Embracing Romance Books | Guest Blog By Sophy Layzell
This week I welcome author Sophy Layzell to my blog. You can find her guest blog, Embracing Romance, below. Her article explores the importance of the romance genre and considers why romance books have historically been dismissed by critics. Enjoy!
In March I found myself advising my uncle, ‘to embrace the romance sections’. He had written a great novel but shied away from details as soon as his main protagonist began falling in love with the hero. There was a minor frisson of expectation, a touching of hands and then…end of chapter.
Giving this advice wasn't something I ever thought I’d say, particularly not to my elderly uncle, but why? There’s nothing wrong with romance, we all need it in our lives, and it is, after all, what makes the world go round. So why do so many authors feel romance a dirty word?
Is it a snobbery thing? The assumption that modern romance means ‘trashy’? That somehow big romance blockbusters are badly written, have ‘sold out’ in some way? And yet Jilly Cooper, for example, has a CBE for services to literature and charity. Her most recent novel Mount sold 40,000 copies in the first month. Wouldn’t we all like that kind of success?
My own experience of ‘trashy’ novels was short lived. Aged 12 or 13 my friend leant me a whole supermarket bag full of 1980s Mills and Boon novels. She told me I HAD to read them, they were swoonsome, and I looked forward to this new part in my education with interest (I was a late developer).
I managed to read one of these books before my mother, horrified, insisted I return them. Her argument (the same for not allowing me teen magazines such as Just 17 and Jackie) was that they would give me a false idea of relationships and would somehow ruin me for life. That she did not trust me to sift through fact from fiction is something I think many parents are guilty of.
So, I believe, people who think they know best (including my parents) have set up this highbrow position, and from this lofty perch they have condemned certain literary endeavours for centuries.
Jayne Eyre, although an instant best seller, was regarded as a ‘naughty book’ (G H Lewes 1847), and once a female author was attributed, Bronte was criticised for being coarse and no doubt a woman of loose morals who ‘for some sufficient reason … forfeited the society of her own sex’. - Elizabeth Rigby, Quarterly Review.
Rigby’s main beef with Jayne Eyre was the anti-feminist theme…rich powerful man v. poor governess, master v. servant, dominant v. submissive. You get the picture. It is a theme that still seems very popular today. So, after consideration, I can only assume contemporary negative viewpoints are inherited and come from a mix of prudishness and sanctimony.
Or are the critics right? With writing comes responsibility. As Beth Linton says in the opening lines of her blog, ‘As a female author of romance books, I am incredibly aware that how I present my characters matters.’ Her article exploring Alpha Males, Strong Women, & Consent is on my blog, it is well worth reading.
Regardless of whose opinion is right, romance is the biggest selling genre. Some of the greatest love stories of all time have endured and inspire countless retellings: Helen of Troy and Paris, Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere. More recently, the love story in Twilight broke the UK Waterstones record to sell a million copies and Fifty Shades of Gray almost single-handedly changed the way self-published novels are now viewed. Ground-breaking stuff.
So for all you writers out there, I still say let’s embrace romance. Romance is arguably the most important genre. Important not just for the contribution it makes financially to the industry but for what it can teach us. Relationships, even fictitious ones, help us understand our own. Romance books give us insight into certain behaviours; novels are character studies, observations. As they sweep us into their narrative, we can learn a little of our own aspirations, and isn’t that what reading is all about? We read to gain knowledge and a greater understanding of the world around us and our place within it.
To find out more about Sophy Layzell visit her website.