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Six Styles of Love, Romance Novel Style

Gratuitous illustration from N.C. Wyeth's "The Legends of Charlemagne."

Gratuitous illustration from N.C. Wyeth’s “The Legends of Charlemagne.”

Recently on Tumblr, I ran across a list of the six styles of love as defined by John Lee, and naturally my mind strayed to romance novels.

As I read through the list, I began to identify each stage with a romance novel, to wit:

Eros

a passionate physical and emotional love based on aesthetic enjoyment; stereotype of romantic love

Almost all of Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels historicals fit here; Shattered Rainbows comes to mind for the very passionate, emotional attachment between Lord Michael Kenyon and Catherine Melbourne. 

Ludus 

a love that is played as a game or sport; conquest; may have multiple partners at once

The classic example is Edith Layton’s Traditional Regency The Duke’s WagerRegina becomes the prize in a wager between the Marquis of Bessacarr and the legendary roue the Duke of Torquay. Ludus was alive and well in the Regency period, evidently — the trope of a female as prize in a wager is common in the Traditional Regency, though few have done it so well as Edith Layton.

Storge

an affectionate love that slowly develops from friendship, based on similarity

Like Mary Jo Putney and Eros, Carla Kelly writes almost exclusively to the Storge style of love, allowing her heroes and heroines to grow to love one another from a seed of friendship and mutual understanding. One of her finest examples of Storge is her Traditional Regency With This RingLydia and Sam meet when she volunteers at a makeshift military hospital, and develop a close friendship that deepens to love.

Pragma 

love that is driven by the head, not the heart

Pragma should have been easiest for me to identify; after all, romance is a genre that abounds with stories of marriages of convenience. But when I see Pragma assigned to a style of love, I think more of love that comes from an intellectual connection rather than an hormonal connection — not business so much as intellectual pleasure.

One of the first romances I thought of as I brainstormed was Laura Kinsale’s historical My Sweet Folly, which begins with correspondence between the two leads, who are separated by continents and years. But the letters between Robert and Folie are too romantic, even at the outset, for this to apply to my somewhat narrow standards.

Two other books, though, did come to mind. The first, My Dearest Enemyan historical by Connie Brockway, also relies heavily on letters between adventurer Avery Thorne and suffragette Lily Bede. Unlike Robert and Folie, who find themselves romantic and kindred spirits from the start, Avery and Lily’s letters begin as intellectual sparring before growing into a deeper affection.

The other book, Heart in Hiding  by Emma Richmond, a Harlequin from 1990 that I recently reviewed, might be more of a Pragma story than even My Dearest Enemy. Corbin and Verity, the hero and heroine, seem barely aware of each other as man and woman at the book’s beginning; only as Verity proves herself resourceful and indispensable, and Corbin reveals himself as more than an irascible destroyer of all things electronic do they begin to develop romantic feelings for each other.

Mania

obsessive love; experience great emotional highs and lows; very possessive and often jealous lovers

Pretty much most Gothics published between 1960-1979, and 95% of the Harlequin/Mills & Boon output from 1970-2000.

Agape

selfless altruistic love; spiritual

When linking Agape and romance, my mind went straight to another Laura Kinsale, the much-loved Flowers From the Stormwhich is the story of Quaker Maddy Timms and Christian Langland, Duke of Jerveaux. Maddy helps to rehabilitate Christian after a devastating stroke leaves him confined to an asylum, in a seemingly textbook case of Agape.

Instead, yet another Laura Kinsale book came immediately to mind, For My Lady’s HeartA medieval historical, For My Lady’s Heart has as much in common with Chaucer and Arthurian legend as historical romance — Ruck, the hero, is on what can only be described as a spiritual quest to repay what he sees as a debt of the soul to heroine Melanthe that begins with a would-be saint’s pilgrimage.

While selflessness, altruism and even spirituality are not necessarily the sole property of religion, few blatantly “inspirational” romances are as steeped in spirituality as For My Lady’s Heart. The influence of the church in the late Middle Ages is almost impossible for us as modern readers to comprehend, but Kinsale is one of few medieval romance writers who places the church in its rightful place in this period — it is the framework for the entire book. The church is what brings Ruck to Melanthe, and its teachings and commandments — commandments that carried the weight of law during the Middle Ages — drive much of the book’s plot and almost all of Ruck and Melanthe’s actions.

