Desert Isle Keeper
Morning Glory (#25 on our Top 100 Romances List)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on March 26, 1998
So often heroes and heroines of romances are larger-than-life characters. Lords, ladies, knights, cowboys, and swashbuckling types in general. There’s nothing wrong with that, we all like a little wish fulfillment and fantasy in our reading. After all, if we read nothing but books about people like ourselves, it would be very boring. It takes a writer of talent to make the lives of plain, ordinary people not only interesting but memorable. LaVyrle Spencer accomplishes this in the book that I think is her masterpiece – Morning Glory.
Morning Glory takes place in Whitney, Georgia just before the United States’ entry into World War II. Ellie Dinsmore is a widow, pregnant, with two small boys, living on a ramshackle farm. Will Parker is an ex-convict who has just been fired from his first job since he left prison. He is literally starving to death. When Will sees Ellie’s advertisement for a husband in the town newspaper, he walks out to her farm and two plain, ordinary, lonely people meet and find love.
The story unfolds gradually and gives us plenty of time get to know the characters and their stories. Will Parker, foundling, drifter, and ex-con, has never had a family of his own. Ellie Dinsmore, born out of wedlock and raised behind the shuttered windows and closed doors of her fanatical grandparents’ house is called “Crazy Ellie” by the town. These two lonely people find in each other what they have longed for. In Ellie, Will gets a combination wife, mother, and lover, and she and her children become the family he has wanted all his life. In Will, Ellie gets a good husband and father for her children, and is loved and appreciated for the first time in her life.
Along with the wonderful relationship between Will and Ellie, Ms. Spencer has created some vivid secondary characters in Morning Glory. I especially want to mention the town librarian, Miss Gladys Beasley. Miss Beasley is, at first glance, a real iron lady. She is gruff, tough, and no-nonsense, from her tight perm to her sensible shoes. Miss Beasley is a shrewd judge of character and her gruffness hides a heart of softest marshmallow. She becomes Will Parker’s champion and mentor and helps him coax Ellie from her self-imposed isolation.
Will and Ellie are separated when he joins the Marines and serves in the South Pacific during the War. Ms. Spencer covers this section in an exchange of letters including one from Ellie to Will in which she writes to tell him how much she loves him and how much he has come to mean to her. This letter, ill-spelt and ungrammatical, is one of the most moving love letters I have ever read.
Will returns home a decorated hero, but shortly after his return he is accused of murder. Ellie has to overcome her fear and hatred of the town and go into it to find evidence that will clear Will. In the aftermath of the trial, Ellie and Will realize that for the first time in their isolated lives, they finally belong somewhere. It’s this yearning to belong that lifts Morning Glory out of the ordinary. LaVyrle Spencer’s best books – Morning Glory, Years and Bittersweet all address, not only the relationship between the hero and heroine, but their relationship with the larger community. Will and Ellie begin their healing when they find each other, and that healing is completed when they make their peace with the town of Whitney and are accepted by it.
|Review Date:||January 17, 2018|
|Book Type:||American Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||1930s | 1940s | comfort read | criminal record | farm | Georgia | single mother | slow burn | Southern | Top 100 Romance | widow | working class historical | World War II|
This isn’t my absolute favorite Spencer (Years and Vows have stuck with me for years and years, since I read them as a teenager) but I remember it being sweet and lovely. Spencer was always good at writing about ordinary people and this is a good example. For those wanting to try her without encountering the “bad women” stereotyped side character, I remember Years being devoid of that.
Lynda X: I’m just catching up on these reviews, but very well expressed. I agree completely with everything you said. This is one of my two or three favorite romances ever, and it’s probably the one that I’m most likely to recommend to new readers.
Morning Glory depicts an extraordinary love story between two seemingly ordinary people. That’s something that is very, very difficult to achieve in any genre – I often compare it to the TV movie (and, eventually, Oscar-winning film) Marty. It’s something of a shock to realize that the novel was published almost thirty years ago. Not many romances from that period have stood the test of time so well.
This is my favorite romance of all time. I may have read it over ten times. There is nothing about this book I don’t like…..and if I can’t think of something to read, I just reread it and I never tire of it. There are certain descriptions throughout the book that I can actually feel…..just love it
I loved this book because it allowed me to get to know people who are NEVER the hero and heroine of romances–the poor, uneducated, what used to be called “hillbillies.” Spencer does a beautiful job in showing what appeals to Will about Eleanor–her motherliness (in the best sense of the word), her decency, her hard work, as well as we can see what she sees in him–his decency, his neediness, his hard work, etc. The scene where she washes his hair is so tender that it’s the epitome of a good romance. The “bad other woman” didn’t bother me . Demanding that literature avoid tropes like the dumb blonde, the self-sacrificing heroine, Cinderella themes, the male rescue of the female, the horrid stepmother is a form of censorship. These stereotypes would not have lasted so long if they didn’t appeal to people, viscerally, as well as saying something essential and often true. Women are best friends, but they also can be enemies. The portrayal of women should encompass all aspects; otherwise, it is just propaganda. The essential question is whether the portrayal is well done. “Morning Glory” shows the world as sweeter and probably simpler than it is or was, but it has appealed to readers for over fifty years. To me, that’s a testament to its worth.
