The type of romance considered here is mainly the genre of novel defined by the novelist Walter Scott as "a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents", in contrast to mainstream novels which realistically depict the state of a society. These works frequently, but not exclusively, take the form of the historical novel. Scott's novels are also frequently described as historical romances, and Northrop Frye suggested "the general principle that most 'historical novels' are romances". Scott describes romance as a "kindred term", and many European languages do not distinguish between romance and novel: "a novel is le roman, der Roman, il romanzo".
There is second type of romance where the primary focus is on "romance", in the sense of love and marriage. Jane Austen wrote this type of romance. A strong love interest is also found in a very different type of literary fiction romance such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, works that correspond more to Scott's definition of the romance genre than Austen's novels do. Literary fiction, in the book-trade, are novels that are regarded as having literary merit and can employ a variety of subgenres, including the love romance novel, the historical novel, the adventure novel, and scientific romance. Works of nautical fiction can also be romances, as the genre often overlaps with historical romance, adventure fiction, and fantasy stories. The Oxford English Dictionary, suggests that the term "romance", as applied to literary fiction, is "now chiefly archaic and historical," and is now mainly used to refer to genre fiction love romances.
The terms "romance novel" and "historical romance" are ambiguous, because the words "romance", and "romantic", can have different meanings: for example, romance can refer to romantic love, or "the character or quality that makes something appeal strongly to the imagination, and sets it apart from the mundane; an air, feeling, or sense of wonder, mystery, and remoteness from everyday life; redolence or suggestion of, or association with, adventure, heroism, chivalry, etc.; mystique, glamour" (OED). The latter sense is associated with the Romantic movement, as well as to the medieval romance tradition. The gothic novel, and romanticism influenced the development of the modern literary romance. Hugh Walpole's gothic novels combine elements of the medieval romance, which he deemed too fanciful, and the modern novel, which he considered to be too confined to strict realism. Romanticism influenced the romance through its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, and preference for the medieval rather than the classical; its emphasis on extremes of emotion and its reaction against the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment, and associated classical aesthetic values, were also a significant influence.
In addition to Walpole, Scott, and the Brontës other romance writers (as defined by Scott) include E. T. A. Hoffmann, Victor Hugo, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy. In the twentieth century, examples are, Joseph Conrad, John Cowper Powys, and more recently, J. R. R. Tolkien and A. S. Byatt, whose best-selling novel Possession: A Romance won the Booker Prize in 1990.
Though the modern literary romance has its beginnings in the eighteenth century, the genre has a long history that includes the ancient Greek novel and medieval romances.
The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne described a romance as being radically different from a novel by not being concerned with the possible or probable course of ordinary experience.
The following are the two main definitions relating to literature found in the Oxford English Dictionary:
And in other words:
As noted above a relationship exists between romance and "fantasy", something which arises in particular because of the relationship between this type of novel and medieval chivalric romances.
The most common fantasy world is one based on medieval Europe, and has been since William Morris used it in his early fantasy works, such as The Well at the World's End. and particularly since the 1954 publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Such a world is often called "pseudo-medieval"—particularly when the writer has snatched up random elements from the era, which covered a thousand years and a continent, and thrown them together without consideration for their compatibility, or even introduced ideas not so much based on the medieval era as on romanticized views of it. When these worlds are copied not so much from history as from other fantasy works, there is a heavy tendency to uniformity and lack of realism. The full width and breadth of the medieval era is seldom drawn upon. Governments, for instance, tend to be uncompromisingly feudal-based, or evil empires or oligarchies, usually corrupt, while there was far more variety of rule in the actual Middle Ages. Fantasy worlds also tend to be economically medieval, and disproportionately pastoral.
See also: Fantasy literature
As a literary genre of high culture, "heroic romance" or "chivalric romance" is a type of prose and verse narrative that was popular in the noble courts of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a chivalric knight-errant portrayed as having heroic qualities, who goes on a quest. The word medieval also evokes distressed damsels, dragons, and other romantic tropes. It developed further from the epics as time went on; in particular, "the emphasis on love and courtly manners distinguishes it from the chanson de geste and other kinds of epic, in which masculine military heroism predominates."
Edward Dowden argued that Shakespeare's late comedies should be called "romances", because they resemble late medieval and early modern "chivalric romance".
