Sunday, September 5, 2010

TSS: Why are Romance Novels looked down upon?

The Sunday

I used to be a die hard Romance Novel reader in my teenage years. I used to devour Mills & Boon novels. Harlequin came much later. In school Barbara Cartland was more popular with her Historical romances , and Lucy Walker, whose romance novels were mostly based on the Australian Outback. Those novels helped us escape our studies taking us to the English gentry and to the remote Australian Outback. And others somewhere in between.

Those who think that romance novels are mindless trash, definitely haven't read any. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Most romance novels have good settings, wonderful dialogue delivery and most of the times, wonderful characterizations, of the main as well as secondary characters. We must not forget that these are fast paced too.

Even now I do read romance novels. I keep a romance novel for those in between times when one can't read heavy stuff or when one does not want to think. Or I read one if I want to read one.

To summarise a romance novel:

They meet, they fight, and they kiss and make up and live together happily ever after.But that’s not what I want to say. I find some similarities though there have been vast differences in those novels I read in 80s and now.

Similarity is that the hero is as handsome as ever. Tall, dark and very handsome in a rugged sort of way. He always has a scar somewhere on his body. The heroine is very beautiful, with a great figure.

Now for the differences:

In the eighties, those were kind of mild. The hero was either a tycoon, banker, rancher, prince or something like that fully loaded with money or what have you. Hope you get my gist. He was almost above the age of 35. The heroine was a secretary, nurse, governess, and housekeeper or was so young as to be made a ward of the hero. She was never with money. (Exceptions are there!) She was around 17-23 years. The age difference was always around 8-20 years. The girl was always untouched except by the hero. He was the only man in her life. Even if they parted and met after a few years, she remained one man woman. That couldn't be said about the hero. You see, man of the world and all that.... (Well, that's another thing altogether). In those novels, they only held hands, kissed on the last page and/or if there was love making scene it was never worded. Implied is the operative word.

Speaking of now, the hero is a trouble shooter, television journalist,undercover agent, and commander, Professor, artist, whatever. No change in his age. He still is more than 35 years of age. Has to have money! What is a hero without money? The heroine is not the same any more. She is very much the woman of the world. As powerful as the hero. And with as much clout and finances, sometimes more. Now the heroines are older, 26-35 years. They know what they want. They are not shy to get into bed with the hero if they so desire. Marriage is never the agenda. Infact it starts with sex right in the beginning (page 1) and love follows much later, if you call that love. Some of the so-called romance novels have become pornographic. How times have changed. Romance is no longer the same. We can't blame the new writers when sex stares at you from everywhere. Just look at the book covers!

Actually paranormal romances have brought a bad name to the pure romance novels. These are so explicit that I sometimes wonder who reads them. I really can't think of anyone who enjoys reading about explicit sex scenes between weird creatures. Not even one of my closesest friends who doesn't read anything other than romance novels.

Coming back, last few I read, the heroines were very very rich and the heroes were as poor as the churchmouse. One of the novels had the hero wholly illiterate, that made a refreshing change, heroine teaching him to read..

To tell the truth, I enjoy reading these after a fashion. Mushy or whatever! Reviewing those novels is not easy and neither is writing one. Oh yes, I tried writing one.

One of best romance blogs that I read regularly and sometimes comment is, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I think you ought to check it out to know for yourself.


vithya velaithan said...

I feel the same way about romance novels now. I used to devour a whole lot of mills&boon back when i was a teenager. However i got bored of them since the plot is predictable, there's always happy endings. But still there are some books which still remain close to my heart, like Inland paradise, Velvet glove and Brazilian fire.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I read almost everything but genre fiction. Why no genre fiction? It's too predictable for me. It tends to follow a formula. I like to read books that surprise me.

bermudaonion said...

I generally don't read romance novels, but don't have a problem with anyone who does. I do know some people look down on them, but I'm not really sure why.

Molly said...

I do not typically read romance novels, mostly because I am about the most un-romantic person you would want to know (my poor husband!!) This post actually inspires me to want to read a romance novel - not so much for the storyline (I am still unromantic) but for the lessons it can teach me about writing. Thank you for opening my eyes!

Unknown said...

I do not read romance novels, but I did enjoy your post. It was interesting to hear your perspective on how they have changed over time.

You'd think there would still be line of novels more typical of the books you enjoy. I thought they were much more in tune with what their readership wants in a novel than that.

MissMeliss - Bibliotica said...

There is a common misconception that the people who read romance novels are spinsters with tragic sex lives, but I've read a lot of research which points to the opposite: that the women who read them actually have better, richer, more active sex lives than those who don't.

