A Brief History of the Romance Novel by Victoria Pinder is based on A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis of University of Pennsylvania.
As I am busy writing a novel, editing a novel and preparing to give this presentation at the local library on the History of the Romance Novel, it’s my work in progress. I freely went online as this was a learning tool for me, and since this is author to author tips, it’s important to know history. If we know history then, we’re smart enough not to make repeat the same mistakes. If I forgot a quote on the Nora Roberts section, I apologize and my starting place was Wikipedia for her. (Now I will add at the beginning that I love and adore Nora Roberts. Hearing her speak as key note was one of the highlights of my fan girl moments. She’s amazing.)
Anyhow here is my work in progress on the brief history of the romance novel to help inspire other authors.
“A Romance Novel is a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines.”Ask a clerk in a store or a librarian and they will likely take to you the literature section. King Author, Greek Texts, or any book where death and rape happen to the characters.
Now in ancient Mythlogy, in the Odyssey, Homer gives him a happy ever after. We know Penelope refused all suitors and only love her husband Odysseus. When he comes home he has to outwit all the traps Penelope put in place to keep all suitors away. But this story is still male oriented in nature.
And women have been taught since the cradle we can relate to male characters. However men generally are not and do not read female character driven stories.
In 1785 the literary preeminence of the modern romance began to form. We had a lofty picture of real life and manners and the times but in lofty and elevated language.
But then we had the romances written by men such as Sir Walter Scott and Nathaniel Hawthorn in the 1900s where women often write wrong and men write correctly times. Sir Walter Scott reviewed both Emma and Pride and Prejudice,
In 1816 Sir Walter Scott reviewed Emma, as being one of ""a class of fictions which has arisen almost in our own times, and which draws the characters and incidents introduced more immediately from the current of ordinary life than was permitted by the former rules of the novel"", and ""copying from nature as she really exists in the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader, instead of the splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him"".
Sir Walter Scott journal entry, March 14th 1826, Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!
(Much of this is taken directly from http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/janeart.html)
So of course he can do it himself. But in Waverly, Sir Walter Scott’s first novel, the hero stops loving the passionate Flora and chooses to marry the quiet, calm Rose… so we have a man deciding his type of woman.
But Jane Austen dared to allow her female characters to chose their own future husbands. The choice in a romance novel is often the woman’s choice on who she wants.
Georgette Heyer (August 16 1902 - July 4 1974) was an amazingly prolific writer who created the Regency England genre of romance novels.
Although Jane Austen published during this period (1811 - 1820), she was writing contemporaneously while Heyer was making very well-researched historical fiction, full of all you could ever want: romance, fashion, upper classes, cross-dressing, arranged marriages, murder, intrigue, cant language, sarcasm and humour!
Walk into any second-hand bookshop and they will know her name and may even know that she wrote her third book under the pseudonym of Stella Martin. In fact, you usually find that many people have read at least one of her books.
(Directly quoting http://www.georgette-heyer.com/)
Harlequin is a Canadian based organization that originally printed Agatha Christie, but found that their medical romances were their hot sellers in the 1950s.
They formed a partnership with Mills and Boon and conducted test markets to see what people preferred to read.
Until 1975, when Harlequin bought Janet Dailey, all Harlequin books were still based in England from Mills and Boon.
The 1960 Rejection of the Romance Novel from Feminists
In the 1960s women fought for their place in the workplace far more and in the 1980s the war was ongoing for women to be treated equally to men.
If you were pregnant at your job in the 1970s, the boss had a right to fire a woman.
And instead of seeing that the romance novel is about a woman’s choice in her life, the critique that she must be married and settle for a tame life came.
This fundamental shift in society gave birth to the term’ bodice ripper.’ This is where the woman might get sort of raped at the beginning, but it blossoms into love. I honestly never read them, but that’s not what a romance is today. In fact rape of any sort doesn’t typically happen in the modern romance.
Nora Roberts to Today
Nora Roberts is just a prolific and even more read than Steven King (who I highly respect!). Her sales numbers are there.
But in the 1990s the books being sold in the stores as best sellers certainly didn’t legitimize the romance world. The New York Times reviewed mystery and other male dominated genres, but ignored the romance.
Romances are often written by woman and for women readers. The female point of view is most important. In fact the male point of view in a romance novel did not come into vogue until the 1980s.
In the Natural History of the Romance novel , she expands the definition of a romance to include eight elements. The initial state of society where hero and heroine meet, the meeting of heroine and hero; the barrier to the union; the attraction of the heroine and hero; the declaration of love, the dark moment, obstacles overcome then finally the happy ever after. Kristin will go into this more!
Romantic Fiction is not Romance
All fiction likes to include romantic elements to it. And I’m all for it. In Tess of the Duberville’s by Thomas Hardy back in the 1800s, we had the main female character unable to marry the man she loved because her virginity was taken from her in a brutal rape and apparently the first man a woman has sex with is all she is supposed to be with… this was the impression that book left on me, and no I will not be reading.
I’d also skip an Oprah book or a lifetime movie where the heroine must get beaten because she chose the wrong man. In a romance novel, the heroine gets rewarded with a happy ever after because she made the right choices.
The modern novels of Nora Roberts and almost any romance novel today has the female character in all sorts of roles. She can be head of an army, running a corporate empire, or in a traditional role of say a teacher. She is anyone and she is on the right path in life. The icing on the cake is the man and the romance.
To me this is what makes a romance memorable.
Talk To Us
What makes a romance memorable to you? What are your thoughts on the history of romance novels?
About Victoria Pinder
Victoria Pinder grew up in Irish Catholic Boston then moved to Miami. Eventually, found that writing is her passion. She always wrote stories to entertain herself. Her parents are practical minded people demanding a job, but when she sat down to see what she enjoyed doing, writing became obvious.
The Zoastra Affair, Chaperoning Paris, Borrowing the Doctor, and Electing Love, Mything the Throne and Favorite Coffee, Favorite Crush will be published in 2014.
Now she is represented by Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Also she’s the Vice President for the Florida Romance Writers. Her website is www.victoriapinder.com.
Chaperoning Paris, a Mainstream Contemporary Romance, with Soul Mate Publishing in June
Gigi Dumont never forgot how she walked away from the only man she ever loved.
She’s a teacher who has led her students to the finals of an international French competition to be help in Paris. The night before the trip, the principal tries to cancel the trip before he, in turn, loses his job to her high school boyfriend, Sean Collins.
Sean Collins has survived cancer, a divorce, and Gigi having aborted their child back in high school. He assumed he’d hate her, if they ever crossed paths again. But he discovers she’s exactly what he wants.
When Gigi and Sean are stuck together for a week in Paris, Gigi feels she has lost all her control. How can she survive her attraction to Sean? The man’s sexier now than he was back in the day, and once upon a time, he’d had her heart. She finds herself falling for him, even knowing forever is impossible.