O, Foreign Romance Novels, Where Art Thou?

bride_and_prejudiceWhen 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

30 thoughts on “O, Foreign Romance Novels, Where Art Thou?

  1. I can only speak for the Dutch romance novels – and as far as I know there aren’t any. Romance is a four-letter word in the Netherlands and the few publishers that do publish romance only buy English or American books and have them translated. Most of them are sold at newspaper agents. Chick-lit is tolerated, but again, as far as I know only translated books.

  2. France : english and american romance novels sell quite well here, but are vastly regarded as crap (by critics and people in general). We have Marc Levy and Guillaume Musso (who both sell really really well), and a few authors write chick lit. But, yes, we French consider it to be only english-speaking books I think !

  3. There are many spanish-language romance books but they’re published (as far as I know) by American presses (so, not Spanish from Spain authors but spanish from America authors) and though I wish for more, they’re often series-sized.

  4. Israel: English romance is translated and sold here. As for local attempts… every few years someone gives it a go (usually involving tall, dark and handsome air force men), but there isn’t a steady flow.

  5. Interesting topic. I totally agree with your theory about India and Bollywood being the perfect place for a strong romance novel connection. I’m a very big Bollywood fan and one of the things that drew me to the films was the romance factor. One of the first films I saw Mujhse Dosti Karoge! was exactly like a Harlequin/Mills & Boon novel brought to life. Ever since I’ve been looking for romance novels by Indian authors. Unfortunately, just like most of the English speaking world, Mills & Boons does seem to dominate there as well and the company is just lately looking for Indian authors and Indian stories. I have yet to read one. It was a big deal recently when an English M&B set a story in India with an Indian hero. M&B is also now pursuing cross-promotional ties with Bollywood studios. The new smash hit I Hate Luv Storys starring Imran Khan is being promoted by M&B.

    I’ve also been only a little lucky in finding good chick-lit books by Indian authors or set in India. I really liked Almost Single by Advaita Kala and Bollywood Confidential by Sonia Singh.

  6. Last year the Asociación de Autoras Románticas de España was set up. If you go to their blog you’ll find a list of their members. All of them write romantic fiction (which I suppose might not necessarily be the same thing as “romance,” but I get the impression that a lot of their novels do have HEAs) in Spanish.

  7. There’s an Argentinian author called Florencia Bonelli whose books seem to be very much historical romance. I read an interview with her and it describes her reading Kathleen Woodiwiss and Virginia Henley in her free time! The descriptions of her plots sound very much in that old school vein.

  8. Perhaps there is a historical and cultural reason for the lack of non-English romance novels as such. Romances (i.e. a main love story between a man and a woman with a traditional happy ending) have been accepted by English-speaking readers in their literature for hundreds of years – Shakespeare wrote plays which were romantic comedies 500 years ago. Then you have the historical swashbucklers and great chivalrous heroes e.g. Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and Rob Roy; or Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. And of course, you have Jane Austen’s novels which are predecessors of our regencies; Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels which have a social commentary underlying the romance, etc. Even Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations has a HEA romantic resolution for Pip and Estella. In many other cultures, there are no great works of literature where the romantic tale ends happily. In Chinese literature, the great romance Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the so-called Four Great Classical Novels, written in the 1700′s during the Qing dynasty, has no HEA – the hero ends up marrying someone his family arranged for him and the woman he loves (the heroine) dies.

    Perhaps the lack of non-English romance novels has a genetic and cultural basis!! :)

    • msaggie: Perhaps there is a historical and cultural reason for the lack of non-English romance novels as such. Romances (i.e. a main love story between a man and a woman with a traditional happy ending) have been accepted by English-speaking readers in their literature for hundreds of years – Shakespeare wrote plays which were romantic comedies 500 years ago.

