In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s my traditional Valentine’s Day post: a piece I wrote a decade ago, way back in 2009, for the (now defunct) All-A-Blog.
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you….”
They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With that as my excuse, I plan to shamelessly imitate one of my favorite authors, Tracy Grant, who came up with the genius idea of compiling a list of her favorite fictional declarations of love in honor of Valentine’s Day.
Like Tracy, I tend to admire those hard-won resolutions where the hero and heroine have been kept apart by either internal or external impediments. Mr. Darcy (whose well-worn declaration heads this post), has to fight against his own, er, pride and prejudice before he can blurt out those famous lines to Elizabeth. In the case of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, discussed at length by Tracy, the impediment lies in Harriet’s psyche, in her fear of what dreadful changes giving in to emotion might work on them both (to be fair, she had just been accused of murdering her ex-lover, so one could appreciate why she was gun shy). It takes three books for Lord Peter to win her over, and when he does, the resolution is all the meaningful for being so hard fought.
Here are two of my other favorites. On one end, we have those sardonic heroes, in the model of Rhett Butler, who mock themselves even as they declare their affections:
“Would it take your mind off your unpleasant memories to know that I love you? That I am, as the novelists put it, ‘in love’ with you?”
The hero and heroine of Valerie Fitzgerald’s Zemindar are on the run through India in the midst of the mutiny of 1857. The hero’s estate has just been burned and looted, the heroine has come across the hideously mutilated bodies of close acquaintances, they have a dependent woman and baby on their hands, and they have no idea whether they’ll make it out alive. Even so, the hero couches his declaration in inverted commas. The fact that it took mutiny, murder and massacre to get him even to that point tells you an awful lot about what voicing those words cost him.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the fulsome declaration—with a twist:
“Love you! Girl, you’re in the very core of my heart. I hold you there like a jewel. Didn’t I promise you I’d never tell you a lie? Love you! I love you with all there is of me to love. Heart, soul, brain. Every fibre of body and spirit thrilling to the sweetness of you. There’s nobody in the world for me but you, Valency.”
No one writes it quite like L.M. Montgomery. The heroine of The Blue Castle was the one who did the proposing, on the understanding that she only had a year to live. When she finds out that she was misdiagnosed, she runs back home, convinced Barney will hate her for trapping him. Barney comes running after her, uttering the declaration above—which Valency doesn’t believe. It takes his losing his temper to convince her, which leads to my favorite line of that scene: “You darling!” [Valency] said. “You do mean it! You do really love me! You wouldn’t be so enraged if you didn’t!” High romance gives way to practical psychology.
I’d never stopped to think about it before, but I’ve written variants on both those scenes. The hero and heroine of my fourth book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, belong to the Rhett Butler/Zemindar camp (Tracy discusses them in her post). My fifth book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, follows the Blue Castle pattern. When it comes down to it, the heroine is convinced of the sincerity of the hero’s affections not by his pretty speeches, but by the awkward honesty that comes later.
I have so many other favorite scenes—Rhett’s marriage proposal to Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, the final scene of Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, M.M. Kaye’s Trade Wind, Georgette Heyer’s Arabella—but this post has already reached absurd proportions.
What are your favorite literary declarations of love?
Happy Valentine’s Day!