The History of Romance Novels

We have to go back, way, way back, into history to find the origins of romance novels.

572px-Hammond-SS10493px-Marguerite_Gérard_-_Lady_Reading_in_an_Interior_-_WGA8609What? That surprises you?

No, I’m not talking about the escapist novels we automatically think of today when we hear the words romance novel. In this day and age, romance novels are much more diverse than the original stories were. Think about the current romance genres: contemporary series, contemporary single title, paranormal, historical, YA, romantic suspense, fantasy, and science fiction.


And then there are sub-genres, varying heat levels, eBooks, paperback, audio books, and hardcovers.

It’s enough to boggle the mind and cross one’s eyes!

But I digress.

The origin of romantic prose, as you have probably guessed, dates back to the days of ballads, poems, verses, and legends. Those first medieval tales were written by men and, naturally, contained more, shall we say, masculine preferences. Namely adventure, the slaying of beastly creatures, and male dominated themes liberally dosed with courtliness and gallantry. Even several of the Great Bard, Shakespeare’s, works contain elements of romance and chivalry.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, forerunners to the modern romance novels have been attributed to Samuel Richardson for his novel, Pamela: Virtue Rewarded  (1740) and tales such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which speak to the heart of the romantic while depicting social issues of the era.

Jane Austen is often credited with being the founder of traditional romances, though you have to remember, she was writing contemporaries at the time. And let’s not forget Anne Radcliff’s gothic romances (late 1700s) which were read by both men and women, though many did so covertly. It wouldn’t do to be caught reading “dreadful novels” which is what her books were labeled.

Hmm, makes me think of some of the things I’ve heard modern romance novels called.

390px-Georgette_Heyer_-_The_Black_MothMoving along.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Georgette Heyer whose historicals have been the impetus for many a romance writer and beloved of readers for nearly a hundred years.TheFlameAndTheFlower

Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower (1972) laid the foundation for historical romances and is considered by many, to be the first great American romance.

I happen to agree. You see, The Flame and the Flower is the first novel length romance I ever read. I so loved the book, I named my daughter Brianna, after the heroine, Heather Brianna, in the book.

Yep, I really did, and yes, my daughter knows.


Don’t’ forget our historical trivia game. Enter at the top of the blog page. Do not answer in the comment field, ‘cause you won’t get credit for your answer.

Today’s question is:

What bad habit does Roark have that Adaira teases him about?

Trot on over to this link to find the answer.  The Earl’s Enticement


All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons