Valentine’s Day is the solstice of the season of love and the aspiration for a perfect date night. However, do heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and bouquets of red roses inspire the same sense of epic love that romance novelists write about? Those of us who are busy scripting our personal love stories or waiting to begin our own next chapter need look no further for the spirit of romance in the pages of a romance novel. Here are two of my favorites.
Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca, the 1938 novel by English author Daphne du Maurier, is widely considered to be the greatest gothic romance thriller ever written. From the beginning you are pulled into this dark tale of love and deception. The story opens in Monte Carlo, where a freshly widowed aristocrat, Maxim de Winter, meets, and falls quickly in love with, a penniless, naïve young Englishwoman who serves as a spoiled American matron’s paid companion. He abruptly marries her, then whisks her off to Manderley, his stately ancestral home on the south coast of England. We never learn the name of the second Mrs. de Winter as she narrates the events that are ever-haunted by the memory of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. The further along you read, the deeper you fall under the spell of the intrigues and secrets that lie hidden in the shadows at Manderley. The twisting storyline reaches a chilling climax, then crashes to an unexpected, surprising ending. Downton Abbey’s Lily James stars opposite Armie Hammer the 15th and most recent film adaptation of Rebecca (2020.) The first was the classic film noir directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, starring Joan Fontaine and Sir Laurence Olivier.
If you are looking for some divine TV viewing –and plenty of ballgowns—then say “I do!” to the romantic dalliances in Julia Quinn’s nine-book Bridgerton series, beginning with The Duke and I (volume 1, published in 2000) and ending with the ninth and final book of the series, The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After, published in 2013. Set in Regency England during the latter part of the flamboyant reign of King George III (1738-1829), Bridgerton relates the trials, tribulations, and whims of the aristocracy along the bumpy and sometimes perilous road that follows the storyline through mating and marriage. Each novel explores the story of a different character and yet another elaborate romance. And you can be promised, dear reader, that if there is a scandal, the anonymous, sharp-tongued diarist, “Lady Whistledown,” will uncover it all!
Bridgerton’s first season premiered on Netflix on Christmas Day 2020. The much-anticipated Season 2 premieres Friday, March 25 and streams on Netflix.
By Olivia Wolfe