First Time Reading a Romance Novel

 

I’ve been trying to add some variety to my reading list lately, and it occurred to me that I had never read a romance novel. I asked my wife to recommend one, and she gave me The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn. One of the blurbs actually says, “If you’ve never read romance novels, start here.”

The characters are all British, and it takes place in New York during the Revolutionary War. Our leading lady has come to NY to look for her brother, an officer who was wounded and has gone missing. Instead, she finds his best friend, also a wounded officer, who is unconscious in a makeshift military hospital. In order to be allowed to stay with him, she lies and says that she is his wife, hence the book’s title. Of course, he eventually wakes up, and she has to decide whether to continue her deception or to risk everything by coming clean. Complications ensue.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that she is young, beautiful, and innocent; smart, brave, and determined; stronger than she knows yet moved by powerful emotions of joy and heartbreak. Her pretend husband is a little older, more knowledgeable in the ways of the world (and of the opposite sex), strong and disciplined, but also kind and playful at times. I hope I’m not giving too much away when I say that circumstances bring them together, then pull them apart, and then, when all seems lost, bring them together again at the end.

Now, I’ve watched lots of Hallmark movies with the wife, so this was not unfamiliar narrative territory. It was interesting to see it play out in this longer format, although at times it seemed to move rather slowly. It had a little more bosom-heaving than Hallmark, but not much. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of these.

I was looking to see if it had a theme described many years ago by Warren Farrell in his book Why Men Are the Way They Are. He wrote that porn for men meets an obvious desire – sexual access to lots of women – but what do romance novels (the closest thing to porn for women) supply their readers? He read a lot of them and concluded that the one consistent theme was that while the female characters were always capable, it was their connection to men that gave them access to opportunities and experiences they couldn’t have had otherwise. He called this being “Flashdanced” after the movie where a great dancer gets into a school she wants, against the odds, because a man is pulling some strings behind the scenes.

I think that applies to this book to some extent, where the main character plays on her connection to the wounded officer to get a place to stay, the benefits of being an officer’s wife, and help in looking for her brother, etc. I’m not sure it quite lines up as well as Flashdance.

In any case, on to other things. Now reading Troy Senik’s book on Grover Cleveland, which is very good. There aren’t many books about a guy who only served as Buffalo’s mayor for one year.

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  1. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Were any bodices ripped?

    • #1
  2. cornpop, jr. Member
    cornpop, jr.
    @ctregilgas

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Were any bodices ripped?

    I’m not sure I’d want to read about Grover Cleveland ripping bodices. 

    • #2
  3. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I have long believed the parallel or porn  for men, is rom-coms for women, and it’s nice to see that point made by someone else. 
    In fact, I blame rom-com fiction for the growing divide between men and women. Porn probably helps too, but I wouldn’t know much about that…

    One factor I use to prove this is how rom-coms ( and maybe romantic fiction?) isn’t especially prevalent in Europe, and the euro guys and gals seem to have a pretty healthy appreciation for each other.

    American women have unbelievably high expectations from men in the romance department. This,  in addition to all the other attributes a young man is supposed to have to be eligible as a worthy mate.

    One of the key formulaic payoffs of rom-coms is that the man, who is otherwise a complete ‘catch’, must humble himself and overcome his tragic flaw often in some outlandish demonstration to win the heart of the damsel.

    This comes directly after the films low-point. The two lovers are heartbroken. Both are acting on insufficient or false information.

    The woman never humbles herself ( that’s porn, lol) . Seriously, we don’t want a story where the plot depends on the woman humbling herself. And that alone shows how differently we see the sexes and the roles.

    BTW, stand-up comedy sheds some light on this. Male standups self-deprecate to become likable. That formula does not work for women. We really don’t want to hear a woman put herself down. 

