I was very bored yesterday, and so decided to put my research on Catholicism in the Regency era aside (if you know anything about this, help me out a bit!), and pick up a romance novel by a very popular romance novelist, Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I just love her wit! And her storylines always satisfy a woman’s fantasy. Hers is actually the only romance novel that I’ve read more than once in the past five-ish years. So that’s saying a lot—since I only reread books like Jane Eyre, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice… However, throughout the novel, I thought lots about the romance novel in general. While I love this genre (which is why I write for this market), there are also several things I dislike. I don’t mean to trash the market, but feel that it is something worth thinking about:
1) The Soulmate. There are tons of romance novels in which the heroine is in a marriage when she meets THE man who ‘burns her with a passion she’s never felt before’. The husband, at the end of the book, obviously dies by a grand scenario concocted by the author, allowing the hero and heroine to finally have their happily-ever-after. Pro: It might offer hope to women in abusive relationships that there will come a time when they’ll be redeemed from their misery. Con: It tells married women that if they cannot find emotional satisfaction in their husband, he is not her soulmate after all, that the marriage was a mistake, and that her real Prince Charming is somewhere out there still. If this is what the expectations are when a woman goes into marriage, of long-lasting romance and a happily ever after, then the relationship doesn’t really have a strong foundation. It is a scientific fact that romance, on average, lasts for but two years.
2) Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her Epiphany. This is a phrase I coined a while back and have been using often ever since. It’s a phenomenon you pick up on often in romance novels. The hero goes through half the novel with some kind of inability to commit or with a fear to love. Then, after the conflict tears the hero and heroine apart, as the story slowly moves towards the last few chapters, the hero goes through that Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her Epiphany and he runs back to the heartbroken heroine and tells her the line he has been unable to say hitherto: I LOVE YOU! Pro: It’s entertaining and emotional. Con: Do men actually think like that?! Or is it something we women fantasize about and wish was true…that the unloving husband or boyfriend will one day be zapped with that realization, and that everything after that will be good? Whether they do or not–I like men who think. Men who do not require a life or death situation, or to be on the brink of nearly losing his ladylove, to realize how much he loves her. (…But, then again, romance novels wouldn’t be as fun to read then…)
3) The Woman He has Never Desired More. Now this is a phrase I pick up almost all the time in the romance genre. The hero is most often a womanizer but, BAM, he meets the heroine and in the heat of passion decides that he has never desired a woman more. That, in the romance dictionary, means that the hero loves the woman…he just doesn’t know it yet. Pro: It’s sexy, it’s passionate, and it’s fun to read. Con: Wouldn’t all men in the heat of passion consider ANY woman they’re lusting after to be ‘the woman he has never desired more’? There are some novels that offer more than just that reason for the hero to be in love. But I’ve actually read many, many books that use that one reason to convince readers that they are meant for each other. Apply that to reality, consider my scientific fact about how romance tends to cool in two years, and you have an unstable relationship. Super Con: Habits are hard to break. And womanizing is a baaad habit. Just because a man falls in love does not mean he will reform right away. It’ll take time. It’ll take patience and love and understanding from the wife/girlfriend.
Again, I’m not trying to trash the romance genre. I ADORE romanve novels–they’re the best way to relieve ones boredom. I’m sure even the authors of such novels are aware of the points I’ve raised. But what can we do? It’s fun to read. And fun to write. But what happens to those young, impressionable women who read five romance novels a week? As much as we like to say that we are able to separate fiction from reality…when you’re in the romance world for more than a few hours a day, it’s hard to believe that real men do not think as the heroes in the novel, it’s hard to believe that lust is not equivilent to love, it’s hard to believe that because the romance is gone in a marriage, that the marriage isn’t worth fighting for….
I am a very sorry case. It is tragic, really, when a romance writer becomes jaded about the very subject matter she writes about! Maybe that is why I had my heroine in The Runaway Courtesan voice that truth about me when she said:
“If truth were to be introduced into these novels,” Amanda said, laughter underlying her voice, “more than half the couples in such stories would end up estranged outside the storyline of the book, past the last page where the authoress declares the couple to have lived happily ever after.” Her remark won a low chuckle from the Viscount and a disapproving stare from Isabelle.