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Romantic Fiction: From Whence We Came

October 18, 2010

Not long ago, someone asked about the origins of Romance as a genre on one of my many yahoo groups. I thought it might be interesting to look at our roots.
Prior to about WWII, Romance had a totally different meaning when it came to literature. Romanticism as a movement from 1798 – 1832 was both literary and artistic in reaction to the restraint, rationality and universalism of the Enlightenment period of 1680-1820. The Romantics celebrated spontaneity, imagination, subjectivity, and the purity of nature, as well as the goodness and badness of human emotions.
Notable authors from the period are Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, William Blake, John Keats, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, and William Wordsworth among others. One of my favorites was Mark Twain, whose Joan of Arc I consider one of the best researched and well written of the all-time great Romantic Novels. And, of course, who would have thought of Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a Romance?
Romanticism as a literary form was set by the 1830’s as an accepted genre and no longer considered a movement. Gradually over the years, the literary form mutated and grew until it has taken on two forms. Literature (either nonfiction or fiction) with romantic elements and what we now can Romantic fiction with all its many subgenres. The HEA idea sprang to life after WWII and into the 1950s as many of the women who had been working went back home when their men came home from war – many wounded – and some didn’t come home at all. There had been so much grief in the world from WWI, the Depression, and WWII that women tended to pass by books in which reviews indicated a sad ending and they more and more purchased those with HEAs from Mills and Boons, then Harlequin. I must also admit to at one time being a Barbara Courtland fan, along with her many ellipses.
It wasn’t till the late 1980’s to the early 1990s that HEA became a publisher guideline requirement. Interestingly, we recently had an inspirational author with one of the NY Houses strike a new meaning with HEA in Romance. Deena Gist wrote a book a few years ago in which her heroine’s HEA involved remaining single and still finding happiness. The same novel also involved a heroine having consensual sex outside of marriage, another first for an Inspirational Romance, and rejecting the man when he proposed.
So what we write now as Romances are not the original meaning of the term. Are they better books? In some ways no; in some ways yes. We are hopefully delivering to readers what they want. Though I am absolutely certain Jane is rolling in her grave over what has been done to her poor Mr. Darcy.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 7:25 am

    Hi Mary,

    Thanks for the wonderful look at our roots. Very intriguing!

    Tracey

  2. October 19, 2010 11:06 am

    Hey Mary, thanks for the history lesson. I hadn’t considered that HEA was a totally modern concept or the reason it became so popular. I know I’m more likely to turn to a romance when the toils of life get me down

  3. October 19, 2010 1:52 pm

    HI Mary,

    I’m sure glad you took the time to explain the origins of the modern Romance, although I’m not so sure I can handle the new versions of HEA which include rejection and me-ism.
    Can we still consider it a happy ending if the heroine marries herself? LOL.

    Rita

  4. October 19, 2010 2:20 pm

    Well done post, Mary. So interesting to see how romance evolved, and it’s obviously still evolving to keep up with changing times and attitudes.

  5. October 19, 2010 4:47 pm

    Very enjoyable post. Loved reading about the history and how the HEA has evolved, though I’m with the others. Not sure I want anything but the traditional HEA, but I can see where some readers would enjoy the variety.

  6. October 20, 2010 7:17 am

    Interesting post.

  7. Ramona permalink
    October 20, 2010 8:32 pm

    Wow, hadn’t realized HEA was so recent a requirement. I admit to being one who would like to see the defnition of a Romance stetched a wee bit. I’ve always been called a romantic, however, and want love stories between one woman and one man.

  8. Zrinka Jelic permalink
    October 21, 2010 8:16 am

    Hi Mary,

    This is good post as always, but (correct me if I’m wrong) I think you are thinking of Renaissance not Romance when you describing the movement. The Renaissance (Italian: Rinascimento, from ri- “again” and nascere “be born”)[1] was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Florence in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historic era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not uniform across Europe, this is a general use of the term. As a cultural movement, it encompassed a resurgence of learning based on classical sources, the development of linear perspective in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. Traditionally, this intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. And as for HEA according to Wiki some view Shakespeare’s work as happy ending (LOL).

  9. Zrinka Jelic permalink
    October 21, 2010 8:27 am

    OK, I do apologize, I’ve got confused, you’re thinking of Romanticism as in literature, Romanticism found recurrent themes in the evocation or criticism of the past, the cult of “sensibility” with its emphasis on women and children. But, the literature wasn’t thought of as love stories. The writing of the Romantic Era was vastly different from the writing that came before it, in that it spoke to the “common” people. Romantics strived towards the goal that literature and the arts were for everyone, commoners, not just wealthy aristocracy.

  10. October 21, 2010 2:33 pm

    Hello. Great job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a great story. Thanks!

  11. October 21, 2010 9:28 pm

    Really enjoyed this journey into the roots of romance. A: I always knew Dracula was a romance. *sigh* Poor monster always gets the worst of it. Z: (rolls his eyes) You are so strange. A: Delightful, isn’t it? Z: Groans!

  12. October 23, 2010 1:13 am

    This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

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