I was lucky enough to spend the last week in Edinburgh visiting the Fringe festival. One of the wonderful shows I saw there was a one-woman comedy show called Carlotta de Galleon – A Fool for Love! that dealt with the intricacies of the romance genre, and it has given me a new perspective on Outlander.
Diana Gabaldon, goddess of the Highlands, recently objected to her series being described as romance. In an interview with Vulture, she stated that:
Diana Gabaldon: In romance novels, those are courtship stories. Once the couple is married, that’s the end of the story. And in our story, that means we would have stopped at episode seven. Source
This is just blatantly inaccurate. Have we never read romance novels where a marriage of convenience leads to the all-important true love? Don’t other romance novels have background stories and contexts and development beyond the romantic resolution? Gabaldon is desperately looking for reasons her books aren’t romance. And she’s not done belittling the genre quite yet:
Gabaldon: My agent said, “Well, we could insist that they call it science-fiction or fantasy, because of the weird elements, but bear in mind that a bestseller in sci-fi is 50,000 in paperback. A bestseller in romance is 500,000.” And I said, “Well, you’ve got a point!”
Interviewer: So you agreed to sell the paperback as romance?
Gabaldon: Provided we had dignified covers — we wouldn’t have bosoms and Fabio and things like that — and also that if the books became visible, they would reposition them as fiction.
It sounds to me like she’s saying that she’s willing to sell her books as romance as long as it makes her money, but as soon as her name becomes associated with this genre, she wants to reposition her writing as something more ‘respectable.’ And I say: fuck that.
There is a long history of things women like being belittled and ridiculed. Women can’t really be writers. Stories that appeal to women are superficial or materialistic. Let’s face it: the notion that women reading romance fiction are pathetic is very wide-spread. It is, however, also very wrong. Some romance novels are bad. Some reinforce the ideas of the patriarchy. In some romance novels, the characters are one-dimensional, the plots predictable and boring, and the dialogue is badly written. Other romance novels are revolutionary in their feminism, their character development and their inventive plots. Wikipedia defines the romance novel as follows:
The romance novel or romantic novel (…) is the mass-market literary genre. 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.” There are many subgenres of the romance novel including fantasy, historical romance, paranormal fiction, and science fiction. Walter Scott defined the literary fiction form of romance as “a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents”.
Obviously, the Outlander series fits this definition under the subgenre of historical romance. Most of Jane Austen’s writing can also be considered romance. So can Jane Eyre, A Room With A View and my personal favorite: The Princess Bride. That isn’t exactly bad company to keep. There’s also the widely popular writing of Nicholas Sparks, Julia Quinn and E.L James. Those are, perhaps, some of the less sophisticated examples of the genre. That doesn’t mean they’re not enjoyed by many all over the world.
I am reminded of when one of the writers of Supernatural tweeted that he was surprised the fans of the show took his writing, which, by the way, was bad and completely out of character, so seriously. Essentially what happened was that a writer of TV told his viewers to chill out because it was just television. This caused outrage in the fan community and the tweet has since been deleted. I can’t find it right now. But how stupid is it that someone who makes their money writing television should question the importance of that television? In a sense, Diana Gabaldon does the same. She says that she didn’t want her books marketed as romance so as not to alienate male readers, but what about the readers who are great fans of her work because of its romance elements? When she states so obviously her contempt for the romance genre, doesn’t that hurt and insult a significant part of the readership?
Let me be honest with you for a second. I’m not wild about 21st century romance novels. I often really enjoy the predictable romantic story, but I also often find the style of recent writing awkward and artificial. I prefer the romances of Austen and Bronte. They excel both in plot and style, which is the perfect combination for any book. But I don’t dislike the entire genre. I love Bridget Jones. I love everything written by Louise Rennison. And most importantly, I recognize that reading is something we primarily do for enjoyment. We read to feel connected to the rest of the human race. Some of us read for prestige or appearances of intellect, but those readers have become alienated from the joy of reading.
If it gives you joy to read romance, or formulaic science fiction or fanfiction or whatever else floats your boat, go ahead and do it. Haters gonna hate, but don’t listen to them. Read what you like. Please, read bodice-rippers on the train without shame. Please, stop using the phrase ‘guilty pleasure.’
If you want to read erotica, that’s cool. Own up to your sexuality. Own up to the fact that women have sexual desires. Just do whatever the hell you want. Rediscover the joy of reading, no matter what Diana Gabaldon says. That’s the message Carlotta de Galleon gave me in her awesome show, and I want to thank her for strengthening and reaffirming the beliefs I already held. Also, kudos go to her for introducing the word ‘cunt’ as an accurate description of your ladybits. The shaming of women starts with the shunning of their body parts, so please don’t do that, either.