Love in the Romance Genre: Friendship, Ethical Improvement and Conditionality

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Aristotle "makes friendship, rather than sexual relationships [...] the supreme form of love" (May 56) so initially one might assume that his view of love would be at odds with that of most romance novels. However, what he termed

philia is a form of devotion that is best translated as 'friendship love', but that flourishes not only between what we normally think of as friends, but also in all these other sorts of relationship [to spouses, siblings, children, parents, or sexual partners] at their best. And so sexual intimacy, for example, isn't in principle opposed to friendship-love. (56)

In this type of relationship, the friends identify with each other "as if they were 'a second self'" (56). As Guin K. Guin points out in "An Aristotelian Approach to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park", "If there is any relationship in which we are called on to love our “friend” as a second self, it is marriage. As marriage is also meant to be a permanent relationship, it requires the same stability arising from the virtue of both parties as does complete friendship" (Guin 12-13).

Jane Austen's heroines often express a need to respect and have similar views to their future partners, although admittedly some of her protagonists need to change before they can achieve an Aristotelian type of "complete friendship" in marriage. Here, Erin Stackle argues, Austen actually "supplements Aristotle" (202). He argued that philia "is, in its very essence, ethical. It is possible only between two individuals who are good - and indeed are good in similar ways. What Aristotle means by 'good' is much more than simply agreeing on rules like telling the truth, or not stealing, or keeping promises. He means that they share an entire conception of the best way to live life" (May 57). What we see in Pride and Prejudice is an illustration of

how falling in love can convert to virtuous friendships characters otherwise likely to remain blinded in vice.

In Austen's novel, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are the most virtuous characters presented. There remains, however, a serious disparity, not only between them and complete virtue, but also between the two of them. The scene in which Austen presents Darcy's proposal of marriage to Elizabeth clearly articulates how unlikely is a virtuous friendship between them, and starts the mutual character conversion that leads to their ultimate friendship. (202 Stackle)

I wouldn't say that every romance depicts such a conversion or even that an Aristotelian "virtuous friendship" is present in every romance HEA, but I do think it's present in many. In a way, philia is much more compatible with an obligatory HEA than is pure eros:

Erotic love, like ambition for power, can kill those who get in its way or refuse to submit. A certain possessive violence that cares nothing for morality, or at least for conventional mores, seems to belong to its nature, and, indeed, is often seen as proof of its authenticity and strength. We disapprove but aren't completely amazed when lovers stalk, or turn on, loved ones who fail to reciprocate.

Whereas if a friend started behaving to us like this, consumed with jealousy of our other friends, determined to possess us, and furious if we failed sufficiently to requite his affections, we would be impressed not by the power of his friendly feelings but by their poverty.

This isn't because friendship is an anaemic bond compared to erotic or romantic love. It is a very different sort of love. It is, in its essence, a two-way relationship. [...] Though in perfect philia one experiences one's friend as one's 'other self', and to that extent as continuous or even identical with oneself, one does so in a way that explicitly respects his integrity and agency and distinct life, and is dedicated to finding, nurturing and enjoying the good in him. (May 57-58)

An attraction with a strong ethical component, between people who "share an entire conception of the best way to live life", is also necessary if, as Pamela Regis has argued, one of the essential components of romance is a "society [which] is in some way flawed; it may be incomplete, superannuated, or corrupt" (31) and which the protagonists "must confront in their attempt to court and marry and which, by their union, they symbolically remake" (31).

