I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Refined Reader (4) The Dual Meaning of Romance

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

If I asked you what your favorite romance novel was, what would your answer be?  Something by Diana Gabaldon, Julia Quinn or Georgette Heyer maybe?  But if I meant instead the older meaning of a romance novel - a more plausible answer might be Le Morte d'Arthur or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Back in Medieval or even Greek times a romance novel did not center on people falling in love but on an idealized lifestyle of heroism, chivalry and adventure.  Love often did have an important part to play but it was not the focus of the story, it was more the motivation.  I'm not exactly sure why the genre of a romance novel changed from something quite specific in tone and scope to the much broader type it is today.  It makes sense though that the genre today (with it's many sub-genres) branched out from the older form of romance which was more fantastical because it included elements of magic and was otherwise much less realistic.  There was a sense of wonder and idealized history in the world of an "Old Romance."

While modern romances can also be pretty unrealistic - mostly because the actions and the circumstances of the characters' story can be too idealized - the stories are still based on the thoughts and emotions of people and not on daring undertakings and chivalrous pursuits so modern romances are a little more relatable to the average person.  But modern romances can be a part of so many genres from fantasy to historical that it can still maintain a flavor of the old romance.

I do love a good romance (or love story) in the books I read, but when I find it the main focus of the book I sometimes find it a bit insipid.  I like something more to the book.  But old romance really appeals to me because I feel like it is a great escapist read - where people do heroic things for love or for justice and they face and conquer many dangers.  I just find it more exciting!

What are your favorite romance reads?  (Both modern and old romance if you like any of the chivalric classics)

Wikipedia / Wikipedia
Washington State University
Understanding Genre and Medieval Romance

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  1. Pride and Prejudice! (that would be my answer) But I do like the idea of a romance novel where the love story is not the focus.

    "modern romances can also be pretty unrealistic" Haha yes, but sometimes I like cheesy and unrealistic ;D

    Favorite modern romance... Anna and the French Kiss?

  2. Everyone has picked Austen so far - that's awesome, I'm always happy when Classic literature is appreciated! The knight in shining armor trope is so appealing and I think it comes up alot in romance even if the story is not medieval. Just the idea of a guy sweeping a girl off her feet and saving the day is a nice escapist read! :) I don't have many romance novels with a contemporary setting that I really love - Cayce mentioned Anna and the French Kiss which was fantastic and Austenland is a big favorite of mine (but it's very influenced by Jane Austen) so I wouldn't say I'm really into the romance novels of today. But there are probably some right ones for you out there!

  3. Amber @bookgeekspeaksApril 8, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    I am pretty sure that I fall in the Old Romance Category.. I have to have action and adventure thrown in.. straight up romance doenst work for me. I dont really have a favorite .. Does Pride and Prejuidice and Zombies count??

  4. LOL, well I haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies so I don't know how much of the romance they preserve in that! But hopefully you will find a romance favorite one day! :)

  5. This is one thing I get! I think it's been explained in at least 5 of my classes, because someone invariably didn't know. #englishmajorproblems (Yep, just used a hashtag in a comment!) I honestly can't think of an older romance I've really enjoyed, though. That could be because I've had to read them all for class, and I often like certain things less because they're mandatory, rather than if I pick it up organically. To be more modern than Sir Gawain, my favorite romantic story is Jane Eyre, which I know you appreciate, but I love it for so much more than that. I don't read a lot of straight up "romance", either, but I pretty much always want some kind of romance in what I read. :) Great topic Charlene!!!

  6. Oh .. hummm another book I just thought about is the Mists of Avalon. That was a wonderful book.. I think it is a romance myself.

  7. I remember reading the Mists of Avalon but I don't think I loved it as much as my favorite retelling of Arthurian legend- The Once and Future King. I think that fits into the old romance category though!

  8. LOL, I wouldn't mind having #englishmajorproblems - since these are fun things to learn to me! :) You get all the points for mentioned Jane Eyre btw - because that is my number one pick for modern romance of course! (I sneakily didn't mention there were fake points going around for anyone who picked JE! :D)

  9. This is such a fun topic..hard for me to name just one! I terms of older romances..I like:

    1. Jane Eyre of course LOL
    2. Much Ado About Nothing..all that delightful verbal sparring!
    3. The Scarlet Pimpernel
    4. Beauty and The Beast
    5. Persuasion by Jane Austen

  10. Oh I love that you ranked them! I agree with everything in your list (except I haven't read Persuasion yet, but I will! And I know I'll love it!) I'd probably put SP at 2nd though, because I am way too partial to Percy! :)

  11. oh my gosh what a great post! I love the older definition of romance and so few people are aware of it or discuss it :)

    It's easy to see how stories where so often love motivated the action became the stories where love was the action - in the evolution of the world romance. But I love reading books that really hold to that old definition - who explore a idealized world that is beautiful and wonderful to escape to. It reminds me of a quote by Madeleine L'Engle:
    “We don't want to feel less when we have finished a
    book; we want to feel that new possibilities of being have been opened
    to us. We don't want to close a book with a sense that life is totally
    unfair and that there is no light in the darkness; we want to feel that
    we have been given illumination.”

  12. Oh wow since you put it that way - it does make a ton of sense! Especially since the love story was probably a major draw in the old romance stories (it is for me at least), so it makes sense to gradually shift focus to just the romance. And that is a wonderful quote from Madeleine L'Engle - it is absolutely why I love to read!