Valentine’s day special

Hey all! Love and romance are a common theme in literature, and Valentine’s day is evocative of all things lovey-dovey. I’m not slapping this label on all romance fiction, but there’s something we tend to notice, right? Here, let’s talk about some common things we notice in romance fiction. I’m aware a lot of this sounds very trite and cliched, but I suppose they’re there for a reason.

1. The lovely rose

What is it about the rose that is linked with romance? It seems to be a symbol of love, and Floreography may have something to do with it; red roses being romance and white are pure love. The phrase sub rosa may also give a clue – implying where secret lovers meet (it literally means ‘under the rose bush’, and dates back to Roman times). But in an Aestheticist light, red roses symbolize red cheeks and lips, as well as their fragrance and silky petals.

2. Beauty imagery

Creamy skin and emerald eyes? Yep, nothing new here. Naturally, you want someone to make you feel special, right? And when someone’s in love with you, they see your beauty shine through; it’s usually a woman, but can be a man e.g. Edward Cullen, Dorian Gray and Angel Face.

3. Pretty scenery

Those gossamer cobwebs? That sparkling sunshine? Everything just looks so much nicer when in love, doesn’t it? Or so the Victorians, Renaissance and Romantics would have us believe.

4. Poetic language

This doesn’t necessarily mean rhyming words, but can include similes, metaphors, hyperbole and aesthetically appealing words like chrysalis. It’s usually quite lyrical, in the sense that there is a lot of emotional/personal words or references.

5. Smut

Anything remotely sexual, from language to imagery.Whether it’s implicit or explicit, it’s there.  Physical attraction is what separates loving our parents or a pet to being in love with a man/woman. It might just be lust, or it could even be someone who is, ahem, unusually observant.

6. Rose coloured lenses

A sense of optimism and nostalgia, with ‘hopeless romantics’ applying. Perhaps it’s the endorphins? Or is it just feeling appreciated?

7. A “fairy tale” ending

I blame Disney here, more than the Brothers Grimm. Because Disney changes everything; and makes it all airy fairy. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, to name a couple of couples, all fit this fairy tale ending. In defense of the fairy tale genre, it’s not all about romance; it’s just what Disney made popular.

8. Divine figures

Cupids, Venus, angels, you name it. This could possibly be related to the point about beauty, with similes and metaphors. Or, perhaps more likely, how we feel love is out of our hands – and so look to a ‘higher’ force for an explanation.

9. The senses

Sight, touch and sound in particular. You can almost hear a harp playing and the touch of a silk garment. Supposedly, we have learned to associate certain sights and sounds with romance, because of their aesthetic appeal.

10. Emotions

Of every kind. Jealousy, hatred, fear – these all become mixed up with love somehow. Love seems to make us act in many strange ways, and it’s not always clear to distinguish between desire, affection, love lust and admiration.

11. Colour

Red, white and pink being the main three. Red because it symbolizes passion, white for purity and pink because it’s soft and is the mixture of the previous two. Pastel colours in general are used, because of their aesthetic appeal.

12. Mythology

Tales as old as time; Echo and Narcissus, Apollo and Daphne, Eros and Psyche, et cetera. Or any other epic tale – such as the Arthurian legends – seem so how tied in with love.

But where did we get our ideas from? That is what I will address now. Valentine’s day, like Christmas, is a mixture of culture and not just consumerism. The trouble is, sometimes we don’t get the whole picture and we may never. But here’s where we think the roots came from…

13. Saint Valentine

The Roman catholic church adopted – or superseded – the pagan tradition Lupercalia (like they did with Yule) and so invented this new holiday to make it holy. But has been suggested that Geoffrey Chaucer made the link with romantic love.

14.Winged creatures

This is because of Cupid and the angels surrounding Saint Valentine. And in particular the cupids are shooting arrows into lovers’ hearts, like with Cupid and Psyche. The arrow might symbolize the pain of love sickness that is associated with the feeling.

15. Heart symbols

In the 13th century, the heart became a symbol of love. It seems to have connections with the Sacred Heart of Christ, which was about the passion of divine love. The actual geometric shape comes from the resemblance of ivy and water-lily leaves. The most obvious would be the silphium seed and plant, and it was used as a contraceptive and aphrodisiac.

16. Swans

this is because their heads come together in a heart, and they stay with the same mate for life – unlike most other creatures. Which is quite sweet, if truth be told; it shows a more humane quality that we share with animals.

And there we have it! A brief history and analysis on one of the world’s oldest and most influential traditions today. Like any festival, it’s evolving, and the media shoves these in our faces.

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