Mar 9 2012 3:00pm

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Romance

I am struggling with a post on Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion.

When I write about a book like this here, I expect two kinds of response. There are the people who will already have read Cotillion, along with all the rest of Heyer, and who will be interested in talking about the misdirection Heyer employs to make the end surprising. And then there are the people who only want to know why anyone would ever want to read a Regency Romance in the first place.

How did I go from being the second kind of person to being the first kind of person?

I am female. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, as I’ve never done anything to disguise my gender — far from binding my breasts and running away to sea, I don’t even use a male name online or write under just my initials. (That isn’t to say I’ve never thought about it. Sea, the Foreign Legion...) All the same, as “Jo” is an unusual name in that it’s the masculine and not the feminine version that ends with an E, I do sometimes get misgendered by people quoting me. I never quite know what to do about that. I’m cisgendered and straight, and my gender presentation is “this is a normal way to be female.” Whenever somebody misgenders me when quoting I feel as if the fact that women say things worth quoting is being suppressed and I ought to speak up and request my correct pronoun, but on the other hand it’s not a huge deal and why does it matter really and I shouldn’t make a fuss.

Despite being female, I didn’t grow up reading romance novels. Indeed, I grew up despising romance novels probably more than most men tend to. Romance novels were associated in my young mind with a way of performing femininity that repelled me. They seemed to be bait in a trap — offering a kind of love that isn’t possible as the only kind of love that is desirable, and offering love itself as the only worthwhile life goal for a woman. They held up passionate heterosexual romantic love as the ultimate and only possible fulfillment. Women needn’t expect to have adventures or achieve anything, they would have looooove, twoo wuv, and it would be enough.

My response to this was: “If I heed your words this is all I shall ever have. If I have no sword, where then shall I seek peace?”

To have formed this violent antipathy, I must have read some romance novels, and in fact I had. In addition to any number of nineteenth century romances, I’d read twentieth century ones by Barbara Cartland, Anya Seton, Mary Stewart and Madeleine Brent, and I had read some romance short stories in British women’s magazines. I’d read them because we had them lying around at home. I’d also read some fiction critiqueing romance novels — Gail Godwin’s Violet Clay (1978), Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle (1976) and Mary Renault’s contemporary (1930s and 1940s) novels, especially Purposes of Love (1938), which is a romance novel about the struggle between being a lover and a beloved. The Godwin and the Atwood are both directly addressing the idea of women being offered this impossible love dream in romance novels and ending up losing what they really wanted in marriages where they’re essentially trapped as miserable unpaid servants.

So by the time I was twenty, I was not only somebody who didn’t read romances, I was somebody who was actively opposed to genre romance and saw it as literally a snare and a delusion.

It isn’t only romance novels that were pushing that agenda, of course — advertising and other popular media were also pushing it hard. But the specific lie of the romance novel, the way female arousal was described as an emotion rather than a physical sensation, the way an orgasmic kiss and later an actual orgasm was directly equated with love, really did strike me as the bait on a trap, and a trap being specifically laid for me as a straight woman growing up female. As a myth, it encumbered the possibility of realistic relationships.

So what changed?

Well, on the one hand I grew up. I started to feel less trapped by my gender and other people’s expectations of me based on my gender. I got married, and divorced, and married again, and neither of my marriages stifled me in gender expectations. And just by getting older, I was no longer standing so precisely in the place where the trap was laid. Also, second wave feminism was a game changer. I no longer had to struggle absolutely all the time to have men take me seriously. I no longer had to do that wearying stuff and accept being unsexed and seen as an honorary man if I wanted to be heard — or anyway not so often. And then geek culture took over the world, and that was a big help. There’s a generation of geeky women only fifteen years younger than me who grew up with the expectation of being heard in the same way men are. There’s still sexism and irritating gender expectations, and they still drive me up a tree when I run into them, but things are vastly better than they were in 1984. It’s a lot easier to stop being defensive when you’re not constantly being attacked. And if you’re feeling less defensive, it’s easier to pick up a romance novel without feeling it’s about to chain you barefoot in the kitchen.

