Earlier this month, writer Alan Elsner wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled How Romance Novels take the Romance out of Romance. I haven’t read any of Mr. Elsner’s novels, but he sounds like an intelligent man. He simply misses the point of romance novels.
For one thing, he makes the common mistake of confusing all romance novels with porn. I’m very fond of the graphic sex scenes that “quite surprised” him. Very very fond of them. (Btw, we’ve been out of the Victorian era for over a hundred years, Mr. Elsner — why does the discovery that women enjoy reading about hot sex startle you?) But it’s safe to guess he didn’t pick up an inspirational romance. Or anything from Harlequin’s tamer imprints. Or by Georgette Heyer.
He has also either forgotten the meaning of the word ‘romance’ or didn’t look it up. It’s the wee hours of the morning as I type and I didn’t feel like going downstairs to my reference books, so here’s the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s definition (the italics are mine):
Romance Function: noun Date: 14th century
1 a (1) : a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural (2) : a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious (3) : a love story especially in the form of a novel b : a class of such literature 2 : something (as an extravagant story or account) that lacks basis in fact 3 : an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an especially heroic era, adventure, or activity.
Most readers of the genre know perfectly well that sex and love are two different things. These days, a good romance of any genre depicts the development of an intimate relationship, physically and emotionally. The level of physical intimacy varies greatly from inspirational to erotic romance, but the emotional connection between the hero and heroine must be there.
Mr. Elsner doesn’t say in the article what books he based his observations on. If they were straight-forward erotica (a venerable literary genre, but not romance), that might explain his claim that in romance novels “love is expressed through sex and only through sex”. Or he might have been reading through testosterone-colored glasses and not registered the emotional content. He does assert that “love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all the other challenges presented by life.” Maybe for him that’s true, but it isn’t for me. Loving my husband was not a rational choice on my part. (I would never have deliberately chosen a man who thinks I should enjoy housework.) It just happened. After experiencing “an immediate and powerful mutual attraction”, I might add!