When I went to study abroad in France, I’d already been reading romance novels for years. So one of the first things I did, having roughly acquired a second language, was to seek out all the French romance novels I could find. I mean, everyone loves a happy ending, right? And even coming from a culture that celebrates its own romantic pragmatism and derides the prudery of English-speaking countries, everyone wants to be happy, I thought. Where better to find certain happiness than in a romance novel?
Of course, I discovered very quickly that I was dead wrong. As I discovered then and continue to realize, the romance novel genre exists almost entirely in the province of Anglophonia, and there seem to be very few (if any) non-English romance novelists who publish in their own language. I did find Marc Levy, whose If Only It Were True (aka the movie Just Like Heaven) is about as romance novel-y as you can get without being labelled a romance novel. Seven Days for an Eternity, in particular, features Lucifer and God battling it out through their representatives on earth, Lucas the handsome devil and Zofia the virgin angel respectively. What with their names, the happy ending, and the fact that Zofia works for the CIA (Centre of Intelligence for Angels, duh), they could have come straight out of a romance novel. But this is fiction. This is not a romance novel.
Of course, this (mis)labelling is ubiquitous, and we’ve done to death the perfidious hypocrisy of the publishers who simultaneously disparage and profit from its most lucrative consumer base. So I won’t add to that. What I am interested in is the seeming lack of foreign language romance novels. If romance novels are viewed with suspicion and contempt in the Anglophone world, they appear somewhat alien to other cultures. They certainly read our romance novels, which are translated into dozens of other languages, but do they write their own?
I have no idea. If they don’t, maybe it’s the idea of love and marriage: I could see how in cultures where arranged marriages still happen for reasons other than love, or where people do not have the freedom (self-imposed or otherwise) to choose for themselves, a romance novel might be more subversive than simply irrelevant. Or maybe some find this idea of romance too linear, too unsophisticated, too simple. Maybe all of the above; maybe none.
One country I could see producing romance novels as we define it, if they aren’t already, is India. Based on some of their Bollywood films, it is clear they like happy endings. They like romance and a good, satisfying marriage that pleases not only the parents and the bank account, but also the participants. They like the idea of people falling in love, and having these people live happily ever after – together. So at least the idea of the happily-ever-after as we know it, if not expressed as a romance novel, is not exclusive to the English world.
Do you know of any foreign romance novels? How do you think other countries and cultures think of English romance novels?
- Jean AAR