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Do these classic romance books stand the test of time?

BY Katey Lovell

7th Feb 2023 Must Reads

Do these classic romance books stand the test of time?

With Valentine's Day on the horizon, we revisit these classic romances and explore how well they have aged

Romantic fiction has been part of my life since I was a teenager. I’ve always found comfort within the pages of a love story, revelling in the tension, the angst and the ultimate crescendo—the first kiss. Over the years my choice of novel has changed, but do the romantic reads I so adored stand the test of time?

Forever by Judy Blume

Judy Blume’s Forever was a rite of passage read for late Gen X and early Millennial teens. Written in 1975, the story follows the blossoming romance between teenagers Katherine and Michael who meet at a New Year’s Eve party. Starting out as an innocent romance typical of the period, as the novel progresses their relationship becomes increasingly physical, culminating in Katherine losing her virginity.

While today’s teenagers have access to shows such as Sex Education to turn to, Blume’s frank and honest approach to sex and relationships educated a generation. Her ability to inform without being preachy is what made her books so appealing. No other teen authors were talking so openly about both the physical and emotional hold first love has and they certainly weren’t talking about visits to family planning centres and giving penises names!

"Blume’s frank and honest approach to sex and relationships educated a generation"

Her groundbreaking style caused controversy and, despite the boom-years of Young Adult fiction, Forever still has one of the most graphic depictions of sex in a book aimed at this age group. 

While fashions such as moustaches and developments in the promotion of sexual health date the book, the themes of Forever are timeless. The novel is currently being adapted into a television series which promises to breathe new life into Katherine and Michael’s story. 

Forever by Judy Blume

Riders by Jilly Cooper

Saucy, steamy and downright sexy, Jilly Cooper’s Riders is rightly a cult classic. The iconic cover boasting one hand cupping a jodhpur-clad buttock and another clutching a whip sets out its stall; the gold embossed lettering a nod to the wealth of the main players in the novel.

First published in 1985, Riders is the first book in the Rutshire Chronicles series. Set in the world of competitive show jumping, it provided the ideal escape for bibliophiles seeking glamour and scandal. The rivalry between aristocratic playboy Rupert Campbell-Black and gypsy-born Jake Lovell is pivotal to the plot, although the sexual escapades ensure the novel lives up to its bonkbuster status—this book is hot, hot, hot. 

"Elements of the books are now dated, as is to be expected of a book written almost 40 years ago"

Elements of the books are now dated, as is to be expected of a book written almost 40 years ago, with some modern critics lamenting the sexist, racist and classist nature of the series. However, Riders continues to draw in new readers, with Mount!, the tenth and most recent instalment of the Rutshire Chronicles released in 2016, adding to Cooper’s impressive tally of more than 12 million books sold. 

Riders by Jilly Cooper

Zoya by Danielle Steel

When it comes to romance, there are few authors who rival Danielle Steel for both popularity and output. Throughout my twenties I devoured Steel’s back catalogue, picking up dog-eared, tobacco-stained paperbacks in charity shops and ordering her latest releases at the library. Over time most of these stories have faded from my memory or blurred into a mish-mash, but Zoya remains a nostalgic favourite.

"When it comes to romance, there are few authors who rival Danielle Steel"

Written in 1987, the historical novel follows the eponymous Zoya arriving in Paris after escaping the Russian Revolution. Born a countess, Zoya must adapt to a life of poverty and joins the Ballet Russes before her life changes after falling in love with an American soldier. The magic comes through the juxtaposition of the glittering highs and devastating lows of Zoya’s life experiences.

Although Steel’s writing style is of the era and can feel clichéd at times, true romantics will find plenty to enjoy in this book, not least Zoya’s fighting spirit and determination. 

Zoya by Danielle Steel

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

First published in 1996, Bridget Jones’s Diary is often credited as the kick-starter of chick lit. Original and witty, the love triangle between Bridget, Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy brings the romance to this award-winning novel.

Rereading Bridget Jones’s Diary is enlightening, especially as we are all so familiar with the Richard Curtis film adaptation. The 1990s doesn’t feel long ago but a lot has changed since then. Smoking has been replaced with vapes, the body positivity movement empowers all women to embrace their shapes and being a thirty-something singleton no longer comes with a sense of shame. Thank goodness.

In 2021, Helen Fielding told Desert Island Discs, “I think the social circumstances surrounding Bridget then are different from now. I think it wouldn’t have been possible to write it in that way now. Things have changed—happily.”

As what is acceptable within society adapts, so too does our opinion on classic pop culture. We evolve, yet the books of our past remain unchanged. Looking back at old favourites with fresh eyes can bring with it a tinge of sadness, but there is something special about the familiarity of revisiting a book you’ve previously enjoyed regardless.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

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