Once Upon a Time…
… there was a little girl who loved stories and fairytales. She discovered Andrew Lang’s colored fairy books and read through them—pretty colors first and not-so-pretty colors (like olive!) later. She had a peculiarity though: she only read the stories with princes or princesses. And, she felt cheated if there wasn’t a romance. (And very cheated if the romance ended in tragedy.)
I was that little girl. As I grew up, my love of stories grew, too. The winter I turned 12, my mother checked a book out from the library. I remember inspecting the cover, intrigued. Since Mom loved the book, I listened to the audio version.
Meet: Jane Austen
And so I met Jane Austen and the Bennet family. Now, when asked my favorite books—let alone romances!—Jane Austen’s classics are at the top of my list. What is it about her books that make them such good romances?
- Her stories are fairytales come to life since the England of Jane Austen seems almost as remote as fairyland. While fairytales introduce standard romance, Jane Austen brings the wonder of romance into everyday life.
- Each of her heroines is different. Lizzie Bennet is vivacious, Elinor Dashwood is quiet, Emma is outspoken, Anne is understanding. No matter your personality, you can find a heroine whom you understand—a heroine who is even a little like you.
- Beautiful, intelligent women are valued, appreciated, and pursued by upstanding men. Interestingly, love in Jane Austen never happens at first sight; it’s gradual. In a culture where men have often abdicated responsibility, it is refreshing to read a romance where men and women take traditional roles.
Romance in Unlikely Places: Mystery
When romance is considered as a separate genre, Jane Austen always comes in first. But other genres often contain strong romantic storylines. In fact, some of my favorite love stories occur in mysteries, such as Ellis Peters’ medieval mysteries set in 12th century England. Brother Cadfael is a crusader turned monk and, when not tending the abbey’s herb garden, his keen eye for detail often involves him in mysteries. Each mystery, in turn, features a romantic subplot. While the books don’t need to be read in order, some of the earlier ones, such as A Morbid Taste for Bones and One Corpse too Many, are great places to start. (Check out the great audiobook versions of Brother Cadfael!)
Dorothy Sayers, however, has written one of my favorite literary romances, between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Lord Peter Wimsey is a British aristocrat with the embarrassing hobby (in his family’s opinion) of detecting. Readers—and Lord Peter—meet Harriet Vane in Strong Poison, when the young authoress is accused of murder. Harriet appears again in Have His Carcass. Then, in Gaudy Night, she becomes the main character. Gaudy Night is my personal favorite, especially since the romance moves closer to front stage while the mystery recedes. As Peter and Harriet’s characters are developed throughout the books, it is evident that Peter loves and values Harriet for her intellect and character. Busman’s Holiday, originally a play, provides another glimpse of Harriet and Peter while they have a cameo appearance in “Talboys”—incidentally my favorite among Sayers’ short stories.
Romance in Unlikely Places: Comedy
For laughing at love, in the comic genre, P. G. Wodehouse is a gem.
Yet still, beneath the laughter is the fun, exciting formula: boy and girl fall in love, difficulties (usually in the form of draconic aunts) arise and are overcome. If not in the mood for this massive collection, try the Blandings Castle series, or Wodehouse’s novella, “A Damsel in Distress.”
A Happy Ending?
Whether in classics, mystery, humor, historical or general fiction, romance shares many of the same appealing elements. Why do we love good romance in books? Because, unlike life around us, we can read the last page and find a happy ending.
We have eternity written in our hearts. We know that really, once upon a time, a prince came to his country in disguise, ready to give his life to win an undeserving bride. We know that the bride, despite her faults, is loved, valued, and cherished by Him, made beautiful in His sight.
And we know, deep within us, that stories were meant to conclude with “…and they all lived happily ever after.” As Christians, we can hold to the hope that someday that is just what each of our stories will do, and the end will be but a better beginning. All this is romance!