Old-Fashioned Romance 101

Pride and Prejudice (2005) Lizzi and Darcy (Matthew McFayden) Dance
“Pride and Prejudice” (2005). Photo: Focus Features

Old-Fashioned Romance 101 – A Guide

One of the main focuses here at The Silver Petticoat Review is old-fashioned romance (the other is old-fashioned Romantic storytelling). Our objective is to promote and bring back enthusiasm for swoon-worthy love stories. But what is old-fashioned romance, at least as we define it? And what type of content do we strive to share? Below we include a detailed checklist and guide for old-fashioned romance in film, literature, theater, and television. As well as a checklist of what old-fashioned romance isn’t.

Beyond that, we include some examples to get you started in the storytelling world of old-fashioned romance. And then answer a couple of questions for clarification.

(There was inevitably some crossover with our Old-Fashioned Romantic Storytelling Guide.)

RELATED The Appeal of the Old-Fashioned Romance

Old-Fashioned Romance Checklist – As Defined By Us:

This is not to say that every love story has to include every one of these elements. Just that they should include some of these checkpoints.

old-fashioned romance

  • Focus on soul connection rather than shallow attraction
  • Love over lust. However, there can still be attraction and passion but not without love.
  • Focus on emotional growth rather than sex. Not that sex is always absent – just that when it’s used, it is necessary to the story and is (typically) off screen, implied or happening after the story or scene has ended. However, if a sex scene becomes necessary to the story it is ideally not graphically depicted. And should not be pornographic (even soft porn) in nature. In short, sex scenes are better left to the imagination.
  • A meeting of the minds
  • The romantic duo are often kindred spirits
  • May include two characters so alike in spirit they become one and can sometimes feel each other (especially when in danger) from across great distances
  • Smoldering Stares
  • Swoon Worthy romantic moments (could be saving each other in non-damsel in distress fashion; i.e. the female is not a whimpering fool though she and he can both be saved by the other)
  • May include grand gestures
  • Obstacles might be keeping them apart
  • A touch of the hand is powerful.
  • As is a hug. Or a dance. Or the touch of a cheek.
  • Having deep conversations
  • A kiss is emotional and romantic often with some sort of build up
  • The male hero ‘usually’ (definite exceptions) have old-fashioned manners of some kind (though he can still seem rude or arrogant: think of Darcy for instance or just plain villainous like Heathcliff who returns like a devil in well-mannered disguise)
  • Chivalry is not dead.
  • While present day stories should “live” in the modern day world, old-fashioned romance is not focused heavily on modern dating trends (though some of those can still use old-fashioned elements and make the cut. Hello, You’ve Got Mail is genius!)
  • The story is typically more than just about romance. All the great love stories have other themes and subplots interweaved into the story. The romance also can’t feel like an afterthought and an add-on. Usually, the romance is important to the actual story.
  • Happy Endings are possible – though don’t always happen. Tragedy is also acceptable.
  • Layered characters worth reading and/or watching
  • Not worried about being politically correct. Meaning characters can have all kinds of backgrounds and/or histories. As well as various types of personalities and flaws – including disturbing ones. This means female characters can be more than just the “strong” female character. She can also be soft, innocent, selfish, have a troubled background, etc. Or a male character can be a Byronic Hero or incredibly dark. It’s not about “who” someone is but about how the writer/director presents the story.
  • However, the male hero should not be lazy and/or unambitious unless a major transformation is at work. This type of male lead is part of the problem with romances in stories today.
  • Real, honest love with real world problems. Helping someone overcome an addiction or working through a troubled marriage is also very romantic. Or an elderly man helping his sickly wife every day.
  • Romance does not need to be “realistic,” or even necessarily “healthy.” We are more concerned about whether or not it is part of a good story. Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights is not about a healthy romance but they are both incredible stories and engaging to read and/or watch.
  • Love is about work and what you’re willing to do for someone else – so sacrifice is another common element found in old-fashioned romance.
  • Unrequited romance – meaning one-sided – is acceptable. Dickens was the King of this type of story. As are K-Dramas.
  • Elements of optimism; non-cynical in its romantic approach; embraces romance unabashedly.
  • Shows a respect for both men and women
  • Commitment and single-minded focus
  • May include archetypal elements of fairy tales
  • Typically PG-13 like content or below minus a few artistic and/or genre interest exceptions. See our ABOUT and the QUESTIONS below for more details on this. However, just because something is PG or PG-13 doesn’t mean we automatically cover it.
  • While we love good, old-fashioned romance, we have put a modern twist on it. We celebrate and appreciate equality and diversity.
  • Steeped in good storytelling. See our Old-Fashioned Romantic Storytelling Guide for a complete list.

