Love Comes Softly
Love Comes Softly is an important book. If Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower changed the romance fiction market forever in 1972, in 1979 Love Comes Softly did something of the same thing for the Christian romance market which had been stagnating since the death of Grace Livingston Hill in 1947. A simple, sweet prairie story by a Canadian author, it nevertheless became a word-of-mouth bestseller, and the Christian fiction market has never been the same since.
I read this book over and over when I was oh, maybe 12 years old. I found it crammed in the shelves next to my Grandma’s tattered Bible and her frayed, sunbleached copy of Crowning Glory Hymnal. It seemed a lovely way to pass a Sunday afternoon. A few weeks ago someone donated a copy of it to our library. We already have several copies on the shelves, so I decided to take this one home and see if the magic was still there. It still was.
Martha (Marty) Claridge has just been widowed. She and her husband Clem were on the last leg of a journey west. Clem left to go and inspect their land, but he came back dead, thrown from his horse. The local people are sympathetic, but there is little they can offer Marty, who has no money and no way of getting back East since fall is closing in, and the last wagon train East has already been and gone. She also has an unexpected complication: she’s pregnant. What’s a girl in these circumstances supposed to do?
Clark Davis is a rather successful farmer with a similar problem. His wife passed away several months ago, and he’s had a difficult time keeping up the farm while caring for his tiny daughter, Missie. He is present at Marty’s husband’s burial, and, seeing that she’s desperate, he proposes a solution for both of them: that she marry him and be a mother to his daughter, and, in return, if she wishes to return East in the spring, he will pay for her passage as long as she is willing to take Missie with her. Marty has little choice but to accept, but she does so bitterly and with a grudging, aching heart. She doesn’t understand this strange, coldhearted man she has married.
Of course Clark is really anything but cold-hearted. He may not be the most impressive conversationalist ever – he’s a man of few words – but he’s kind and thoughtful and good. He sees that Marty’s hurting, and he does everything in his power to give her what she needs: time, space, and privacy. This is not one of those Marriage of Convenience books where the hero decides, “To heck with her, I have needs,” and then forces the sexual issue. Clark is hurting and sorrowing himself. He doesn’t want to burden Marty with more than she can give.
This is kind of a quiet story about family, and community and healing. There were no amazingly powerful individual scenes, but the overall effect was very pleasant and enjoyable. I thought Missie was cute, Clark was sweet, and Marty was realistically drawn. She begins her marriage with Clark angry and bitter, but she’s not too into self-pity and after a while she heals and begins reaching out again. She is the unbeliever in this story, and she comes to share Clark’s faith slowly and subtly.
The only real problem I have with this book is that the dialogue is written in an annoying fake-seeming dialect with “ain’t” sprinkled all over amidst dropped g’s aplenty. None of the characters are stupid, but sometimes the way they talk makes them seem that way. I rarely read Westerns, and I suppose I can’t speak as a linguistic expert on the way people talked on the prairie, but I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, and, if anything, the Ingalls family spoke more correctly than people do today. I don’t think it was necessary to write so much ungrammatical dialogue to show that Clark and Marty are plain, simple people.
Love Comes Softly is the first book in a series of books about Clark and Marty, their children and their grandchildren. Not all of them are romances, but I remember liking them. I especially remember enjoying Love’s Long Journey which is Missie’s love story. If you like to read inspirationals and have for some reason missed Love Comes Softly, I’d recommend seeking it out. And if you’re looking to try out inspirational fiction, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.