Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
The Modern Romance
April 10, 1998
As a longtime and loyal reader of mystery novels, I have occasionally
been guilty of sneering in a politely ladylike fashion at romance
novels. But in the cause of fair play, I decided to investigate the
genre. I have even read a couple of them recently, although I would
prefer that this fact not get out to my friends! This remarkable
literary adventure on my part was caused by an article in The
Centennial, a publication from the Colorado State Library. Barbara
Samuels, a romance writer, makes a strong case for the connection
between romance novels and feminism. She says that they are "women
writing for women in a form we have claimed for ourselves."
My generation tends to think of romance in terms of young, beautiful
men and women waltzing on starlit patios, and chaste kisses stolen under
a nearby tree. It had little to do with real life. I had assumed that
romance novels were the ones you could check out at the library and take
to your grandmother.
Well, today's romances are generally not ones you would give your
grandmother, although she has probably already read them. Modern
romance novels are quite different. Girl meets boy. Girl and boy
fall instantly in love but have a lots of problems, overcome by lots of
graphic sex. Girl gets boy. They marry and live happily ever
I have read that there are only 34 plots in the world. Romance novels
leave us with 33 to work with, but oh what they have done with that one
plot. Barbara Cartland, the British grande dame of romance, has
written 623 books, mostly romances. She claims to write a novel in
seven days, which doesn't leave a lot of room for creativity.
I am told that there many different types of romance novels: modern,
historical, science fiction, fantasy. They are women's books,
written by and read mostly by women.
Since I have not read enough of them to become an expert, I have
consulted the World Wide Web and have found far more material on
"Romance Novels" than I ever dreamed existed, or really wanted to know.
There is one thing that they all have in common. They absolutely must
have a Happy Ever After ending, known in the trade as HEA. That suits
me fine. I much prefer stories with happy endings. In romance fiction,
however, it is a must, and that does eliminate "Romeo & Juliet" and
"Gone with the Wind" from the genre.
One romance reader says, "I am quite adamant on the subject of the HEA
ending. If I want reality, I have my own life. I can read the paper
for real life angst. When I read, I want to escape, preferably into a
wonderful, romantic, erotic fantasy."
One romance writer speaks of the development of modern romances.
"Until a woman finds out who she is and what she needs from life, she
can't really connect to another person as an equal. So the best romance
novels always show a woman coming to her strength and fullness as a
human being, and part of the reward for that fulfillment is a strong,
Romance novels are not without their particular form of humor. One
article I found on the Web discusses the "Purple Prose-Eater," or
"Silly Sex." "In the seventies, when authors first threw open the
bedroom doors on love scenes in romance novels, they had to devise
creative ways to describe the human anatomy." A couple pages of
examples left me laughing myself silly, but I am not allowed to quote
them in a family newspaper. I'll bet your grandmother is laughing too.
I'm going to stick to mysteries. They, too, usually have a happy
ending, but there is a lot of excitement and character development along
with it. Besides, I have gotten quite fond of my favorite independent,
quirky characters - Kat Colorado, Kinsey Millhone, Anna Pigeon, V. I.
Warshawski, Midnight Louie and all my other pals.
But for the "Romance" fans, here is an HEA ending from Samuel's "Bed of
Spices." "He tugged her close and kissed her deeply. The babe within
Rica kicked in joy, and together she and Solomon laughed as the sounds
of Cairo began anew."