Jilly: Secret Declarations

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate the occasion! Chez Jilly, 14th February falls between our wedding anniversary (flowers, champagne) and Mr. W’s birthday (cake, treats) so we don’t make much of it.

I enjoy all the online hoopla, though. It takes me back to my teens, when receiving a valentine card brought major bragging rights at my girls-only high school. Extra kudos for multiple cards, and most of all for unknown senders. I wasn’t the prettiest or the most popular girl in my class, but one year I received three valentine cards and had no idea who’d sent any of them. Whoo!

I can still remember the giddy, fizzy excitement of it. And ever since those long-ago days, the secret/unilateral/unconditional love declaration has been one of my all-time favorite romance genre tropes. Of course, it’s especially delicious because the reader knows the secret will eventually be uncovered, even if she knows not when or how.

The greatest secret declaration story must be Pride and Prejudice. Reserved, uptight, principled Darcy uses his considerable power and influence to save Lizzy from social ruin by bribing a man he rightly despises to marry his beloved’s disgraced airhead of a younger sister. Darcy uses his personal capital to give credibility to the unlikely wedding, whilst doing his utmost to keep his involvement under the radar. He does it all for love, but he’s genuinely embarrassed when Lizzy finds out and confronts him. Swoon!

I think one of the most delightful examples is Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. When country-mouse Kitty persuades rich, good-natured Freddy into a fake engagement so that Kitty can sample the delights of London society (and win the heart of handsome rake Jack), it gradually becomes apparent that Freddy has fallen head over heels in love with Kitty, with no expectation that his feelings will ever be returned. Kitty’s meager budget is wholly inadequate to meet the costs of living among the ton, so Freddy quietly finds ways to meet the shortfall, leaving Kitty in a Cinderella-like whirl of beautiful clothes and exciting new experiences. When his benevolent duplicity is finally revealed, he simply shrugs and says he wanted Kitty to have everything she ever wished for. Nothing more, nothing less. Sigh.

It works wonderfully in fantasy, too. Take The Talon of the Hawk, my favorite of Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. The hero, Harlan, is the (smart, hot, principled) leader of a team of foreign mercenaries hired by a capricious High King who doubts the loyalty of Ursula, his dutiful daughter/heir. Ursula’s distrust of Harlan is deep and powerful, but that doesn’t deter him from making an irrevocable commitment of his own and signaling it in a deliciously oblique manner. A secret declaration combined with another of my most favorite tropes–a hero who’s all-in, long before the scales fall from the heroine’s eyes.

I could go on, but I feel the urge to break out the champagne truffles and go on a re-reading binge 😉

How about you? Are you a fan of the secret declaration trope? If not, which ones make your heart beat faster?

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Secret Declarations

  1. OMG! I remember attending school on Valentine’s Day, and NOT having bragging rights! It reminds me of the Janice Ian song, At Seventeen:

    And those of us with ravaged faces
    Lacking in the social graces
    Desperately remained at home
    Inventing lovers on the phone
    Who called to say “Come dance with me”
    And murmured vague obscenities
    It isn’t all it seems
    At seventeen.

    And before I get too morose, I’m reaching for my copy of Cotillion to cheer me up!

    • Honesty compels me to add that most years I had no bragging rights either. I guess that’s why the three-valentine-year was so magical. And that Janis Ian song! Perfectly evokes an era when receiving (or not) a card from some mystery teenage boy seemed like the be-all and end-all of my existence. Bless!

      Enjoy Cotillion!

    • Always good to find another id list item! I think this trope works particularly well in romantic fiction because the reader knows the secret admirer is The One and that all will be revealed in due course. In *almost* every case, so much better than real life!

        • Too true 😦

          I think even in fiction the author has to take care not to make it stalkerish or presumptuous. That’s what so great about Darcy. It’s about Lizzy and Lydia, but Wickham’s behavior gives him every right to interfere. And it’s not as though Lizzy had any agency in the matter.

          What I like about The Talon of the Hawk is that Harlan’s secret efforts are to support and empower Ursula. Good food for thought here!

  2. The one “secret” Valentine I received in school was actually a hoax from a group of nasty girls. I was definitely NOT Valentine material in junior high, so to receive something secret like that, in front of everyone else (the Valentines came with a rose!), was exhilarating! Until someone revealed that it was a prank. That led to a few years of self-doubt, horrible self-esteem, and many dark days. Needless to say, it’s not one of my favorite tropes. LOL!

    However, Cotillion IS one of my favorite books! I absolutely ADORE Freddy as the best sort of suitor! He’s so wonderful to Kitty. The book makes my heart glow! Which probably explains why I’m re-listening to it again for what has to be the 50th time…no joke!

    • Oh, no! At their worst, teenage girls can be so vicious. I can’t imagine how excruciating that must have been. I’d love to think karma caught up with those bitches eventually. And I suppose the writerly response is–it’s all material. With the benefit of time and distance I’d be very tempted to write those toxic teens into a story and deal with them as they deserved.

      Usually my favorite book boyfriends would be a complete nightmare IRL. Freddy may be the only exception. He’s so lovely, any woman would be lucky to have an admirer like him, and he has absolutely no ego. Cotillion is such a failsafe pick-me-up I swear it should be available on prescription.

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