As to why they're looked down upon...I think a lot of "genre" fiction is treated with less respect than it deserves, but especially in the case of romance novels, that's a mistake. Consider that those imprints - Harlequin, Silhouette, etc., tend to be aggressive about fostering new female writers, are among the only publishers who don't require agented submissions, etc.

On a more personal note, sometimes they're fun. They're easy escapist reading when you want something light and quick.

Literary Feline said...

It's a shame that people look down on any type of book, whether it be romance or some other genre type book. I would never look down on anyone for reading a romance novel or any other type book. Two of my all time favorite novels fall under the romance category: Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.

I admit though that I tend not to read a lot of romance--particularly if that's the main plot line. It's just my personal preference and has nothing to do with whether the genre is good or bad. That said, I love a good romance story line on the side. And I have read a romance novel here and there that I enjoy.

Like with all genre fiction, there is such a wide variety out there, from simple plots and characters to the more complex and even more character driven stories. People tend to lump genre fiction all into a very narrow category and don't realize how diverse it can be. And today, with so many novels crossing over multiple genres, you can't always label a book by type.

Stephanie said...

I admit, I am not a fan of romance novels. I don't begrudge anyone from reading them--to each their own, you know? Just not my thing!

Yvonne said...

Excellent post! I love romance books and frequently read Harlequin and/or Silhouettes. It actually depends alot on my moods. For now, I'm in a suspense mainstream mood.

The thing is, people don't realize that the romances are more than sweet romances...they have different series for everyone's tastes. When I want a romantic suspense, I go to the Harlequin Intrigues and they are very suspenseful.

Different strokes for different folks :)

Louise said...

Interesting post. I haven't read a romance novel for many years, but back then I used to read a lot of them, and know exactly what you mean with your descriptions of the 80'e romance novel. I do not look down upon this genre at all, it simply doesn't interest me these days, and there are so many other books that appeal more to me than a romance novel. But I am not one to look down upon any genre of books, I am just not interested in all genres myself.

Hillary said...

I read romance every now and then but it has to be something good, like Time travelers wife. I do not look down on them I guess they just don't interest me as much as they used to. I could do without all of the sex scenes. I want more romance.

Alyce said...

I don't read romance very often, but when I do it's usually a historical fiction/romance combo, or occasionally a smart chick-lit book. I'm definitely not a fan of the graphic sex scenes, and have given up on some otherwise interesting fantasy novels because of human/animal scenes that I thought were just odd.

Veens said...

I read romances, that's my guilty-pleasure. But then I am so offed by these covers and well sometimes by the story. A great mystery-suspense with romance will be a better read for me.

And really judging a person by what they read is like judging them with what they eat LOL!

Irene said...

Boy I wish you were my study partner in my Romance Writing Class. I too read romance when I need a break from the books that are "saving the world". It's sort of like putting your feet up in the sun and having a cool drink for your mind. Thank you for your post it's great. P.S. even though romance novels are frowned upon, they are the BIG money makers. Or so our publishers tell us.

Suzanne Yester said...

Great post! The Romance novel has indeed changed over time. I never read romance until a friend of mine a few years ago handed me The Glass Lake and it sat there for months. It sat there because I had that misconception about romance books. I finally opened the book and LOVED it! There was so much story, so much feeling, I was swept away. Romance is not my dominant genre of choice, but I do enjoy unwinding in a good Knight in Shining armor tale every once in a while!

Memory said...

Interesting observations! I haven't read many romance novels, but I'm not too sure why. I almost always enjoy some romance in my other fiction.

TexasRed said...

I read tons of romance novels as a teen, and read some occasionally now.

I find it interesting that several of my favorite Silhouette series writers are now writing thriller series: Kay Hooper, Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen. I enjoy the same character development and plots now from them as I did when they were writing series romance. Their current books are about 70% thriller plot and 30% romance, when before they were 70% romance.

Meghan said...

I enjoy a good romance novel every now and then! I loved them when I was a teenager, but I do think that many of them can feel sort of same-y, so they could never be the only thing I read. I agree that there is great storytelling and characterisation going on in the genre that is completely ignored by most people, which I've never figured out. Why is romance considered so trivial?

I completely agree on the paranormal romance btw. I really struggle to enjoy any of those, although I don't mind fantasy in general which is often lighter on the creepy sex.

Anonymous said...

It's not like I am prudish or anything, but I much prefer the older romance's rather boring when sex happens so early in the novel.

You forgot to mention historical romance, which is one of the most fun sub-genres I can think of :)

Molly said...

I hadn't read a romance novel in ages until I picked up "Soul Mate" by Ronald Lewis Weaver. It's all about fated love with a little bit of taboo mixed in, along with their mutual purpose together. I found it thorougly enjoyable, and like you mentioned in the post, totally different than anything I remembered as a 'romance novel'. Loved it and plan to get more!