I discovered ‘The Greatest Romance Stories Ever Told’ quite sometime back at the bookstore, during one of my random browsing sessions. It was beautifully produced and it came at a heavy discount and so I couldn’t resist it. I have been reading the stories inside off and on for a while now but today I thought I will finish reading all the unread stories. I finished reading it today evening and here is the review.
Description of the book
I am giving below a description of the book as given in the inside flap.
From the dawn of time, love has been in the air – inspiring men and women since before the written word existed. Oral tradition is full of love ballads and sagas that tell of brave heroes rescuing fair damsels from unimaginable peril. And as soon as a writer took pen to paper, love became one of the most often explored themes of literature. Now, in these early days of the new millenium, literary romance is in the air again.
The Greatest Romance Stories Ever Told collects some of the most powerful works written on the subject. Including selections from Georgette Heyer, Anton Chekhov, O.Henry, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Pearl Buck, and Samuel Hopkins Adams, the voices of these great writers resonate with the truth of love – whether heartwarming or sidesplitting. That’s the beauty of love – it gives everyone a sure and individual insight, some serious, some sly, and some outright comical.
What I think
First on the title – I don’t know why it is called ‘The Greatest Romance Stories Ever Told’. I don’t know why it couldn’t be called ‘The Greatest Love Stories Ever Told’. That sounds so much better.
Now on the book itself. There are seventeen stories in the book. Some of them are by known authors (Anton Chekhov, Georgette Heyer, O.Henry, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rafael Sabatini, Pearl Buck). Others are by not-so-famous authors – atleast they are new-to-me. All the stories are old – the most recent one was published in 1962. Classic short story writers (for example Raymond Carver) or writers who are active today (like Alice Munro or Mavis Gallant) aren’t featured in this book. Having said this, I have to say another thing too. Because of this precise reason – that so many not-so-famous authors are featured – this books throws so many delightful surprises. I actually liked some of the stories of the not-so-famous authors more than the established ones – for example, I didn’t like the story by Anton Chekhov much, but loved the story by Helen Eustis. That is the strength of this compilation – it unmasks so many unknown gems that when we read them our heart is filled with pleasure. Nancy Butler’s delightful introduction to each of the writers and stories provides the extra magic to the story. For example in her introduction to Georgette Heyer’s ‘The Duel’, Butler says “In this story, the reader immediately suspects a critical secret about the hero that the heroine does not know, creating a delicious sense of anticipation.” In her introduction to “Mister Death and the Red-headed woman’ by Helen Eustis, Butler says “In this rip-roaring tall tale, novelist Helen Eustis celebrates the American West. Here, a determined young lady refuses to let her own true love be taken away by the cold hand of Mister Death. She tracks him down on his pale stallion, but is unprepared for her reaction when she pays the forfeit her nemesis demands in return for her lover’s life…Mister Death, it turns out, has some unexpected depths, possibly enough to turn a girl’s red head.”
My favourite stories in the book were ‘The Duel’ by Georgette Heyer (it is about mysterious identities – I haven’t read Georgette Heyer before though some of my friends have recommended her books. Now I know why she is a wonderful storyteller! I can’t wait to read one of her novels now!), ‘The Scapulary’ by Rafael Sabatini (it is about a triangle of love and how true love reveals itself during a crisis - I have read Sabatini’s ‘Captain Blood’ and loved it. He seems to be a masterful short story writer too), ‘Mister Death and the Redheaded Woman’ by Helen Eustis (this was a delightful surprise for me. Eustis combines tragedy and love and mythology and western into one story which works so beautfully), ‘The Sudden Wings’ by Thomas Burnett Swann (it is a fairytale set in ancient Rome and is about love and trust) and ‘Springtime a la Carte’ by O.Henry (a delightful love story about a typist and a farmer – can O.Henry write otherwise). Honourary mention should go to ‘Night Bus’ by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which was like a golden age Hollywood movie (a young man and woman, who are from different social backgrounds meet in a night bus. The man is travelling on work while the woman is running away from home. We can imagine what will happen next ). I was not surprised when I discovered that it was indeed made into a Hollywood movie – ‘It Happened One Night’ starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert (the first movie to win all the major Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay).
I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.
From ‘Springtime a la Carte by O.Henry
It was a day in March.
Never, never begin a story this way when you write one. No opening could possibly be worse. It is unimaginative, flat, dry and likely to consist of mere wind. But in this instance it is allowable. For teh following paragraph, which should have inaugurated the narrative, is too wildly extravagant and preposterous to be flaunted in the face of the reader without preparation.
From “The Coming of Pan” by James Stephens
there were many things in which a child might be interested : the spacious heavens which never wore the same beauty on any day; the innumerable little creatures living among the grasses or in the heather; the steep swing of a bird down from the mountain to the infinite plains below; the little flowers which were so contented each in its peaceful place; the bees gathering food for their houses, and the stout beetles who are always losing their way in the dusk. These things, and many others, interested her. The three cows after they had grazed for a long time would come and lie by her side and look at her as they chewed their cud and the goats would prance from the bracken to push their heads against her breast because they loved her.
A thought is a real thing and words are only its raiment, but a thought is as shy as a virgin; unless it is fittingly appareled we may not look on its shadowy nakedness : it will fly from us and only return again in the darkness crying in a thin, childish voice which we may not comprehend until, with aching mind, listening and divining, we at last fashion for it those symbols which are its protection and its banner.
From “The Sudden Wings” by Thomas Burnett Swann
‘Will you come with me?’
‘To my home in the mountain.’
‘Tomorrow, with Mark.’
His eyes darkened. ‘You don’t love me then.’
‘It is too soon.’
‘Soon? Is love the sum of minutes or days? No, it is a pine torch kindled in a second. I saw you in my valley and I loved you instantly.’ His face was even younger than Mark’s, and his artless, literal speech was that of a child. But his eyes were old. To look into them was to tumble down stairways of malachite with fireflies whirling around her.
From “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams
“This is a hard-boiled time,” he explained patiently. “The man would lose his job if he held the bus, like as not.”
She yawned. “He could get another, couldn’t he?”
“Oh, of course! Just like that. You haven’t happened to hear of a thing called unemployment, have you?”
“Oh, that’s just socialist talk. There are plenty of jobs for people who really want to work.”
“Yes? Where did you get that line of wisdom?”
She was bored and showed it in her intonation. “Why, everybody knows that. Bill was saying the other day that most of these people are idle because they’re just waiting for the dole or something.”
“My oldest brother.”
“Oh! And I suppose Bill works?”
“We-ell; he plays polo. Almost every day.”
Mr.Warne made a noise like a trained seal.
If you like reading love stories, you will love this book. It is beautifully produced and is an ideal Valentine’s day gift.