The Romance Book that Changed the World…or at least, mine

Every once in awhile, a topic comes up in discussion that offers as many varying viewpoints as there are people involved in the discussion. So it is with this month’s topic on the Femmes blog.

As I read Michele’s blog post last week, it occurred to me…there is a reason why there are so many different subgenres of romance. The books that immediately came to my mind, as the romance novels that influenced or impacted me, are perhaps not what you would typically consider “romances”, at least, not in the mainstream. They are the literary works that informed me, that educated me as a whole, and possibly, that made me the romantic I am today (behind the cynical, protective shell). Often, they are the books I read in high school in New Jersey, and later, at The University of Dallas in Texas.

There are many definitions offered on Wiktionary, of the word romance.

romance (plural romances)

  1. An intimate relationship between two people; a love affair.
  2. A strong obsession or attachment for something or someone.
  3. Love which is pure or beautiful.
  4. mysteriousexciting, or fascinating quality.
  5. A story or novel dealing with idealised love.
  6. An embellished account of something; an idealised lie.

Each one of these has found a place in mainstream romance novels, from The Bridges of Madison County to Fifty Shades of Grey. The novels that have inspired me are those that combine two or more of the above definitions.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – copied from caribbeanbookblog.wordpress.com 

Michele touched upon one of my favorite authors in her blog…Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Although she referenced One Hundred Years of Solitude (a fabulous book, by the way), the book  that won’t stop pushing its way to the forefront of my mind is Love in the Time of Cholera. As the title suggests, this book is a love story. Actually it is two love stories: the forbidden love of Florentino and Fermina, and the practical love of Fermina and Urbino. Florentino’s personality personifies the love he shares with Fermina, as does Urbino’s. Florentino is flamboyant, soulful, engaging and optimistic, and his love is filled with gestures both sweet and grand. His passion flows out of him in passionate words and gestures. Urbino is practical and  methodical, and he provides Fermina with the stability that she needs to survive in difficult times as the city is overrun with an epidemic.

Florentino, Fermina and Urbino…from the movie

What makes this novel so remarkable to me is that, while the ideal of love is presented (see romance definition number 5), in many ways, the book depicts the lie that is idealized love. Romance novels of yesterday presented this ideal of love…innocent, demure heroine meets perfect, alpha man, there is little or no conflict of merit, they ride off into the sunset. Marquez’ book sets out from the beginning to debunk the idea that love is perfect. Fermina, far from pure and demure, defies her family in her youth, in order to be with her first (and true) love, Florentino. Throughout the novel, Florentino declares his love practically from the rooftops, yet his many affairs are detailed for the reader. Even the upstanding, practical, righteous Urbino is found to be an adulterer. All of which, appropriately, takes place among the sordid, filthy, rotting, disease-plagued streets of a fictional seaside town in Colombia, a town that, itself, is practically a character in the book. Yet, for all the dirt, the insidious treachery, the adultery, the philandering, the suggestion that love itself is an incurable disease (is love actually the epidemic from which the town suffers?), the purity of the love (definition 3) between Fermina and Florentino endures. Powerful stuff.

Interestingly, Marquez himself cautions against taking his book at face value. “You have to be careful,” he says, “not to fall into my trap.” *   *(Booker, M. Keith (summer, 1993) “The Dangers of Gullible Reading: Narrative as Seduction in García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera“. Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 17:181-95).  From Wikipedia.

Which begs the question…is this book even a romance?

If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you read Love in the Time of Cholera. In fact, I just put it on my nightstand…to be reread.

A final thought:  My mother always called me her “gypsy daughter”. Perhaps it is the gypsy in me that draws me to books that create worlds that are, in themselves, characters.  Here are a few books that have had a great impact on me. What do you think…are they romances, or not?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

What books (with evocative settings) have influenced you? Leave a comment, and be entered in the July contest to win a trio of books from the Femmes.

Hugs,

Jaye

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17 Comments

  1. R.A. DeFranco

     /  July 9, 2012

    Wow! Beautiful post, Jaye! I’m not sure how I made it this far in life without reading Love in the Time of Cholera. A copy will make its way to my nightstand ASAP! Thank you for the definitions of romance as well. The different interpretations of the word are enlightening and useful in character study. I love the reminder of setting as a character. Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca (thanks for the reminder, would love to read that again!) are among my favorites as well. In addition, when it comes to settings as a character, any time we are taken into another world, such as the magical world of Harry Potter, setting tells much of the story.

    Reply
    • Interesting, RoseAnn, about using the definitions for character study. I read an article on Yahoo the other day (stay tuned to a post about this on my website) about how differently French and American women view love. The points made in the article will definitely inform how I develop my heroine in a future novel (or two).

