An Ode to Emilie

I just went on a two-week vacation, and I did not pack a single book.

That’s not to say I didn’t read. I read every day. I didn’t need to bring any books because I borrowed ones from my two hostesses—my mother and my sister.

At my sister’s house, I read Kathryn Stockett’s very excellent Southern novel, The Help. Anyone who has not yet read this—you are missing out. Run to the store or library and pick up a copy. Now. My sister and I spent hours discussing this novel.

At my mother’s house, I read from her collection of Emilie Loring romance novels. Someday, my mother’s collection of Emilie Loring romance novels will become my collection of Emilie Loring romance novels because I called dibs on them for when she (my mother, not Emilie Loring) dies. My mother owns a copy of every single Emilie Loring romance novel, with the exception of With This Ring. Until this visit, I did not realize that she was missing With This Ring, so guess what I’ll be hunting for all over the Internet come holiday time?

Minus With This Ring, my mother owns all fifty-plus novels, even the ones written after Emilie Loring’s death. (Don’t tell my mom. She doesn’t know that Emilie herself did not write those last twenty books from beyond the grave. Anybody who reveals to her that they were ghost written, using partial manuscripts or rough drafts found after Emilie Loring passed, is going to suffer my wrath.)

Emilie Loring died a long time ago (1951, at the age of 87), but her work lives on. It lived on a lot two weeks ago because my mother and I had long discussions about the books. Each day, I held out the copy that I planned to read. The books were sometimes held together with a rubber band, the pages brittle and yellow, the sticker price of 40 cents still intact. One glimpse of the book cover, and my mother promptly told me the setting, the plot, who betrayed the hero, a description of the spunky best friend, and what the heroine wore the night she and the hero, inevitably, realized they were madly in love.

Did the spoilers stop me from reading the book? Of course not. I’ve read them all multiple times. I have not familiarized myself with the details to the degree that my mother has, but I’m still young. Someday, when the collection of Emilie Loring romance novels is mine, I will memorize which raven-haired beauty wore a gold sheath to what ball, and which broad-shouldered ex-college football player roommate is really a government agent gone bad.

The books were formulaic and predictable, which is probably why it was easy to ghost write the last twenty without even her biggest fans (my mother and me) suspecting. (Confession: I found out about ten minutes ago, when I researched the year of her death. Damn you, Wikipedia.)

While at home, I read one Emilie Loring romance novel in bed at night and one during my parents’ afternoon nap, which lasts exactly two hours and is exactly enough time to read an Emilie Loring romance novel, especially if you have already read every single one multiple times.

This time, however, I didn’t just read the novels. I studied them. Why are they as addictive as crack? What makes these novels, which are almost laughably dated, still so engaging?

I’ll tell you why. Emilie Loring mastered world building. In an Emilie Loring romance novel, she presents two major characters who are finely drawn, even though the reader knows from the get-go that neither the hero nor the heroine will ever say bad words, have premarital sex, act against the government, be rude to the help, smoke pot or kick a puppy. The men in the stories were gallant and honest; the women were brave and well-mannered. Despite the necessary misunderstandings and miscommunications, the characters always treated one another with respect. Isn’t that what real love between two real people should be like?

That glossy innocence aside, the characters lived in a real city, at a specific time, with situations that were relevant to the time and place. She was excellent at description, so each Emilie Loring romance novel reads like a mini time capsule of American history.

I didn’t recognize her talent at world building when I was a young girl reading my mother’s books. I only knew that I enjoyed the stories, that I got “lost” in it from page one onward. No matter how many times I read an Emilie Loring romance novel, I was transported to the time and place with her characters.

That’s good writing.

Here is a final tidbit about Emilie Loring and her romance novels. She didn’t start her writing career until she was fifty years old. I did not know this until about ten minutes ago. (I guess I should take back the damn you, Wikipedia.) This makes me admire and love Emilie Loring, and her romance novels, all the more.

Is there a writer who has earned your unconditional love? A book you’ve discussed with your sister for hours?  Stories that you shared with your mother that, when she goes or has gone, will always remind you of her?

