Come Love a Stranger
Back in the 19th century, Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth wrote books of gothic-mystery-suspense-romance that were enormously popular. Titles like The Hidden Hand and The Curse of Clifton sold in the hundreds of thousands. Starting in the 1970’s, Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote books of gothic-mystery-suspense-romance that sold in the millions. The two writers are very similar.
Both writers suffer from adjectivitis. The wind is confused, a bush is unnatural, fingers are gnarled, fists are bloodied, eyes are blazing, etc. Both writer’s chararacters do not know what it is like to have a calm moment. They are either in total ecstasy or deep in the doldrums. Characters are too good to be true or so bad that they are laughable. A lot of the women characters have rather odd names – Marelda and Lierin in this book and Capitola in Mrs. Southworth’s The Hidden Hand.
Come Love a Stranger begins with Ashton and his bride Lierin standing on the deck of a riverboat. Quicker than you can say Blackbeard, pirates attack the boat and Lierin is pitched overboard and sinks. Later, a madhouse burns down and Ashton in going to see what happens runs into a woman who looks exactly like Lierin. But what does she have – that’s right! Amnesia.
Lieren has flashes of something horrible happening, but she and Ashton soon bond and fall deeply in love. Then a man named Malcolm Sinclair comes into the picture and declares that Lierin is really his lost wife Lenore (quoth the raven). Lierin does remember Sinclair, but is she really Lierin, or is she Lenore? Amid much stress, angst and purple prose – the truth finally comes out.
Come Love a Stranger is O.K. if you like that old-fashioned type of romance. I used to, but I’ve grown up and find it almost funny now. Even though the book is only 17 years old, it reads as dated and old-fashioned as one of Mrs. Southworth’s 19th century melodramas. Also, Ashton is a southern plantation owner in 1833. He has many Black people working for him. In this book they are referred to as servants. Please! I know it is a shameful part of the past, but they were slaves. And also, the Black characters speak in an awful “Yassah, Massa” dialect that is hard to read and offensive besides.
I know that there is still an audience for this type of book, and I used to devour them and wait with bated breath for each new book Kathleen Woodiwiss would write. But I’ve grown and changed and this type of romance no longer appeals to me. I can’t enjoy purple prose, very much larger than life characters and a melodramatic writing style any more. I will thank Kathleen Woodiwiss for starting the new generation of historical romances, but I’ve moved on to other writers now.