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[personal profile] greensword
A few weeks ago [ profile] aliterati and our friend Dan and I had a conversation about the love stories we obsessed over growing up and how they effect our taste in partners, our dreams of what relationships should be, and the way we go about our romantic business. Since today is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd talk about the romantic daydreams of my childhood - those bits of feeling gleaned from books and t.v. shows, before we started figuring things out on our own.

Like many little girls, my favorite book when I was young was Little Women*. I read it cover to cover, over and over, and identified with Jo and hated Amy and loved Laurie. I didn't understand why Jo turned Laurie down in favor of the older, less pretty, less fun-loving Professor Behr. I had a crush on my own dark-haired, mischievous best friend and desperately wished he'd stop in the middle of one of our adventures in the woods and declare his undying love for me.

However, as much as I liked Laurie, he was not my romantic idol. After all, he didn't end up being good enough for Jo, and had to settle for annoying Amy. (My best friend didn't end up being good enough for me either - something I didn't understand even when I realized he would only be friends with me when no one else was around. I thought that meant I wasn't good enough for him.)

No, I met my great storybook love when my mother, seeing my fondness for Little Women, got me Anne of Green Gables. Now Anne Shirley, like Jo March, is a great character for girls to identify with: clever, independent, endlessly creative, passionate. But it wasn't Anne that I read the Green Gables books over and over for - it was Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert Blythe was, at age ten, the embodiment of everything I wanted. Keenly intelligent, he is Anne's only intellectual rival (how I wished I had a handsome, flirtatious intellectual rival at that age!) and though he loves to tease her he stops when he hits on something she is sensitive about (the exact opposite of what all the boys I knew would do). It takes Anne years to realize she loves Gilbert back, but when she does, he is there waiting for her.

The third and final romantic book I loved was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. This is a little less famous than the other two, so I'll sketch out the plot - Kit, the orphaned child of Caribbean slaveholders, flees to Puritan New England to be with her mother's family, rather than marry the middle-aged friend of her father. On the journey, she meets Nat, the captain's son, who earns her displeasure by pointing out the flaws in her privileged, frivolous worldview. When she gets to her aunt's town, she tries to adapt herself to her new surroundings, but quickly becomes frustrated, and often escapes to be with Hannah, the witch of Blackbird Pond. It turns out that Nat is a friend of Hannah's as well. When the town turns against Hannah, Nat and Kit help her escape and, by the end of the story, fall in love and live happily ever after.

Why I love these books:
~ In all three books, the hero falls in love with the heroine first, usually for her independence, intelligence and bravery. The heroine takes her time to come to terms with her feelings.
~ However, they do not become doormats - they can clearly see the heroine's flaws and will point them out to her. When the heroine sees a real flaw in them (arrogance, rudeness, lack of compassion, lack of direction) they do their best to change themselves.
~ Except for Laurie (who is my least favorite of the three), they have a strong sense of self and a person they want to become regardless of what happens with the heroine. Gilbert wants to become a doctor, Nat wants to captain his own ship and try to win American independence and abolish the slave trade.
~ They all really like to tease each other.

These are actually rather common themes but they still ring true to me. I like intelligent, good-natured guys with enough self confidence to call me on whatever bullshit I put out there. I find stupidity, lack of direction, meanness, and an uncritical view of me to be huge turnoffs. And someone who likes to be teased and can make me laugh is just icing on the cake.

What about you? What were your favorite childhood romances, and can you see their influence in your life now?

* Actually it was Lord of the Rings, but there was no real romance in that. I didn't understand Eowyn until I was older and Arwen and Aragorn's star-crossed whatever still doesn't feel like romance to me. Little Women was my second favorite book.

Date: 2009-02-14 07:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is a great post!

Your post has made me realize something very interesting about myself: I can't think of a single fictional romance that caught my eye before high school. The books (and movies) that I was in love with as a child were basically all about survival, and if they had any romance, that wasn't what I focused on. My first childhood crush was on the Disney version of Davy Crockett (I must have watched that movie thirty times). My favorite books were My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and several lesser-known books about mountain men. In that same vein, I just loved the Oregon Trail computer game.

The first fictional romance that I became really enamored with was Pride and Prejudice, and that wasn't until my freshman year in high school.

I think that this lack of interest in romance as a child did influence the eventual romantic choices that I made though. In middle and high school I pretty much stayed out of the dating scene. There really wasn't anyone I wanted to date seriously, and I was okay with that, probably partly because all those survivalist epics taught me that it was okay to be independent. When I did start dating, I generally made the first move. Now that I'm married, I don't feel trapped, but I probably would if Sam didn't allow me a large measure of independence.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I thought the same thing while reading this post - when I was very young I loved fairy tales, mythology, and just-so-stories. I loved animals, and I loved adventure. I didn't have any real ideal of love when very young. I wasn't very interested. I chased boys and once tried to kiss one in second grade, but I never really day-dreamed about it.

I think my first love was probably Roberto Benigni after I saw Life is Beautiful when I was 13. I wasn't in love with him, but I just admired him so much, I have always loved comedians.

I also had a big crush on andrew bird. and I loved his jazzy music. I really didn't read too much romances, I just got a lot from the movies. after andrew bird it was probably fred astaire and then jimmy stewart. I was always in love with a movie star.

but I too, think the first time I became interested in romance and love as described in books was through Jane Austen. Mr. Darcy was immediately loved. beyond that I can't think of too many examples.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I completely fell for Mr. Darcy. Or more specifically, I fell for the Colin Firth version of Mr. Darcy.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I didn't read the Austen books until high school, so I wasn't necessarily thinking of them in this post. Definitely Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite romances, although actually, Persuasion is my favorite of Austen's.