On the other hand, the RWA's definition of the HEA states that "the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love" and Simon May argues that philia is incompatible with unconditional love:

Aristotle's insistence that philia depends on - even essentially is - an ethical relation means that he is dead set against [...] two myths about ideal love [...]: that it is unconditional (it loves the other regardless of her qualities or of changes in her qualities); and that it totally affirms the beloved, her 'bad' as well as her 'good'. [...] But if love is so conditional, then - contrary to another myth about ideal love - it isn't necessarily constant, let alone eternal. [...] It isn't just that philia cannot be expected to be constant if the other person becomes irreversibly bad. Aristotle seems to go further: one should drop a friend under these circumstances. (58-59)

With regard to the protagonists' future, I think that, as Stackle observed in Austen, the emphasis is on depicting love improving protagonists and creating a bond which supports the continuation of that virtue into the HEA. This minimises the possibility that either will become "irreversibly bad". As for unconditionality, my suspicion is that when the RWA decided to use the term "unconditional" they did not mean it in the sense that the love between the protagonists is entirely unrelated to their qualities. I think they meant that the love would develop into the kind which, once fully established, does not continually set new conditions for it to continue. This sort of unconditionality, as well as constancy, can be considered almost certain given that

Normally, of course, we would expect philia to survive because it is based on something as robust as the friends' excellences of character ('their friendship lasts as long as they are good - and excellence is an enduring thing'). These qualities are so fundamental to who someone is that to love him in this way is to love him 'for his sake'. It is to love him for the person he is, and not merely because he is useful or pleasurable to us. (May 59)

These are issues I'm going to be thinking through a bit further in my current project. I'd be interested in others' thoughts!


Guin, Katherine A. "An Aristotelian Approach to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park". Ph.D thesis, Florida State University, 2015.

May, Simon. Love: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Stackle, Erin. "Jane Austen's Aristotelian Proposal: Sometimes Falling in Love Is Better Than a Beating." Philosophy and Literature 41.1 (2017): 195-212.

Taking a Sip from a Corpus

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 14 September, 2019

Phraseology and Style in Subgenres of the Novel: A Synthesis of Corpus and Literary Perspectives, edited by Iva Novakova and Dirk Siepmann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), is the result of

a four-year collaborative research project PhraseoRom on the phraseology of contemporary novels, co-funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). It is one of the few international projects to truly bring together researchers from both literary studies and linguistics. The book, whose ten chapters report on selected results of this project, revolves around a detailed analysis and classification of recurrent fiction-specific patterns found in fictional genres and their general functions, as revealed by sophisticated corpus-driven enquiry. It focuses both on patterns found in the novel generally and genre-specific patterns shared by various literary genres. (v)

This isn't an approach I've ever used, and I can't say I understand the methodology, but it clearly can throw up some intriguing patterns:

the expression take a sip [... is] much more common [...] in romance novels [...] than in the other genres. It suggests an affinity between take a sip and the “romantic universe” typically created in this genre. A closer look at the examples, however, reveals that alcoholic beverages are not necessarily what is consumed by the characters in this genre. In fact, we find roughly the same statistical distribution for the expression take a sip used with all kinds of beverages (including coffee, tea, water, etc.) before sorting and after sorting for the same expression when used with terms denoting alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, whisky, vodka, etc.). These findings suggest that it is the manner of drinking expressed by the motif take a sip rather than any particular type of drink that is characteristic of English romance novels—which empirically supports the assumption that certain demeanours on the part of the characters may be deemed typical of a particular literary genre. In French, siroter (to sip) when followed by a noun referring to alcohol plays a similar role and is in fact well represented in romances. (143-144)


Romance: The Truly Modern Genre?

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 10 August, 2019

I'm currently reading Natalia Marandiuc's The Goodness of Home: Human and Divine Love and the Making of the Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) and came across a passage which interested me with regards to how popular romance is evaluated (relative to other popular genres):

“The notion that the life of production and reproduction, of work and the family, is the main locus of the good life flies in the face of what were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization,” according to which the lower forms of life were viewed in marked contrast from higher activities, be they political leadership, war heroism, contemplation, or extraordinary asceticism.


Modernity has moved the contrast somewhere else. Its new locus is in the different ways in which one can lead the ordinary life of work and close relationships—from kinship and friendship to romance and all manner of partnerships and attachments.

