Some questions from the past, about connections between past and present romance

By Laura Vivanco on

I've been busy adding more entries to the Romance Scholarship Database and came across an essay by Jean Radford from 1992, expanded from the introduction to a volume she edited in 1986, which asks some questions about the connections between modern and medieval romance that I think have yet to be answered:

to see modern romances as genealogical upstarts or the bastardized offspring of originally noble forebears is to reproduce a fantasy of the decline-and-fall type; it does not help to explain the evolution of cultural forms in relation to social and cultural developments. Instead, one can ask why the romance has moved from being about a male subject to being about a female one, or in what way the tests and trials faced by the hero of medieval romance differ from the obstacles and trials that the heroine of contemporary romance must typically overcome to achieve her objective; or how it is that the 'magic' that in earlier romances rescues the hero from false Grails becomes in Jane Eyre a supernatural voice that unites her with her 'true' destiny, and why magic/supernatural/Providential force is in today's romance represented as coming from within - as the magic and omnipotent power of sexual desire. A structural and semantic reading of these changing codes necessarily engages with questions of gender, ideology, and change. (5)


Radford, Jean, 1992. "A Certain Latitude: Romance as Genre." Gender, Language, and Myth: Essays on Popular Narrative. Ed. Glenwood Irons. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 3-19.