What is a Romantic Novel? The latest issue of the Romantic Novelists' Association's RNA News contains two essays on this subject, from RNA Chairman Jenny Haddon, and from RNA President Diane Pearson.
Jenny is clear that "romantic" is a slippery word. If it means everything that Roget's Thesaurus suggests as synonyms it would cover almost every novel ever written, from Gilgamesh and Genji to Trainspotting. This is clearly too wide a definition for any practical purpose so Jenny suggests a narrower definition:
My own view is that a romantic novel is about:She goes on to make it clear that a romantic novel may include many other things, including big ideas or simple passion, but the core must be "conflicts between sense of self, what the characters want and how that changes under the onslaught of attraction and eventually, need for beloved's good above all things."
- an adult love affair
- the risks and powers of emotions, particularly sexual attraction
- personal ethics
Diane takes a different approach.
I have always felt that our title [the Romantic Novelists' Association] is more of a generic heading covering an enormous range of popular fiction written very largely (though by no means entirely) by women, for women - romance, serious historicals, chic-lit, sagas, comedies, aga-sagas, romantic suspense and so on.She suggests that "the true romantic novel should be huge in every sense of the word and at its core should be an overwhelming, gut-wrenching, heart-pulling, passionate emotion."
Diane argues that the emotional content does not necessarily have to be that of love between a man and a woman. She suggests that the biggest love in Scarlett O'Hara's life is not for Rhett or Ashley, but for Tara. She also quotes Douglas Reeman (Alexander Kent) saying that he considers his own work to be very romantic "What can be more romantic than a man's passion for his ship and the sea?"
For Jenny the bottom line is:
no love story, no romantic credentials.Diane says:
They're hard to write and require stamina and courage, but when they work - Wow! - they're the most powerful and memorable books ever written."
So how does Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth stand up against these two definitions? It passes Jenny's first hurdle: there is a love story there. Moreover, our hero ultimately risks his very life for our heroine.
As to Diane's requirements: there is indeed, at the book's core, something huge. Gut-wrenching, heart-pulling emotion, yes of course. But more, much more than this, there is an elephant.