Romance, then, is modern because it identifies the good life in terms of human relationships. Other genres, though, perhaps cling to what "were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization": they emphasise more abstract values (e.g. justice) or former "higher" modes of behaviour such as "political leadership, war heroism". What's interesting is that despite this, romance and the relationships it values have led to it being considered a "lower form" of writing.


Marandiuc is quoting from page 23 of Charles Taylor's The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).


De-gendering and De-genreing some of Radway's Conclusions about Romance Reading

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 3 July, 2019

Shelley Trower, Amy Tooth Murphy and Graham Smith revisited some archived interviews dating from the 1980s and carried out in the UK. The interviews were conducted for an oral history project in which 'the central focus was consistently family life: the daily, the domestic, the routine' (555) and 'Within this broad spectrum interviewers asked questions specifically relating to reading. They asked interviewees if they themselves read, if other family members read, whether there were books in the house they grew up in as well as their current home, and whether they attended a library in the past or the present' (555).

Janice Radway, who carried out interviews with women romance readers in the US slightly earlier, had an 'approach [which] led her to think about reading not only as interpretation of books’ contents but also as an activity. The women explained their reading as "a way of temporarily refusing the demands associated with their social role as wives and mothers"' (556). What Trower, Murphy and Smith discovered was that their 'archive supports Janice Radway’s findings in Reading the Romance (first published in 1984) that women read for escape and as a form of resistance to domestic roles, but it also shows that such findings may be applied more broadly than romance to other kinds of readers and reading material' (554).

While it was the case that in the UK interviews 'mothers’ reading is often portrayed as being escapist, broad and indiscriminate, whereas fathers’ reading is more commonly depicted as directed, often with a functional basis, rather than being solely a leisure activity' (555), Trower, Murphy and Smith propose 'that men similarly engaged in escapist reading in using it to erect a barrier between themselves and their families' (557):

In many of the interviews, the image of men reading newspapers becomes a central scene in daily family life. Specifically, that image is often of a solitary reader, the man and the newspaper a single unit, closed off from the rest of the family. If the novel delays mothers’ engagement with domestic work and her family, [...] it is the TV news or the newspaper that delays the father’s arrival at the dinner table and his interaction with the family. (570-71)


Male newspaper reading, then, may be comparable to female novel reading in providing a way of making time for oneself or for resisting engagement with the demands of a family. A difference is that while the women read before carrying out domestic work – such as preparing meals – the men here read before, during, and after their consumption of meals. It is also notable that men’s reading is often framed in narratives of consistency and temporal regularity, while women’s reading times are snatched moments or conducted in stolen time. Men’s reading is also very much on show, like a Do Not Disturb sign, whereas women’s reading is often furtive, involving strategies for keeping it undiscovered like running around doing the housework after a day of reading. The men in these interviews seem to use newspaper reading as a communication barrier, while women seem primarily to be putting off domestic labour. Radway’s observations that women’s reading often gives them time out from their families’ needs, ‘a task that is solely and peculiarly theirs’, cannot precisely be mapped on to men’s reading. For many women whose work is entirely or at least largely within the home, reading may be crucial for establishing opportunities to escape or ‘switch off’ in that same environment, whereas men’s work is more usually outside the home. [...]


Bearing in mind the differences between gender roles, reasons for reading (to avoid housework and/or to avoid family communication), reading material and value judgements of that material (women’s novel-reading being denigrated more usually than men’s non-fiction reading), the activity of reading may nevertheless be comparable in some respects. The ‘100 Families’ archive indicates how men’s reading can be as escapist as women’s reading. [...] Although it is only women who are said to get ‘lost’ in fiction, and whose reading is regularly disparaged or defended against pervasive stereotypes of romance novels as frivolous, further investigation into men’s reading could reveal the different but comparable ways in which it provides a way of demarcating time and space away from domestic reality. (572)


Trower, Shelley, Amy Tooth Murphy and Graham Smith, 2019. '"Me mum likes a book, me dad's a newspaper man": Reading, gender and domestic life in "100 Families"', Participations 16.1: 554-581.

