In my last post I made a throwaway comment about romance novels being a “true and concise account of love in real life”. I want to expand on this a bit, because it’s one of the things that fascinates me about the genre.
I don’t agree with people who defend romance novels by saying that everyone needs some escape from the pain of real life. Ok, I don’t disagree either, but I certainly don’t think that’s all there is to it.
I don’t think the way love is portrayed in romance novels is unrealistic.
See, as a society we’re very sceptical about love. People are squeamish talking about love in a direct, non-ironic, non-sarcastic way. And yet, the longing for love, for being cherished, for being someone’s favourite person in the whole world, is fundamental to most people’s lives.
Only, we have to be cynical about that longing, in case it never happens to us.
Some wonderful academic, whose name I have forgotten, pointed out that the only power transformative enough to overcome the Capulet/Montague feud was love. It’s literature, but it’s not unrealistic. I know that in my life, the most transformative moments, when I have truly faced myself and decided to change (very rare moments, they are!), have all been brought about by love (not the fluffy kind – the kind that requires huge amounts of courage).
Most heroes and heroines of romance novels start out being pretty sceptical about love, same as the rest of us. What they get to experience is the same irrational, terrifying and life-altering love that so many people actually experience in real life. Or long for in such private places that they probably keep it even from themselves.
I think it’s a very narrow view that only the grim, “realistic” portrayal of love in literary fiction is a true depiction of love in real life. That is an experience of love that people have – the struggles, the dealing and compromise of flawed individuals – but certainly not the only one.
I think people are scared of looking stupid if they admit how moments of unencumbered love make them feel – as though they are powerful and beautiful and can do anything. As though being treasured by another human being makes the bewildering experience of being alive worth it.