While I was growing up and the world was changing, romance grew up. I don’t think anyone is writing stories like the ones I read in My Weekly in 1978 anymore. Smart clever people like Jennifer Crusie started writing romances about grownups negotiating love. (I didn’t know this because I wasn’t reading them, but it was happening even so.) Second Wave Feminism was a game changer for everybody. Romance isn’t doing “love as sole destiny” any more. It’s an economic thing. Austen and then Victorian romances were writing about women who had absolutely no way to be financially independent — and they didn’t do this “destined love is everything” thing. Then in the twentieth century there was a transition period during which women could be financially independent with a lot of effort and romance, the One True Love Romance, as found in romance novels, was one of the tools deployed to persuade them... not to be. But young people now can’t quite get their heads around this, and that’s a good thing.

But that doesn’t explain how I can love Heyer, because Heyer really is doing that, and she was writing during precisely the decades when that meme was being pushed hard.

I didn’t mind romance when I met it in SF. If I ran into people on spaceships or exploring other planets and they fell in love while dealing with aliens, I had no problem with it. It helped that the heroines in books like this tended to be starship captains, rather than shopgirls.

I started to read Heyer because people kept saying that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor was like a romance novel. And this made me grumpy every single time. People (men) generally said this as a put down, but sometimes people (women) said it in a positive way. It made me grumpy when it was said as a put down because if a man writes an SF novel that contains a sweet romance, nobody dismisses it as just a romance novel in space, but when a woman does? Gah. But it made me just as grumpy when it was said in a positive way, because it was quite obvious to me it wasn’t doing this “love as beartrap” model that the twentieth century romance novels I’d read did. So if it was like a romance novel, I said, grumpily, well, where were the romance novels it was like? And people (some of them men) pointed at Heyer.

Now Heyer’s Regency Romances are not really like Shards of Honor. (I wish!) The only real similarity is the banter. But by the time I’d read enough Heyer to demonstrably prove that they aren’t like Shards of Honor, I was having enough fun that I read all the rest of Heyer, and then I read some of them again. (Some of Heyer is a little like A Civil Campaign. But this was before A Civil Campaign.)

What I like in Heyer is the worldbuilding — and if it is an imaginary world in historical clothing I have no problem with that. I do like the banter. I like the way she makes the endings go down like dominoes when she gets it right. I despise her anti-Semitism and her classism, and I often disbelieve her romances. (In Sylvester for instance, I can’t believe the hero and heroine will stay together for five minutes without squabbling again.) And some of her plots are awful — she’s much better at writing books where nothing happens except people going shopping and dancing at Almacks and looking after ducklings. It’s the clothes and the scenery and the conversations along the way that make it all worthwhile. I still don’t really care for the true love stuff, but sometimes the very predictability of these kinds of stories lets people do interestingly baroque things around the edges, as in Cotillion.

With classic mysteries, some people like figuring out who the murderer was. Some people like following the detective and not figuring it out and then seeing it at the end. Other people like the tea and crumpets and the inside look into families at moments of crisis, but find the contrived mysteries nonsensical. I always suspect that mysteries are written for the first two types of people, but the writers don’t mind me coming along for the scenery. Similarly, I think romance, even modern smart romance about women with lives and careers, is mostly written for people who want to read about people being swept away by a feeling they have never felt before. (The one time I wrote about somebody feeling a feeling like that it was Stockholm Syndrome.) But again, I expect the romance writers similarly don’t mind me coming along for the scenery. (What kind of scenery? Well, in Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman, Agnes hits somebody with a cast iron frying pan. The problem is that she’d previously been on probation for hitting somebody else with a frying pan. A friend asks her why she has a habit of hitting people with frying pans, and she says she doesn’t, it’s just that she’s a cook, she always has a frying pan in her hand when things happen...)

I still like romance novels best when there’s something going on besides the romance. But I also like MilSF novels best when there’s something going on besides the shooting. And I’ll write a post about Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion soon. It’s a lovely book. You’d like it.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Rohan V
1. Rohan V
I like Heyer (and I'm a man, for the record).

Regencies always reminds me of science-fiction. The rules which govern the world are different from the rules which govern our world, and the novels explore that difference. The only difference is that the rules are social constructs rather than scientific laws.

The best Regencies understand that, and hinge upon that difference. The worst Regencies are the ones that simply dress up the modern world in period clothing.

My favorite Heyer is A Civil Contract. It was the first one of her books that I read. The vision it presented, even to the romance within, was so different from pretty much everything modern I read.
Angela Korra'ti
2. annathepiper
Thank you for posting this! As I've gotten older and become much more comfortable with my own reading of romance novels, I've gotten crankier about female SF/F authors getting snarked on for writing "romance novels in space", indeed. And equally cranky about ongoing snark on romance novels in general. We SF/F types get enough shit for liking what we read, so we should know how it feels to have books you love get snarked on by other people--so why do we keep doing it to romance readers? It needs to stop.

I've come to realize that as a reader, as well as a developing writer myself, I've got one foot firmly in SF/F and the other in romance. My best loved stories and authors are pulling right out of both genres.

And Agnes and the Hitman is great. :D I adored the bit with the frying pans.
Rohan V
3. PhoenixFalls
THANK YOU for this! I'm currently working on unpacking my own defensiveness around romance as a genre, and seeing SFF people talk about Heyer certainly helps.

Also, totally agree that good Regencies share enough of a focus on world-building that they're a natural fit for SFF types. :)
brightening glance
4. brightglance
I look forward to the post. Cotillion is one of my favourite Heyers, but IMO should be read after reading a bunch of the others to get the full benefit of (spoiler). It's interesting how she sets up things prior to (spoiler) by doing certain things the-same-but-different to her other books, such that for a good while reading iI thought it was going to be one of my least favourite.
Pamela Adams
5. PamAdams
What I like in Heyer is the worldbuilding — and if it is an imaginary world in historical clothing I have no problem with that.

Yes, this, exactly. I was introduced to the Heyer books at a con- and luckily Larry Smith was carrying several. I don't particularly care for her modern mysteries- possibly because they're supposed to be more real-world

By the way, I'm trying to re-read Brat Farrar, but the Small Change series is getting in my way......
Jenny Kristine
6. jennygadget
"How did I go from being the second kind of person to being the first kind of person?"

Personally, I read one too many Piers Anthony novels, didn't have the internet or anyone knowledgable enough to rec good adult scifi/fantasy, and decided that if adult scifi/fantasy was full of icky sex (or sexualized, harassing banter, anyway), I might as well try romance novels too.

This was right about the time that romance was changing, so I did read plenty of extremely problematic stuff, but I also eventually discovered Julia Quinn's books, among others, and I'm glad I did so. Even if I wish I also wish I had known about...well, tons of skiffy writers that the internet and having skiffy friends have introduced me to since then.
Claire de Trafford
7. Booksnhorses
Hi Jo,

I also didn't read many romances as a child, and still don't. But Heyer is the exception that proves the rule. My personal favourite is The Grand Sophy because she is just so capable but I love them all. Perhaps a re read is due!
Claire de Trafford
8. Booksnhorses
Hi Jo,

I also didn't read many romances as a child, and still don't. But Heyer is the exception that proves the rule. My personal favourite is The Grand Sophy because she is just so capable but I love them all. Perhaps a re read is due!
Rohan V
9. etv13
It surprises me that you think of Mary Stewart and Madeleine Brent as writers offering up baited-trap, love-as-the-only-fulfillment sort of romances, on a par with Barbara Cartland. Stewart's Charity Selborne is a wealthy widow who involves herself (quite competently) on behalf of a beleaguered boy, Vanessa March is a married veterinarian, Linda Martin of Nine Coaches Waiting sets aside her romantic feelings for the hero in order to protect her young charge. Nearly all her heroines are very well-educated, independent and self-supporting. Indeed, if I were going to say Shards of Honor resembled any particular romance, I think it might be Madam Will You Talk, in which the mature and accomplished Charity Selborne is drawn into a conflict with the hero that resolves into an alliance against the actual bad guys. Brent's Cadie Tregaron pulls off a heroic rescue, and Lucy in Moonraker's Bride is a pretty tough, independent woman coping with living as an orphaned white in China, and then as a Chinese-acculturated woman in England.

