Tag Archives: romance that is not romance

accidental romance

The Accidental Romance? Books From Other Genres Can Be Romances, Too!

accidental romance

Romance, A Genre Bound By Limitations?

What defines a romance novel? The RWA, or Romance Writers of America, has stated the definition of romance is a love story that concludes on an optimistic note for the protagonists. Either a “Happily Ever After” or “Happy For Now” ending will suffice.

Some authors and readers balk at this description, saying it constricts the full scope of emotions and experiences.

However, all genre fiction has guidelines. Imagine a mystery where the audience never finds out whodunnit. Yes, there are thrillers where the bad guy gets away with the crime. Regardless, the reader knows who is behind it by the conclusion, even if the authorities do not. Science fiction that posits no speculation, no technological changes, or creates nothing different from our world isn’t science fiction.

accidental romance
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Detractors of romance do so in part because the genre demands a happy, upbeat ending. Some literary critics turn up their noses at the idea. “How puerile to believe in true love or love that requires a lifetime of commitment and fidelity!”

Readers counter they are familiar with love in all its variations. They merely seek out HEAs in fiction, perhaps as a form of escapism from the harsh realities of life. In turn, that explanation is derided as unsophisticated. Such notions are for children’s fairy tales, not “serious literature.”

Labels can be limiting or deceptive. A single work of fiction can belong to multiple categories. I recently read a book classified as “Christian Heavy Metal Pulp.” Using a Venn diagram, one finds novels can belong to several genres. Literary fiction can likewise be a mystery, just as romance can be fantasy, erotica, science fiction, suspense…

And just about everything else. An intentional attempt at one genre can result in an accidental romance novel.

book with heart
Photo by Kaboompics.com on Pexels.com

The Literary Roots of Romance

Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel Pamela (Or Virtue Rewarded) is generally considered the first English language “romance.” It’s been criticized for the hero’s attempts to ravish the heroine. Pamela’s acquiescence and blind adoration of Mr. B confound academics. The plot revolves around love, culminating with the heroine reforming the rake–ostensibly so.

It’s impossible to discuss romance and not mention Jane Austen. Without Pride and Prejudice, one wonders if the genre would even exist. Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park are classics in the annals of romance.

Other literature doing double duty is Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which addresses the rigidity of class structure. Charlotte Bronte’s morality play Jane Eyre is a Gothic romance. The respective couplings of Margaret & Thornton and Jane & Mr. Rochester result in matrimony.

accidental romance p and p
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights portrays how a powerful amour transcends death. For that reason, it is not a direct predecessor of modern romance. Cathy and Heathcliff’s ghosts haunting the moors for eternity don’t make for the uplifting conclusion the genre requires. It may be “romantic,” but a romance it is not.

The great writer and poet Thomas Hardy created beautiful, depressing novels denouncing the constrictive social mores of his time. His virtuous characters acted in ways considered immoral. Therefore, they often came to unfortunate ends. One exception was Far From the Madding Crowd‘s independent heroine, Bathsheba Everdene. Her road to true love is rocky. She finds it with her friend, the solid shepherd, Gabriel Oak.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is a sublime work encompassing many themes. It addresses religion, spirituality, nationalism, society, technology, and love in myriad forms–including Eros, Agape, Philos, and Mania. Although the lengthy tome is titled Anna Karenina, the book is more than just about Anna’s doomed love. Besides her ill-fated, torrid affair with Count Vronsky, a parallel romance between Levin and Kitty unfurls slowly over time, culminating in domestic bliss.

gone with the wind romantic fiction
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936

Twentieth Century Un-Romances

By the end of the Victorian Era, readers were consuming love stories with happy endings in droves. The books featured pure-hearted heroines finding their ever-afters with handsome lords and titans of industry. Much like today, these novels were commercially successful. Yet they received critical hatred and were dismissed as poorly-written, formulaic melodramas.

In the future, Sweet Savage Flame plans to document the history of romances in the 20th century before The Flame and the Flower, which was the progenitor of the modern era.

Fiction That Some Think Are Romances, But They’re Not!

Here, we note some books that are misperceived as “true” romances.

Margaret Mitchell wrote the “Great American Novel,” Gone With the Wind. Kathleen Windsor’s Cavalier-Era romp, Forever Amber, was influenced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning saga of Scarlett O’Hara’s love life during the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras. Both were romantic epics, but not romances.

Boris Pasternak’s Noble-Prize-winning Dr. Zhivago depicts a love story for the ages. After years of separation, the main character, Yuri, dies of a heart attack while married to another woman. His true love, Lara, disappears, presumably to a gulag.

