Sensuality and L'Amour: Part Two

>> Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shakespeare mentioned that she preferred sensuality to romance. Well, I'm not a big one for sensuality without romance, but I have to agree that romance without any sensuality generally doesn't do it for me either.

Love without any physicality, any contact, any sense of touch or scent or taste is, well, flavorless and bland unless the writer is very very good. Can it be done? Yes. Austen and Heyer, both writers I admire, even love, wrote about or during periods of time where discussing scent was probably a mistake and when touch was mostly taboo. Somehow, they managed to convey humor and affection, love, even passion, with dialog and with a few well-chosen descriptions (sight and sound).

But, it's a lot more work.

He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began:

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."

Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."

That's Pride and Prejudice and, I have to admit, especially taken out of context, it's hard to recreate the romance. Having said that, I know I'm not the only woman out there who still gets a thrill from the book, old-fashioned and chaste though it might be. If my imagination must provide the scenes left modestly out of the text, I am given characters and a sense of the emotional pull that drives them. For someone with an imagination like mine, that's enough.

But saying "XXX loves YYY" isn't enough, not even if you pull out your thesaurus and find a dozen synonyms for "love." Romance and non-romantic love has to be sold to the reader, demonstrated through word and deed. Can I tell you how to do it?

I can tell you how I do it, but not everyone sees love like I do. There are certain minimum parameters involved in love, in my mind, that include modicums of self-sacrifice, understanding, trust, protectiveness and friendliness. For romance, I usually add a measure of yearning, whether or not that desire is fulfilled.

That means that getting "it" is not more important than the happiness of the one you love. If "it" is, that's not my definition of romance. Oftimes, self-restraint is romantic. Love can mean protecting the one you love (and that's not gender specific to me). Love can mean being happy in each others company and dealing with your loved one as honestly as possible.

Nor is love limited to kisses and proposals. Love can mean doing things you'd never do for your own sake (up to and including protecting yourself). Love can mean believing something even when all the evidence argues against it. Love might be reflected in something as simple and meaningful as forgiveness or patience or gentleness.

That also means that love can be portrayed any number of ways quite effectively without contact like the hopeless empathy of the fictional Cyrano de Bergerac or the supreme sacrifice of Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities.

But that's how I see romance. If you want to inject romantic elements into your book, you have to decide what you see love as and make sure those elements are reflected in the work itself. Romance in a novel is one of those things that must be shown, not told, or it comes across as flat and colorless. Unless, of course, that's what you see love as. :)

Next time, sensuality without romance.


  • Jeff King

    Awesome post… I have to admit: I didn’t know the difference between sensuality and romance; to me they were basically the same thing. Can you tell I am a dude?

  • Relax Max

    Ah, so THIS is where the comment about Scarlett O'Hara goes. Well, you can't just start making posts with the same titles all the time. French or no French.

    Ashley was the unattainable romance in her life and Rhett had what she needed in the real world. I think. Doesn't seem so apt anymore.

  • Relax Max

    Well, this was a fine poem. A little dark even for you. But nice.

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