Love stories: the easiest thing to set out doing, the hardest thing to get right...
Rewatching the David Tennant Doctor Who at the moment, it is clear that Steven Moffatt in those early episodes has really got an eye for the delicate love story. The Doctor himself meets and romances Madame de Pompadour, and is clearly genuinely upset by her death. Rose is desperately in love with him, and - somewhat to his discredit - he is thoroughly aware of it and doesn't make it easier for her. For some of those episodes, where Mickey comes along with them, we as the audience are completely aware of the failure of Mickey and Rose as a relationship, and that failure is because of the Doctor, the non-superhuman superhuman hero, the one with no special powers to run or fight or shoot flames. The character is the sort of anti Game of Thrones, using thought and wit as his weapon, rather than blade or fist. There's something really British about it, in common with Sherlock Holmes, or the heroes of countless Walter Scott novels: they're human, even if they are a bit special. There's no need for the hero to have strength beyond what your average mortal man can manage, indeed, it would be pointless to have a character that is immune to any and all harm, strong enough to solve any problem with brute force... That's a peculiarly American trope, as I have written before. The Doctor's compassion is his strength, not his weakness.
But, having begun to write this post a couple of days ago in response really to the Doctor-Rose-Mickey storyline, I do feel that these episodes are written, acted, edited (whatever that means!), put together in such a way that the stories are clear and engaging. This is in contrast to the more recent Peter Capaldi and (sadly) Jodie Whittaker series, which haven't quite managed the same deftness of touch. I write These Matters in such a way that I am not legitimately able to just put you, the reader, directly in the mind of my characters, and so I must try to do what I can to show, rather than tell. This run of stories - indeed, the whole Rose story arc which carries on even beyond her time as companion (official mistress?) - is well told, because you don't need to be told. It's obvious without being spoken, and it would suffer for being made explicit. In writing book IV, I have bought myself a few places where I can express the Edward Strelley / Elizabeth storyline more from their internal perspective than from what might be visible to the camera, allowing myself one or two glimpses of things they have written down, but also giving them the opportunity to talk out their feelings to others. Strelley in particular developed a habit of seeking out religious men, perhaps because of the failure of his own faith, but it is about Elizabeth that he talks, not about God (usually!). Their story in book IV is more about them being apart than them being together, of course, but it is the backbone of the book.
There is a challenge in representing the ephemeral, the rapid transients that sometimes pass through the mind or even from the lips. I find myself sometimes wondering whether I did in fact speak out loud the words that I seem to remember saying (usually when I'm on my own; sometimes my voice seems to speak without really being authorised or commanded by whatever the central control system is!), so to try to represent something so tenuous, so insubstantial as a thought is, possibly, beyond me altogether. I have tried to express the way these two feel about each other - the punch-in-the-gut, heatwave, can't sleep type of love that is both utterly hopeless and thoroughly enchanting - since it became clear that that was, in fact, how they feel. I can't help but feel I have risked boring the reader - more accurately, that Edward Strelley has risked boring the reader - with the repeated discussions of his feelings with all manner of folk who might chance to listen to him.
Longshawe and Caroline de Winter's story is, by way of a contrast, much more smooth and possibly that bit less interesting to try to write. There is less in the way of their being together, so much so that their relationship is a bit more like the sort of steady, stable relationship that so very rarely ends up being the centrepiece of a book, film or series. Fulfilled (ish), their love loses some of that desperate quality, moving closer to compassion and companionship. That is not to say that they do not love each other, but the chance to express that love for each other has made them more sensible (more realistic?) about what their love is and what it is not. Their love is more conventional, both in its genesis and its expression, not born of the kind of shared experience of Edward Strelley and Elizabeth, of the time spent together and the losses felt. Longshawe is awkward and hesitant over Caroline, troubled by his own arrogant behaviour in what is, by book IV, the distant past. Strelley and Elizabeth do not have that same awkwardness. It is perhaps also worth adding that Longshawe thinks Caroline de Winter is beautiful, just as she thinks he is dashing and handsome. Strelley would not even be able to describe Elizabeth physically, because it hasn't occurred to him to think of her that way. So 'companionship' might be a good way of describing it, but it doesn't capture the encompassing nature at all. And that's difficult, because I want to get across that depth of feeling - in Strelley's case, the almost obsessive, intrusive nature of his feelings - and there just aren't many good words to use. Because 'love' is so many different things...
But, like that bloody Australian woman ending in The Magus, it isn't quite clear how all this will/does end. So you'll just have to buy book IV when I've finished writing the thing. And then I'll spend a couple of years trying to persuade you to buy book V (instead of concentrating on writing it!).
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought