Taking it on Faith

By Poison Ivy,

Okay, I admit it. In addition to loving romances and comic books, I am an opera freak. So there I was, watching Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” (the major Czech opera that set the standard for all others), and suddenly the hero did something that heroes used to do all the time in romances. And sometimes, still do. He demanded blind faith from the heroine.

The hero, Jenik, is putting one over on the whole town. He claims to be a stranger from Moravia, wherever the heck that is. And he’s in love with and has been wooing a young girl, Marenka. But her parents need money and want her to marry a rich young man. Lots of machinations later, Jenik makes it seem as if he has sold out Marenka—given her up for 300 ducats. Now that’s a familiar romantic situation, the hero being paid off to get out of the heroine’s life. And then of course someone tells the heroine that he has sold her out, betrayed her, denied their love, etc.

At this point, she confronts him, which is certainly better than a lot of romance heroines in books I have read. They tended to just run away themselves, usually into becoming Daddy’s Little Stepford Daughter, or whatever. They certainly did not listen to any explanations. Unfortunately, this heroine confronts her lover only to demand a yes or no answer as if they’re in court. And she follows another classic pattern by refusing to listen to the hero’s attempts to explain his trick. And so that gives rise to a funny argument scene, and a rather tragic-sounding song she sings. But he keeps trying to get her to take him on faith, to ignore what facts she has learned, and to just believe in him despite the facts. In direct contradiction of the facts. And she balks.

This reminded me of an explanation Gay Talese gives about mafia family dynamics in his book Honor Thy Father. He says that gangsters deliberately try to break their women down, so the women cling to them personally but have no will to adhere to any other moral compass. In other words, they accept their male relatives’ word as law, and even as truth. One sees this in the Godfather movies when Fay confronts the antihero about his killing his own brother-in-law, and he just lies to her to control her. Although Fay eventually figures him out, at the moment, she blindly takes him on faith.

This has always seemed wrong to me. When heroes playing a double game lead their women into believing that they are crooks, they frequently demand that the women believe in them to the detriment of the heroine’s own moral standards. Or the heroine voluntarily believes, and tries to save the hero, either from himself, or from the approaching consequences she fears will happen to him when his villainy is discovered. This always makes me squirm. It’s so embarrassing: here she’s desperately worried about him, possibly contravening her own moral code to try to help him escape, and he’s inwardly laughing at her or patronizing her. He knows what’s going on and she doesn’t. And he won’t tell her. It’s on a need to know basis, and she, the very woman he loves, isn’t in his inner circle. I hate it. It’s such a demeaning dynamic.

On the other hand, there are people in your life for whom you would commit crimes. People for whom you would risk your life so they would escape the consequences of their actions, even their evil actions. People whose actions you deplore, yet whom you would support no matter what. So I understand that the act of faith that the hero demands of the heroine (or the author demands of her) is in reality just another way of showing the depth of the heroine’s love. Of showing that it has no boundaries, etc.

But then consider the Meat Loaf lyric, “I Would Do Anything for Love (but I Won’t Do That)” There are limits. There should be limits. Limits to what a lover should ask of another lover. Limits to what a heroine should forgive in a hero. Limits to how much power in a relationship one person should cede to another.

The faith the hero should expect from the heroine is not the same as blind trust in the face of evidence that he has betrayed her. He needs her to believe that he is not the man to commit wrongful acts. Thus, he needs her to have confidence in his honesty, confidence in his fidelity, etc. So in the future when she sees him with another woman or doing something else that could be misconstrued, he needs her to have the confidence in him (and in herself) to assume that nothing bad is happening, and then to find out the facts. Not instantly to assume that he has betrayed her. This is the kind of faith a lover needs, not the other kind.

But true to the folk origin of this story, in this case, the hero is playing a trick on the matchmaker and on his own estranged father. He’s doing it to attain his own ends, and not counting the pain his behavior causes the heroine. Considering the grudging reunion with his father (grudging on both sides), his double dealing is even more destructive. Why hurt his beloved and show up his father as having been tricked, if he hopes for a happy future with either of them? It doesn’t make sense.

And that’s the unintended consequence of a hero’s demand for the heroine’s full faith, for her abandonment to love. Once he has shown her how deeply he can lie to her about who and what he is, once he has betrayed her innocent initial belief in him, she will always at the back of her mind have a niggling doubt: Is he lying to her again? Will he betray her at last? The suspicion, once planted, will always be there. How ironic that a demand for faith is what can cause a permanent lack of faith.