The Appeal of the Mass-Market Romance

University of Alberta
Publication year

Here's the abstract:

This thesis examines the possible reasons for the appeal of mass-market romance novels. A romance novel is defined as one in which the developing non-platonic relationship between the male and female protagonists provides the main incentive for the plot. A romance reader, while recognising that romance is a mass medium which contains variances in every individual text, can interpret the intense codes of romance writing.

Ideological arguments regarding romances are inconclusive, based as they are on a priori assumptions regarding the real world. Opponents of the genre have consistently found the characters of the protagonists, and the literary quality of a few specific texts problematic. In fact, romances must be read en masse to allow the reader to become conversant with, and sensitive to, the codes of romance narrative.

The relationship of the romance reader to the text is complex and variable. Romances rely heavily on the diegetic mode, with such features as the repetition of key near-synonyms, and portrayal of conventional details, often those emphasising the difference between the genders, helping to clarify the reader's horizon of expectations. The protagonists represent contrasting elements which must combine; while reading, the reader is free to identify with whichever side of the dialectic carries the impetus of the narrative.

Romance deals with infantile but archetypal desires. Some of the most-used plots can be construed as having mythic underpinnings, like the rape of Persephone. The text itself often draws such comparisons. Such explicit allusions, along with the over-coded writing described above, form the particular style labeled romance code. This ocurs at its most extreme in dress historicals, novels where the supposed setting serves as a backdrop to both enhance the glamour of the portrayed world, and reassure the reader that such a world is divorced from her own.

While the plot functions can be combined and presented in a variety of guises, the tensions generated in the text remain remarkably constant. Having been lured into a voyeuristic, androgynous mode of reading, all the tensions are resolved, and both text and reader participate in the happy ending.