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Through early modern and modern writings, understandings of ‘romance’ began to diverge into roughly three categories (to use broad strokes): nostalgic fictionalizations of the past or of different cultures; fictional depictions of love relationships; and ).
Essays in the book include examinations of various subcategories of ‘romance’ literature, but also of film, television and social media. In everyday usage, the word can refer to patterns of sentiment, emotion and behaviour in non-Platonic relationships – and to such relationships themselves – but also to idealizations, fantasies and fictionalizations that may have little to do with personal love.
A ‘romantic relationship’ draws on subtly different valences to a ‘romantic view of the past’, for instance.
She notes, for example, that the second section of the book will explore ‘gothic romance’, describing this as ‘a subgenre which is gaining more and more popularity today’ (x).
Further comment reveals that ‘gothic romance’ is to be understood as including ‘the Gothics and Charles Dickens’s romance of Merrie England’, as well as .
Drawing on the work of Jayne Ann Krentz and the ‘Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ website, Percec gives an overview of some of the ways in which contemporary popular romance fiction is dismissed and classified a ‘lowbrow genre’ and a ‘mass cultural product’ (2).
The initial paragraphs of the introduction imply a focus on a subgenre of contemporary fiction publishing and its readership, affirmed later with a lengthy quote from Janice Radway’s 1991 study.Soon after the first French ‘romances’ were written in the second half of the twelfth century, the term began to be used to categorize the of such works of fiction.By the end of the Middle Ages, the word began to be associated with any work of fiction, but particularly those of a fanciful and fantastical nature, that was written with entertainment, rather than instruction, as its primary purpose.Notwithstanding the lack of clarity regarding the works classed as ‘the Gothics’, and the somewhat unorthodox characterization of Dickensian fiction as ‘Merrie England’ romances (unless this is intended to evoke his Christmas tales), categorizing these texts alongside a seventeenth-century pastiche of earlier chivalric fictions results in a conflation and collapsing of categories, rather than an interrogation.Though the book’s foreword is somewhat disappointing, the introduction that follows presents a clearer attempt to engage with the vexing questions of ‘genre’ and ‘history’. Percec begins with a quote from Valerie Parv’s (2004) noting some of the judgements and [End Page 2] condemnations heaped on (here unspecified) romance fiction and its readers (2); this is followed by a brief outline of some statistics testifying to the popularity of romance fiction in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.The first publication as part of this project (published in 2011 in Romanian) was , a collection of essays examining the historical novel.The editor notes in the foreword that the current volume grew out of an enthusiasm for ‘the equally popular – and even more controversial – genre of romance’ expressed by a number of contributors to the earlier collection (viii).In literature, the word becomes perhaps even more problematic.Romance originally identified language of composition; medieval ‘romance’ designated texts written in vernacular languages, specifically Old French, to differentiate them from those written in Latin (this usage survives in the designation of a group of European languages as ‘romance languages’).This focus on the (perhaps) minor misapprehensions of literary history in the opening pages of the collection are not intended to be an exercise in scholarly point-scoring.Rather, I wish to address the apparent impossibility of the task with which the book concerns itself.