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.