Consider the following plot (a real plot, from a novel I’ve read, but with names changed to prevent a spoiler). Abigail is engaged to Bert, and Christopher is engaged to Danielle. Abigail and Christopher meet at a house party at a country estate, and of course, they fall in love. But because they live in a bygone era, honor takes precedence over emotion. Abigail returns home and marries Bert. Christopher returns home and marries Danielle. Years pass, events conspire. Bert suffers a terminal illness that terminates him. Danielle has the misfortune to be directly under a German bomb.
Drum roll, swelling tide of romantic orchestral music. Abigail and Christopher meet again, and to the great delight of all their friends and relations (who never liked either Bert or Danielle very much), Abigail and Christopher marry.
Is something wrong with this picture? What’s going on here for the reader? What about the writer?
As the reader, I’m being urged to hope for the breakdown of two marriages, and when Bert and Danielle die, I’m encouraged to heave a sigh of relief and cheer on Abigail and Christopher as they move toward their reunion.
As the writer, what would I be doing? The author of this novel happens to be long dead, so there’s no way of knowing what she was thinking as she wrote. But it is fair to state that she arranged her novel in such a way that the eventual marriage of Abigail and Christopher is what every right-thinking character (and reader?) hopes will occur.
One voice in my head says, “Oh, come on already. It’s just a story, and at least they didn’t commit adultery.” But the other voice says, “Isn’t there something faintly adulterous about writing this story? Deliberately killing off the intentionally unappealing spouses so the two attractive people can marry?”
I wonder at what point our fictional acts as writers touch on our real-life morality as human beings. Does it matter if or how the story argues for an ideal?
At what point could a fictional creation become a real-life trespass, a figurative breaking of the commandments? Are the characters and events part or not part of their literary creator? Is there no moral connection between fiction writing and real life?
What do you think?
-Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash