There's a few authors I can count on to provide me with a good, spine-tingling romantic moment. I'll try not to go on and on about how Sarah is one of them. So of course I asked her opinion on favorite romances and got exactly what I expected:
My husband hates buying me Valentines Cards. Hates. Why? you ask. Because I am ridiculously particular about romantic sentiments in written form. I consider this both a weakness and a major failing. I cannot stand cheesiness. I melt at sincere, heartfelt expressions of love. I also get embarrassed really easily. (Just ask my critique group--this last week my face was redder than my hair at one point because I'd say something that embarrassed myself. It was actually very entertaining.)
I suppose it stands to reason that when asked to think of a particularly favorite romantic moment from literature my mind immediately flew to a letter. Not the letter, as I refer to the missive Mr. Darcy writes to Elizabeth. Yes, I read that again and again and again for my own personal enjoyment and pleasure. The letter is a favorite because it marks the big turning point in Pride and Prejudice, but it isn't particularly romantic. Huge leap ahead for their future happiness? Yes. Great insight into Mr. Darcy? You bet. Irrefutable proof that Elizabeth and the reader have seriously misunderstood Mr. Darcy? Absolutely. But not what I'd call truly romantic.
Another fabulous Austen hero, the brooding Captain Frederick Wentworth, writes a letter to his lady love in Persuasion. This letter, my friends, is definitely romantic. Throughout the novel we watch sweet Anne Elliot struggling to find contentment in life after her own immaturity and inexperience led her to reject Frederick years earlier despite the fact that she deeply, honestly loved him. Her hope at happiness has slipped through her fingers and nothing she can do will change that. She watches him court other ladies, endures overheard speculation about which of the many ladies vying for his attention will eventually win his heart, knowing she can never be that lady. He still holds her mistake against her. He has not, can not forgive her. As a reader our heart aches for Anne. We can't help admiring her strength in the face of so much pain. We love her even more for her courage and goodness. And we see very clearly just why she loves Frederick so much. He is a good man, one with whom she might have been truly happy.
Just as we, and Anne, are convinced there is nothing to do but go on as she has and find what happiness she can, Frederick, upon overhearing her express her feelings about the constancy of love, writes her a letter. Prepare to sigh.
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan.--Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?--I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice, when they would be lost on others.--Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening, or never.
Aaaahh!! "A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening, or never." Anne, who has been so utterly helpless to grasp her own happiness, is handed the gift of making that happen. He has given her his heart and told her to do with it what she sees fit. Flowery words about her beauty or charm or poetry comparing his love to the vastness of the ocean would not have cut it. She didn't need those things. He, in this single letter, heals so many wounds and paves the way for healing many, many others.
I also love that Jane Austen managed to write a letter that actually sounds like something a man would write. Did you catch the part where he can't fathom that she might not realize he still loves her? Of course she didn't realize it! He thought he was being so obvious. He is so forthright, so to the point. No flower prose or emotionally-driven syrupy sentiments for a hardened sea captain! It's a letter a man would write, but so perfectly expressing what he feels and thinks and giving her the gift of that knowledge.
I wish I could explain all the reasons why this letter is so agonizingly perfect, but to truly grasp that a person simply has to read the book. So do. Do!