**WARNING — SPOILERS AHEAD**

The book’s sequel, Shadowheart is also the rare example of true Agape in romance, albeit to less effect than the epic For My Lady’s Heart, which is so steeped in the period that it uses Middle English for all dialogue. Shadowheart does, however, have one of the most affecting climaxes I have ever read in any book — one that hinges on Allegretto’s spiritual salvation.

John Lee’s styles of love were conceived as a “psychology of love,” a way to identify the difference between the ways humans express love and explain why there is, sometimes, a very basic breakdown in relationships resulting from conflicting ways of expressing and feeling love. Using them as a basis for literary criticism may be disingenuous, but it’s a case of the shoe fitting, especially in the case of romance.

Any well-written romance will show the hero and heroine cycling through several of the styles of love as their relationships progress, but most all romance novels seem to rely heavily on one style of love to define the relationship between the two leads. This defining style of love is synonymous with theme — i.e., bodice rippers falling squarely into the Eros style, inspirationals with a Storge theme, or those patently Pragma old-school Harlequins, full of boss/secretary and marriage-of-convenience romances.

Using Lee’s styles of love as a classification system that transcends subgenre just calls to the librarian in me. The styles lend themselves so easily to this use, allowing for description of a book’s tone or theme.  We all know, for instance, what the term “Gothic Romance” means, but further classification in terms of the love styles could help the picky reader to weed out the “Mania Gothic Romances.” It’s an imperfect classification system, yes, but an intriguing place to start.


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And What of the Anti-Heroine?

Louise Brooks, silent cinema’s best-known anti-heroine, plots her next move in “Pandora’s Box.”

It’s Villains and Anti-Heroes Week here at Ye Olde Sweet Rocket! That, my darlings, includes Anti-Heroines, as well!

There’s plenty of room for bad boys in Romanceland, but the world of romance leaves little space for the anti-heroine, otherwise known as the difficult, unlikeable or villainous heroine.

The accepted intelligence is that romance readers, overwhelmingly female, need to be able to identify with the heroine, or imagine themselves in her place. Perhaps this explains the lack of anti-heroines, in romance — few women want to imagine themselves as the courtesan or whore, the bitch or the duplicitous, conniving sort. It goes to follow that the number of bad girl heroines is few. After all, no one likes mean girls.

But every so often, a bad girl heroine slips through the cracks. Here are a few of the Romanceland anti-heroines that stand out in my memory:

Lady Jocelyn Kendal — The Bargain by Mary Jo Putney

Lady Jocelyn was the first anti-heroine I ever encountered in romance, and boy, is she a doozy. In order to secure her inheritance, she needs to marry, and quickly. The man she has her eye on isn’t coming to heel fast enough for her purposes, so she decides to marry a dying Waterloo veteran, David Lancaster, with the hopes of being a widow in time to receive her inheritance and capture the man she wants. Poor Lancaster, as nice as the day is long from the time we meet him, agrees to do this only because Lady Jocelyn agrees to settle an income on his sister Sally, who naturally takes an instant disliking to Lady Jocelyn.

Lady Jocelyn is also responsible for my all-time favorite bad-girl scene in a romance. How’s this for nasty:

Turning to her writing desk, [Lady Jocelyn] lifted a jingling leather bag and tossed it to Sally….
“You needn’t count the money. It’s all there — one hundred twenty five pounds in gold.”
Sally’s head snapped up. “Not thirty pieces of silver?”
Jocelyn said softly, each word carved in ice, “Of course not. Silver is for selling people. Since I was buying, I paid in gold.”

Oh, that Jocelyn — ain’t she sweet? Naturally David Lancaster does not die, Lady Jocelyn becomes less than a virago, and there’s the obligatory happily-ever-after.

Bryony Asquith — Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

Bryony, a late-Victorian era physician,  is curmudgeonly, driven, and unforgiving. Which sort of makes her a Victorian-era female Dr. House. Unfortunately, that means she’s curmudgeonly and unforgiving to her darling husband, Leo, and so driven to prove herself the equal of any man that she all but emasculates him,  separates from him (hence the title) and literally leaves the country. That’s my kind of girl, really, and despite all her obvious flaws, I liked her. But then I don’t have to sleep with her — why Leo puts up with her is beyond me. Yet for whatever reason, he’s willing to risk life and limb to go to India to fetch her back home to England, and there lies the story. In the course of fetching her back, he also manages to, well… I won’t say that he redeems her completely, but she’s much less prickly by the end of the book. Leo is a wonderful hero, and the book is worth it just to get to know him.

