National Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference location:Boston date:4 -7 April 2007
In this paper, based upon my master’s thesis, I argue that the traditional image of the romance genre as formulaic hence literary worthless consistently underestimates the complexity of the aesthetic strategies used in this genre. This is indicated by the analysis of six handbooks for writing romance novels; this romance community internal corpus provides an explicit articulation of the genre’s otherwise implicitly held literary norms and values. Using a ‘functional-normative’ perspective I focus on the question whether the proposed norm – the advice in the handbooks – is functional; i.e. whether it contributes effectively to the fulfilling of the generic functions, which are escape, relaxation and instruction (Radway, 1984).
Detailed study of this corpus ultimately reveals the existence of a constant tension in the community’s aesthetic strategies between a need for recognizable generic features (the romance ‘formula’) and, within this generic frame, an outspoken appreciation of such ‘high culture’ literary values as novelty, creativity and originality. The handbooks use the concept of an author’s personal ‘voice’ to refer to this idiosyncratic, original, non-formulaic aspect of each romance. ‘Voice’ refers to the combination of all the elements which make one’s writing unique and personal. The importance of voice in the reception of romance novels gives rise to its significance on an institutional level. This indicates that the aesthetic strategies of the whole romance community are based on a constant interaction of opposing values, an intrinsic complexity not reflected in the traditional and widespread image of the genre.