Technically, any genre can tell a story with old-fashioned romance attached. Scully and Mulder from The X-Files are a perfect example. And sometimes (especially with TV Shows), old-fashioned romance can be used one episode and then not the next. Or in movies – in one scene but not the next. We’re interested in discussing and promoting old-fashioned romance in a movie, book, or show – even if it doesn’t last! However, we are MORE interested in content that regularly explores old-fashioned romance rather than making it the exception. Yes, BBC Period Dramas based on classic novels and K-Dramas are our kindred spirits!

RELATED The Evolution Of The Silver Petticoat Review And Where We Are Now

What Old-Fashioned Romance Isn’t:

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From KBS TV Series “Oh My Venus”
  • Explicit – Whether sexually or violently
  • Includes unnecessary nudity in a non-artistic way
  • Pornographic and/or promoting pornography
  • Vulgar, Raunchy or Crude
  • Laced with profanity
  • Focuses too heavily on overly modern dating tropes without it being necessary to the story or thematic purpose. (The modern dating elements of casual hookups, online dating (sweeping left when someone isn’t good-looking enough), hanging out instead of going on dates, passive aggressive communication or the complete lack thereof, etc., just isn’t romantic. So why would it be interesting in a love story?)
  • Objectification of Women; Anti-women and steeped in rape culture
  • Romance based on lust
  • Too cynical and unsentimental
  • Written with antagonistic attitude toward love stories and romance
  • Anti-Chivalry
  • Lacking in human connection and emotional bonds between two people
  • Unemotional
  • Doesn’t stay true to the characters

Additional Thoughts On Old-Fashioned Romance

Gone with the Wind - Epic Love Stories in Classic Literature
“Gone With the Wind.” Photo: MGM/Selznick

The old-fashioned romance genre is in danger of becoming extinct in our modern entertainment. So we aim to bring REAL romance back by promoting the stories that actually embrace it. From the sweeping, epic romances of Gone With the Wind to the classic love stories of Jane Austen, to the unabashedly romantic international dramas, to the GOOD romantic comedies, to great literature that makes our heart skip a beat, and more. And all without the constant onslaught of explicit content and crude depictions.

Old-Fashioned Romance is like the butterflies you felt in your stomach when you had your first crush. Or the time you felt the wonder of first love in your heart. It makes you smile or cry and believe in true love and fairy tales and happily ever after. Old-Fashioned Romance is like those times when you were a teenager and stayed up all night reading a good book because you had to know the ending. It is about emotions and feeling things deeply and is about what’s on the inside and not the out. Old-Fashioned Romance is deep and therefore the opposite of shallow.

Old-fashioned romance is also like those silly fantasies you had when you were a teenager of the popular guy or the pop star swooping in and asking you to the school dance. And all in grand, ridiculous fashion. (If you’ve ever wanted to watch your child-like fantasies come to life on screen – watch K-Dramas).

Yes, some may argue that old-fashioned romance is unrealistic and therefore dangerous. However, we take the opposite view. Like a good fairy tale, old-fashioned romance and depictions of soul love present a positive message. Even if some of these stories are “unrealistic,” they teach us something true even if presented in a fantastical setting. That love exists. And that it’s okay to embrace optimism and the joys of life and our child-like dreams even in the darkest of times.

Cinderella Ball Dance (Lily James and Richard Madden) Disney
“Cinderella.” Photo: Disney

In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim on the message/lesson of fairy tales (which old-fashioned romance is connected to), said: “…a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence – but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.”

“Doctor Who.” Photo: BBC

Fantastically said. Besides, we say, why does romance have to be dead? Sure, we know an immortal vampire or a Doctor in a blue box isn’t going to swoop in and save us from the ordinary hardships of life. Or believe that life is actually like a romantic comedy. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a stand and saying, “You know what? I would like to have someone open doors for me. And I would like respect and consideration and deep conversations.” Basically, it’s not unfair to ask for loyalty, honesty, real love, and well, a little bit of romance.

And sometimes a good old-fashioned love story is meant to be nothing more than a way to cheer us up when we’re having a hard time or a bad day!

In a modern world, good old-fashioned romance is often looked down upon. Even though many of us secretly (or not so secretly) actually really love it. Well, we say, it’s time to bring back romance in all its glory. Everything old becomes new again after all.

If you’re new to old-fashioned romance or would like some good reminders and/or recommendations, we have compiled a list of some great examples which are a good starting point. These lists are by no means comprehensive – rather they are just a few good examples.

