The 9 Ingredients of a Great Love Story

‘Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.’ — ‘Wuthering Heights,’ by Emily Brontë Sometimes selling the romance simply...

Sometimes selling the romance simply takes two magnetic figures. In his 1936 review of Margaret Mitchell’s racially problematic “Gone With the Wind,” J. Donald Adams needed only to describe Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler to entice the reader: Scarlett “is a vital creature,” he wrote, “alive in every inch of her”; Rhett a reinvention of “a stock figure of melodrama and romance, even to the black mustache, the piercing eyes and the irresistible way with women.”

A more unusual pairing can also do the necessary work, as in Rachel Ingalls’s “Mrs. Caliban,” reviewed by Michael Dorris in 1986. Dorothy, we’re told, has had a tough go of it, until she meets “a 6-foot-7-inch humanlike amphibian named Larry, a.k.a. Aquarius.” Need more? “To say that Larry finds the middle-aged Dorothy attractive is to put it mildly,” Dorris wrote, adding that they end up making love in multiple spots around Dorothy’s home.

But how interesting can a pairing be without conflict? This is made clear in one of the Book Review’s very first columns devoted to romance novels in 1901. An anonymous write-up of “The King’s Messenger,” a book by Suzanne Antrobus, about “the old Creole aristocracy” of New Orleans, noted that “the ardent lover” Capt. Laville was pitted against Rossart, the chief of police, who was “his deadly enemy and rival in love” as “the wooer of Lady Jeanne.” (Antiquarian spoiler: Though the writer claimed it would be “unfair to divulge the final scenes of the story,” it sounds like Laville comes out on top.)

Sometimes it is the very subject matter of a book that provides the conflict, as in “The Price of Salt,” by Patricia Highsmith, writing under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. (The book might be better known to cinephiles from Todd Haynes’s adaptation “Carol.”)

Carol, the older and richer woman, woos Therese; Therese “apparently cannot conceive of there being anything questionable about this relationship,” wrote Charles J. Rolo in his 1952 review. “And she thereby precipitates a crisis in which both have to make decisions that will lastingly affect their lives.”

In 1952, the very conceit of a lesbian romance was considered “explosive material.”

Conflict, of course, readily leads to suffering. In her 2000 review of Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood,” Janice P. Nimura opened by quoting the Beatles song that inspired Murakami’s title: “I once had a girl / Or should I say, she once had me.” (Sounds like suffering.) The book is the story of Toru and his relationships with two women: Naoko (and her “increasingly fractured psyche” — more suffering), and later, his classmate Midori. “Safe havens don’t exist” in Murakami’s book, Nimura wrote, “and love is never truly unconditional.”

In other cases, the title alone can tip off emotional toll, as with Carson McCullers’s “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” In her 1940 review, Rose Feld called the portrayal of John Singer, the book’s deaf and mute protagonist, whose friendships with three other men were “more often savage and violent than tender” — like a “Van Gogh painting peopled by Faulkner figures.”

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Newsrust: The 9 Ingredients of a Great Love Story
The 9 Ingredients of a Great Love Story
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