For anyone searching for lessons in love as we head into Valentine’s Day there is no better place to look than the vast and varied catalogue of romantic fiction, according to a Deakin University romance scholar.
Dr Jodi McAlister, a lecturer in writing and literature with the School of Communication and Creative Arts, studies representations of love in popular culture and believes romance novels provide valuable insights into the ways we love and express our love.
“There is still a stigma around reading ‘those silly books for women’ but romance fiction is far from silly,” Dr McAlister said.
“It is a billion-dollar industry that has many subgenres from historical to contemporary, paranormal to sci-fi with a diverse range of protagonists across the lines of race, gender, class, sexuality and ability.
“If there is a thing that you like I can guarantee there is a romance novel about it.”
Happy endings, a cornerstone of romantic fiction, saw many people turning to romance novels for comfort and reassurance during the pandemic.
“One of the big appeals of romance fiction is that everything turns out right in the end which was a particularly nice message during last year’s lock downs, and even now,” Dr McAlister explained.
“In a really good romance novel the protagonists earn their way to romance. They overcome obstacles and deserve their happy ending.
“I think that is a pretty important lesson about love, and life, that sometimes we do have to overcome obstacles but that there is a way through and love always wins out in the end.”
While there are many things to learn from romance novels, Dr McAlister provides the following insights:
Everyone deserves love
“A big lesson that comes out of romance novels is that everyone deserves love and that has become increasingly more so as the romance genre has developed in the 21st century.
“For a long time romance novels and romantic media reinforced the message that only straight, white, able-bodied people deserved love.
“The romance industry has diversified significantly over the past decade and is really starting to reinforce the message that everyone deserves love and there is someone for everyone if they want them.”
Love comes with acceptance
“Generally speaking, in a romance novel being with the other person made the protagonists better in some way. But this doesn’t happen by trying to change their fundamental nature.
“For example, in the well-known romance novel Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie the heroine’s mother shames her about what she eats, saying she should go on a diet. Yet the hero encourages her to enjoy her food. In a beloved scene he gives her a donut and she is like ‘this is the nicest thing anyone has done for me’.
“So the characters are upholding and uplifting while also being improving but not in a shaming way.”
Communication is key
“Over the course of romance novels often characters are not great at communicating with romances often based on a big misunderstanding that could have been easily resolved with a conversation.
“At the end of the day problems in a relationship can’t be resolved without talking about them and people really need to hear that you love them – in romance novels both of those things happen.”
See for yourself
There are so many great romance novels available, with a story to suit everyone.
For those new to the genre, the following are a great place to start:
Dr Jodi McAlister is a lecturer in writing and literature with the School of Communication and Creative Arts as well as author of the Valentine series, a young adult paranormal romance/urban fantasy series and The Consummate Virgin, an academic book on her research into female virginity loss and its representations in popular Anglophone literatures.