Romance novels are as mysterious and confounding as the emerald depths of our heroine’s eyes. Their pages overflow with sentimentality, romance, and ridiculous situations, much like bodices overflow with heaving bosoms. Throughout my adventures and dalliances with these books, I have learned these five things:
- In historical novels, any man with both title and money has a sordid past but it is nowhere near as sordid as either he or the gossip makes it out to be. This is always fun. The man is made out to be a total catch, except that he either: 1) ruined 50 innocent virgins, 2) had four sons out of wedlock, 3) killed his immediate family, or 4) was involved with truly sordid business dealings that have left half of London destitute. While some villains are truly villainous (he drove a girl to suicide and then blackmailed her father, for example), inevitably, the hero is guilty of a tiny crime or no crime at all. Generally, this does not end his guilt ““ only overflowing bosoms can do that.
- In historical novels, any young woman, unless she is a widow and even then sometimes when she is a widow, is always a virgin until she meets the man she will marry. I really love this trope, especially when they pull this stuff with widows. It’s not so much the whole, “She’s been married for years and still has not lain with a man!?” bit that gets to me nearly as much as the description of her partner’s surprise and interest in finding out that she was totally pure before he ruined her. It is Lolz City because it always ends in surprise (oh my!), anger (why didn’t you tell me?!), or deep respect (you must be a deep lady to still have an intact hymen after all these years). Oh fetishization of virginity, never change. By which I mean, no, really, change immediately and by “change,” I mean “cease to exist.”
- People back in the day got aroused ridiculously easily. Touch a man’s clothed arm with your gloved hand? Watch out! He might drive you into a ditch! Eat a strawberry or walk in front of him or wrinkle your nose? Uh-oh, we’ve entered Boner City! I mean, I might expect this from Victorians, what with their prudishness and totally amateur pornographic photography, but people today? With the Internet and birth control galore and total lack of morality?! You’d think that people wouldn’t get aroused just by seeing someone’s stocking.
- No one is ever entirely who they seem to be. Paranoia should run rampant throughout the romance novel universe. Old friends become lovers without any provocation. The men who look most angelic are often most demonic. The women who look most mousy are often the sexxxiest once you get them into proper clothes/out of their glasses. Remember ““ when you’re navigating the troubling channels of Romance Land, trust no one. They’re all chameleons and you’re the tasty locust.
- There’s a surprising amount of information in these things. Like, let’s say you’re really into the aristocracy and British men with stiff upper lips and formal manners. You’d learn a hell of a lot about various British eras thanks to these books. You’d learn terms like “the ton” or “phaeton” or “bluestocking” or “curricle.” Regardless of the time period, if you go historical, you’d be reminded, over and over and over again, that women could not own property or vote or do much of anything. Sneaking in information like this? That’s pretty cool.