Artist(s):Kate Mosse, Richard Curtis and John Mullan
Venue: Literary Arena
Reviewer: James Bartholomeusz
The concept of ‘universal themes’ in literature has been moving in and out of fashion for centuries, and we are currently in a period of resurgence. As the extreme relativism of postmodern theory gives way to a revival of Weltliteratur, critics have become confident in discussing ideas common in writing across time and space. While the tendency can be to grasp for such weighty things as God and death, marriage was the subject of this amusing conversation between novelist Kate Mosse, screenwriter Richard Curtis and literary historian John Mullan.
Weddings are central plot pieces in many major novels, plays and films. Mullan cited the union of Peleus and Thetis in Greek mythology as the starting point of the Trojan War, and therefore of the Western canon – the point at which Paris is beguiled into choosing the most beautiful of three goddesses, provoking the vengeance of the other two. More recently, we have the masterful opening scene of The Godfather, in which the wedding of Connie Corleone provides a backdrop to the introduction of the mafia clan and its members. And of course, the notorious Blood Wedding sequence from Game of Thrones enjoyed an early mention, a grotesquely violent bloodletting that both entirely changed the course of the series and cemented George R. R. Martin’s reputation for ruthless character disposal.
The key insight of the discussion was that a happy marriage – as opposed to a happy wedding – cannot be the primary subject of a novel or a film, as it lacks the dramatic tension to build a truly interesting piece of art. The marriage in question must either be troubled (we look to the novels of Evelyn Waugh as paradigmatic cases) or happy but relegated to the background, secondary to another composite element that will drive the plot. Interestingly, however, the consensus was that these rules do not apply to television series. Given the space to examine the evolution of a marriage, the mundane as well as the tender and vitriolic, serials like The Simpsons, Modern Family and The Archers are much more able to portray realistic matrimony.
Apparently not quite the sentimental father of British romantic comedy, Curtis showcased some rather cynical views about marriage on screen: he imagines that most of the couples placed together at the end of his films will not last, and thinks that the only sure-fire way to enjoy a successful marriage is to experience some sort of joint trauma that can weld two individuals together. Nevertheless, he received rousing applause for his dismissal of the modish idea that ultra-violent action cinema is, above all other genres, ‘grippingly realistic’. Human relationships are the grist of so much drama, and marriage remains fertile territory for novelists, playwrights and screenwriters alike.