In today’s society, there are different categories, or sub-genres, of romance novels, each having a niche that appeals to various audiences.
Paranormal romance novels have become popular over the last few years, especially with the introduction of the Twilight series in 2005. We could not get enough of Edward, with his sparkly skin, his protective nature, and vampirish charm. Some of us, on the other hand, were on “Team Jacob,” attracted by his muscular body, caring heart, and warm touch. The complicated nature of Bella’s relationship with these characters combined with the explicit descriptions of various interactions (for lack of a better phrase) turned us on. Since paranormal romances involve inhuman creatures and relationships, we are able to fantasize and imagine what such a romance would be like.
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A “bodice ripper” is another type of romance novel with extremely sexual content and descriptions often set in a historical time. Individuals who study romance novels prefer not to use the term “bodice ripper,” yet this is the most popular term in current use. These novels can be easily recognized by their covers, which tend to include a highly attractive male character (usually shirtless) and a female counterpart. Bodice rippers also include vivid depictions of interactions between the male and female leads, whether it be the male glancing at the bodice of his love interest, the female slowly undoing the shirt of the male, or something more. These characteristics also allow us to fantasize about this type of romance.
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Novels like these influence our perceptions of romance. Some people think that our own romances should emulate those portrayed in the books. Other people find these novels objectionable because of their unrealistic depictions of relationships and excessive descriptions of sexual activities. Fortunately, there are contemporary romance novels that break that trend and depict more realistic relationships.
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, is a contemporary romance novel published in 2004. It follows the story of Min Dobbs, an unmarried woman in her thirties who is fresh out of a breakup, and Calvin (Cal) Morrisey, a player known for feigning commitment and breaking hearts. The two go on a date as a bet and agree never to see each other again. Of course, that does not end up happening. Over time, they both begin to develop feelings for each other, but do not want to admit it. With the involvement of friends, exes, and eventually parents, Min and Cal’s relationship becomes extremely convoluted. It is a great example of a contemporary romance novel based on something that could happen in reality.
Throughout history, romance topics and themes have evolved to yield the diverse array of romances we see today. There are sub-genres within the romance genre as a whole, hence the paranormal romance novels, bodice rippers, inspirationals (in which religious faith plays an important role), historicals set in every time period from the medieval to WWII, contemporaries (like Bet Me), romances that contain mysteries (romantic suspense), and books from all of these sub genres aimed at the young adult market.
So why are romance novels so popular? Again, it’s all about fantasy and dreaming. We are able to put ourselves in the position of one of the characters and imagine what life would be like in the book’s world. Whether that be running with vampires, life in the mid-1500s, or a modern-day romance, these novels provide an escape.
Crusie, Jennifer. Bet Me. New York: St. Martin’s, 2004. Print.
Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and, 2005. Print.