Monday, 4 August 2014

A Bad Rap for Romance

I decided to have a big 'delete' session of my hundreds of Word documents, but then had second thoughts when I reached my 'Blogs' file. Some of these, either on my own blog, or on our writers' group blog, were written 5 or 6 years ago, but I think they may be worth 'recycling'. I'll work my way slowly down the alphabetical list, but here, for starters, is one of my 'A' blogs, first written about 2 years ago.

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?


  1. Paula, There definitely seems to be a stigma when it comes to romance. Which is interesting because time and time again, romance sales top all other genres across the board in whatever study seems to be prevalent at the moment. Which means there are obviously voracious romance readers out there. Why is it that only the narrow-minded people who have no basis/experience are always the ones who speak their minds?! Arghhh.

    1. Arghh, indeed, Debra. Makes me wonder who does buy all the romance books when no one seems to want to admit they read romances!

  2. It really annoys me when I hear that kind of attitude but I've stopped being apologetic about writing romance. We know it's often the highest selling genre so I just shrug now and hope those who like it will read it.