Medieval romances in today's popular culture: The feminist in the castle

Publication year
The European Legacy

Since the publication of Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower in 1972, historical romances have become increasingly popular among women readers and have won an important share in the lucrative field of women's literature, curtailing the traditional leadership of Harlequin and other serial romances. In less than twenty years, the "genre" has split into a number of subgenres, which can be identified by their historical setting: Regency romances, Indian and western romances (The Conquest of the West), the North and the South romances (Secession War), and the medieval romances.

Medieval romances, which are being produced by writers on both sides of the Atlantic, raise many interesting questions for students of female popular culture criticism. In this paper, I would like to explore two aspects of these novels: Firstly, I shall examine how contemporary authors have represented and developed the historical specificities of the Middle Ages for a readership that possesses little or no historical knowledge. Secondly, I will discuss how the same authors handle a female heroine, who must be both a credible woman of the past and a lovable woman of the present. (1146)