moonlit garden

8 essential elements (romance novel)

The 8 essential elements from Pamela RegisThe Natural History of the Romance Novel (pp. 30-39).

  1. Society Defined
  2. The Meeting
  3. The Barrier
  4. The Attraction
  5. The Declaration
  6. Point of Ritual Death
  7. The Recognition
  8. The Betrothal

And three optional elements – The Wedding or Dance or Fete; Scapegoat Exiled; Bad Converted.

I have a few comments:

Society Defined: the setting of the romance is flawed and in some way oppresses the hero and heroine (p. 31). The love and union of the hero and heroine changes it for the better. An example of a flawed society changed by romance is Strictly Ballroom.

The Barrier: can be internal or external but it’s difficult to think of one kind without the other. The barrier in Austen’s Emma is almost entirely (but not quite) internal as there is little outward reason why she and Knightly should not marry. Cora and Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans don’t question themselves or their love. It is only external forces which threaten to separate them.

The Point of Ritual Death: Regis argues that the prototype for the modern romantic novel has been drawn from the myth of Persephone and Hades. Hades’ abduction of Persephone into the Underworld is reflected in overt or subtle threats to the life of the heroine or hero (p. 35).

One of my favorite examples of this comes from Richard Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. The villain shoots the heroine as she stands at the altar saying her vows. The hero leaves his bleeding bride at the church as he chases the villain for revenge. (The first part of the book is insipid but the ending rocks.)

A comparatively subtle ritual death occurs in 10 Things I Hate about You when Kate reads her poem aloud. Until this point, she has guarded her emotions with her caustic tongue. As she weeps in the classroom in front of the silent Patrick, her ‘shrew’ persona is destroyed.

Scapegoat Exiled: just picture any Disney villain and the Great Fall of Death. So tidy.


I have a few quibbles with Regis’ book.

I think that other myths besides Persephone/Hades might be applicable. For example, I think that in Persuasion, Captain Wentworth’s return to Anne is closer to Odysseus’s return to reclaim his Penelope than Persephone/Hades. Mansfield Park is more like a reenactment of the Choice of Hercules (Edmund) between Duty (Fanny) and Pleasure (Miss Crawford).

Psyche and Cupid and Pride and Prejudice have commonalities too. Elizabeth is ‘in the dark’ about Darcy’s true character just as Psyche is unable to see Cupid in the dark. Elizabeth listens to malicious gossip about Darcy just as Psyche listens to the insinuations of her jealous sisters. Elizabeth loses all hope of a marriage to Darcy just Psyche is abandoned by Cupid.

Of course, this would lead to the identification of Lady Catherine de Burgh with the goddess Venus as the interfering female relative. It boggles the mind. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken it that far.

One final point. There is not much in the 8 elements which touch on the spiritual part of romance. Regis mentions the optimism of the genre in her definition of the Bad Converted element. It’s a bit underdeveloped for me.

Even in the Judeo-Christian tradition, there are hints that the human erotic attachment has a spiritual significance. The Canticle of Canticles comes to mind. In other cultures, the erotic and the spiritual are more closely aligned. To me, the love attachment can transform more than the visible social structure. (I suppose it could be argued that the social and spiritual are one and the same.)

There – I’m done. The noble and yet adorable Mariko and Usagi up next!

usagi and mariko

usagi and mariko

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2 thoughts on “8 essential elements (romance novel)

  1. I liked your list – it covers all the important moments and turning points. I’ve been blogging about this issue too, so I was fascinated to see what you came up with.
    Cody

  2. I certainly don’t take credit for the list: That’s all Pamela Regis and her fabulous book Natural History of the Romance. I did like your list: yes! for the great first kiss.

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