Here's a definition I found of "women's fiction":
Women’s fiction is a term that refers to stories where the female protagonist deals with situations and relationships that challenge her and affect her emotional growth.And here's the Romance Writers of America's definition of a romance: "Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending." I know they also state that "The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work" but there are now romances in which there are more than two individuals in the central relationship.
The subjects and themes of these books can cover a wide range of issues that women face. Relationships with other people are important, and are an integral part of the story. Though there is often a love interest, it isn’t the central focus.
What’s most important is the woman’s emotional development as she pursues her dreams, fights her fears, or overcomes obstacles life throws her way. These stories touch the emotions, and don’t necessarily have a happy ending. Like any book, though, women’s fiction does need an ending that satisfies readers. (Benedict)
Today I read a news item which made me wonder if there could also be fewer than two people in the "central love story":
Chen Wei-Yi has had one of the most unusual weddings in history by marrying herself in a ceremony in Taiwan.As she says in the radio interview below:
Chen - whose English name is Only - carried out the ceremony as a protest against the pressures on women in Taiwanese society to get married.
I feel that marrying myself represents a promise to really love myself. With this wedding I want to have a ceremony to prove that I really love myself [...] in the past many women sacrificed themselves or endured injustice. Now, finally, there are many choices open to women and one of these choices is to love ourselves more. So I feel that this is a really good opportunity for women to change society's expectations of them.
So would it be possible to think of a work of "women's fiction" which ends optimistically and in which the protagonist does not end up in a romantic relationship with another person, but does end up in love with herself, as a sort of romance?
I'm not thinking about the definitions in terms of their function as marketing labels: obviously many readers like to know what they're getting and novels which tell the story of a woman's evolving relationship with herself are bound to be considered significantly different from novels which tell the story of the growth of a romantic relationship between two or more people. Also, not all "women's fiction" ends happily, and it may not end with the female protagonist loving herself. All I'm doing here is looking at the definitions and wondering if there are more structural or thematic similarities between modern romance novels and some "women's fiction" than I'd previously thought there were.
Pamela Regis has stated that "A romance novel - a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines - requires certain narrative events" (27). The eight narrative events are as follows:
Society Defined Near the beginning of the novel, the society that the heroine and hero will confront in their courtship is defined for the reader. This society is in some way flawed. (31)I suspect that many, if not all, of these "narrative events" would be present in works of optimistically-ending women's fiction centered around a woman's journey towards loving herself. Obviously one would need to reword some of the descriptions slightly: in most cases, for example, their protagonists, unlike Chen Wei-Yi, do not literally become betrothed to, or marry themselves. What do you think?
The Meeting Usually near the beginning of the novel, but also sometimes presented in flashback, the heroine and hero meet for the first time. (31)
The Barrier A series of scenes often scattered throughout the novel establishes for the reader the reasons that this heroine and hero cannot marry. (32)
The Attraction A scene or series of scenes scattered throughout the novel establishes for the reader the reason that this couple must marry. (33)
The Declaration The scene or scenes in which the hero declares his love for the heroine, and the heroine her love for the hero. (34)
Point of Ritual Death The point of ritual death marks the moment in the narrative when the union between heroine and hero, the hoped-for resolution, seems absolutely impossible, when it seems that the barrier will remain, more substantial than ever. (35)
The Recognition In a scene or scenes the author represents the new information that will overcome the barrier. (36)
The Betrothal In a scene or scenes the hero asks the heroine to marry him and she accepts; or the heroine asks the hero, and he accepts. In romance novels from the last quarter of the twentieth century marriage is not necessary as long as it is clear that heroine and hero will end up together. (38)
- Benedict, Carol. "What Does It Mean: Women’s Fiction?" The Writing Place: Tips on Technique. July 12, 2010.
- Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P., 2003.
- Romance Writers of America. "About the Romance Genre."
- Sui, Cindy. "The woman who married herself." BBC News. 9 November 2010.