At first glance, Nancy Garden’s Annie On My Mind appears to be an unconventional romance. The setting in New York City and the queer relationship between the two main characters Annie and Liza, indicate that this story bucks the traditional conventions of romantic literature. However, the book adheres to the tradition of courtly love—a trope of classic romantic literature. In chapter five Annie and Liza role-play a knight and damsel during a visit to the Cloisters. Initially the role playing appears to be simply a continuation of the game they played at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the first chapter, however a closer reading reveals that the passage is an homage to courtly love.
It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect setting for a courtly love scene. The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. With its enclosed medieval ...view middle of the document...
Tokens of love reveal something about the nature of the relationship between two lovers. Lavender flowers represent devotion and virtue, by selecting it, Annie is symbolizing her desire to devote herself to Liza and her virtuous intentions toward her. The lavender reveals that this is no fleeting romance for Annie, rather it is something pure and true.
Because the women involved in courtly romances were typically married, their romances were typically secret affairs. Liza is eager to finish the role playing game “quickly, because the huge family with the obnoxious shutterbug was about to come through the door that led to the garden,” (54) signalling her desire to keep her burgeoning feelings for Annie a secret. Though she later confesses that she doesn’t want “to be sitting outdoors in public, with Annie, pretending we were just friends,” (142) it is only behind the closed doors of Miss Stevenson and Miss Winthrope’s apartment that Liza is full able to express her love for Annie, both physically and emotionally.
Sir Thomas Malory whom Liza references when she tries to remember the legend of King Arthur but ends up “sounding more like Shakespeare than Mallory,”(54) popularized courtly love in his work Le Mort D’Arthur. Mallory was himself a knight, and Liza’s attempt to channel him shows Garden’s attempt to have her slip into a typically male gendered role in order to advance the romantic relationship between Annie and Liza.
By having Liza and Annie perform traditionally gendered roles, the knight and the damsel, readers who are more accustomed to the common themes of heteronormative romances will be able to more easily identify with this lesbian narrative. Had Garden resisted the urge to have Liza slip into the typically male gender role of a courtly romance it would have provided the reader with the opportunity to see a conventional story played out in a very unconventional way. On the surface Annie On My Mind contains all the elements necessary to subvert the common themes of the romance novel, but the execution itself proves that this is actually a classic love story masquerading as an unconventional romance.