Nope, Sorry, That’s Not Romance

We need another word.

Emilie Loring was called the “Queen of Romance” at a time when romance conjured visions of virtue, ideals, adventure, and honor.

“I am looking for the romance of business, of politics, for the dragon-slayers, the imprisoned princesses, the sleeping beauties, the wicked dragons, the fairy-god-mothers of real life, not for romance for myself.” Here Comes the Sun!

Emilie Loring’s books always have a love story, but it’s part of a larger venture, something that emerges as her characters solve other problems, pursue other goals. The women Emilie wrote for had only recently gained the right to vote and earned their stripes through the home-front challenges of two World Wars and the Great Depression. They understood Emilie’s characters, who run their own businesses, fly airplanes, defy convention, and stand up for themselves.

There is always something to figure out in Emilie Loring’s stories. How do I do my duty to family but remain true to myself? What does wartime demand of its citizens? How do I handle my conflicting loyalties? What does it mean to be both feminine and capable? to be charming and courteous but still stand firmly upon principle?

“Yes, under the romance and adventure of my novels, there is always a theme, there are always ideals. Writing for publication is to me a tremendous responsibility. Printed words, like seeds, blow long distances, sometimes take root and send forth a growth of ideas, actions, and reactions of which the author never dreamed.”

By the sixties, when Emilie Loring’s books were released in paperback, social backlash had replaced Rosie the Riveter with June Cleaver. The books’ cover art invariably showed a sweet young thing with a big, strong man, but behind the covers were Emilie’s original, capable, lively, and spirited characters.

At a time when girls got married either right out of high school, at eighteen, or right out of college, at twenty-two, Emilie’s books introduced  twenty-four-year-old women who weren’t anxious to find a boyfriend, let alone a husband. They were financially independent writers, farmers, designers, and social secretaries. They were charming, attractive, and popular, and they had something they wanted to accomplish.

From the seventies on, the sexual revolution changed “romance” books into a genre of lust and love. These books had always been around, but Emilie didn’t care for them and clearly wasn’t trying to create them.

She had read “frank” novels. Not many, she hated them. Always they produced the hotly embarrassed sense of having opened a bedroom door by mistake. The Solitary Horseman

Which wasn’t to say that she was prudish or lacked enthusiasm for male companionship.

“There’s been such a lot said about the modern angle for the writing of the so-called love interest that I’ve been doing a little research. I can’t see that the expression of a lover’s eyes, or the caressing inflection of his voice, is an iota more casual than when I was young. The way of depicting it in print may have changed, but the way of a man with a maid hasn’t.” There Is Always Love

His tender voice, his eyes with the disturbing light in them, set her pulses quick-stepping. Across the Years

“Romance” no longer means the kind of book that it did in the 1930s, any more than Gay Courage suggests the story that Emilie wrote in 1928. What can we call them?

Historical fiction? She didn’t write them as that, but her “contemporary” novels, so many decades later, serve the same role as historical fiction. They realistically depict a time long gone. Indeed, if she caught on as a historical fiction author, the authenticity of her settings and characters would give many hours of reading pleasure to historians of the early twentieth century.

But thinking of Emilie’s books as representational of her time overlooks how forward-thinking she was, for her time and ours.  Yes, women had the vote, but why not run for office?

Is there any reason why the woman whom we propose couldn’t make good? Let’s elect her and see that she does make good… I predict that if you decide this afternoon to support a woman candidate, we’ll have every male voter on tip-toe to beat her. Fine. A much more healthy condition than the present one. The Solitary Horseman

She went beyond the feminists who felt threatened by traditional roles. Women could be capable and lovely, businesswomen and homemakers, intelligent and charming.

“Are you jeering at home making? I love it… It isn’t the easiest job in the world, either. If trying and liking to make good dates me, than I admit I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. “ Hilltops Clear

Her standards of womanhood in the 1930s were as multi-faceted as we might imagine now.

“Tenderness, sympathetic understanding, honesty, gay courage, the intuition to know when laughter will avert a ticklish domestic crisis and when it won’t, the determination to do what has to be done superlatively well–it’s surprising what a tingling interest that adds to life as one grows older–and self respect which keeps her on her toes to make herself attractive to listen to and terribly important, say I, to look at.”  Emilie Loring, written remarks in preparation for a radio interview

Maine, EveIf there is inequity between the man and woman in her stories, it is removed before they fall in love, so they meet on equal ground and create a true partnership.

Marriage… means companionship and sharing joy and sorrow and responsibilities and—and having children and growing old together. Husband and wife against the world.” We Ride the Gale!

“I admired him, his money meant nothing, I was earning plenty myself, but, we enjoyed the same things, he was enormously proud of what I had accomplished. We were great companions, and Debby, in the last analysis, the good companion is what counts most in marriage.” Beckoning Trails

Idealistic? Realistic? I suppose it depends on your experience. When asked if she had ever met men as fine as her heroes, she replied, “Of course. Otherwise, how could I create them?” And when a man complimented her books for showing how people should be, she responded, “I think I write of people as they are.”

 

romance-booksAre they romance? I think so. Do they fit on today’s “Romance” shelf in the bookstore? Definitely not. I know women who read modern romances by the dozens and pass them along in boxes to their friends who do the same. But readers keep their Emilie Loring books and read them over and over again, across the years… whatever they are called.

 

 

 

 


4 thoughts on “Nope, Sorry, That’s Not Romance

  1. This is one of the clearest, truest descriptions of “romance” I have read in a long time. I wish more of today’s authors would take a page from Loring and write stories in which ideals are what count and striving for honor isn’t considered hopelessly out of date.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amanda. Unaware of current authors like Emilie Loring, it’s always necessary to explain: No, her stories are not the lust-and-love type, and no, they are not holier-than-thou or prudish. They are vibrant and real, fun to read, exciting to contemplate. When I’ve had moments of my own that approximated them, a little voice inside recognized the thrill and thought, “Yes, she knew.”
      As for honor, I always think of the line from Desiderata, “But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
      many persons strive for high ideals;
      and everywhere life is full of heroism.”
      I believe this.

      Like

  2. Great post! Love Emilie’s quote about words blowing like seeds in the wind. I wonder if she imagined we would be reading her words 80 years later?
    I also liked her quote about frank romances! Lol!

    Liked by 1 person

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