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How Erich Segals Love Story Shaped A Hopeless Romantics Idea Of Love

Before Nicholas Sparks and John Greene, there was Erich Segal. He was and to this day, remains the original creator of the quintessential love story. Segal is credited with giving every reader in the world, a love story; even if it was just in the pages of a book that still stands the test of time when it comes to classic romances.

© Hodder & Stoughton

It was one of the first grown-up books I read; a gift from my mother. And it doesn’t matter if you were a guy or a girl. Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’ was perfect, any which way. Oliver Barrett won every reader’s heart by being the typical rich boy with a point to prove, beyond the wealth inherited from his family. Jennifer Cavilleri was the quintessential high school senior who knew it all and didn’t hesitate to show it. The characters were relatable, real and likeable. 

From the very first page of the book, you were hooked. The opening lines of the book were “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And Brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.” 

How Erich Segal's Love Story Shaped A Hopeless Romantic's Idea Of Love© Yale Alumni Magazine

And after that, you knew there was no turning back. You wanted to know more—about the girl, the narrator and why he talks in the past tense. Segal had a way with words; that goes without saying. When you read some of his other works, like ‘Doctors’, ‘The Class and Acts Of Faith’, you can tell that it’s his narrative, his style, his soul in those words. At the heart of every story is love. And that is just the beginning of it all. Erich Segal did what most modern romance novelists don’t manage to do even today; never mind how hard they try, or how many bestsellers they churn out. 

There are some stories that get etched in your heart, that stand still through time and remain evergreen. Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’ is definitely one of those. There’s a reason why this 1970s novel became a cult modern-day classic that everyone had to read. There’s a reason why you can keep going back to this book and still find that every word, every feeling and every situation in the book still feels 100 per cent real; just like the first time. 

How Erich Segal's Love Story Shaped A Hopeless Romantic's Idea Of Love© Paramount Pictures

And that, right there is why it’s timeless. All the other books, ‘The Notebook’, ‘A Walk To Remember’, ‘The Fault In Our Stars’; all the other authors, Nicholas Sparks, John Greene—they came much later. Yes, they all resemble the basic story line—unrequited love, the death of one of the two lead characters; all very heart-warming and melancholic at the same time. But, they’re not a ‘Love Story’. They’re not Erich Segal. They’re not innocent and bold; real and magical at the same time. 

Maybe there was something about the time that it was written in. Maybe it was about the timing of the book. The original and first edition of the book was published on February 14th 1970. It was perfect. The 1970s was a time of turmoil all over the world, with the rise of a new order of politics; women, African-Americans and the gay communities were still struggling to have their voices heard. The aristocracy was still at the top and intellect was still a thing of the men. The England Cricket World Cup was one of the most highlighted events of the decade. In America there were antiwar protests, specifically from the working and middle classes. Women’s rights and the fight thereof were taking shape. Amongst all this, authors like Jonathan Livingston, Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway published their books. But, there was something about Erich Segal’s book being released on what came to be known as the ‘day of love’ across the world. It had a charm to it. The right people were talking about it; college students and high school kids were reading it—boys and girls, included. A movie was being made based on the book and Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal were to star in the film as Jennifer and Oliver. 

How Erich Segal's Love Story Shaped A Hopeless Romantic's Idea Of Love© Paramount Pictures

The film did justice to the book. But, today, we hark back to the book, like anyone would. You see, every good book has recall value. You can pick it up for the millionth time and feel as good as new while reading it. That was Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’. 

The essence of the book was that it taught us about love in a day and age when that emotion was desperately needed in the world. It taught us how to escape from grim political realities and believe in something so simple, pure and innocent; it remained untarnished by the realities of the times. It made readers believe in love, in finding a Jenny and an Oliver. In finding a middle ground where two people could love and be loved without being torn apart. Readers learned that love was not just about feelings and emotions related to individuals; but, that it was so much more—that love was about being the strength and the inspiration to overcome troubles together and become better human beings. 

Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’ taught us that essentially, at the heart of it all, love means never having to say you’re sorry. And every relationship that we nurtured ever since became measured by the value of that one sentence. Today, as a reader, when I look back to the moment when I read those words, for the first time ever, it strikes me in the most revelatory way possible. Back then, it seemed a bit odd; why wouldn’t we say sorry to the people we loved? Wouldn’t we be apologetic for having caused them hurt? And then, some 12 years down the line, it struck me that, in love, hurt is not really hurt. And so, there is no reason for an apology. Because love is understanding, even when there is a lack of it. And in that understanding, we accept and acknowledge all that is said and not said between two people. When you love someone, the way that Jenny and Oliver did, in ‘Love Story’, you don’t do anything to hurt them. None of your actions are meant to hurt either person. When you love someone you don’t have to say sorry. There is no room for an apology in love. Because love just is. 

How Erich Segal's Love Story Shaped A Hopeless Romantic's Idea Of Love© Paramount Pictures

And somehow, when you read Erich Segal, you learn about love—how you fall in love, how you love and how you stay in love, long after it’s over. That’s what he showed me in ‘Love Story’. That love as an emotion, all by itself is, undoubtedly monumental. But, when expressed and reciprocated between two people, it can be ageless. And yes, maybe that’s just the hopeless romantic nerd in me talking. But, who isn’t hopeless in love, anyway?

Photo: © Paramount Pictures & Hodder & Stoughton (Main Image)


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