Inside those stories is everything you need to have a happy, loving relationship. [...] And what better way to learn about relationships and how they start, fracture, and become stronger once repaired, than to read about those relationships in many, many permutations and variations? (4-5)In her review of EIKALILFRN Jessica Miller, a romance reader and a philosopher who teaches at the University of Maine, suggests that there's something rather problematic about Wendell's line of argument:
Though Wendell is writing a “gift book,” not a work of theory or literary criticism, her specific claims deserve some scrutiny, particularly around the issue of reader engagement, which is central to her arguments on the genre’s behalf. How, for instance, do romance readers manage to glean the good stuff but not the bad? [...] Wendell relies on reader testimonials for her claim that romance readers learn the real lessons, but merely enjoy the fantasy, but then what do we do about readers who testify that romance has harmed them [...]? To her credit, Wendell includes a few comments from readers who claim they learned what not to expect by reading romance [...]Miller argues that
But if savvy readers come to the genre ready and able to suss out what’s just fantasy, what’s worth emulating, and what not to do, then romance novels aren’t actually teaching these readers anything new. Wendell herself admits that the lessons romance teaches are “things you likely learned as a child when you were taught how to treat other people.” In that case, it would be more accurate to say that romance novels reflect or deepen moral beliefs readers already hold. This makes sense—but then it follows that if a reader holds pernicious or delusional moral beliefs (however we define those), given the sheer size of the genre, she can probably find some reinforcing of those bad moral beliefs in romance novels, too.
It’s time to stop evaluating romance novels in terms of their putative effects on (women) readers, and to pay more attention to their literary merit and ability to provide pure pleasure.
- Miller, Jessica. "A Fine Romance." Open Letters Monthly. 1 Feb. 2012.
- Wendell, Sarah. Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2011.