Sex on a tiger skin rug, or: In defence of romance readers, past and present

I’m an avid romance reader. I spent my childhood swapping mass markets bought in grocery stores or used bookstores with my mother and sister as we drove around the country every summer, camping, swimming, reading. Victoria Holt has a lot to answer for: creating me, a girl so obsessed with history, so obsessed with England that I just had to move here. Well, here I am.

Traditionally genre readers, romance readers especially, get a lot of flack. Me included. It started in high school, but that didn’t stop me from reading every Nora Roberts book ever written. I don’t need to tell you why this disparaging attitude is ridiculous. Check out Sarah Wendell’s EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT LOVE I LEARNED FROM ROMANCE NOVELS. I also love this blog post which points out just a few of the things romance does well as a genre. When I have a cold or I’m on an airplane you better hope there’s a new Julia Quinn out. When I finished my PhD I did nothing but read romance novels for 6 weeks straight. I was surprised when reading a book (admittedly outdated) on Edwardian life and leisure (by Ronald Pearsall) and I came across a most offensive malignment of fellow romance readers from years past (100 years to be precise), including passages such as:

Misled by the fantasies of fiction writers, [romance’s] followers got themselves into difficulties, turning for help to the advice columns of women’s magazines.

And

The Edwardian young were vouchsafed glimpses of the ideal love, and built fantasies upon this which toppled before the inroads of reality.

About advice-seekers in women’s magazines, Pearsall wrote

The main problems of the letter writers derived from their having taken too seriously the facts of life as [represented] by novelists.

I find this kind of thinking really difficult to understand. Surely novelists write about the problems present in life and that’s why readers identify with their stories. Why lay the blame of the downfall of romantic relationships solely at the feet of romance novels and their (primarily female) readership? I know this book is from 1973 but the fact that I’ve been told that I have unrealistic expectations out of life because I read romance novels hints at an overarching problem.
This is all to say: stop laughing and shut up. Don’t shame women (or men who like romances! an even more marginalised readership) for their reading choices.
Elinor_Glyn_01
Elinor Glyn. “Saucy”! Source: Wikimedi
There’s a plus side, though. Thanks to this book I’ve discovered the existence of a 1907 “erotic romance,” THREE WEEKS by Elinor Glyn which apparently features, wait for it, sex on a tiger skin rug. A bodice-ripper from the 1910s readily available on Project Gutenberg. My evening is made.

Quotes from Ronald Pearsall, Edwardian Life and Leisure (David & Charles, 1973), page 156, 166, and 159 respectively.

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