    And yes, she’s often a strong but unfulfilled damsel in need. The result must be clear that this amazing guy is attracted to the girl –  and only to that girl for a particular reason, in part at least having something to do with her unlocking his potential. Women do not need to be heroes in these stories ( or any story for that matter) -that is not ‘romantic’ to them.

    This is also why so few are interested in the WNBA, not even women who like basketball.

    The man must be the hero and she gives herself to him once he has proven himself and unequivocally thrown himself at her feet. 

    That’s tough to do in real life…

     

    • #3
  4. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    I want to thank you for your courage and willingness to sacrifice. A lifelong obsessive reader, everything from nutrition labels to encyclopedias (I’m very fond of X, myself), the deepest I ever got in one of those was 50 pages into Gone with the Wind in a remote farmhouse having too rapidly demolished my five novel John Carter of Mars omnibus edition. It left quite a scar. My average experience is under ten pages. I destroy most of them in order to make the world safe for literacy. I would offer you an imagine award in the name of some titan of the romance novel world, but I have no idea who that might be.

    Stay safe.

    • #4
  5. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Wasn’t the late Barbara Cartland pretty much the “queen” of this genre?  At least that’s what I’ve always assumed while avoiding her stuff like the plague.

    It’s also important to distinguish this genre from enjoyable trash like Sidney Sheldon and Jacquline Susann,  and stuff like Rich Man, Poor Man, of which I was a fan.  I do not know who writes trash lit anymore.

    • #5
  6. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There is a whole category of historical-novel-combined-with-romance-novels, and some of them are pretty good.  I just finished reading one: A Daring Venture, by Elizabeth Camden…quite likely the only novel ever written where the plot centers on the chlorination of water to improve public health!  The heroine is a chemist working for a scientist who is pushing for chlorination of NYC water to eliminate the TB epidemic; she strongly supports this goal but falls for a man in an important management job at the water department–and he is very opposed to chlorination.

    The actual historical story follows the novel reasonably well, other than the fictional protagonist and her potential love interest.

     

    • #6
  7. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    I used to listen to a radio program that, in the lead-in, promised “the romance of the old west.”  I just don’t remember any sex.

    The wife tells me that westerns written by Louis L’Amour are romance novels and sex isn’t  necessary: Is she deceiving me?  Is sex necessary for something to be a romance novel?

    • #7
  8. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    David Foster (View Comment):

    There is a whole category of historical-novel-combined-with-romance-novels, and some of them are pretty good. I just finished reading one: A Daring Venture, by Elizabeth Camden…quite likely the only novel ever written where the plot centers on the chlorination of water to improve public health! The heroine is a chemist working for a scientist who is pushing for chlorination of NYC water to eliminate the TB epidemic; she strongly supports this goal but falls for a man in an important management job at the water department–and he is very opposed to chlorination.

    The actual historical story follows the novel reasonably well, other than the fictional protagonist and her potential love interest.

     

    Three words: precious bodily fluids. Will those demons stop at anything?

    • #8
  9. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Were any bodices ripped?

    Eventually. You have to get about 3/4 of the way through before there’s any sex. I mean, you can’t just jump into bed with your pretend husband, now can you? She’s a good girl.

    • #9
  10. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    A great send-up of romance novels/bodice rippers is Love’s Reckless Rash.  I read it a number of years ago and recall it was quite humorous. 

    • #10
  11. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    I HIGHLY recommend An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer.  She is known for her bodice rippers.   But apparently she had access to Wellington’s private correspondence.   Part bodice ripper part historically accurate,minute by minute account of the battle of Waterloo,  this novel is required reading at military academies around the world.  

    For me, it is a ‘ must read’!

    • #11
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    cornpop, jr. (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Were any bodices ripped?

    I’m not sure I’d want to read about Grover Cleveland ripping bodices.

    Grover ‘Cleavage’ Cleveland was actually quite the ladies’ man. 

