Puttin’ on the Tropes
The second definition in Oxford is a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
In Merriam-Webster? A common or overused theme or device : cliché
Dude. Way harsh.
What the critics – and Merriam-Webster apparently – fail to acknowledge is that dedicated readers of romance novels not only accept tropes, they actively seek out their favorites. Tropes are like a secret handshake between the author and the reader; a sly wink that says we understand one another.
Not only that, but tropes are a way of conveying a cultural context. A trope carries its own definition, a whole frame of reference that can be built into a story and comment on it at the same time that it utilizes it and (we hope) extends it.
He mastered Berlin’s complicated rhythms and overlaid them with the effortless skill of his tapping. No matter how many “Astaires” back him in that last chorus line, there’s really only one Fred. The epitome of smooth sophistication. The pinnacle of dance mastery.
Bertie, born into money and society, is never quite able to master its intricacies. He can never achieve the level of sophistication that Fred managed with such ease – he doesn’t understand the complexity (abstracted out as the syncopation of the song) at a basic level and needs Jeeves to translate for him.
We know how high Frederick is aiming – that’s the point. If the Creature can deliver that number, the ultimate in civilization, Frederick will have proved the worth of his work. But nobody can touch Astaire, and the mastery is beyond the poor Creature’s reach, just as it was beyond Bertie’s.
Each of these uses what we know about the number – the weight of its tradition – to tell the story. Each story is different, even if the trope is the same. We can enjoy each for its own sake, while sharing in that wink, that handshake.
We understand one other.
It makes the journey all the sweeter.