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 

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.



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