Between the sickly sweet of Nicholas Sparks and the pure raunch of bodice rippers, romance novels have fallen into disrepute. They're considered (in most cases, rightfully so) to be unrealistic, shallow and poorly written. Such representations of the romantic bond between a man and woman lead invariably to expectations that not only will never, but can never be fulfilled. Why fill our minds with such drivel? More to the point, why let our kids fill their minds with such drivel?
Yet men and women fall in love and get married all the time. Or get married and fall in love, as the case may be. Our best literature examines and chronicles the realities of existence—do we make an exception for matters of the heart? Do we cut out all the bad romance novels....and with them, the works of Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott and George MacDonald?
Just because something can be misused doesn't mean we also need to dispense with its good manifestations. Really, anything can be misused, including those things we value most. Hands aren't bad because people kill each other with them. Words aren't bad because people lie. It's the same with literary genres. Because certain "writers" abuse the romance genre doesn't mean we shouldn't read good romance novels, and even (horror of horrors!) enjoy them.
There are few more universal stories than that of a boy and girl in love. As much as we want to keep our children pure (especially in our debauched society), we also want them to see and appreciate the beauty of true romance. We also want them to understand the difficulties love entails, the self-sacrifice and the frustration, the pain as well as the joy. That's why you won't find any books by Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele here, that celebrate one element of love over others, that honor love as a feeling or impulse, but not as a choice or decision.
For that reason, Jane Austen may be the best romance writer of all time. Nothing terribly exciting happens to any of her characters (just as nothing terribly exciting happens to most of us), there are always obstacles to happiness (no romance is truly easy), and yet each honorable romantic attachment ends where it should—in marriage. You'll find all of Austen's books in this section, and many others like them, books that promote purity and honor and humility over the lust and blind passion that fills the romance novels of today.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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