Friday, January 03, 2014

Beyond "the Defensive Crouch"?


Late in 2013, Noah Berlatsky, who writes for Salon and a number of other on-line publications, began reading and writing about popular romance fiction.  He's coming to the genre from a background in comics and other popular culture, and he's been very responsive--on Twitter and in comments--to suggestions from the romance author and romance scholar community.

Recently at The Hooded Utilitarian he posted some thoughts about Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel, and they've sparked a long discussion in the comments about the virtues and drawbacks of Pam's definition of the romance genre ("a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines protagonists"), of the RWA's definition of the genre, really of the whole effort to define the romance novel, especially in terms of its ending.

Berlatsky is an American writer, but it's clear that his heart is with the Romantic Novelists Association, over in the UK:  that is, he thinks of the genre in terms of the central love story, and not in terms of a particular ending.  (You can read their discussion of the genre here.)  I'm comfortable having two different terms to distinguish the broad category (the "romantic novel") and the narrower one (the "romance novel"); he's not, and sees some potential drawbacks for both authors and readers.

Feel free to weigh in, there or here, on the topic--and keep an eye out for Berlatsky, who's bringing a fresh set of eyes to the genre and to our academic musings about it!


  1. It's hard not to crouch to some extent when National Endowment for the Humanities funding for the Popular Romance Project can spark a headline such as "Obama’s federal government funded hardcore porn project."

  2. Oh, and I think that headline provides plenty of support for those who're in favour of defining "the romance novel." While I can think of good reasons why governments might want to fund research into "hardcore porn," in this case the NEH didn't, because "popular romance" is not "hardcore porn."

  3. Hey Eric! Thanks for posting over here.

    Just thought I'd mention that part of the reason for Regis' definition seems to be a concern that romance will be defined by sex. She says at one point that she wanted to list the eight things that define the romance so that people don't define it by incidental aspects, like sex.

    I don't think there's anything wrong about online erotica, and I think that it's an overlapping genre with romance in a lot of ways. I think lots of folks do define romance by the sex (that's readers and writers as well), so I think throwing porn or erotica to the censors is probably a bad idea tactically.