Home » blog » Romance Novels – A Misunderstood Genre

Romance Novels – A Misunderstood Genre

Arabella By Georgette Heyer
By Georgette Heyer

As most who have read about me on this site would know, romance novels are my guilty pleasure. I love reading them. They have the romance that I crave, the tall dark handsome man, the happy ending that always makes me smile and sigh. Now, don’t get me wrong, I also love my classics to distraction, but a girl’s got to have some light reading now and then. So, I curl up in bed and read my romance novels.

Unfortunately, romance novels often get a bad rap. People automatically think of them all as bodice rippers with steamy sex scenes. Sex, however, is not what makes a good romance novel. The romance novel certainly didn’t start out that way. Its’ origins stem from the Gothic novel, a popular genre in the 19th century, and other early sensation fiction written by women. There was certainly no sex in those novels. People would have been scandalized. The Gothic novel, which is also the predecessor of our paranormal novels, was the beginning of sensational fiction, particularly involving in many cases a young woman in trouble who is then saved by a handsome man, whom she eventually marries. Anne Radcliffe is probably the most well known of the Gothic novelists, having written The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Romance of the Forest.

But let’s move forward to the first true romance novel. We get to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, considered by many to be the epitome of the romantic novel. It focuses almost entirely on courtship and is written from the female perspective. Again, I see no sex. Hmmm. It looks like there is a pattern forming. Jane Austen in turn inspired Georgette Heyer, one of the most well-known romance authors in history. She introduced the historical romance novel in 1921. Her novels are also hardly bodice rippers, instead focusing on the soul connection between the two lovers. Hyatt specifically brought the Regency historical romance to the forefront of people’s attention. She centers her novels on the wealthy upper class and the London season with its marriage mart. Her first romance novel, The Regency Buck, happens to be one of my favorites.

Since then, the romance novel has evolved and changed drastically over the years, particularly in the 1980s when many subgenres emerged and single titles began to be released. During this period the romance novel and the portrayal of its characters blossomed into the genre that we know today. More modern romances became popular and the characters were modernized to reflect the norms of this time period. Romance novels are the most popular genre in the literary world, comprising 55% of all paperback books sold. They are also read in numerous countries, having been translated into 90 different languages.

So why all the criticism and derision? Well, with the modernization of the romance novel came some subgenres that do focus on sex such as erotic romance. But this is just a small fraction of the entire genre. While there are many bodice rippers lining the shelves, there are also tons of clean romance novels; romance novels without any sex or nudity. These books are just as good as the other romance novels in terms of showing the relationship blossom between two characters, but they just leave out the consummation of that love. So, why are we booing romance novels? The genre is a great one, with every type of wish fulfillment you could ask for in a novel. Just because a book is a romance novel does not mean that it is dirty. We need to understand that distinction and correct the view of society. Romance novels deserve respect too! And so ends my defense of the romance novel. Go out and try one.

 Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel

Do you read romance novels? Do you have a favorite clean romance novel you would like to share with the world? Sound off below…



Love happy endings? Read Why Happily Ever After Deserves Our Respect.

Want a list of some clean romances to read? Check out my list of the Top 30 Cleverly Clean Romances to Sneak Under Your Covers.

Into paranormal romance? Be sure to read The Top 65 Paranormal Romances in Film, Literature, and Television.

Silver Petticoat Review Logo Our romance-themed entertainment site is on a mission to help you find the best period dramas, romance movies, TV shows, and books. Other topics include Jane Austen, Classic Hollywood, TV Couples, Fairy Tales, Romantic Living, Romanticism, and more. We’re damsels not in distress fighting for the all-new optimistic Romantic Revolution. Join us and subscribe. For more information, see our About, Old-Fashioned Romance 101, Modern Romanticism 101, and Romantic Living 101.
Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.


By on March 6th, 2014

About Rebecca Lane

Rebecca Lane grew up in the hot desert landscape of Tucson, Arizona where she decided early on she wanted to write, if only to mentally escape her blistering surroundings. She has always been enamored of the arts and literature. As a child she often wrote short stories, and rewrote the endings of novels that she simply could not abide. She received her Undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she was lucky enough to also spend a year studying at Oxford University. While she began her journey dreaming of the day she would sing opera in a large Manhattan theater, she found in the end she could not stand waitressing and simply could not give up books and her hopes of someday writing them. She is currently working as a freelance writer/editor and earning her Masters in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

More posts by this author.

2 thoughts on “Romance Novels – A Misunderstood Genre”

  1. No defense needed. 🙂
    I’d strongly recommend reading ‘Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women’, which is written by several leading romance authors and has a strong feminist perspective in support of the romance genre. In short: It’s interesting that the only genre which is getting this type of derision is a genre written *by* women, *for* women.
    I also make no apologies for any ‘heat’ level I choose to read or write in a romance. I’ve read far worse scenes in *non-romance* than I have in *romance*. Rape scenes are long, long gone from romance but they’re alive and well (and considerably more graphic and violent) in popular fiction. Again, this is acceptable, but consensual sex between adults isn’t? Pfft.
    I’ve also heard the classic, ‘Oh, I should sit home one weekend and hack out a romance novel and make a million,’ to which I just laugh and say, ‘Go ahead and try it, and tell me if you make it past a paragraph.’ It’s harder than it looks. And besides, in what other genre are you promised a happily ever after? 🙂
    But go, you, for holding your head high and sticking by what you like! You are not alone, sister.

    • Thank you! Wonderful points made. I completely agree. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there who appreciates a good romance novel. Here here! 🙂


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.