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On Again, Off Again: My Relationship with May-December Romances

The other day I ran across a Flavorwire piece on 12 Genuinely Great Books About May-December Romances. For the record, my own list shares just one book with the Flavorwire list (Jane Eyre, naturally). But I confess, I dissolved into giggles at their Middlemarch commentary: "Do not go into the Casaubon house, Dorothea!" Amen to that, my friend. And might I add, "Why, Jo? WHY?" Scarred as a youth by the whole Jo & Laurie tragedy, May-December romances just did not work for me for a very long time. Truthfully, I think the first one that did was Jane and Rochester. In that instance, the depiction of kindred spirits finding one another across the barriers of age, station, and experience made a little home in my soul. And so I became a choosy partaker of such relationships, rather than an outright avoider. But it's still been rather hit and miss since. My inability to buy into them likely stems from a few of the usual suspects, something to do with the uneven nature of things, missed opportunities, and power inequities. I sat down to make a list of the couples that transcend it for me and came up with the following (in the order in which I read them):



Jane + Rochester, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - As I said. Kindred spirits. She saves him. Happy Angie.

Aerin + Luthe, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley - There is just a lot going on in this relationship, to say nothing of Luthe's altogether human counterpart Tor. Sigh. But nothing has ever made me cry like Luthe saying goodbye makes me cry.

Mary + Holmes, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King - I went in expecting to be turned off by the extremely large age gap. And so I was utterly charmed at how perfectly suited these two old souls are for each other and how much I love being with them, just listening to them talk.

Marianne + Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - So much water under the bridge before these two find their way to each other as equals. But they are. And I am so very glad they do.

Rose + Calum, Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard - Ah, the lone case of the woman being older than the man. I love this relationship so much. And I love that Linda allowed Rose the upper hand in one of their most critical moments together. 

Grace + Vaughn, Unsticky by Sarra Manning - Well, as long as we're talking about power inequities . . . but despite Vaughn and Grace's myriad issues this crazy, painful love story demolished me the first time I read it and I have been wicked fond of it (and them) ever since.

***

Recently, I read Tracey Garvis Graves' On the Island and was again surprised at my ability to swallow this definite May-December romance, another one in which the woman is the more mature one. A lovely book, with a particularly lovely declaration on the man's part after all the conflicted trauma one would expect with such a story.

Lastly, I'd love to hear your feelings on the subject. Do you avoid May-December romances like the plague? Or do you have some favorites you'd like to share? I'd love to hear why you love them.

Comments

  1. I've never quite like defining books this way, it's either I like the match or I don't but I do agreed with you on Jane and Rochester.

    Have you read 'Emily's Ghost' by Denise Giardina - I like the may-december relationship between Emily and Weightman, because these two are so different in station and in terms of the roles they played. I highly recommend it.

    hope you have a sweet day.

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    1. I wasn't even really aware of the term until a few years ago. But I did know that sometimes large age gaps stood in the way of my enjoyment. So when I became aware that it was a thing, it interested me.

      I have not read EMILY'S GHOST. It sounds really good. I'll look it up. Thanks!

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  2. Hmmm...I'm going to have to ponder this and come up with a list too! Though I do agree Jane Eyre would probably top it.

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  3. I personally love Jaime and Claire from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon :)

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    1. I wondered when someone would mention Jamie and Claire! Though the book ultimately wound on longer than I could handle, I did enjoy their sweet romance. And another one where she's older than he. Love that.

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    2. I loved them too right up until he spanked her . . . and liked it. No forgiveness for Diana Gabaldon.

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    3. Sally, there were several ridiculous moments in that book. The constant kidnapping of Claire and threatening rape put me right off. I realize it was a different time and definitely unsafe for women in general. But wow.

      That said, I do retain some fond memories of the two of them. Before the the fifth or sixth abduction.

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  4. Thanks for mentioning EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, Angie. There were only 8 years between Calum and Rose but as she was 47, I suppose it felt like more.

    I also tackled a May/December romance in STAR GAZING, but largely for comic effect. The sub-plot romance in that novel had a 51-year old female romantic novelist falling for her male research assistant, Garth, a student (and Goth) in his late 20s. That's an age gap I'd really like to try in a more serious plotline, but I'm not sure I have the nerve. I don't think it would be very popular with readers.

    Staying with older women/younger men, an interesting but sad example is Colette's CHERI, very much about the end of a relationship.

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    1. Linda, that's a good point. I think it qualifies in my mind because the age thing is an issue for Rose (if not for Calum).

      Oh my, how I loved Garth & Louisa. I would read that book in a heartbeat.

      You know, I've never read CHERI. I can tell I'd have to be in just the right mood.

