As someone who has been reading romance novels virtually non-stop for two years, I have a lot of feelings on the subject. As a successful writer in the genre, Maya Rodale has feelings and actual research on the subject. I purchased her thesis, Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained, because I wanted to understand why this mass market genre is so consistently derided not only by readers, but also seemingly by the book industry as well. Many people read these books and publishers make a lot of money. Obviously, manifestly, clearly, profit does not equal quality, but why doesn’t it at least equal some respect for the readership? What is with the titles? What is with the “clinch covers”?
Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained is largely a historical overview, and, I think, a good one, providing context for the origins, specifics, and reputation of these books. A historical perspective seems a good place to start. If American attitudes are still frequently puritanical, why shouldn’t attitudes towards certain kinds of novels be understood through the prism of an earlier century as well? While reading, I kept waiting for an answering “CLANG!” in my brain to help me understand why reading romance is regarded with greater stigma than other genre fiction, including science fiction, spy novels, and murder mysteries. I was seeking vindication. These are the kinds of reactions I get when I people what I like to read:
“It’s pornography for repressed women.” It’s 2014. If I wanted pornography, I could find pornography.
“I wouldn’t think you were the type.” I don’t even know what this means. Is it that I have so carefully crafted the illusion of intelligence? I don’t seem pathetic? That is the general implication with statements such as these.
“They’re sexist.” No. Historical romance puts a bonnet on current social mores and uses the setting to create narrative distance and reinforce the elements of escapism. There are cultural limitations placed on the women, but these are obstacles not virtues.