Tragedy, Literary Value, and Theology

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 29 May, 2019

In an important paper analysing the attitudes underlying critical contempt for popular romance fiction, Pamela Regis drew on the work of Laura Wilder, who stated that

“the critic exhibits an assumption of despair over the condition of society” (85). Moreover “the critic tends to value works that describe despair, alienation, seediness, anxiety, decay, declining values, and difficulty in living and loving in our society” (85)

I was therefore intrigued to read that

Many critics have argued that there cannot be a Christian tragedy. [...] George Orwell claimed [...] that 'It is doubtful whether the sense of tragedy is compatible with belief in God...'; for, he said, tragedy is incompatible with the kind of moral demand which feels cheated when virtue fails to triumph: 'A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.' (Sherry 88-89)

That sense of being "cheated" is one which romance readers express very loudly when they encounter a novel labelled a romance but which ends unhappily. And there is a moral demand inherent in this: as Jennifer Porter has observed, "ultimately the reason many of us read romance is because we have hope in the real world. We believe in the power of the HEA/FN".

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Porter, Jennifer. Tweet from 4 January 2019.

Regis, Pamela. “What Do Critics Owe the Romance? Keynote Address at the Second Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance”. Journal of Popular Romance Studies 2.1 (2011).

Sherry, Patrick. Images of Redemption: Art, Literature and Salvation. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

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