to have children, yet, that takes nothing away from the HEA.

    Perhaps I'm just too simplistic, but unless a child is directly involved in the story, or wating to have a child is central, then the thought of them making a baby never really occurs to me.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Kimber. I agree with you, but I think there are some people who are drawn to romances featuring babies, so presumably for them babies are much more interesting and more of a draw than for readers like you and me. I saw a post on your blog in which you mentioned children, and I'm going to quote from it in my next entry.

    Cherry, maybe it's that I started out reading historical romances, but in that sub-genre there are lots of romances in which people marry in order to produce an heir. Then there are the many romances which feature secret babies, and in real life people make comments along the lines of 'first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage'. The result is that I tend to wonder about whether or not the hero and heroine will have offspring. Crusie's Bet Me and Anyone But You are rather unusual in ruling out babies. I thought they made an interesting change from the norm.

  4. Hi, I'm late to this party, but I love the post. Can't believe I missed this one since the issue is a sore spot for me. I don't find kids necessary for an HEA. I also don't expect major character growth. I don't believe that love makes us better people, but it should make us happier people.

    I wonder if part of the appeal of vampire romances is that there is less of an expectation of children in the HEA.