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On Jane Austen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Brooding Heroes

Yes, I can combine those three topics and make some semblance of sense. I hope.

Ever since I read Wuthering Heights, I have harbored an intense dislike for brooding heroes. I like dark heroes, bad boys, anti-heroes, and the like, but give me a brooding hero and I fall out of love fast. This goes along with my comedy/tragedy philosophy that I’ve blogged about before. I think there’s a general misconception among critics that tragedy is somehow deeper and more meaningful than comedy, and the eternally brooding and inevitably doomed hero is a result of this misconception. If a hero is miserable, than he’s clearly a deeper thinker than the average joe. Because, you know, anyone who thinks deeply about the world must be miserable. Because life sucks and then we die.

There is no transcendence of suffering or raging against the dying of the light. Just embrace your suffering and then die.

Meet Angel. He literally cannot be happy.
I’m a Joss Whedon fan, but I have to admit that I quickly fell out of love with Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Spoilers!) As the series moves forward, we learn that Angel has been cursed and will lose his soul if he experiences one moment of true happiness. (And seriously how is this even a good curse? The part where he becomes aware of his crimes and experiences everlasting guilt: that’s a good curse. However, they add the corollary of becoming a monster if he has a moment of joy, but then they neglect to inform him of that tidbit. Wouldn’t it be more of a curse if they told him that any happiness would result in him losing his soul, thus giving him a reason to fear happiness itself?)

Moving on: Angel deserved to be punished for his past crimes as a vampire, but what about redemption? What about overcoming the past? Even though Angel helps fight the forces of evil to atone for his wrongdoings, he is apparently never going to overcome his past. He seems to be on a path to wallow in his guilt for all eternity. And I’m supposed to fall in love with him? (I haven’t seen Angel, so I don’t know how his character developed in the spin-off. I’m going on what I know as of season 4 of Buffy.)

Now what about Jane Austen? I’ve read some reviews that call Mr. Darcy a brooding hero, and I couldn’t disagree more. I have never viewed him as brooding in a Heathcliff/Angel sense. Darcy is an aristocratic introvert, and this makes him appear snobbish and rude. But he’s not depicted as sitting a dark room reading bad poetry while lamenting the evilness within. He engages in social activities, takes pleasure in walking or riding, and travels with a close circle of friends, but as Elizabeth points out, he is not well practiced in large-scale socializing or meeting new people. This makes him appear a bit broody, but Darcy isn’t particularly guilt-ridden over his mistakes with Georgiana or terribly morose about the state of the world. Nope, he’s out seeing the world and even partaking in the dreaded country dance.

As for Jane Austen’s opinion on brooding heroes, I flatter myself in believing she agrees with me. When Elizabeth interprets Darcy’s behavior as resentful and predisposed to dislike everything, she mocks him for it. She calls him out on his “unsocial taciturn disposition.” Elizabeth, P&P‘s heroine, herself is not brooding; she takes pleasure in the foibles of humanity and joy in her associations with people and the world in general. Despite her lack of brooding, Elizabeth is clearly the deepest thinker in the novel.

Does this mean she doesn’t suffer? No, she suffers greatly for her mistakes in the Wickham/Lydia fiasco, but she doesn’t marinate in them for the rest of eternity. She overcomes them with the help of Mr. Darcy and her uncle. That is a character I want to read about. She hears her detractions and puts them to mending (Much Ado); she doesn’t engage forever in self-pity. Redemption means more than just making amends and atoning for past wrongs; it means also letting them go and forgiving yourself, which is often the hardest battle for people to face.

I don’t go so far as to say that all characters should be redeemed or that plots should be tied up in a nice little bow, but at the same time, I do not place a high value on suffering for suffering’s sake or believe that deep philosophical thought can only be done in the darkness.

4 thoughts on “On Jane Austen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Brooding Heroes

  1. I love it when you write about this — it makes me happy — all ranty and full of argument.

    BTW: The best brooder evah? Jason Morgan on GH — he has a box of pain full of reminders of all of his disappointments in life. Trust me — he’s no deep thinker.

    I liked all kinds of genres, but you know I love a tragedy — it fleshes us out.

  2. I heard Jason is leaving GH! I can’t remember the actor’s name. Wait. Yes, Steve Burton, right? They can’t possibly recast Jason. That would be so, so wrong.

  3. I think the difference comes from the medium. With books, there is an ‘end,’ and though not all plot points can be tied up, it is much easier to get closure by reading than by a visual medium – at least the way that American television today.

    Angel, oh Angel…Having lived through David and Maddie, Joanie and Chachi in my formative years, I learned early that I ‘really’ didn’t want them to get together. Truly, the story is Buffy’s journey – and Angel needed to leave.

    On the other hand, you CAN drag it out a bit too long. I feel I’ve been watching Lizzie Bennet Diaries forever, and after watching tonight’s HIMYM, my only thought was, ‘Will you just meet the damn mother already?!?!’

  4. Angie, I agree. Angel needed to be temporary. As you said, the story is about Buffy and her journey; hence the title Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel got his own show and journey, and at this point, I know zip about that aspect of his character.

    I also agree that getting characters together on TV is more problematic than in books. I can decide now how many books I plan to write and time the relationship accordingly (some authors don’t do this [JANET EVANOVICH, I’m talking to you.]), but it’s different with TV. They don’t know from one season to the next whether the show will survive, and there have to be some payoffs to viewers along the way. But then they have to try to keep the tension by screwing things up, so in the long run, it’s always a disappointment. At least with Joss Whedon, the breakups are something outside the norm. No new love interest introduced; nope, the dude loses his soul.

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