Back to Top

Tag Archives: Romance genre

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gail’s post last week “About Those Dukes”, and also about this this article in the Smithsonian Magazine, “Why Can’t Romance Novels Get Any Love?”

The article talks about Germaine Greer’s “feminist call to arms”, The Female Eunuch (1970) in which:

“Greer was skewering the authors of romance novels, and the readers who made them bestsellers, suggesting they were submitting to nothing short of serfdom to their heaving, rippling fictional heroes: alpha males with giant pectorals, important lives, patriarchal views and very little interest in love…until just the right petite, witty heroine comes along.”

I love the idea that literary scholars like Sarah Frantz Lyons, who started the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, want romance to get the same attention from scholars as other popular genres such as mystery and science fiction.

“We’ve been talking about this for 30 years: since the 1980s at least, it’s been about empowerment versus oppression. Is this narrative empowering or oppressive to women?” she says. “We need new approaches to romance fiction.”

temptationIt’s the sort of thing Jennifer Crusie has been saying, probably even before this 1998 article “Defeating the Critics: What We Can Do About the Anti-Romance Bias”.

“But romance fiction insists that women be front and center, demonstrating over and over again that women can solve their own problems. Reading that kind of narrative empowers women and therefore attacks the basic assumption of patriarchy.”

I love this statement, and this is part of why I write romance. (I hope Crusie’s smart and sexy books are among those that will be studied.)

I’ve also read romance novels that tapped into fantasies that may or may not work with the idea of women solving their own problems.

I suspect part of the appeal of Duke and billionaire stories is the fantasy of never having to work a boring job or worry about money again. For personal reasons, it’s not a fantasy that appeals to me, but I can understand it. When I’ve been too busy taking care of others to care for myself, I daydream about tropical vacations where all I have to do is snorkel with pretty fish, get massages, and sip umbrella drinks. But I don’t really need a life of luxury. I need to rearrange my life so there’s more time for self-care on a regular basis. I’m working on that, but the vacation fantasies help me get through bad days. Likewise, a woman whose job is unpleasant or unrewarding, or who is struggling to make ends meet, has every right to enjoy an escapist story, even though she may also be actively trying to improve her situation.

I feel the same way about domineering, alpha heroes and “forced seduction” stories. Personally, I find some heroes cross the line from “alpha” to “abuser” and especially if I don’t see a real transformation, the story isn’t going to work for me. It is very, very important to me to see that at least by the end, the hero treats the heroine as a real person and an equal, neither domineering nor putting her on a pedestal. But each reader has the right to decide for herself which stories work for her. Perhaps some women can’t distinguish between the fantasy of being conquered and how healthy relationships work, but that’s no reason that others should not enjoy those books.

I do not care for censorship. What I do believe in is dialogue. Dialogue is good. Criticism is good. I’m thinking about all the conversation about Fifty Shades of Grey. I didn’t participate because I haven’t read it, but from the articles and blogs I skimmed, I could see there were intelligent points made. I believe we should all discuss, criticize, even argue about the books if we want, but judging people personally for their reading choices is just an exercise in ego.

Which gets me back to the academic study of the romance genre. Scholars will likely find many stories featuring strong heroines and the development of healthy relationships.

They’ll also likely read some of those old contemporaries I used to find around the house as a child, where the nurse always marries the doctor and the secretary gets the boss. (And in those old stories there were never any female doctors or bosses.)

purityspassionScholars may also include books like the one in this review on the Smart Bitches/Trashy Books site: Purity’s Passion. A quote, just to give you an idea:

We’re at the midpoint of the book, and let us tot it up: Purity has had consensual sex twice, been raped by six men (two of them multiple times), and nearly raped by a seventh.

So I don’t think a broad study of the romance will lift the genre as a whole to respectability. That’s not important to me. Although some romance novels are complex and beautifully written, not everything needs to be literary. Although I prefer to read and strive to write romances that end in what I think are healthy relationships, I do not deny others the right to read and write what speaks to them.

