By M.O. Muriel
Golden Gazette News
A heroic knight, abiding by chivalry’s strict codes of honor and demeanor, off on a quest to fight and defeat monsters and giants, thereby winning the favor of a lady: romance fiction has been around since medieval times—and long before.
There is no other genre of writing able to provoke so much emotion. Romance has stood the test of time, and nothing can replace it. Developed in Western culture mainly for English-speaking countries, the romance novel centers on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an optimistic or emotionally rewarding ending.
As a genre, romance had its beginning in the verse of performance ballads. However, in the seventeenth century, people started writing about more realistic subjects such as theology, rationalism, and empirical views. With urbanization in the eighteenth century, stories focused more on courtly love and relationships that ultimately ended in marriage, and were told from the heroine’s viewpoint. Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded was revolutionary in that it focused almost entirely on courtship from a female point of view.
One of the greatest romance writers of all times, Jane Austen, author of the 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, wrote about females of a lower class and gentrified ladies who needed to reconcile their love with the demands society made upon them.
In romance literature of the Victorian period, authors like Charlotte Brontë who wrote Jane Eyre and her sister Emily, who wrote Wuthering Heights (both published in 1847), portrayed a deeper, darker side to love. The female quest for independence and freedom, in a time of outward displays of moral values, double standards and a fixation on the social condition of the lower class, heralded the more liberated romance novels, epitomized by the suffragette movement and emancipation of women.
In the nineteenth century, the romantic genre divided into two categories: the historical romance and the gothic romance—the latter a type of novel filled with symbolism that explored some of the more mysterious anxieties of human nature. That fascination continued into the twentieth century, when, inspired by Austen, Georgette Heyer gave the historical romance genre a firm foundation and introduced its subgenre, the Regency romance, modeled after Austen’s works, in 1935.
Through the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, category romance, shorter books with a one-month shelf life, came into play. First to release them, British company Mills and Boon, later resold their books in North America through Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Doing so allowed mass-market merchandisers to carry the books and begin direct marketing to readers. Single-title romances novels are generally longer, and have a more extended shelf life.
Although Heyer and other authors like Catherine Cookson had long established romance in the UK, Avon’s publication of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s 1972 novel The Flame and the Flower is credited for inspiring the modern historical romance. It was the first single-title romance novel to be published as an original paperback in the US, and it and its followers also gave rise to the category known as the bodice-ripper.
Even pulp fiction had its turn with the genre. The magazines Planet Stories and Startling Stories published planetary romances, in which adventures took place on exotic alien planets and the danger of the unknown heightened the romance between characters. In most all-fiction stories of the ’30s and ’40s, there is a hero and heroine. L. Ron Hubbard was one author who gave a strong role to the female character allowing her to sometimes even be the savior of the male character as in “The Iron Duke” which appeared in the July 1940 issue of Five-Novels Monthly.
The1980s saw the rise of many category romance lines. Popular authors started to push the boundaries of the genre and characters modernized.
There are no specific restrictions. As long as a romance novel meets the criteria of two people falling in love and the story ending optimistically, it can be set in any location or time period. The combination of plot elements, location and timeframe help a novel to fit into one of several romance subgenres:
Contemporary romance is the largest subgenre, set after WWII. These novels tend to date quickly and go out of print.
Historical romance is set before WWII. Although there are fewer novels published in this subgenre, they often appear as trade paperbacks or hardcovers and stay in print longer.
Regency romance, a derivative of the works of Jane Austen, largely thanks to Georgette Heyer, is a subgenre within the subgenre of historical fiction, set during the period of the British Regency (1811-1820) or the decades immediately preceding or following it (Heyer worked within the dates of 1752-1825).
Romantic suspense involves mystery or intrigue. Usually the heroine is the victim of a crime or attempted crime, and in the story she partners with a hero who often works in law enforcement as a police officer, FBI agent, bodyguard, Navy SEAL or other such protector role. By the end of the novel, the mystery is solved and their relationship is committed.
Jayne Ann Krentz’s 1986 novel Sweet Starfire launched science fiction romance, with its tale of a classic road-trip romance set in space.
Fantasy romance, or romantic fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy fiction that uses many of the conventions of the romance genre.
Blending reality with science fiction or fantasy, paranormal romance is a subgenre in which demons, vampires, werewolves and magically empowered beings maraud in an alternate version of our own world. Humans have psychic powers and ghosts haunt the heroine’s innermost desires. Futuristic, time-travel and extraterrestrial romances fall underneath the umbrella of paranormal romance. A popular title in this subgenre can sell over 500,000 copies; think Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga.
With the launch of the Arabesque line in 1994, Kensington Books founded multicultural romance. This subgenre normally features a hero and/or heroine of African-American or Hispanic descent, although some multicultural lines include Asian heroines.
In 2004, 55% of all paperback books sold in North America were romance novels, making romance the most popular genre in modern literature. Today, romance novels appear in 90 languages, and are sold in Europe and Australia as well as in the US.
Golden Age History Inspired by: The Iron Duke, by L. Ron Hubbard
Blacky Lee is a man wanted by nearly every government in Europe, who happens to be the spitting image of a leader in the Balkan kingdom of Aldoria. With nowhere else to hide, the enterprising Lee flees to Aldoria and attempts to make the most of his mistaken identity in a startling tale of intrigue, humor and romance.
Originally published in the July 1940 edition of the pulp magazine, Five-Novels Monthly.