Essay On Romance Genre

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The first publication as part of this project (published in 2011 in Romanian) was , a collection of essays examining the historical novel.

The editor notes in the foreword that the current volume grew out of an enthusiasm for ‘the equally popular – and even more controversial – genre of romance’ expressed by a number of contributors to the earlier collection (viii).

In literature, the word becomes perhaps even more problematic.

Romance originally identified language of composition; medieval ‘romance’ designated texts written in vernacular languages, specifically Old French, to differentiate them from those written in Latin (this usage survives in the designation of a group of European languages as ‘romance languages’).

Considering medieval romance, Kevin Sean Whetter (2008) argues that ‘modern criticism has consistently failed to agree on romance’s essential generic features’ (47); he further points to Ad Putter’s assertion that critical vagueness about the genre is ‘a natural reflection of the vagueness of the term in the Middle Ages’ (48).

Reflecting on contemporary popular romance, Pamela Regis characterizes the genre as ‘ill defined’ (7).Drawing on the work of Jayne Ann Krentz and the ‘Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ website, Percec gives an overview of some of the ways in which contemporary popular romance fiction is dismissed and classified a ‘lowbrow genre’ and a ‘mass cultural product’ (2).The initial paragraphs of the introduction imply a focus on a subgenre of contemporary fiction publishing and its readership, affirmed later with a lengthy quote from Janice Radway’s 1991 study.She notes, for example, that the second section of the book will explore ‘gothic romance’, describing this as ‘a subgenre which is gaining more and more popularity today’ (x).Further comment reveals that ‘gothic romance’ is to be understood as including ‘the Gothics and Charles Dickens’s romance of Merrie England’, as well as .Soon after the first French ‘romances’ were written in the second half of the twelfth century, the term began to be used to categorize the of such works of fiction.By the end of the Middle Ages, the word began to be associated with any work of fiction, but particularly those of a fanciful and fantastical nature, that was written with entertainment, rather than instruction, as its primary purpose.This focus on the (perhaps) minor misapprehensions of literary history in the opening pages of the collection are not intended to be an exercise in scholarly point-scoring.Rather, I wish to address the apparent impossibility of the task with which the book concerns itself.In the twentieth century, ‘popular romance’ came to be recognized as a genre of print fiction, though ‘popular romance’ in this context has a different meaning to ‘medieval popular romance’ (verse or prose fiction, usually of a chivalric or fantastical nature, written in a vernacular other than Old French).This outline of some – though not all – of the usages and understandings of the term ‘romance’ is intended to highlight the challenges facing Percec’s project.


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