A romance novel or romantic novel generally refers to a type of genre fiction novel which places its primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and usually has an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." However, precursors include authors of literary fiction, such as Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Brontë.
There are many subgenres of the romance novel, including fantasy, gothic, contemporary, historical romance, paranormal fiction, and science fiction. Although women are the main readers of romance novels a growing number of men enjoy them as well. The Romance Writers of America cite 16% of men read romance novels. "Many people today don’t realize that romance is more than a love story. Romance can be a complex plotline with a setting from the past in a remote, faraway place. Instead of focusing on a love story, it idealizes values and principles that seem lost in today’s world of technology and instant gratification. However, romance may also be a typical, romantic, love story that makes people sigh with wishful thinking." "Romance is a natural human emotion. Sad love songs and poems when one is recovering from a broken heart can help express unspoken feelings. Happy romantic movies and plays help people feel optimistic that someday they will also find true love. However, there is some criticism that many modern romantic stories make people develop unrealistic views about real relationships, as they expect love to be like it is in the movies."The term "romance" is also applied to novels defined by Walter Scott as "a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvelous and uncommon incidents." Related to this type of romance novel are works that "involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not always a love interest". These romances frequently, but not exclusively, takes the form of the historical novel. Scott's novels are also frequently described as historical romances, and Northrop Frye suggested "the general principle that most 'historical novels' are romances".A thriving genre of works conventionally referred to as "romance novels" existed in ancient Greece. Other precursors can be found in the literary fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Samuel Richardson's sentimental novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and the novels of Jane Austen. Austen inspired Georgette Heyer, the British author of historical romance set around the time Austen lived, as well as detective fiction. Heyer's first romance novel, The Black Moth (1921), was set in 1751.
The British company Mills & Boon began releasing romance novels for women in the 1930s. Their books were sold in North America by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd, which began direct marketing to readers and allowing mass-market merchandisers to carry the books.
An early American example of a mass-market romance was Kathleen E. Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower (1972), published by Avon Books. This was the first single-title romance novel to be published as an original paperback in the US, though in the UK the romance genre was long established through the works of Georgette Heyer, and from the 1950s Catherine Cookson, as well as others. Nancy Coffey was the senior editor who negotiated a multi-book deal with Woodiwiss. The genre boomed in the 1980s, with the addition of many different categories of romance and an increased number of single-title romances, but popular authors started pushing the boundaries of both the genre and plot, as well as creating more contemporary characters.
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