A few months ago, my alumni magazine, The Carletonian Voice arrived. Nestled amongst the usual articles about various things happening on campus was an article entitled True Romance about a senior comps English project where a male student decided to write about his experience trying to write a novel about a woman romance author who was trying to write a romance. Basically, it was a very condescending article which stated that romance author wrote generally in capital letters and used exclamation points. He also gave a strange definition for romance and cited research from the late 1970s and early 80s as being definitive. I suspect he thought he was being witty and amusing.
The article bothered me on many levels, not the least of which was the condescending nature towards an industry where I earn my crust of bread. It depresses me no end that a man born in a post feminist world particularly one attending a top liberal arts college should feel the need to mock a genre that is primarily aimed at women. He could have achieved the same outcome using Guy With Gear Who Go novels. In many ways, it shows outdated attitudes still persist in academia. And unfortunately attitudes in academia influence attitudes in popular culture.
Anyway, I became annoyed and wrote a letter to the editor. To the editor's credit, they published the letter.
I was disappointed to read about the condescending comps paper that Evan Haine-Roberts ’09 has written [“True Romance,” Around the Bald Spot, spring]. He appears to have ignored recent research, choosing to concentrate on research from the late 1980s and early 1990s. A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis or work from the recently formed International Association for the Study of Popular Romance would have formed a better basis for his research.
As an author of over a dozen romance novels, I suggest that a more accepted definition of the commercial romance novel is one where the growth of the emotional relationship of the main protagonists forms the central arc or spine of the story and the ending is emotionally satisfying. I do not know which romance novels Mr. Haine-Roberts read, but I doubt they were of recent vintage, given the nature of his research.
I do try to defend the romance genre wherever possible. Sometimes, all I can do is feel sorry and embarrassed for people who have ignorant prejudices. And at other times, I feel something must be done to challenge the accepted stereotype.
Education is needed, particularly among academics. However, it needs to be in a language they understand. And this is why I am grateful for Romance Writers of America which offers a $5,000 grant to the best research proposal written by an academic studying the genre. Recent recipients include Eric Selinger, Sarah Frantz and Catherine Roach. Frantz and Selinger have been instrumental in setting up International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. Earlier this year, Princeton University held its first conference on the study of popular romance. There is even a new journal dedicated to the study of Gothic Romance being started in November 2009.
Although mostly I prefer to enjoy my romances rather than study them, I am pleased that something is finally being done. I also know the next time I feel the need to defend, I will be able to go on the blog Teach Me Tonight and learn what the current academic thinking about romance. A lot of good things are happening. People are challenging the status quo and hooray for them! It is about time!
Michelle Styles is very proud of writing historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical. Her next book, The Viking's Captive Princess will be published in December 09.