Date: 2009-02-17 04:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am trying to get through Persuasion at the moment actually! not very far yet.

and yes, I loved Darcy from the beginning of that book, when everyone thought he was an ass. and I hadn't seen the film yet. I just have a thing for grumpy gentlemen I guess! ha.

I think Sense and Sensibility is my favorite read of Austen's, so far.

Date: 2009-02-17 05:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm actually kind of meh about Sense and Sensibility, I don't know why. I think maybe it's because Austen took her classic heroine and split her in two - but alone, neither of the Dashwood sisters is a full enough character to be completely likable. Where is Marianne's cleverness? Where is Eleanor's spunk?

At least it's better than Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park is the only Jane Austen novel that I actively disliked.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I liked those books too, but I have to say my favorite "survival" book as a child was From the Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler. A different kind of survival. ;)

I think I started having crushes relatively early, maybe as soon as third or fourth grade. It's odd, though, because as much of a romantic as I can be, and as easily as I feel affection for people, I generally tend to be happier alone. I think that's a combination of just being a very busy, happy individual, and also still not quite believing that life isn't an Anne of Green Gables novel.

Date: 2009-02-14 08:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Actually, your choices are all the same as mine (even down the Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I liked but wouldn't necessarily say it was my absolute favorite), so all I can offer up is one of my other favorite books from childhood - the Little House series. Almonzo's character amazed me, although now I'm a tiny bit creeped out by it (Given that he knew Laura when she was a child while he was already a man). I loved the idea that he would drive her home every weekend to see her family, with the two of them barely talking because while he was interested in her, she needed time to fall in love with him.

It's interesting to me because all of the romances in the books I loved as a child happened very slowly and usually involved some amount of drama. I think I used to believe that a relationship wasn't worth having it hadn't been a struggle due to the romantic view of the world I'd constructed from these books. I don't think I believe that any more. Less of an influence from the romantic side of things, but I've definitely noticed that Jo, Anne, and Laura have had been strong influences on my decision to become a teacher (although I didn't realize this until a few years after I'd already started my education degree), so I definitely find this question/discussion very interesting.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I totally forgot about the Little House on the Prairie books! I loved them too, but mainly for the pioneer aspect. Almonzo didn't make a big impression on me.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You know I never really read the Little House series? Even my mother assumes that I have, and I just haven't. It's bizarre.

There are a number of "romances" that have the Almonzo/Laura dynamic and I think all of them are kind of creepy. For instance, while we're on an Austen kick, Emma is pretty much the same, with some added lecturing. The fact that it seems more acceptable in older stories (imagine seeing a story like that now!) is perhaps because back then, people didn't see there being as much of a difference between females and children.

And now I'm trying to think if there are any books I read about children growing up to be scientists. I loved Contact, but that's not a children's or YA book.

Date: 2009-02-15 12:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I thought the romance in Emma was so creepy! That said, I did have a summer fling in my early twenties with one of my former babysitters. I'd had a crush on him when I was ten and he was fifteen. I didn't find that fling the slightest bit weird when it was happening (in fact, I was pretty proud of myself that I'd managed to bag my hot babysitter), but then that age difference was a far cry from the fifteen year age difference between Emma and Mr. Knightley...

Date: 2009-02-15 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't think that age is in itself an issue, but more the history of a power dynamic. Especially since in Emma, that power dynamic was played up as the most romantic part - Mr. Knightley loves Emma! He tells her how to behave!

Date: 2009-02-14 10:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I second what [ profile] ominousspectre said about Laura and Almanzo. Including the much later realization of "hey, wait a minute... that's kinda creepy." And everything you said about Anne, Gilbert, Kit and Nat.

But while I do like Little Women, I've never really connected to any of the romances in it, and it isn't at all my favorite Louisa May Alcott book. My favorite is An Old Fashioned Girl, but that's more for the spirit and determination of outdated country girl (and later independent music teacher) Polly Milton in sticking to her principles and being true to herself than the fact that she does eventually end up with Tom (after the covetous be-rouged Trix dumps him when his family loses all their money).

Honestly, I don't know how or whether my childhood reading influenced my current take on romance -- I don't know whether I HAVE a take on romance. Sometimes I think my inability to see myself fitting into those narratives -- Anne and Gilbert, Laura and Almanzo -- accounts for my current strong identification with celibacy. Louisa May Alcott had a few characters who described themselves as "cheerful, busy, independent spinsters" -- I tend to hang onto that phrase.

Date: 2009-02-14 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The only other LMA book I've read is Eight Cousins and its sequel. The way the heroine is treated in that book is just patronizing, and led me to stick to LMA's "Little" books.

Date: 2009-02-15 01:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The first two exactly describe my relationship with those books as a child. I will also add Meg and Calvin from The Wrinkle in Time Series. Their romance isn't described much in the books, but I just liked that she was awkward and misanthropic and smart, super sciency, and there was a lanky sweet boy who was also smart who appreciated her. I identified.

Date: 2009-02-17 05:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh yes, agreed! Although I read the Wrinkle In Time series fairly late in my childhood, so by then it didn't quite have the power to move me. Did you ever read other books from that universe? I really identified with Vicky, and also Polly.

Date: 2009-02-15 02:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love The Witch of Blackbird Pond. <3

Date: 2009-02-15 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love The Witch of Blackbird Pond!!! This makes me realize I need to re-read it!!!

Date: 2009-02-20 08:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
OMG I loved the Witch of Blackbird Pond!


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