Establishing a Romance Canon

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Those uninitiated in romance often ask where to start.  Which books to read?  What’s in the canon?

Me?  I send them over to Wendy the Super Librarian’s list.  Mainly because it’s so damn on the nose.

But also, you can split a romance canon into three main categories:  the grandmothers of romance; the mothers; and the current kick-arse daughters.

When we’re talking grandmothers, we’re talking Austen and the Brontes.  And when we’re talking daughters, I’d nominate Nora Roberts (for obvious reasons) and Francine Rivers.  (And those are just the authors who immediately come to mind)

But it’s the mothers of romance that first inspired me; midway between Classics and current novels, they were the books I first read and that hooked me on romance as a genre.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it certainly includes books that impacted my understanding of the romance genre:

The Regency Romance

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Georgette HeyerVenetia

Georgette Heyer is the undisputed master of the historical romance.  For me, Venetia is her best offering, with a heroine who is “on the shelf” and has enough experience of life to know her own mind and be able to match the wits of the dashing Dameral.  Venetia’s clever and funny, and is the perfect example of how #StrongRomanceHeroines don’t have to be career women.

The Romance Suspense

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Mary StewartThis Rough Magic

Perhaps better known for her “Merlin” series, Mary Stewart’s genre-bending suspense novels merged romance and intrigue in a way that many argue spawned the romance suspense sub-genre.  This Rough Magic intertwines a thrilling narrative with references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and a particularly sizzling kiss in the sea that scandalised my fourteen year old self.

The Life-Spanning Novel

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Zora Neale HurstonTheir Eyes Were Watching God

At the heart of the African-American canon, I’d argue that Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel is also key to any discussion of romance novels.  Janie, the heroine whose life we follow over decades, marries three times and each marriage is a masterpiece in showing the different sides of love, desire and relationships.

The Family Series

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L. M. MontgomeryRilla of Ingleside

Sagas and series that follow a series over time are a particular love of mine – from historicals to Mills & Boon miniseries – and Montgomery’s “Anne” series encapsulates this perfectly.  My favourite, however, focuses on Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter, Rilla, during the First World War.  This novel makes me bawl every time I read it, and its development of characters whom we’ve come to love in other books, is a real testament to Montogomery’s writing.

The Timeslip Novel

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Elizabeth GoudgeThe Middle Window

Elizabeth Goudge is a particular favourite author of mine, having used her books as an escape the year I started secondary school.  The Middle Window combines the timeslip element with romance.  Plus, the narrative in the past is set in Scotland around the Jacobite rebellion – which is fab for anyone who’s in love with Outlander.

The Ultra Alpha Hero

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Anne MatherLeopard in the Snow

One of the most prolific Mills & Boon authors, Anne Mather was chosen (along with Violet Winspear and Anne Hampson) to be a launch author for the then scandalously sexy Harlequin Presents line.  As books go, early Harlequin Presents have heroes who are a little too alpha (for too alpha read moody and a bit of an arse) for my liking, but Mather, Winspear and Hampson’s impact on the genre is undeniable.  Leopard in the Snow‘s also remembered for having been made into a film in 1978.

The YA Romance

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Dodie SmithI Capture the Castle

The quintessential coming-of-age story, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle follows 17 year old Cassandra as she struggles to cope with her bohemian family, bewails the fact that they’ve no money, and falls in love for the first time.  This book still makes my heart ache the way it did when I was an angsty teenager, dealing with unrequited passions.  Perfection.

The Paranormal Romance

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Rita Clay EstradaThe Ivory Key

One of the very first paranormal romances ever published, The Ivory Key features what seems to be the first supernatural creature as a romantic partner.  Who knew that vampires, demons, werewolves and merpeople were to come?!

The Star-Crossed Lovers

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Radclyffe HallThe Well of Loneliness

Stephen Gordon was brought up hunting, fencing and wearing trousers, and when she comes of age, she falls in love with a woman.  Infamous for being banned in the UK in 1928, it is the last word in divided love and SPOILER the alternative to the HEA.

What romance novels / novels with romantic elements have impacted the way that you look at and approach the romance genre?

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4 thoughts on “Establishing a Romance Canon

  1. I think Essie Summers needs to be in this “mother’s” section. She could be family because she did have some interconnecting books but *not* in the vein defined her. So I don’t know where she’d be placed?

    Liked by 1 person

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