Some interesting things came together for me today while I was talking with Jenny Flake Rabe about romance literature.
While participating in the LDS Beta Readers group on Facebook, I was made aware that romance, in the fantasy novel subsection of the publishing industry, at least, means stories in which people get together at the end, after all the obstacles that would prevent them from doing so.
Now, when I was in high school, the definition of romance for literary purposes was still somewhat rooted in the old definition. Romance then was what we now call adventure, and adventure then was generally not the fun, easy, happy adventure we think of now, but adventure with real risks, that did not always turn out well.
So the publishing industry only wants no-risk romance of the heart?
We've lost something.
The greatest feature of human existence is to learn from our mistakes. That means we need literature about failure as well as success. We need more examples of relationships that don't work out the way they are planned to work out.
But that was not what I was discussing with Mrs. Rabe.
Recently, five of the participants in LDS Beta Readers have put together a cooperative Regency romance group that they are publishing serially using WordPress. It's a fun read. If you are a fan of the ton, as I have said somewhere else, you might want to sign up.
And I learned that Regency romances are about the period of British history known as the Regency, a period of social change in Britain.
(This might or might not be important. Fashion during the Regency was one of the few periods in which the corset was not a part of the fashionable female wardrobe, and I would like to research whether fashion reflects a broader allowance of women's rights. But I do not know about such things when I write this.
If this is a meaningful observation, it would indicate the Regency period as an intersection between freedom and protection which was repeated for a larger class in the USA during the 1940s to '70s, where women were both treated with respect and allowed to direct their own course to some extent.)
Regency romance novels are primarily about navigating the complex protocols of upper class and upper-middle class British society of the period, from acquaintence to social intimacy, from there to courtship against protocol, ending with finding a successful loophole in the protocol to allow moving from courtship to marriage. This is presented as an adventure, in either sense, and thus as a romance of the heart.
Many Regency romances start with the co-protagonists already being in a friendship. The greatest conflict is the risk of changing the relationship. If things do not go well, a value friendship can be lost, and both parties are usually hesitant to take that risk.
There is a class of social philosophy that suggests that the route from friendship, through courtship, to contracted marriage is an excessively dangerous course. I don't know where that philosophy comes from.
Yes, feelings can be hurt, but real friendship survives hurt feelings.
Romance novels are fantasy, of course. But they do provide something of a window on society.
Fantasies themselves are not just escapist recreation.
We use fiction to construct abstract models of reality. The are notoriously inaccurate, but that is not a problem. Most of our science begins with notoriously inaccurate models.
Sure. Modern science has refined models which get pretty close to measured reality, but we had to go through inaccurate models to get here, as a society. And, as individuals, we still have to start with inaccurate models in order to approach the accurate models.
Our fictions are the inaccurate models with which we attempt to approach our understanding of society and its institutions.
The popularity of the Regency romance should indicate to us that the idea of navigating through different kinds and levels of intimacy is valid. If it is, beginning at friendship ought to be a perfectly valid approach. I'm going to argue that it ought to be a more successful approach than beginning from zero.