Respecting romance novels….it’s at the heart of who we all are.

We live in a world where inclusivity is increasingly important, quite rightly, but in the world of literature, not all novels are deemed equal. Romance fiction is often viewed as second best, somehow less worthy than other genres.

The focus of romance stories is the developing affection between two or more characters. Romance is a narrative genre with plenty of conventions, tropes, sub-genres under its umbrella. The novels are popular, uplifting, they captivate, fascinate, arouse sympathy. All literature is about taking a reader somewhere in their imagination, giving them a character or several characters they can empathise with, and romance novels achieve this in bucketloads.

Years ago, as a student of literature, I tried to avoid what I thought was ‘mushy’ romance – I had no time for heroines in flouncy frocks who sighed over men and waited passively for them to make their minds up about whether they loved them or not. I wasn’t a fan of classic love stories – Jane Austen, for example – the idea of Papa’s privileged heroine looking for a husband put me off. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Really? But then I grew up and read her books again. There was so much more wit and excitement to her writing than I thought.

I rethought the importance of romance in books – love is a central part of all our lives. The novels and plays and poems I loved most were stuffed with so much romance. Just look at any Hardy, Brontë, Shakespeare, Hopkins, John Donne, Zola, D H Lawrence, Dickens. Or modern writers – Winman, Winterson, Shamsie, Safran Foer, Hosseini, Walker. The ups and downs and pitfalls and power of love are packed between the pages. It’s a primal human response, to passionately seek love out, to find one’s soul mate, one’s equal, to love and be loved. And of course, it never runs smooth, does it? So many of the great classics have love at the centre. They are not so far removed from romantic novels at all.

Nowadays, the romance genre is exciting and relevant. The heroine is invariably feisty, gutsy and independent. She has the potential to go it alone. The writing style is witty and clever, with well-developed, interesting characters and cleverly contrived plot twists. The storylines focus on emotional intelligence, empathy and a quest for love – in the modern world of political turmoil, it’s not just about escapism, it’s about concentrating on what really matters: diversity, positivity, self-belief, equality, kindness and having a good heart.

Romance as a genre is accessible. Most people have, at some time in their life, experienced the complexities of love, being in a couple, out of a couple. Most of us have enjoyed the buoyant feeling of being in love, suffered rejection or betrayal, behaved badly, behaved with dignity, behaved in a way they’ve later regretted. Romance doesn’t just feature in romance novels: it’s part of crime novels, thrillers, comedies, historical tales, so many genres, because it’s so important. And the story’s not always predictable: the outcome may vary from happy to sad to a complete surprise. Even if a romance ends as we expect – the protagonists find each other and stay together – it’s the journey that counts for everything, the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the ‘will they, won’t they?’ And, most importantly, how will it happen? It’s in the journey from beginning to end of the story where romance writers create suspense, pathos, comedy, tragedy, catharsis.

For me, to be able to respect and to empathise with the main protagonist is pivotal. We now read about women who are in control of their own destinies; they are strong, feisty, determined, and they compete against all odds. They are human, vulnerable at time, but they are complex and fascinating, and their romantic counterparts deserve them as equals. The women we root for now are badass characters in their own way, more Eleanor Oliphant than Bella Swan. But they are no longer perfect, not ridiculously rich and excessively beautiful or reliant on a father or a husband to make their decisions for them. They are not always upper or middle class, privileged, white, young, heterosexual or professional. They are modern role models. Now we have heroines we can relate to because they are just like us – they make mistakes, they put things right, think things through, follow their hearts, display courage. They progress, learn and forge their own destiny. It may take them the entire novel to get there but that’s exactly as it should be – it’s what happens between the pages that makes the story sing.

It’s also good to have male protagonists who are loved by the heroine and the reader alike because they are imperfect, vulnerable, funny, kind. The brooding hero who is simply rich, good looking, superior, unattainable and a little bit dangerous is thankfully not vital to a story. In romance novels, we look for complex characters who have a credible background and history, who are genuinely interesting and attractive beyond the limited stereotype. I could list so many books by superb writers at Boldwood Books in many genres, (I won’t, because I don’t want to leave anyone out…) that put me in awe of the writing style and the storyline, the characters and the setting. Readers are invariably offered an intriguing location and a fascinating protagonist who is thwarted in her/his attempt to achieve equality, love or happiness or justice. These writers are talented at their craft; the characters are zingy, the plots are fascinating and style bounces off the page. It’s unfair to think that, because the characters in their books find love at the end of the novel, the genre is somehow less important. The development is everything.

It’s a shame to write off any novel with romance in it because the subject matter is deemed to be less worthy than another. I know many people who’ve been cheered, validated, made to smile, to believe in second chances because they’ve read romantic literature. There’s a level of snobbery, sexism, misogyny even, in refuting the importance of the genre. I receive many messages about how one character or another in my books has made the reader feel uplifted, happy. That’s true of my contemporary writers – it’s something we hear from readers all the time and it’s most welcome.

The romance novels I read are written by clever men and women who are to be valued for their art equally to any other art form. Their readers enjoy being transported to a magical location, following the adventures of a feisty female or fascinating male who is determined that life’s pitfalls will not grind them down.

No single genre, or person, or anything in life should be made to feel less than another. As a youngster, I did Jane Austen a disservice to think her stories might be trivial. They are bursting with wit and wisdom and an insight into fascinating people, times and culture. She was such an inspiration and I’ll end with two of her quotations that speak louder than all of this article.

I’ll offer them up as a rationale for romance books.

“None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 

Persuasion (1817)

“We are all fools in love.” 

Pride and Prejudice (1813)


8 thoughts on “Respecting romance novels….it’s at the heart of who we all are.

  1. I can’t totally agree that today’s romance novels are as exciting and relevant as they could be. Yes, many novels will include some romance, but when they focus solely on the romance and getting married, they turn me off. I like the stories about feisty, independent women who are goal oriented and just happen to find time for a man along the way, even if it is only temporary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree, Davida. I don’t read as many romance novels as you probably do, and I’m very selective. I wouldn’t bother reading on if I uncovered a story about a passive woman who was looking for a man and that was what drove her. Not for me at all. If my women aren’t strong and independent, or don’t grow to be so throughout the novel, I wouldn’t write them. It’s interesting to know that there are still some soppy heroines out there…I thought they’d all faded out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m with you totally. I’d really hoped that the passive heroine was a thing of the past… Thanks for sending your comments. It’s good to know that bloggers like substance and not sop – certainly the astute ones!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. It’s about strong women who make their own decisions and lively stories that uplift readers. There are some brilliant writers out there. May it long continue! Sending best wishes. xx


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