The Role of Romance

After the discussions over the past month or so about the relevance of historical romance in the genre, I’ve asked myself why I’m drawn to it as both a writer and reader.
There’s been a number of posts on the subject that have been of particular interest to me (though this is not a comprehensive list):
All About Romance’s Where Have All the Historical Romances Gone?
Dear Author’s We should let the historical genre die
Badass Romance’s Historical Romance–Lament, or Let It Die
Little Miss Crabby Pants Resurrects Historical Romance
Discovering the Good C+: How Readers Could Help Reboot Historical Romance
I talked a little about why I’m drawn to my particular time period in What’s So Romantic about Medieval Times, but I think it’s worth exploring what the genre provides to readers more generally.

smoochImage from Microsoft Office

Romance Provides Escapism

Most media provide an escape from the everyday, and romance novels are no exception. However, I’d argue that the way romance novels interfere with and augment the mythologies women buy into and reinforce to themselves and others, make them a unique example of escapism.
In What’s So Romantic about Medieval Times, I posited that historicals provide immersion into worlds far different from our modern lives, and this escape was pleasurable in part because it provides a “safe” space where women can explore different romantic fantasies. This is true for any book, but the case of romances (regardless of subgenre) I think the “safe” space they create is interesting because it suggests there isn’t room in our current lives for such thoughts. It is only inside the cover of a book where it’s okay to get lost in these stories, full of love and longing and passion, yet those feelings remain crucially apart from our real lives.
Other posts more eloquently exploring this issue include:
Dear Author’s When we defend romance reading as escapism, the critics win
Valerie Parv’s Escapism – in romance novels, there’s no getting away from it
Wonk-o-mance’s On Escapism in Historical Romance and On Escapism in Historical Romance, Part II
Erin Satie’s Escapism(s)

Romance Reassures the Reader

There’s something so deeply satisfying from reading a well-done romance, or even rereading one that you remember fondly. These are stories you can get lost in, be reasonably assured that there will be a happy ending, and reduce what can sometimes be a very complicated world around us into a handful of recognizable tropes. Yes, you can argue that this overly simplifies things, but at the same time, such simplification may give the reader the hope and/or tools they can apply to their own lives and provide reassurance that everything will turn out all right for them too.

Romance Challenges the Status Quo

Women writing for women is an exercise of female empowerment, regardless of whether the resulting stories adhere to the exacting standards of feminism itself.
After all, romance is a great avenue to ask readers what if. What would they do if they were the heroine and not merely reading about her? This transformative quality of narrative storytelling posits questions to the reader they wouldn’t necessary ask on their own, explicitly or implicitly challenging the status quo or, in the case of historicals, what we think we know is true of the past.
A starting point:
Badass Romance’s Blogging, Romance, Genre, “Art” and Feminism?
The Atlantic’s Beyond Bodice-Rippers: How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism
Ceilia Grant’s Some (Further) Thoughts on Feminism and Romance
Jezebel’s Can a Romance Novel Be Feminist?

Romance Promises Readers More

As romance writer Samantha Holt describes in her post Why I Write Romance:
“ [Romance] taught me (amongst many) two things. It helped me understand sex between two loving partners and it taught me to fight for what I want and believe in, be it a man or a cause or a career. Romance is so much more than boy meets girl, happily ever after. It takes us on great journeys of self-discovery and sacrifice. Each character grows and learns.”
Romance as a genre tells women they are valuable, they are worthy of love, they can be something more. If romance is that “safe” space where readers can feel that way? Then I think that’s fantastic, and speaks to the staying power the genre has.

***

So there are a lot of reasons why romance as a genre is so important to me, but I think it’s this last one that speaks the most to me. That these books can inspire and instruct and give women the courage to seek out a worthy helpmate, that they don’t have to settle, that their happily ever after is just around the corner.
What about you?

 

5 thoughts on “The Role of Romance

  1. I love how you pointed out romance challenges the status quo, and encourages women to expect more and know they deserve more. With regards to historicals, I love them because the same prejudices and expectations regarding women, class, etc. are still here today (it’s just glossed over and less blatant) and I love reading about characters who successfully deal with these issues. It reminds me how far we’ve come as far as women’s rights are concerned, so I don’t trivialize words like “empowerment” and equate them with buying new shoes or make up or something (lol) as advertisers do.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I definitely agree that historicals can provide a lens to interpret today’s cultural issues and I too love seeing heroines who overcome them no matter what the era.

  2. Heaving bodies–yes! Longing aching gestures–too subtle. We tend to be uneasy about romance. I used to be and wrote about it in a blog post three years ago. Since then, I’ve written two romance novels.

    • This “uneasiness” is so prevalent. Even as an avid reader it took me a long time to admit to writing romance. I think it has to do with a streak of puritanism that still rears its head every now and again in society. So glad you’ve found your own happy ending writing romance!

  3. Pingback: Linkspam, 6/14/13 Edition — Radish Reviews

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