The most popular genre
With over 74 million romance novel fanatics,
it is not surprising that romance has become one of the most popular fantasy
and literary genres amongst teenagers and adults around the world, particularly
with female audiences. What is it that lures women to read these enticing
novels? Perhaps it is the genre’s ability to capture the imagination or the
fact that it is hard to resist a good romance story which ends optimistically
and is emotionally satisfying at the same time. Some women even say that it is
the perfect antidote to stress and provides mental escape.
The romance novel is mostly popular in Western culture and the primary focus is on the relationship between two
people. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is of course, the master novel of this genre. Incorporating elements of gothic novels and Elizabethan drama, Austen demonstrated the flexibility of
this genre and created the icon for what a romance novel should strive to be. However, it was not until 1740 that a revolution within the genre took place. Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was the first book to focus on courtship from the female’s perspective entirely. The romantic genre saw a development in its sub-genres, with the first historical romances appearing in 1921 in the United Kingdom. Romances set during the English Regency were, until recently, the most popular sub-genre novels amongst readers.
A revolutionary turn
It was in 1972 that the genre saw a real
boost in both writers and readers worldwide. Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower encouraged
authors to push the boundaries with their plots and modernise their characters.
Woodiwiss’s novel was refreshing for audiences all around the world because
unlike its ancestors, the novel portrayed women as powerful, strong-willed and
independent heroines rather than the typically weak female who falls in love
with an overbearing alpha male. Along with the rise of the feminist movement in
the 1970s, the book was one of the bestsellers amongst women in Western
culture. During the 1980s, ‘the decency code’ of publishing houses slowly begun
to evaporate as more and more readers showed an interest in explicit sex
Although romance books can be read in over 90
languages, most of them are translated from English-speaking authors. These
novels have been divided into two main varieties since their burst in popularity
from the 20th century onwards, namely ‘category romances’ and ‘single-title
romances’. Category romances are shorter books which have a life span of one
month or so in the shop, and single-title romance books have a generally longer
display life. Online romance novels have also become popular as they are easy
to access with no shelf-life. Many websites now offer a constant supply of new
e-books for readers to download on devices such as the Kindle or iPad.
In addition to these two categories, romance
novels are further divided into many sub-genres such as contemporary, historical,
science fiction, Christian, paranormal, erotic, inspirational, multicultural,
and fantasy. Romance books are placed in specific categories depending on their
time frame, location, plot, level of sensuality and types of conflict. Many of
these novels deal with controversial aspects such as domestic violence,
addiction and disability.
A romance novel can also incorporate other
genres if the romantic suspense is similar to crime fiction, thriller, or
paranormal books or use elements from science fiction or fantasy novels.
Research has also shown that certain sub-genres are more popular in some
countries than others, for example, paranormal romances are not popular in
countries such as Poland and Russia, whilst romantic books about cowboys are even
less popular in Italy.
The popularity of sub-genres changes with
consumer demands, and publishers have recently taken to publishing more romance
novels with vampire storylines or a dark plot, rather than the traditional
regency book. Books which have a romantic plot revolving around vampires,
werewolves, time travel, and mystery are particularly popular with young
teenage girls. Older audiences prefer more traditional romantic plots which
revolve around issues that the reader can relate to or has interest in, such as
The writers and readers
The RITA Award is the most prestigious award
which romance writers can receive. It is presented by the Romance Writers of
America and it signifies excellence in one of the 13 selected categories.
Bestselling author Nora Roberts describes the genre as books which celebrate
falling in love, emotion, commitment, and all of those things which we
inherently want to have. Romance novels are also loved by many women because
they portray women as equal partners with men.
Readers of this genre are more or less in the
same age group, and have similar education, marital and socioeconomic status.
As popular as romance novels are, they have received an equal amount of
criticism for their tendency to glamorise and exaggerate the existence of