Sunday, June 22, 2008


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the romance genre (like, say, all the guys on the blog), here are some definitions to consider, if you wish, in the BET ME discussion. They should help you to figure out, for example, why Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel and Gone with the Wind isn’t.

1. From the Romance Writers of America website:

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you!Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.
A Central Love Story — In a romance novel, the main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the relationship conflict is the main focus of the story.
An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending — Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice—the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.Once the central love story and optimistic-ending criteria are met, a romance novel can be set anywhere and involve any number of plot elements. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.

2. In A Natural History of the Romance Novel, scholar Pamela Regis offers a slightly more elaborate structural definition of the romance novel. Writes Regis:

The romance novel is a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines. All romance novels contain eight narrative elements:
A definition of society, always corrupt, that the romance novel will reform;

The meeting between the heroine and hero;

An account of their attraction for each other;

The barrier between them;

The point of ritual death (i.e., when all seems lost and they will never get together);

The recognition that fells the barrier (new information or the like);

The declaration of the heroine and hero that they love each other;

Their betrothal.

As Regis writes elsewhere, in a post to the RomanceScholar listserv, "These can occur in any order, each can be doubled or multiplied almost endlessly, each can occur 'off' and be reported rather than dramatized."

3. Here is a link to Teach Me Tonight, academics blogging on romance, in which Eric Selinger summarizes and glosses what Northrop Frye had to say on the subject:

When Frye talks about “romance,” he is thinking primarily of medieval romance and its near relatives: the likes of the Arthurian legends, The Faerie Queene, and William Morris. (I would add in Tolkien.) In his theory, each mode has six elements, and three of them overlap with the next genre before and after. Romance overlaps with myth and fantasy on one side, and comedy on the other. He also considers it an aristocratic genre, which explains why the heroines of historical romance novels always wind up married to dukes and earls and the heroines of Harlequin Romances get billionaires and sheikhs. If one examines the definitions of the romance novel, most of them fit Frye’s framework very nicely.
4. And finally, here is a comment from Mercedes Lackey, who writes fantasy which usually contains a romance element, from the preface to her latest novel The Snow Queen, one of a fairy-tale themed series published by Luna, the fantasy/SF line of Harlequin Books. She is talking about fairy tales and fantasy, but her remarks apply equally aptly to romance novels. After commenting on the fact that the past year had not been a good one for her, with an assortment of losses and injuries, she continues:

Soldiering on, the one thing I kept telling myself was that in all of this, I would get affirmations that people needed fantasy. When their lives were horrible, they always had a happily-ever-after to curl up with and make the world go away for a while. Heaven knows I certainly did. And I would hear that over and over from others—sitting in hospital waiting rooms or in hospital beds themselves, hiding in their bedrooms, finding a spot in the dorm where they could get away from roommates, in between job interviews…they would tell me they read to get away.

Dorothy L. Sayers used to say that mystery stories were the only moral fiction of the modern world—because in a mystery, you were guaranteed to see that the bad got punished, the good got rewarded and in the end all was made right.

I’d like to think that fantasy does the same thing. It reminds us that
this is how it should be; and maybe if we all put our minds to it a little more, this is how it will be. The good will be rewarded. The bad will be punished. Sins will be forgiven.

And they will live happily ever after.

While this blog is intended primarily for those intending to participate in the Bet Me discussion on Evil Editor’s blog, anyone is welcome to comment.