Twice in the past week, I’ve heard comments from two different acquaintances that have made me think. Here is the gist of the conversations.
First conversation:-Her (with a smirk on her face): Please tell me you don’t write for Mills and Boon.
Me: No, not now, but I wouldn’t mind being published by them again.
Her (with mouth dropping open): Why? Their novels are rubbish.
Me: How long is it since you read one?
Her: I haven’t read any. I wouldn’t be seen dead reading one of that bodice-ripper kind of book.
Second conversation (on the phone conversation with someone I hadn’t seen for a couple of years):-
Her: So what have you been doing with yourself?
Me: Actually I’ve been writing novels.
Her: Really? Have you had anything published?”
Me: Yes, three novels in the past year and another one due out in June.
Her: Oh, well done. What are they about?”
Me: They’re romances.
Silence, then Her: Oh, sorry, I never read romances. They’re so predictable, happy ever after and all that.
I’ve paraphrased these conversations, but you get the idea.
The first conversation made me realise the stereotypical image of romance novels has persisted, at least for my generation, for 30+ years. The “bodice-rippers” were the hallmark of Mills and Boon/Harlequin in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and, in my opinion, gave romance novels a bad rap. They had archetypal characters and contrived plots, usually involving a virginal heroine who was ‘rescued’ or 'dominated' by an arrogant, alpha-hero (often an Arabian sheik, Italian count, Spanish prince, or Greek billionaire). These stories often contained a barely disguised rape scene (hence 'bodice-ripper'). The formula tended to be, 'I hate you, I hate you, I hate you' until the hero forces himself on the heroine, and suddenly she's madly in love with him! On the whole, this kind of novel has gone ‘out of fashion’ (fortunately, but with a few notable exceptions!). However, a kind of stigma still remains.
The second conversation made me wonder about the word ‘predictable’. Yes, romances have, if not a ‘Happy Ever After’ ending, then at least a ‘Happy’ ending where the hero and heroine overcome the obstacles in the path to reunite. The reader is left with the hope that they will be happy in their future together. Yes, the ending of romance novels may be considered 'predictable'. However, aren’t thrillers, detective stories, and mysteries equally predictable? The goodies will triumph, the baddies will receive their deserved punishment, and the crime or mystery will be solved. What’s the difference? Why are romance novels considered 'predictable', while other genres aren’t?
And why are romance novels considered by some to be the ‘lowest form of literature’? Why do people want to disassociate themselves from reading romance novels? I’ve had a few reviews which start, “I don’t usually read romances but …” as if that is somehow praiseworthy. It seems to be okay to say you read thrillers or mysteries, but not the ‘done thing’ to admit to reading romances, even though thousands (millions?) of women obviously do!
Have you come across this kind of ‘literary snobbishness’ and, if so, what’s your response?