Falling in Love: the Fantasy of Romance Writing and Reading
Despite recent rehabilitation and merging of the genre with other genres, the stigma attached to the romance genre continues to be strong, with some dedicated readers embarrassed to admit to buying or even reading the books. The romance genre has over the years generated significant derision, skepticism, and criticism.
From Wikipedia: The Romance Novel
But…things have changed: dare to publicly criticize romance literature, and violent reaction is sure to follow. Why? Because so many people read it. And why? Because the frustrating emptiness of the consumer dream, crass vulgarity, self-absorption, rudeness, and increasing violence (either real or depicted in films, on television, in video games, video clips, and music) have us craving stories that end happily; and the pure fantasy of the romance genre does the job perfectly.
In romances, reality is suspended. Suddenly we’re (vicariously) living out a perfect passion with a perfect mate, and the positive feelings we receive from a fantasy lover let us know we’re pretty perfect too. Not only that: romance books provide us with the thrill of falling in love over and over again — don’t many romance readers and writers admit they’re “addicted” to romances, that they’re “in love” with the heroes or heroines? And because it’s all fantasy, there’s no risk involved either.
The fantasy aspect of modern romances is even more apparent when heroes and heroines aren’t “real life” characters — and here, I include the plethora of gorgeous, lonely, sensitive, and loving billionaires, or egalitarian Arab sheiks. Why stop there? Romances now have werewolves, angels, ghosts, witches, fairies, dragons, and powerful beings from distant and improbable planets as leading characters. No matter. Their attraction and purpose remain the same: triggering (albeit temporarily) the ecstatic love state.
Some romances are excellently written by very talented writers, and they’re entertaining and intelligent. Nonetheless, their unreality keeps us in Neverland’s eternal childhood, rubbing elbows with Peter Pan and Tinker Bell because… let’s admit it… perfect people like those heroes and heroines just don’t exist. Perfect romance doesn’t either, as the nerve-rattling divorce rate and statistics on domestic violence show: according to the American Bar Association, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men were physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States in 2000; 1,247 women and 440 men were killed by an intimate partner; and 1,006,970 women, 370,990 men are stalked annually.
So what about all those historical romances? Do you believe men and women were more gallant in earlier times? They weren’t. Although hypocrisy dictated no one was to mention what was really going on in society, some brilliant writers took the risk. Jane Austen’s books can be read for their romantic element, but look how pitiless she was when portraying foolish secondary characters. And real life in the 18th and 19th centuries is perfectly depicted in the books of Zola, Flaubert, Dickens, Fielding, Hugo, Thackeray, Smollet, Balzac, in the artistic work of Hogarth and Daumier. Believe me, not much nobility and elegance to be found in those.
Do you think I’ve been criticizing romance? No way. I love writing romances. I try to make my characters complex, charming, intelligent; create settings that are delightful and picturesque; dialogue that’s fun. And I hope no one will be disappointed. I’ve done my best — that’s my duty as a writer.