In Timothy Findley’s novel The Wars, romance seems out of reach. Sex is not coupled with positive feelings and emotions; it’s a transaction and it’s violent. Robert’s first sexual experience is not with someone he particularly cares about; it’s with a sex worker named Ella. The encounter makes Robert deeply uncomfortable and Ella flabbergasted. Ella then shows Robert the violent nature of sex when she summons him to spy on the sadomasochism of Tattler and another man.
Indeed, throughout Findley’s novel, sex is tied to violence and not romance. Later on, Robert has violent sex with Barbara. Shortly after that, he is violently raped by other soldiers.
Similar to romance, marriage is mostly absent from Robert’s life. It’s as if neither marriage nor romance can survive the cruel, violent conditions that Robert and the other soldiers must endure. Of course, Robert’s parents are married, which might lead one to claim that Findley depicts marriage as something that’s best suited for people in relatively peaceful environments.
In Fall on Your Knees, it’s possible to say that Ann-Marie MacDonald depicts marriage with the same kind of cruelty and severity that populates Findley’s wartime novel.
At first, the relationship between James and Materia could be labeled romantic. After all, young, forbidden love plays a key part in many famous romance stories, including William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
However, one should consider the age gap: James is 18 and Materia is “12 going on 13.” More so, once they get married, things quickly fall apart. Materia is disowned by her family and soon wishes that she hadn’t married toxic James. In turn, James wishes he wouldn’t have been such a predator and married Materia. Yet James predatory nature manifests itself again via his eldest daughter Kathleen.
Kathleen could be an insightful way to discuss the depiction of romance in MacDonald’s novel. Romance, it appears, is possible; although, it might be worth noting that the romantic relationship between Kathleen and Rose takes place separate from marriage and heteronormativity.