about romance fiction. My mom reads the
books, and I picked up the love of the genre from her when I was a teenager. She always had a tottering pile of novels beside
her bed that I’d rummage through for something to borrow. Now I write historical romances and, in my
day job, I’m a college professor of gender studies and cultural studies. For the past several years, I’ve included
romance fiction in my teaching while I’ve been writing an academic book
entitled Happily Ever After: The Romance
Story in Popular Culture (forthcoming in mid-2015 from Indiana University
a big box that I bring into class and write responses on them. We do cut-up exercises with the novels to
create alternative storylines. We write
a collaborative online romance with scenes ranging from suspense to spicy
erotica. I’ve set up a romance lending
library in my office; my eight-year old son decorated a poster for borrowers to
write down comments about the novels they check out. As I draft my academic book, I workshop
chapters with the students in order to get feedback.
feedback from readers here, on some of the book’s conclusions. I propose that romance novels have nine
essential elements. (I’m playing off Dr.
Pamela Regis’s work in her wonderful 2003 text A Natural History of the Romance Novel.) What do you make of my list so far? Do you agree or disagree? Am I missing anything? All comments welcome!
the romance narrative:
It is hard to be alone.
We are social animals. Most
people need and want love, of some kind.
Amid all the possibilities for love as philia (friendship) and agape
(spiritual or selfless love), the culture often holds up eros or romantic partner love as an apex of all that love can be
It is a man’s world.
Women generally have less power, fewer choices, and suffer from
vulnerability and double standards. They
often get stuck looking after men or being overlooked by men.
Romance is a religion of love.
Romance entails belief in the power of love as a positive orienting
force. Love functions as religion, as
that which has ultimate meaning in people’s lives.
Romance involves risk.
Love doesn’t always work out.
Desire can be a source of personal knowledge and power but also of
deception and danger. Romance fiction is
the safe, imaginative play space to explore the meaning and shape of this
Romance requires hard work.
Baring the true self, making oneself vulnerable to another is hard. Giving up individuality for coupledom
Romance facilitates healing.
Partner love leads to maturity.
Love heals all wounds. Love
Romance leads to great sex,
especially for women. Women in romance novels are always sexually
satisfied. Romance reading can connect
women to their sexuality in positive ways.
Romance makes you happy. The
problematic version of this claim is that you need to be in a romantic
relationship for full happiness. Here,
romance fiction can be oppressive if it mandates coupledom for everyone.
Romance levels the playing field
for women. The heroine always wins. By the end, she is happy, secure, well loved,
sexually satisfied, and set up for a fulfilling life. The romance story is a woman-centred fantasy
about how to make this man’s world work for her.
is a professor of cultural studies and gender studies at the University of
Alabama. Catherine won the Romance Writers of America Academic Research
Grant in 2009. This essay is from her forthcoming (2015) academic book
HAPPILY EVER FTER: THE ROMANCE STORY IN POPULAR CULTURE. A lifelong
reader of romance novels, she combines fiction writing of historical romance
with academic writing about the romance genre for the best of both
worlds. Her latest Victorian romance ebook KNIGHT OF LOVE was released in
June 2014 by Simon & Schuster. See more at:
Click here for a video interview of Catherine by the Popular Romance Project:
Thank you, Catherine.
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