Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why do I love Historical Romance? Jane Odiwe

Illustration from The Little White Horse
Every Saturday, as a small child, I was taken to my local library to choose my books for the week, and though I loved anything written by Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild or C. S. Lewis, the first books that really intrigued me had a historical background. I loved any book that was illustrated with lavish costumes, and as I grew older the pictures were still significant, but less so as the story-telling took over. Being totally drawn into the world the author had created, and back to a time imagined in detail with wonderful descriptions and an exciting plot were the elements that made me fall in love with historical romance. Two particular childhood favourites have stayed with me, influencing my own writing with their mix of historical/fantasy elements and beautiful writing, as well as a first initiation into the world of romance.
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge is a magical tale set in 1842, and from the very beginning I was hooked by a description of the heroine Maria’s clothes.

And the boots she had on today were calculated to raise the lowest spirits, for they were made of the softest grey leather, sewn with crystal beads round the tops, and were lined with snow-white lamb’s-wool … she rested herself against the thought of the piece of purple ribbon that was wound about her slender waist beneath the pelisse, the little bunch of violets that was tucked so far away inside the recesses of her grey velvet bonnet that it was scarcely visible, and the grey silk mittens adorning the small hands that were hidden inside the big white muff.

The romance between Maria and Robin is a very gentle one, but for a first book which hinted at love and ended in marriage it was perfect for a twelve or thirteen year old reader.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley is another favourite, and a timelip novel. I was fascinated by the story of Mary Queen of Scots as a child, and reading about the Babington Plot, as seen unfolding through the eyes of a twentieth century girl as she travels through time ticked all the boxes for me. Penelope’s relationship with Anthony Babington’s brother Francis develops throughout the book and ends with a tender kiss - I was smitten!

Again, the descriptions completely transported me to form pictures of the Elizabethan manor house in my mind:

I smell the hot scents of the herb garden drenched in sunshine, and the perfume of honeysuckle after rain, but stronger than these is the rich fragrance of the old house, made up of woodsmoke, haystacks and old old age, mingled together indissolubly.

Later on my favourites changed as other writers took over and their books took me to other historical worlds and romantic tales of love - Frances Hodgson Burnett, Dodie Smith, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Edith Wharton, Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy, Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth von Armin, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Gaskell, Georgette Heyer, and the author whose work has inspired me the most, Jane Austen.

I could not leave this post without mentioning my all time favourite book, Persuasion. I love it for the bitter-sweet tale of the love between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth finally brought together after a separation of nearly seven years. I don’t think the letter below has ever been bettered for perfection in writing!

Jane Odiwe

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in 
F. W. 
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never.

Jane Austen - Persuasion


Fenella J Miller said...

Jane, I read all Enid Blyton's books and moved on to Georgette Heyer - I don't enjoy them as much now - they seem rather dated.

Jane Odiwe said...

Yes, I agree-I think historicals have moved on quite a lot, but I do enjoy a lot of authors from the past.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I loved Elizabeth Goudge's books - Gentian Hill was perhaps my favourite. I loved her evocation of the countryside and the romance was just right for my twelve-year-old self. Later, her approval of female self-abnegation began to worry me more and more. I can see why I enjoyed her books but they don't appeal now in the same way.

Jane Odiwe said...

Elizabeth, I've only read Goudge's children's books and her biography which I found interesting. I tried one or two of her adult books, but couldn't get into them in the same way. Perhaps I ought to try Gentian Hill.