“A Natural History of the Romance Novel”
The romance novel has the strange honor of being the most popular but least respected of literary genres. While it remains consistently dominant in bookstores and on best-seller lists, it is also widely dismissed by the critical community. Scholars have alleged that romance novels help create subservient readers, who are largely women, by confining heroines to stories that ignore issues other than love and marriage. These theorists attribute the genre’s overwhelming appeal to inadequacies and weaknesses in the readers themselves.
In “A Natural History of the Romance Novel,” Pamela Regis argues that the romance novel does not enslave women but, on the contrary, is about celebrating freedom and joy, Regis, professor of English at McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College), offers a definition that provides critics with an expanded vocabulary for discussing a genre that is both classic and contemporary, sexy and entertaining.
Taking the stance that the popular romance novel is a work of literature with a brilliant pedigree, Regis traces the literary history of the romance novel from canonical works such as Richardson’s “Pamela,” Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Forster’s “Room with a View” through 20th-century works such as E. M. Hull’s “The Sheik” (“Bookquick,” Current, April 19, 2001) and the novels of Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Jayne Ann Krentz and Nora Roberts. Situating each novel in its own time while interpreting it through the critical vocabulary she proposes, Regis specifies how romance conventions change yet retain the essential formal requirements of the genre.
Krentz hails the book as “a true and insightful history that establishes the historical legitimacy of an important literary genre.”
— University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on May 15, 2003