The Only Romances I Read …

A few months ago they had a large sale of used books in my town. The last day was bag day – fill up a bag with books and pay one dollar. All this is to explain how I came to acquire upwards twenty Grace Livingston Hill novels.

Grace Livingston Hill wrote Christian romances in the early twentieth century. Romance is a genre I have little interest in, but I make an exception for GLH. The novels are so old that they carry a certain charm, and an inherent interest. This was pre-WWII America, as written by a woman living in it.

I’ve read three of the novels I bought (in addition to the books I had read previously). One thing that strikes me is how, despite being so old, the books conform to Christian publishing norms. There is almost always a conversion of the hero or heroine – sometimes both. The books are straightforwardly Christian and as clean as soap.

I have two criticisms, both of which are for the genre as a whole. One is that these novels are so unrelentingly predictable. There is never a lost love, or an unexpected one. The hero and heroine are instantly spotted, and you know they’re going to end up together. The only question is how. Actually, this tends to be true of romance subplots as well as romance novels. The couple may argue, they may fight – it’s often the beginning of a beautiful relationship! It’s hard to pull off a surprise on the audience in a romance plot.

Then GLH entertains notions that are romantic in the worst sense of the word. Grace Livingston Hill seems to believe in Your One True Love, whom your heart will recognize at your first meeting – and absolutely not be able to get over. Which is all right, because you will inevitably marry. There may be long delays – there may be huge barriers – but all will be overcome. The kind, charming agnostic will come back a Christian!* GLH has books where the hero and heroine decide to get married when they are little better than acquaintances, or after meeting for the first time since childhood. Of course, people may feel they’ve found the right one after so short a time. But wisdom would speak a warning.

*This happened in White Orchids.

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