A FEW EXAMPLES OF OLD-FASHIONED ROMANCE IN LITERATURE

  • Any books by Jane Austen. Our personal favorites are Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Emily of New Moon Trilogy by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance by Julianne Donaldson
  • The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
  • The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

As a note, several classic and YA novels have old-fashioned romance interweaved into the story. There are many more modern ones out there as well, they just require research!

A FEW EXAMPLES OF OLD-FASHIONED ROMANCE IN MOVIES

“Belle” Photo: Fox Searchlight
  • Gone With the Wind
  • Casablanca
  • Now, Voyager
  • Notorious (1946)
  • Rebecca (1940)
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • You’ve Got Mail
  • Strictly Ballroom
  • Kate & Leopold
  • Belle
  • Mansfield Park (1999)
  • Pride and Prejudice (2005)
  • An Affair to Remember
  • A Walk to Remember
  • Bend it Like Beckham
  • Becoming Jane
  • The Decoy Bride
  • Cinderella (2015)
  • Ever After
  • The Lake House
  • Penelope
  • City Lights
  • Always (2011)

Old-fashioned romance is easy to find in period dramas, classic films, adaptations of fairy tales, and romantic comedies (typically early 00’s and earlier; later ones are harder). However, this is not an all comprehensive list just a few good examples.

A FEW EXAMPLES OF OLD-FASHIONED ROMANCE IN TV SHOWS & MINISERIES

“Grand Hotel.” Photo: Sky
  • The Master’s Sun
  • Moonlight
  • The X- Files
  • Doctor Who (2005) – Seasons 1-4
  • Downton Abbey
  • The Paradise
  • I’m Sorry, I love You (2004; great example of old-fashioned romantic tragedy)
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • Grand Hotel (2013)
  • Poldark (2015)
  • My Love From Another Star
  • Oh My Venus
  • Greatest Love
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Anne of Green Gables & Anne of Avonlea (1985; 1987)
  • North and South (2004)
  • Pride and Prejudice (1995)
  • Jane Eyre (2006)
  • Splash Splash Love

Many of these shows focus on old-fashioned romance. But some shows don’t make it the focus. For example, CW’s The Originals is more about immortal vampire siblings than their love lives – even though that’s also important. The story of Klaus and Camille on the series, however, presents a great example of an old-fashioned romantic love story even if the rest of the series isn’t necessarily “old-fashioned.”

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS

Does a film/book/show need to be a romance to be covered by you?

In short, no. Old-fashioned romance can be found in any category or genre. We also cover movies/shows/books/ that focus on old-fashioned Romantic storytelling and don’t always include a romance at all. Though they are at the least “Romantic” in spirit and influenced by Romanticism.

What if there is a sex scene in a movie or TV show? Or it’s R-Rated? Will you automatically not cover that movie, book, or TV Show?

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There are reviews and articles on our website that include content with sex scenes. However, we do attempt to include a content warning. We also try not to pick films or shows with excessively explicit scenes. We strive to promote old-fashioned romance after all. If there are sex scenes, we aim to discuss the stories with PG-13 like content or below minus a few exceptions. As said above, with old-fashioned romance, sex scenes are better left to the imagination. And ideally, when sex happens in a story, it’s necessary to the plot and is not explicit or pornographic in nature.

We also take various things into consideration. If it’s a review, we take the overall feel of a series into account. Entertainment with R-Rated content (including TV-MA or the equivalent in literature), for instance, will be more artistic and thoughtful than crude, excessively violent or explicit.

However, we do not believe the MPAA rating system works as we are only using it as a basic guide to explain what kind of content we typically cover. If there is only a scene or two (while still looking at the overall feel of the story) that may cause an R-Rating we’re more likely to cover it than content that has vulgar and/or gratuitous content throughout. We prefer subtlety in stories. But one sex scene in a film, for instance, doesn’t mean we won’t cover it.

On the other hand, we likely won’t cover HBO like shows with continuous graphic sex, profanity, and violence against women.

Beyond reviews, it also depends on what type of article we’re writing. For example, if we’re writing about a romantic moment from a TV show and the series is TV-MA, the scene we discuss will not be graphic in nature. We’re perfectly okay with covering that (as long as it’s not from a series we find completely objectionable) because it’s about one standalone scene.

For more about what we cover on our site, see our ABOUT and our OLD-FASHIONED ROMANTIC STORYTELLING GUIDE 101 for answers to more questions! If you have any other questions about old-fashioned romance, please don’t hesitate to send us a message!

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