The rise of the modern novel as an alternative to the chivalric romance began with Miguel de Cervantes, and, especially with, Don Quixote (1605, 1615). Initially seen as a comedy satirizing chivalry, in the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell "whose side Cervantes was on". Many critics came to view the work as a tragedy in which Don Quixote's idealism and nobility are viewed by the post-chivalric world as insane, and are defeated and rendered useless by common reality.
While the modern literary fiction romance was influenced by medieval romance via the Gothic novel, and the interest of Romantic writers in the medieval period, William Morris and J. R. R. Tolkien were directly influenced by medieval literature. In the nineteenth century William Morris wrote a series of imaginative fictions usually referred to as the "prose romances", which were attempts to revive the genre of medieval romance, and written in imitation of medieval prose. These novels – including The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World's End – have been credited as important milestones in the history of fantasy fiction, because, while other writers wrote of foreign lands, or of dream worlds, or the future (as Morris did in News from Nowhere),
Morris's works were the first to be set in an entirely invented fantasy world. On its publication, The Well at the World's End was praised by H. G. Wells, who compared the book to Malory and admired its writing style. Although the novel is relatively obscure by today's standards, it has had a significant influence on many notable fantasy authors. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien both seem to have found inspiration in
Tolkien objected to The Lord of the Rings being called a novel, as he viewed it as a heroic romance. Literary critics also apply the term high fantasy to The Lord of the Rings.
While fantasy is, generally speaking, not significant in the works of romance writers, Walter Scott's definition includes "marvellous and uncommon incidents". Hawthorne, as noted above, also described romance as "not being concerned with the possible or probable course of ordinary experience".
From 1764, with the Horace Walpole's gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, the romance genre experienced a revival. Other important works are Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and 'Monk' Lewis's The Monk (1795).
In the preface of the second edition, Walpole claims The Castle of Otranto is "an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern." He defines the "ancient" romance as being defined by its fantastic nature ("its imagination and improbability") while defining the "modern" romance as being more deeply rooted in literary realism ("a strict adherence to common life," in his words). By combining fantastic situations (helmets falling from the sky, walking portraits, etc.) with supposedly real people acting in a "natural" manner, Walpole created a new and distinct style of literary fiction, which has frequently been cited as a template for all subsequent gothic novels. The Monthly Review stated that for "[t]hose who can digest the absurdities of Gothic fiction" Otranto offered "considerable entertainment".
The Castle of Otranto is widely regarded as the first Gothic novel, and, with its knights, villains, wronged maidens, haunted corridors and things that go bump in the night, is the spiritual godfather of Frankenstein and Dracula, the creaking floorboards of Edgar Allan Poe and the shifting stairs and walking portraits of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.— "Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole's fantasy castle, to open its doors again", The Guardian.
Charles Dickens was influenced by gothic fiction and incorporated gothic imagery, settings and plot devices in his works. Victorian gothic moved from castles and abbeys into contemporary urban environments: in particular London, in Oliver Twist, and Bleak House. Great Expectations contains elements of the Gothic genre, especially Miss Havisham, the bride frozen in time, and the ruined Satis House filled with weeds and spiders. Other characters linked to this genre include the aristocratic Bentley Drummle, because of his extreme cruelty; Pip himself, who spends his youth chasing a frozen beauty; the monstrous Orlick, who systematically attempts to murder his employers. Then there is the fight to the death between Compeyson and Magwitch, and the fire that ends up killing Miss Havisham, scenes dominated by horror, suspense, and the sensational.
Historical romance (also historical novel) is a broad category of fiction in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Walter Scott helped popularize this genre in the early 19th-century. Literary fiction historical romances continue to be published, and a notable recent example is Wolf Hall (2009), a multi-award-winning novel by English historical novelist Hilary Mantel. It is also a genre of mass-market fiction, which is related to the broader romantic love genre.
Walter Scott with Waverley (1814) invented "the true historical novel". At the same time he was influenced by gothic romance, and had collaborated in 1801 with 'Monk' Lewis on Tales of Wonder. With his Waverley novels Scott "hoped to do for the Scottish border" what Goethe and other German poets "had done for the Middle Ages, "and make its past live again in modern romance". Scott's novels "are in the mode he himself defined as romance, 'the interest of which turns upon marvelous and uncommon incidents'". He used his imagination to re-evaluate history by rendering things, incidents and protagonists in the way only the novelist could do. Scott, the novelist, resorted to documentary sources as any historian would have done, but as a romantic he gave his subject a deeper imaginative and emotional significance. By combining research with "marvelous and uncommon incidents", Scott attracted a far wider market than any historian could, and was the most famous novelist of his generation, throughout Europe.
