Jerks & Irks LX: What’s the Deal With Romance?

Warning: This is going to be an unpopular post.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a romance reader. I don’t watch romance movies either. If there were a romance food, I probably wouldn’t eat it. Nothing really against it, it just doesn’t appeal to me personally. That being said, I recently finished reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The book came highly recommended by my mother-in-law, who assured me it was more historical fiction than it was romance. Her recommendation, coupled with the fact that it’s been adapted for a television series on STARZ, led me to give it a try. I like historical fiction, even if there’s just a bit of romance thrown in. After reading the 900-page tome however, I can wholeheartedly disagree with that description.

I had two major gripes with this book. (Spolilers ahead).

  1. Claire Beauchamp is unrealistic. For those who don’t know, Claire touches some kind of mystical stone in Scotland and it whips her through time. She lands in the 1700’s, 200 years prior to her own life. My issue is that she is supposedly happily married in her timeline, but when she ends up with some Scottish clansmen in the earlier time period, she attempts to get back to her husband exactly TWICE in a period of six months or more. Not only that, but when she’s forced to marry one of the clansmen (for political reasons, as well as to save her own ass), she goes along with it with very little resistance. Given the life-saving factor involved, I can forgive her union to Jamie Fraser. Unfortunately, she offers even less resistance when it comes to consummating the marriage. Multiple times. (I mentioned the book is 900 pages, well I’d say between 100-200 of them are dedicated to her having sex with her “new” husband.) Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a prude. I just don’t understand why she acquiesced to her situation so easily, and so readily, when she had a loving husband waiting for her at home. There was no indication that he was abusive or philandering. What gives?
  2. Jamie Fraser is NOT a catch. A lot of readers refer to Jamie Fraser as their “book boyfriend.” Why? I would have slit his throat. First, he beats Claire “within an inch of her life” (direct quote) for disobeying an order and justifies it with some old world, clansmen bullshit. (At least the order was to stay put and she disobeyed by trying to get back to her own time period). He whipped her savagely across the ass like a child. Second, there’s a scene where she tells him she’s not particularly ‘in the mood’ and he proceeds as though he’s going to just take what he wants. They argue and fight. He eventually ‘asks for permission” but explains that “he can’t be gentle about it.” In my opinion, he all but rapes her (the description of the bruises left on her thighs are sickening). But she enjoys it? And afterwards she thinks to herself, “Gentle he would be, denied he would not.” implying he would be gentle if she gave in to his desires, but he would take her by force if need be. Later on in the novel, after Jamie has been rescued from capture, where he was sexually assaulted and feeling particularly emasculated, he says to her, “I want to take you in my bed and use you like a whore.” I get that he wanted to assert his heterosexual-ness, but really? Honestly, this is what passes for romance? Jamie Fraser is women’s idea of the ideal man? Give me a break.

I know this is a very popular series. I’m not hating on it because of that. The book itself was very well-written and extremely well-researched. But I don’t understand the themes enumerated above. Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of romance, but I have come to understand from readers forums that these are common threads.

I have another example if you haven’t clicked out of my post already. Last year I watched The White Queen, adapted from Philippa Gregory’s series. In the first episode, Elizabeth comes across the newly crowned King Richard in the forest. She explains that her husband was killed in the war and she’s about to lose her land. About four seconds later she falls for the young king, even though she’s supposed to be grieving the very recent loss of her husband and father to her children. They meet a day or two later to discuss her land situation and he all but rapes her in the forest. She has to press a dagger TO HER OWN THROAT to get away. The next time they see each other, they get married. Honestly, what in the actual frick?

Please, tell me what is WITH romance? I’m begging someone to explain it to me. (Nicely and politely though. I tried not to bash the genre or those who read it. I just want to start a dialogue.) I’ll see you in the comments section.


21 thoughts on “Jerks & Irks LX: What’s the Deal With Romance?

  1. I read Outlander, too, and it was the last I read in the series much for the same reasons as you. Too much romance for my taste, though I can see why other readers enjoy the books so much. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I remember the passage you refer to when he beat her. I was thinking, “Um, this isn’t cool.” James may be a clansman, but Claire is not. Don’t think I would’ve stuck around for more of that (though in all fairness, I don’t remember the book well enough to remember whether she had a choice to leave at that point or not.)

