Today’s special guest post comes from Barbara Lowe in Oxford, Mississippi, who reinforces my claim that Emilie Loring is the thinking woman’s romance author.
I must have been 15 or 16 when I discovered Emilie Loring in the McComb Public Library in McComb, Mississippi. Incurably romantic already (I had read all of the stories in the collected American Girl anthology and was sure that Trixie and Jim —of the Trixie Belden mysteries — were going to live a long and happy life together.) But Emilie Loring offered a whole new range of romantic possibilities. First of all — the heroines weren’t teenagers. They were sophisticated adults of 20-25, they were smart, they fell in love with mature men, and they had real life adventures.
They were also set in parts of the country about which I knew nothing. The great outdoors of the West; cozy New England towns; the coast of Maine … I had been to Washington, DC by the time I met Eve Travis in It’s a Wonderful Life and Nan Barton in Keepers of the Faith, but that was as close as I had come to Emilie’s world. Let’s just say that none of her novels were set in the Deep South and only one (Rainbow at Dusk) was set in the South. Suzanne Dupree (Keepers of the Faith) and Phyllis D’Arcy in Rainbow at Dusk reflect stereotypes that southern women are all too used to.
However, I forgave Emilie for those stereotypes, partly because I knew better but mostly because I loved her language. As readers of this blog have often remarked, her descriptions draw you into her settings. In fact, the settings are as important as her characters because they form the backdrop of the action, which could have, of course, only taken place in the world Emilie so beautifully described. One of my favorite settings is in Hilltops Clear — the glade in which Rodney Gerard’s parents are buried:
“The sheer beauty of the garden below caught at Prue’s throat. Such a garden! Regale lilies, crimson-spotted white; pink-tinged lilies; mammoth zinnias pastel colorings; spikes of purple monkshood; plums of pale blue larkspur, a second blossoming; snowy drifts of gypsophila; gladioli, pink; purple, mauve, white amber …”Hilltops Clear
It feels criminal to stop there, because her description of the glade takes two, long paragraphs. Whenever I read the passage I feel the peace and tranquility as deeply as Prue. Not to mention that I have always coveted the perennials being thinned in the glade as much as she did and have wished for a cadre of gardeners to transplant them into my yard as well.
Which brings me to the reason I wanted to write this post. Emilie’s world is so vivid and her characters so real and her plots so memorable that they have been literary “comfort food” throughout my adult life.
I majored in English in college and read all of the classics. How could James Joyce publish Ulysses, T.S. Eliot publish The Waste Land, and Emilie Loring publish The Trail of Conflict in the same year? I read Emilie Loring when I couldn’t stand reading about the Great Depression in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or more depressing poetry (Eliot’s The Hollow Men comes to mind). I (tried) to read The Stranger by Albert Camus in French but spent more time scouring used bookstores in New Orleans for paperback copies of Emilie Loring’s books at 30¢ or 40¢. L’Estranger?! Pourquoi devrais-je perdre mon temps. (Why should I waste my time?!)
Emilie Loring got me through two graduate degrees in literature as well. When I was reading Victorian children’s literature for my MA in Children’s Literature — boring novels like The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765)— I also read Emilie Loring. When I started my PhD in American Literature and Southern Literature, I kept reading Emilie. She was my solace when I read anything by Allen Tate (“Ode to the Confederate Dead,” for example). But by the time I started reading for my comprehensive exams, my mind had been so inundated with LITERATURE that I began to feel guilty for reading Emilie Loring’s novels. I would think, “Am I a low brow girl in a high brow world?” And, “Is that a bad thing?”
Fortunately, my husband had more sense than I did at the time. We were having a yard sale and I hauled out every one of my Emilie Loring novels. As I spread them out, my husband asked me what I was doing.
“Letting go,” I said.
He looked at me and asked, “Why?”
I mumbled something about feeling embarrassed that I still read them, and he asked, “But you enjoy reading them, don’t you?”
“Well, yes … but …”
“So why sell them?”
Excellent point. The way suddenly seemed clear. I hauled every one of them back inside. That was over 25 years ago, and I’ve been re-reading them ever since.
Fast forward to August 28, 2017 when I joined a club no one wants to join: women with breast cancer. Chemo, surgery, more chemo, and radiation were awful. However, I’ve been cancer-free for almost 4 years so enduring awful was worth it. But, as I recovered, my body healed better than my mind.
I had bought new books that I wanted to read when I was diagnosed. At least, I had thought, I would have plenty of time to read. I had the time all right, but not the ability. And even though Emilie has gotten me through some exceedingly tough times, I honestly don’t remember whether or not I read her novels that year — but I don’t think so.
As I recovered my physical strength, I discovered that “chemo brain” is a real thing. I tried reading the books I had bought when I was diagnosed, but I couldn’t keep track of the plot or the characters. I could read, I just couldn’t remember what I read.
And that is still true. I can read news on Twitter or on news apps — short articles — but by the time I want to reference them in conversation, I can only pull snatches of the big point and none of the details from my brain. For a lifetime reader, it has been a frustrating experience.
However, there has been a silver lining, because guess what I can read? Emilie Loring’s novels! I suppose I have read them so many times that the plots and characters and settings are emblazoned in my long-term memory. I can’t begin to say how much relief I have felt being able to read about “old friends” and to visit favorite places, most of which I have now seen in real life.
I have thanked my husband repeatedly for encouraging me to keep Emilie’s books all those years ago. I knew it then and I know even more so now that he’s a “keeper.” But I also have no doubt whatsoever that Emilie Loring’s novels are keepers too.
Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your story. Yay for your husband’s intervention, and yay for the lasting benefit of Emilie Loring! I feel comforted and grateful for this aspect of well-loved books.
Tomorrow, I bid Blue Hill adieu for this season and head toward a different–and new!–Emilie Loring destination. I’ll post again from there. For now, let’s take one last, lingering look at Blue Hill Bay. We will return.