The New Yorker has a profile of author Gene Wolfe. “His narrators may be prophets, or liars, or merely crazy, but somewhere in their stories they help to reveal what Wolfe most wants his readers to know: that compassion can withstand the most brutal of futures and exist on the most distant planets, and it has been part of us since ages long past.”
Posted September 1, 2011
I always get a boost of industrious energy this time of year, and a renewed sense of purpose. All those years of back-to-school excitement have left me with a nigh-Pavlovian response to Labour Day. I’m one of those (apparently rare) few who actually liked school from kindergarten onwards, so the beginning of a new school year tends to fill me with a sense of adventure and discovery, no matter how many years have passed since I was in a classroom (far more than I care to think about, some days). And what better way to honour of that sense of discovery than with a column about Romances with educational elements?
(No, don’t answer that. And please hold all questions until the end)
I’ve read countless Romance titles in which one of the main characters, usually the heroine, is a teacher. If the teaching takes place at the college level or higher, the hero might be a teacher, but it’s much more common to see a woman in the role. It’s kind of an odd place to find that gender stereotype, but there you have it. And it certainly makes sense if the story is historical in nature: for centuries, teaching was the only way – the only respectable way – a woman could earn a living. But there is more to ‘educational elements’ than teachers. There’s also learning.
Learning is a powerful act. Acquiring new knowledge or a new skill, no matter how humble it might seem, changes you. Makes you more than you were. Transformation like that is the core of many Romance archetypes, so it makes sense that learning works well in Romances. Here’s to education, and all those folks who help us get it!
A Summer To Remember, Mary Balogh
Many of Balogh’s books feature teachers. In fact, she wrote an entire, excellent Regency series centered around a small girl’s school, each book centered one of the teachers. Balogh herself was a teacher for many years, and she obviously thoroughly understands and respects the profession. But A Summer to Remember is about the kind of learning one cannot find in the classroom. It’s the story of Lauren Edgeworth, who is beginning to realize that there must be more to life than just rigid propriety Enter Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg. A former soldier and current scandal, he needs a proper bride, fast. Lauren agrees to act the part of his intended if in return he will show her how to enjoy her life, rather than just endure it. A moving and wonderful book.
The Unknown Ajax, Georgette Heyer
Another Regency, but this one is more light-hearted in tone. From the woman who practically created the subgenre, it contains all the wit, slang, and attention to detail that is the Heyer hallmark. Hugo Darracott is a Major in the British Army, and the son of man disowned by his family for marrying a woman far below his own social sphere (from Yorkshire, no less). But to the rage of his high-stickler grandfather, he is also the heir to Darracott Place. Hugo, finding himself surrounded by family utterly determined to mold him into an acceptable scion, obligingly pretends to be an unlettered rustic with a broad Yorkshire accent to give them something to do while he quietly goes about acquainting himself with his new holdings… and with the lovely and spirited Anthea. A delightful romp of a book, which charmed me so much that I’d re-read it several times before realizing that Anthea was, in fact, Hugo’s first cousin. Um. Those wacky British aristocrats, eh?
Prince Joe, Suzanne Brockman
Lt. Joe Catalanotto is a Navy SEAL: a highly trained, immensely competent soldier. But his new assignment requires he learn how to play the part of European royalty, with all the attendant mannerism, speech patterns, and behaviour that entails. Media consultant Veronica St. John, who spent much of her life in diplomatic and royal circles, is brought in to help him polish his image. Joe is tough, streetwise, and deadly. Veronica is upper class and highly refined. Naturally, they fall in love… and that’s when the danger starts. Fun, fast-paced, and full of adventure, this is the first in the ‘Tall, Dark & Dangerous’ series that made Brockman a major success, and made Navy SEAL heroes practically a subgenre of their own.
The Cinderella Deal, Jennifer Crusie
Lincoln Blais is a tightly-wound history professor who’s about to land his dream job (a tenured position at a small but prestigious college) if he can just swing the final requirement: a wife. Daisy Flattery, his artistic and disorganized neighbor, agrees to play the part. She fills his life with colour; he teaches her that a little discipline can only make her a better artist. I loved this book for the many transformations it holds: Linc relaxes out of rigidity; Daisy learns to create a little order out of chaos, and their house goes from run-down to warm, happy, and full of Linc’s seminar students all the time. The house full of people reminds me of some of the best of my own university days. Good times.
Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart
Linda Martin is hired to look after young Phillipe de Valmy. Phillipe is the heir to an enormous estate in the Savoy region, and his guardians, Leon and Heloise de Valmy, want him to have an English governess. So Linda hides the fact that she speaks fluent French. She becomes very fond of the quiet Phillipe, and just as fond, though in a very different way, of Leon’s adult son Raoul. But Linda discovers that all is not what it seems in the tranquil French countryside. Phillipe is in serious danger, and Linda is the only one who can save him. Any book by Mary Stewart is going to be compulsively readable, but I particularly loved Linda’s growing relationship with young Phillipe. He may be a Count, but he is also a child: smart, funny, clumsy, and occasionally maddening. First published in 1958, Nine Coaches Waiting definitely counts as a contemporary, even though aspects of it feel deliciously historical.