Scott influenced many nineteenth century British novelists, including Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Kingsley, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and those who wrote for children, like Charlotte Yonge and G. A. Henty.
Walter Scott had an immense impact throughout Europe. "His historical fiction ... created for the first time a sense of the past as a place where people thought, felt and dressed differently". His historical romances "influenced Balzac, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dumas, Pushkin, and many others; and his interpretation of history was seized on by Romantic nationalists, particularly in Eastern Europe". Auguste- Jean-Baptiste Defauconpret (1767-1843) "the principal French translator of the Waverley Novels, played a pivotal role in the diffusion of Scott's work throughout Europe". "In Italy, Poland, Russia, and Spain they were widely read long before indigenous versions appeared." The reception of Sir Walter Scott in Europe, edited by Murray Pittock, has articles on Scott's influence on the novels throughout Europe, including France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. (See also, "Other authors", below).
In America he influenced Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne, amongst others.
The genre of works of extended prose fiction dealing with romantic love existed in classical Greece. Five ancient Greek romance novels have survived to the present day in a state of near-completion: Chareas and Callirhoe, Leucippe and Clitophon, Daphnis and Chloe, The Ephesian Tale, and The Ethiopian Tale.
Precursors of the modern popular love-romance can also be found in the sentimental novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740. Pamela was the first popular novel to be based on a courtship as told from the perspective of the heroine. Unlike many of the novels of the time, Pamela had a happy ending, when after Mr. B attempts unsuccessfully to seduce and rape Pamela multiple times, he eventually rewards her virtue by sincerely proposing an equitable marriage to her. Richardson began writing Pamela as a book of letter templates, in the tradition of the conduct book, that evolved into a novel.
Jane Austen is also an important influence on romance genre fiction, and Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, has been called "the best romance novel ever written." In the early part of the Victorian era, the Brontë sisters, like Austen, wrote literary fiction that influenced later popular fiction. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre incorporates elements of both the gothic novel and Elizabethan drama, and "demonstrate[s] the flexibility of the romance novel form". One 2007 British poll presented Wuthering Heights as the greatest love story of all time. However, "some of the novel's admirers consider it not a love story at all but an exploration of evil and abuse". Helen Small sees Wuthering Heights as being, both "one of the greatest love stories in the English language", while at the same time a "most brutal revenge narratives". Some critics suggest that reading Wuthering Heights as a love story not only "romanticizes abusive men and toxic relationships but goes against Brontë's clear intent". Moreover, while a "passionate, doomed, death-transcending relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw Linton forms the core of the novel", Wuthering Heights
consistently subverts the romantic narrative. Our first encounter with Heathcliff shows him to be a nasty bully. Later, Brontë puts in Heathcliff's mouth an explicit warning not to turn him into a Byronic hero: After ... Isabella elop[es] with him, he sneers that she did so "under a delusion ... picturing in me a hero of romance".
Emily Brontë was influenced by Walter Scott, the gothic novel, and romanticism more broadly.
Critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing about A. S. Byatt's Possession: A Romance in the New York Times, noted that what he describes as the "wonderfully extravagant novel" is "pointedly subtitled 'A Romance'." He says it is at once "a detective story" and "an adultery novel."
Many famous literary fiction romance novels, unlike most mass-market novels, end tragically, including Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
Genre fiction romance novels, first developed in the 19th century, started to become more popular after the First World War. In 1919, E.M. Hull's novel The Sheik was published in the United Kingdom. The novel, which became hugely popular, was adapted into a movie (1921).
The mass market version of the historical romance, is seen as beginning in 1921, when Georgette Heyer published The Black Moth. This is set in 1751, but many of Heyer's novels were inspired by Jane Austen's novels and are set around the time Austen lived, in the later Regency period. Because Heyer's romances are set more than 100 years earlier, she includes carefully researched historical detail to help her readers understand the period. Unlike other popular love-romance novels of the time, Heyer's novels used the setting as a major plot device. Her characters often exhibit twentieth century sensibilities, and more conventional characters in the novels point out the heroine's eccentricities, such as wanting to marry for love.
In the 1930s the British publishers Mills & Boon began releasing hardback romance novels. The books were sold through weekly two-penny libraries. In the 1950s the company began offering the books for sale through newsagents across the United Kingdom.
