The Historical Romance Genre

A genre is a category of artistic composition such as writing. Historical romance is a popular genre that has been the mainstream of romance novels for many years. It’s a broad category of fiction set in various centuries, which was first popularized as early as the nineteenth century by Walter Scott who wrote such books as Ivanhoe.

The genre’s popularity started with a flame, which over the years flickered into near obscurity. Articles were being published asking if the genre was dying a slow death, when it once dominated the market. Recently, interest in the genre has been refueled because of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series on Netfix. I’m happy to report its given the genre a resurgence of popularity, although not as many bodices are being ripped as in the past.

In today’s modern era of writing, historical romance can be categorized from the ancient world up to 1950 (per Romance Writers of America). A few of the favorite time periods on bookshelves are:

  • Medieval Period
  • Viking Age
  • 17th Century, including:
    • Scottish Highlands
    • England
    • Europe
  • American Eras, including:
    • Colonial America
    • Civil War
    • Westerns
  • Georgian Era
  • Regency Era
  • Victorian England
  • Early 20th Century up to WW2, including:
    • Edwardian Era
    • Roaring Twenties
    • 1930s and 1940s forties.

During the 1970s, the genre took off and was affectionately known as the “bodice ripper” years, which led to mass-market paperbacks.

Kathleen Woodwiss’s historical romance, The Flame and the Flower, published in 1972, literally set the genre on fire, followed by steamy romance covers of domineering men and women melting at their touch. Today The Flame and the Flower might raise eyebrows with readers because there are scenes of non-consensual sex and captivity. It was the time of book covers displaying scantly dressed Fabio, along with women in dresses that fell off their shoulders. The covers were an art form from mainstream publishers. Today those covers would throw you into what’s called the “erotica dungeon” on Amazon and make advertising on Facebook impossible because of guideline violations.

Since that time, the genre has remained relatively the same until recently. The onset of the me-too movement has begun to change some weak-willed, easily seduced female characters into spunky and spirited ladies. In addition, the publishing world has called for more diversity in authors and stories, which is long overdue. Readers do not seem to mind these changes even though there may be a deviation from the norm of the time period.

There are many well-known traditionally published authors in the twenty-first-century, such as Mary Jo Putney, Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Sabrina Jeffries, Tessa Dare, and Julia Quinn, just to name a handful. In addition, there are quite a few independently published authors in the genre who are making a name for themselves on the Amazon best-selling charts.

Historical romance immerses readers into different centuries. They are a great way to learn and enjoy history, especially if it was not your favorite subject in school. I like to think it is a welcome change from contemporary romance and problems that we deal with day-to-day. It gives us an opportunity to live vicariously in other time periods, with different values, ways of courtship, and lifestyle.

Yes, authors do romanticize centuries that were fraught with their own challenges. Nevertheless, a knight in shining armor, a Scottish highlander, or a duke to sweep us off our feet and make ravishing love to us might be just what you need to get your mind off twenty-first-century challenges and recent woes.

Enjoy your next historical romance novel! Take your choice of a brawny Viking, kilted Highlander, English aristocrat, a handsome military man, or a cowboy on the wild west plains of America. It’s a world of romance, waiting just for you.

One thought on “The Historical Romance Genre

  1. My first experience with historical romance novels was similar to yours. After reading hundreds of Harlequin Romances and women-in-jeopardy novels during my high school years and early twenties, the new Historical Romances were like an awakening. I was enthralled – finally women were recognized as sexual beings who enjoy losing themselves in what had only been fantasies. I found it liberating. If I wanted to read something sexy, I didn’t need to resort to some guy’s collection of “men’s adventure novels.” I still have fond memories of those early books, however unPC they were. This was my main genre, to read, and to write.

    Like

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