Liv has to face the usual negative comments that romance readers have come to expect if they read their favourite novels in public:
She [Fleur, the heroine] scanned the growing lunch crowd and spotted her friend at a corner table, nose buried in the latest romance novel as usual.The author soon gets her revenge on Fleur, by making her the heroine of a romance and giving her her very own Darcy (though in his case it’s his first name rather than his surname):
Taking care not to decapitate anyone on the way to their table, Fleur slid into a vacant seat and stacked her load against a nearby wall. ‘Let me guess. The tall, dark and handsome hero is about to rip off the heroine’s bodice and thrust his -’
‘No! Romance novels aren’t bodice-rippers. They’re contemporary fiction. How many times have I told you that?’ Liv stared at Fleur over her rimless spectacles, a faint blush staining her cheeks.
Fleur grinned. ‘All those books seem the same to me. Lots of hot action, with the main protagonist being men with broad, naked chests and big-’
‘OK, you’ve made your point.’ Liv snapped the book shut and held up her hand to silence her. (2005: 6)
suddenly, just like that, Fleur experienced that strange, fluttery feeling that Liv’s romance novels raved about, that once-in-a-lifetime gut-churning, toe-curling reaction that signalled the one. She gazed at the stranger (2005: 9)It’s playful way of challenging some of the stereotypes about romance, while simultaneously acknowledging that some of them may be correct: as Liv’s blush indicates, many romances do indeed feature ‘ Lots of hot action’ and heroes with ‘broad, naked chests and big-’. In fact, in Contract to Marry itself Fleur will be depicted ‘admiring his toned torso [...] her hands skimming the broad, muscular expanse’ (2005: 126).
Another of the stereotypes about the genre, and one which Marsh seems to be attempting to refute, is that it’s unrealistic in its portrayal of happy outcomes for relationships. As Crusie observes:
Yes, there's still tragedy and suffering in the world, but not unbroken tragedy and suffering, and in fact, most of us are surrounded by good stuff. Specifically, people fall in love, get married, and stand by each other every day, and roughly half of them stay that way. For the first time in a century, the commitment and happy ending of the romance plot is every bit as realistic as the Modernist plot. Unfortunately the perception is that they're just not artistic.The plot of Contract to Marry depicts a cynical heroine, one who states that she’s ‘not a heroine in one of your novels’ (2005: 91) and who refers to romances as that those ‘corny novels’ (2005: 134). Nonetheless she falls in love and comes to believe in romance. When Liv temporarily becomes disillusioned with the genre, saying ‘I’ve given up on romance. It’s nothing like the books say it is’ (2005: 170), it’s Fleur who tries to reassure her and restore Liv’s faith in romance.
Marsh isn't alone in depicting romance-reading characters and using them to counter some of the prejudices about the genre. Another romance novel which mentions a romance reader, but this time only in passing, is Karen Templeton’s Swept Away. Here Carly, the 14-year old daughter of the hero of says that:
“Mama and I had ‘the talk’ when I was like ten or something. And I’ve been reading romance novels for years. Not that I believe it really happens like that or anything. But I definitely get the general idea.” (2006: 122).There may not be very many romance readers of that age, but they do exist. According to the Romance Writers of America’s statistics, 1% of readers are aged 13 or younger, and 6% are between the ages of 14-17. Carly's reading hasn't entirely prepared her for adult, sexual relationships, but the romances certainly aren't depicted as having harmed her in any way. Karen Templeton also presents us with a heroine who's been raped, and Carly faces a similar (though different) situation. The result in no way reinforces the 'forced seduction' scenario that can sometimes be found in romances. Instead there's a very clear '"no" means no' message in this romance.
Anyone else come across examples of romance-readers in romance? Do they reinforce, or challenge the stereotypes that exist about both romance and romance readers?
- Marsh, Nicola, 2005.Contract to Marry (Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon Limited).
- Templeton, Karen, 2006. Swept Away (Richmond, Surrey: Silhouette Books).