Apparently they don’t know — or care — that the romance novel, song, poem have been the most enduring — and beloved — of all literature since the beginning of the writtern word. Romance in literature can be traced back to 700 hundred B.C. when the Chinese poet, Li Po, wrote romantic poentry. Romance fiction dates back to the 12th century. It’s preceded only by epic poetry and the allegorical tale like Esops Fables.
Don’t the critics know that “Tristan and Isolde” was a romance, that Alinor of Aquitaine wrote the first extended full scale love stories in the western world, that much of the literature students taught today are romances: “Idles of the King,” Lancelot and Guinevere, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Pamela,” and “Fanny Hill?”
Romances then were often banned or criticized by the church because they — horrors — elevated women. Romance has been shunned by men throughout history but it led to changes in society. Women demanded more rights, more respect. They expected more from men, such as cleanliness and fidelity.
I love this critic’s take on Jane Austen. He wrote: “I am of a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels with regard. They seem, to me, vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention . . . without genius, wit or knowledge of the world.”
And about Wuthering Heights, “Here are all the faults of Jane Eyre are magnified a thousand fold . . . and the only consolation which we have is it will never be generally read.”
It’s not the accounts of battles or religious epics or “literature” that linger in the mind and hearts of centuries of readers. It’s the romances.
But critics have never wanted facts to get in the way of opinion.
Which leads me to American westerns.
From: “The Cowgirls” by Joyce Gipson Roach:
“From the very beginnings of all three — the dime novels, fiction and movies — the west was equal to other American subject matter. Those entering the gates of legend and lore, cowgirls included, found themselves enshrined and, for better or worse, immortalized.”
Before 1880, heroines seemed to exist solely to give the hero something to rescue. Again according to “The Cowgirlds,” a book I dearly love, the ladies managed to get themselves into one compromising situation after another. Indian attacks were frequent. “Every reader knew that a ‘a fate worse than death’ awaited the heroine at the hands of the Indian, but in these books it was only a threat. The Indians of most dime novels were in great awe of maidenhood. “They might dangle the victim over the coals but, according to one observer, “their honor was as safe as if they were in a convent. Indians were, all of them, gentlemen.”
But in 1880, things started to change, and women changed from the helpless fragile variety, to active, vigorous women who could not only save herself but the hero as well.
From “Rough Rider Weekly” published in 1906:
“The desperadoes are gaining fast.
“Leave me, Ted,” she cried. “They will kill you if they get you, and you can escape on Sultan, which can outrun any of their horses.”
“Ted looked at her and laughed. ‘I guess not,’ he called back. ‘Keep it up, we’ll win yet.'”
Ted does not leave her. The couple escapes and not because of the hero. It’s the heroine, Stella, who knows a solution when she sees one, and Ted is sitting on it — Sultan the stallion. When Ted is shot out of the saddle and left hanging thereon by the skin of his chaps, Stella catches Sultan by the bridle and suggests he ought to whoa. As Ted was about to fall, she sprang into the saddle, caught him and dashed away to safety.”
Now this is my kind of western.
It’s typical of what frontier heroines became when, in 1860, Beadle and Adams started issuing their versions of adventure in the form of dime novels.
The novels helped popularize notions about western cowfirlds and have become a valuable tool for historians. Like romance novels in the 12th century, they changed society. The west entered for the first time into the consciousness of a large number of Americans. They reflected, according to Merle Curti writing for the Yale Review, “a much wider range of attitudes and ideas than the ballad or folk song” and were “the nearest thing we have had in this country to . . . a literature written for the great masses of people and actually read by them.”
The novels, as did those in earlier centuries, encouraged self reliance. Charles M. Harvey, “Manliness and womanliness among the readers were cultivated by these little books, not by homilies but by example. . . even the taste and tone of the life of the generation which grew up with these tales were improved by them.”
So there, critics!!!!
Hopefully this gives you some ammunition for the next person who says, “I don’t read those books.” We help change society and have for many, many centuries.
What exactly have they done?
Do you have any stories about those poor misled people? And great comebacks.