The Time Traveler's Wife The Time Traveler's Wife discussion


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Why is this a romance?

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Paul Dale It seems somewhat of a odd question but for me it's a valid one.

Given the nature of how they meet and the very strong pre-determination in all that happens, is this really a romance? Do the characters have a choice?

I think I may be answering my own question when I say that my notion of romance is somewhat different to the relationship that is written about here.

I would love to hear why people think this is a romance and what is romantic about this book.

(A touch of background, I studied The Love Story as part of a degree so I have real interest in the subject.)


message 2: by W (new) - rated it 4 stars

W I think that's one of the things that makes it such an interesting romance to read -- if you know you're destined to be together, how would that change how you approach your relationship? Most relationships you can choose to walk away, but they already knew that wasn't the case. Also, since they met each other at different times, they each had to develop their feelings and grow in their love at very different rates -- Henry as an adult couldn't show his love for Claire in the same way when he visited her as a child, and when they finally did meet in the current time, Claire's feelings had already developed a lot more than Henry's. They struggled through so many complications of their love, and yet somehow stuck with it.


message 3: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy Well at least for him, he didn't meet her in his "real" lifeline (if that makes sense), until he was an adult (the scene where she knew exactly who he was but he had no idea who she was). As for her, yes, it seems a little like a forced destiny, but if she didn't love him and want to be with him, she could have chosen to ignore him when she saw him in the scene where he didn't know her. I see love as being partial to destiny - if the right thing didn't happen at the right moment, a lot of great loves may not have existed.


Katie Henry discusses the difficulty of living a life where it seems like everything is obviously predetermined somewhere in the book (sometime after he meets Clare, I believe). He basically says that the only way to manage it without going crazy - without giving up on everything and just basically watching the world go by on the assumption that you can't affect anything anyway - is to live as if you do have control, as if nothing is decided yet and it could all still change.

I think that's part of what makes it a romance. No matter what, Henry and Clare *behave* as if they have control, even when all evidence points to the contrary. They let love blossom before running off and getting married, even if they knew it would happen. And as a result, they allowed themselves to find a world of deep, passionate, rewarding love. That's what the ideal romance is, right? Deep, meaningful, intellectual as well as passionate . . . The kind of love that you want to come home to every night and the kind of partner you never want to live without again.

Yes, I would say that it is a romance, a love story. If it isn't, I would ask what you would say does qualify and why?


Paul Dale To answer our question, I am not entirely sure.

There's is a complex relationship but I can't get over the pre-determination. This book gives voice to a notion - they were meant to be together - which, for me, is the easiest kind of Holywood romance to the point of not being true romance.

A question that could be asked is: If Claire and Henry had met in the normal course of things, time travel aside, would they have fallen in love?

Claire has so many great qualities that I think that if she wasn't locked on to Henry by the plot then she would have attracted and fallen in love with another man long before meeting Henry. As it is, no other man has a chance.


Nichole My perception of why it is romantic is because despite everything that happens in the story and Henry's circumstances of never being present for long periods of time, is that they choose to be together. Claire certainly had the chance to walk away for nearly 30 years and find someone else, but she never does. Whether because she doesn't want to or because her destiny just says she isn't suppose to, but she doesn't. She put in a lot of effort and patience towards waiting for him in the future, and Henry, well, kept going back to her. It's not a "Hollywood" romance, it's reality (minus the time traveling).

Those of us ladies that have spouses and loved ones in the military feel like we go through this consistently; we have to be patient, continue to want to be with the person, and have faith/hope he'll come back to us. However, this story itself, is this good, because of the time traveling aspect. It adds the twist the story needed to make us find it appealing, romantic, and dramatic, compared to if it was another "realistic" sounding romance story - which would just be boring.


Mark I don't see it as A Romance. There are romantic elements, but primarily this is a love story, which is not exactly the same thing. It presents far more dimensions of actual lives that is usually found in what passes as Romance. It is not so constrained.

But the love, the devotion, the lust, the hurts, the disappointments, the rewards, the pitfalls, and the effacement of expectation found in this novel suggests a broader approach. The time travel element serves as a sharp metaphor for the kinds of absences that bedevil many relationships, while throwing the entire narrative into the kind of relief that comes from seeming to have known a loved one forever.

Anyway, my two coppers.


Paul Dale I certainly agree that when Claire is faced by the big wait until she sees Henry for that last time, it is her love that keeps her going. I think Mark makes a valid observation, which perhaps renders my question moot. This is less of a romance and more of a love story.


