National Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference location:San Francisco date:19 - 22 March 2008
In this paper I discuss the conceptualisation of genre in romance scholarship. I start out by analyzing the underlying genre models in two major romance studies, namely Janice Radway’s foundational Reading the Romance (1984) and Pamela Regis’ relatively recent A Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003). My analysis suggests that both authors ultimately rely on inconsistent conceptualisations of genre. I demonstrate how Radway’s problematic mix of a constructionist and an essentialist take on genre plays a part in preventing this study from reaching its ultimate goal of truly understanding the reader’s experience of the romance text. I furthermore suggest that Regis’ lack of incorporating a constructionist approach to genre might ultimately lead to considerable questions regarding the methodological foundation of her findings. Despite the many accomplishments of both studies, I then argue that their lack of a consistent and considered conceptualisation of genre (unnecessarily) weakens them.
I overall propose, then, that the full fledged incorporation of genre theory in the study of the popular romance novel might offer interesting and fruitful research options for the future. Not only does recent genre theory – with its consistent emphasis on genre’s inherently dynamic and ever-changing nature – offer romance scholarship a convincing theoretical framework for the claim that romance novels are not repetitive, formulaic and thus (literary) worthless, I also believe that, conversely, the romance genre – with its rapid historical development, synchronic diversification, generic hybridity and considerable institutional dimension – might be an interesting case study for the further development of genre theory itself.