Jenny Crusie is a successful romance author whose thesis for a PhD in Literature focused on romance literature. She has a great website that includes a "For Writers" blog. Her essay "Let Us Now Praise Scribbling Women" is subtitled: "Romance fiction as an anti-toxin to patriarchal literature." This essay inspired me to join Romance Writers of America.
Here are the first three paragraphs; click the link to find the complete essay:
© Jennifer Crusie (used by permission)
A funny thing happened to me on my way to my Ph.D. As part of my dissertation research, I read one hundred romance novels and discovered a brave new world of feminist fiction. Well, not so new—a hundred years ago Nathaniel Hawthorne was complaining about those "damned scribbling women" outselling him—but it was new to me and so exciting that I became a romance reader, and then a romance critic, and finally a romance writer.
I had to because I'd come out of my reading transformed, feeling more confident and much happier than during all my years of historical, canonical reading. The literary tradition I was familiar with hailed female characters like Hester Prynne as great feminist heroines. You remember Hester, a woman who, after grasping at happiness and sexual fulfillment, realizes the error of her ways and spends the last sixty years of her life celibate and serving others so that when the townspeople who have reviled her gather round her deathbed, they say, "The Scarlet A? It stands for Able." As far as I was concerned, when the townspeople gathered around my bed, I wanted them saying, "The A? It stands for Adultery, and she was damn good at it." I wanted the recognition that I'd lived my days fully and freely and drunk life to the lees, but it wasn't until I read romance fiction that I found a reflection of that defiance and celebration.
That's when I understood why romance owns 50% of mass market paperback fiction sales. Seventy percent of book buyers and eighty percent of book readers are women, and like me, those readers are tired of serving and losing and waiting and dying in their fictional worlds. The romance heroine not only acts and wins, she discovers a new sense of self, a new sense of what it means to be female as she struggles through her story, and so does the romance reader as she reads it.