Nichole Although I started to agree with Mark myself, I looked up the definition of romance - romance as a noun, is the exact definition of this book. Although as a verb, it can be looked at differently. I mean, when I stop and think of romance, I think of people making gestures that prove their love (IE: man buying women flowers, giving massages, ... a whole lot of stuff), but at the same time what is romantic is subjective to the individual. My husband isn't a flower buyer, but every once in a while he'll clean the house for me, and that's about as romantic as he gets. From what I remember in the book, I don't recall a ton of romance, per se, but perhaps it was the notion of patience and the choice of wanting to be together that made it romantic.


Michael I thought the book was a romance, because no matter how many years they departed and resurfaced, they still deeply loved each other. Henry and Claire relationship was complicated with the time changes, but they still were very in love with each other, hence it was a romance story. Not your predictable romance, but it was a romance nonetheless.


message 11: by Yona (new) - rated it 4 stars

Yona Yurwit I think some would argue the inevitability makes it more romantic, and when you love someone it's easy to convince yourself it was "fated" or "meant to be." I don't think I'm in that camp, necessarily, but I don't think the circularity of it takes away from the way they took care of each other and treated each other. I think it's like an arranged marriage. You might still love that person even if you didn't choose them per say.


message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Dale Now that's an angle I did not see. In an arranged marriage romance can certainly bloom. A very interesting take on the situation.

To draw the original question out a bit, are there any specific actions by either Claire or Henry that people thought particularly romantic, along the lines of 'I wish my partner did that for me'?


Karen Scott As a romance reader, I don't consider TTTW a romance. I think it's a love story, and that's a slightly different beast to a romance novel. The fact that Henry dies (in a way) at the end precludes me from considering it a romance. I've always believed and it's always been preached to me that a romance has to have a happy ever after. TTTW didn't really have that did it?

Now of course, there are romantic elements to the book. Clare and Henry's relationship was definitely romantic, mainly because it was a relationship that survived, despite the challenges that Henry's condition brought.


Jason Lilly A destined love is still romantic. The whole idea of having a "soulmate" holds a sense of romanticism that may not fall under the "they met, they fell in love, they fought, they made up, they got married" kind of romance people are used to. But it is still romantic, the idea that there may be someone for everyone.


Nichole In my opinion, I don't see the death of someone at the end as an automatic notion that the book is definitely not romantic. The death of someone is simply a grief period, although we find authors like to make the death of someone the end of the story, usually, so that they don't feel the need in continuing the story on the survivor's grief. Although, this story did go beyond after Henry's death to his daughter being able to meet up with him sometimes and his wife still had the slight promise that she'd still see him again when his past traveled to the future, which in itself, is a bit romantic and can be a happy ending.


message 16: by Mark (last edited Mar 14, 2012 11:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark May I suggest that what's being debated here is a question of format? Romances, as Jason suggests, have come to be seen as formula stories, with predetermined components and outcomes, and often a rose-tinted view of human nature. Even Jason's remark "a destined love" is indicative of something that is a bit outside of what we mostly understand of the ways in which people love and have relationships. Nothing wrong with them, but let's face it, Harlequin et al have made considerable bank of the preset, modular "romance."

Which in no way says that any kind of a novel can't in some ways be "romantic." I write science fiction and I include quite a bit of romance in some of my books, but they are in no way Romance Novels.

So perhaps what differences exist in this thread are simply misuses of terms based on publishing conceits and certain kinds of story expectations. This is why I see TTTW as a love story---because what goes on between these two people, in spite of the larger context of the novel, resonates in my mind with the way people actually are.


Karen Scott Which in no way says that any kind of a novel can't in some ways be "romantic." I write science fiction and I include quite a bit of romance in some of my books, but they are in no way Romance Novels.

This was exactly point. The story was romantic, but it wasn't a romance per se.

So perhaps what differences exist in this thread are simply misuses of terms based on publishing conceits and certain kinds of story expectations. This is why I see TTTW as a love story---because what goes on between these two people, in spite of the larger context of the novel, resonates in my mind with the way people actually are.

I couldn't have put it better myself.


Nichole If you guys wanted to get THAT straight to the point, then perhaps we should just admit it's simply fiction. As we'd find it in the fiction section, not the romance section. Just as we'd find Mark's stories in the sci fi section, not the fiction section. Therein, I guess we can simply conclude it's just not a romance.