The sensation novel was a literary genre of fiction that achieved peak popularity in Great Britain in the 1860s and 1870s. Its literary forebears included the melodramatic novels and the Newgate novels, it also drew on the Gothic and romantic genres of fiction. Whereas romance and realism had traditionally been contradictory modes of literature, they were brought together in sensation fictionof the Victorian era – combining "romance and realism" in a way that "strains both modes to the limit". The loss of identity is seen in many sensation fiction stories because this was a common social anxiety.
Sensation fiction is commonly seen to have emerged as a definable genre in the wake of three novels: Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White (1859–60); Ellen (Mrs. Henry) Wood's East Lynne (1861); and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1862). Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1861) is another example.
Critic Don D'Ammassa defines the Adventure fiction genre as follows:
An adventure is an event or series of events that happens outside the course of the protagonist's ordinary life, usually accompanied by danger, often by physical action. Adventure stories almost always move quickly, and the pace of the plot is at least as important as characterization, setting and other elements of a creative work.
D'Ammassa argues that adventure fiction makes the element of danger the focus; hence he argues that Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities is an adventure novel because the protagonists are in constant danger of being imprisoned or killed, whereas Dickens's Great Expectations is not because "Pip's encounter with the convict is an adventure, but that scene is only a device to advance the main plot, which is not truly an adventure."
The standard plot of Medieval romances was a series of adventures. Following a plot framework as old as Heliodorus, and so durable as to be still alive in Hollywood movies, a hero would undergo a first set of adventures before he met his lady. A separation would follow, with a second set of adventures leading to a final reunion.
Variations kept the genre alive. From the mid-19th century onwards, when mass literacy grew, adventure became a popular subgenre of fiction. Although not exploited to its fullest, adventure has seen many changes over the years – from being constrained to stories of knights in armor to stories of high-tech espionages. Examples of that period include Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas, père, Jules Verne, Brontë Sisters, H. Rider Haggard, Victor Hugo, Emilio Salgari, Louis Henri Boussenard, Thomas Mayne Reid, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Wallace, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Rider Haggard (1856–1925), author of King Solomon's Mines ("romantic adventure"), She: A History of Adventure, was an English writer of adventure fiction set in exotic locations, predominantly Africa, and a pioneer of the lost world literary genre. He was "part of the literary reaction against domestic realism that has been called a romance revival." Other writers following this trend were Robert Louis Stevenson, George MacDonald, and William Morris. Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote romances, including historical romances, in which adventure is often a prominent element ("adventure, heroism, chivalry", amongst other things, are associated with the word "romance" according to the OED). These include Treasure Island (1883) – an adventure novel about piracy and buried treasure; Prince Otto (1885) – an action romance set in the imaginary Germanic state; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) – A kind and intelligent physician turns into a psychopathic monster after imbibing a drug intended to separate good from evil in a personality (a gothic novel); Kidnapped (1886) – an historical novel; The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1888) – an historical adventure novel and romance set during the Wars of the Roses, and The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale (1889) – a tale of revenge, set in Scotland, America and India.
H. G. Wells's
genius was his ability to create a stream of brand new, wholly original stories out of thin air. Originality was Wells's calling card. In a six-year stretch from 1895 to 1901, he produced a stream of what he called "scientific romance" novels, which included The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon.
In the United Kingdom, Wells's work was a key model for the British "scientific romance", and other writers in that mode, such as Olaf Stapledon, J. D. Beresford, S. Fowler Wright, and Naomi Mitchison, all drew on Wells's example. Wells was also an important influence on British science fiction of the period after the Second World War, with Arthur C. Clarke and Brian Aldiss expressing strong admiration for Wells's work. The Space Machine: A Scientific Romance, by English writer Christopher Priest, published in 1976, is another work influenced by Wells. This novel effectively combines the storylines of the H.G. Wells novels The War of the Worlds (1898) and The Time Machine (1895) into the same reality. Action takes place both in Victorian England and on Mars.
In an interview with The Paris Review, Vladimir Nabokov described Wells as his favourite writer when he was a boy and "a great artist." He went on to cite The Passionate Friends, Ann Veronica, The Time Machine, and The Country of the Blind as superior to anything else written by Wells's British contemporaries. Nabokov said: "His sociological cogitations can be safely ignored, of course, but his romances and fantasies are superb."