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What makes a book a romance?

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I was reading the posts on the Gone with the Wind thread, and following on from one of the points raised there (Is GWTW a romance?) I started wondering, what makes a book a romance?

Some are obviously romances, but how about the following books?


Gone With the Wind - usually called a romance, but it's a big book that deals with civil war, and I have the feeling (though I don't want to count :) ) that there are very few pages devoted to romance, compared to the length of the book.

I would call it a romance because it ends with one of the characters realising she is in love, but this isn't a very satisfactory definition.


Rebecca - also usually called a romance, but about 90% of it is spent on unravelling the mystery of Rebecca.

I think I'd still call this a romance, but I'm not sure why. I've a feeling it's because I'm used to hearing it called a romance. The first part of the book is a standard romance - penniless companion marries wealthy man with big house - so I suppose it can qualify on those grounds. Also, the male and femal lead characters end up together. But there is so much else going on, that to call it a romance seems to me to be missing the point. And yet I wouldn't like to say it's not a romance. What do the rest of you think?


Anna Karenina

I don't think I'd call this a romance because of the ending (don't want to give it away), but I'm not sure why this rules it out for me. Maybe a romance needs a hopeful ending? Although, no, because Romeo and Juliet is a romance, and that doesn't have a hopeful ending.


Can anyone come up with a definition that covers these books (as well as things like Pride and Prejudice, which are more obviously romances?) And can anyone think of any more maybe-maybe not romances?

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Cathy might be able to explain this to us, having previously confessed an obsession with this type of book.


Personally, I actively avoid them, and have been trying over night, with little success, to define what it is that I am rejecting. Eventually, I resorted to a dictionary, and found a wide range of definitions, including:


a. A long medieval narrative in prose or verse that tells of the adventures and heroic exploits of chivalric heroes: an Arthurian romance.

b. A long fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary or mysterious events, usually set in a distant time or place.

c. The class of literature constituted by such tales.

but I don't think that is the type of book we are thinking about here.


The type of book I prefer not to read is this:

a. An artistic work, such as a novel, story, or film, that deals with sexual love, especially in an idealized form.

b. The class or style of such works.


5. A fictitiously embellished account or explanation

The key words in those definitions being 'idealized form' and 'embellished'.


Until I had a word with the librarian we were getting a lot of this type of romance among the bi-monthly selection of large-print books we have loaned to us at work!


I don't think of 'Rebecca' as a Romance, and have read it more than once, but until recent discussion on BGO I have avoided Wuthering Heights, as it has a reputation as an overblown story of doomed love (shudder). I am now prepared to give it a try, one day.

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I have avoided Wuthering Heights, as it has a reputation as an overblown story of doomed love (shudder). I am now prepared to give it a try, one day.


This is true, in a way, but Wuthering Heights is an overblown story of doomed love in the way that Van Gogh's painting is a picture of some sunflowers, or the Mona Lisa is a picture of a woman :)

It's also a lot more than a doomed love story, so I hope you give it a try.


Did you read Gone With the Wind, and did it count as a romance in your eyes?

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I've always thought of GWtW as a film first (which I've never seen) and only in recent years have I realised that it was a book. It's categorisation as a 'Romance' is secondary to its length as my excuse not to read it.

As a slow reader these days I am always aware, when reading anything over 350 pages, of the queue of books still waiting to be read...and more and more being published each year! :eek:


It is on a special list of classics and re-reads for 'When I Retire', so I hope there's a large print version! ;)

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I'm afraid, like Meg, I avoid 'romance' like the plague. In fact, a touch of Black Death might even be preferable! I suppose that's a 'blokish' reaction, though in lots of ways I wouldn't consider myself 'blokish' (not mad about sport; find Jordan repellent; don't get anally retentive over alphabetising my CDs... etc.) :rolleyes:


'Romance' in this context is simply the story of two people (conventionally man & woman!) who as readers we feel should be together. That's the unvarying core. Whether they make it or not (or die or not); who or what gets in their way; and ultimately the nature of their relationship (sparky banter; early mutual contempt; smoochy pillow-talk followed by bed-spring testing) is what determines the flesh of the book.


This interests me very little. As I've written elsewhere, I only read these books if there is a lot going on besides, involving sophisticated characterisation, intricate plotting, social commentary, witty humour, dark psychology, etc., etc..


That's why you really should read Wuthering Heights soon, Meg. I have to accept it is a romance, but that doesn't even begin to do it justice. One of the towering great Victorian novels and quite unmissable.


The awful truth, Amanda, is that I wouldn't want to think of any other books that could be argued to be romances because I wouldn't want to saddle them with what for me is a rather derogatory term! :eek:


Anyway, that's my thinking on what a romance is, but how about this: how would you distinguish 'romance' from 'chick lit'? Or would you, even?

