Genre Fiction, Romantic Novels and Escapism

220px-amalie-augusteOne of the complaints often aired by romance readers is that the genre is despised as escapism, and yet this insult is not so often aimed at other forms of genre fiction.

There is some justice in this complaint.   Yes, there are highly escapist elements  to romantic novels – but often they are ones which they only share with other fiction written as light relief.

For instance, if there are a disproportionately high number of fearless, ripped macho types featuring as heroes in romantic novels, then the same could be said of the heroes of action/ adventure stories aimed at a male readership .

Neither are the adventures of the characters in these stories any more probable, though they tend to concentrate on macho adventures to the exclusion of the emotional side of life. In this way, these two forms of fiction – romance and the sort of action/adventure novels that  attract a largely male readership might be said to represent two opposite ends of a spectrum.

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I may not be fair in showing these two covers as they come from long defunct magazines of the nineteen-fifties. But I thought I would put them in by way of entertainment.  I’d like to acknowledge that the adaption of the first was by Shunk, by the way…

Then there is fantasy, a genre about as unrelated to prosaic reality as you can get. (This is also straying from the point; I seem to be doing a lot of that in this article, but I read a blog about writing fantasy which said of dagger wielding leather clad female warriors:  ‘Enough…I mean we’re here, right?’ That’s rather a pity: that is a sort of  female stereotype I  rather enjoy).

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But there is certainly some justification to the charge of romance being unrealistic, even apart from the preponderance of billionaires in contemporary romances and dukes in Regency romances (there have only ever been about twenty-five non-royal dukedoms in the UK) and the often, wildly improbable HEAs.

One aspect I have noticed is the lack of sordid details in the stories. I have commented before on how there seems to be an agreement that heroes should never vomit, even when suffering from concussion, and that the women never need to evacuate when held captive.  There may well be exceptions, and I’d like to hear of them.

This particularly applies to historical romance. There seems to be a tendency to write stories where, for instance, the characters inhabit a Georgian or Regency London wholly devoid of the filthy streets or wretched beggars.

While the Mayfair aristocracy may have avoided walking through the sordid muck which littered the streets through going everywhere by carriage (and employing a footman to run ahead to clear the way of pedestrians, at least), they could hardly avoid being exposed to general dirt and squalor.

That was why in cities and in London in particular, the reception rooms were on the first floor. That way, the evil smells of the street outside were less likely to penetrate.

Of course, by modern standards, even people from the leisured classes would have been fairly grubby themselves. Bathing too often was seen as bad for the health. 110px-Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Torse,_effet_de_soleil

It’s understandable that stories which aim to provide the reader with light entertainment are going to pass over these sordid facts.

However, I do think that this concentration on the upper class in historical romance, and limiting the working -class characters to obliging servants and inn-keepers, can lead to the consensus oriented, a-political view of society which is often presented in historical romances. It is too easy for that approach to ally the readers of historical romanced with a sentimental and even a reactionary view of history. That only can be a bad thing.

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The Romantic Novel, The Happy For Now And The Traditional Happy Ever After

collection_nocturne_de_harlequinI saw some posts on Facebook recently on romantic novels and the HEA (for anyone uninitiated, that notorious Happy Ever After).

The posters said that there had been some romantic novels released recently without the obligatory HEA, and because of that, some Indie Authors of romantic fiction had included the assurance that ‘this novel has an HEA’.

Romantic novels, of course, are notorious as a genre where the readers insist on a happy ending. That is why, I gather, ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Rebecca’ are often precluded from them – one has the hero leaving the heroine, and it seems in the second the hero makes no explicit love declaration (I seem somehow to have missed that omission).

For my own part, I have long argued that this insistence on the HEA is one of the reasons that romances are not generally taken seriously as literature, that and the tendency to leave ugly details out of the stories.

This if often defined as a necessary part of writing a genre which is by definition escapist.

Personally, I have never seen why a conditional happy ending or what it seems is known as the ‘HFN’ – Happy For Now – is often regarded as unacceptable.

Georg_Friedrich_Kersting_005_detailAfter all, even in a Heats and Rainbows traditional happy endng it is impossible to depict a limitless timing.  One assumes that generally (not inevitably) the hero and heroine are meant to be mortal; therefore, they will in the future either die early, or age. Either way, they must eventually shuffle off this mortal coil. Presumably, the average reader would rather not envisage the hero and heroine in their declining years, with  the hero, perhaps, forced to bolster up his wild curly black locks with a toupe, and the heroine sneaking on ‘controlling’ underwear to give the illusion of a sylph like figure..

Joking apart, what actually strikes me most about the Happy Ever After is that it only has to apply to the hero and the heroine. That might seem a comment on the obvious; but in a way, perhaps it reflects the ideology of our era?

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Just as the Grail legends reflect the frames of reference of the mediaeval mind, the ideology that underpinned feudalism – perhaps the Happy Ever After for an individual couple in romantic fiction is an indication of the ideology of capitalism – individualism – and therefore is equally a finite form of literature, at least in its present form?

It is no accident, surely, that the first romantic novel – ‘Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson – was written during the era of the rise of the manufacturing class as the dominant force in society.

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Love stories, of course, go back to ancient times and hopefully will still be about far in the future; but as society evolves, how long the modern romance will continue in its present form is an intriguing question.

At the moment, it certainly is the most popular form of fiction, accounting for something like fifty per cent of the sales of ebooks on Amazon. But what have often been seen as the rigid boundaries surrounding the genre may be changing, as is mentioned in this article: –

http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2016/03/happily-never-after-and-the-changing-nature-of-the-romance-novel

This is embarrassing! I have just tried to get that link to come out six times, and I think I’m going to have to admit defeat and ask anyone interested to paste it into the search bar…