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Romantics/romantics: Beating the Dead Horse That is Romance Literature
by Kathleen Davis

Let me get one thing straight from the start: I am a huge believer in romance---in the sex you can't get enough of and the person you can't stop thinking about, in fantasies about sharing the dominatrix whip and then some ice cream afterwards, in being turned on by arguments about Lacan and Freud and fights about existentialism and religious doctrine.

That's my idea of romance. I prefer the "give and take" to the "giving of the soul." I prefer the knowledgeable lover to the frightened virgin. I prefer a man who lets me take control once in awhile.

I think this is why I cannot abide romance novels.

I have tried. I mean, hey, I like smut. I like porn. I like comic books. I even like inane horror films and poorly made Shannon Tweed flicks. I appreciate them for the shiny plastic mental raincoats that they are. I even appreciate Fabio---in a plastic Ken-doll sort-of-way.

So, I tried to like romance novels. Well, let me amend that: First, I tried to read a romance novel.
In the first chapter, the "hero" screwed the maid in the downstairs parlor, freshened up a bit, and then welcomed his new female ward to the household. Now, given my generic knowledge of the date movie---and cross-applying clichés to the romance novel---I knew the following:

1.) The ward was going to be shocked and appalled at his libertine behavior, and, yet, be strangely attracted to it.

2.) The hero was going to be shocked and appalled at the revelations of his own libertine behavior, and, yet, be strangely attracted to his young ward, a mere "child," of course.

3.) Her innocence was going to win him over.

4.) His arrogance was really hiding a broken heart that she could fix, and, therefore, win him over.

Sadly, most of all I felt sorry for the poor maid, who would have to find her amusement elsewhere.

"Maybe a stable boy or the cook or the butler," I found myself suggesting to the book out loud. But, alas, I knew I would never know the outcome of that particular subplot, which had the potential to be so much more interesting.

But, honestly, I cannot tell you how that book ends (I stopped on page 132), or any of the numerous others I picked up along the way. I could give you the pat answer that the books were all so formulaic that I couldn't stand them, but, really, romances are no more formulaic than the Star Wars flicks. And I've seen all of those. No, these are my real gripes about romance novels:

A.) There are no strong women. Women are either innocent virgins who cower, or innocent virgins who hide their virginity behind a "Taming of the Shrew" attitude and still cower. They are raped. They are held captive. They are humiliated. They are tied up (without a fun sexual context). They are little children, essentially. When backed into a corner, they get flighty. When frightened, they hide. When confronted, they wait for the hero to save them. If only the hero wouldn't come, and they had to do more than "hope and pray" to be saved, I might actually finish one of these books.

B.) There are no women who like sex from the get-go. Either the men "teach" the women how to enjoy sex, or the women "bloom" under their attraction to the men. No vagina ever came into a romance novel already liking the taste of a penis.

C.) I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how anyone looks up at another person through their eyelashes. It gives me a headache just trying it out. It's physically impossible; I don't care how damn long your eyelashes are.

D.) Bookish women must find their sexy side. Sexy women must find their inner innocence, and innocent women must find their secret "whore" just to please a man who---at the start of this saga---doesn't even find her attractive. You must change to get the "hero," my dear. (Nice lesson for the little girls. Very nice.)

E.) Why would I want a guy who is so high up on the dark, cracked, and broken "poor me" pedestal that---if he ever gets down---will seem more simpering than heroic? Doesn't any girl in those novels just want to say, "Jesus H. Christ, Chord/River/Rock/Stone, everyone has issues. Suck it up."

F.) In real life, no man will ever pursue you across country and sea after you've rejected him multiple times---for the "wrong" reasons, of course, because you really do love the bastard---to get you back. And, if he does, he is a stalker. Run away.

G.) And, finally, why is everything so difficult? I know a "relationship" is right when it's easy and comfortable and still has sexual spark. But, without angst and drama and fights and bodice rippings galore, can the people in these novels really survive? After the thrill is gone, can you really imagine the lord of the manor and the young female ward having anything at all to talk about beyond her decoration of the downstairs parlor? Please. He'll be back to the maid in less than a year.

So, take back your romance novels and give me the Romantics that I love instead: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They may have been pompous and arrogant, but one could say their tinges of misogyny and male superiority were products of time, place and ego.

The mostly female-authored, "modern" romance novel, sadly, has no such excuse.