Guest post: Emilie Loring is Literary “Comfort Food”

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 was sure that Trixie and Jim were going to live a long and happy life together.

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:

Mammoth pastel zinnias

“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. 

Guest 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."
“Emilie Loring got me through two graduate degrees in literature”

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. 

“Chemo brain” is a real thing.

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. 

“Old friends” and favorite places

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.

Happy Landings, everyone!

21 thoughts on “Guest post: Emilie Loring is Literary “Comfort Food”

    1. Dear Vicki,

      You should share your mystery series with us! Many of Emilie’s novels had a mystery as part of the plot. Who stole the enamels in I Hear Adventure Calling? What was the connection between Neil and Judith In A Certain Crossroad? Who killed Major Lovell in Where Beauty Dwells? As an avid reader of mysteries, those parts of Emilie’s plots were always intriguing to me.

      Barbara

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Barbara!

    Gee, I’m noticing all kinds of typos in my post. Oh, well! I subbed any subject, any grade in my small town. I’m fortunate to be back in my field in utilities in corporate America–most importantly, working with adults! So much that kids read today is distopian and depressing to me. Some the school encouraged, some they chose. [Not too different from tv and films today.] I worry for kids’ psyche. I have older teen boys, so am sensitive to this as well. I’m in my 50s, got a late start. I was not a book worm in grade school, but by high school, I really took to reading. My big high school accomplishment was Gone With the Wind. [I can’t do Italics either.] I found Emilie Loring at our public library by junior or senior year I think. I rode my bike the 5 or so miles it took to get there from my parents’ house.

    I think Patti had another post where she said EL books are for thinking women. I agree!

    Cheerio!

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  2. Thanks for your story Barbara. Moving story. I do find EL’s books a great uplift in tough times. But I didn’t hide in the books. I learned to go out a “live, live, live” (to quote Mame Dennis!). I tore through about 6-8 EL’s early this summer for a respite. I found myself wanting to read Jane Austin for a change of pace. It had been so long. I could not find some of my books. [I am beginning to suspect I deep-sixed some favored books (never EL!) in a fit of despair a few years back. I bought a new full paperback set of Austin. I just read Mansfield Park for the first time. That was a fabulous read.

    Our younger generation is so untethered to values and history. They think it’s boring and irrelevant, just about dates, wars, political issues. Real people have lived through those events. Their experiences are important and useful. [I substitute taught for the past 10 years.] Concepts of acting like ladies and gentlemen (not in a stuffy 18th century way) or behaving w/courtesy and respect are foreign to today’s kids. So many have unstable homes, even in our small town. I hope I have been an example for some of them over the years. I hope my embodiment of EL in my life has shone through and meant something to someone out there.

    Happy Landings to all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Peggy,

      I taught various courses in English for 36 years, but I have no intention of substituting! You are a BRAVE woman!!!! Like you, I completely believe in the value of introducing students (friends, strangers …) to a wide variety of literature. While I never used Emilie Loring’s novels in the classroom, I did try to choose novels that my students could find a real-life connection to. NOT that that meant scrapping anything written before 2000! I loved the moral decision-making discussions we had after they read Of Mice and Men. And you can only imagine the discussions that followed each act of Romeo and Juliet! Animal Farm was another favorite.

      But I will confess that Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) and Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby) leave me cold, so I was happy other teachers wanted to teach those novels! Don’t get me started on Moby Dick!!! We all have our favorites!

      The best part of teaching is watching readers expand and grow their interests. Now I’m on to the neighborhood children!

      Barbara

      PS: Supposedly, control I will allow me to italicize the name of the novels I mentioned. Accent on “supposedly!” #englishteachertrauma

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I took “American Novel” one semester—20 novels, 20 papers, 15 weeks. I read Moby Dick on the beach at Port Aransas (I wasn’t the fun one that weekend) and… loved it! Why? I have no idea now. For some reason, it just clicked. I’ve tried since to read it again and nope, it no longer works for me. There’s something about the timing of our book introductions that determines whether that receptivity gate opens or closes. Mine has stayed wide open for Emilie.

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    2. I agree that the niceties of social interaction have suffered, in our generation(s), too. Cheerfully, there seems to be a resurgence of interest, and books are a wonderful window and teacher (without looking like teaching). My senior college students were always eager for our dress and etiquette sessions!

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      1. My English, speech, and debate students also loved the dress and etiquette lessons. They had to decide on a job they wanted (as an adult), research it, and prepare for an interview. I “interviewed” them and they posted their resumes and interview outfit on the Apple TV. They loved finding their outfit (since I didn’t force them to keep to a budget!) And most of them “got the job” after the first interview. Everyone “got the job” after. constructive feedback from the class. I always wanted to teach a Life 101 course. I haven’t read therm, but I think Emilie’s early publications had to do with much that I would still teach!

