Number one: I really do like (SUBTLE, well-crafted, thoughtful) romance in books but,
Number two: I am also thoroughly embarrassed by the whole topic and,
Number three: am very picky and critical
Admittedly, I don’t read actual romance novels–not to diss the genre, but it’s not my thing–and if it’s not done well ensconced in a different genre, I WILL roll my eyes and cringe and wince. I could list all the tropes that drive me mad, but really, it’s not the tropes so much as it’s the execution.
But in light of the upcoming Valentine’s Day–a holiday which I usually forget about, and don’t really celebrate–and my general lack of anything better to say, I am going to do a version of a Top Ten Tuesday (from here). Even though it’s Wednesday. I am going to list the literary, film, or tv romances that I love, for better or worse, for silliness or sense.
Note: I feel embarrassed admitting to any of this. For some reason, in the circle in which I grew up, admitting to things like crushes, and swoony, romantic feelings was viewed as the height of stupidity. We all fancied ourselves tough, indifferent girls who didn’t deal in that sort of nonsense (or maybe it was just me? Maybe I was the one that did that. I don’t know). I realize now that that was a version of nonsense all it’s own, and the truth is, I was Anne-of-Green-Gables level when it came to my romantic musings in my own head.
In light of the above: Anne and Gilbert. I have read Anne of the Island so many times because of just a couple of scenes where poor Gilbert is pining and Anne is in denial, and then he almost dies.
Note: An irony. I was told I was “like Anne” a lot growing up and I felt both complimented and disturbed. I loved Anne, but I did not fancy any of the boys I knew as a child. I didn’t want any of them to be my Gilbert. I, like Anne, wanted someone ‘tall, dark, and melancholy’ who was a mystery. I ended up meeting my future husband around the same age as Anne did Gilbert (12) and was emphatically, resolutely uninterested in him for over a decade, even though everyone thought we should get together.
2. Mara and Sheftu in Mara Daughter of the Nile. This was a book I read for school, maybe sixth grade, while studying Egyptian History. The romance in this book is foundational for all that I ever found romantic afterwards. There’s danger, and spying, and plots, and people realizing that–oh no!–they actually care when all they wanted to be was indifferent.
3. Jane Eyre and Rochester…no, wait, hear me out! The tension in that book is AMAZING. You have this complex situation, where Rochester has all the social/cultural power over Jane, and where she is so (socially and personally) vulnerable and this almost ruins them both, but she is so strong, and she doesn’t let that happen. She is overwhelmed by her attraction to him, and she struggles, but is still able to walk away when she has to. Just goes to show that a scene without so much as a kiss or a touch can cause your heart to race.
4. Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion. Again, brilliant tension. Every time they’re in the same room, you can feel them holding their breath, even if they never so much as speak to one another. Bonus points for the fact that both characters are older and more mature, and we do not see their first youthful romance, but rather it’s redevelopment after a severe wound and several years’ passage.
5. Little John and Cecily in Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood. Again, the things I love: danger, battle, secrets, subtle confessions of love when all seems lost. I think it is telling that most of these are from childhood/teenage years. I just don’t read a whole lot of stuff with romance in it anymore, and I think I’m pickier now than I was then.
6. This one is a bit of a stretch actually. I don’t actually advocate it, I just want to explain: Ivanhoe and Rebecca (not Rowena!) in, well, Ivanhoe. I did not care one fig for Rowena, and I actually thought much less of Ivanhoe because of his failure to see Rebecca for the incredible woman she was. There is a heartbreaking scene (which I wrote an analytical paper on in high school) where Ivanhoe is wounded and being cared for by Rebecca and he is–youthfully, shallowly–entranced by her beauty. Then he realizes that she is Jewish and, abruptly, all those fine feelings go cold. And Rebecca is saddened, but accepts it and carries on because she’s used to this kind of treatment.
So, really, this is Rebecca’s book, not Ivanhoe’s, and he doesn’t really deserve her anyway and I don’t even know why I’m talking about this. I feel the sudden urge to go re-read this book right now.
Note: So I’m scanning my shelves and not finding very many books with romance, much less ones I really liked, so we are carrying on to tv/movies.
7. Mulan and Shang. Hits all of my favorite tropes: girl almost gets killed BECAUSE she did the right thing. Guy has to get past his cultural beliefs about her. War, danger, and intense camaraderie.
8. This is so embarrassing to admit. I stopped watching NCIS when Cote De Pablo left the show, because I loved Tony and Ziva, and now that was never going to happen, so I didn’t care any more. I feel like such a youth! Also, again, a camaraderie romance. Shared experience.
9. This scarcely counts, because it’s not really a romance so much as a moment. (It is so much harder to come up with 10 than I thought!) Mary MacEachran and Robert Parks (Kelly McDonald and Clive Owen) in Gosford Park. This is one of my all time favorite movies, and the scene towards the end between these two is one of the main reasons.
10. Alice and PK from Monsoon Wedding. I love this movie with a fiery passion, and this sweet, background romance between the somewhat absurd wedding organizer and the quiet girl from Bihar, is only one of the reasons. It’s all so soft and sweet, but there’s so much meat in the overarching stor(ies).
The scene between Ria and her Uncle towards the end, when he stands up for her breaks my heart every single time.
I love the abrupt contrast between Alice and PK’s sweet little wedding.
And the big, traditional Punjabi wedding.
I recommend this movie to EVERYONE!!!!
And that’s all folks!