What I do hope is that the study results in some good discussion. Maybe some of those who haven’t yet tried a romance will do so, at least out of curiosity.

What do you think? Which romance authors or books do you think are most feminist, or most literary? Any favorite guilty pleasures you’d like to share?


What if you were asked What is a Romance Novel by someone who doesn’t read romance novels? A relative asked me this question. She’s an educated, well-read person, so I wanted to give her as good an answer as I could.

This is what I said:

Romance novels can be incredibly diverse, encompassing history (like me), suspense, elements of women’s fiction, comedy, paranormal, inspirational – you name it. They can also vary by tone from light “romps” to darkly emotional. But what they all have in common is that they are telling the story of a romance. The book is about the romance. The story is the romance–How two people fall in love and find their happily ever after. The happily ever after is essential. A romance is not about doomed romance or tragic romance. It is a celebration of successful romance.

What I mean is, an historical romance is not about the historical events; it is about how two people manage to find love together. Historical events might impact on them, but the story is about their romance. Same with Romantic Suspense- the story is not about—say—a murder mystery. It is about how two people find love together while impacted in some way by a murder mystery.

Because of the focus on two people falling in love, romance novels are basically character focused. And because nobody would read a book about a romance that goes smoothly from first meeting to the wedding day, there has to be conflict. There must be forces driving the couple apart as well as the attraction between them that make them fall in love.

The very best conflicts are internal ones, things about the personality or emotional characteristics of the hero and heroine that drive them apart. External conflict should also play a part. External conflict can often be what the hero and heroine think is keeping them apart, but really it is something inside them that they need to change in order to have their happy ending.

Romance novels today mostly have strong heroes and heroines. Gone are the victim heroines who must passively be rescued by the hero. Heroines need to act on their own behalf just as much as the hero. Characters must be three dimensional and must act in sensible ways or in ways that are understandably motivated.

The hero and heroine should not be “Dudley Do-Right” perfect; they should have flaws, ways they need to change in order to have their happy ending. The conflict should not be something that could be solved by a conversation. The hero, in my opinion, should be someone the reader will fall in love with; the heroine should be someone she’d like to be.

There are some “mostlys” we see in romance novels:

The hero and heroine mostly meet in the first few pages.
The hero and heroine are mostly together for most of the book
The plot is mostly fast-paced with a major turning point in the middle of the book and a “Black Moment” toward the end.
But none of these are hard and fast rules.
I also provided some links:

The best place to start is with Romance Writers of America. Here’s their take on what constitutes a romance novel:
Be sure to click on the link to the various subgenres as well.
Here’s a nice article from a respected romance review site where authors say what they think makes a romance.
Here’s another description – The essential elements of a romance novel according to Pamela Regis
Pamela Regis is an academic who has studied, taught, and researched the romance genre. She’s written a scholarly work on Romance Novels: A Natural History of the Romance Novel
Here’s a little summary:
And from my publishers, Mills & Boon, the UK branch of Harlequin- what constitutes a perfect romance

Okay….so, how did I do?

How would you have answered the question What is a Romance Novel?
What links would you have provided?
Speaking of romance novels, my cover of Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress is still up for best Historical cover at Cover Cafe. (So is one of Amanda’s covers) Vote here if you haven’t already, but don’t forget to vote in at least three categories.
On Thursday at Diane’s Blog, my guest will be Colleen Gleason, talking about her new adventure in publishing!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 13 Replies

One more snow picture….That’s me, age 2, sitting on a mound of snow in Buffalo, NY.

I’m pleased to report that the Washington, DC, area easily beat out Buffalo for the most snow this winter. I watched carefully as we inched up to the Syracuse totals…and passed them!!! Yay! We won the city with the most snow for the winter of 2009-2010.

And we totally toasted the 1898-1899 all time record. We’re NUMBER ONE!!!