As for Heyer, a handful of her books present what perhaps could be called "passionate" relationships, (for example, Vidal and Mary in Devil's Cub), but for the most part, Heyer's stance favors good-humored affection over angsty passion. Gilly and Lady Harriet, Sir Gareth and Lady Hester, Hero and Sherry, Elinor and Carlyon, Sarah Thane and Sir Tristram, Pen Creed and Sir Richard, even Venetia and Damerel -- these are all couples who are more prone to laugh together than to be carried away by uncontrollable passion. (And in the case of Venetia and Damerel, surely it's Damerel who's more prone to being carried away by passion and angst than Venetia is.)

@Jennygadget: I grew up reading romance novels in the early 70's, and there were plenty of romance novelists then who wrote in ways that were analogous to Julia Quinn. Clare Darcy for example. (I think Darcy's actually a better writer than Quinn, and less prone to weird, our-heirs-are-bound-by-a-marriage-contract-we-signed-when-they-were-born tropes than Quinn.)
Rohan V
10. pilgrimsoul
I agree with Brightglance about Cotillion. The impact of *spoiler* is greater in the context of her other books. Heyer does some very convincing characterization to pull it off, too! I look forward to the post and discussion.
Rich Horton
11. ecbatan
I'm a guy, and I started reading (and loving) Heyer when I was in my mid-teens. As you say, it's not necessarily the plots (though some are nice, some silly) -- it's the banter and the world building. Note that Heyer's early contemporary romances (Barren Corn, Helen, two or three others) are truly dire. (And I believe she suppressed them.) So for her the artificial world of her depiction of the Regency (and occasionally different historical times) was pretty important.

I've read lots and lots of other Regencies, and most are pretty sad imitations of Heyer. (There are some better.)

I've only read one Madeleine Brent novel, but it was pretty good and not at all a cliche "true love is the only answer for a woman" type book. Of course Brent was actually Peter O'Donnell of Modesty Blaise fame.

Among contemporary romance writers, indeed Jennifer Crusie is a shining light. But I have to say, there's still plenty of dire stuff out there. Sturgeon's Law, to be sure.

And I have to say Shards of Honor definitely pushed "Romance novel" buttons for me -- in a very good way -- and if I said that (I know I did) it certainly wasn't putting it down. (I love Shards of Honor, and it was what made me fall in love with Bujold, having previously only read the just kind of nice but not great Falling Free.)

Rich Horton
Jo Walton
12. bluejo
Rich: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to generalise so much there -- of course there were men who said it was like a romance novel and didn't mean it as a put down. And it wasn't just you.

You say you read Heyer as a teen. In a way I think it was easier for men to read Heyer etc because they were so obviously not the targets and in no way likely to be mistaken for them.
Rohan V
13. hestiashearthfire
"...but the writers don’t mind me coming along for the scenery."

Yes. This is what makes a good story for me. I don't read to move from point A to point B, I read for the moment-to-moment enjoyment. Writers can actually get away with a lot of plot implausibility with me if I enjoy the moments in between.

I've always been ambivalent about romance; I like the idea of it in a story, but too often the conventions of romance novels put me off. But I respect the authors and readers of it, and every now and then I run across something that reminds me why I really do like it.
Rich Horton
14. ecbatan
Probably easier as a reading experience, yes. But hard to be a teenaged boy, already regarded as a hopeless nerd, caught reading a "girl's book".

Rich Horton
Rohan V
15. EC Spurlock
Thank you for this, Jo. My experience was similar to yours in many ways. In the time and place where I was growing up, marriage and children and maybe a part-time factory job were all a girl could aspire to. Most of my classmates got married right out of high school; it was what was expected. I wanted more. I rejected their reality and substituted my own, and was routinely abused for it by both those I left behind and those whose world I wanted to invade.

I grew up reading Heinlein and Asimov and Sturgeon -- intelligent writers with intelligent characters. I loathed the romances of the 70s and 80s because I found them by comparison ridiculous; not only did they represent the world I was trying to escape, but they identified how singularly stupid were the people who believed in that world. The characters routinely chose the least sensible options available and put themselves at unnecessary risk just so that they could be rescued or "educated" by a fire-breathing alpha male who had no regard for the heroine's needs or desires.