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Strange. I was considering changing this forum's name to Romance / Chick Lit, as there are a few former chart books cluttering up the Novels Of The 21st Century forum, by the likes of Wendy Holden, Cecelia Ahern and Sophie Kinsella. Then I thought that might be demeaning to the genre of Romance.


And I might have to call it 'Romance / So-Called Chick Lit', which is a bit cumbersome.


Any thoughts?

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Perhaps we should enlist rhe assistance of one of the librarians on the site? :) We seem to have several among the membership, although Flingo seems to be their main representative

Presumably they are the ones who decide which sticky label to put on the spines of library books to denote its classification. ;)

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Well, I've never ever read a Chick-Lit so I couldn't really comment! Unless you count Bridget Jones' Diary :confused: . What is Romance? :confused: Tough question! My first reaction is, even though I already said elsewhere that GWTW didn't strike me as romantic, that it is an attitude rather than a plot pattern...a writer who has the attitude that we're all just animals with reproductive instincts and its all about money or sex isn't going to be able to write a romance for soppy romantic types like me! Reason tells me that Darcy would have forgotten Elizabeth eventually if he hadn't married her, but romance lets me believe he would never have stopped loving her :o .

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I must admit I'm not a big fan of the way that libraries categorise genres.


Romance tends to mean "Mills and Boon" and the like. Novels like Wuthering Heights, GWTW, Rebecca would more likely be kept with classics in a lib (if there is a separate classics section that it!), rather than as Romance which always seems to be more "fluffy".


Chick-Lit to me is the modern day fairy tale, full of clichés, shopping, alcohol and feminism, only to finish with a happy ending as girl gets boy and realises that her attitude was all wrong! I have seen that some library authorities have started having separate chick lit sections as they aren't sure where they should be putting them.


I don't like this categorisation of novels by librarians with their stickers as it is such a subjective thing. What one person calls crime, another may call horror. What one person calls a classic, another might call an adventure. What one person calls fantasy, another may call humour. I often find it harder to find a book as I don't know which category it might be hiding in, and catalogue entries often vary depending on who put them on the computer!


So, maybe we need another more "traditional" librarian to help answer this one!


*steps down off soapbox*

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm an author, not a librarian or publisher, but my definition of a romance would be a book where the central plot revolves around a love story and where there is a happy ending.


Lots of books I would describe as romantic - because they involve love stories, but the love story is not the dominant plot. I'd put Wuthering Heights into a broad genre of 'romantic fiction' but I wouldn't say it's a 'romance'.

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On Radio4's 'Open Book' this week Phillipa Gregory was talking about 'Love Novels' (differentiating them from 'Love Stories' as a genre).


She said

'a really, really good novel which deals with love looks like it's about something else, but hauntingly weaving through it is a story about two people generally discovering themselves, finding their own way in life and also discovering each other'


That is about the right emphasis on love and romance for me, but I think most 'Romance' fans would prefer the love thread to be more prominent.


For a list of books Philippa Gregory considers to be Love Novels click on the link above and scroll down. Or use 'Listen Again'


Be Warned... she discounts all of Austen!

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Well I see she includes Possession so I can't discount her opinion outright!


I do worry that some people dismiss Austen too lightly, I haven't had a chance to listen to the programme yet, but I will always be willing to stand up and defend her where she is not appreciated!

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  • 1 year later...
I'm an author, not a librarian or publisher, but my definition of a romance would be a book where the central plot revolves around a love story and where there is a happy ending.


The difficulty is that the meaning of "Romance" has changed. I believe the etymology goes back to the French word for a novel (un roman) and at one point a novel and a romance were interchangeable terms for almost any work of fiction.


Un roman a clef was a romance with a key... a mystery!


Nowadays, as Kate says, the publishing convention is that Romance is a story with a Happy Ever After (or the promise of a HEA) and at least 50% of the content revolves around two central characters and their developing love for one another.


As with all stories, a Romance is expected to cover 5 basic elements: Milieu (or world building... which could simply be the historical or geographical setting for the story), Idea (more popular in SF), Character, and Events (or action/plot).


Arguably, the two most popular are novels of events (page-turners, full of action) and novels of character (where everything that happens is predicated by something within each of the protagonists.)


The nitty gritty of a romance is:


Who is he/she?

What does he want/What does she want?

Why can't he/she have it?

How does the hero or heroine prevent the heroine or hero from getting what he/she wants?

What makes things worse?

How do they defeat all odds so it all ends happily?


Of course, there is a lot more to it than just that!


Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

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