At Avidly, I’ve been exploring the idea that some of literature’s most romantic moments are the G-rated ones from our childhood — those that leave much unsaid and undone, but still manage to strike a sweet, tender nerve within us that continues to resonate through adulthood. Recently, I collaborated with Lisa Schmeiser and Lora Alexander to flesh out a list of these important, swoon-tastic moments.
While I never read the series, both Lisa and Lora called out Jim and Trixie in the Trixie Belden mysteries as a swoon-worthy couple.
Lisa: “She was a crime-solving hoyden who refused to wear a girdle and bemoaned having hair as wild as a Fiji Islander’s. He was the hot-tempered, red-headed scion of an old family, conveniently welcomed back into the wealth to which he should have been born. And every few books, a kindly ghostwriter or two would throw the preteen readers a bone — A charm bracelet that endorsed her interests instead of discouraging them as unfeminine! Holding hands on an airplane! — and girls who felt out of step with their flawlessly-coiffed, boy-bewitching classmates could sigh and think that some day, their own fiery ginger prince would come.”
Lora: “Another strong female character (fights crime, clever, independent) with a supportive and encouraging boyfriend, but they aren’t ever mushy – except in the below scene [from] The Happy Valley Mystery:
‘”You know what it means, don’t you?” Jim asked.
“Tell me,” Trixie answered.
“It means that you’re my special girl, Trixie,” Jim said. “As if you didn’t know that already.”
“I do,” Trixie murmured. “Oh, Jim!”
Trixie looked happily at her bracelet, then reached over and put her small, sturdy hand into Jim’s. He closed his long fingers tightly over it.'”
Oh, the ID bracelet! The one belonging to Stanley Crandall in Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen happens to figure into one of my G-Rated Moments of Swoon:
“Silently he fumbled with the bracelet and slipped it around her right wrist. With a tiny click he snapped the clasp shut. Jane gave a gasp of astonishment and turned questioningly to Stan. She was wearing his identification bracelet! The silver links on her wrist were still warm from his arm.
Stan leaned toward Jane. ‘Okay?’ he whispered. ‘Yes,’ she whispered back, and smiled radiantly at Stan.”
Since Fifteen takes place in the 50s – hence the descriptions of girls wearing full skirts, gloves, and suits to have dinner in the city – I was later quite bummed out to discover that the concept of boys wearing ID bracelets as accessories was woefully out-of-date. In the 80s, the only ID bracelets boys were wearing were the kind that provided life-saving information about bee or nut allergies, so it’s not like they were going to just hand them over to some girl.
Also, what is it about the description of guy’s hands or fingers or wrists that sets the heart a-thumping? I specifically remember Stan’s wrist described as “strong-looking” and have always been turned on by my husband’s wrists and artistic fingers.
Beverly Cleary had significant impact on my ideas of what was romantic since another of my G-Rated Moments of Swoon comes from Cleary’s The Luckiest Girl. Filled with smudge pots, doughnut holes, and pink raincoats, I had always seen The Luckiest Girl as a teen romance book but a recent reread made me realize that while there is romance in it – with Phil and Hartley – it’s actually really about Shelley’s teenage relationship with her mother. Still, I remember losing my little tween heart when I read what Hartley had written in Shelley’s yearbook:
“’There is so much that I could say to you. I could begin with the day you walked into that classroom looking eager and a little frightened. I could write about the wonderful way you have of looking as if you thought something exciting was about to happen – but why write these things? It all means just one thing. I love you, Shelley. I really do. And now – good-bye. Hartley.’”
I always, always wanted a boy to write me such a missive in high school. Turns out, I would have to wait another ten years before I’d get anything close to that on paper, and it would come from my husband-to-be.
Once again, Lora and Lisa’s lists sync up on Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder in These Happy Golden Years.
Lisa: “I read These Happy Golden Years in the same school year where I watched Jake Ryan surprise Sam Baker outside the church in Sixteen Candles, which may go a long way toward explaining why the prospect of Almanzo Wilder coming to fetch Laura Ingalls each Friday struck me as the most wildly romantic thing in a book full of sweetly chaste courtship gestures. But there you have it: A young woman who is trapped in a house with a prairie-crazed woman who hates her, bravely doing a job she neither likes nor seems particularly suited for, and then one afternoon, the dreamiest young man in town is there with two handsome horses to carry her back to a place where she’s valued.