Heyer was different. Heyer's characters were, for the most part, sensible, witty and intelligent. Certainly many of the secondary characters were absurd, but because they were secondary characters one could accept them as mere mechanisms to move the plot, rather than the role models the main characters were intended to be. The heroes and heroines, with the exception of a few who were young and/or naive, behaved as intelligent, well-mannered and clever people should, within the understandable social constraints of their time and their social mileiu. The only anachronism was the respect the heroes often showed toward the heroines, treating them for the most part as intellectual equals -- a long way ahead of "modern" H/Hs at the time.
16. Deepali
Very interesting to see how you've changed - and this might be pushing your romance envelope, but have you tried Jo Beverly's regency and georgian romances?

I enjoy reading all of Heyer's books, and she remains one of my fav authors (across genres).
And yes, a strong starship captain or Vor Lord romance-scifi novel always hits the spot!
Rohan V
17. dejadrew
Heh. Didn't Bujold actually dedicate 'A Civil Campaign' to Georgette Heyer? (checks her ebook)

"For Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy - Long may they rule."

So Jane I'm guessing is Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Georgette Heyer, and... not sure about Dorothy. Dorothy L. Sayers, maybe?
Rich Horton
18. ecbatan
Pretty sure Dorothy is indeed Dorothy Sayers, yes.

Jo Beverly is one of my favorite current romance writers -- and she's also a sometime SF writer. Early in her career she won some stage of the Writers of the Future contest, and though she soon turned to romance (with great success) she's published the odd SF piece since then.
Rohan V
19. helbel
Cotillion is my favourite Heyer, I didn't start reading them till a few years ago on the recommendation of my online book crew (I hadn't heard of Heyer before then). I started with The Grand Sophy which I didn't get one with but went out and got many more. They are just perfect when you're in the right mood.
Rohan V
20. Rudy too
My favorite Heyer is The Unknown Ajax, which I once read twice in a row, I found it so entertaining. The Grand Sophy is a close second. Heyer's appeal for me is the humor, the milieu (though she could get hold of a piece of local color or slang and beat it to death across several novels). Most romance fiction is ghastly. So is most of what's written in other genres, including so-called literary fiction. I'm inclined to search out the best writers/books, regardless of genre.

I was introduced to Heyer in my teens by my father (who started reading her in his thirties and enjoyed her right next to C.S. Forester, for example (alas, my father predeceased Aubrey/Maturin)). In the context of this discussion, I suppose I should add, since my name is gender neutral, that I am female, hetero, and single. I am also extremely skeptical about grand passions, love at first sight, and other romantic tropes, but I'm also skeptical about faster-than-light space travel and grand quests to destroy evil wizards, which doesn't mean I can't enjoy reading about them.
Rohan V
21. Karen H
And then there are the Regency-set romances that also have a fantasy element, and Regency-set fantasies that have romance in them. I'm thinking of some Signet Regencies for the former, and the books by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevemer (Sorcery and Cecelia) for the latter.
Rohan V
22. Naina
Btw, Venetia is Heyer's best work, I feel. Do you have a firm favourite?

And Peter O'Donnell's (Madeleine Brent) Moonraker's Bride is another fav. I suppose now that you've got the hang of it, (re)read Charolette Bronte and Jane Austen. You would be surprised how much sheer fun you will end up having. :)
Rohan V
23. Shellywb
And there are the Liaden sf novels by Miller and Lee, some of which are very Regency romance-like.

I too despised romance growing up. I read everything but. That's because back in the 70s you were just taught that romance=crap. Then one day in the 90s I was so sick I couldn't get out of bed, and desperate for something to read. All that was in reach was a bag of romances my mother had sent. I figured if I could read cereal boxes at the breakfast table I could deal with them that once.

And I was astounded at how ill-founded my prejudices were. They weren't Heyer; she came later. They were Jayne Ann Krentz and Nora Roberts and Jo Beverley, writing good solid stories about people in relationships.

You know, that's all that romances are. You don't have to buy into True Love. You do have to buy into the fact that people can heal each other and come together to form something strong and good. That's what the good writers write about. It's what I love about romances. The trappings and world-building and wit are fun, but if the heart isn't there, it doesn't work for me. Luckily, Heyer at her best does both.
Rohan V
24. trudy
Ii think Regency Buck was a pretty sexy novel - hitting on Judith Tavener thinking she was a milkmaid. I love just about all of them and These Old Shades is dear to my heart. My fav regency era novels are Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz), Jo Beverley ( authentic), Eloisa James (very witty and wise). Several others are quite good.
Ian Gazzotti
25. Atrus
I haven't read much romance so my opinion is probably skewed, but my main issue with genre romance is when the genre part is completely swept under the rug in order for the romance to take centre stage. I do mean genre in the widest possible meaning of the word, from fantasy to scifi to comedy of manners.