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  3. I am not certain about that. Certainly those children of reading adults might be captivated. But the phrase, “it’s all on the web” is disheartening. There is so much competition for our time and energy. Books and a personal library are a luxury in many cases.. But, having Emilie available and reading the stories on the digital web is a great start and refuge for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emilie Loring’s books were out of print until just recently, so the only way to find them has been used-book shops, garage sales, and eBay. The Kindle books have opened up a new possibility, and print copies can be ordered, also. They can even be checked out digitally from online lending libraries. However they are found, once begun, we’re transported by imagination to Emilie Loring’s settings.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Aloha! Thank you for sharing that experience. I too found my way through coping with threes teen age daughters and their craziness by discovering Emilies noels at the library in kailua, Hawaii. They had every one of them and I banquettes on them as I read them in succession from the list. Then when my husband had a serious, debilitating health event, I began all over. This time I was not in that town, but in colorado. I had exhausted the Louis lamour collection, and came across one of Emilies books. I remembered how much joy they brought me and I had them order books from other libraries. Just as your guest writer said about a time when you can’t think of some type of reading, I was able to relax and read Emily again with such enjoyment that I actually found I could cope and make better decisions. Her heroines always had such courage and industriousness that I couldn’t help being fortified. I cannot pick a favorite as they are all favorite. I wish I had every copy as I need them again to get through this pandemic. My library has ordered for me where I live, but is limiting there interlibrary work due to covid restrictions. So I must find another way to obtain them. May you be happy and we’ll, aloha pam

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. Emilie would be so pleased to know that her books provide the lift that she intended, over and over again. Now, go to your shelf to see which books you are missing, and send me a list. (contact@pattibendee.com) I have extras that need a home.

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    2. Dear Pam,

      That you so much for your comment. Bright Skies, set in Hawaii of course, has always been one of my favorites. If I remember correctly, it was toward the end of the “real” Emilie novels. I haven’t made it to Hawaii yet, but I will definitely channel Pat(ricia), Cam, and Madam Ruskin when I do!

      Barbara

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We seem to have begun reading at an early age. My five year older sister thought it was too adult for me to read Emilie Loring at my ripe old age of eleven. I still have those stories and like many other fans I am unable to tell you how many times I’ve reread now at the young age of sixty eight. Emilie Loring has gotten me through some tough times when I wanted to momentarily escape. Thanks to you Ms Loring.

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      1. Well there’s at least one from the next generation – my teen daughter turns to my Emilie Loring shelf when she needs an inspiring comfort read! Also Grace Livingston Hill; both authors I think I was initially aware of through my grandmother, so the heritage continues. (And I still had my trusty Trixie Belden books, so she read them and kept them too – most others I know grew up with Nancy Drew, so it’s nice to hear of some other Trixie fans!) Unfortunately my husband didn’t step in to stop me from passing along some of my Emilie books several years ago, so I’m missing a few, but I do occasionally come across them in used book stores so we’ll build it back up!

        Thanks Barbara, and thanks for the lovely pictures (I’d like gardeners to transplant those flowers to my yard too, especially if I can look it it from that great reading nook chair you pictured)!

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      2. Dear Suz,

        Patti gets the credit for choosing the pics of the zinnias and reading nook. Actually, she gets credit for choosing all of them except the 30 cents page! I read Grace Livingston Hill too as a teenager. I’m so glad your daughter loves both authors and Trixie. I read Nancy Drew as well as The Hardy Boys, but none of them measured up to Trixie in my opinion.

        I am loving hearing everyone’s stories and am so happy to be part of a group that celebrates the writing of Emilie Loring. I’ve been re-reading them backwards and am in the middle of Gay Courage. I’m pretty sure that Nancy Caswell planted the seed (!) of being a gardener in me!

        Barbara

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    1. Dear Deborah,

      I’m 61, so I can relate! I was still in my Trixie Belden phase at 11, but I wasn’t too far behind you. Aren’t we lucky that we found a writer so inspiring at such early ages?

      Barbara

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Barbara, I really like the 30 cents picture too – it reminds me of the wonderful used bookstores where I used to find my ($1 or so) Emilie Lorings! Used bookstores are harder to find now, at least around me. I had a favorite one in another state, where you had to enter through another store (a bike shop) and find the stairs in the middle of that store – the used bookstore was upstairs in the attic, and connected through to the attic of the next building. (I knew I picked the right guy when that hot dusty attic was one of our dates : )

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