oracne - Victoria Janssen (oracne) wrote,
oracne - Victoria Janssen


I've just finished reading A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis, which was originally published in 2003 (the paperback came out this year). In general, I found it useful to help order my thinking about Romance as a genre. I particularly liked her choice of the eight essential elements that are required in a romance novel:

1. Depiction of the initial state of society in which hero and heroine must court
2. The couple's meeting
3. The barrier/s between them
4. Their attraction to each other
5. Their declarations of love for one another (which can happen at separate times)
6. The point of ritual death (at that point, it appears the romance can never go forward)
7. Recognition of the means to overcome the barrier/s
8. Betrothal.

It was easy for me to see how these elements combined in various ways in different romances I've read. She also noted some elements that appear frequently but are not required:

1. Scapegoat (sometimes a barrier character) exiled
2. Bad character (sometimes a barrier character) converted to good
3. Wedding, dance, or fete.

After using Pride and Prejudice to elucidate the list of plot elements, most of the book was spent tracing the romance novel chronologically from Richardson's Pamela to Austen's Pride and Prejudice to Bronte's Jane Eyre to Trollope's Framley Parsonage to Forster's A Room With A View. That part was interesting, though I did get a bit tired of Regis' approach, which followed the same formula in each chapter. I suspect she expected chapters to be read in isolation; reading them one after the other, as I did, meant the repetition became wearing.

I was disappointed in the last section. Only four brief chapters on specific authors looked at modern romances, and of those Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart are, to me, part of the history of the genre, not its present. Much as I love those authors, they are not current. The "current" authors Regis explored were Janet Dailey and Nora Roberts, ironic given that Dailey plagiarized Roberts later in her career. Given the sales of both authors, it's clear why Regis chose those two, but I wish she had chosen more, particularly a current author of historicals (or at least, one who was current in 2003, when the book was published). The chapters on Dailey and Roberts didn't provide me with any new information; Regis applied to them the same eight elements as she'd applied to the older "canon" works, which showed they fit into that mold, but didn't tell me anything else. Perhaps the point was to convert dubious literary critics, not to provide more critical thought for fans of romance. About the only major change noted is that modern romance novels focus more on the heroine than their historical counterparts.

Also, in the last chapters Regis didn't seem to have enough to say; she reiterated her one or two points in the hope that they would suffice. I would much rather have read an expanded literary analysis of the novels, instead of how they fit into a predetermined mold. I accepted that they fit into the mold; I wanted to know what else I could then learn from the novels. I also found it disconcerting that Regis felt it necessary to assert and reassert the literary quality of the current novels, in a way which to me felt defensive and made me doubt her feelings towards the books.

I did enjoy the book; I had a pleasing sense of discovery about the eight elements of the romance novel, and enjoyed seeing it explicated (and pondering how my own work incorporates those elements). But while the natural history of the romance seemed complete in itself, I felt another entire book on the romance from the 1960s on was needed.

Tags: books, genre, romance

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