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 tend to regard readers as
passive consumers easily manipulated by romances, attributing 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 such critical studies fail to take into consideration the personal choice of readers, offer any true definition of the romance novel, or discuss the nature and scope of the genre. Presenting the counterclaim that the romance novel does not enslave women but, on the contrary, is about celebrating freedom and joy, Regis 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 asserts that it is also a very old, stable form, properly defined as a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines. Arguing that the ending in marriage found so objectionable by critics is hardly the sole governing element, Regis brings to the forefront other, more significant narrative components, such as the reform of a corrupt society and the breakdown of the barrier between hero and heroine. She traces the literary history of the romance novel from canonical works such as Richardson's Pamela through Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Brontë's Jane Eyre, Trollope's Framley Parsonage, and Forster's Room with a View, then turns to the twentieth century to examine works such as E. M. Hull's The Sheik and the novels of Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Janet Dailey, 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."
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