Romance in September

(Warning: spoilers below)

“What’s the best love story you’ve ever read?”

This was the question interestingly posed on Facebook’s Woman Alive Book Club page.  There were a lot of suggestions – Ross and Demelza from Poldark, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre” were obviously high on the list.  Also of course Anne Shirley (“Anne of Green Gables”) and Gilbert Blythe.  Male readers may be puzzled by that, but for a lot of women Anne and Gilbert are right up there with Romeo and Juliet.

My contribution was:

“This is surprisingly difficult – obviously I don’t read enough romance. Benedick and Beatrice – “I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is that not strange?” perhaps? Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glencora in Trollope’s “Can You Forgive Her?” have a great scene – “You are wrong in one thing. I do love you.” Orlando and Sam Fredericks in Tad Williams’s Otherland SF series….”

And I still find it difficult, and I’m not sure why.  I know romance isn’t my favourite genre for reading, but I think I’m as soppy as the next person when it comes to liking an ending that includes wedding bells.  And yet I’m almost stumped.

Part of the reason was that I originally misread the question as “what’s the best love scene you’ve ever read?”  And I realised eventually that I had a very restrictive version of love scenes.

I found that I thought a love scene was a conversation between two people, in which they both verbally express their love for each other, probably for the first time on at least one side.

Do you agree?  Because this eliminates an awful lot.

It means no Jane Austen, for instance.

With the exception of her early comedy, “Love and Freindship”, I don’t think Austen has any scenes where a man (or woman) is quoted by the author as saying “I love you” and someone else is quoted as answering “I love you too.”

Mr Knightley, Mr Darcy (in person) and Captain Wentworth (on paper) pour out their emotions to the heroines.  And what do the heroines do?

Emma: “What did she say?  Just what she ought, of course.  A lady always does.”

Elizabeth: “…now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change… as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.”

Anne: “…they exchanged again those feelings and promises which had once before seemed to secure everything…”

Jane Austen doesn’t bother telling us what these women actually reply, presumably in part because we who have followed their perspectives throughout know perfectly well what the heroes don’t.

(Anne is a special case, because Wentworth writes his proposal after hearing her tell someone else her views on hopeless love, and realising that she probably loves him still.  Her eager desire to talk to him afterwards is an answer in itself.  But those views are not expressed directly to him.)

In “Sense and Sensibility”, Edward Ferrars doesn’t even say he loves Eleanor.  He only tells her that his ex-fiancee has married someone else.  What does she do?  She runs out of the room.

All of these are really love scenes, but the Austen rule seems to be that if we hear both sides of a proposal scene, the answer will be a definite “No.”

Other romantic couples who would have no love scenes by my cruel definition are: Esther and Allan in “Bleak House” (one of the best Dickens love stories, but we are not given words of love between them), Ron and Hermione (a romance which I predicted as far back as “The Chamber of Secrets”, but which is sealed wordlessly with a kiss), and Aravis and Shasta in “The Horse and His Boy” (referred to as happening in the future).

But even widening my view a bit, I still don’t seem to be coming up with very many scenes.  Georgette Heyer writes some nice ones (“Cotillion”, in particular) and indeed Agatha Christie (“Death Comes as the End”), although some of her happy endings are terrifyingly chauvinistic.  (“I knew I loved you when you tried to strangle me”, is one, and “Yes, please order me to give up my successful career to marry the man who has twice overlooked me to marry someone else”, is another, paraphrased.)

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane have a host of love scenes, constituting a powerful love story, over several books.

There is, of course, the proposal in “The Young Visiters”, written by Daisy Ashford in 1890 at the age of 9, possibly best proposal scene ever.

“When will you marry me Ethel he uttered you must be my wife it has come to that I love you so intensly that if you say no I shall perforce dash my body to the brink of yon muddy river…

Oh Bernard… I certainly love you madly you are to me like a Heathen god she cried looking at his manly form and handsome flashing face I will indeed marry you.”

She shortly afterwards faints with joy (“well some people do”, Bernard comments).  The whole chapter should be read whenever you are feeling depressed.  On the other hand you may feel some sympathy with Bernard’s unfortunate rival.

Any other suggestions for either favourite love scene, or favourite love story?  I’m still miffed that I can think of so few of either.

Finally, and probably inevitably, I read them, but can I write them?

I don’t think “We Do Not Kill Children” contains a love story, although it just possibly contains a love scene by the above definition (odd).  The current draft of “The Tenth Province of Jaryar” does contain both, but it remains to be seen whether they will make the final cut.

Love from the very slightly sun-tanned PPI Blogger

  • Stephen Hall

    27th September 2016 at 4:49 pm Reply

    What? No Little Town on the Prairie Penny? I’m surprised at you!

    • Penelope Wallace

      27th October 2016 at 12:49 pm Reply

      I’ve only just spotted your comment…Yes, I suppose Laura and Almanzo do count!

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