Valentines

I sliced my thumb pretty badly Thursday evening as I was chopping onions for supper. After I bled through multiple layers of bandaging, Carl took over the rest of the food prep so we could eat. Then last night, as I was bemoaning the state of the kitchen since I hadn’t been able to wash dishes for two days and we had company coming today, he without saying a word took a break from necessary studying to wash all the dishes.

I didn’t plan to incapacitate my left thumb right around Valentine’s Day, but it certainly did give Carl a wonderful chance to show humble, everyday, extraordinary love on the day set aside to celebrate such things.

It was even better than chocolate.

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TTT: Books That Make You Swoon

I usually let a few more days pass between posts, especially when my previous post was SHERLOCK!!!!!!!! … but once again, I couldn’t resist the topic.

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Books that make me swoon! I wasn’t sure at first if this was romantic swooning, or just “I adore this” swooning, or swooning over characters, or what. But I glanced at a few of the other posts, and it seems people are interpreting it however they wish, so I will too. Ha! It’ll be mostly “I adore this” swooning, but occasionally romantic swooning over characters as well.

1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L Sayers It’s no secret that I am head-over-heels for Lord Peter Wimsey. Talk about swooning! But it’s this book, where the stormy relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane comes to a conclusion, that gets me the most. Not just the characters, but the way they settle their struggles, and the overall relationship and respect between them. The scene at the river’s side? *Faint*

2. Rilla of Ingleside, LM Montgomery I don’t care so much about the romance in this one, though as a kid I always had a crush on Walter. But the sad goodbye to one era, the hopeful looking toward a new, the slow, sorrowful, strong growing-up of Rilla, has always made me very swoony over this book.

3. The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander Taran Wanderer is my favorite of the Prydain Chronicles, but this one is definitely the most swoon-worthy. A quest to save Eilonwy, who in the end has to make the most gut-wrenching choice to save those she loves. Ah … perfection.

4. North & South, Elizabeth Gaskell Margaret Hale. John Thornton. This book is incredible, you guys. The mini-series BBC did was pretty darn good, too. Richard Armitage as John Thornton? Please excuse me while I go faint quietly in the corner.

5. Persuasion, Jane Austen I adore Anne Elliot. Captain Wentworth’s letter is pretty much the best romantic gesture ever. The scene between Anne and Wentworth at the concert in Bath is one of my favorite scenes between two romantic leads I’ve ever read. I love this book.

6. King of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner *Do not read this entry if you’ve not yet read the Queen’s Thief books. PLEASE. I’m as fond of spoilers as anyone, but don’t, don’t ruin this for yourself. Just trust me on this.* It’s not just the relationship between Gen and Irene that I love in this book (although that alone would be enough!). It’s the relationship between Gen and Costis. The relationship between Costis and Teleus. Between Teleus and Irene. Irene and Relius. Relius and Gen. So many relationship, you guys. And all of them heart-rending.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones Sophie. I love Sophie, and I love Howl, and I love Sophie and Howl, and I love this book. Love, love, love.

8. Betsy’s Wedding, Maud Hart Lovelace This picture of the first few years of marriage between Betsy and Joe has always filled me with great joy. And them coming back from their honeymoon? Yes, definitely swoon-worthy.

9. Seaward, Susan Cooper Far less known than her Dark is Rising series, this book is eerie and lovely and sad, and just beautifully written.

10. Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold ISTA. Ista is the best. I love Ista. I want to be Ista. Well, no, because her life was horrible, but her strength and courage and humor are amazing. And her romance, while secondary to her adventures, is highly satisfying.

There you have it! My top ten swoon-worthy books. Head over to The Broke and The Bookish to see what others picked!

"She Was Only Anne"

I am not a book reviewer, and this blog is not a review blog. I adore book review blogs. I just don’t review very well. I have a hard time being objective, and looking at something as either well-done or poorly-done, instead of “I liked this” or “this irritated the heck out of me.”

However. I am re-reading Persuasion for, I don’t know, the seventh time? Tenth? I don’t keep track of how often I read books, honestly. I know I started reading Austen back in my college days, and have re-read her books many times since. Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite – I would venture so far as to say I rather dislike it, mostly because all the characters are in good need of a Gibbs-head-slap – and my favorite keeps changing throughout the years. Right now, and for a few years, it is Persuasion, followed closely by Emma.

I think Anne Elliot is the best of all Austen’s heroines. More depth to her character than Lizzy Bennet, more spirit than Fanny Price, more clarity of vision than Emma Woodhouse, more common sense than Cathy Morland, and more understanding and wisdom than the Dashwood sisters. I love, as I approach my thirtieth year, that she is an older heroine, and one who blossomed later in life instead of early. I love how she shows that gentleness does not equal weakness, just as Louisa Musgrove proves that spiritedness does not equal strength of character.

