We discuss an article by The Washington Post that explores the evolution of the romance genre, highlighting its history, from bodice rippers to contemporary romance and its enduring popularity among diverse authors and readers.
How Has the Romance Genre Changed Over the Years?
We love discussing the history of the genre of romance. For that reason, an article we discovered regarding the state of the industry was especially intriguing to us.
Journalist Angela Haupt from The Washington Post spoke with a dozen major players in the romance industry. She then wrote this engaging article about the evolution of the romance novel.
The Post published it on April 15, 2021. The link follows below:
Haupt’s article on romance novels highlights significant points in the genre’s history. It covers the roots in bodice rippers, like Kathleen E. Woodiwiss‘ Flame and the Flower, to the softer, sweeter writings of LaVyrle Spencer. She also discusses Harlequin, Ltd.’s dominance in publishing, the mania over Fabio, and the state of the romance industry today.
There are two constants in this ever-changing field. One is the requirement for a happy, satisfactory ending for the protagonists. The other is the universal nature of those who read and write romance.
I think Beverly Jenkins did an excellent job summing it all up.
“There’s so many different women writing romance. You’ve got marine scientists, you’ve got biologists, you’ve got physicists, you’ve got waitresses. You’ve got stay-at-home moms. So, you know, everybody writes romance, and everybody reads romance, and all of that together generates billions of dollars a year. We’re the people that keep the lights on in publishing.“—BEVERLY JENKINS
My Thoughts About The Washington Post’s Article
After reading the article, I found points I agreed with and disagreed with about the romance genre. I made the following comment at Historical Romances.Com: Romance Novels are Big Business:
“That’s a fascinating article that brings up a lot of interesting points. However, I have to disagree with the assessment the early clinch covers were directed solely at the male gaze. Certainly there were covers that had women practically bursting out of their dresses, but how can they forget the Robert McGinnis naked man phase that began in 1980 with Johanna Lindsey’s Fires of Winter? Each Lindsey cover was more graphic than the next. The original A Gentle Feuding cover had the hero’s backside completely nude (that version was never published in America). Tender is the Storm was so controversial that bookstores were supplied with stickers to cover the hero’s behind and groin area.
Let’s face it, romance covers have always been a bit salacious, from the very beginning to the naked men’s torso phase of today. Covers have always been controversial. That’s why some readers prefer step-covers or the privacy of their e-readers. Personally, I love the variety of it all: from painted to digital, step-backs or clinch, with a couple or with the hero or the heroine alone. The only ones I’m not fond of in the historical genre are the newer illustrated types, which, in my estimation, are better suited for contemporaries or light hearted rom-coms.“JACQUELINE DIAZ
Despite its consistent popularity, romance novels have long been dismissed as lesser literature, often ridiculed for their steamy covers and formulaic plots. But as the Washington Post article points out, the genre has persevered and evolved, partly due to the tireless efforts of its dedicated fans.
The skeptics fail to recognize the sheer emotional power of a well-crafted romance novel. At its heart, the genre is about connection and empathy, exploring the complexities of human relationships in an entertaining and enlightening way.
From the initial spark of attraction to the hurdles and conflicts that threaten to keep the lovers apart, a good romance novel navigates the full spectrum of the human experience.
So, the next time you’re tempted to sneer at a romance novel, remember that you might miss out on a genuinely transformative reading experience. And if you’re already a fan, take heart in the fact that you’re part of a vibrant community that has helped to shape and redefine the genre for generations.
Have you read The Washington Post’s story? If so, what do you think of what they wrote? What are your feelings on the history of genre romance novels?
Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.