The evolution of the American romance novel

Publication year

From the Introduction to the volume:

In “The Evolution of the American Romance Novel” (Chapter 2 in this volume) Pamela Regis explores the conceptual and archival challenges of identifying American romance novels before the middle of the twentieth century, offers an outline of American romance from the start of the nineteenth century to just after the Second World War, and presents an overview of major critical works which either aid or, in some cases, actively impede the recognition and understanding of these texts. (13)


Those of us writing the American romance novel's literary history must do what paleontologists do when they write the history of life on the planet: we must unearth and identify old, buried, and forgotten objects, i.e., our study texts, the novels we choose to describe and analyze. [...] Put simply, we have to find romances. Our problem is that most romances other than America's twentieth-century brand-name novels - think Silhouette - have not been recognized as romance novels. [...]

Because there are very few works of scholarship that make a direct contribution to the history of the American romance novel, this chapter will be unlike others in this volume whose authors survey the existing scholarship on the topic announced in the chapter's title. Instead, in this chapter I will provide you with an explanation of how to unearth - literally, how to find and identify - American romances to serve as study texts. I will also offer an outline of the history of the American romance novel from 1803 to just after World War II consisting of a brief analysis of a dozen romance novels published between 1740 and 1952: the first romance novel in America, a British import, Samuel Richardson's Pamela, and 11 American novels, written by Americans, and, with one exception, set in America. (51)


Bad Girl (1928) by Viña Delmar. [...] A contemporary set in the Bronx, in this novel betrothal and marriage occur about a third of the way through, and the barrier that threatens this union and the establishment of a new society is not pre-marital sex, although readers were scandalized and fascinated by the couple’s consummation of their relationship before marriage. [...] The barrier is her pregnancy and the question of whether to abort the child. Dot believes that Eddie does not want a child; Eddie believes that Dot does not want a child. Dot investigates getting an abortion, but decides not to go through with it. They do not resolve this issue until the last page of the book, when they are taking their son home from the sanitarium where Dot has given birth, and Eddie takes the baby from Dot, uncomplaining when he becomes “wet through” (288). The abortion barrier was controversial at the time. (66-67)