Books2All recommendations – who will be your hero or heroine this Valentine’s Day?

Contributed by Victor Rees and Dawn Mimnagh

Books2All resident writer and Books2All blog coordinator

Fri 12 Feb 2021

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate the most special people in our lives. It conjures up familiar images of chocolate, flowers and hearts, but it’s also a great opportunity to dip into some love-themed writing! Here at Books2All, we’ve put together a little Valentine’s Day miscellany of two poems, two plays and two books that explore the nuances of love. Whether you’re a great romantic or a bit of a cynic, we hope there’s something here to whet your appetite! 

Valentine’s book choice 1: Persuasion – Jane Austen (1817)

There’s a poignancy in this last of Jane Austen’s novels, not least the fact that she died before it was published. Persuasion is more subdued in tone and content than Austin’s earlier work, focussing on regret when the opportunity for love is lost. Heroine Anne Elliot’s love affair with Captain Fredrick Wentworth is thwarted by interference from others. When they meet again seven years later, Fredrick’s newfound sensitivity and consideration align with Anne’s unerring belief in true love to finally allow these late-to-the-party lovers to unite.

Books2All Valentine's Day blog - Persuasion by Jane Austin
Persuasion published by Penguin Books (1987)

If you are lured by heartfelt depictions of mature romance between two slightly jaded lovers, in a tale that typifies better late than never, Persuasion is the perfect Valentine’s treat for you.

Valentine’s book choice 2: Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer (2005-2008)

Gentle courtship doesn’t get much of a look in here. Meyer tore up the romance rulebook with four tales that take teenage crush to a dangerous level. Bella Swan moves with her folks to a different city, where she finds a new boyfriend. So far, so good, but there is nothing ordinary about this girl’s new squeeze. He’s more of a drain, really. Yes, really. He is a vampire. Though a perfect boyfriend in many ways, Edward Cullen is more likely to drain Bella of her lifeblood than squeeze her to death with hugs.

Although she risks considerably more than anaemia, Bella finds that her handsome man is a chance worth taking. Edward proves himself a romantic hero who saves Bella’s life on more than one occasion. As if this situation isn’t heart-stopping enough, Meyer notches up your pulse rate with a tricky love triangle. Bella’s friend and confidant Jacob Black falls for her charms too and is deeply hurt when she spurns him. And, of course, he is a werewolf! What’s not to love about Twilght Saga?

Valentine’s play choice 1: Constellations – Nick Payne (2012)

Roland and Marianne meet at a barbecue. They hit it off. Or they don’t. They go on a second date. Or they never meet again. They fall in love. Or they cheat on each other. Or they stay faithful. Nick Payne’s startlingly original play follows a couple’s relationship journey through almost infinite possibilities. According to quantum multiverse theory, each scene in Constellations explores a different alternate reality, meaning we see Roland and Marianne’s story in various scenarios, sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes romantic.

Books2All Valentine's Day blog -  Constellations by Nick Payne
Constellations published by Faber and Faber (2015)

This experimental, theoretical twist lets the audience experience a traditional rom-com arc in a brand-new way. For all the hardships the characters encounter, a quietly optimistic note is struck. If there’s ever a story with a fresh take on love and relationships, it’s this one. 

Valentine’s play choice 2: Love’s Labour’s Lost – William Shakespeare (1597)

A play showing all that can go wrong in love, Love’s Labour’s Lost is often excruciating to watch. All the usual romantic devices of chastity, wooing and courtship are made a mockery of by the King of Navarre and his courtiers as they relentlessly pursue the unobtainable Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting. This battle of the sexes shows neither gender in a good light. The men disguise themselves in an effort to win the women, who, in turn, pretend to be each other in retaliation.

One of the bard’s earliest comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost, starts as a play about sexual abstinence but soon focuses on how quickly chastity vows are broken when lust, not true love, is in the driving seat. Deception, frustration, betrayal – everything is here for anyone who isn’t really ‘feeling it’ this Valentine’s Day. There is no need to be disheartened, though – Shakespeare is shining a light on what happens when we are deluded by illusion and fantasy. We can still find true love.

Books2All Valentine's Day blog - Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare
Love’s Labour’s Lost published by Penguin Books (1985)

Valentine’s poem choice 1: Goblin Market – Christina Rossetti (1862)

Valentine’s Day is usually associated with romantic love, but there are other varieties in our selection box. Goblin Market is a celebration of sisterly affection and overcoming obstacles. It tells the story of Laura and Lizzie, two siblings in a world overrun by animal-headed goblins. When Laura is tempted to eat the goblins’ fruit and falls dangerously ill, Lizzie is determined to save her sister’s life. You’ll struggle to find a poem with more sumptuous language.

Books2All Valentine's Day blog -  Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
Goblin Market published by Penguin Books (2008)

Rossetti fills her lines with lavish descriptions of fruit, almost drawing the reader into a hypnotic trance. Unlike the devout, religious tone of Rossetti’s other work, Goblin Market treads a strange path between the fantastical and the erotic, creating an intoxicating world where sisterly love and affection can nevertheless triumph. 

Valentine’s poem choice 2: The Flea – John Donne (1633)

John Donne’s poetry often strikes a strange balance between the romantic, the obscene and the devoutly religious. Nowhere is this clearer than in The Flea, a poem infamous in English lessons for its bizarre imagery. The speaker compares love to a flea that has sucked the blood from two lovers. The blood mingles inside the flea in a symbolic sexual union – if the flea’s deed is natural and innocent, what’s the harm of the lovers going to bed together?

Donne can sometimes be a sly humourist, using outrageous metaphors to create logic puzzles excusing sexual love and attraction. But there is also a sincerity to The Flea, which elevates it above a simple joke. It comes across as a sincere and passionate argument for physical love – but will still likely provoke laughter in schoolrooms for centuries to come. 

Have you read any of these works? What would you have chosen instead? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

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