11 November 2013
The Romance Novel
"It is a truth universally acknowledged..." that romance novels are one of the most popular genres, especially among women. Romance was the top-performing category on best-seller lists in 2012, generating 1.438 billion dollars in sales. The genre that began with Pamela, was epitomized by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and has become one of the top-selling genres in the United States, has changed only slightly over time, remaining basically true to its original form.
But what is the original form of a romance novel? And what is a romance novel? We use the term often enough, but what does it actually mean? In her book A Natural History of the Romance Novel, Pamela Regis defines a romance novel as “a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines (14).” Also in her book, Ms. Regis gives eight parts that all romance novels have:
“... 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; the recognition that fells the barrier; the declaration of heroine and hero that they love each other; and their betrothal (14).”
These eight parts make up the typical form of the romance novel. Meaning that, in one way or another, these six parts are in all romance novels, whatever their subject and whenever they were written. Another topic that appears in most romance novels is the feminist angle, the idea that women should be able to “choose marriage partners for personal, relational reasons rather than for familial, economic ones (Green 161).” While how this angle was portrayed in writing changed over time, it was still a topic that made an appearance in most, if not all, romance novels.
Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is "universally acknowledged" as the first romance novel. The story is about a servant girl named Pamela who is constantly flirted with by her master Mr. B. She continually pushes away his efforts, protecting her virtue and keeping her moral standards high and intact. Eventually, however, when she is sure his motives are pure and his declarations of love honest, she marries him. “This little book will infallibly looked upon as the much-wanted standard for this kind of writing (Richardson iv).” J.B.D.F. supports the morality of this novel in his preface to the 1958 publication. He says:
“The greatest regard is everywhere paid to decency, and to every duty of life: there is a constant adaptation of the style to the persons and characters described; pleasure and instruction always go hand in hand; vice and virtue are set in constant opposition, and religion everywhere inculcated in its native beauty and amiableness, not dressed up in melancholy or debased below its due dignity, in compliment to...