Lorna Doone, by Richard Doddridge Blackmore, was published in 1869 and is set in the 17th century. Many readers today have never even heard of it, much less read it, so why is it my favorite romance and what makes it work?
How I Learned About It
I grew up in Nigeria as the child of missionaries. In our first through fourth grades, we were taught at home via a correspondence course. In the fourth grade, our curriculum included a child’s version of Lorna Doone. It set my heart on fire and made my mind take flight even at such a young age when I didn’t fully understand romance. Oh, I had a little boyfriend, so I understood puppy love but not true romance. Adventure, good guys vs. bad guys, plot twists, and even an element of surprise make this book a grand adventure and a wonderful romance!
I read it again as an adult and absolutely loved it! However, I must warn any potential readers, Blackmore wrote in 17th century European English, which varies pretty significantly from modern American English. It took some getting used to and there was a bit of a learning curve to it. Even after I grew accustomed to the words, there was a small section told by a maid that I had to skip over because it proved too difficult to read. That did not affect the story. I loved it as much as I had as a child. (There are versions available in more modern English that would be easier to read.)
What Makes the Romance in it work?
Some years ago, I wrote my only novel, The Whisper of the Palms. It is women’s fiction that contains romance. At the time, I researched romance writing. It must have a happy ending. A love story, on the other hand, can end sadly. Romeo and Juliet is a love story, not a romance.
Also, in romances, the male and female protagonists should be introduced early on and never be more than a few pages apart. So, if they get separated for some reason, the writer needs to not go too long without mentioning the other. (This can be accomplished through letters, dreams, daydreams, etc.)
I’m not a romance writer, so I’m not trying to give lessons on romance writing, just passing on what I found through research. At one point I found this line, “All romance essentially has the same plot: boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back.” I cannot remember where I found that advice, but it stuck with me. In my opinion, this is why Lorna Doone is one of the greatest romances ever written.
The plotline is repeated a couple of times in Lorna Doone, and the causes of John Ridd (sometimes called Jan), the male protagonist, meeting and winning Lorna Doone, the female protagonist, then losing her, winning her again, then losing her and winning her all over again are imaginative and full of action! They just don’t write books like that anymore.
Possible spoiler alert: John meets Lorna as a child when he ventures off his family’s land and stumbles upon her playing. It turns out she is a member of the feared and hated Doone clan. She is much younger and smaller than he. Just as they are getting to know each other, she hears a male family member coming. She leads John through a small opening completely obscured by thick greenery. He likes her immediately and makes return trips to her hiding place to play with her.
In time, their romance grows but other things happen too. His father was killed by a Doone making him responsible for his mother and sister even as a young man. This happened before he met Lorna, but he forged a friendship with her anyway. She was so different from the other Doones. She was sweet, gentle, and lovely. Lorna gets promised to marry one of the meanest of the Doones against her will. John has to rescue her, which he does in dramatic form.
See the pattern? Boy meets girl (they met as kids and played together.) Boy wins girl. (He wins her child’s heart and becomes her favorite playmate.) Boy loses girl. (So many things either caused or potentially caused him to lose her. Her family killing his father made it dangerous and taboo to see her in the first place, then when she is promised to another man and the day of that union grows ever closer, it seems all is lost.) Boy wins girl back (he did this in his gallant rescue).
But it didn’t stop there … although I will. I don’t want to spoil everything for those who might want to read it. Suffice it to say he loses her again and has to try and win her all over again. The reasons are fascinating and well worth the read!
There is an ongoing debate among writers as to which is most important in fiction writing—plot or character development. The answer is that both are important. If you have a great plot, it doesn’t matter how well developed or poorly developed the characters are, people will keep reading to see what happens. Likewise, if you have well-developed characters, people will not care if the plot is weak. They like the characters and will keep reading just to see what happens to these characters they have grown to love.
Well, this book has it all—great characters and a fascinating plot with twists and turns that take these cherished characters on the ride of their lives carrying the readers along with them!