Old-Fashioned Romance 101 – A Guide
One of the main focuses here at The Silver Petticoat Review is old-fashioned romance in entertainment. But what do we mean by old-fashioned romance in a modern world? In this guide, we’ll take you step-by-step through definitions and detailed checklists to answer that question.
In short, we describe old-fashioned romance as a style that uses classic romance tropes to tell a love story.
In short, we describe old-fashioned romance as a style that uses classic romance tropes to tell a love story. Whether in books, film, TV, or even theater, the storyteller uses old-fashioned techniques (or is, in fact, an “old” classic like an Austen novel) to showcase a swoony romance.
We believe it’s these old-fashioned romance tropes that make many love stories incredibly popular! Whether it’s Mr. Darcy’s love confessions, Mr. Thornton willing Margaret to “look back” at him as she leaves him behind, Johnny pulling Baby up to the stage to dance with him in front of everyone, or even Jack giving Rose the world’s most epic kiss on the Titanic. We remember these moments. We love these moments. And we even watch them on repeat!
We also believe it’s the lack of these classic romance tropes in many stories today that are killing the popularity of romance – at least in the film industry. Old-fashioned romance is something many of us love – but don’t even really have a definition for. So, we’ve decided to put this guide out there to fill the void.
We’re in need of a major romance resurgence in entertainment right now. And while romance novels are still incredibly popular, the amount of romance in film and television is dwindling. We aim to help change that!
Okay, so, let’s get started!
Below, we include some background information, a detailed checklist for old-fashioned romance in entertainment, 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 Modern Romanticism 101 Guide.)
What does old-fashioned mean?
Before we move on to the checklist, we want to dive into some background information to help clarify the old-fashioned romance style! So, first, we need to know the definition. What exactly does old-fashioned mean?
Let’s take a look.
According to the English Oxford Dictionary:
In or according to styles or types no longer current or common; not modern.
According to Dictionary.com:
Having the…tastes of earlier times
And according to Merriam-Webster:
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a past era
Now we know sometimes old-fashioned has negative connotations. People think “stuffy,” “outdated,” “boring.” But really, what’s boring about Mr. Darcy? Rather, what we mean by old-fashioned romance is that a story uses classic romance tropes to tell a love story rather than focusing on overly modern trends that often lead to anti-romances masquerading as romances. Not to mention this horrid trend of the anti-HEA (happily ever after) to be “original” and “trendy.” Just NO! If you don’t like romance, don’t write a romance!
Main Old-Fashioned Romance Influence = Jane Austen and the Domestic Revolution
Some of the major influences of the contemporary old-fashioned romance style include classic fairy tales, folklore, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, other classic romances, classic movies, and even romantic period dramas. But when we think about the main influence, it really comes down to Jane Austen – who really was the one to revolutionize romance.
According to Princeton Professor April Alliston in the documentary, Love Between the Covers, Jane Austen “domesticated romance.” In the same documentary, Sarah Lyons of The Popular Romance Project said:
One of the things that she did, was the first woman to do, was argue that men need to deserve their companion just as much as women need to deserve their companion. And so Elizabeth has to change, absolutely, she has to lose her prejudice towards Darcy. But, it’s called Pride and Prejudice and Darcy needs to change too. And I think that that is one of the things that Austen did before anyone else. And she made it almost a requirement because her books became the structural foundation of the domestic novels. It moved through the 19th and 20th century because she became the icon…of domestic novels and the marriage plot.
During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, people began marrying for love more often, which would have influenced Jane Austen and her ideas of equality and love. And it’s Jane Austen who influences all romance in stories today.
But with today’s focus on hookup culture, casual dating, porn, and other emotionless ways of romancing in stories, we run the risk of returning to the days of romance without love in both entertainment and life. So, like Jane Austen, we want to participate in a new Romantic Revolution. One that uses elements of old-fashioned romance for a modern world. Basically, romances of equality with love, emotion, service, and chivalry. And with less explicit content.
With this style, we’re promoting the idea that love and romance in stories should not only exist (romance is not anti-feminist as some argue ) but they should also be EMOTIONAL and about human connection rather than pornography and casual hookups. To do that, we believe there need to be more old-fashioned romances out there. By focusing on classic romance tropes, love stories will have more universal appeal, which will then help the romance resurgence grow!
Now, we’re not saying there shouldn’t be other romance styles, just that we should welcome the variety! As we mentioned in our About, that while our site focuses on the style of old-fashioned romance, we do personally support all storytellers in the romance community – even if we don’t typically cover explicit stories on this site.
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.
- 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’s 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’s ideally not graphically depicted. And should not be pornographic (even soft porn) in nature.
- 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’s 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 heroes ‘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’s not dead.
- While contemporary 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. You’ve Got Mail is genius!)
- The story’s 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.
- There should be a happily ever after unless it’s a romantic tragedy.
- 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’s 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.
- That said, romance doesn’t need to be “realistic,” or even necessarily “healthy.” We’re more concerned about whether or not it’s part of a good story. Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights aren’t about healthy romances but they’re 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 an expert with this type of story.
- 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
- Is typically a romance of restraint. 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 and of high quality.
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’re 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!
What Old-Fashioned Romance Isn’t:
- 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, negative aspects of online dating (swiping left when someone isn’t good-looking enough), hanging out instead of going on dates, passive aggressive communication or the complete lack thereof, etc.
- Objectification of Women; Anti-women and steeped in rape culture.
- Romance based on lust
- Too cynical and unsentimental
- Written with an antagonistic attitude toward love stories and romance
- Lacking in human connection and emotional bonds between two people
- Doesn’t stay true to the characters
Additional Thoughts On Old-Fashioned Romance
The old-fashioned romance genre is in danger of becoming extinct in our modern entertainment. So we aim to bring old-fashioned 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 continuous 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’s about emotions and feeling things deeply and is about what’s on the inside and not the out.
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.
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.”
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 in entertainment 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 classics and many YA novels have old-fashioned romance interweaved into the story. There are many more modern ones out there as well!
A FEW EXAMPLES OF OLD-FASHIONED ROMANCE IN MOVIES
- Gone With the Wind
- Now, Voyager
- Notorious (1946)
- Rebecca (1940)
- Sleepless in Seattle
- You’ve Got Mail
- Strictly Ballroom
- Kate & Leopold
- 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)
- The Lake House
- 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
- The Master’s Sun
- The X- Files
- Doctor Who (2005) – Seasons 1-4
- Downton Abbey
- The Paradise
- I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004; a 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.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
Does a film/book/show need to be a romance to be covered by you?
No. Old-fashioned romance can be found in any category or genre. We also cover movies/shows/books/ that focus on Romanticism which doesn’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?
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 numerous 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 isn’t 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 continuously explicit.
However, we don’t believe the MPAA rating system works as we’re only using it as a basic guide to explain what kind of content we typically cover. If there’s 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’re looking for subtle content with old-fashioned romance. But one sex scene in a film or book, for instance, doesn’t mean we won’t cover it. Especially if a sex scene’s tastefully done.
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 excessively objectionable) because it’s about one standalone scene.
For more about what we cover on our site, see our ABOUT and our MODERN ROMANTICISM 101 GUIDE for answers to more questions! If you have any other questions about old-fashioned romance, please don’t hesitate to send us a message!Want to help us spread the popularity of Romance in Entertainment? Share this page with your friends!