I have sometimes wondered whether including a moral message is too heavy-handed for genre fiction, including romance. All authors, whether of genre or literary fiction have something to say, but besides telling a good story, what could that be? Have I included a “message” in In the Arms of the Enemy, my recently released romance novel? And If I have, what is it? I imagine that through the writing process, my own moral convictions and complexities have permeated the text, perhaps even subconsciously, and expressed themselves through my characters. But it was not until I had thrown myself into the first draft, so many years ago, that I even became conscious of the possibility.
Each of my three main characters wrestles with his or her conscience. Isabella Ricci has pledged her life to fight the Germans who have occupied her country and committed atrocities against her people, including the unjust execution of her own brother. She joins the Resistance and although she is involved in a romantic relationship with Massimo Baricelli, her superior in their squadron, she agrees to “cozy up to the enemy,” eventually ending up in the arms of German army officer Günter Schumann, in a scheme to elicit intelligence to use against the Nazis.
Massimo’s ethical dilemma begins when he sends his girlfriend Isabella on this espionage mission. He feels guilt over endangering her life and has to abide the thought that she is sleeping with another man, not something a macho man would easily endure. He reacts to the situation with a mixture of optimism at gaining intelligence, which will increase his status in their squadron, and resentment that he has to share his woman with another man, and the enemy, at that! Motivated by a hunger for his country’s freedom and his ambition to rise in the ranks, he foresees an end to the war, and is confident that his role on the victorious side will gain him future success and prestige. But he eventually experiences the pangs of conscience over how the decisions he has made to fight the enemy have imperiled those he loves.
Isabella struggles with whether to view herself as a patriot or a wanton woman. To further complicate matters, she begins to realize that she is enjoying the attentions of her German lover. She knows that if she allows herself to develop affectionate feelings for him, she will not be able to complete her mission.
Günter is blissfully unaware that the sweet Italian girl he is falling in love with is a spy, and he her target. He is less than blissful about his participation in the war. Günter, a decent man drafted into the German army, has only one experience directly killing an enemy in combat. He struggles to reconcile his own conscience with having caused the death of another human being. Later, his principles are more severely tested when he learns of atrocities committed by his own army.
Romance novels vary greatly, from lighthearted and humorous in tone to dark and weighty. What moral questions do other romance writers weave into their books? Would anyone care to offer an opinion?
Oh, and if you’re wondering whom Isabella ends up with in the end – Massimo or Günter – well, you’ll just have to read the book!
Lisbeth Eng’s novel, In the Arms of the Enemy, is available at The Wild Rose Press in paperback and e-book versions. Please visit her at www.lisbetheng.com.