Wednesday, July 7, 2010
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?
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