Tempestuous, tumultuous, wild, stormy, turbulent, electric, thunderous – these are words we’re used to reading in romance novels in descriptions of the passionate relationship between the man and the woman. They of course relate to the elements: Nature demonstrating her power through storms.
I recently read the last novel of prolific romance author Penny Jordan (review to follow in coming weeks), and got utterly lost in a very romantic scene set during a thunderstorm. As I read, I found myself thinking of my own book, Burning Embers, in which Coral and Rafe are brought together during an intense electric storm:
A flash of long blue lightning split the sky, closely followed by a crash of thunder. Coral instinctively threw herself into Rafe’s arms, hiding her face against his broad chest. She had always had a strong phobia of thunderstorms. Now she knew why the place had seemed eerie, why there had been no bird song or insect tick-tocks, no scuffling and ruffling in the undergrowth. Even though the skies when they entered the valley had not foretold the electrical storm that was to come, just like with the animals, her instinct had told her that something was wrong. But she had been too distracted by the turbulence crackling between her and Rafe to pay attention to the changing sky.
Like the protagonist of Penny’s novel, Coral is deeply afraid of storms (aren’t we all, a little?). Her vulnerability, coupled with the drama created by the storm, breaks down barriers and allows a new connection and closeness to form between Coral and Rafe.
Some of the most powerful, atmospheric scenes in literature are set against a backdrop of driving rain and howling wind and cracking thunder and brilliant lightning. Think of the pathetic fallacy (the weather reflecting the character’s inner world) in Shakespeare’s works, particularly the dark Macbeth and the madness-riddled King Lear. In the romance genre, Jane Eyre is a good example, as is Wuthering Heights – Cathy’s spirit embodied in violent weather, and tortured Heathcliff roaming the windswept moors.
But for me, it is a poem that most sticks in my mind as employing a storm to superb dramatic effect. I first read Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ as a student studying literature, and from the first verse I was drawn into the tense, dangerous atmosphere:
The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
So much of the poem is beautifully romantic, but the storm raging outside acts as a poignant warning for the reader that beneath the rosy surface of the union of lovers, peril lurks, and we are uneasy to the point that we read those terrible words ‘And strangled her’. (If you would like to read the full poem yourself, visit http://www.bartleby.com/101/720.html).
There is to be no happy aftermath of Browning’s storm; but in the romance novels I love, the storm is a vehicle that pushes the lovers further towards their happy ever after, to the rainbow after the storm, if you like; for as Sylvia Voirol put it, ‘Rainbows apologize for angry skies.’