I don’t think anyone is *demanding* that sexist trope be retired, Lynda X. But if an author uses them in a way that endorses them and perpetuates sexism, they can certainly be criticized by readers. Being a public author mean that your work is going to be viewed critically by readers, both for good and bad, And yes, these tropes appealed to readers because patriarchy has historically been acceptable. That’s why rereading these books today is so eye-opening. As a society we’re not in the same space we were decades ago.
Linda, beautifully said. I agree – Morning Glory does have a hero and heroine who are working class, lower working class at that, and it depicts them so beautifully and with such warmth and charm. This is one of the few small town novels I can stomach and its because of how realistically it portrays the community. Not everyone is kind, sweet and caring and many of the folks were judgmental of Ellie, her family, and her husband. So glad to see that rather than the “oh, we all get along and everybody is kind and good.” small town romance that is so popular today. And I agree that the portrayal of women should not simply slide into propaganda but should encompass the fact that some are not so nice and deserve to be called out for it..
I think there is a difference though between portraying complex women who are heroic or even villainous and propagating an old stereotype of good girl versus bad girl. That trope is troubling and damaging, and it’s also one-dimensional. I might even put that trope in the category of propaganda. I have no problem at all with a female villain, but I do have a problem with slut-shaming and constructing the Other woman as a one-dimensional “bad” woman who only serves to illuminate the goodness of the heroine. I think that is the issue some of us are rejecting. I still see contemporary authors doing this today and so the practice continues.
My thoughts on romance written in the 80/90s and also well into the early 2000s, was that authors (regarless of their views) had editors who said “add more conflict” and what better way than to insert the “bad girl trope.” Internalized misogny is still a thing in real life as well as in written romance. What I liked about this book was what others mentioned–that the h/h were ordinary. That I was able to overlook the
bad girl trope” is probably because of my age, not my views, where I agree that this kind of trope is troubling and damaging as you pointed out.
I didn’t get that the woman was a “bad girl” so much as a bad person. It wasn’t that she was sexually active that was an issue but that she had a mean streak. Spencer has written a lot of heroines who have unconventional morality (Twice Loved, The Fulfillment, etc.), and I didn’t get that she was creating a character here who was judged based on her sexual activity so much as judged on her poor decisions. That’s my .02 anyway.
I think setting up the bad woman to offset the good woman can include a range of behaviors — lying, manipulation, sexual immorality, backstabbing, etc. I do not have a problem at all with women as villains or believe at all that women need to be depicted as “good.” I do dislike dichotomies of good woman/bad woman tropes in any kind of writing. That is the way I read the interactions in this particular book, though I have not read any other Spencer novels.
It worked very well for me. It just felt to sweet, it was like spending time in a different world, reading about these characters.
I read this not long ago and found it to be dated, alas. I know it’s a reader favorite but it didn’t really work for me. Like DiscoDollyDeb, I am so uncomfortable when authors demonize female characters so that the heroine can stand out as a shining example of all that is pure and good and would love for this aspect of romance writing to be put to rest. It’s not only misogynist, it’s lazy writing. I still see current authors doing it though, and at this point it can sour me on a book.
I’ve never read the book – it’s been on my TBR pile for ages – but I was sure I’d seen a movie with a similar plot. Sure enough, this book WAS made into a movie starring a young and handsome Christopher Reeves. Check it out: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1044979_morning_glory?
The book and movie are very different entities. I love the book, the movie was rather meh and didn’t really capture the characters as the book presented them.
I was a huge LaVyrle Spencer fan back in the day—and MORNING GLORY, (along with THE FULFILLMENT) was my favorite of her books. However, in almost all of her books there is a “bad” woman (bitchy, promiscuous, lying, attempting to seduce the hero, etc.) and MORNING GLORY is no exception. Her books are very well-written—and there’s a wealth of well-researched detail (that doesn’t feel like an info dump) in all of them; but just be ready for the presence of a female character who seems to exist primarily to make the heroine shine brighter in comparison.
Ah, DiscoDollyDeb, yes, I had forgotten about the other “bad woman” in Morning Glory. I was able to overlook that aspect of the story (though not without a huge 21st century eye roll) given the year the story was set, and the year it was published.–’89, in which the romance publishing industry was still full of the old “bodice-rippers” novels. MG, back then, must have been a fresh of breath air, to both the publishing industry and romance readers alike. I believe, though, that the femme fatale/slut shaming I see in romances (old and new) exists to shine a golden halo on the hero, for resisting that “harlot” woman, rather than showcasing the heroine, regardless if she has faults or is portrayed as the perfection of morality.
I have read LaVyrle Spencer’s books. In fact, Vows was my first adult romance book! Love her still! I was so sad when she retired.
Never read this. It sounds… old-fashioned. But in a good way?
Dabney, I read this last year, and I think LS captured the time (& the place) in a realistic way. I would describe the story as simple–as in that there are no over the top gimmicks or caricature villains–rather than old-fashioned, though there is nothing simple about this lovely and poignant love story set against the backdrop of views of the day (40s) that judgemental, narrow-minded small town mentality. What I loved most about this story is that both protagonists are on equal footing–each “rescuing” the other rather than usual “hero rides to the rescue of damsel in distress” or the “lady of high society elevates the lowly common man” trope. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts if and when you read it. :)