The first adult romance novel I ever read was by Emilie Loring. I am not certain which of the many Loring books on my mother’s book shelves was my first, but I do know that by the end of that tenth summer I had exhausted her Loring collection and begun on others borrowed from my local library. It was Loring who introduced me to some of the romance tropes that are still favorites—marriage in trouble (Today is Yours, 1938), forced marriage (Stars in Your Eyes, 1941), matchmaking relative (Here Comes the Sun, 1924), vicar/minister hero (Swift Water, 1929), the anti-marriage hero (Love Came Laughing By (1949). Rereading one of these novels today, I find them dated. But to a preteen before the social revolutions of the 60s and 70s, the elegant settings, the beautifully gowned heroines, the stern-faced heroes, the spies in disguise, and the suggestion, despite their wholesomeness, that romance involved more than sweet kisses made the books thrilling and a bit daring.
Mother’s favorite was Rainbow at Dusk (1943), the Loring I’ve probably reread most often. I suspect Mother favored it because unlike most Loring novels which are set in New England, this one is set in the South—in North Carolina. Loring’s books often offer evidence that military heroes in romance are not new. The hero of Rainbow at Dusk is Major Vance Trent who breaks an ankle when he parachutes onto Karrisbrooke Plantation, home of Ellen Marshall, owner of the Marshall Cotton Mills that Vance has been sent to investigate, and into the life of Jessamine Ramsay, Ellen Marshall’s niece. Trent has the courage, the strength, and the definite—if understated—sexiness that contemporary readers expect.
Emilie Baker Loring, born in Boston in 1864, was the daughter of George M. Baker, a playwright and publisher, and Frances Boles Baker. Married to Victor Loring, a lawyer, and the mother of two sons, she was fifty when she began writing. Her earliest publications were articles in magazines such as St. Nicholas and Woman’s Home Companion, published under the pseudonym Josephine Storey. She was fifty-eight when her first novel, The Solitary Horseman, was published in 1922. By the time of her death in 1951, she had written another thirty novels and sold more than a million copies of them. After her death, her sons found an abundance of unpublished material among her effects, and, with the help of a ghostwriter, published another twenty novels under Emilie Loring’s name over the next twenty years.
Loring’s novels were published as reprints in the 1970s. By the mid-70s, over 34 million copies of the mass market paperback editions were in print, and Loring was being hailed as “America’s Bestselling Author of Romance.” Her novels with their strong patriotism, independent but conservative heroines, and lack of explicit sex were still attracting a sizeable readership. As recently as 2005, new large-print editions and audio editions of her novels were released.
Loring’s readers frequently cite her attention to details of setting and dress as one of the things they enjoy most in her fiction. This passage from the opening of A Certain Crossroad (1925) is typical of her descriptive passages.
From directly overhead the late July sun blazed down upon a bold stretch of New England coast. Pines, balsams and cedars which swept back and up from shore to skyline simmered in the heat, gave out a spicy fragrance. Under a sky pure turquoise a sea all sapphire ruffled whitely where it laved beach or rock. From the top of a fern-fringed cliff the bleached remains of an oak tree leaned out above a pebbly cove. Its white trunk and few storm-shot limbs suggested a prehistoric skeleton ready to plunge.
Her love of such descriptions is only one of the characteristics that make a Loring revival unlikely. Some of her plots are fairly close to those of current romance fiction, although closer to historical romance than to contemporaries perhaps. One of my favorites, Here Comes the Sun, features impetuous Julie Lorraine, who is on her way to visit her matchmaking Aunt Martha in Maine. Julie jumps off her train just as it is leaving the station to chase a runaway dog. Not only is she stranded but a storm forces her and another dog chaser to take shelter in an abandoned cabin where they are discovered by the political opponent of her fellow fugitive from the storm. The result is a marriage of convenience that will protect both their reputations. Throw in dastardly deeds by the villains, danger to Julie, and a happy ending for Julie and her spouse, who happens to be the very man matchmaking Aunt Martha had in mind for her last unmarried niece.
Certain patterns are repeated in Loring’s novels. Among them is using an over-fondness for alcohol to identify a weak character, but in at least one of her novels, it is her hero who over indulges, although his error in judgment is back story. In The Solitary Horseman (1927), Anthony Hamilton was driving drunk when he was involved in an accident in which David Grahame, cherished eldest son of widow Claire Grahame, is killed. Tony pledges himself to stand in David’s place and serve as Claire’s emotional support and assistant in the family orchards. The service proves Tony’s salvation. A decade later the orchards are flourishing, Tony is an upright man and beloved member of the Grahame family, and the brother-sister relationship between Tony and Rose Grahame is undergoing a disturbing transformation. Complications arise in the form of Tony’s mother, who decides that she prefers handsome, distinguished Tony to his affable but weak brother; an ex-fiancée; and business sabotage. Again, the plot could still work, but even as historical romance, the characterization would require updating.
Loring’s novels may become no more that material for scholars interested in the history of romance fiction, but she deserves more than a footnote in history. I’m certain that I’m not the only romance reader over fifty that encountered her first marriage of convenience and Big Misunderstanding in the pages of an Emilie Loring novel. For many of us, she was the gateway to the world of romance fiction that still enchants us all these years later. Hardcover copies of her books are still being sold for hundreds of dollars. I hope those collectors are readers too.
What dates a book most for you—details of clothing and technology or differences in style?