Captain Wentworth is, I think, a bit of a jerk. He’s held a grudge against Anne for years, is deliberately rude to her, and flirts with the Musgrove girls without a care for how he might be affecting them. Yet, he is no Darcy, because we get to see him improve slowly throughout the book – not just changing after he is confronted with his faults, because he wants to be worthy of his love (I really hate the message that sends – that if you love somebody enough, you can change their character flaws. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY OUTSIDE THE MOVIE AND BOOK WORLD). He sees his flaws for himself, recognizes where he has been unjust and acted wrongly, and then moves decisively to correct himself.

And I think that’s one reason why Anne and Captain Wentworth are such a good match – they loved each other as youth, were separated and grew up apart from each other, each developing into their own person, and then came back together as fully realized adults, each offering something special to the other, to help make the other complete.

Persuasion is great not just for the MCs, though. The supporting characters are all brilliantly drawn too – Mary Musgrove cracks me up with every re-reading; Admiral and Mrs Croft are delightful; Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay are just the right sort of villains – not too obvious.

Then there is the scenery, and the overall feel of the book. I almost always read Persuasion in the autumn or winter months. It is that sort of book; it feels wrong to read it when it is light and sunny out. With only a few words Austen gives us a clear picture of Kellynch, of Lyme (oh how I want to visit there someday!), and of Bath. Bath comes through even clearer in Persuasion, I think, than in Northanger Abbey.

It shows the mark of being written by an older, experienced author. The pace is calmer, the humor subtler, the tone quieter and deeper than the others. It is, I think, Jane Austen’s masterpiece, and I think it a true pity that it is so often overshadowed by the brighter but shallower Pride and Prejudice.

Next up on my fall/winter reading list: Shakespeare and Elizabeth Gaskell! What are you planning on reading this month?

My Favorite Literary Couple

Betsy Ray and Joe Willard are one of my all-time favorite literary couples. I love everything about them, from their first meeting in “Heaven to Betsy,” to the absolutely lovely recounting of the first years of their marriage in “Betsy’s Wedding.”
I’ve wondered sometimes what makes me like them even more than most classic couples, such as, say, Anne and Gilbert
Or Elizabeth and Mr Darcy
Or even Taran and Eilonwy (a classic couple for fans of YA Fantasy)
I even like them a little bit better than Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, which is shocking.
But there you have it. For some reason, Betsy and Joe just stand out above the rest for me. After thinking about it, I’ve come up with a few reasons why:
(Note: I’m not saying that none of the other couples I mentioned don’t have all these traits, just not all together, like Betsy and Joe)
  1. Joe really respects Betsy. He doesn’t just adore her without thinking of her as a person, or think her perfection without recognizing her human flaws, or worship the ground she walks on without acknowledging that she has a brain. He respects her as a person, a human being, and he doesn’t try to shelter, coddle, or protect her. He critiques her writing honestly, and tells her real ways she can improve it. He is fiercely competitive in the first three years of their high school writing rivalry, but it is always a friendly competition.
  2. Although Betsy and Joe meet when they are fourteen, it is not at all certain they will end up together by the end of the series. There is an obvious attraction there, but while the reader hopes they will act on it, between their own stubbornness and outside influences, one can’t be at all sure. So that, when they do end up together, there is simultaneously a sense of “Of course!” and “Whew!”
  3. (and somewhat connected to 2) Because we get to see Betsy with SO many other boys, and Joe with at least one other girl, we are able to see even more clearly how perfect they are for each other, in contrast with all the other romances they’ve had.
  4. They are neither best friends nor bitter enemies. Nor do either of them think of the other as a sibling, while the other is hopelessly in love. Thank goodness!
  5. They don’t start dating (or courting, I suppose, given the era) and immediately get engaged and then married and everything is perfect. We get to see them continue to quarrel and make up, and even to break up for a time. Things aren’t perfect after they are married, either, but they meet every challenge with love and humor, and it makes them so human. In fact, everything about them is human and realistic, while still romantic enough to make the reader swoon.
So there you have it! My top five reasons why I love Betsy and Joe so much. All good things to keep in mind, for me, when writing romance between my own characters.
Who is your favorite literary couple? What are some things that you love in a literary romance, and what are some things you hate? Out of the five couples I mentioned, which do you like the best? Don’t you love Vera Neville’s illustrations for the Betsy-Tacy books?

Jo March and Sundries

This was going to be a post on Jo and Laurie, and why I don’t think they would have been a good couple, but I’ve been ranting about Amy various places lately, and realized that this post needed to mostly be about Jo, with everyone else tossed in as they relate to her.

