Romance novels

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Modern Erotica and the 19th Century Sensation Novel

It’s a tale as old as erotica: a girl sits down at a coffee shop and pulls out her e-reader because the cover of her steamy romance novels will be judged if she bought the physical book. In 2022 seven of the ten best-selling books were romance novels that contained erotic content. Adult romance and erotica are almost indistinguishable these days, for example the number one best-selling fiction book in 2022 It ends with us by colleen hoover contains several graphic sex scenes yet is labeled romance not erotica. Adult romance is the best-selling fiction genre of all time, yet despite the popularity of the genre, men and women still deal with romance reader shame. Why is this genre seen as trashy? Is it misogyny, classism, or something else?

Although the criticism of modern erotica may seem like a modern issue, this debate has been going on for centuries. It would be interesting to analyze the modern romance reader shame and its relationship to the criticisms of the 19th century sensation novel.

  • I do not think the unpopularity of Adult Romance can be directly attributed to misogyny, of all things. At best, there is an implicit connection there, and even that, I fail to see. If you think about it, a man reading a steamy romance novel with a suggestive title would be considered a creep if he did it in public--which is considerably worse than being judged trashy. The genre has a bad reputation because it is saturated with low-quality content. A lot of writers try to create erotic fiction. A lot of writers fail. If you compare erotica to historical novels, for example, you are significantly more likely to find tawdry content in the former category than in the latter, not to mention the fact that many people cringe at the believability and logic of most Adult Romance books. – Rahul 12 months ago
  • This is really intriguing topic. I'm trying to think of 19th century novels that I would classify as erotica. Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1929) comes to mind, but I haven't read it myself. I suppose Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded which is much older could work as well. But both of these novels are mainly a commentary on marriage and how sex can fit into it. I think maybe you could argue that erotica isn't considered literature because it seems like its only about the physical act and not the personal or cultural impact. – E. DeWitt 12 months ago

Romance novels - too easily dismissed?

Romance novel are often looked down on and seen as somehow inferior. Chick lit is a name that has negative connotations. It suggests something trashy or throwaway. Even Jane Austen, whose books are considered classics, is criticised for not concentrating on weightier issues. But why are romance novels so easily dismissed? Is it because it’s mainly a genre written by women? Is it literary snobbery for something that is so popular? Romance, after all, is an important part of everyone’s life. Most people either get married or live together. Obviously not all romance novels can be of the same calibre but many are well written and engaging. So there does seem to be an unfair tendency to criticise romance novels.

Look at this idea in terms of classic authors like Jane Austen and modern day authors like Diana Gabaldon or Nicholas Sparks.

  • You've brought up some really good points, Sarah. It could be a tough sell for anyone who takes on this topic, but worth pursuing all the same. – Amyus 6 years ago
  • An interesting aspect of this is that unlike other genres, Romance as a genre has never experienced a wane. It's form may have changed slightly to match the socio-cultural values of a particular time-period, but unlike Fantasy, Horror or the Detective novel it has remained a viable and popular genre. It is also worth looking at that there is, like in any literary discussion, a hierarchy of texts. Austen is recognised as a classic, Shakespeare's greatest play is a tragic romance, but counter to that is Mills & Boons and 50 Shades of Grey. Romance is a very large category that has some strong allegorical values in reflecting societal norms, if nothing else this provides the genre with value. – SaraiMW 6 years ago
  • (I know none of the claims I am about to make are based in fact, but this how I feel about romance novels or the genre as a whole.)For me personally, I think a lot of the criticism of romance novels is due to how they depict romance. Novels like the twilight saga and books by Nicolas sparks often times create a romance that I personally cannot buy into. A lot of stories that's main focus is love often fall flat for me because I cannot suspend my disbelief for the scenario that the author is creating. I know they are works of fiction and the author is trying to create an interesting scenario that will lead to conflicts in the relationship, but the conflict often times feels too contrived. Using SaraiMW's example of Shakespeare the tragic romances in Shakespeare's great plays is just overly complicated with characters miss hearing conversations, walking in on compromising situations, or simply lying (this largely due to these situations being done for comedic effect or being a metaphor some other idea and despite the romance being the main motivation for the protagonist, they often hint at a deeper message or social problem.) But stories like Madame Bovary and Re: Zero Starting a Life in Another World resonate with me as a love story, because the romance is pretty straightforward. Emma Bovary has a warped perception of love (due to reading romance novels ironically) and this leads to her being disappointed in her marriage. Which ultimately leads the tragedy of the book. While RE: Zero sets itself up like a typical anime romance and uses that show the flawed perception of love that they. Which in turn makes it one of the best anime/ novel romances of all time in my opinion, because the Subaru actually has to struggle to prove and earn the love of Emelia. This leads to all the events matching the character's motivation. Making the romance feel all the more believable. I honestly think you should write on this topic, because like SaraiMW said, I do not think people hate romances. Romances find their way into almost every genre of writing. I think they are pointing out flawed idea's love that seems to exist in these stories that have a deep focus on romance. – Blackcat130 6 years ago
  • Do you think "romance" as a genre is more an add-on to any other genre rather than a genre in and of itself? You can tell sci-fi romances. Historical romances. Fantasy romances. Is a romance novel any novel that focuses on the search for love of the main character? I think romance novels are easily dismissed when they are particularly salacious. The stereotypical romance novel treats relationships shallowly. But that doesn't have to be the case. Romance novels can give keen insight into the search for connection. – Kidcanuck 6 years ago
  • I'm interested to see what the writer comes up with, as I have written a romance novel and had it published. It was a Christian romance novel at that, which - you wanna talk about dismissal? I could tell you stories. Most people hear that and think, "Oh, so you're just writing romance without the sex? Boring." Which--ugh. But Christian or secular, romance novels do not deserve the bad rap they get. – Stephanie M. 6 years ago
  • I think romance novels often receive criticism for being "fairy-tale" like and for portraying relationships that often have the happy ending in a way that many of us will not experience. In real life, from my experience in my own relationships and marriages (there have been two of those...), romance ebbs and flows and partnership and collaboration seems to be a longer-lasting bond. In novels like _Pride and Prejudice_ or _Sense and Sensibility_ and today contemporaries like _The Notebook_, the viewer's attention must be kept, thus the author creates a passionate, sexual tension between the characters that doesn't go away for the few hours it takes us to read the books. We are bombarded with a thrilling (and give-me-some-of-that) unrealistic representation of the life of true partnership in many cases, and therefore, such novels are criticized. However, I think we need to look at who is criticizing the novels, as well. Is it mostly men or women? I think it would be interesting to research that and uncover what gender stereotypes might come into play. Regardless of whether we like it or not, I still believe society dictates our behaviors as male and female, and some men might criticize such literature because it is not masculine enough and some women might criticize it because it presents females in a weaker light, always searching for "true love," or something of the like. This is a really cool question that begs other questions about our society. – kategasp 6 years ago
  • Interesting topic! Even on television, romance stories are often dismissed. I remember Saturday Night Live made a parody of all the Hallmark Christmas movies -- usually, a young woman visits a small New England town from the big city to find the love of her life (with, of course, a snowy backdrop). Despite the criticism and parodies, these Hallmark Christmas movies dominate cable ratings. So, it begs the questions: who is criticizing these movies and why is it so easy for us to poke fun at them? Does gender play a role, are the storylines just too outlandish, or is it something else? – AaronJRobert 6 years ago