To make some examples (I'll reserve the name of the books to make them non-spoilery) I do like a romance interwoven throughout the book with artistic rivalry and threatened family honour; I do not like a fantasy where the first 50 pages are about fighting monstrous creatures that threaten all life in the planet and the next 250 are about convincing the girl's family to accept the strange foreigner she fell in love with.
The first case uses worldbuilding to advance the romance, in the second case, for me, it's actually hindering it because all I can think is "yes, this is all well and nice, but can we get back to the magic please?".
Rohan V
26. Rikibeth
I agree completely about Heyer and the worldbuilding - the rules and restrictions and conventions of her world were equally as foreign to my experience as the rules of a society of telepaths in Darkover, or of wizards in Earthsea. But I disdained contemporary genre romance. FWIW, I was born in 1970, when the rules were rapidly changing - this is why the economic realities of Heyer were so foreign to me. And the physical ones - no birth control!

Oddly enough, although I've identified as a SF/fantasy fan for my entire life or at least since I discovered Tolkien at age seven, what I'm writing now? Is romance. Historical setting, and enough gender subversions to almost make it SFnal in its explorations of "what if?" even as the characters outwardly conform (unless you catch the viscount doing petit point)... but focused on romantic relationships, marriage, reproduction, and how the characters negotiate those by the rules of their time.

Oh, and my favorite Heyer is Friday's Child, which is largely a caper novel and a farce; I just love the characters and their silliness. A close second is The Convenient Marriage, which has similar aspects. I have to disagree slightly about Sylvester; I think they may continue to squabble to some extent, but now that they're explicitly on the same side, as it were, and she's not dreading the revelation of her book, they'll be able to cooperate more thoroughly, and negotiate things before it escalates too desperately. I have high hopes for them.
Rohan V
27. pilgrimsoul
The Talisman Ring left me helpless with laughter.
Rohan V
28. bjvl
Here from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

It's fascinating, because the kind of conversations that are happening *here* are happening there, too. I found SBTB through their analysis/read-through of Bujold's Sharing Knife series and I've stayed for the conversation.

Romance readers deal with many of the same pejorative labels from mainline society that SF/F readers do, with extra gender-dismissive sprinkles. Come over and meet our brothers and sisters--I heartily recommend cross-pollination for everyone. :)
Lynn Calvin
29. romsfuulynn
Yes, well - my usual internet name pretty much shows where I line up. Heyer is remarkable though. I was buying electronic copies of her books in 1s and 2s when they were 7.99 to 9.99. Even though I have multiple editions of most of them in various states of disrepair. When Sourcebooks put everything they had available of hers on sale for $1.99 each for the week of her birthday last year, I bought them ALL. (Except Penhallow.)
Rohan V
30. fjm
Just to note that Heyer wasn't initially marketed as romance as such The books were marketed as adventure and the cover of the covers of the first editions and early paperbacks reflect this, until the Pan oval medallion covers when they were moved over to romance and have had "romantic" covers ever since.
Rohan V
31. Madeline Ridgeway
I am an avid romance novel reader. I absolutely adore them with all my soul (particularly historical romance), so I'm always looking to convince people to read them. When I saw this article, I was very excited! "Yay! Another person converted!" But I must say, I'm not entirely convinced that you learned to love romance as the title of the article suggests... Or if you did, perhaps you fell in love for the wrong reasons. In our world today, there are many many cynical people out there, looking to pop the happy, optimistic bubble of anyone who dare believe in the power of love. Since my bubble is incapable of being popped, I shall safely rant about my love of love right now. Romance novels are written with the purpose of falling in love. There are many other elements to the novels like hilarious banter, lovable characters, heart-wrenching drama, scream-worthy suspense, but basically the point of the book is falling in love. Do I believe in true love? One-hundred percent. Why? Because I simply cannot see how a person can be put on this earth to be alone. I could never possibly fathom our world having such a vast treasure trove of wonders surrounding it, and no one with whom to share it. That is what romance novels have taught me. Not to believe in "unrealistic love." I don't know about the 70s romances you read, but nowadays romance novels depict realistic love. People do indeed fight and have misunderstandings, and it can be extremely difficult to find your other half. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. So perhaps it isn't that romance novels fill our heads with unrealistic fantasies, but rather open minds so that we can face the harsh, cold world around us and actually be happy because we know there's something great out there. Something that has lasted all through time. Love. That's what I've learned. I hope one day you learn it too.