Robert Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County was a huge hit in the 1990s. Oprah Winfrey touted it as a thrilling “romance,” displaying the general public’s misunderstanding of the genre’s conventions. The brief affair between a married woman and a photographer made for a passionate tale, but that’s all. The protagonists did not end up HEA.

Often cited as a romance author, Nicholas Sparks actually writes romantic fiction. What’s the difference? The endings!

A Walk to Remember and Message In a Bottle depict main characters who die. As both husband and wife die at the finale of The Notebook, it’s not genre romance. However, I’ve read a few books with epilogues where happy couples die of old age. So that one might be a gray area.

On the other hand, Sparks’ short novel, The Wedding, where a man secretly plans a lavish ceremony for his and his wife’s anniversary, ends happily. So it does qualify as an accidental romance, as the main theme involves their relationship.

accidental romance

Modern Fiction That Doubles As a Romance

Consider the definition of modern romance, and let’s evaluate individual works of fiction by that standard.

A book can transcend its intent. Once the masses consume art, the creator loses absolute control over it. An author with literary pretensions may swear their novel isn’t a romance, but love is unstoppable. If a romantic relationship is integral to the story and concludes on an optimistic note, that is a romance novel!

Below is a brief list of works written as literary or genre fiction published between 1900 and 2000. As these depict love stories with HEAs, they also qualify as romance novels

The Accidental Romances of the 20th Century

  • A Room With A View (1908) – E. M. Forster
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) – D.H. Lawrence
  • The Golden Hawk (1948) – Frank Yerby
  • A Woman Called Fancy (1951) – Frank Yerby
  • Speak Now (1969) – Frank Yerby
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) – Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Accidental Tourist (1985) – Anne Tyler
  • Lucky (1985) – Jackie Collins
  • Exit to Eden (1985) – Anne Rampling (Anne Rice)
  • Belinda (1986) – Anne Rampling (Anne Rice)
  • The Princess Bride (1987) – William Goldman
  • Outlander (1991) – Diana Gabaldon
  • American Star (1993) – Jackie Collins
  • High Fidelity (1995) – Nick Hornby
accidental tourist
The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler, 1985

Your Opinion

Have you read books that weren’t written as romances but adhere to the genre’s standards? Do you enjoy romances that straddle different categories? Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

A violation charlotte lamb

Contemporary Romance Review: A Violation by Charlotte Lamb

a violation charlotte lamb
A Violation by Charlotte Lamb
Rating: three-stars
Published: 1983
Illustrator: Unknown
Published by: Worldwide, Harlequin
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 313
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Contemporary Romance Review: A Violation by Charlotte Lamb

Spoiler Alert ⚠

The Book

A Violation, a full-length novel by category author Charlotte Lamb, isn’t a straightforward romance. It’s somewhere more between women’s fiction and romantic fiction.

Like so many of her works, it encompasses major themes. Here she emphasizes the philosophy of love and what are the roles of being a man and a woman, especially regarding amorous relationships. Charlotte Lamb addresses a difficult and taboo subject in romance: rape.

A Romance That is Not a Romance

In general, I think Lamb was better restrained by the limitations of category romance, as at times in A Violation she veers off into navel-gazing. Nevertheless, this was a satisfactory read.

I wouldn’t rank it as exemplary as the similarly-themed Stranger in the Night, but superior to a few of Lamb’s other Mills & Boon/ Harlequins that also dealt with sexual assault. (I am looking at you Dark Fever.)

Rape, especially a violent rape by a stranger who debases the heroine, leaving her life in tatters, isn’t the most comfortable backstory for a romance.

As stated, though, this isn’t strictly a romance novel, so if you’re looking for more than a “Happy For Now” ending, you might be disappointed.

The Plot

A Violation

Clare is a modern woman of her era (the early 1980s) with a successful career and a live-in boyfriend with whom she’s sexually active but not madly in love. One night a stranger breaks into her home and brutally violates her.

Understandably, the violation of Clare’s body, her home, and her sanctity turns everything upside down. Her friends, family, and co-workers all know of the horrible experience she’s faced.

The rape changes everything. Her relationship with her boyfriend is destroyed.

But not her life.

Clare deals with the trauma by focusing on the healing–not on the event itself. She goes to counseling to seek solace.

Instead of wrapping herself up in her victim status, Clare uses the tragic occurrence as a springboard to learn who she is and transform into a stronger person.

How a Tragedy Affects Everyone

Clare’s experience also causes a ripple in the lives of both her mother and her best friend, Pamela, an ultra-independent, career-minded model. And so it does too for Clare’s boss, Larry, who is there for her as she recovers from her shocking experience.

