By propagating faith in the goodness and durability of love, romance authors create a sense of hope and a space in which readers’ pastoral needs can be addressed. In a way, the novels themselves, and the authors who create them, can function as a community which will assist readers in the process of discernment.
Clearly there are issues of exclusion and stereotypical representation which romance publishing needs to address, and individual authors, too, need to be aware of ways in which their work may in fact cause harms to those to whom they wish to offer only care. However, writing this book has increased my appreciation for the difficult tasks that romance writers undertake. It is no easy thing to assume a pastoral role and take responsibility for offering hope to readers through the medium of fiction. There are staples of the romance genre, including plot types such as salvation stories, which are traditional, and it is no doubt very difficult, if not impossible, to allow a free flow of the imagination while simultaneously questioning whether such elements are being deployed in a particular novel in a way which might be offensive or upsetting to some readers. As Therese Dryden has observed, writing fiction
is not a straightforward linear process. As a young writer (young in terms of how long I had been published) my focus was firmly fixed on writing novels that had an internal logic that held them together. That is, stories with strong conflicts, that were suitably romantic, and that incorporated heroines and heroes that readers could relate to and sympathise with. (384)
It was only later that Dryden realised she had written some “books that, politically, I do not agree with” (384). Editors and others in the business of publishing also play a part: they have a hand in selecting, shaping and packaging the narratives available to readers. Finally, once texts reach readers, what speaks to the needs and situation of one reader may feel hurtful or alienating to another, because readers are not homogenous, and each brings their own personality, knowledge and set of experiences to the text.
Such obstacles and the number of potential pitfalls may seem daunting but, as a romance reader, I wish to end on a note of hope and happily ever after. While individual discernment is important, it is by ensuring there is a diverse pool of authors that the genre as a whole will be best able to cater to the pastoral needs of a wider range of readers. Romance has always adapted to changing social and economic conditions while retaining the faith which is at its core; I believe it will continue to do so.