Who decides if a novel has "Literary Merit?"
Was Dracula considered to be literary? Can you name one romance novel that is considered to be a literary work embraced by millions?
OK, you Jane Austen fans. I see you. You set aside Mr. Darcy for a moment, I’ll relinquish my hold on Mr Rochester, and we’ll talk contemporary.
And you girls who love the ‘other’ Edward put your hands down too.
Now, allow me to make an observation. Besides my theory that vampires appeal to a youth-fixated population hellbent on not aging, I think it’s clear that Paranormal romance is embraced by the literati because it has crossover roots in Horror and Science Fiction. Borrowing elements from those two genres lends a sense of ‘respectability’ to a romance novel, which,we all know, on its own, is nothing more than pure drivel that chains women to a patriarchal society. However, when one adds a brooding vampire to the mix, it kicks the dumb ass of a sickly sweet romance somehow releases that patriarchal bondage.
Or it adds another sort of bondage to the story.
A similar unchaining has occurred in Romantic comedies, but I mean movies, not books.
Take director/writer/producer Judd Apatow’s recent romantic comedies: Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up. When the lead character in the romance is a guy, everything changes. If the hero is an overweight, unemployed dope-smoking less than gorgeous dude, and there’s a big dose of poop humour and dick jokes (I’ll be the first to admit I think poop, fart, and dick jokes are funny), the romance suddenly crosses over into ‘respectability.’ It garners critical acclaim for being clever and sweet and funny, even if it is gross-out or toilet humour.
A romance novel, one that is straight romance, on its own is still considered to be lowbrow fiction. If the lead in a romantic comedy film is a woman, the movie is deemed a "chick flick." It’s downgraded and loses respect and merit as a comedy or work of fine cinema because it doesn’t have a penis or fangs.
Look. I don’t buy into the 80s feminist argument that romance novels are porn for women or that it is something The Man uses as a leash to keep us ladies in line with masculine power. I simply think publishers, literary critics, and movie reviewers are slow to see where the real power is.
Romance seldom, if ever, gets reviews in newspapers or magazine, yet it still outsells every genre of fiction out there. It is poo-poohed as drivel. It is denigrated at every possible moment by critics and reviewers and academics teaching "literature" at great universities. A dear friend of mine (Hello Katie-Sue!) had a bi-monthly romance novel column in a major Australian newspaper. Although it was popular and garner awards, Kate’s column was dropped in favour of book excerpts and reviews for genre fiction of all types.
If you don’t believe me, check out last Saturday’s Courier Mail. It reviewed three mysteries, a crime novel, and a work of literary fiction about Alzheimer’s.
Pulp fiction and dime novels are acceptable to review. Genre fiction is included beneath the literary umbrella, yet romance stand outside and gets rained on. It’s odd, considering how much spending power romance readers have. We’ve got the power yet, we don’t make enough noise to make things change. It is because we’re used to hiding our guilty little pleasures, or forays into escapist stories. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking we have to feel guilty about reading about love.
And we do it to ourselves.
Anyone out there in Oldbiteyland want to offer a suggestion? Or tell me what they think of romance? Anyone want to get up and make some noise? Because, as it stands now, It seems as if unless it has fangs or smokes pot, I’d say romance is going to continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of fiction.
I for one am a little tired of that.