Karen Scott If you guys wanted to get THAT straight to the point, then perhaps we should just admit it's simply fiction. As we'd find it in the fiction section, not the romance section.

But, romance is fiction too...


Michael Brown Frankly, the fact that it's such a structurally accomplished and compelling novel means who gives a damn whether it's a romance (anyone want to go into detail about if it's different with a capital R..?), a love story, a symbolic treatise on the cost of onions, or an allegory (which it isn't, unless someone wants to give that theory a shot - my limited but intensive formal study of literary criticism suggests that you can go ANY-where with it). Sometimes it's just enough to know it's damned chuffing good and leave it at that, enjoy the happy mixed salad of it all. And I know, I agree it's good to analyse, like they used to say it's good to talk, but if anything this novel may be a bit of a genre-buster. It's got a lot going on - the romantic tropes, the love-story tropes (let's keep them separate for convenience), the science-fiction tropes, and even despite the shimmering of pre-destination mentioned occasionally above it still has its surprises. Last time I loved, I looked intensely and felt just as much, but I didn't do any slicing to get under the skin - same with this book.


Katie Paul, since you posed the question, perhaps you can clarify for us what you mean when you asked if people think that this is a "romance". Are you asking if we think it falls into the "Romance" genre (it sounds like there's a pretty strong consensus that it does not) or are you asking if it is a story with romantic elements? Or are you asking if it is a true love story and we're all simply getting hung up on the word romance unnecessarily?

You said that you have an interest in this question because you study The Love Story. Can you give us some more direction on what you are interested in? It sounds like there are quite a few people here who might be interested in what you are specifically looking at and for.


message 22: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Dale The question I posed was not an attempt to pigeon hole the book. What interests me are the elements of a narrative, regardless of genre, which readers take as romantic in nature. It could be an exchange in dialogue, a selfless act or whatever. When these romantic elements form a large part of the narrative then I think there is a more general romance being written.

What I was asking in the original question, and not clearly enough, was: What is it in this book that readers find romantic?

Do these combine sufficiently to make a romance. That could range from the highest level of how they met and how their relationship develops, to the small gestures and moments they share that demonstrate a deep and lasting love.

I am sure you can ask ten different people what they consider romantic and get ten different answers. I am interested to see if in this book there is an element which is widely regarded as romantic.

Two of the classics I studied were Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. These two alone underpin a lot of what many readers consider romantic and are quite different.

TTTW is different again, but having talked about as part of my local book club I remain curious as to the romance contained within it.

I think romance is an area that is difficult to master as a writer, and deserves study if you have any ambition to make character relations believable and engrossing for the reader.

To address the semantic difficulties that have arisen, I would say that romance generally forms part of a love story. Romance commonly builds into love or ends suddenly or tragically.

My take so far is that though I can see TTTW as a love story, I seem to be blind to the romance element. I need someone to shine the light and show me where the romance is in the book.


Michael Brown Is it significant that romance may be hopeless, but love almost never is? - though it can of course be unrequited. Either way, both have the seeds of potential uncertainty about them. Traditionally, Romance (that capital 'R' again) is a more adventurous and chivalric issue - with the small "r" it's leaning towards matters that are exciting or mysterious on a more intimate level. To add further to the tumult of course, there goes 'Dracula', the Gothic romance (Romance?), no-one's traditional idea of a candlelit dinner. If you were pinned to the wall and forced to say why this novel is romantic as opposed to being simply a romance (assuming you found yourself in such a quandary), it might come down to this: they love in spite of everything, or possibly BECAUSE of everything. You can't fault their dedication - she's earthbound and he's in orbit after all, so to speak. They love each other in instalments, hoping for a next chapter. They are neither hopeless nor left unrequited. Exciting and mysterious? You could say so. You could make a case for enviable. Maybe it's all a lot more straightforward than it seems.


message 24: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark I find it interesting that so many distinctions seem to be based on aesthetic actions (Romance) as opposed to the emotions expressed between two characters (love). I don't really have a stake in this one way or the other, but may I offer a striking example of the difference.

In the original screenplay for "Pretty Woman" the prostitute ended up dead of a drug overdose, her upper-crust paramour have abandoned her to get on with his life. Whatever passed between them supplied ample material for tragedy and certainly dealt with questions of love.

The ending everyone knows and loves is the gestural one in which love supposedly triumphs, resulting in a feel-good but largely unlikely (even implausible) ending where the knight returns to carry off Snow White with roses, a fancy car, and a bold gesture.

