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.
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:
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:
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?