In the romance, the imperative “Love!” can be fleshed out into nine key elements that are always present, even if only implied. These essential elements of the romantic love story are (1) IT IS HARD TO BE ALONE, especially (2) as a WOMAN IN A MAN’S WORLD, but (3) romance helps as a RELIGION OF LOVE, even though it involves (4) HARD WORK and (5) RISK, because it leads to (6) HEALING, (7) GREAT SEX, and (8) HAPPINESS, and it (9) LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD for women.

Roach, C. M. (2016). Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture. Indiana University Press.

Permit me a further digression into popular romance studies this week. This quote is from a recent book by academic and romance novel author Catherine M. Roach/Catherine LaRoche.

There’s an amusing feature of popular romance studies where everyone tries to break down the romance novel into a number of key structural elements: Radway has them (and I promise I’ll show you hers too), Regis has them, and Catherine Roach has them. And of course, everyone’s breakdown is different, emphasising different aspects of the romance story.

Roach’s main argument, built around the nine core elements she identifies above, is that romance novels have a contradictory message for women: “You can’t fight the patriarchy/You must fight the patriarchy”. This message, grounded in the themes of love, hard work, risk, and healing, creates a space within which women can process the challenges and contradictions patriarchy poses to them in their day-to-day lives.

Roach’s book is interesting for a number of reasons. Like many popular romance researchers, she looks at both the romance texts and their readers, but unlike most, she also looks at the production side of things: who writes and publishes romance novels? How and why? Becoming a romance novel author was part of her research method, and it makes for entertaining reading, as chapters in the book alternate between the (very accessible) academic and a much more informal “overly confessional” approach narrating Roach’s experience as a reader and writer of romance novels.