The former hued true to life, the latter was a fantasy.

Books like TTTW play with that substrate to marvelous effect because we are forced to decide if what is being said about the emotions is true in spite of the fact that the framework is fantastic or whether that framework, which is a matter of form, makes it a Romance.

It could be argued that the last scene makes it a Romance because it is in some way "happy." But this is false. The man who appears to her in the future to provide that impression is not the man who died in her timeline, but someone who has yet to share a good portion of their life together---and she knows it is only for a brief time that he'll be there, so what appears to be a "romantic" ending is actually just prelude to one last good-bye, but between two people one of which doesn't know what it means.

And yet they love each other still, which to my mind makes it very much a love story, but absent the necessary type of resolution to render it A Romance.


Nichole Mark wrote: "I find it interesting that so many distinctions seem to be based on aesthetic actions (Romance) as opposed to the emotions expressed between two characters (love). I don't really have a stake in t..."

Mark, I'm curious what books you consider A Romance then? Then is hopefully, not located in the Romance section of a bookstore, b/c then that would be too obvious.

As for romantic gestures in the story... I'd need to read it again. It's been like 4 years.


Katie Paul wrote: "The question I posed was not an attempt to pigeon hole the book. What interests me are the elements of a narrative, regardless of genre, which readers take as romantic in nature. It could be an exc..."

Thank you for clarifying your question.

I think that there has actually been a great discussion here about how the book is romantic as well as a love story, however I can offer a few "moments" that I, personally, found very romantic. Take these with the grain of salt that I think you probably need to take all such things, though, since what someone finds romantic tends to be a very personal and individual matter.

Probably the single most romantic moment for me was when Clare meets time-traveling Henry when she is tired and depressed from multiple miscarriages and he tells her that it's all worth it - that they will have a baby someday. It gives her hope and reminds her of how much he loves her when she needs it most and only he can see how much she needs it at that moment.

There's a section about Henry going back to visit Clare when she's 16 and helping her get back at a boy who abused her. I don't think *that* section is romantic, but after it's over there's a single paragraph about when he gets home, to his own time, to when he's married to her, that is perfectly, sweetly romantic. It's the middle of the night and Henry kisses a scar she has from the experience with the boy, even all those years later, that he never knew *really* how she got, and she knows then where he's been. All she says is "Thank you" and all he says is "It was my pleasure" and they never speak of it again. It's perfect.

This one is going to sound weird, but you'll just have to take my word for it (this is why I started by saying romance is deeply personal). Niffenegger describes Henry often getting sort of side effects from his time travel - nausea, dizziness, etc. They're inconsistent. The thing that's romantic is that Clare always has what he needs and always rolls with whatever it is, even from a young age. She has sandwiches ready, but isn't offended if he can't eat them now because of nausea. That's so romantic, if you ask me. Those are the moments that made me sigh and think "yep, that's love", and that's what a romantic moment should do.

I know my moments are probably odd, but I hope they help show how I saw the story as romantic.


Celise Short answer for me: I think it's a romance because they do still have to fall in love- learn who the other is and all. It might look predetermined but if it was meant to that they weren't going to love each other, the future would not have shown them together. Despite the inability to change what was known about the future, I think it never would have existed without their love for one another.


message 28: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Nichole asked what novels I consider Romance that would be in the Fiction & Literature section as opposed to the Romance section. I had to go back through memory for that one---it's been a while.

Specific titles mostly escape me, but the Kathleen Woodiwiss school of over-the-top "destined love" comes to mind most vividly. As in my earlier example with "Pretty Woman" this is the kind of feel-good plotline that sees the lovers together regardless of the obstacles or the unlikeliness of it working out. And by that I don't mean that it's in any way plausibly difficult but damn near impossible. Not only that, but differences between them are virtually erased. Class, religion, upbringing, etc, all become secondary or even totally unaddressed in any meaningful way.

Not that this can't be legitimate fodder for serious fiction---it happens in real life---but not without considerable struggle and consequence. By consequence, I don't mean the reactions of the main characters' contextual relations, but for them. There's the struggle to get together and then stay together and once successfully achieved, fade out, leaving the impression that now everything will be just fine.

