I recently came across a tweet that that referred to mainstream romance as 'trashy' and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I am of the opinion, and I don't think I'm alone in this, that the rest of the literary world views the romance genre as subpar writing and worthy of the monikers often ascribed to romance as ‘smut’ or ‘trash’. Admittedly, before I grew to appreciate the genre, I too had less than favorable opinion of the modern romance novel, but that all changed once I discovered for myself the depth of feeling these books can and do explore.
To provide a little background, I first discovered my true love of romantic literature after reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. The story had mystery, a dark brooding hero, and a strong-minded heroine, encapsulated in beautifully written prose. Passages such as this moved me beyond any other book I'd read before:
"Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!"
After devouring Jane Eyre I began a journey through many revered authors of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. I cared little about anything written by contemporary authors until I befriended a group of women through a fan site devoted to the love of a certain adaptation of one of my favorite 19th century authors. While these women too loved classic romantic literature, they also enjoyed the modern day authors of both historical and contemporary romances.
Admittedly we did refer to these books as ‘smutty’, but only in the vein of adopting a pejorative term via reappropriation. After reading several, I discovered that these too had the power to move me in ways other genres never had. They touched on topics women have struggled with for centuries, many of which we still do today. Yes, some romance novels are not as well written as others, but the same can be said for all literary genres.
In short, simply because the subject matter in romance novels deal primarily with issues important to women, such as love, family, education, equality, that does not lessen their importance in the world of literature today.