Friday, August 10, 2007

At Least The Time Traveller's Wife Didn't Make the Cut

The Guardian publishes a list of the top twenty romantic novels, selected by 2,000 respondents to a poll. The results are, to say the least, disturbing:
  • No. 20: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

    Because nothing says 'romance' like a story in which the male and female leads' most powerful feelings for one another are, respectively, an increasingly strained sense of duty and an overwhelming neediness.

  • No. 13: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Because there's no better way to say 'I love you' than to dump the guy because he's not rich enough, drive him to emotional and moral ruin and ultimately to his death, and then go on with your life as though nothing had happened.

  • No. 7: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

    Because what girl doesn't dream of being shackled for life to an emotional cripple who will never get over his evil, dead first wife?

  • No. 6: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

    Because the people who responded to this poll were obviously thinking about the film, not the book.

  • No. 4: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

    Because the best that a strong, intelligent woman can hope for is the choice between a needy man-child and an emotionless bully.

  • No. 1: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë


    Yeah, I've got nothing.
Most of the other selections seems reasonable, though I haven't read many of them. Persuasion should be closer to the top, and I'm of two minds about the presence of Sense and Sensibility. It is, obviously, a good love story--two, in fact--but it's also downright hostile to the romantic mindset. Marianne Dashwood doesn't get to be happy until she surrenders her romantic worldview and realizes that the dashing man who sweeps her off her feet--and who genuinely loves her--is worthless because he has no moral qualities. The novel's ending even states that she marries out of respect and friendship, and only later learns to love her husband.

Some saner alternatives:


charlene said...


I also object to Romeo and Juliet, which seems a paean to really immature love. P&P is the only one from that list I've read that actually seems, well, sane.

I don't know that Howl's Moving Castle is exactly the pic of a perfectly ideal relationship, but it's certainly better than Romeo and Juliet. Possession is a fine example of many kinds of interesting love. I'd also add The Perilous Gard (Pope) (really fun and healthy romance) and The Blue Castle(LM Montgomery) (a typical LMM fluffy-romance book, but a much more healthy romance than Wuthering Heights, not that that's saying a whole lot).

Jennifer said...

Oooh, Perilous Gard, yes. Fabulous and more of a "love story" than some of the others ones in here.

(I am also kind of partial to Sherwood Ring, but mainly that's because the Barbara/Peaceable relationship cracks me up. Richard/Eleanor is pretty cute too.)

Nobody else but me would think of these as good romances, but here you go:

* The Kushiel books by Jacqueline Carey. Main romance of the first three features a courtesan/spy and her celibate (but not for long) bodyguard, negotiating the differences between them and how to relate to each other.

Main romance of the second trilogy features two characters who for the sake of politics, should NOT be together, trying not to be, then realizing their not being together may actually cause more damage to everyone around them.

* This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen. (I know it's a teenage book, shut up). Girl whose mother is a romance writer who's constantly getting married reluctantly falls for a very goofy guy.

Kyra said...

Oh dear God.

And as for Lady Chatterley's Lover ... because nothing says love like sodomy in a forest? And let's not even touch the romantic dialogue ("Here tha shits an’ here tha pisses" and so on...)

What were were these people *thinking?*

And I think the only reason Austen ends up on these lists at all is because characters get married her books - as you say with reference to Sense and Sensibility there's nothing remotely romantic about a man who wears a flannel waistcoat (I notice they left that out the movie).

Stranger said...

Oh, my, what lot of *respectable* books these people like! I'd also note that R&J isn't a novel, and if we're admitting pre-novel literature, what about the deluge of romantic poetry written to various ladies from the 12th century up? What about Shakespeare's sonnets, which collectively knock his romantic or comedy plays into a cocked hat? It's hard to say they constitute a narrative, but they have enough theme to make up for it.

It seems more than likely that the answers to such a poll are based on what the readers think they ought to like. What do these people read, really? No doubt some of them like Austen or Eliot on occasion -- well, so do I -- but I'm not willing to believe these are majority preferences. It's true that both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights display such overblown love-and-death romanticism that they represent some kind of unforgettable extreme on the scale. I'm not immune to the impulse, perhaps, but I like it better in La Traviata, which also isn't a novel.

Down to earth, I'd vote for Busman's Honeymoon, by Sayers, showing the fraught first days of a sincerely made marriage. And second the notion of Perilous Gard, where the lovers have to work through all manner of illusions to find each other real.

Rich Horton said...

Take a Girl Like You? I love the novel, but it concerns a cad who rapes (at least morally -- and these days, if not perhaps in 1960, legally) the female lead partly out of frustration that she won't put out. I really don't see it as romantic.

Kyra said...

Yes, that's good point, Stranger. That's the problem with these sort of polls. People are overly conscious of what their tastes in books will say about them to an outsider.

I mean, if I really thought about it, I'm afraid the most romantic texts I would be able to think of would, in fact, be *romance* novels - the sort of books you'd be embarrassed to read on the bus because they have a scantily woman and an overly muscled man on the cover. They not exactly great literature but they're, by definition, romantic and can be well-written and genuinely moving.

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