“To love and be beloved;
Men and gods have not outlearned it;
And, how oft soe’er they’ve turned it,
‘Tis not to be improved.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
What, then, is love? Emilie Loring had plenty of time to think about it. She and Victor were married nearly sixty years, and she wrote love stories for more than forty.
“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
“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?” wrote Shakespeare. Like the Bard, Emilie Loring recognized the power of instantaneous attraction:
“Do you believe in love at first sight—in fiction—of course?” “I do, in fiction and in real life. It’s the Shakespeare in me. Remember that once there was a boy named Romeo and a girl named Juliet?” Give Me One Summer
“‘Little fires grow great with little wind,’ as you will know to your cost some day when you meet the right girl, Neil. A spark, a tiny flame, presto a conflagration. That is love–as well as anger,” he added thoughtfully. A Certain Crossroad
“Men in love aren’t mind-readers. They don’t think much, they just feel.” It’s a Great World
Flame under snow. Lightning slashing a cool sky. Volcanic warning within a green hill… What would happen if he kissed her smotheringly, possessively till–the thought set his heart to pounding deafeningly. The Solitary Horseman
How impossible it is to be in the throes of attraction, “blinded by love,” and have to decide, sanely and for a future yet unknown, “Is this ‘the one?'”
“Then you don’t believe that instantaneous attraction, love at first sight, lasts?” “Certainly, I believe it lasts in some cases, but if it is the real thing it will survive separation.” Bright Skies
“I might love a man when I married him, and then–love comes unbidden, oftentimes unwanted and pouf!–it goes the way it came, and no one can stop it. You know that yourself.” “Not if it is real love, the love of a man for the one woman,” he defended. The Trail of Conflict
How important is it to hold out for true love?
She liked him. Suppose she married him? “Rebound, you’ve heard of it,” Sally had said. There wouldn’t be much laughter and gaiety. No romance. No high adventure, but wealth, security and distinction, plenty of the last. Like. What a word to use in connection with marriage. Perhaps, though, liking lasted longer than the aching love she had experienced.
“Would you think it justifiable if a girl who had promised to marry a man, at the last moment stopped, looked, listened and broke it off?”
“I would, it’s a pity more of them didn’t do it. Better then than after marriage.”
In Emilie Loring’s first books, The Trail of Conflict and Here Comes the Sun, the characters married without love, for another purpose. In both cases, they were assailed by doubt.
She knew now that she had done a grave injustice to Steve, to herself, when she had consented to her father’s proposition. Well, the deed was done, her only recourse was to turn her mistake into a stepping-stone toward ultimate good. The Trail of Conflict
“Heavens, what a mess I’ve made of things. I practically forced you to ask me to marry you, didn’t I?” Indignation surged in the voice which had been near to tears. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Here Comes the Sun!
Fortunately for them (and thanks to Emilie), they fell deeply in love with each other. At least, the girls did. Both of the guys claimed that they were already in love, bowled over instantly by their prospective brides.
However long it takes, once the heart is committed, it’s committed.
“I believe him—because I want to. I love him. Some day you will find out, Eve, that the greatest proof of the reality of love is its invincibility against the battering of reason.” It’s a Great World
“Love is ecstasy, agony, suffering, giving, until self is forgotten.” Swift Water
“Love which is a flame, which burns and hurts. Which makes one radiantly happy and unbearably miserable. Which carries one over a sea of trouble as if one were riding a surf-board through breakers.” We Ride the Gale!
For the luckiest, and although this isn’t the exciting part that sells romance stories, fiery attraction develops into deep and abiding companionship.
“We may be living in a profoundly changing society, but love hasn’t changed. It still strikes like lightning, burns, and if it’s the real thing, settles into a steady flame.” With Banners
“We were great companions, and Debby, in the last analysis, the good companion is what counts most in marriage.” Beckoning Trails
Speed forward to five years after Emilie Loring’s death and the ghostwritten What Then Is Love (1956). There are no “Happy landings!” in this book. Instead, both mystery and romance stumble through a confusion of inconsistent characters and contrived events.