Why Popular Romance is Un-American (Allegedly)

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 1 June, 2019

In 1983, writing about the "drug store novel" (what we'd now think of as modern gothic romances), Beth Timson concluded that:

while they are written and sold largely in America (though not entirely, of course), their roots are firmly in the traditional British novel; they do not have the characteristics that critics like Marius Bewley in The Eccentric Design or Richard Chase in The American Novel and Its Traditions or Leslie Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel have so carefully pinned down as "American." (89)

This is because

The heroine [...] does not create a new world of her own building but sets out to rediscover her past. During the period in which she lives at the ancestral mansion, she looks over the possibilities of action and finds that she must make a choice between the appearance of goodness in the attractive potential usurper of the estate and the reality of goodness in the outwardly surly heir. Sometimes there is an initial wavering, because she thinks that she distrusts inherited wealth and position. In the end, however, she becomes one of the preservers of the estate - rejecting the usurper and the other young woman who is her psychological alter ego, clearing up family mysteries, and marrying the heir. To find a mainstream novel with this structure of reconciliation, we must look away from American fiction to the British novel, since the pattern of inheriting a house rather than building it is obviously more dominant there. And indeed, a close resemblance is very easy to find. Jane Austen's splendid Mansfield Park has a structure practically identical to that I have outlined for the drug store novel. (91)

In fact,

one can say that what [Austen] does and what the drug store novel is doing are the same thing: showing a pattern of the former outcast integrated into a restabilized family structure. No significant American novel that I can think of does that; no significant British novel that I can think of does not do it. To express the idea in the terms of critic Richard Chase, the classic American novel concerns itself with the Fall of man and his expulsion from Eden, while the British novel writes of man's redemption. Presumably the romance novelists have sensed this deep distinction, because they choose to set most of their novels in England. (92)

To conclude:

ultimately all the data would lead to several conclusions about the drug store novel and mainstream fiction. First, in the British novel the structure of reconciliation has been a dominant one and one used successfully by both significant male and female authors, while in the American novel the structure of reconciliation has been perverted and forced underground. Reconciliation with the stable past and the family has been turned into a vaguely erotic union with the father or his representative. The classic American novel is male-dominated and concerns rejection, independence, and isolation; while the popular romance is female-dominated and concerns re-integration of past and present. [...] the Feminine, in its deepest mythic sense of union and community, has found its voice in American fiction only outside the mainstream. (94-95)

It's interesting to see here how particular assumptions and ways of interpreting "all the data" are shaping outcomes. Certainly if you only choose particular novels (by men) as the basis for determining what constitutes "the American novel" it's not surprising that you can end up concluding that "the American novel" is "male-dominated". It's worth noting that "significant" would appear to exclude popular fiction. So, by definition, romance novels written by US women are both un-American and insignificant perversions of a foreign tradition. Hmm. Well, it's another way of discrediting women's writing, I suppose, particularly where it intersects with popular culture.


Timson, Beth S., 1983. ‘The Drug Store Novel: Popular Romantic Fiction and the Mainstream Tradition’, Studies in Popular Culture, 6: 88-96.

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".


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.

Romance and "Zombie Coupledom"

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 5 May, 2019

This morning I came across an article by Sarah Brouillette about romance. It's mainly about the economics of romance reading/publishing, as you can see from the abstract:

This article studies the relative success of the mass-market romance industry. It argues that, in conditions of general economic downturn, supports for the cultivation of literary reading have declined, while inducements to romance reading have strengthened. It considers the centrality of self-publishing to romance reading, and the styles of work available to romance writers, most of whom are women and are usually poorly remunerated. It considers, finally, the contemporary romance heroine, treating her as a figure of fantastical symbolic reconciliation: between a liberal ideal of independent empowerment and the reality of persistent compulsion toward coupledom and subservience.

