Before Nora Roberts, Julie James, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips; what was a romance reader to do?
You might be surprised to know that romance novels were published as early as the 18th and 19th century. However, they weren’t called romance novels until the 1970’s.
One of the earliest novels, to be considered a “romance”, was “Pamela” by Samuel Richardson. It was published in 1740 and quickly became a bestselling book. It tells the story of a 15-year old maidservant named Pamela whose master makes unwanted advances towards her. Pamela rejects him, but over time discovers she’s has fallen in love with him, scandalous by 18th century standards.
In the1930’s the British company, Mills and Boon, began releasing what they called “escapist” fiction. It wasn’t long before escapist fiction became a well established genre in the UK with authors like Catherine Cookson, “The Fifteen Streets” and Georgette Heyer, “The Black Moth”. Heyer was considered one of the first historical romance writers of the day. It is believed that Barbara Cartland, one of England’s most beloved romance authors, used Heyer’s “romance formula” when she penned more than 700 novels during her lifetime.
By 1949, escapist fiction had become “women’s” fiction, when that same year the Toronto based company Harlequin was founded. The book distributor soon became one of the largest purveyors of women’s fiction in North America. Harlequin acquired the rights to distribute the Mills and Boon romance novels in 1957, and a romance dynasty was born.
By the 1980’s the romance genre was alive and well in America with authors like Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, “The Flame and the Flower”, and LaVyrle Spencer, “The Endearment”. In the last thirty-four years, the genre has continued to grow and captivate woman of all ages. Today the romance genre has produced sub-genres like chick-lit, contemporary, erotic, inspirational, paranormal, and young adult just to name a few. More than 55% of paperback books sold in America last year were romance novels.
I think as a writer it is important to remember those who have gone before us. To the ground breakers, the risk takes, and the architects of the romance genre—I say thank you!!