Monday, October 13, 2014

Noted with Interest: The Creed of Romance?

At the 2014 IASPR conference, Catherine Roach proposed that there were nine essential claims being made by popular romance novels--or, since her thinking draws primarily on recent novels by American authors, we might say "being made by recent American popular romance novels," allowing the claims to be historicized and treated comparatively.  Obviously her list plays off of Pamela Regis's list of eight essential elements, but as the shift in nouns suggests, these aren't narrative elements, but rather parts of an implicit creed or belief system that underwrites the genre.

In a guest post for another blog, Roach posted her list for comment--but since they're of such potential use for scholars and teachers of the genre, I thought that it might be useful to repost and archive them right here at Teach Me Tonight. She invited comments at the other blog, and I'm sure she'd welcome them here as well; I plan to blog about them individually as the weeks go by.

Here, then, is Catherine Roach's "provisional list" of the "nine central claims made by the romance narrative":

  1. It is hard to be alone. We are social animals. Most people need and want love, of some kind. Amid all the possibilities for love as philia (friendship) and agape (spiritual or selfless love), the culture often holds up eros or romantic partner love as an apex of all that love can be and do.
  2. It is a man’s world. Women generally have less power, fewer choices, and suffer from vulnerability and double standards. They often get stuck looking after men or being overlooked by men.
  3. Romance is a religion of love. Romance entails belief in the power of love as a positive orienting force. Love functions as religion, as that which has ultimate meaning in people’s lives.
  4. Romance involves risk. Love doesn’t always work out. Desire can be a source of personal knowledge and power but also of deception and danger. Romance fiction is the safe, imaginative play space to explore the meaning and shape of this landscape.
  5. Romance requires hard work. Baring the true self, making oneself vulnerable to another is hard. Giving up individuality for coupledom requires sacrifice.
  6. Romance facilitates healing. Partner love leads to maturity. Love heals all wounds. Love conquers all.
  7. Romance leads to great sex, especially for women. Women in romance novels are always sexually satisfied. Romance reading can connect women to their sexuality in positive way.
  8. Romance makes you happy. The problematic version of this claim is that you need to be in a romantic relationship for full happiness. Here, romance fiction can be oppressive if it mandates coupledom for everyone.
  9. Romance levels the playing field for women. The heroine always wins. By the end, she is happy, secure, well loved, sexually satisfied, and set up for a fulfilling life. The romance story is a woman-centred fantasy about how to make this man’s world work for her.

It might be useful to compare these nine elements to the claims about love made by romance author and Episcopal priest Amber Belldene in her recent essay "The Secret Sermon in Every Romance Novel." There are some fascinating passages in it, and I'll come back to them in some later posts here; for now, let this serve as the "money quote," in Andrew Sullivan's phrase:
I’m coming to think of each romance novel as a sort of sermon, shining new light onto a familiar truth, deepening our appreciation of it and our ability to live it out in our own lives. Those faithful readers of the trope-heavy category romances remind me of devoted church goers, longing for the comforting ritual of being told again in fresh words their most dear truth–that love heals, or that mistakes can be redeemed, that an ugly duckling is secretly a lovable swan, just as a seasoned preacher will tell you everyone needs to hear God loves them every Sunday.
In her mind, romance authors are "all preaching. Not the Christian gospel, or the Buddha’s four noble truths, but Romance with a capital R."

More on this, and other thoughts, anon.


  1. Really fascinating stuff here. Looking forward to reading more, both from Roach and those who engage these ideas. Will need to think more before writing anything myself, but excited.

  2. I refound this almost by accident tonight...having read it, admired it, and lost it a while back. Truly inspiring thoughts. Many thanks for the heads up on Roach's and Belldene's posts. Many thanks! :)