Monday, February 7, 2011

Not Your Mama's Mantitty

Romance novels get a bad rep, I think.

  When people think romance novel they still think of the covers where the heroine has impossibly big 80s hair and blue eyeshadow, bodice askew, being held by an equally big haired Fabio with like a swan coming out of his rear (or so it would seem...there's many good critiques of covers over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)...
   Back then it was all Alpha Male is Alpharific! Here, milady, have a punishing kiss and some sexy times of dubious consent!

 The thing is, things have changed as they are wont to do.

 Romance novels have in the past decade or so shifted into stories that are witty, fun, clever, dark, poignant, or even in Middle English dialogue.  It's historical fiction with romance. They are some of the smartest books I have read, to be honest, and most engaging.
The heroines are more fully fleshed out characters, the heroes less of the 'dominating, rapistish-like' heroes of yore. There's the history of the era present, the deliciously fancy language (I love big words).
 And the thing is, for most of fans of the genre- It's not even really about the sex scenes.
 Yes, they're nice and all when well-executed, but most every review is based on plot and characters, and the romance itself. Not if the two leads are boffing in a stable.
  There seems to still be the lingering notion romance novels are "porn for bored housewives".

 This could not be more wrong at all. All sorts of women, even men, read romance. Teachers, professors, lawyers, businesswomen, etc.

 Ex- I was a Dean's List student in college that has seen a GPA 3.5 and higher on my transcript. I am applying to graduate school. I have read the Classics, I love Greek tragedies, I love Austen, I love Poe, and Nick Hornby.
  I study European history on the side as a hobby. Let's talk Tudor dynasty some time if you dare. I am working on two romance historical fiction manuscripts.

 Enough on me.
 Even the authors themselves are women who are certainly smart ladies.
   Julia Quinn, one Avon's most prolific authors and agreed by consensus of fans Writer of Some of the Best Dialogue Ever, has books in which 80-something% I believe of the SAT/GRE vocab words are contained within. She was studying at Yale Medical School to be a doctor, but found writing to be her calling. I know I thank her for that decision, I love her work!
  Eloisa James, another prolific author, is actually in reality Mary Bly- a tenured Shakespearean professor whose academic writing has been published by Oxford Press. She also currently head of the Creative Writing Department at Fordham University. She essentially "came out" in 2005 at a faculty meeting.

 Romance is about 60% of the sales of all fiction genres.'s pretty much the best-selling fiction. It has a very smart and loyal fanbase. Romance Writers of America is one of the largest writing associations in the country with one of the largest conferences anually.

 So can the bad reputation for being "bodice rippers" please end already?


  1. I've found that so many of the people who diss romance novels as being rapey bodice-rippers with cardboard heroines are people who don't actually *read* romance novels. I remember reading some trashy romance novels as a teen, back in the 80s, and hated them because the men just couldn't handle "willful" women -- the women always had to change to be what the so-called hero wanted. And if she didn't, then by golly he'd teach her how to be a woman, even though she might be mumbling "no" through half of it.

    Today's heroines are smart, strong, sassy, and empowered. They like sex and don't faint at the sight of a penis, and they don't apologize for it. While they get the Happy Every After ending, part of the journey involves their discovery of self empowerment - they are able to have that HEA *because* they're tough cookies, not in spite of it.

  2. One of Jude Devereaux's novels in the Velvet series, the one with the heroine being Judith. Man, I loved her but I HATED the hero. He was, quite plainly, a super douche who had most items on the list of Douchebag Alpha Asshole Hero Checklist items crossed off. The Velvet Promise it was.
    Gavin Montgomery. Even his own brothers and later on more awesome heroes than him, basically call him an asshole.

    There's a scene in Sherry Thomas' "Not Quite a Husband" where the heroine reminisces about an instance with her husband before they married.
    Sex comes up and she gets very clinical about it (she is a doctor), shows no sign of being afraid of talking about it, and the hero decides that's a good time to kiss her.

  3. I think genre fiction in itself suffers from the same problems. Fact is...there are always going to be issues with romance plots in some books because they're there for escapism. They're ideals. As women, we can have some funny ideals (like the stalker-esque hero who's still so popular). I agree that there's some intelligent roomance out there by intelligent authors; same as any genre, though, that there's also some tripe. Romance in particular gets the bad name because it found a successful formula and, in the beginning, branded it to the point of a very specific remit.

  4. LV,

    That is a great point actually, especially about the escapism, which in some manner can be found in fantasy or other genres as well.
    I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Literary fiction vs genre fiction, etc. etc.
    I enjoy both, but I am very aware there's something of a divide still between the two.
    But I think it is getting better in terms of the academic world.
    At my alma mater, one of the faculty in the MFA for Professional Writing is openly stated on the university site as being a RWA card carrying romance author. Another professor teaches spefically genre fiction in the form of horror/thriller.

  5. I completely agree with you here - I love romance with strong, feisty female characters and men who like them for who they are :) It's what I write, as well as what I love to read!