The “Canon” of the Romance Genre?
For the past several weeks, I’ve been following a blog that’s written by several members of the faculty of many universities around the world (Canada, Germany, UK, US, etc.) who are approaching Popular Romance as a genre worthy of literary consideration and criticism, just like the literary fiction that is most commonly focused on in “literature” classes in the world of academia.
This morning, one of the contributors to the blog brought up the topic of “canon”—in other words, the books/authors which are considered to be the founding or pivotal steps in the development of the genre as separate from other genres. And he brought up a good point—there isn’t much consensus on which books and/or authors are considered canon for popular romance.
However, I was quite surprised by the names he didn’t mention (and we’re talking about the evolution of the genre as written/published in the English language). If I were to teach a class on popular romance as literature for college credit (and, let’s face it, now that I’m teaching, this isn’t as far-fetched a scenario as I once thought), I’d have to start off with the three “grandmothers” of the genre:
Does that mean I believe these represent the best books in the genre (two Gothic-style romances, and one contemporary romance—contemporary because it was set in the time in which it was written)? No. I slogged through The Mysteries of Udolpho to write a paper in college; P&P is not my favorite Austen novel (it’s Persuasion, in case you didn’t already know that); and I’m not a fan of any of the novels penned by the Brontë sisters. However, as a scholar of the genre, there’s no getting around the fact that these three novels influenced and shaped the direction the romance genre would evolve over the next two centuries. (And by “romance,” we’re focusing here on books that feature as the main plotline a couple’s developing relationship which has a happily ever after ending, i.e., they end up together.)
Moving forward from these three, I’d probably include some, if not all, of the following in a study of the genre:
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
And of course, I’d have to include books by:
- Georgette Heyer
- Barbara Cartland
- Kathleen Woodiwiss
- Danielle Steele
- Nora Roberts
- Loretta Chase
And then I’d have to pull in many of the legends/fairytales that continue, to this day, to shape romance stories:
- Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady
- Tristan & Isolde
- King Arthur–Guinevere–Lancelot
But I have to admit, I’m not really well-read in “classics” of the romance genre. I pick and choose what I like and tend not to read stuff just because “everyone else has read it” or “it’s a classic.” (Actually, I tend to stay away from those.)
So I’m putting this out there to you, all of my lovely readers.
What novels and/or authors do you consider to be the “classics” of the romance genre? Which ones should be included in a college course on the evolution of the Popular Romance genre?