It's in the discussion of this last point that I detect an assumption with which I cannot agree. According to Sarah Brouillette, the romance "industry is propping up both zombie coupledom and empowerment discourse. It offers stories that reconcile the ideal of women’s “ownership” of their sexuality with the compulsion—material and social—to enter into coupledom" (462). As such,

the romance genre is a cultural niche that supports the zombie persistence of the couple form. Melinda Cooper has argued that part of why coupledom persists is simply as a bulwark against economic instability and harried life. It remains a powerful form of risk management—what Mark McGurl calls, in his own work on romance, the “little welfare state.” McGurl points out that coupledom is also supposed to offer passionate erotic satisfaction to self-possessed individuals. This is a hard row to hoe, however, given how harried and beleaguered people are. (461)

Call me brainless if you like, but I'm going to carry on thinking there's something more (like love and emotional support and connection) underpinning good romantic relationships.


Brouillette, Sarah, 2019. "Romance Work." Theory & Event 22.2, pp. 451-464.

Romance vs. Crime: Snippets of Fact vs. Pure Speculation

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 25 April, 2019

I recently came across a foreword to a critical work about crime fiction which digressed into some pure speculation about romance readers. This foreword, by Professor Frances Washburn, asked

What is specific [...] about crime fiction that appeals to readers? Berthold Brecht, German dramatist and poet, wrote, "The crime novel is about logical thought and demands such logical thought from the reader. It is close to the crossword puzzle in that respect." And further, why is it that romance fiction still surpasses crime fiction in popularity, if only marginally?
I would contend that these two genres appeal to readers with differing psychological profiles, and while I have no evidence to support this assertion, it seems to me that romance readers seek fiction that is comforting, that allows them to believe familiar and timeless philosophies: that true love exists, that finding the perfect mate is possible, and that there is a happily ever after ending, if only between the covers of romance novels. Likely, these readers also believe, or want to believe, that everyone has a personal protective angel and that fairies could be real. Crime novel readers may be drawn to puzzle solving, which every murder mystery certainly is, unafraid to view the ultimate crime in gory detail, even if only between the pages of crime novels. Neither reader is superior or inferior, merely reading with different needs and different perspectives. (x, emphasis added)

There's so much to quibble with, question and dispute here: it ignores the fact that there are many readers who move between the two genres, that "cosy" mysteries may be comforting and may be chosen because they don't depict gore and that the philosophies listed are not "timeless". If romance readers believe in fairies, what about readers of fantasy? Does the juxtaposition of fairies and angels have implications for certain religious beliefs?

Tweet from the Crime Writers' Association saying they're "pleased to announce that all Romantic Novelists' Association members are now welcome at our chapter meetings, in the spirit of cross-pollination!" (22 April 2019)

[Tweet from the Crime Writers' Association saying they're "pleased to announce that all Romantic Novelists' Association members are now welcome at our chapter meetings, in the spirit of cross-pollination!" (22 April 2019)]

I wouldn't deny, though, that there are certain core beliefs present in these two genres, that they appear to differ from each other, and that they probably evoke (or aim to evoke) different responses in their readers. Jennifer Crusie has argued that

the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world.

David Carter and Millicent Weber also touch briefly on romance and compare it to crime fiction, but in their case the analysis is very firmly founded on facts:

For genre fiction, romance - by far the largest of the generic categories, with 1766 titles published in 2013-2017 - is dominated unsurprisingly by HarperCollins's Harlequin and related imprints, responsible on their own for forty-eight per cent of romance titles in the period surveyed (for further analysis of genre publishing see Driscoll et al. 2018). In terms of market share, this figure is in fact a decline from the sixty-four per cent recorded for the period 2010-2013, indicating the recent commitment of other major players to the expanding romance market, not least through digital imprints such as PRH's Destiny Romance. HarperCollins, PRH [Penguin Random House], Pan Macmillan and Hachette between them cover sixty-one percent of new romance titles, and the vast majority of the remainder are self-published. By contrast, a much larger number of independents figure in crime publishing, which overall recorded 574 titles for the period. The prominence of these independents testifies to crime's higher cultural standing among genre forms and its generic investment in local settings. The multinationals, including Simon & Schuster, produced only seventeen per cent of crime titles in the period surveyed, while a group of local independents produced 22 per cent.
In sum, local independents are comparatively far more visible in literary and crime fiction publishing than in romance, thriller/adventure and fantasy. Medium-sized firms are substantially represented, but the multinationals dominate in both literary and genre fiction, that is, in both the more profitable and the more prestigious forms of publishing. (351)


