Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

As most of you probably already know, January takes its name 'from Latin Januarius mensis "month of Janus" (the Roman god who presided over doors and beginnings)', and like the two-headed (sometimes even four-headed) god, people often look both backwards and forwards at this time of year, remembering what's happened over the past year and thinking about how they'd like things to improve in the coming one.

Looking back, I notice that among those who have have arrived here via a search engine, quite a lot would seem to be looking for someone to teach them about sex. They could probably do a lot worse than to read some romances because, as I mentioned in August, some romances can be read as sex education. I would, however, like to point out that romances can also contain inaccuracies. As Kalen Hughes has observed,
Contrary to what appears to be popular mythology (at least among the writers of romance and erotica) the hymen is not a “barrier” (except in RARE cases that require surgery; 1 in 2000 per Blaustein's Pathology of the Female Genital Tract) nor is it up inside the vaginal canal as it is commonly represented to be in fiction.
In addition, the exceptional stamina and physical endurance of many romance heroes and heroines are precisely that - exceptional. If anyone's looking for a more factual approach to sex education, then I'd suggest they look at a site like Scarlateen, where there are detailed articles about safer sex, first-time sex, emotional readiness for sex and a lot more.

We also get quite a lot of hits from people wanting to be taught what's romantic. I doubt they're looking for the distinction between romance novels and romantic novels (though if they are, we've got a post on that here). If these people are looking for advice on what their partner might find romantic, Germaine Greer thinks that they might do well to read some romance novels:
The hero of romance knows how to treat women. Flowers, little gifts, love-letters, maybe poems to her eyes and hair, candlelit meals on moonlit terraces and muted strings. Nothing hasty, physical. Some heavy breathing. Searing lips pressed against the thin stuff of her bodice. Endearments muttered into her luxuriant hair. ‘Little things mean a lot.’ Her favourite chocolates, his pet names for her, remembering her birthday, anniversaries, silly games. And then the foolish things that remind him of her, her perfume, her scarf, her frilly underthings and absurd lace hankies, kittens in her lap. Mystery, magic, champagne, ceremony, tenderness, excitement, adoration, reverence – women never have enough of it. (1993: 194)
That was written in 1970, though, and both society and romance novels have changed a lot since then. Although some people may find such objects and proceedings romantic, others may well see them as clichéd and lacking in thought.

Still looking back, but thinking about how the past can inform the present, in a recent post at Romancing the Blog, Kassia discussed some old publishers' guidelines for romance novels that she'll be adding to the Romance Wiki:
Her figure is always perfectly in proportion, usually petite, and slight of build. He is usually dark, though we have seen some great Nordic types, and recently, we have been introduced to a stunning redhead. [The Other Woman is] usually mean, over-sophisticated, well groomed. She NEVER gets our hero. [Other Characters are] stock, easily recognized, cameos. (Silhouette Books, Character guidelines, excerpts)
and in the comments she added that 'as I read them [the guidelines], I could also see how so many current day perceptions of the genre developed. I mean, the guidelines out-and-out state that secondary characters should be stock'.

If this is the perception of the genre that's still held by many non-romance-readers, however, that's troubling, because it means that attitudes towards the genre may have been shaped by works written decades ago. One of the genre's biggest image problems is tied to a lack of knowledge about its history: it is precisely because people don't know about romance's long history and its various sub-genres that they can talk of the genre being written to an unchanging formula.* As Pamela Regis has said:
Most critics writing about "the romance" pay, at most, lip service to the forebears of contemporary works. This practice robs the genre of its most distinguished representatives, marooning it in the present, and reducing it to the few works that a given critic has chosen to analyze. (2003: 53)
Over the coming year I'd like to discuss a few of the less well-known ancestors of the modern romance novel. I may well not get very far with this, and, like so many other New Year's resolutions it may be quickly abandoned, but I have got at least a couple of blog posts lined up on the topic so far.
  • Greer, Germaine, 1993. The Female Eunuch (London: Flamingo).
  • Regis, Pamela, 2003. A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press).
* Re the romance 'formula', romance author Deborah Hale suggests that perhaps it's (H + h x A) ÷ C + HEA = R and what she has to say is very positive about the genre. Usually, however, the words 'formula' and 'formulaic', when applied to romance, have rather more negative connotations. The online Compact Oxford English Dictionary even mentions the genre in its definition of the word 'formulaic':
adjective 1 constituting or containing a set form of words. 2 produced in accordance with a slavishly followed rule or style: much romantic fiction is formulaic.


  1. As always enjoyed your views.

    You made me laugh with the way people found your site.

    Happy New Year.


  2. Thanks, Liz!

    Being able to see the searches people run before they get here is also double-edged for me. Sometimes they make me laugh, sometimes (on the more obscene ones) I'm certain the person is going to be extremely disappointed, but not infrequently, when I see the ones from people who want someone to teach them something, I feel a bit guilty. I'm sure they'll find someone/somewhere that will do precisely that, but in the meantime I have an image of forlorn people in search of knowledge about love and sex who are doomed to wander ceaselessly in cyberspace until they find it. I think I read too much Dante at an impressionable age (to be honest, I'm still at an impressionable age ;-) ) and I see them as the cyber equivalent of the souls in the Purgatorio. I keep hoping they'll pick up some romance novels and that those will answer some of their questions, or at least give them some hope as they continue on their quest. (I'm not just at an impressionable age, I'm also a permanent romantic!)

  3. I'm a permanent romatic too! Some will find what they need most if they that is my hope.