Jane Austen is often held up as a precursor to contemporary romance, but I think this is a misunderstanding of what goes on in her novels. IN terms of consequence, just the opposite of what I described above is the case for Austen characters---the negative consequences all pertain if they DON'T get together and stay together. The inevitability in an Austen novel is the disaster that awaits them should they fail to "make it work." In that way, quite cleverly, she was doing a serious critique of her times and the social and class restrictions in which they lived. The heroines are tasked with finding the "right" relationship, which for them means avoiding the negative consequences of spinsterhood (or, worse, class expulsion) while still maintaining separate identities. In the kind of Romance that I think falls into that genre classification, identity isn't even found until the relationship is established.

Now, when it comes to TTTW, there's a dark side to Niffenegger's conceit which gets underdiscussed. It takes its cue (perhaps) from a much earlier work of SF, Heinlein's "Door Into Summer," which also features a time travel romance. But like the Heinlein novel, consider---Henry "raises" Clare to be his lover and wife. There's a bit of perversity in that which is completely glossed over because Henry never makes it overt, never engineers it, but in each appearance in Clare's life as she's growing up he does what he thinks necessary to bind her to him. He will need her more and more as "time" goes on. It is in this way highly manipulative on his part. What makes it acceptable is that Clare is always free to choose---and when she first seduces Henry, she does so at a point in his timeline at which he has yet to meet her.

The small "r" romance within the book is about all the things they do to make their life together work, but the thing that takes it out of category Romance is the array of consequences appended to every decision point, and it is not ultimately a happy set of consequences. Their lives---or at least Clare's---would be a hell of a lot easier with someone "normal." But the abnormality of their relationship does not "solve" the problem of their love, it is simply the reality of it, and they have to live with the downsides that continue to proliferate as the narrative goes on. You may call their love for each other "romantic" if you wish, and I wouldn't argue the point, but it is not A Romance in the sense that once they bind themselves to one another, nothing is resolved by the binding.

My opinion anyway.


Scott Seldon There are many types of romance. The most typical involves two people as they meet and fall in love. But you can also have a romantic story about two people as they live their lives. I'm a classic movie buff and I just got around to watching the 6 Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy. They were not popular because of the mystery, the mystery is rather simple. They were popular because Powell and Loy mastered the banter and feelings of a loving couple. It was the romance of their relationship that turned 1 book into 6 films.

In the case of TTTW, we get to see the romance from both sides. Clare doesn't have to fall for him, but she does. Then when Clare finds Henry, he doesn't have to fall for her, but he does. Then we get to see their relationship as it matures and develops and the tragedy of how things end, with the bittersweet promise of hope at the end.

While in many stories you get a partial picture, here we get the whole picture, from beginning to end. But it is the love of these two people that drives the story.


message 30: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark While in many stories you get a partial picture, here we get the whole picture, from beginning to end. But it is the love of these two people that drives the story.

Completely agree.


message 31: by Demetra (new) - added it

Demetra Love comes in different levels. This book in its entirety resonates with the fact that sometimes, you just can't help who you fall in love with; even if he does travel through different dimensions.

I enjoyed it.


message 32: by LisaLisa (last edited Jan 23, 2013 08:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

LisaLisa A romance is a love story, right? Is this a love story? Absolutely. This is an epic love story, one that spans the entirety of two people's lifetimes. Theirs evolves from childhood innocence and friendship, to young love, to a mature relationship that entails all the trials and tribulations that any long-term relationship deals with. Even at the end of the novel, Clare is still hopelessly in love with Henry. She is waiting for him, even though he tells her not to, and it's poignant and sweet and heartbreaking. I love this novel. It's not a romance like we see in the bodice rippers or contemporary romances about billionaire's and their naive secretary. This is more substantive, in my opinion, more mature and real, even though it is a fantasy in a way.


Jaymie Simmon I love this novel, too. Lisa Lisa, you hit on what makes it brilliant--it takes the deepest of human emotions - love- and examines it from many different angles, including how it would feel if wrapped in the fantasy of time travel. As if that weren't compelling enough, the reader is propelled through the story by the earnestness of the present tense. How creative and brilliantly carried out by Audrey Niffenegger (let's hear it for Chicago novelists.) Hats off to a GREAT writer!


message 34: by Ejs (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ejs Loved this book. I didn't want to read it because the notion of "time travel" left me cold. So many folks read and loved it that I had to see the draw of it. I find it a romance because I cried at the end. To me, that makes it a romance. Simply put....


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Time Traveler's Wife (other topics)
Pride and Prejudice (other topics)
Jane Eyre (other topics)