Sublime romance became the accepted mode post-17th century, with rural life romanticised and the pastoral upheld as a kind of rhapsody – epitomised in the paintings by Gainsborough such as his ‘Girls on a Swing’ and Jane Austin’s novels depicting the glories of country life [for the relatively well-to-do, anyway]. Romantic novels in the 19th century tended to be either gothic or historical, epitomised in “Wuthering Heights” and the Scottish Lairds of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. The gothic romantic novel also took hold in America with writers such as Hawthorne who wrote “The Scarlet Letter”, the writings of James Fenimore Cooper and, of course, Mary Shelley and her epic “Frankenstein”.
Anthologies are ideal if you enjoy reading but have little time to read a full book. The stories in anthologies are short stories that you can pick up and put down within a reasonably short period of time. Many people enjoy reading anthologies because the plot tends to be tighter and the action speeded up, often making it more exciting and more satisfying to read. A number of examples of the modern romantic anthology can be found in our anthology section amongst the romance category.
One of these is the Black Lace series of anthologies, published by Virgin Nexus, which contains a range of short erotic fiction that has been described [with good reason] as ‘outrageous and always erotic’. Indecent little titles suggest naughtiness and sensuality – quite iniquitous, in fact, but totally entertaining.
Classic and Contemporary Authors
When it comes to classic and contemporary authors, there is quite a selection to choose from. Within this category romance can be broken down into:
- Contemporary series which features stories of romance based on the traditional two central people falling in love. These romance novels are usually set after 1945 and follow the portrayal of their central characters as their lives evolve.
- Contemporary single title is again based on the central two characters but, instead of being part of a series, it depicts their whole story within the pages of this single book. Again, however, the plot tends to be set after 1945.
- Historical romance can take place in any location and during any time period up to 1945.
- Inspirational romance involves the central characters’ love evolving within the context of a practicing spiritual relationship where their religious beliefs form the most powerful central plot of this story – but evolving within their romantic relationship.
- Novels which have particularly strong romantic elements feature themes whereby the romance is the major theme and totally central to the story’s theme. This romantic element, despite being central to the plot is interwoven amongst adversity from which the main characters overcome in order to plight their troth.
- Paranormal romance often involves a plot which takes place within a fantasy world of the future, or wrapped around other paranormal occurrences.
- Regency romance is always a particularly popular theme. It is based within the Regency period, set within the British Empire, during the years immediately prior to when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne.
- Romantic suspense incorporates the mystery, thriller and suspense elements along with the romance of the central characters. This forms a major theme throughout the storyline.
- Young adult romance tends to be aimed at young adult readers: the late teens generally. The central characters generally involve young unrequited love that is somehow overcome so they live happily ever after.
Gay and Lesbian
The general characteristics of romance novels tend to be woven around committed relationships which result in happy endings, revolving around the love between a man and a woman. Many authors are recognised practically instantly, in fact, from their gender stereotyping: masculine man and ultra-feminine woman. Nowadays, however, sexual dissidence has become more of an accepted genre as gay men and lesbian women are more ready to come out from the closet.
Gay and lesbian literature, while focusing on the central theme of the attraction between same genders, their passions and burgeoning sexuality, still follows the same format that all romantic novels follow: two main characters who meet, fall in love, go through a series of adversities that tests that love to extremes and finally overcome those problems to live happily ever after. One of the earliest gay and lesbian romantic novels was written by Patricia Highsmith in 1952. Called “The Price of Salt”, her fictional central characters fulfilled the true feeling of love amongst same-gender partnerships – going against the social conventions of the time.
This all changed in 1969 with the Stonewall rebellion and, later that same year, with the publication of “A Place for Us” by Isabel Miller which was the pen name for Alma Routsong. This book was based on a true-life story of two lesbians who lived during the 19th century. The book was later re-named “Patience and Sarah” although, personally, I prefer the first title: it seems more appropriate somehow.
Regardless of where the novel is set, or even the theme behind the story, a true romance novel requires two specific elements for it to be included in the realm of true romance: it must have a fulfilling and sanguine ending and it must have a central love story threading its way through the pages. The central plot needs to focus on two people who fall in love – usually following a series of misunderstandings and struggles which all get sorted out prior to the love blossoming. As long as this strong central thread of the main love story evolves, it doesn’t matter how many sub-plots are interwoven. The ending, when the love of the two main characters is requited, the story ends on a note of categorical love and the ethos of ‘happy ever after’.
The true romance may follow a range of styles, be set within any timeframe and may range from innocuously innocent to quite steamy but generally all romance novels fall into two specific categories:
Those that fit into a series, with new books about the central characters being issued sequentially, unfolding a portrayal of their lives. These tend to be published by the Silhouette or Harlequin publishing houses and are so incredibly popular that Harlequin saw their sales rise by 13.5% during the first quarter of 2009.
Long romantic novels in which the full and complete story is fulfilled within the pages of a single work of fiction.
Whichever plot and theme is incorporated into a storyline to produce a romantic novel – whether that be true romance or gay and lesbian love – the same characteristics need to be fulfilled for the story to fit into this specific genre. As long as the overall adversity is overcome to leave the happy couple to live their lives together entwined in love, regardless of who the central figures are, then that genre has fulfilled its requirements and the expectations of its readers.