    • #12
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    I want to thank you for your courage and willingness to sacrifice. A lifelong obsessive reader, everything from nutrition labels to encyclopedias (I’m very fond of X, myself), the deepest I ever got in one of those was 50 pages into Gone with the Wind in a remote farmhouse having too rapidly demolished my five novel John Carter of Mars omnibus edition. It left quite a scar. My average experience is under ten pages. I destroy most of them in order to make the world safe for literacy. I would offer you an imagine award in the name of some titan of the romance novel world, but I have no idea who that might be.

    Stay safe.

    I LOLed. 

    • #13
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    I HIGHLY recommend An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer. She is known for her bodice rippers. But apparently she had access to Wellington’s private correspondence. Part bodice ripper part historically accurate,minute by minute account of the battle of Waterloo, this novel is required reading at military academies around the world.

    For me, it is a ‘ must read’!

         “Oh take me!,” she gasped, “Here on the hot cannon, for I cannot bear to wait longer!” 
         “Madam, your need is great, as is mine. But England’s is greater still, for She relies now on the fighting passions of stout-hearted men and I must not fall into temptation like some common Frenchman. There is the additional consideration that the cannon in question has likely attained a temperature akin to a metal stove.” 

    • #14
  15. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    Did reading the book change your gender?  Or how you self identified?

    • #15
  16. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    TBA (View Comment):

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    I HIGHLY recommend An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer. She is known for her bodice rippers. But apparently she had access to Wellington’s private correspondence. Part bodice ripper part historically accurate,minute by minute account of the battle of Waterloo, this novel is required reading at military academies around the world.

    For me, it is a ‘ must read’!

    “Oh take me!,” she gasped, “Here on the hot cannon, for I cannot bear to wait longer!”
    “Madam, your need is great, as is mine. But England’s is greater still, for She relies now on the fighting passions of stout-hearted men and I must not fall into temptation like some common Frenchman. There is the additional consideration that the cannon in question has likely attained a temperature akin to a metal stove.”

    Excellent.  You may have missed your calling.

    • #16
  17. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Matt Bartle: I was looking to see if it had a theme described many years ago by Warren Farrell in his book Why Men Are the Way They Are. He wrote that porn for men meets an obvious desire – sexual access to lots of women – but what do romance novels (the closest thing to porn for women) supply their readers? He read a lot of them and concluded that the one consistent theme was that while the female characters were always capable, it was their connection to men that gave them access to opportunities and experiences they couldn’t have had otherwise. He called this being “Flashdanced” after the movie where a great dancer gets into a school she wants, against the odds, because a man is pulling some strings behind the scenes.

    Meh. It’s much simpler than his (rather tame) conclusion. Romance novels are romantically and sexually titillating. You have this tall, manly guy, acting manly, amongst other manly qualities, such as manliness with a little kindness and manliness mixed in. There is not much more needed for even a prim spinster to dab her brow with her kerchief.

    Not all romance novels are entirely and trashily devoted to this kind of thing, and neither are all romantic descriptions illicit. Romance, and the prospect of it, and even (chaste) vicarious experiences, are a healthy part of life.  However, I don’t usually seek out even the innocent romantic books for the most part, as I just don’t need them, and I could see how they could become a problem for people.

    • #17
  18. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Then he acts protective of the heroine (sigh). Then an endearment slips out he didn’t intend, revealing his true feelings behind his gruff exterior (swoon). He gets righteously angry at stuff, and does something about it. He hints at a future family together. He has to rescue her, using manly attributes (faint).  He admires her mind, notices her courage and abilities, and values her friendship (collapse on the floor). 

    Romance novels offer everything women find attractive in men in a concentrated form.  Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre was especially subtle and skilled at bringing out manly qualities in Mr. Rochester. 

    (Soon after I wrote the first comment above, even though this is on my laptop, I got a naughty text on my phone in Spanish, not an everyday event. Coincidence?  Or did my comment have too many key words?) 