Tell me about it.

Ramona


23 thoughts on “An Ode to Emilie

  1. Mary Stewart. I have most of her books on the shelf behind my desk at this very moment. I know all the plots, all the characters, and you’re right——–it’s the settings that truly distinquish one from another. That, and the backgrounds of the main characters who are usually involved in the arts and sometimes have tragic pasts. (WWII is a wonderful device in these books.) Each of Stewart’s books had a Big Twist. Nowadays, suspense novels seem to require a twist in every chapter (or, on television, a neck-breaking twist before every commercial) so her books seem old-fashioned. But the writing—so marvelous! So emotional! They grab your heart. Hmm….

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  2. I’ve never heard of Emilie Long! But with a romance, you know what you’re getting when you pick one up. You know the ending. It’s HOW the author gets the characters to the HEA that is the key to the story.

    I think you nailed what makes a book a keeper, especially a romance…strong, well-defined characters. Obviously her stories were character-driven rather than plot driven.

    I’ll be looking for “y’all” references in the future. That’s the only way I’ll know the Southern flavor stuck! :)

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  3. I love romance novels! Inspired initially by the fabulous Jennie Crusie, who did a graduate thesis on them, I’ve read hundreds. They are particularly great reads for insomniacs, because – and I mean this with no offense intended – you don’t need your full brain to appreciate them.

    Another great blog, Ramona!!

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  4. Hi Ramona,

    If I’ve ever read Emily Loring, it was back in my much younger days, but I read The Help for one of my book clubs and have recommended it to everyone else I know. Not only did everyone in my book club love it, so did my three sisters and various friends. It’s interesting that you’ve compared the two writers. I had to smile. The characters were so different than what Emily Loring must have written, but I think at heart, most of us are still romantics looking for a “and they lived happily ever after,” aren’t we. Another book I’ve been pushing for several years is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. Have you read it?
    It’s one of my all time favorite books.

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    • Gloria, this is so strange–I have not read the Guernsey book, but while I was in La., I bought a copy for my mother! I thought she would love it. Now I’ll have to get a copy for myself as well. Thanks for the rec.

      I think The Help is a brilliantly written and crafted novel. I read it in a couple of days, because I was so anxious to discover the ending, and because I wanted to discuss it with my sister. Now, I’d like to go back and re-read it carefully, to savor it page by page again.

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  5. I remember reading Emilie Loring in my early teens. My aunt had a collection that included Loring, Heyer, Glenna Finley, Barbara Michaels and others. I would settle in near Aunt Florence’s bookshelf and not move until my family was ready to leave. Good times.

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  6. My mother and I are like night and day when it comes to romance novels (except maybe Nora Roberts, but I actually have to read a Nora Roberts before I consider this a fact.) She is a romantic suspense kind of person, and she enjoys the likes of Linda Howard, Julie Garwood (suspense version), Tami Hoag (suspense version), and Catherine Coulter (she adores Catherine Coulter and has read every one of her suspense novels.)

    I, on the other hand, enjoy the likes of Julie Garwood (historical version), Jeannie Lynn, Johanna Lindsey, and possibly Catherine Coulter (historical version.) Not to mention she doesn’t know I read romance novels, but that is not the point. While I know that for many years to come (it may never even occur) I will not be able to talk with her about these novels, but I understand why she reads them. I connect with that. My mom subconsciously gave me an inherent idea that reading for pleasure is important – just as important as for work – and that romance novels were okay. I’m really glad she gave me that.

    Authors that give me those little shivers of delight would be along the lines of Robin McKinley, Diane Duane, and Eva Ibbotson. They started my love for heart-warming (or intense) YA fantasy. Romance novel-wise, Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue will always be my first and most memorable historical romance. The cover was also rather delicious. Margaret Mitchell could also be considered my first historical romance, but I think her book is too epic to fit into one genre. Gone with the Wind was just a memorable everything. :)

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    • John, you may not have inherited your mother’s taste, but she gave you a great gift in allowing you to see that your choice in reading material is to be celebrated. Reading for pleasure is important. Reading to learn is important, too. There’s no need for the two to be mutually exclusive. I love War & Peace, but I also love every Emilie Loring novel. Unapologetically.

