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Last week, author Nicole Murphy posted a fascinating piece on http://www.davidmcdonaldspage.com website discussing and defending the importance of romance as a genre. We thought it was so good that we asked if we could share it here, and David and Nicole kindly agreed.

Nicole has been a teacher and journalist, but is now concentrating on her writing. She has had many short stories published, and has edited speculative fiction magazines. She lives in Queanbeyan with her husband Tim. Visit her website to find out more information about her published works.

An argument about the importance of romance.

I would like to put forward an argument that the much maligned and misunderstood genre of romance is, in fact, a serious contender for the title of most important genre.

Here’s my thinking.

First, it’s about feminism. When you look at the other genres – fantasy, science fiction, horror, crime, western, action-adventure, detective, mystery – it can be extremely difficult for women to find stories about them, written by them. Difficult to find stories that speak to the truth of being a woman in this world and the specific struggles and issues that we deal with that men do not.

And if you do find them, then the range is often minimal. For example, how many female detectives have you read that have relationship issues? Most of them. How many action-adventure heroines are either there because they have the money or they are the one with the clue and not the main focus of the action?

The only genre where women can not only find a multitude of stories about them but can also pick and choose the types of roles or situations they wish to read about is in romance. Do you want to read stories that fit in with your religious beliefs? There’s entire companies that publish what’s called inspirational romance. Are you involved in the medical profession and want to read about people like you finding true love? Mills and Boon publish several books a month just for you.

Even if you don’t buy the premise that the overwhelming majority of book purchasers are women (the last figure I heard was eighty percent, although I’ve been unable to verify that), we all know that women equate for just less than half the world’s population* and yet, there’s just one genre in which we are guaranteed to read a multiplicity of stories that speak to our lives.

As it’s the only genre to offer this for half the world, surely that makes it important?

The second reason I think romance is a contender for best genre is that it’s the only genre that guarantees a happy ending.

Some of the other genres have lots of happy endings – crime, for example, because the crime is generally solved at the end of the book – but they’re not always happy endings (the criminal doesn’t always feel the full force of the law, for example).

But in romance, the story MUST end with happily ever after (or happily for now at least) and if it doesn’t, then it’s not part of the romance genre.

In times of darkness or uncertainty, such as we’re going through at the moment, picking up a book and knowing that it will end nicely is a nice guarantee to have. It’s no wonder that despite retail in general slumping over the past couple of years, the sales of romance novels has barely been affected.

I know that there are folks out there that are going to say that speaks to the inherent weakness of romance – that you know how it is going to end – but in that I think they are wrong. We all know that pressure is required to turn a lump of coal into a diamond. Well, think of the fact that a romance has to end happily as the pressure, and when you open the pages you’ll find that diamond.

Reason number three – romance deals with most of the important issues that face society. It has been, for example, a place where feminism has tried out new ideas, explored what being a woman really means and given readers a variety of choices of things they can do with their lives.

Women’s sexuality in particular is an interest of mine in terms of how romance is allowing women to dip in and try ideas or feelings that in real life words like ‘slut’ are telling them they shouldn’t be even thinking about.

In the blog published yesterday on why Australian romance should be treated more seriously, Laura Vivanco gives some examples of romances that have touched on Australian issues. She mentions the stories that appeared in the 40s about women dealing with their men coming home from war (and in fact in America at the moment there’s a big call for romance dealing with a returned war veteran).

And I’ve seen online calls from women for particular types of stories to help them through a situation – the latest was for a woman who had just lost a child through stillbirth and wanted to read some uplifting stories. She was given dozens of suggestions.

Are there crap romance novels? Oh, yes, yes, yes. Sit me down one day and I’ll tell you all about it. Particularly the books that were published in the 70s and 80s…

But there is also crap science fiction, crap horror, crap westerns, crap murder mysteries… Just because a genre produces crap doesn’t mean the entire genre is crap.

I rather suspect that it’s going to be years, if ever, before romance has the respect it deserves. In the meantime, all I can do is appeal to all you forward thinking people out there to give romance a chance and see for yourself the beauty that comes from reading about people falling in love.

* Current estimated world population 6 895 889 000, current estimated world female population 3 418 059 000, from http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Excel-Data/population.htm

What do you all think of this argument? Is romance fiction a bastion of feminism?