From Austen to Heyer, romance novels have been present from the early 1700s and onwards, pressing down deep into the genre market and creating a different species of books, of which 50% are sold in just America alone.
The rise in popularity of romance novels, evidenced by 74.8 million people reading romance novels from 2008, their steady gait upwards towards the point of success and beyond may showcase the public’s love of romance novels as a genre and create a productive driving force in the romance novel market. From the 1930s, when Mills and Boon began releasing hardback novel copies, specifically tailored to romance, within the UK, to the 1950s when Harlequin published Mills and Boon, creating a large scale romance novel mart, leading to the first American romance novel by Katherine E. Woodiwiss in 1972 in paperback.
A sub-genre within romance, founded from the 1980s, a risqué term for romance, then known as the ‘bodice ripper’ may be seen as the true step forward into plot-lines that featured romance as known today; protagonists with realistic personalities, and the value of love within a sexual relationship. The development of romance, it’s evolution in terms of content and quality is tangible since the 80s, with females featuring in more male-dominated jobs, smaller age gaps, complexity of characters and realism. The concept of a satisfied ending may bespeak of an ideal within the romance genre; the ideal that it is possible to strive towards a perfect life within fiction.
Romance novels may be built on the foundation of escapism and adventure in reader’s lives, an alternate reality and a definitive and reassured ending. Psychologically, some romance novels may even be seen as comforting; the predictable endings which carve the genre giving reader’s a chance to, maybe, involve themselves in the story that small bit more. Romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ belief that romance is a victory for the protagonist, an act of overcoming, prospering and successfully achieving an ending that reader’s are satisfied with may testify towards this.
The perception that romance has to offer about society may be seen manifest in the development of women’s jobs within the novel, hand in hand with the reality of women and their treatment in the real world. Jane Austen’s novels featured love and pairings against a backdrop of a certain society, in which musings, comedy and overall productive and beneficial skepticism ensued. As a contextual device, romance novels are able to pick apart the society of its backdrop in order to create complications to further develop the relationship it focuses on. It may be seen as an observant genre, giving an insight into the mind of the time, the views of the author and, perhaps even, the casual ramblings hidden within the lovelorn sentences. Complex and intellectual, romance may be seen as idealistic and practical, a heady hand in hand mixture.
Romance novels, targeted towards the leisure and enjoyment for women has allowed the genre to reign supreme, simply due to its connection with so many of the gender throughout the world and over time may be correct. However, romance, as a genre, may be more than just an untapped and subversive feminist movement, reinforced by authors such as Jennifer Cruisie who believe that romance is a journey for the protagonist to remain true to herself. Perhaps romance speaks to the reader’s in a more optimistic way, giving the potential for a buoyant ending which may allow people to feel light in a manner that only art can supply to the mind.
The genre may be more than just subversive, a way for women to feel secretly powerful; a movement in terms of what is expected out of life, relationships and society. The complexity of romance, reinforced by the change in context from the Woodiwiss ‘bodice rippers’ of the 80’s to the more sensitive, detailed hero of Lisa Kleypas or Sarah Maclean present the essence of the romance novel as an evolution, a development and a learning curve for society through the words of authors.
Which romance novel is the best form of escapism and why?