What A “Romantic Novel” Is . . . And What It Is Not

My wife is in Lisbon for a couple of days…

I saw her off at the airport yesterday morning – very early…

After I got home, I spent some time working. When I paused for a break, I made a mistake: I read Twitter.

When will I learn to stick to Instagram?

Following links, I ended up here. There is a Twitter feed calling itself: “50 Shades is abuse”:

Reading some of the tweets, reactions to them, and linked to articles, was an eye-opener. On one level, the notion that any character, in this case one “Christian Grey,” could get so many people so riled up is a backhanded tribute to his creator. After all, “Christian Grey” is NOT real.

On another level, there seems to be a major definitional problem with the Fifty Shades books and films. The core issue I’m seeing is that they continue to be termed, and promoted as, “romance.” For example, I saw it pointed out on that Twitter account that Netflix puts the films in the “romance” genre.

When I saw that, I thought: Well, alphabetically that therefore makes it possible to find them somewhere between, say, An Affair To Remember and Roman Holiday? Seriously? Here Wikipedia defines a romance/romantic novel:

…Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

I don’t think too many of us would dispute that broad definition. That being so, there appears to be serious confusion about, or ignorance of, or even willful misuse of, the term “romance” in applying it to the Fifty Shades franchise.

I have stated before that I have not read the books and have no plans to do so. Nor have I seen the films; nor do I plan to do so. However, based on what we know about the tale, and can see in that definition, characterizing those books and films as “romance” is, well, wrong – and badly wrong.

To me, as we turn the pages “romantic” relationships ought to leave us guessing, perhaps hoping, wondering, and identifying with the characters’ feelings. Amidst what are at times even life or death challenges, we should be immersed in the setting and following eagerly as characters fall for each other. We should even enjoy their company:

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Fifty Shades does not appear to evoke any of that. If those books and the adapted films were labeled instead perhaps as “thrillers,” or “psycho-dramas,” or, umm, “headcase super-rich guy who needs a psychiatrist,” that would it seem much more accurately position where it stands as fiction. It would delineate for readers – and tweeters – that this “relationship” is “disturbed” and “disordered,” and should not be viewed as “romantic.”

This is not to single out Fifty Shades as having such a problem either. I have written also that I consider “Nazi”-“Jewish” World War Two “romance novels” outright idiotic. I feel that way because – as I explained here – given the facts of THE HOLOCAUST the fetish premise is historically illiterate and sickening. As with Fifty Shades, whatever such stories are, “romantic” they are not.

A highly-regarded cable television drama suddenly also comes to my mind here: Homeland. One character in particular jumps out in this context: CIA man “Peter Quinn.” Think about this…


[Homeland, Series 6, on DVD. Photo by me, 2017.]

“Quinn” is a trained killer not unlike “James Bond”: we are told “Quinn” was rescued from care as a teen and recruited by the Agency partly for his good looks. Although not a cold-blooded murderer insofar as we know, we know this program is an iceberg – only a bit of it is visible on the surface. Clearly he does also have moments where he “drops out” of his Agency work in attacks of conscience.

There is certainly a “mysterious man” backstory to “Quinn.” At some point in the past he had an affair with German intelligence agent “Astrid.” He has also wowed main character “Carrie.” I’m sure the list could go on.

During one of Quinn’s attacks of conscience, he walks away from the Agency (again), moves into a nameless motel/apartment complex in suburban Washington, D.C., drinks heavily, and eventually “romances” the manager, who happens to be on the heavy side. In one scene, as they are about to leave a diner, two men at a table nearby ridicule her weight. Overhearing them “Quinn” ignores her entreaties that they just leave and instead steps over to their table and confronts them over their rude comments.

When the men laugh at him, you just know what is going to happen next. “Quinn” had appeared to be just some ordinary guy, so those men got the shocks of their lives when, abruptly, in two empty-handed, lightening-speed moves, he knocks both of them unconscious, busting at least one man’s skull, and leaves them heads down on their table, bleeding into their onion rings and half-finished hamburgers. Of course, “Quinn” gets arrested for assault. Afterwards – thanks to the intervention of the Agency – he is released, and although she is obviously concerned about what the handsome “Quinn” is physically capable of (besides the sexual), she notes meekly to him that no man had ever defended her before.

Do the likes of that make Homeland “romance?” Probably not. Yet given the consensuality and caring displayed at times between “romantic” partners on that spy thriller show, it seems in its ludicrous way certainly far more credible as “romance” than Fifty Shades.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

By the way, I won’t be reading Twitter today. 😉

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.