Monday, January 16, 2012

Romance: Why Is It A Dirty Word?

There is a lovely interview with Nora Roberts floating around the web (I found it when hunting through Claire Hennessy's blog for her series on writers and day jobs for my last post). I haven't read any of Roberts's books, but I loved how she sounded in the interview. High on books, low on crap.

Roberts writes romance, a genre I read now and again but have never written (I'd like to, someday). It's not a genre that commands respect. Chick-lit, at least, suggests that it might be funny. Romance has been perceived as light escapism for unhappy housewives. It has been criticised for giving women 'unrealistic expectations'. (Roberts's answer to that is great: "Because women aren't supposed to have expectations, right? We're pretty smart. I think we know the difference between reality and fiction. I don't think that people read Agatha Christie, and then think: I know, I'll go and murder someone.")

Roberts's response to the general lack of respect for romance is also interesting:
"it's just so insulting towards millions of people. Why would you apologise for what you read for pleasure? Just think of the illiteracy rate. Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work, why isn't that something to be respected?"

She's hit on something really interesting there.

As a woman, I feel I live in a society that tells me that finding Mr. Right, getting married and having babies is IT. Most books aimed at women my age involve some level of love story. Most magazine covers are emblazoned with stories about finding, keeping, improving or pleasing a man. Newspaper columnists are constantly telling me that while having a career and deep, close friendships is all very well and good, ultimately they will disappoint me when compared to paying 20k for a party and ending up covered in puke and stepping on Lego pieces when I get up to go to the bathroom at night.

Ahem. I'm just being bitchy there. Married life and parenthood actually sound like wonderful things. I don't know yet if they are right for me, or if I'll ever have them. But I'm constantly bombarded with the message that finding True Love is the only point to life.

And yet, romantic novelists today are writing strong, cool, independent women, feminist-y characters who seek and find fulfilling love. And they are not getting respect for doing that.

I know that as a woman and a reader, I would far rather curl up with a book that depicts a strong woman falling in love, creating a good relationship and being happy, than read yet another magazine article how to 'keep my man' (apparently just showing up won't cut it anymore. Who knew?). As a feminist, I think romance (and chick-lit) novelists today are sending a far more positive message than - well, most other writing aimed at women.

So, to recap - some elements of society say that relationships and marriage are the only things a woman should care about. But romantic novels are un-feminist and trashy.

I can't get my head around that. I think the only solution is to make some tea and read a good novel.

Some Nora Roberts, maybe. . . :)


  1. I love romance. I read it, and every ms I write has a romance as a significant subplot at least. It's just what I like. And I agree with you--I like strong, independent women who can find a worthy guy. I don't feel the need to apologize for what I like, or to defend it. The romance genre is thriving, so ... *shrugs* People will always have their opinions. Very interesting and thought-provoking post!

  2. Glad you enjoyed, Sarah - I just find it odd living in a society that foregrounds love and marriage but doesn't respect books about it! Seems very odd.

    Funny, my books don't often have that much romance. At best it's very much secondary! But I love to read it.

  3. It's preposterous to think there is only ONE road to happiness. Doesn't matter if we're talking about the kind of books one likes to read, or if we're talking about an individual's chosen path through life. In today's world of capable and independent women, it's ridiculous to believe a woman can only find true happiness if she finds Mr. Right. (Sometimes, Mr. Right Now is plenty good enough!) Seriously, you follow the path that works for you, and phooey on what anyone else tries to tell you. Oh, and some of Nora Roberts' books are quite outstanding. Check 'em out.

  4. I love Nora Roberts. She is my ultimate hero in writing romance. She personifies the attitude and zest I want to emulate in my own writing world. I love romances, reading them and writing them. They've changed a lot in the years since I started reading them, but they have retained one truth: hope that you can have a better life out there. Once I dreamed of escaping my northern mining town and going on a great adventure where a dashing handsome and fabulously rich man would make all my dreams come true. While the Physicist isn't fabulously rich, he was and is a very good looking man with a heart of gold. We've built a partnership and a life together as a couple and as parents. Has it been perfect? No. The Happily Ever After exists, but there are dents. Romances remind me why I fell in love, why I chose to seek out an adventure and believe that I could attain it. Romance RAISED MY EXPECTATIONS ABOUT MY FUTURE. I thank those little Harlequin books I read when I was a teen for showing me there was another way.

    Great post, Ellen. And follow your heart. You will become what you are supposed to become all in good time with or without a partner. Be true to yourself. Expect the best. And if someone comes along that makes your heart flutter and your pulse pound who ultimately is a keeper, remember that marriage is a journey with hills and valleys which can be a tremendous adventure but one can't be faint of heart.

    Choose wisely and you will be chosen wisely.


  5. Very interesting post. Nora Roberts is a really good writer. Her characterizations are rounded, her plots of interesting, there is conflict. It is a really good read. I think it's ridiculous that people put down other people for their taste in reading. I love good literature, I like chick lit, I enjoy romance. I don't like horror or sci fi. We all have a right to our likes and dislikes. But you are so right about how society tries to dictate our values.

  6. I must check her out, she seems to have a lot of very smart people liking her. :-)

    I think you're spot on, Ellen. I can't stand those glossy magazines and their "advice." Most of them tell you the only thing needed for a healthy relationship is sex. I still don't quite understand how this is meant to be sound advice for modern, capable women.

    It gets my hackles up to see anyone say that reading is "just" an escape. The fact is, the majority of genres of every form of entertainment offer escapism for their audiences. That's one part of them, but not the whole.

    I'm also typically against statements that any form of fiction inherently leads to negative behaviour or expectations. There's far too much to take into account regarding a person's unique circumstances to make such a broad statement. That said, I am wary of books and movies where the overall conceit of the story is that certain behaviour, which when looked at objectively is wrong or damaging, is depicted as a positive thing.

  7. I like the sound of that interview. And I agree, reading is for pleasure. Romance is a wonderful story-world of escapism. And hey, if it makes some people have some hope on the way I can only say keep them coming! It would be a really cool genre to write, but I'm terrified I'd be too bitter and cynical to turn my hand to it!

  8. You make a really good point. I'd just like to add that, in my opinion, writing a believable romance is pretty hard. I've tried and I can't do it!

  9. "I know that as a woman and a reader, I would far rather curl up with a book that depicts a strong woman falling in love, creating a good relationship and being happy, than read yet another magazine article how to 'keep my man' (apparently just showing up won't cut it anymore. Who knew?)."

    Yes! Indeed. I also think a lot of people rolling their eyes about romance haven't actually read that much of it. And agree with Paul re: idea of 'escape' - romance isn't inherently more escapist than any other genre. (Particularly with the Nora Roberts books I've read - do I dream of having the kind of horrific-yet-turning-women-into-kick-ass-heroines-who-get-a-good-guy-eventually experiences her characters have? Not even a little bit.)

  10. I really like that Nora Roberts quote!


I love comments!