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    2. It certainly was an issue for Rose (and for me writing the book.) At 47 she felt she was considerably older than Calum, but that was partly because she assumed he was younger (because he looked younger.)

      I was interested at the time of writing in the invisibility of middle-aged women in the media, particular in commercial fiction. EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was published in 2005 but I'd started writing it in 2000 when women over 40 only featured in commercial fiction as someone's mother or someone's wife. They were never centre stage, let alone involved in a sexual relationship.

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    3. Yeah, appearances were deceiving initially.

      I love all the reasons you came to write EG. Do you feel like the visibility of middle-aged women in commercial fiction has changed any since then?

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    4. I think things are a bit better now, particularly in the US. There's cougar fiction (not really what I had in mind when I was writing EMO GEO!) but it still looks to me much like the movies: women over 45 are allowed out to play and maybe they'll even get the guy, but only if they look 10 years younger. (It always annoyed me that in AS GOOD AS IT GETS the fabulous Diane Keaton gets fobbed off with Jack Nicholson instead of Keanu Reeves.)

      I still get many reviews saying in so many words, "It was so refreshing to read about a heroine in her 40s who was just an ordinary woman with an ordinary woman's problems." I think if that was the norm, reviewers wouldn't be commenting on it.

      What has been encouraging over the years in which I've written 5 novels with with mature heroines is that young readers don't seem to mind at all about the heroine's age. Young women are interested in seeing what lies ahead of them. Some have said they enjoyed my heroines as role models. Others said it gave them some insight into problems their own mothers had faced. Readers are so much more adventurous and open-minded that publishers give them credit for.

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    5. I wanted her to end up with Keanu, too!!

      I'm so pleased to hear you say that's the feedback you've had from younger women. Because I absolutely feel that way. And I wish publishers would wake up and realize that.

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  5. I don't have anything to share other than: Great. As in just great, I have more books to add to my tbr thanks to you. -_-

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    1. Lol! You're welcome. ;)

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  6. I definitely don't avoid them, I don't think I actually really notice age differences. If I feel the characters fit each other it doesn't seem to matter.

    I can't really think of any you haven't mentioned here, my favourites would be Marianne and Colonel Brandon and Jane Eyre though.

    Bella and Edward?

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    1. That's good. It's probable a neuroses of mine from being too young when I read LITTLE WOMEN to fathom choosing the professor over Laurie. Lol. You're absolutely right, if they fit--they fit.

      Ha! Bella & Edward slipped my mind. They certainly qualify.

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  7. Marijana2:25 PM

    Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades has a much older hero. I didn't think it could work, because as you say there are so many inequalities in the relationship. But it worked. Wonderfully.

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    1. I've heard so many good things about that book, I don't know why I haven't picked it up yet. Thanks for the reminder. I need to give Heyer a shot.

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  8. Sigh, Grace & Vaughn. I have both covers now. :)

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  9. *Sigh* Luthe saying goodbye always gets me too.

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  10. I loved Jane Eyre and also LOVED Sense and Sensibility, so I guess I can't totally say I avoid May-December romances. I might have to try BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE and STAR GAZING!

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    1. You should! They're both lovely.

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  11. Holmes & Russell, VERY YES.

    Well done May-December romances are one of my favorite things, especially in an historical or fantasy context. Lymond and Philippa in Dorothy Dunnett's books, for instance (though the age difference there turns out not to be quite so great as it seems at first). Merlin and Nimue in Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy (and Stewart has a couple in her gothics too -- isn't Adam somewhat older in IVY TREE?). Jared and Claudia in Incarceron. I was even cheering for Dean Priest / Emily at first, though I had to revise that opinion later in the books.

    As a teenager I found the boys my age terribly immature and uncertain of who they were and what they wanted in life, not to mention scared of commitment. I imagined I would have to marry a man at least five or ten years older than myself if I was going to respect him as an equal and have the kind of mature, sensible relationship I was looking for. So May-December romances in fiction never put me off -- if anything they were a selling point. (Unless the older partner was deliberately seducing or coercing the younger one, in which case it was just skeevy and DO NOT WANT.)

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    1. YES. They are rock.

      I have never read a Dorothy Dunnett. I should probably remedy that. And how did I forget Merlin & Nimue? Such a fascinating relationship. I think you're right, Adam is a fair bit older in THE IVY TREE. I've always liked it, but it has never been my favorite. INCARCERON is still in my TBR. Ugh.

      I wondered if personal experience would come into it for some readers. That absolutely makes sense. Is it too personal to ask if you did marry someone slightly older, RJ? As it happens, my husband is five years older.