Patricia Langston’s mother died when she was a girl, and she has an emotionally distant relationship with her father, a judge who retired under a cloud of suspicion that he accepted a bribe.
Implausibility defines the story from the start. The only witness to an implicated bank payment is hit over the head and dies the next day, but the judge never suspects foul play until his daughter suggests it, a full three months later. During that time, there are two attempts on the judge’s life, but Patricia knows nothing about them, even though one put her father in a coma.
Childhood friends in Emilie Loring’s books were always loyal, good-hearted, frank, and friendly–think Billy Jaffrey in Here Comes the Sun! and Skid Grant, the boy-next-door in There is Always Love. But Bill Blair is dishonest and devious. He resents the uncle who “forced” him to go to prison for forgery, and we’ll find out that Bill not only forged the bank payment to the judge, but he also killed the teller, conspired with a girl that he later tries to drown, and tried to kill the judge three times. Patricia knows none of this, thought he was in South America when he actually went to prison, and became engaged to him out of pity. Is this love?
Patricia wants to clear her father’s name and risks arrest to break into the neighbor’s house to find documents he needs, but admits, “Oh, I found them the other night, but I forgot to give them to Dad. I just stuffed them away.” Seriously?! Later, she “helplessly” allows herself to be steered by Andrew Harcourt’s “masterful hand on her arm.” The usual Emilie Loring heroine would have been defiant!
Andrew Harcourt, however, does it all. He rescues the judge and Patricia from one murder attempt, rescues Bill’s conspirator from another, inspires local delinquents to redirect their energy, prevents Patricia and Bill’s elopement, secures evidence of Bill’s crimes at gunpoint, and inspires Patricia to fall in love with him.
“What Then Is Love?” asks the title. There is no shortage of doubt:
I am fond of Bill; I have a real affection for him; in some ways I love him–but as I might love a brother. It isn’t enough. I’m sure it isn’t enough. But what am I going to tell him tonight?
But I don’t love Bill enough. She tried to thrust away the voice that was crying in her heart. I’m fond of him and we have been friends all our lives. We’ll be happy together. I’m sure we’ll be happy. Not in the way I dreamed, but it is time to put dreams away.
The answer was inescapable. Alice Gerard and Claire Winston had seen it before she had. She had fallen in love with the man. Fallen in love with a criminal, a man she could not, must not trust… “I’m sorry, Bill,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to fall in love with someone else. But I’ll get over it. And I’ll make it up to you–somehow.”
She agrees to elope with Bill, but Andrew Harcourt breaks that up. They all attend a dance, and attraction proves fickle. Dancing with Bill:
“She was aware only of the inescapable rhythm, of music pulsing around her, of Bill’s sure hands guiding her… She had not known that dancing could be like this…”
And then Andrew led her outside:
“His hand rested lightly on her hand on the railing. The feeling it aroused in her was so intense that she made herself draw away from his touch. And yet it was not hate she felt. Oh, it was not hate!”
Jealous, Claire jumps off the veranda, which apparently drops straight to the ocean, and Bill jumps in after her to be sure she dies, but Andrew knocks him out and saves both of them from drowning, curiously reporting none of it to the authorities. Implausibility reaches its height as the mystery is unwound, Bill ends his own life, and the judge’s reputation is restored.
Patricia stood, lovely and frozen, too dazed for thought. She understood nothing that had happened.
Three months later, with no intervening contact between them, Andrew returns to ask Patricia if she still hates him.
The grave face lighted up with hope, with tenderness, with so much love and longing that Patricia was shaken by the awareness of the extent of her power over him… “Say it,” he begged her…”
He kisses her, she says, “I love you, Andy,” and the housekeeper barges in to end the scene with a chuckle.
“With a chuckle” is probably the best way to read What Then Is Love. It doesn’t stand up to analysis and has too little to inspire or satisfy. Patricia Langston and Andrew Harcourt won’t be remembered for their love story, and the prose isn’t up to Emilie Loring’s standards. But it’s harmless enough, with all of its foibles, and there’s no shortage of action.
What then is love? Fortunately, we have thirty Emilie Loring novels to address that question in style. (See the full list on our Bookshelf, here.)
Happy landings, everyone!