    • #18
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Then he acts protective of the heroine (sigh). Then an endearment slips out he didn’t intend, revealing his true feelings behind his gruff exterior (swoon). He gets righteously angry at stuff, and does something about it. He hints at a future family together. He has to rescue her, using manly attributes (faint). He admires her mind, notices her courage and abilities, and values her friendship (collapse on the floor).

    Romance novels offer everything women find attractive in men in a concentrated form. Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre was especially subtle and skilled at bringing out manly qualities in Mr. Rochester.

    (Soon after I wrote the first comment above, even though this is on my laptop, I got a naughty text on my phone in Spanish, not an everyday event. Coincidence? Or did my comment have too many key words?)

    I don’t even know any Spanish! You can prove nothing! 

    • #19
  20. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    You have this tall, manly guy, acting manly, amongst other manly qualities, such as manliness with a little kindness and manliness mixed in.

    Manliness most definitely does not exclude kindness.  

    • #20
  21. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    (Soon after I wrote the first comment above, even though this is on my laptop, I got a naughty text on my phone in Spanish, not an everyday event. Coincidence?  Or did my comment have too many key words?) 

    Hopefull from someone you know!

    • #21
  22. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    I know women complain that their portrayal in porn is not realistic [true], but then how many men can be like the heroes of romance novels? I mean, how many of us are Scottish clan leaders? Or tycoons?

    • #22
  23. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    TBA (View Comment):
    I don’t even know any Spanish! You can prove nothing! 

    I had to look up one of the words. I recognized “Tinder,” but not one of the main Spanish words in the sentence. 

    • #23
  24. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Chuck (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    You have this tall, manly guy, acting manly, amongst other manly qualities, such as manliness with a little kindness and manliness mixed in.

    Manliness most definitely does not exclude kindness.

    Yes, I was trying to make that point.  :-) 

    • #24
  25. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    kedavis (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    (Soon after I wrote the first comment above, even though this is on my laptop, I got a naughty text on my phone in Spanish, not an everyday event. Coincidence? Or did my comment have too many key words?)

    Hopefull from someone you know!

    Hopefully NOT!  

    • #25
  26. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    It may be of limited value here, but I’ll toss in a comment I found on a discussion about differences in computer programming ability, mostly in general but sometimes with emphasis between women and men.

     

    For example, does anyone know of a framework author/architect that is female? The people that come up with Jini, or Ruby on Rails, or Hibernate, or the like. I can’t recall a single female author of groundbreaking ideas, either theoretical or practical.

    There are profound differences between men and women in world view and mode of thought. These are evident from the literature they create, the literature they consume and the way they comport themselves over the spans of their careers.

    The archetypal chick flick – Gone with the Wind – is described in its own advertising as a searing tale of passion in a world gone mad. Essentially, it’s about the feelings of the protagonist in a world that is utterly beyond the protagonist’s control. If a Mills and Boon novel has a happy ending, it’s provided by the intervention of a man. At no point does a woman attempt to change her world. She adapts to it, cries about it, or waits for a man to change it for her.

    Men, by contrast, write about almost nothing but taking control of their world, and the mechanics by which this is attempted.

    Another fundamental difference is the list thing. Men teach one another the mechanism, the distilled principle, because there is less to remember and it has to be taken in context anyway. Women want a fixed context and rote instructions. If you try to teach them the principles instead, they don’t listen and they get angry, saying “I don’t care why, I just asked you to tell me what to do.” If you give them a list of steps it must be exhaustive like a computer program because (also like a computer program) if context changes breaking the procedure or if anything has been omitted, blame is ascribed to the writer of the procedure.

    A direct consequence of this intellectual inflexibility is that women do not create tools. They can be taught to use them, often very well, provided that the use of the tool can be described as lists of steps – programs!

    Visit a craft shop like Spotlight. It will be crawling with women who think they are creative. In fact all they ever do is stick glitter to boxes, or cut cloth according to a plan that was almost certainly created by a man, before stitching it together using a sewing machine definitely both invented and made for them by men.

