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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Circular reasoning, December 9, 2007
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This review is from: A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Paperback)
Pamela Regis' book, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, is a remarkable example of circular reasoning in literary analysis. She sets up a very specific definition of the concept "romance novel" -- namely "a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines."

In Chapter 4, The Definition Expanded, she then narrows this definition by defining eight aspects which she perceives as necessary to the form: Society Defined, The Meeting, The Barrier, The Attraction, The Declaration, Point of Ritual Death, The Recognition, and The Betrothal.

It should be noted that in this context, she presumes that the "betrothal" will occur between the hero and heroine, thus eliminating from the "romance novel" category an immensely popular work such as Anthony Hope's 1895 The Prisoner of Zenda, which followed the trope of love between hero and heroine sacrificed to the more imperative needs of honor and duty.

Given these tight limits on what the author is willing to consider to be a "romance novel," she focuses on tracing the form from Joseph Richardson's 18th century epistolary blockbuster, Pamela, through Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and other selected 19th century authors, picking up Georgette Heyer in the first half of the 20th century, and continuing through Janet Dailey, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Nora Roberts.

From the perspective of the historian rather than the literary critic, the major deficiency of the book lies in its lack of attention to authors who, in their own time, were blockbuster bestsellers. While she explains why Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind do not meet the criteria she has adopted for being "romance novels" (Chapter 5, The Genre's Limits), she still ignores completely quite a number of writers who were, in their own day, multi-title blockbusters in the romance field, such as George Barr McCutcheon, although devoting a full chapter to his contemporary E.M. Forster's 1908 A Room with a view.

A better title than "Natural History" of the romance novel would have been "Literary Analysis" of the romance novel.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 9, 2008 11:29:45 PM PDT
N. says:
Thanks for your review. Although this book does contain literary analysis (and quite happily so, in my opinion), this does not preclude it being a natural history; many "natural histories" are not exhaustive and offer only a survey of the major types of a form, genre, or object. The romance novel is fairly old as the (English) full-length novel form itself goes, and this long period of time, coupled with the huge 20th cent. explosion in r. novels, makes it fairly implausible for any author to in one book include all major examples of the genre. I find the author's definition of the genre to be reasonable and convincing, expecially in light of the Classical ideas of comedy and tragedy. I think most literary analysis of Du Maurier's Rebecca, for e.g., focuses rightly on the gothic and mystery elements of that novel (and from what I have read of Du Maurier's non-fiction, she would probably would not have agreed with Rebecca's being called a romance novel, anyway).

If one is of the mind that any novel with a central love story (irrespective of ending) is a romance novel, then that would broaden the genre to include much of literary, mainstream and "women's fiction." Some might say this would provide a much-needed incentive for the public to view with more respect the romance genre. But others might consider it a dilution of a genre that deserves careful analysis in its most popular and--for most loyal readers--most emotionally liberating form.

Posted on Apr 5, 2010 2:30:59 PM PDT
It's Samuel Richardson, not Joseph.

Posted on Oct 31, 2010 12:27:26 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 31, 2010 12:28:31 PM PDT
Jane Jones says:
The modern definition of a romance novel requires a happy ending- that is, whatever is impeding the full expression of the relationship is overcome, and some form of commitment between the main characters is made. Any story with a central theme of love sacrificed for a greater cause, is by definition not a romance.
This no doubt excludes many excellent stories, but if the couple do not end up together, it doesn't belong here.
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