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  12. A really good one is What I Did For a Duke by Julie Anne Long. The hero is almost 20 years older than the heroine and the heroine's brother tells the hero: "She'll see you as more a contemporary of Father's than of hers." but it worked REALLY well. WIDFAD has to be one of the best historical romances I've ever read so I recommend it regardless. As for On the Island, my coblogger and I discussed how well done that book is just yesterday <3

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    1. Okay, I bailed on that one fairly early, Racquel. Should I go back and give it another shot then? He came off pretty overbearing for me. Does that change somewhat as things progress?

      Oh, I'm glad you guys liked ON THE ISLAND. I had heard it could go either way, and I just really found myself on the enjoying end of things. The note he leaves her near the end . . . *sigh*

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  13. Am I recalling correctly that Mr. Thornton is mid-thirties while Margaret is not yet twenty? What I perfectly recall is over-watching Richard Armitage in the greatest cinematic kiss of all time.

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    1. Ooh, Sally. You make an excellent point. I can't recall his age. Must go look it up now.

      GREATEST CINEMATIC KISS EVER. BAR NONE.

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  14. +1 to Sally's comment about Mr. Thornton. :)

    I just read the description of On the Island and that is definitely not what I was expecting. Sharks! Are you going to review that?

    Laurie and (not) Jo almost put me off reading. I was LIVID. I still am! And I just realized why I hate Gabriel Bryne so much. Mr. Rochester/Fassbender on the other hand and his "Janet" ... love! Jane Eyre and Sense and Sensibility are the one two I've read from this list. I will get to Robin McKinley, damn it!

    -Maggie

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    1. Lol. Thornton . . . sigh.

      Yeah, I was very wary going into ON THE ISLAND. It just seemed like it could go so badly so fast, you know? But it worked for me! I actually did review it earlier this year here.

      I'm still livid, too! It never seems to fade. But yes to Fassbender/Rochester. I'm not sure why, but he's ingrained pretty deep in my psyche.

      Dude. GET TO MCKINLEY.

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  15. Oh. My. Gosh. LUTHE!

    I think May-December romances stand out to me much more in books that take place modernly. Like, I think every other historical romance I read has a heroine who's 21 and a hero who's 30-35, but I don't even really notice since I'm so used to it in that genre.

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    1. Sigh. You understand. THAT SCENE. I'm never okay after reading that scene.

      This is a good point. I'm new to historical romances and so was not really used to/familiar with the trope. One thing I liked about Callie (NINE RULES TO BREAK) was that she was older. 28! Lol. But not a teen.

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  16. I too was traumatized when Jo rejected Laurie.

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    1. I'm relieved it's not just me for whom this remains a sore point. It wasn't okay, Sally. It just wasn't okay.

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  17. Hmmm. I haven't actively avoided them, but some have felt more real than others. Perhaps it has something to do with the icky factor: the priest and little Meg in The Thorn Birds? Icky. (What was his name? The Richard Chamberlin character) The Professor and Jo? Not icky, but I loved Teddy so much I just couldn't understand it. I remember reading Daddy Long Legs and loving the idea of the mysterious benefactor--maybe that wasn't icky because it happened slowly and he wasn't as old as she thought?

    But now I'm stumped. Having a hard time thinking of others. Perhaps they're not really my thing after all ;)

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    1. Decidedly icky.

      You would think that as I grew older I would understand the Professor and Jo. But no. I just . . . can't.

      Daddy Long Legs was on my longlist. I remember not being icked out by it when I first read it so that's good. I really am due for a reread, I think. I'd love to revisit those characters.

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  18. I had to look up this term, hahaha. How embarrassing, considering Iove these kinds of romances. How big does the age difference have to be for it to qualify as a may-december romance? What about Emma and Mr. Knightley? I enjoy their story (and the book) a little more than Sense and Sensibility. Also, Daine and Numair. And Marek and Kate from The Hollow Kingdom. Eugenides and Attolia, Eddis and Sophos!! Liesel and Max from the Book Thief (if you happen to interpret the ending that way).

    And GAH Luthe upset me so much! I loved Tor first, and I never like it when there are two love interests.

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    1. Okay had to elaborate about The Book thief comment - I did not mean that The Book Thief is a romantic story between Liesel and Max AT ALL. NO. But I do know that there is some speculation as to whether they get married years afterward.

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    2. Lol. I only fairly recently became aware of the term, too. Emma and Mr. Knightley totally qualify! I remember when I realized there was a much larger age gap there than I thought. It was a little bit of a shock. But I do love them.

      Daine and Numair . . . GOOD CALL. I adore them. Marek and Kate slipped my mind somehow. How many years would you say are between them? I don't remember if it says how old he is.

      And for what it's worth, I TOTALLY INTERPRET THE END OF THE BOOK THIEF THAT WAY. Lol. I'm deaf to dissenters.

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