Romance novels have entranced women (and men) for decades. The classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy regains girl’s love, against all odds, resulting in a happily ever after. But over the years, the storylines of the genre have changed, along with the themes of the novels. Here is a brief history of the Romance Novel’s history, from the beginning in the 1700s to modern times.
The Early Years
A romance novel is a novel that centers on a romantic story, which may or may not include explicit material. In the early years, romance novels were solely focused on the romance itself, without much plot. The first known romance novel was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was about the love between a female maid and her land-owning master. And that absolutely made sense in 1740, when women were oppressed wives whose value was determined by their husbands’ status and they were often left alone all day. A fantasy of a maidservant falling in love with her master wasn’t too far off from real-life relationships at the time. But the romance novel didn’t really hit its stride until Jane Austen came along in the 1800s. Although she published her books anonymously, the general public knew that her books were written by a woman, and they were popular enough to earn her a profit.
The Explosion of the Romance Novel
Harlequin novels came next, in 1949 but didn’t hit their stride until the 1970s. These novels were marketed towards women and sold at supermarkets and convenience stores, which at the time were frequented mostly by women. These books had predictable plots and happy endings, as well as the first notable sex scenes in literature. These were the first novels to contain explicit material for women, but as the feminist movement grew, women were able to accept their sexuality more and more, leading to the evolution of the romance novel. While before, romance novels only contained the plot of the romance itself, in the 70s and 80s, the stories began to evolve to include more suspense and mystery, until plots became as important as the romance itself. Women began to embrace their own sexuality, and take active roles in the stories instead of being passively ravaged by rugged heroes.
Historical romances became more popular, and adventure stories full of passion and heat also started appearing on the shelves. With the second wave of feminism came women becoming less ashamed, and the romance novels of the time showed that.
Today’s Romance Novels
Today’s romance novels are about anything and everything. They contain suspense, intricate storylines, strong heroines, and less traditionally accepted love. LGBT romances are on the rise, and so are taboo fantasies. Say what you want about “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but it became as popular as it did because of the sex-positive attitude women are embracing more than ever.
Any type of romance you love can be found in stores or on Kindle, even the love that was unacceptable before. The stigma of reading romance novels still exists, but it’s far quieter than it was fifty years ago. We’re becoming less afraid to speak out about our wants and desires, and less ashamed to speak about sex in general. The #MeToo movement has brought sexual assault to the forefront of our news, women openly read more romance novels, and our sexual rights are expanding in the developed world. The world still has a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights, but as it keeps evolving, the modern romance novel will evolve right along with it, leading to more exciting, unusual stories.
The content above submitted by a guest blogger.
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