Carter, David and Millicent Weber. "Fiction Publishing in Australia, 2013-2017". Publishing and Culture, ed. Dallas John Baker, Donna Lee Brien and Jen Webb. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2019. 341-58.

Crusie, Jennifer. "I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre".

Driscoll, Beth, Lisa Fletcher, Kim Wilkins and David Carter, 2018. "The Publishing Ecosystems of Contemporary Australian Genre Fiction". Creative Industries Journal 11.2: 203-21.

Washburn, Frances. "Foreword". Native American Mystery Writing: Indigenous Investigations, Mary Stoecklein.  Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2019. ix-xi.

With thanks to Vassilikí Véros for drawing my attention to the timely Crime Writers' Association tweet.

Trust Women Readers

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 5 March, 2019

Quite a lot has been written about the dangers of reading, and how fiction may encourage readers (particularly young and female readers) to act or think in ways which are detrimental to them. Gry Hongsmark Knudsen argues that those with such concerns have been underestimating women readers. They interviewed women readers of the Fifty Shades books and found that these readers

read Fifty Shades instrumentally [...] to reinvigorate their sex lives and to remind themselves of sex. In that process, they put less emphasis on whether the relationship in the narrative is something with which they identify or not. Rather, what they describe as attractive about the books is their ability to produce "affective intensity" [...]. That is, the important part of the reading process is the affective changes produced in the mind and body, not whether the relationship in the narrative is realistic, attractive, or equal. If the readers are concerned that the book is problematic in terms of its gender roles and portrayal of women, it does not produce a pleasurable state of mind or body and they stop reading. Thus it seems that, whichever option they choose, the readers adopt a selective reading process: either they disregard the troubling aspects or they stop reading because of the troubling aspects. As such, the findings of this study challenge the hypothesis that readers are necessarily influenced in specific ways by texts, given that in the sample all the readers taking part disregarded, rejected, or resisted some parts of the narrative to focus on others. (181)

The conclusion is that,

if we acknowledge women as critical readers, we also have to acknowledge that the process of adopting ideologies based on texts [...] is far from simple. Readers defy reading positions inscribed in texts and thereby differ widely in what they get out of reading them. (182)


Hongsmark Knudsen, Gry. "Critical Consumers: Discourses of Women, Sexuality, and Objectification", Handbook of Research on Gender and Marketing, ed. Susan Dobscha. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2019. 168-185.

Pop Culture as Replacement for Religious Ritual?

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 7 January, 2019

In an article published in 1969 John Cawelti suggested that

In earlier more homogeneous cultures religious ritual performed the important function of articulating and reaffirming the primary cultural values. Today, with cultures composed of a multiplicity of differing religious groups, the synthesis of values and their reaffirmation has become an increasingly important function of the mass media and the popular arts. Thus, one important dimension of formula is social or cultural ritual. (388)

I'm not sure if this is true of all forms of popular culture but the idea that genre fiction could be synthesising certain religious values and beliefs chimes with what Jennifer Crusie has to say about the core narrative of romance and detective fiction:

the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world. So in romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice, unconditional love in an emotionally safe world.


Cawelti, John G. “The Concept of Formula in the Study of Popular Literature,” Journal of Popular Culture 3.3 (1969): 381-390.

Crusie, Jennifer. “I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre,” originally published in Romance Writer’s Report. PAN March 2000.