      Thanks for visiting. Glad you are enjoying your tea and mug!

      Reply
  2. Jenna Blue

     /  July 9, 2012

    Jaye, this is such a thoughtful, well-researched post. I’m thinking you should have been a professor, like Eloisa! Surely you’d challenge your students! Make me feel like I’ve slacked off bigtime!
    I’ll be visiting the library!
    Jenna

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jenna! It’s always enlightening when I read outside of my comfortable little zone. As for teaching…sometimes I think, yes, I’d like that. Then I realize how “on” you have to be, every day, in front of your students. That takes a special energy, I think. And I’m not sure I’m smarter than my students would be, lol! I think I’ll stick to “teaching” through the written word. 🙂

      Reply
  3. This is a very interesting question. I like it. What romance book changed my world? Well, the first romance I read was “Jane Eyre”, a story that seared itself into my soul.

    However, the romance that changed my world was probably the last romance I read that was written by Georgette Heyer. Because once I ran out of Ms. Heyer’s novels (although I re-read many of them to this day), I decided I would have to write my own. Not that my contemporary romances resemble Ms. Heyer’s Regencies in any obvious ways. What I try to emulate is her attention to fully-realized characters and interesting dialogue. I still worship at her feet.

    Reply
    • Interesting, Nancy! “Jane Eyre” did also cross my mind.

      I remember way back when I first started reading romances, I read some of Georgette Heyer’s. I haven’t read one in a very long time… but I do have a couple of them here in the house. I’ll have to resurrect them and add them to my TBR pile.

      Thanks for stopping by! Nice to see your smiling face (avatar) on our page again!

      Hugs,
      Jaye

      Reply
  4. Hi Jaye, I love how you don’t pigeon hole the ROMANCE genre because let’s face it, everyone loves a good love story! Great, thought-provoking post. (And, once again we agree!) Michele

    Reply
  5. Great post! This is not one I’ve read, either. I’m finding it really interesting what that ONE book is for everyone. Well done!

    Reply
  6. Insightful post, Jaye. Makes me realize how narrow my reading scope is. I’ve yet to read a Jane Austen book (hiding my head as I type this), although I have seen some of the movies. I was “forced” to read Dickens in high school along with a LOT of Shakespeare. I think I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte in high school, but couldn’t tell you a thing about it. It’s interesting learning what everyone was drawn to read. Like Jenna, I need to take a trip to the library.

    Reply
    • Maria, I’m shocked! You’ve never read Jane Austen? Get thee to the library, stat! lol

      I think we all have those books that we’ve been meaning to read, and just haven’t gotten around to. Les Mis has been sitting in my bookcase for about 5 years, waiting patiently.Need to read it quickly, too…before the movie with Hugh comes out.

      You all have read so many more mainstream single title authors than I have, so I’m trying to rectify that. If only I could read all day, every day, I might catch up sometime in the next 10 years.

      I’m looking forward to reading your post…I’m sure I’ll have the same reaction you had, reading mine.

      Hugs,
      Jaye

      Reply
      • I just downloaded a set of her books on my Nook. As if I need ANY more books to read :-). My daughter has even read Pride & Prejudice. They have a series for teens that’s a condensed or shortened version of the story. Another one on my bookshelf is Gone with the Wind. Have intentions of reading it, but there is always another new book that catches my eye. I either need to find more time to read or take a break from buying books (yeah, right).

  7. You know, I always thought that if I had a daughter I’d name her Bronte. That’s telling, huh? 🙂

    Reply
  8. hieubietusa

     /  July 15, 2012

    The more I think of the books that have shaped my literary character, the more I think I need an analyst. Poe’s work…It is not that I enjoyed the ever-popular “Tell Tale Heart” or even the more grim tales such as Ligeia/The Oblong Box and come to think of it any of product of his imagination. It is that I was nine or ten years old, and did not enjoy reading anything else.
    Where is my medication???

    These posts are too thought provoking

    Joe

    Reply
    • Ah, Joe…now I know where you get your dark side, lol.

      It takes time, sometimes, finding the thing you enjoy reading. My son could read at an early age, but it wasn’t until around 4th grade that he finally found the kind of stuff he really enjoyed reading, and started devouring books. As long as they’re reading something, I’m happy.

      Jaye

      Reply
      • That is a great attitude. I know of situations where adults were all into their boys reading, then tried to “guide” their choices.
        I think sometimes people forget we’re in America.
        Keep posting…and jumpstart that Romance imagination…WRITE!

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