Lydia Slaughter — A Gentleman Undone by Cecelia Grant

How about that Lydia (cue theatrical wolf-whistle)? First of all, she’s a former prostitute and the mistress to a nobleman, and makes no apologies for it. Also, she’s a cardsharp who fleeces the hero, Will Blackshear, out of a nice chunk of change at the outset of the book. Instead of giving it back, like the standard romance heroine would when she realizes that he really needs the money, she engages him in a scheme to fleece more unwitting fools out of their money. She may also be a full-on nymphomaniac. Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes, that’s not slut-shaming, and plenty of other reviewers have also noted Lydia’s strange relationship to sex, which, from a modern psychological standpoint, is likely the well-documented phenomenon of post-sexual abuse promiscuity. Aside from all that, Lydia’s an admirable, wildly intelligent, honorable heroine — unless she’s trying to rob some poor gambler blind.

Mina Masters — Written on Your Skin by Meredith Duran

Mina’s sort of a toss-up, when it comes to an anti-heroine; while you realize that she’s very much a victim of her circumstances, that of a self-made Victorian-era woman trying to fend for herself against a cruel stepfather, she still comes across as manipulative and somewhat selfish. Phin, the hero, is pretty miserable, too. They deserve each other.

Lady Elizabeth — Lady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson

Just read my review. That tells you everything you need to know about snooty Lady Elizabeth.

Mary Gray — The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

Well, she was planning to finagle an estate and fortune out of a dying old man… wasn’t she?

Ugh — I just realized I have no contemporary anti-heroines, aside from Mary Gray! That’s indicative of two things: one, I don’t read much contemporary romance, and two, most of the contemporaries I have read had really nice heroines. What, pray tell, does that mean?

Also note that at least three of our anti-heroines are driven by greed, another two driven by their careers, while at least one is prostitute/mistress. What does that tell us about the acceptable motivations for bad-girl behavior in romance? Plenty. It’s okay to be greedy or just plain mean if your evil, misguided or dead male relatives or rakish lovers have left you in dire straits, as is the case with Lady Jocelyn, Mary Gray, Lydia Slaughter and Mina Masters (and, to an extent, Lady Elizabeth). You can also get a pass for being what is, frankly, a bitch, as long as you’re doing so because the man is holding you down, i.e., keeping you from joining the scientific or medical community, as in the cases of Lady Elizabeth and Bryony. In other words, in every example I’ve noted here, the anti-heroine’s bad behavior is acceptable because it’s a reaction to behavior that’s just as bad or worse on the part of men.

Personally, I’d like to see anti-heroine who’s bad just for the sake of being bad. Maybe she’s a female rake, flirting and teasing her way through a bevy of men. Maybe she’s a villainess who causes trouble for meeker, cowering souls. Maybe she’s just a bitch because she wants to be one, not because her daddy didn’t love her enough. It’s time we see a real female villain redeemed by the love of a good man — we see enough of the reverse, certainly.
I will probably have to write that romance myself, but if anyone, anywhere, knows of any good anti-heroines I’ve missed, do tell — I’m dying to read one!


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Series-itis Sweeps the Shelves

If you’re a reader of popular fiction, especially in the romance and mystery genres, then you know what I’m talking about when I bemoan the dearth of unrelated books on the shelves. Bookstores, drugstores and Amazon listings are all suffering from an acute case of series-itis that shows no signs of clearing up anytime soon.

As a matter of course, I avoid series historicals like the plague. Since most of my popular fiction reading is in the historical romance genre, this is no mean feat. At first, I thought it was only my disdain for series books that accounted for the apparent deluge of series, but a cursory survey of the past 17 historical romance reviews at All About Romance proves that I am not imagining things. Only five of those 17 historical romances were not part of a series. Of that five, three were Harlequin Historicals.