    • It was definitely not cool. He could have easily pretended to beat her to satisfy his peer and she could have played along like her ass was sore the next day. I just didn’t see why it had to be done. As for her not being able to leave, you’re right. However, just like the rest of her time there, she could have TRIED MORE. The story would have been so much more credible if she didn’t go along so easily with everything that happened to her. Especially since her character was portrayed as feisty, not meek and subservient.

  2. I haven’t read Outlander, but it sounds godawful. The historical fiction/romance stuff I’ve read typically isn’t as offensive or nonsensical as what you’ve described. There are some exceptions, of course. Like Monica McCarty’s pint-sized novella in her Highland Guard series. I enjoy her balance between the romantic story and the Scottish war for independence, but her novella was heavy in the romance. And the male lead, James, made me want to bash his head in.

  3. I have my suspicions that some people use historical romance as a way to write guilt-free rape fantasy. By setting the story in a different time and place, the author (and readers) can claim that they are just being “historically accurate”. Kind of like how Cecil B. DeMille used his biblical epics as an excuse to shoot nearly-naked women.

    Now, I don’t believe that this means that women (or men) really want to be raped any more than fans of military fiction really want to be shot, but it is a common fantasy to have a man who “can’t be gentle about it.”

    For what it’s worth, I don’t care for that sort of romance, I prefer stories about people who are nice to each other.

  4. Well look at Twilight, it’s supposed to be a romance but he’s incredibly controlling and gross like… Edward is somehow considered the perfect guy to a lot of women but he’s actually seriously like one degree away from being a Lifetime movie. 50 Shades is much the same… I don’t really read romance either, nor would I write it, I get having occasional romantic interests in a story or something but that’s just exhausting and gross like. NOPE.

  5. Lmao at you calling everyone gross. But I agree. And I wanted to mention the male leads in Twilight and 50 Shades but I’ve never read more than a few pages because of the writing and I felt uncomfortable dissing something I’d only heard secondhand.

  6. Yeeeeeah… this comes up a lot. Romance, for some, seems to mean ‘women getting bashed up and virtually raped because their man friend is so totally hot for them that they CAN’T CONTROL THEMSELVES.’
    That isn’t love, that’s just a power trip. And I dislike it.

    I used to read a lot of romance (yeah, I know, it passed), but it seemed to be a lot softer than the stuff that is around now. The romance I used to read was about the chase, the wooing and subsequent fall. Now it seems to be much more about fighting against the inevitable, which isn’t romantic but kinda sad.

    I haven’t read the series you describe, but I’ve read Twilight (it was research!) and 50 Shades (also research, leave me alone!) and it’s exactly that sort of thing that’s popular now. I have no idea why. None. I can bet, however, it wouldn’t be as popular if it was a man getting bashed about by a woman who was ‘so over come by love and passion that they couldn’t take no for an answer.’ -_-

    I get that passion and enthusiasm is exciting and romantic. I just don’t get why it has to be so violent and kinda… I don’t know… mean. 😦 Passion can be sweeping your partner off their feet as soon as they come through the door, letting dinner burn because you’re so pleased to see them, rather than screwing them despite their protests. The need to be close to them can manifest in messages, staring (which can be creepy, I know), hugging and kisses, rather than beating someone for trying to escape or stalking them all over the city.

    I also understand that some folk have their fantasies about ‘rough love’ so maybe these books appeal to that, but the very fact that these themes are SO popular makes me worry about how people perceive love and romance, sex and relationships. And the dynamic between men and women. If this is ‘normal…’ how many couples are living their day to day lives in what the law would interpret to be an abusive relationship? Doesn’t bear thinking of.

    Heh, /essay

    • This is another very eloquent response. And I appreciate having the opinion of someone familiar with romance and who writes erotica.

      I worry about the state of relationships also if this is what passes for romance. Like I said in another comment, I didn’t read 50 Shades, but when a friend was telling me about the “red room of pain” or whatever, I immediately said that sounded like something a serial killer would have and it belonged in one of MY thrillers. Honestly, in real life, Christian Grey would be considered a sexual predator and a psychopath. I just don’t get it.

      • And that’s one of my main gripes about 50 Shades; it makes the whole BDSM scene look insane when in actual fact it’s about real love, understanding and communication.
        That’s what I understand real love/romance to be about and when I talk to my friends on the scene they seethe as much as I do.

        I don’t want to turn another of my comments into (another) 50 Shades bash, but if that is popular romance I’m loosing hope for the world.

        Sexual predator and psychopath… exactly right for Christian Grey.

  7. Pingback: I Haz Planz – wc 13/02 | Writing: A Conversation Without Interruptions

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