Natural History of the Romance Novel

I need to take a few notes form A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis before Teri takes it back (it’s overdue…oops).  I’ll skim the 224 page tome on my favorite genre and take notes.  I need to start preparing for the Oct. 20 event.  So far, I’ve mostly just been reading smutty paranormal romances.  Time to build bibliographies and such…

Talking points:

  • “Romances are the most popular books in the United States.” (Preface) – We have the Romance Writers of America statistics to prove it…
  • Even though people think ‘anyone can write a romance’ – it takes most romance writers just under a year to write a book (RWA website).
  • “Romance novels end happily.  Readers insist on it.  The happy ending is the one formal feature of the romance novel that virtually everyone can identify.” p. 9
  • Fiercest condemnation from critics is the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending – “The marriage, they claim, enslaves the heroine, and, by extension, the reader.”
    • Critics charge that the romance novel ‘extinguishes its own heroine’ – and ‘denies her independent goal-oriented action outside of love and marriage’ (p. 10)
    • Romance “binds readers in their marriages or encourages them to get married – it equates marriage with success and glorifies sexual difference.”
    • Pamela argues that all narratives end.  Ulysses isn’t extinguished at the end of the Odyssey.  The HEA of a romance is a victory!  Elizabeth Bennet is as feisty as Mrs. Darcy as she is single.  “We imagine that heroines go on, even if we do not see them do so.”  So, nothing is extinguished. Silly critics…
    • As for binding – we read romance not for the ending but for the process.  Novels are art – not a treatise on how to get married – they aren’t powerful enough to reprogram us!
  • “The romance novel is a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines.  All romance novels contain eight narrative elements:
    • Definition of Society – always corrupt, that the romance novel will reform
    • a Meeting – between the heroine and hero
    • an account of their Attraction for each other
    • the Barrier between them (the conflict that keeps them apart)
    • the point of ritual death (that bit where the relationship seems doomed)
    • the recognition that fells the barrier (overcoming the barrier is the ‘good stuff’)
    • the declaration of heroine and hero that they love each other
    • their betrothal
  • “Love plots abound. Sometimes they can drive the reading of a book.  Nonetheless, only some of these love-driven books are romance novels.” (p.50)
  • The first Best Seller?  Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson
  • Chapter 11 – “The Ideal Romance Novel” is awesome – it’s all about E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.  Long live Lucy  Honeychurch.
  • Romance novels are a sub-genre of Comedy, just with a Heroine at the center.
  • The Heroines are powerful – they can tame the alpha-male, overcome the barrier, survive the ritual death
  • Ooh, Chapter 16 “Danger Men” about Jayne Ann Krentz
    • Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance (1992)
    • Got started writing for Harlequin, Silhouette and Candlelight
    • She writes heroines that are “every bit as strong as the heroes themselves” – also witty, intelligent and fast-paced.
  • “The story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines, is, finally, about freedom and joy.”
  • Conclusion: Feature women who are individuals, in control, and have compassionate marriages, they make their own decisions, make their own money and get to choose their own husbands = “profoundly bourgeois” BUT these values “are the impossible dream of millions of women in many parts of the world today. To attack this very old genre, so stable in tis form, so joyful in its celebration of freedom, is to discount, and perhaps even to deny, the most personal hopes of millions of women around the world.” (p. 207)
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