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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Starry-Eyed



by Gwen Stewart

I’m a dreamy, starry-eyed, rainbow-in-the-sky romantic. My earliest imaginative fancies included men on white steeds and women with flowing hair and dresses. While my friends dramatized action-adventure stories, I wanted to spin elaborate tales of love threatened, love lost, and love rediscovered. I enjoyed romantic movies, musicals, and television shows in my preteen and teenage years.


On my sixteenth birthday, my aunt gave me Pride and Prejudice. I cracked the binding and read the first line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a great fortune must be in want of a wife.” Hmmm. Aunt Elaine was obviously trying to stretch my literary acumen. I’d heard of Pride and Prejudice, of course—it was on our summer reading list. But the title always struck me as political. So I avoided it, choosing to read Dante’s The Inferno instead. (I know. Who can account for the reasoning of teenagers?)

After wading through The Inferno, I revisited the first page of Pride and Prejudice. All that fancy, old English. It seemed so removed from what I knew. I put it down again.

Soon after—I don’t remember the particular circumstances—I finally made it through the first page. Then the first chapter. The second chapter hooked me. Mr. Darcy…oh, be-still-my-heart, Mr. Darcy. Aloof, yet secretly honorable. Rich beyond comprehension, but struck by the middle-class maiden, Elizabeth, who has the audacity to challenge, laugh, and sass him. He’s beguiled by her saucy smile, her dancing eyes. None of the fine ladies to which he’s accustomed compare. After meeting Elizabeth, he finds them preening and ostentatious.



A smitten man of high repute. A spirited young woman he adores. This romantic’s heart was brimming. I sighed with satisfaction on every page.

I’m not a literary expert; I have no advanced degrees in literature. But even this plebian knows that there’s something exquisite about Pride and Prejudice. Some say it’s the love story within political undertone. Some credit Jane Austen for blazing trails in literature—a romance that reads not as a fairy tale, but as a realistic account about two people caught in a web of society’s construct.

I say the magic of Pride and Prejudice is all of the above. Beautifully written, artfully layered, satirical yet light, I’ve never read a romance novel that comes close. I’ve read the book a dozen times at least; I can recite many lines of dialogue in order. (“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” I wrote that without looking it up, so forgive me if I took liberties with Ms. Austen’s sparkling prose.)

After reading Jane Austen, I consumed romance novels of all types. Even the worst were passable, and the best…ah, the best. For the past twenty plus years, the best romance novels bring joy to the cockles of my dream-spinning heart. And I’m not alone. Romance is among the best-selling genre in all categories. How can a genre with a foregone conclusion draw legions of readers?



This dreamy, starry-eyed, rainbow-in-the-sky romantic could wax poetic about the beauty of romance novels for pages and pages. Instead, I’ll let readers chime in below. What do you find engaging or appealing about romance novels? If it’s one of your favorite genres, why?

9 comments:

  1. I love it, Gwen! My parents gave me the complete collection of Jane Austen in one volume for Christmas during high school. I tossed it aside as "whatever" even though I loved books and romance. It wasn't until I took a class in college on the English novel that I read Emma and I was hooked! I'm glad I'm not the only one that spurred Jane at first sight!

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  2. Lovely post, Gwen.

    I think we read romance despite those foregone conclusions because it does stir our hearts. Somehow, 'heart-stirring' must release some chemical into our system. The interplay between the hero and heroine as they discover their love brings me back again and again. I can't say it's my favorite genre but I certainly want THAT element in any genre I read.

    Here's the romance novel!
    Sigh.

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  3. D'Ann, oh, I love Emma too! "I shall not call you Mr. Knightley...,I shall call you my Mr. Knightley." *sigh*

    Debra, I think you're right. It must be the same chemical that releases when we eat chocolate. That must be why the combination of romance novels AND chocolate is doubly delicious! ;)

    Have a wonderful day, ladies!

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  4. I think I got hooked on romances when my friends started lending me Sweet Valley High and teenaged Harlequin romances. Shortly after, my mom signed us up for a Sihlouette club of Christian contemporary romances, and then later added a line of Christian historical romances. These must have been the forerunners of today's Steeple Hill liine. I remember Debbie Macomber was one of my favorite authors at that time.

    By late high school, I preferred more literary books, whether historical or contemporary, with romantic elements. But I can still enjoy a basic romance novel any day.

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  5. I think part of the allure is the sweep-me-away factor--even if you know they'll get together, you don't know how, and you don't know what emotions will be stirred in the meantime.

    I adore romances, largely because it allows me relive falling in love and inevitably makes me look at my hubby and realize anew that he's the hero of my own personal romance novel. Ah, bliss!

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  6. I'm a total happily ever after girl. I love romance novels where characters overcome real obstacles to be together. I guess that's why I'm drawn to writing them. Great post, Gwen. :)

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  7. Dina--Debbie is great! She sure gave a wonderful speech at ACFW last year. If you belonged to all those book clubs in high school, you must have been quite the reader! ;)

    Roseanna--I agree, it is fun to see how the couple finally makes it to happily-ever-after. I'm inclined to see more romance in everyday life while reading a romance too...and it helps me remember my own knight in shining armor, Mr. Stewart! Thanks for chiming in.

    Lisa--I, too, can't imagine writing a book without some element of romance. It would be a chore! I find it the most natural fit for me. Luckily, my agent agrees. Makes things easier! ;)

    Thank you for your comments, all.

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  8. Hey Gwen, sorry I'm late...

    I got hooked on Harlequin Romances as a young teen - 14 or so. I remember standing in the corner drugstore at age 15 and staring at the pocket books, disappointed because I'd just cashed my McDonald's cheque and yet I'd read all 4 or 6 of the Harlequins on the shelf. I think they cost 40 cents each at the time (mid 70's)and I was making the minumum wage of $1.15 per hour.

    Yeah, so I'm dating myself. LOL

    Prior to then, I read adventure stories. But once I discovered Harlequin, I was hooked.

    Excellent post, Gwen.

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  9. There's nothing so satisfying as a good romance, especially a smart romance like an Austen novel or my personal favorite, Jane Eyre. Loved your post!

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