I’ve just had two moments come together, where kisses and heroes are in my zeitgeist. The first is that I’ve just finished revising ‘The Great Gatsby’ with one of my A level students, and I found myself justifying why it’s a great novel, and what redeems it from just being a sordid tale. Superficially, Gatsby and Daisy’s affair is exactly that – an affair. Yet, it’s that kiss that makes it all worthwhile. It’s that kiss that can only ever happen once and can never be reclaimed, no matter how hard Gatsby tries, and the wonder of that kiss makes it all innocent again. Before that, everything has led up to that moment: after that, it can never be the same. The kiss redeems the book; the kiss redeems Gatsby, with his gangster connections; it redeems Daisy, an irritating ditz. It’s voyeuristic: it’s Nick’s imaginings of the kiss, and we revel in the description of it. As soon as it is there, the magic of it has disappeared, like the light at the end of the dock:
“Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.”
It’s stopped being marvellous simply because it’s now achievable. It goes from a magnificent dream back to the mundane, like every great love does when it becomes real.
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
And then it’s over. I think it’s the most magnificent kiss in all literature, the most romantic and yet the most tragic. As soon as it blossoms, it fades, like the perfection of the cherry blossom. Mono no aware in action.
Those kisses can only happen once, and are perfect until time moves us on back into real life. All the anticipation, all the waiting, all now made mundane. After that, nothing is the same.
The second discussion revolved around a conversation my friend Elizabeth overheard… two ladies talking about how ‘Fredrick’ was the best hero from nineteenth century literature, and how the novel he comes from is a social commentary with every part of life represented.
I don’t know who the Fredrick in question is. We pondered this for a while. However, it raised some great questions about our favourite ‘heroes’. Elizabeth’s, like mine, I suppose, is Mr Darcy (or, rather more specifically, Colin Firth as Mr Darcy). I like the Heathcliff heroes, it must be said.
My top heroes, then, in a kind of order:
1. Jay Gatsby, because he’s a criminal, but the most profound romantic
2. Rhett Butler, because a man should always be in charge (how sexist of me!) and his words: “You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how!” are the words I’ve longed to hear from my own Rhett Butler.
3. Mr Darcy (Colin Firth’s interpretation…) because he’s such an English ‘man’ – all restraint and passion beneath the surface, and because Colin Firth made me see how you shouldn’t think someone is great if they’re playing Mr Darcy, until Elizabeth realises. He made me think he was unsuitable to be Darcy until he just was. Perfect
4. Kabir Durrani in ‘A Suitable Boy’ because Lata should have married him, she just should have, not the sensible boy in the smart shoes. And because men in cricket whites are just … so…. hmmmmm
5. Moritz Danieki in ‘Random Acts of Heroic Love’ because he walks thousands of miles for Lotte
6. Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’ – all that raw passion and so much better than Mr Rochester, the jail-keeper for Bertha. Far too gothic for me.
7. Gabriel Oak in “Far from the Madding Crowd” because he’s again a quintessential English man who waits for the love of his life with an eternal patience.