Loving the Beast: Or What I Learned From Loving the Villain

Luke Evans as Gaston. I approve.im-such-a-bad-boy

Everyone thinks the story Beauty and the Beast is about Belle and the Beast, a cursed prince, but really it’s about Gaston’s ability to expectorate, decorate with antlers, and his slide into hell.

You can keep your pure-hearted heroines and heroes. I’ve always liked fairy tale villains best. Villains give a better example of what it means to be truly human. Villains face or ignore their own shortcomings. Villains illustrate the concept of free will. Villains demonstrate human frailty, human morality. Villains illuminate how to and how not to behave if one wants to be loved, accepted, and admired. We learn more about ourselves from the villain’s actions than we do from the heroine’s or hero’s actions.

Heroines and heroes can be kind of boring, particularly if they are all goody-goody, principled types. Why I think Cinderella is boring as dry grass is that I never learned anything from her, and I never learned anything from Sleeping Beauty, from The Little Mermaid, or Snow White either—other than if you’re pretty people hate you. But I learned plenty from the evil stepmother, nasty stepsisters, and The Evil Queens: If you do something mean it will, eventually, bite you on the ass and lead to your downfall.

Best to avoid being mean.

I love a well-fleshed out villain, but what I love even more is a character who has villainous traits. For me, what makes Mr Rochester far more interesting than Mr High Morals Darcy is that Rochester has a secret, a screaming wraith of a secret that makes him deceitful. The secret is in the attic and it very nearly ruins him. What do we learn from Rochester’s villainous behavior?

Polygamy is bad and don’t keep secrets from the woman you love.

queen2Naturally, my love for a bit o’ badness points to the usual discussion about ‘niceness,’ as in how the leads, particularly the female lead in a romance novel, must be ‘nice,’ never nasty or bitchy, which points to the double standard discussion about how women ‘ought to behave,’ and how older women have been maligned for centuries, which points to a discussion on social mores blah, blah…

I want more female leads in romance fiction to be villainous, to have villainous traits the way Scarlett O’Hara and Rochester do. While Scarlett’s behavior in Gone With The Wind would never be questioned if she had been a man, she is, like Rochester, a perfect example of how good people, men and women, do bad things to protect what they love.

Yes, that is what I learned from Scarlett O’Hara and Mr Rochester.

What I learned from fairy tales wasn’t be pretty, be tidy, kiss frogs because they may be princes. My education came from the villains. I learned to never pretend to be something I wasn’t because that would get me shut up in a cask stuck with nails and dragged through the streets. I leaned to never be wicked to others because that would get me shut up in a vat with poisonous snake and then boiled in oil. I learned to be happy and grateful for what I have because, like the materialistic fisherman’s wife, I could lose it all in a flash, and its only ‘stuff.’

In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston’s utter ruin teaches us how to be human far better than the Beast does when he is transformed by love. Gaston’s transformation from man into a real hellish beast shows us that the villains are the true teachers in fairy tales and in life.

Warning: Houseguests Can Kill Your Mojo

I’ve always wondered why I feel most creative when I’m not in any position to be able to write. For instance, why is it, when I’m doing my best June Cleaver, washing clothes, entertaining, giving Siciilan cousins lessons in English Idioms (and doing all of this with incredible skill, mind you), I’m on a sort of autopilot. I drift on the wind. As I smile and laugh and whip up a bitchin’ vegetarian 3 bean chili at the last moment, my mind balloons and floats away.
Thanks to t
he Barometric Pressure of Creativity (BPC), I hear entire conversations between characters. I work out tricky plot points. I figure out how to mislead the reader into thinking it was Professor Plum in the Library with the candlestick.

Then, when I no longer have a house full of Eyetalian guests, when all is calm, quiet, the pasta has been put away, and it is ripe for me to tippity-tap on my mac, the BPC that inflated my head with plot points and dialogue and red herrings, that kept me awake because my head had become the size of a hot air balloon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, suddenly dissipates.
I sit down at my trusty mac, expecting all the brilliance that kept me from my sleep to re-inflate my head into that giant balloon, but I seem to choke on all that hot air and pressure. Everything has leaked out. I’m limp, uncreative, and thinking about cleaning the toilet. That’s how bad it is.

Yes, it’s frustrating. Very annoying as well, and you know with this complete lack of creativity, I have no option now, after I Clorox my toilet bowl of course, but to watch Jane Eyre.

Thumbing my nose at the other Jane.

I suppose, because I have a raging sinus infection and I’m feeling squirrely, I’m gonna throw down this here gauntlet and let the mud-slinging begin.

You Jane Austen lovers can keep your precious Lizzy and Mr Darcy. Who cares about fine manners, social standing, and an aloof guy in a wet shirt? Gimme, gimme a man who HAS a sense of humour, a man who has more than one mood, a man who shows his free-hee-hee-kin‘ passion. Gimme, gimme Edward Fairfax Rochester.

It’s all Charlotte Bronte’s fault

Instead of writing, instead of researching, instead of eating more than peanut butter on saltines for dinner, I spent Shrinky’s vacation reading and watching various adaptations of Jane Eyre. And I infected others with my obsession–didn’t I Swell?

With Shrinky in the land of Cannoli and Chianti I was all set to write and write and write. I had a month to myself to shape And She Was into a full fledged novel with a beginning, MIDDLE, and end. I failed miserably, thanks to Ms Bronte, Jane, and Mr Rochester. More blame falls to Orson Welles, the BBC & Boston’s PBS station, WGBH, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as well. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know you know I write contemporary romance. I write romantic comedy in a world where new contemporary and new contemporary romantic comedies are near impossible to find (let alone be published). What the hell am I doing reading a Historical romance like Jane Eyre, right? 
Here’s where I confess to two things. Recently, OK, yesterday, I pilfered schtuff from the housekeeping cart at a four-star ocean-side hotel (Hint: You shove the plundered goods into your socks, NickyStrickland of the gorgeous hair Sticklands) and, (as many of y’all already know) I have an obsession with Jane Eyre, a bizarre affliction that struck me when I was a Jane-poor, plain, obscure, and little fourteen year old. And let me tell you, a snowy Michigan winter makes a man like Edward Rochester mighty, mighty appealing to a friendless, short-arsed teenager.

What happened in Shrinky’s absence was this: I was sucked into the Bronte vortex. I read the book again and the next day, I went out and bought the 2006 BBC Toby & Ruth because I’d only seen it twice before. I watched all 4 hours in one evening. Then I dragged out the other versions I had; Orson Welles with Joan Fontaine from 1944, The A&E one with Ciaran Hinds, 1983’s Timothy Dalton offering, the 90s Zeffirelli adaptation with William Hurt. I watched those all too. And I read the book again. In the dead of winter, alone as I was when I was 14, 21, and 27, I felt compelled to read, to watch, to breathe Jane Eyre over and over. In one short weekend it became vital, as vital as my morning Starbucks, for me to read Jane and watch Ruth and Toby.

Yes, much has already been written about the sublime four year old adaptation, but now you get my buck and a half on the matter. Ruth Wilson is the first to get Jane right. No actress has ever managed to capture her loneliness, her stubbornness and passion–the kind of stuff that made me feel like Jane when I was 14 and all those other ages. Ruth’s predecessors were stiff, made of wood, cardboard, or some kind of faux-wood substance that pre-dated Botox and didn’t allow their facial features to move. Ruth made Jane live at last! As for Rochester, well, until Toby Stephens took on the role, it was all Orson Welles for me. Orson had the surliness, some sensitivity, a few flashes of wit and humour. However, Toby left Orson for dead. Toby nails the characterisation. Able to be both ugly and ridiculously handsome, Toby made Rochester, a man prone to moodiness and brooding moments, utterly human and therefore truly heroic in my eyes.

‘Scuse me while I sigh and swoon a moment. Yes. I used the word swoon.

And now for the yes, I’m a freak part. In the last two months I have viewed the Toby Stephens/Ruth Wilson version of Jane Eyre 64 times. Had my plane been on time yesterday I would have made it 65 consecutive days of Jane. You can say I am quite well versed in Jane. Ahem. But wait. Here’s the scary part of my compulsion. Since the Toby & Ruth adaptation was, and is, so perfect, I’m shaking in my size fives about an upcoming adaptation. Yes, babies, Jane Eyre is being re-adapted once more. Because many of the pre-Toby/Ruth versions have been shite, and, what with all the misery in the world, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Is it wrong of me to ask God to make the upcoming 2011 Jane Eyre release with Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender a non-blow or suckfest?

Your comments are appreciated.