    Some of them will vary the patterns, but creation ex nihilo is a behaviour exhibited almost exclusively by men.

    I suppose you could say that women play god using the thing between their legs, whereas men use the thing between their ears. Probably this is enculturated behaviour. Possibly it is an artefact, in men, of the inability to play god the easy way; certainly many of us see our creations as children of sorts.

    • #26
  27. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Chuck (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    You have this tall, manly guy, acting manly, amongst other manly qualities, such as manliness with a little kindness and manliness mixed in.

    Manliness most definitely does not exclude kindness.

    Yes, I was trying to make that point. :-)

    Expected as much!

    • #27
  28. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It may be of limited value here, but I’ll toss in a comment I found on a discussion about differences in computer programming ability, mostly in general but sometimes with emphasis between women and men.

     

    Another fundamental difference is the list thing. Men teach one another the mechanism, the distilled principle, because there is less to remember and it has to be taken in context anyway. Women want a fixed context and rote instructions. If you try to teach them the principles instead, they don’t listen and they get angry, saying “I don’t care why, I just asked you to tell me what to do.” If you give them a list of steps it must be exhaustive like a computer program because (also like a computer program) if context changes breaking the procedure or if anything has been omitted, blame is ascribed to the writer of the procedure.

    A direct consequence of this intellectual inflexibility is that women do not create tools. They can be taught to use them, often very well, provided that the use of the tool can be described as lists of steps – programs!

    Visit a craft shop like Spotlight. It will be crawling with women who think they are creative. In fact all they ever do is stick glitter to boxes, or cut cloth according to a plan that was almost certainly created by a man, before stitching it together using a sewing machine definitely both invented and made for them by men.

    Some of them will vary the patterns, but creation ex nihilo is a behaviour exhibited almost exclusively by men.

    I suppose you could say that women play god using the thing between their legs, whereas men use the thing between their ears. Probably this is enculturated behaviour. Possibly it is an artefact, in men, of the inability to play god the easy way; certainly many of us see our creations as children of sorts.

    What the quote conveys is that women are stoo-pid. “Intellectual inflexibility” is just a wordy way of saying that. 

    • #28
  29. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    Is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte a romance novel?  

    • #29
  30. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It may be of limited value here, but I’ll toss in a comment I found on a discussion about differences in computer programming ability, mostly in general but sometimes with emphasis between women and men.

     

    Another fundamental difference is the list thing. Men teach one another the mechanism, the distilled principle, because there is less to remember and it has to be taken in context anyway. Women want a fixed context and rote instructions. If you try to teach them the principles instead, they don’t listen and they get angry, saying “I don’t care why, I just asked you to tell me what to do.” If you give them a list of steps it must be exhaustive like a computer program because (also like a computer program) if context changes breaking the procedure or if anything has been omitted, blame is ascribed to the writer of the procedure.

    A direct consequence of this intellectual inflexibility is that women do not create tools. They can be taught to use them, often very well, provided that the use of the tool can be described as lists of steps – programs!

    Visit a craft shop like Spotlight. It will be crawling with women who think they are creative. In fact all they ever do is stick glitter to boxes, or cut cloth according to a plan that was almost certainly created by a man, before stitching it together using a sewing machine definitely both invented and made for them by men.

    Some of them will vary the patterns, but creation ex nihilo is a behaviour exhibited almost exclusively by men.

    I suppose you could say that women play god using the thing between their legs, whereas men use the thing between their ears. Probably this is enculturated behaviour. Possibly it is an artefact, in men, of the inability to play god the easy way; certainly many of us see our creations as children of sorts.

    What the quote conveys is that women are stoo-pid. “Intellectual inflexibility” is just a wordy way of saying that.

    Not really.  Many very smart people are total dunces when it comes to computer programming.  I’ve met some.

    • #30
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