Monday, August 11, 2014

When Did Romances Start to Get Such a Bad Rap?

"Stock characters, repetitive structures, contrived endings, formulaic words and phrases, simplistic emotions, commonplace sentiments"... Sounds familiar? How many times have modern romances been accused of this by the literary fiction stalwarts and even the science fiction and fantasy genre enthusiasts? Romances cannot be taken seriously pooh-poohs the Earnest Literature Reader; they're too pedestrian.

And yet, those quoted words above were not used to describe modern romances, but rather Middle English romances. Like modern romances, they were part of an enduring genre, ragingly popular in their heyday (over five centuries). Again like modern romances, popularity didn't mean that they didn't come under fire from the literary greats. And also like modern romances, they were commissioned by and read by people (well, men) who were well-educated, important, and successful.

Those Middle English romances and today's modern romances have been successfully popular across all demographics and yet are unpalatable to a notable few. It is as if something that is widely-read cannot have literary merit. Modern-day publishers think that reading comprehension and attention spans have declined these days—whether this is true or not, the market has bought this assessment and made the pronouncement that if something can be comprehended by many and is accessible to many, then perforce, it lacks rigor and complexity of language and thought.

And why stop at Middle English romances. Go further back to Old English tales, Nordic fairytales, and the grand sagas from Ireland and Iceland. All throughout history, you will find that stirring romantic stories of derring-do, love, the vanquishing of evil, the triumph of the noble (I don't mean aristocratic) hero (and heroine), the advancement of the underdog, and other such themes have been disparaged as the purview of the dim.

The philosophers of the ancient period and early Middle Ages are the Chaucers of the later medieval periods are the Austen contemporaries are the modern-day New Yorkers. Behind every romantic tale in history is a line of its detractors.

So modern romance novelists and readers who advocate for mainstream acceptance and respect towards the genre have an uphill battle ahead of them. But they're fighting the good fight.