Romantic fiction is the most popular genre – Interesting? It makes up for 55% of all books read (USA, via Wiki). That’s why I’ve chosen to feature it as the first genre in my 777 fest – 7 writers over 7 days answering 7 questions. There are of course more sub-genres to the romantic novel than you can shake a stick at and I don’t have the time to examine them all, we all have our favourites.
Finally I make no apology that the seven writers I’ve chosen to feature are of the female persuasion, after all ninety percent of the readers of this genre are women. There are brilliant male writers of this genre, but that’s for another blog post!
Mostly, but not exclusively written from the female point of view the romantic novel first exploded in the literacy scene with the birth of Pamela (male writer!) in 1740, of course plays coming first with the likes of both Shakespeare’s tragedies (Romeo and Juliet ) and comedies (The Merry Wives of Windsor).
There are probably millions of variations on this romantic theme, but all have one thing in common. What writer and Booker prize winner, Paul Scott termed ‘The Central Emotional Knock.’
It would be remiss of me to go any further without mentioning the influence of arguable the two most important contributors to our views on romantic love: Austin and Charlotte Bronte. Whilst near contemporaries ( They shared 1816 together) their writing is very different. Interestingly Bronte, as the later writer had the ability of studying Austin’s work – her derision in clear to see in the following extract from one of her letters.
“I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers—but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy—no open country—no fresh air—no blue hill—no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.”
I wonder what dear Jane would have thought of Mr Rochester!
Our view today is heavily influenced by the likes of that mega giant of popular romantic fiction, Mills and Boon (Harlequin) who joined in the melee in the pre war 1930’s. An anxious time for all and certainly this must be viewed as a contributing factor to the success of this publishing star. Love them or hate them the majority of us have read at least one and they are as integral to our society as Valium.
A funny alliteration Valium and Mills and Boon, that is until we take into account that many women view them as useful as Advil (another common anti-depressant) in elevating the mood! As writers I’m sure we all have very strong views on this form of ‘pulp fiction,’ but to many women they are used a a crux to help them through their day – no one can or should argue with that especially if they have never read them. Harlequin is still around, which is the best argument of all.
The Twenty First Century woman is a very different person to the per-war one, although what they want from a romantic novel is probably the same. Women are demanding more from their writers and the writers are certainly delivering in spades – However how they are both delivered and indeed written is now very different. The male POV has become increasingly important as has the rise of that elephant in the corner of the Kindle – erotic fiction.
I surely can’t be the only woman in the planet that hasn’t read ‘that book’, but sometimes I feel like I am. The core of the matter for me is really a play on words. There is a fine line between erotica and hard core pornography and this line appears to be getting smudged with each subsequent publication of this sub-genre. As a reader I want the writer to leave room for my own imagination to take wings – as a writer I find these sort of scenes a non starter. So I’ll just have to put up with being left out of that particular conversation ‘Am I bothered!’
Anyway back to the purpose of this post, which is as an introduction to my 777 rom fest. There are so many books now to choose from, taking into account the rise of the Indie author. The seven writers I’ve chosen are very different as you will see but I’ve chosen them for that express purpose.
And my all time favourite romantic reads?
There are too many to write about. I loved AS Byatt’s Possession, as I do all the works of both Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte (all keepers that I will read and relead again and again). I enjoyed One Day, but it’s not a book that I’ll read again for a variety of reasons. I’m going to mention Laura Barnett’s The version of us, but simply because it’s just arrived on my doorstep to read and this post will probably be all the shorter because of it. And finally a book I may never finish. Paul Scott’s After the Funeral. Probably one of the first in the many books out there that are the reworking of popular fiction, this time Cinderella. This book is now out of print, but I live in hope…..