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  7. I LOVE Emily Loring! I am like you and enjoyed reading the titles my mother had on her shelves. I was able to pick up all of her books in hardbound except four about ten years ago at a thrift store for $20.00 (I know, I was so excited I almost couldn’t speak when paying for the books!) I am always excited to find another fan since most people I speak with have never heard of her. My favorite book is In Times Like These, although I enjoy them all.

    My other favorite authors are Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Barbara Cartland and Madeleine Brent.

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  8. I discovered Emilie Loring’s books through my grandmother when I was a teenager and read and loved them all. I always knew the more recent books were not as good as the ones from the 30s and 40s. It wasn’t until years later that I found out they had been ghostwritten after her death. The ghostwriters replicated her formula, but they were never able to replicate her buoyant “It’s a Great World” optimism. Emilie was one of a kind. I especially love the WWII-era stories where all her characters are deeply involved in the war effort. Nice to see a post dedicated to one of my all-time favorite authors!

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  9. I remember reading my first Emilie Loring book. I was in the fifth grade and had read everything in our school library and everything on the bookmobile that was considered age appropriate. The book mobile librarian FINALLY agreed to let me read my choice of books and I stumbed across “Stars in Your Eyes.” I couldn’t put it down. I read every Emilie Loring book I could find. Years later, I began a collection of her books. While I like all of the books, original Emilie Loring books are a cut above the “pseudo” writings.

    I would appreciate recommendations of books or authors similar to Ms. Loring.

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  10. I too have a large set of Emily Loring books. She has always been one of my favorite authors. I too did not know, before Wickipedia, about the ghost written novels. I think her sons were clearly also gifted writers as well. Two authors I remember from my youth are Madeline L’Engle and Elizabeth Marie Pope. Pope only wrote two novels, The Sherwood Ring and The Perilous Gard. Both are perfect gems.

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  11. Was just poking around abe books and thought hey, I’ll Wikipedia Emily Loring. I had not thought about her books in years but read them (ALL) in the late 60′s a a teenager. Loved them but maybe they set up unrealistic expectations about love and life. Oh well, I don’t have my copies now but may be ready to reread them. I had to chuckle about the state of your mom’s paperbacks. Interesting to see they still are in the hearts and minds of others. I also devoured Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart and sci fi, any animal and horse book. Sounds pretty lame. Kept me occupied and sane!

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  12. I grew up on Emilie Loring (along with Georgette Heyer). Thanks for this lovely ode to her charming books. I too was surprised when I discovered recently that the last 20 or so were ghost written. Some of my favorites fall into this latter group…”In Tmes Like These”…”Forsaking All Others”… I console myself with the knowledge that these at least came from Ms. Loring’s notes.

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  13. I have a thing for sweet romances, and not only enjoyed Emilie Loring, but also Grace Livingston Hill (more religious and even more dated, but fun). I love the old fashioned pre-70s Harlequin/Mills & Boon authors like Essie Summers (New Zealand settings), Mary Burchell (co-written by two sisters who were opera fans in the 20s and 30s who also funded Jewish refuges escaping from Germany in the late 30s with their romance writing), Doris Smith, and several others, all discovered because a junior high girlfriend’s mother gave me a box of books. Mary Stewart, Jane Aiken Hodge, and, for more complex books, Susan Howatch, make for great reading. But my most beloved author of all is D.E. Stevenson with her gentle novels of Scotland and England. If you like Rosamunde Pilcher, you’ll probably like D.E. Stevenson. And for childhood favorites, nothing beats Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery. I also have the joy of my mother’s girlhood books from the 20s and early 30s, from vintage Nancy Drew (in her blue roadster!) and popular series that no one has heard of today (like Honeybunch, the Marjorie series, and the two Polly series). All great escape reading for those who prefer to travel back in time and discover high romance and higher ideals.

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