Next time you read a romance novel, I suggest something by Julia Quinn. She is a true genius. Might I suggest the Bridgerton series?
Rohan V
32. Madeline Ridgeway
Oh, and I do believe that female arousal in the case of true love does involve emotion. If it was just straight sex, there would be no love in it, would there?

Hence the term I love the best: love-making.
Jo Walton
33. bluejo
Madeleine: Are you for real? You're like the type example of the sort of person romance novels want women to be -- the sort of person I was afraid reading them might turn me into.

I do find the meme of True Love problematic. I also think it's very dangerous to happiness in reality -- because if you're constantly looking for The One, nothing normal can ever live up to that.

I'm forty-seven, and I've been happily married for more than a decade. I therefore find your wish that my life be ruined by a new romance somewhat less than appealing. I also find it kind of unlikely.

Thank you for your recommendation of Quinn, whom I shall check out. I suggest you try Samuel Delany's Triton.
Rohan V
34. Madeline Ridgeway
Yes, Bluejo, I am in fact "for real." ;) I understand your concern about romance novels causing you to block out normal life, which I admit can often be seen as disappointing when compared to the excitement of romance fiction, but from my experience reading these books I've found that they actually cause me to be more optimistic about life. Rather than comparing my life to the lives of romance novel heroines and finding it lacking, I've carried all the stories with me along my journey in life like...companions. They give me hope in the times that are hopeless. Perhaps it's because I've always believed in love, but I find the concept of true love that is depicted in romance novels completely realistic and if anything they've given me anticipation of the future. So, no, I don't find myself ruining my life and purposely letting myself down over the fact that my life so far hasn't turned out exactly like the books I read. Instead, I've learned that when the time comes for me to settle down, I shouldn't simply settle. I am not married yet but when I am I want it to be for love. Is it wrong to want to live the rest of my life with the right person? I'm very sorry that you find True Love a problematic concept (although I daresay I can't imagine being married as long as you have without believing in love, and I must say that I'm sorry about that as well.) I hope you enjoy the Quinn book, whichever you decide to read (some of my favorites are The Duke and I - Book #1 of the Bridgerton series mentioned above - The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, or if you want to try a REAL True Love promoting story, Everything and the Moon.) I also recommend one of my recent reads A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux, a total romance novel classic. Although it's unlikely, I hope it helps you to believe in love...just a little, at least. Because that is, after all, the point of a romance novel. If not, at least I know you'll have a good time reading it, whichever novel you choose. Happy reading!
Rohan V
35. romney
Julia Quinn is alright. Historical accuracy is low. The characters are basically modern, dressed up in period clothing. Go for the earlier Bridgerton stuff as the latter books are increasingly disappointing. I did enjoy her addressing of various tropes in the books, but again this has lessened as she progresses.

The real gem is Loretta Chase. "Lord of Scoundrels" is the big one, but Mr Impossible, Miss Wonderful, etc. are great too. Faultless historical detail. Hilarious dialogue. Very interesting, unusual characters and well outside the Heyer world of Almacks. The early ones are pure Regency Romance, but the ones that came next are more general Historical Romance (i.e. including sex scenes) and the best of best if you ask me.
Rohan V
36. romney
Forgot to say: I think "True Love" is a nonsense. One person out there, you're fated to meet, all that. Real love is about compromise as much as anything else, because no one is perfectly matched. But perhaps someone who is or has been married is bound to have different opinions on this sort of thing to someone who hasn't done it yet - marriages/long-term relationships are by comparison to courtship, relatively dull, yet take up the greater amount of your time. And thats why romance novels tend to end before the marriage really starts!

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