The Secrets of Romance Novels
Love, honor, self-determination, and liberal doses of passion are only a few of the elements of romance novels. From the “horrid novels” of the late 18th century to the breadth of romance fiction being published today, these stories, written primarily by women for women, address the wide range of issues that are important to their audience. At their most basic, the novels are well-written, diverse books with a single common element: the romantic theme.
There are those who consider romance novels to be less…er…literary than other genres (we’ll call them The Snobs). These assumptions are made in a time-honored fashion – opinions are absent of any supporting evidence. The Snobs have never read a romance novel, nor do they intend to do so. They are perfectly comfortable disparaging an entire genre without a second thought.
It’s their loss.
Those of us who know the truth are entitled to a smug smile of satisfaction. When we curl up with our favorite genre, we know our chances for a good book are fairly high (like any genre, romance has its share of wallbangers, but those tend to be due to personal taste than lousy writing). Some romance novels are like haute cuisine. Others are like down-home cooking. The experience can be sublime or comfortable with each being highly pleasurable. It’s what makes us seek new authors and it’s what makes us eagerly anticipate the latest offerings from old favorites.
So Why Subversion?
The single thing that romance novels have in common is the romantic theme. This focus on a committed relationship between two people doesn’t mean that all romances are the same (heck, how many couples do you know who met and fell in love in with cookie-cutter precision?). Every topic under the sun – and a few from galaxies far away – is fair game in the romance genre. Authors tackle heavyweight issues and lighthearted fantasy as a matter of course. Romance novels are, happily, as wildly diverse as romance readers, who are, contrary to popular myth, not all female.
So while the committed love story at the heart of the romance novel is a key component of the story, romance novels are much more than kisses and lingering sighs. The plot elements surrounding the central romance send many messages to readers, starting with the idea that women can shape their own destiny. Throughout it all, the books reinforce the idea that love is not a sign of weakness, but a source of strength.
All of this makes romance novels rather subversive. Well-written, optimistic stories that send a message of empowerment to both women and men – dangerous stuff indeed! It’s for the best that The Snobs have remained ignorant. If they haven’t been able to move beyond judging a book by its cover, they’re certainly not ready to become agents of change.