Since I spent lat time explaining my definition of “cheesy,” I thought Id’ spend some time today with the rest of my descriptor for my book–romance. Yes, my book is a romance–but in more ways than the traditional character A sees character B across a dimly lit room, Bam!, the sun comes out, the world makes sense, the birds are singing all day long–even while they fight off the villain together–and they ride off into the sunset together. Yeah, I’m a sucker for that kind of romance.
But I spend my days talking about the rest of romance, the part that writers seem to have left in the bowels of history. In literature, Romance means a story written in a Roman language–and for most of history, that means Latin (eventually, Latin will spawn the romance languages–French, Spanish, and Italian). So, a romance is a story that those crazy Roman invaders would bring with them, sharing the tales of adventure in their native tongue. Those stories are awesome, and so of course people started to retell them to all of their friends–some of whom did not understand Latin. So those tales were translated into Old English and French–and then the French started to compose their own stories–and suddenly there is a group of stories classified as romance that may or may not involve happy couples kissing and/or swearing eternal devotion to one another.
These stories, often called medieval romances, usually involve an adventure of some kind, a quest or journey where the protagonist has to accomplish a goal (sometimes the rescue of the classic damsel in distress but not always). Often there is an supernatural element, usually they take place in locations with faraway exotic names (for the listeners, that is), and sometimes the protagonist gets married at the end. People still call them romances, though, since they are derived from those old Roman stories that were translated from Latin.
The French take this genre by storm, embellishing that old story about a warrior named Arthur with an entire world–Camelot, Excalibur, the English Queen who is seduced by a French knight who uses his lance, a lot. Did I mention that this was right after the Norman Invasion when the French conquered England, claimed their land, and spent the next few hundred years changing their language? (Take that, England! Your English King loses his Queen to a sexy French chevalier!). That aside, these are the romances that endure, and they generally break up into four different categories or what we English majors call Matters:
The Matter of Rome includes any stories that deal with Roman or Greek elements (Trojan war, Greek gods, etc.).
The Matter of England includes any stories that deal with King Arthur (Camelot, Excalibur, Holy Grail, Fisher King, etc.).
The Matter of Britain includes any stories that deal with English knights who aren’t connected to King Arthur (King Horn, Havelock the Dane, Gamelyn, Robin Hood, etc.).
The Matter of France includes any stories that deal with Charlemagne and his paladins (Roland, Oliver, Bayard, etc.).
Some of these stories involve a sunset backed passionate kiss; some do not. But all are romances.
Remember reading The Scarlet Letter in high school? It’s subtitled: a romance. Why would Hawthorne do that? According to his definition, his story includes an adventure (mostly psychological) set in an exotic location (Puritan New England, a place as foreign to Hawthorne’s 1800s than it is to modern readers) with a hint of the supernatural (mysterious letters in the sky, Pearl as demon-child, etc.). Yes, the story is about two people who got it on, but it is as far from a contemporary romance as you can get (spoiler alert: they don’t live happily ever after).
So, history lesson on romance over. The next time someone dismisses a romance novel as a waste of time, remind them that romances have a long and hefty literary history that involves many twists and turns.
I write cheesy romance novels: adventure, excitement, supernatural, and yes, some kissing.