First of all:

Even though Josephine “Jo” March did not make it to my list of favorite literary heroines, she only missed it by a hair, and only because I already had twelve and couldn’t justify making it any longer. And also because Louisa May Alcott’s moralizing-on-the-brink-of-preachiness style of writing has such a tendency to get under my skin that my irritation with her can bleed into my feelings toward Jo.

But Jo is still an old friend, and someone I admire. Her growth through “Little Women,” and then as she is seen in “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys,” is both realistic and beautiful – she becomes a gracious and responsible woman without losing any of her strength, her independence, or her individuality. Watching her learn, with the help of her mother, how to control her temper has always been a favorite theme of mine throughout the first book. Watching her as a mother to her two boys, and pseudo-mother to a whole host of other children in the later books, is almost as delightful. Her struggles to accept Beth’s mortality, and the strength that she lends her family during that time; her fierce rebellion against growing up before deciding to turn it to her advantage; her hatred of society’s meaningless conventions … she is a dear, our Jo.

And, of course, her friendship with Laurie. O, that controversial topic. Let me state my position right off the bat:

I do not think Jo and Laurie should have been married.

There. I said it.

Now, hold off on the pitchforks for just a moment and let me explain (then you can all come charging at me again, if you like).

I don’t think Laurie ever really respected Jo enough as a person. He didn’t take her seriously. He was in love with her, that much is true, but emotion alone is not enough to build a strong and lasting relationship. As Jo herself said, he would have resented her writing after a while, because it took her away from him. He would have been embarrassed by her oddities and how awkward she was in society – or worse, he would have been amused by her, and treated her like an exotic possession, to be brought out to startle polite company.

And Jo didn’t take Laurie seriously, either. She never would have believed he truly meant anything he set out to do, and would have treated him with a calm condescension that would have infuriated and deflated his ambitions. She would have sensed that he relied on her as his conscience, and would have resented that. She would try to fit into what she thought he wanted her to be, and hated every minute of it, and ended by hating him.

At least, that’s how I see it. They were the best of friends, but not all best friends should marry. I suppose it made more sense to me as a kid, because, you see, my best friend was a boy, and almost everyone around us assumed that we would fall in love as we got older and get married. We knew, though, that such a relationship would never, ever work, that our temperaments were too alike in crucial areas and too different in others, that the very things that made our friendship so strong would destroy us if we were ever so stupid to fall in love.

And life proved us right, as we are both happily married to other people now, and still very good friends. Ethan was, in fact, the one that introduced me to my husband, and he was best man at our wedding.

Having said all that, I still cannot forgive Amy for marrying Laurie. Or for existing, for that matter. I have never been able to get over the way she destroyed Jo’s book. And I know she almost drowned/froze in the river afterward, but all that did was turn it around so that Jo was the bad guy and Amy the suffering victim. If she had killed a living pet of Jo’s nobody would have let her off so easily. Jo’s book was as alive to her and important as any pet could have been!

And then Europe. If she really was a good person by that point, instead of simply having all the outward appearances of goodness, she could have said to Aunt Carrol, “Thank you so much for your offer, Aunt, but Aunt March did always promise to take Jo and it isn’t right that she should lose this chance just because she was having a bad day due to me forcing her to do something she didn’t like and isn’t good at; please take her with you instead of me.” I hate how she was portrayed so sweet and good, and yet took everything Jo ought to have had, and calmly accepted it as her due. She knew that Laurie loved Jo, and had no way of knowing that Jo didn’t love him, but she fell for him anyway, never once thinking of her sister bearing all the family burdens at home. Selfish beast!

I’ve also never really liked Professor Bhaer, though I can accept him better in the latter two books. Still, though, I get the impression that LMA tossed him in because she knew her readers would never allow her to leave Jo unmarried. Not that I wanted Jo to be alone and single all her days (UNLESS SHE WANTED TO), but the professor was just … bland. There was nothing to him. Jo should have married someone strong, to match her, but gentle where she was sharp, and calm where she was excitable, and vice-versa. Someone with a rich sense of humor and a good view of the world. Someone – and this is very important – practical and fun, who could help her regain some of the spirit she lost during those hard years nursing Beth and after Beth died (while Amy was off in Europe stealing Laurie). Someone who viewed life as an adventure, not a philosophical treatise. Basically, she married her father, and I never liked Mr. March.

Poor Jo. She got cheated by LMA in so many ways. I can understand why so many people wanted her to marry Laurie, because of how gypped she was of a proper happy ending, but I still veer away there. Not Laurie, not a character LMA ever wrote (perhaps because she never met a man like that), but someone, somewhere, had to be a match for our beloved Jo.

And maybe he would have been able to squelch Amy, as nobody else was ever able to do!

What are your thoughts on the Jo-Laurie relationship? Did you like Professor Bhaer? Is boiling in oil too kind for Amy?