More on that, perhaps, at some later date.
And as I was walking and listening I was thinking about the stories we tell about relationships in our culture. Romantic, sexually-intimate relationships to be precise. So I thought I’d share a few of my all-time favorite love stories with y’all and then throw upen the comment thread for sharing.
So starting with the classics, I have to vote Persuasion my favorite Jane Austen novel — even above Pride and Prejudice. I like that it’s all about second chances, I like the maturity of the protagonists, and the way in which Anne’s marriage at the end is not about domesticity as much as it is about adventure — a life on the open sea. Another classic would be E. M. Forester’s Room With a View, which in contrast to the Austen is very much a story about the turmoil of youth. Yet it does have one of the sweetest, most passionate kisses in all of English literature. I also like the fact that George, as well as Lucy, is swept away by feelings of romance and passion. Too often in hetero romance, the woman is the romantic and the man is playing hard to get. I like that in Room With a View the characters are equally desirous of one another (and slightly frightened of their own deep feelings).
Even though she’s slightly over-played at this point, I have to say I feel a deep fondness for Sara Waters’ fiction, particularly Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, which are both Victorian melodrama at their highest pitch but with a lesbian twist. And how could I dislike the novels that first suggested to me I might have, well, a thing for queer sex? She made it so hot and so loving at the same time.
Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden was the first lesbian love story I ever read (the only one my public library had in their YA collection … but if you’re going to have one, I don’t think Annie is a bad one to have!). It has incredibly tender moments and is remarkable for queer fiction of its era in that it has a happy ending.
I harbor a deep love for sexually-explicit young adult fiction on the whole, even if the sexually “explicit” scenes are less about negotiation of body parts and more about metaphors for orgasm. Still. Not a Swan by Michelle Magorian is about a bookish young English girl who comes into her own, sexually and romantically, during the Second World War. Sherryl Jordan’s The Raging Quiet is set in a quasi-fantastical Medieval landscape and involves a young woman who falls in love with the much-abused village idiot and, as a result, is accused of being a witch. Both have some incredibly tender love scenes, as well as (mild trigger warning) the young women having to come to grips with coerced sexual experiences. The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn by Aiden Chambers absolutely infuriated me with its cop-out ending and could have used some editing. But the central romance is tender, physically detailed, and actually deals with the messy negotiations of having safe sex and not quite getting it right the first time.
Even though it’s not to everyone’s taste, I love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander cycle not only for the epic multi-generational saga but also for the romance and the copious, often light-hearted sex. Gabaldon was the author who taught me that you could write sex scenes with a sense of humor — and still make them incredibly tender and sexy as hell. (Note: Not all the sex scenes or relationships are particularly lighthearted or loving; there’s sadistic violence and coerced sex in the novel as well. At times by the same characters who also engage in loving relationships. So if you just don’t want to go there, which is completely understandable, consider yourself warned.)
In the realm of mystery fiction, Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers has got to be one of my all-time favorite intellectual romances with a feminist sensibility. Likewise, Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women (#2 in the Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series) is really, really well done. Both of those books are achingly sensual without being explicitly sexual — a delicate balance to achieve.
I could throw out some more … but I think I’ll leave it at that for now and encourage everyone else to share their own favorites in comments. It’s time to swap reading (or viewing) suggestions!