Being snowed in for a week is a discombobulating experience (Can you tell?). You’d think that I could get lots of writing done, but, then, the neighbors are shoveling and peer pressure demands I get my shovel out. Then there is exhaustion….Lots of looking outside, commenting on how high the snow has gotten, whether the Federal Government (and everything else) would be open or closed…lots of gazing at the Weather Channel.

In between writing, shoveling, checking email, eating, and various other things, I also discovered some interesting discussions about the romance genre, articles that made my brain work AND supported my beliefs (what could be better?).

The is by Jessica Tripler, a romance reader and philosophy professor, whose blog is called Racy Romance Reviews:
Feminist Critique of Romance: Ur Doing It Wrong

Jessica responds to an article in an academic journal. From the article’s abstract:

This article ultimately endeavours to demonstrate that, textually, even the most recent incarnations of the Harlequin Mills & Boon brand fail to withstand feminist scrutiny. … Something of an antidote to the Harlequin Mills & Boon romance, Bridget Jones’s Diary explicitly answers and counters many of the low-brow romance’s perceived ideological failings–from THE BARRISTER’S BEDMATE: Harlequin Mills & Boon and the Bridget Jones Debate” by Rochelle Hurst, Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 24, No. 62, December 2009

The books Hurst decided to contrast with Bridget Jones’s Diary were the Harlequin Mills and Boon books of Emma Darcy. It may be just me, but I think it’s a bit snarky to put down a fellow Aussie who has been such a phenomenal success. Or perhaps to an Australian who doesn’t read romance, Emma Darcy is the only Australian Romance author, sorta like Nora Roberts…

Anyway, Tripler, with the help of Laura Vivanco of the Teach Me Tonight blog (more about her later) discuss several of Hurst’s misquotes and misteps in her research. Fascinating stuff, even though we hear the same old stereotypes of romance debunked again.

Next, we’re back to Yale. Andrea DaRif (Cara Elliott) and Lauren Willig are still calling attention to the romance genre with their very-first-ever Yale course on Regency Romance. This time The Yale Herald Online has an article by Katherine Orazem called In Defense of Romance: Proving the Stereotypes Wrong . Of course, the article is illustrated with a stereotypic parody of a Romance cover and this teaser: “Katherine Orazem investigates why romance novels do not get the respect (and love) they deserve.” I mean, why stick the “(and love)” in there? Makes no sense when romance outsells all other mass market books.

Orazem’s discussion is interesting and fun and the quotes by Andrea and Lauren and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are terrific. My favorite quote is from Harlequin Historical author, Louise Allen, in response to the feminism vs. romance novel issue: “Among the freedoms I insist upon as a woman is the right to my own fantasies.” Right on, Louise!

By the way, in my previous blog on the Andrea and Lauren’s Yale course, Andrea said she would post the syllabus and reading list when she could. It is now on her website. You’ll notice Amanda’s and Janet’s names on the reading list! I’m just saying….

Laura Vivanco was also quoted in Orazem’s article and has written some of her thoughts about it on the Teach Me Tonight Blog: musings on romance fiction from an academic perspective. Vivanco addresses Romance Novels: Literary Texts or Formulaic Stories? tackling the question of what makes a work literary or what makes it junk.

In her discussion, she quotes from Noël Carroll (“The Paradox of Junk Fiction. Philosophy and Literature 18.2 (1994): 225-241) who says “all cultural products contain a mixture of two kinds of elements: conventions and inventions.” Conventions and inventions! I like that!

Vivanco further mentions another blog discussing Carroll’s article about Junk Fiction–by Jessica Tripler on Racy Romance Reviews. Which brings me full circle. Another stimulating discussion…

What do you think? Do you like academic discussions about romance? Do you have pet peeves about romance stereotypes? Like always discussing present day romance as if they are exactly the same as the “bodice rippers” of the 1970s. Or that all romances are the same. Or that romance is about a woman subjugating herself to a man. What do you think?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 18 Replies
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By