It’s not that I haven’t given series a chance. I’ve even enjoyed a few. Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series is a favorite of mine, as is Liz Carlyle’s “Never” series and a few of Mary Balogh’s series. But increasingly, I find that I dislike series, and here’s why:

Too many characters. Most series historicals I’ve read are the literary equivalent of a too-crowded party — you’re so busy trying to keep up with everyone that it’s hard to pay attention to anyone. In a well-done historical series, the incidental mention of a character from another book in the series feels natural, and if they’re integral to the plot of  the book, then it  seems organic and believable. Most of the time, however, these other characters appear at intervals to give advice that’s usually common sense, or simply to create curiosity about these characters’ books in the series. These kinds of name-dropping seem tedious and/or forced — i.e. there’s no real purpose served by having Lord Such-and-Such reappear, but since this is a series, reappear he must. It’s irritating and distracting from the story at hand. Just keeping the names straight can be a headache — if you’ve ever attempted to read a Julia Quinn, you know just what I mean.

Too much backstory — or not enough. Some series writers are smart enough to realize that many readers will discover a series halfway through. Those writers often feel compelled insert backstory from every other character in the series that appears in the book in question, taking precious words and time away from the lead characters. It’s frustrating and repetitive if you’ve read the other books in the series, distracting and confusing if you have not. Other writers, however, are arrogant enough to assume that you have read or will read every other book in the series, and drop these characters in with no hint of who they are or why they are there. I really hate it when a character shows up for one scene, with no explanation, never to be seen or heard from again, or only tangentially, leaving you to wonder for the duration of the book whether this is a character worth remembering.

Writers with either problem would do well to pick up Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series; without presenting a synopsis of every character’s book, Putney always manages to work her cast of characters into other books in a natural, logical way, presenting just enough information about characters to make you curious about their stories without dumping information, or, on the other end of the spectrum, having them appear out of nowhere. It also helps that she never felt compelled to use every single character from every single book in every single book, if such a concept makes sense. Rather than having all of the Fallen Angels (the more I type that, the more I realize how trite that series title sounds, but never mind) appear in each book, only one or two appear, and only when necessary to the plot.

Too little of the main characters/story. The whole concept of the romance series seems to have changed in the past 10 years or so. Putney’s Fallen Angels series and several of Mary Balogh’s series from 12-15 years back, for instance, were more interrelated books than series; i.e. none of the action from one book depended upon action from another, nor was there any real continuation of action from one book to the next. Don’t get me wrong — there’s certainly nothing wrong with series where each book builds upon the other. But writers (romance writers in particular) need to decide whether the book will be able to stand alone, or will depend upon the other books. Unfortunately, many romance writers are trying to have it both ways, and the result is, well, almost every thing I’ve pointed out so far, plus something even more problematic.

When an author is confused about whether or not the book will stand alone or depend upon others, the most obvious sign of the struggle is that the main characters and/or plot are shortchanged. A textbook case of this is Elizabeth Hoyt’s latest book, Thief of Shadows,  which is, of course, part of a series. I won’t repeat everything I said on this subject already in my review of that book, but suffice to say that Thief of Shadows suffers from almost every ill I’ve listed here, and something even more dire: a hero and heroine whose story is sacrificed in order to segue into the stories of the other books.

Hoyt spent so much time on other characters from the series, and setting up situations for other books in the series that Thief of Shadows’  hero is, for lack of a better word, emasculated by the need for the series to go on. While reading the book, you feel that she should either have: A. written a longer book that lets the main characters’ story stretch out, while also incorporating the other characters from the series, or B. simply written the book as a standalone, throwing the premise of the series away. Either would have been better than the book as it is.

My biggest problem with the series books I’m seeing now, however, is less specific. To wit, it’s pure laziness. Most series books seem to me to be borne of laziness more than any desire to continue interrelated stories over a number of books. Why come up with an entirely new setting, new characters, new situations, even new verbal tics and slang, when you can just use-and-reuse those from previous books, and get away with it because you are “world building?”

It’s not world-building when nothing new but more character names and a slightly re-worked plot are added to each subsequent book in the series. You’re not building a world so much as moving dolls in and out of a dollhouse when the situations and characters are so similar from book to book that you can’t keep the names or situations straight.

For someone who doesn’t like series and finds Harlequin Historicals to be iffy in quality, series-itis is a disturbing trend. Good thing Carla Kelly, Elisabeth Fairchild and Diane Farr are re-releasing their old Traditional Regencies in e-book format, else I’d be looking for a new popular fiction genre altogether!