The friendship between Larry and Clare starts to morph into something more intense gradually.

Meanwhile, Pamela engages in a “will-they-or-won’t they romance” with her polar opposite, a traditional-minded guy named Joe.

Also, there is Clare’s mother, who is from a more conservative generation when it comes to sex and gender issues. She has to deal with comprehending the tragedy that has transformed her daughter.

Charlotte Lamb on Feminism and Romance

One facet of A Violation that fascinated me was the ever-present topic of second-wave feminism. This book was like a time capsule into an era where women did not have all the options that some today might take for granted.

The two burgeoning relationships form parallel stories about the battle of the sexes. Clare ponders whether Pamela could ever truly be content with a man like Joe:

Clare could hardly believe now that Pamela sat around yearning to do just that, daydreaming about making Joe’s breakfast before he went off to work, wondering aloud what sort of children they would have…It was pathetic, like hearing a free bird mewing to get inside a cage.

As for herself, Clare goes on a voyage of discovery as to what’s important in her life.

While shocked at her friend’s seeming change in attitude, Clare realizes that certain traditional values appeal to her. She won’t hold out for anything less.

Larry’s dogged pursuit intrigues her, but she is hesitant to engage in anything serious with the notorious womanizer that he is.

A Discussion Worth Having

Larry: The Pill’s liberated women. Sex is no longer a dangerous pleasure. They have it on demand without fear of consequences, just like a man.

Clare: Except women aren’t men, either physically or mentally, and they tend to get emotionally involved with anyone they make love with. How is it going to get around that and your ‘Brave New World?’

Larry: I didn’t make the rules. I’m just reporting what I’ve noticed going on. When I was 20 there were two sorts of girls: those who did it, and those you have to marry if you talk them into it and they got pregnant. That no longer applies.

Clare: It strikes me that for all this talk about liberating women, it was men who got liberated, they no longer have to pay for sex–either money or marriage.

Larry: It was women who demanded equality and liberation–now they’ve got it all they do is complain.

Clare: I suppose it’s OK for women who get the exciting job–top executives and big companies, models like Pamela, actresses.

But what about all the women slaving away at boring jobs and offices and factories, who wish to God they could afford to stay home and run the house and cook the dinner?

My mother never worked, her generation didn’t unless they had no other option. When I got back from work it was me who cooked some dinner. It didn’t matter how tired I was…

Larry: That was your own fault! Don’t whine to me about letting him use you as an unpaid servant. You have a tongue in your head, you should have told him straight that it wasn’t on; if he couldn’t go fifty-fifty with you, you could hit the road and not come back.

Clare: I did. In the end, I did.

Can a Happy for Now Ending Be a True Romance?

Larry is Clare’s friend, yes. But slowly, he begins to be something else. Something much more meaningful.

Yet Clare is not a woman to be taken lightly. She now knows what she wants in life and expects no less.

“I love you,” he whispered…

“You can’t be in love with me. It isn’t possible…You only want me because I refused you. I’m sure that if I gave in yesterday and let you seduce me you wouldn’t have asked me to marry you today.”

“You could be right,” he replied equably. “You presented a challenge I have to overcome somehow…I want to kiss you until you–“

“Until I submit to you! …That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Domination and submission you dominate and I submit. I refuse to play that game. I’m not going to marry you. When I marry–if I marry–it won’t be someone powerful and domineering like you. I’ll marry someone with whom I’m equal.”

“But we are equals, first,” he argued. “Haven’t you noticed you’re almost as tall as I am and you’re strongly armed as well as strong-willed?”

His mouth curved ruefully and he touched the plaster on his forehead. “You proved in no uncertain way that you refuse to be dominated…That you’re reckless, don’t give a damn for convention and you like to have your own way as much as I like to have mine.”

Final Analysis of A Violation

At the end of A Violation, Charlotte Lamb leaves Clare and Larry’s status ambiguous. There is no definitive yes to marriage. Even so, that’s okay. Things are happy.

For, oddly enough, the frightening, life-altering experience Clare has gone through enabled her to find her true self. And in knowing herself, Clare knows what she wants in a lifetime partnership.

To be equals to a man, yet complementary; two pieces of one whole part.

A Violation is not a book I “enjoyed” experiencing. It was uncomfortable, yet also invigorating. It succeeds as a story of a woman’s self-discovery. As a romance, I’m not sure where it fits.

If you can handle the sensitive subject matter, I think it’s worth a read.

3 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 3.3