Thursday, June 2, 2011

Romance-it didn't always mean what it means today!

Ok so to kick off Romance Month I thought I would start with the history of the Romantic Novel. I found this article and thought it was pretty cool! So let Romance begin.~Elizabeth Lorenz

From Medieval to Victorian – Developing the Romance Genre

"The romance genre as we know it is a far cry from its medieval origins, which was rooted in adventure. So how did romantic literature develop into the genre we recognise?
The term “Romance” originally described popular medieval literature in the vernacular languages of, among others, French, Spanish, English and German. This turned out to be extremely accurate – the romance genre is one of the most popular in the world.

Although the twentieth century encompassed the bulk of tweaks and shifts in the way women were portrayed to other women, the roots of this change are much further back in history. But just how different was the genre in the centuries before the modern form as we know it?

Myth, Fantasy and Adventure – Beginnings of Romance Novels
Romance as a genre had its beginnings in the verse of performance ballads. The genre dealt generally with three traditional themes – King Arthur, Charlemagne and Roland, and the life of Alexander the Great.

The heroes were chivalrous, seeking adventure and fighting and slaying various monsters to win their lady’s affections. Medieval romances were, therefore, predominantly tales of adventure. Medieval society was strongly patriarchal and, literature generally had a male readership. The stories, therefore, pandered to male-orientated medieval codes of chivalry.

These elements worked their way into Renaissance literature. Indeed, Shakespeare’s romance plays, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale include all the elements of the chivalric code. Loyalty and love play their part, but so do fantastical settings and the drama of adventure.

The Romantic Period – Further Development of Romance
As the Romantic Period dawned, the focus was more on courtly love and on a relationship which ultimately ended in marriage. In 1740, Samuel Richardson wrote Pamela, which is regarded universally as the first “real” romance novel.Written from the heroine’s viewpoint, it relates a tale of courtship with, unusually for the time, a happy ending. And people bought it in droves!

Nowhere is this type of novel more prevalent than in the works of Jane Austen, expert in romantic literature, with Pride and Prejudice being described as the best romantic novel ever. In all her works, the reader laments with the heroine as she struggles to reconcile her love with the demands society make upon her.

Austen writes of gentrified ladies. Females of a lower class, such as Fanny Price in MansfieldPark, are considered outsiders. The emotional trials Fanny suffers are far more difficult to overcome, battling as she does against her own feelings and upper class snobberies. This makes the ultimate happy ending even more satisfying.

Victorian Adaptation of the Romance Genre
Outsiders were again utilised in romantic literature of the Victorian period. In a time of outwardly displayed moral values, double standards and writers’ preoccupation with the social condition of the lower classes, writers portrayed a deeper, darker side to love.

Charlotte Brontë’s heroine in Jane Eyre is an orphan who beats the odds to gain the love of her man, and possibly one of the most powerful love stories ever told, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, uses the outsider, Heathcliffe, as a vehicle for tragedy, violence and passion as he struggles to be accepted and loved.

The Victorian romance novel still harped back, however, to the moral code of marriage. Only marriage is acceptable to Jane Eyre, whereas Rochester would happily commit bigamy to be with her. Emily Brontë attacks the code, though, as marriages are used to reflect unhappiness. The Brontës’ romances, however, also suggests a female quest for freedom and independence, epitomised by the later suffragette movement.

With the emancipation of women has come the more liberated romance novel. Women are given more freedom in and out of the bedroom. But it is safe to say that the overriding factor of romance literature remains as dominant today as it was when it was first written. After all, where would a romance be without love?"

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