The discussion of historical romance got a bit steamy at the December 2nd meeting of the Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable genre study group, as the group talked about the benchmark title, The Duke and I – a humorous Regency romance by Julia Quinn – and described the appeal of a wide variety of second titles.
(Reminder! If you haven’t submitted your thoughts on the appeal of your second title to the blog, please do so here. Thank you!)
As a group, we are working towards 1) shedding prejudices about the romance genre and 2) going beyond our individual personal preferences to think about preferences of romance readers. A helpful blog and book combination recommended by Miki is Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Beyond Heaving Bosoms (Touchstone, 2009) by Sarah Wendall and Candy Tan.
Sarah Wendall also wrote Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels (SourceBooks, 2011).
Our discussion frequently veered into how romances (especially historical romances, maybe?) often get into problematic territory from a feminist perspective – regarding consent, women’s rights, whether modern sensibilities can/should be ascribed to characters from the 19th-century (and farther back to the prehistoric era), etc. For further reading from this perspective, another possibility is Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained (2015) by bestselling romance author Maya Rodale. She also has a blog and writes articles about romance, including this one for The Huffington Post: What Happened to the Historical Romance Novel?
We sorted out some confusion over the historical order of the different period romances – Regency, Georgian, Victorian, etc. – and talked about the wide variety of subgenres within the historical fiction subgenre. We talked about the differences between Period Romance, a Romantic Historical and a Historical Novel that Kristin Ramsdell writes about in Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, 2nd ed. and how these distinctions might help us advise readers.
We discussed the appeal of Historical Romance:
- Emotional pull/identifying with the heroine
- Being transported to another place and time that has “problems, but different problems”
- Historical details secondary to romance and character development
- Wordplay/dry wit of Regency novels, in particular
We talked about why openly reading romance makes some (all?) of us uncomfortable or embarrassed, and how studying the genre is helping us move beyond our personal reading comfort zone. Several mentioned over-explaining to family members or colleagues why they were reading romance novels; not bringing their paperback romances out in public; and reading on an e-reader for increased privacy. Some who had read romance novels in their youth but not as adults, mentioned that they were surprised to enjoy rediscovering old favorites when choosing second titles to read.
We discussed the benchmark title The Duke and I by Julia Quinn. Some readers were surprised at how much they personally enjoyed the book, having never read a Regency romance before. One reader was annoyed by the vagaries of the plot and the lack of follow-up on details that were mentioned for seemingly no reason and said she needed to keep reminding herself that “romance is the point, not the plot.”
Others’ enjoyment of the story was ruined by the lack of consent (by the man) before/during sexual relations, which is described (in detail) at one point in the story. For these readers, muddy motives, conflict-building, or having reason overcome by passion was no excuse. It’s highly doubtful that these readers will go on to read the next nine books in the Bridgerton series. Seriously, though, this part of the plot generated a lot of good discussion about trigger warnings, “rape-y” romance stories from the 70s in particular, good and bad sexual fantasies, and the potential for subversiveness in romance written predominantly by women for women.
For cross-collection reader’s advisory, it was suggested that some romance readers might wish to explore the “true romance” found in narrative history books, and pairing mysteries and romances that share a setting in a display or in a book list was also suggested.
The page about our Historical Romance second titles will be coming soon. Please remember to share your thoughts with the group if you haven’t already…and thank you, if you already have!