As an eleven-year-old, I thrilled to each successive act of courtship — singing school! Inviting Laura to help him break Skip and Barnum! Proposing to her with that pearl and garnet ring! — bestowed on Laura merely for her existing. And as an eleven-year-old, I seethed at the injustice that Laura should have to do so much that Ma and Pa asked of her. As an adult, I know that the book is a capstone to a series meant to protest the New Deal and a tremendously whitewashed prologue to a marriage marked by unrelenting hardship and disappointment. But oh, I still get a moment of warm surprise every time Almanzo shows up for Laura in Pa’s stead and they drive off across the slough into their golden future.”
Lora: “The proposal. Again, the girl was not just rolling over:
‘On the way home from the last lesson Almanzo asked her. “…I was wondering…”Almanzo paused. Then he picked up Laura’s hand that shone white in the starlight, and his sun browned hand closed gently over it. He had never done that before. “Your hand is so small,” he said. Another pause. Then quickly, “I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring.” “That would depend on who offered it to me,” Laura told him. “If I should?” Almanzo asked. “Then it would depend on the ring,” Laura answered.'”
(Again with the HANDS, tanned HANDS!)
‘”Dearest Westley–I’ve never called you that before, have I?–Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley,–darling Westley, adored Westley, sweet perfect Westley, whisper that I have a chance to win your love.” And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done; she looked right into his eyes.’
Or this one:
‘”You were already more beautiful than anything I dared to dream. In our years apart, my imaginings did their best to improve on you perfection. At night, your face was forever behind my eyes. And now I see that that vision who kept me company in my loneliness was a hag compared to the beauty now before me.”
“Enough about my beauty.” Buttercup said. “Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”‘
Or this one:
‘There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C…(before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy…. Well, this one left them all behind.'”
Lisa: “Meg Murray and Calvin O’Keefe, A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L’Engle can be forgiven for grafting one of the movies’ greatest clichés into her cerebral little volume about love and trans-dimensional space travel, because it really is one of the most romantic yet chaste moments in YA. Socially awkward Meg is melting down, as one does when their school life is a mess and their dad is missing in outer space, and worse, she’s doing it in front of BMOC Calvin O’Keefe. But kind and sensitive Calvin turns out to have a soft spot for dames who take off their specs:
‘Calvin said, “Do you know this is the first time I’ve seen you without your glasses?”
“I’m blind as a bat without them. I’m nearsighted like Father.”
“Well, you know what, you’ve got dreamboat eyes,” Calvin said. “Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don’t think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have.”‘
Honestly, after a swoony exchange like that, the horrors of a giant evil brain who wants to impose joyless conformity on the universe are but an afternoon’s work.”
My final G-Rated Moment of Swoon comes from Baroness Orczy’s 1908 novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I read cover-to-cover at Camp Widjiwagan. The set-up here is that Marguerite and Sir Percy appear to be in a loveless marriage. She doesn’t know he’s actually the dashing and heroic Scarlet Pimpernel and he thinks she’s a traitor to his cause.
“The long train of her gold-embroidered gown swept the dead leaves off the steps, making a faint harmonious sh–sh–sh as she glided up, with one hand resting on the balustrade, the rosy light of dawn making an aureole of gold round her hair, and causing the rubies on her head and arms to sparkle. She reached the tall glass doors which led into the house. Before entering, she paused once again to look at him, hoping against hope to see his arms stretched out to her, and to hear his voice calling her back. But he had not moved; his massive figure looked the very personification of unbending pride, of fierce obstinacy.
Hot tears again surged to her eyes, as she would not let him see them, she turned quickly within, and ran as fast as she could up to her own rooms.
Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to the rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made her own sufferings seem but light and easy to bear–a strong man, overwhelmed with his own passion and his own despair. Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless. He was but a man madly, blindly, passionately in love, and as soon as her light footsteps had died away within the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of his love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the stone balustrade there, where her tiny hand had rested last.”
When I read that passage, illuminated by my flashlight, I actually gasped out loud in my Boundary Waters cabin. Even all these years later, it grabs me by the throat; it’s still the most romantic thing I’ve ever read.
What are your G-Rated Moments of Swoon from literature?’