      RUSSIA:
      Russia certainly has her own romantic literary tradition: The Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin, War and Peace by Tolstoy, Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak, these being perhaps the most widely known examples.
      Russia also has that rich fairytale tradition.
      Since the collapse of the USSR, the commercial fiction market exploded, and indigenous romance novels and variants — chick-lit, YA/fantasy — are very popular. Think “The Russian Bridget Jones”, which would be Dnevnik Novoi Russkoi by Elena Kolina, for instance.
      I suspect that the ostensible lack of non-English romances has to have something to with language itself also. Fact being, not a lot of English-speaking (“English only”) romance readers read Russian/foreign languages. Russian literature gets translated to German, as do Scandinavian and Finnish literature. But again, how many native English-speakers and romance readers are even marginally more comfortable reading German than Russian or Swedish?
      The lack of English translations of Russian romances may, in turn, have something to do with the respective markets. The anglophone market is huge, self-sustaining, and biased against translated literature. The domestic Russian-language market is also huge enough to sustain itself, so there is no need to push translations of essentially domestic Russian romances to the anglophone market, given that these are mass market commercial entertaining fiction for “quick consumption”, excuse me, not exactly after Nobels or Bookers.

  9. Romania: We used to have (from 1990 until 2000) 5 popular authors translated in Romanian: Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, Amanda Quick, Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins. That was it! But you could find those books almost everywhere.
    Now the closest thing to Romance is Twilight or maybe something chick-lit. And I: understand why they’ve disappeared: economic reasons, the fact that at 250 dollars/month the medium salary a book became a luxury. It’s cheaper to watch soap-operas on TV.

  10. To elaborate a bit on what Marcella wrote about the situation in the Netherlands: the main purveyor of the romance novels she describes is Harlequin. Of course it is much cheaper for them to have English books translated than to commission original books in a language that only 20 million people speak. Also Harlequin publishes plenty of English books, so the Dutch company can afford to pick and choose.
    During the seventies there were a lot of very cheaply produced translations of German romance novels on offer in news agents. They were stapled like magazines and printed on very cheap paper. The Harlequin paperbacks were an enormous improvement in quality when they came along.
    An original Dutch genre that used to be popular, and maybe still is among older readers (I still see them in the library), is the ‘streekroman’ or regional novel. These novels often feature a love affair between a poor village maiden and the eldest son of a rich farmer. The dialogues are often rendered in dialect. I don’t think HEAs are always guaranteed, though. These were pricey hardback books.
    And then there were the novels for older girls, also hardbacks, which centred on courtship and ended in marriage. Leni Saris, for instance, wrote an enormous amount of them, as is shown by her Wikipedia entry: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leni_Saris Her last novel was published posthumously in 2000.
    I suppose most girls now will go straight for the Harlequins, but I quite enjoy reading one of the old girls’ novel occasionally, especially a pre-WWII one, because they remind me of the ones I used to read from my mother’s collection when I was a girl in the late sixties early seventies.

  11. The Nordic countries do have their own romance writers.

    Romance novels, both category format and mainstream romances were huge when I was growing up, to the point that they were constantly serialized in weekly magazines (they still are, by the way). It was through my grandmother’s subscription magazine, Allers, that I first found out about them. There was also a genre known as “Manor romances” (Herrgårdsromaner) that was particularly popular well before my time – my grandmother’s and mother’s generations read authors like Sigge Stark, Birgit Sparre, and Margit Söderholm. In my early teens I read loads of Scandinavian and Finnish romance authors, both male and female. Some of the names I recall are Margit Sandemo, Ole Blegel, Erling Poulsen, Bodil Forsberg, Kaari Utrio, and Bente Pedersen. Since I have not lived in the region for over a decade I can’t name currently popular romance authors, but I can see from the occasional board discussions and Scandinavian magazines that they definitely still exist alongside translated authors.

  12. Norway: The only norwegian writer I can think of that published romance novels was Margit Sandemo. She became a household name when she later on published a historical family saga with romance, witchcraft and family curse called “Isfolket”. It has later been published in Poland with great success according to the publisher (Bladkompaniet/the magazine company), who has specialized in so called kiosk litterature. These are books sold outside of the book store system, usually in kiosks and grocery stores.

    Harlequin, Mills and Boons etc publish a selection of their own lines in norwegian, but bestselling authors are usually published by Bladkompaniet. These freestanding novels are being hastily translated, published as a “series” with continuing numbers (the most popular series is named Superstar) and fitted with generic clinch covers. I believe that this has contributed to make the romance novel especially embarrasing, think “Educating Rita”. The books are sold as groceries, the publisher actually has a sell by date with no back issues available. Very few romance books are sold in bookstores, although chik-lit do marvelously well. Therefore, to sell romance to a larger audience, it must be wrapped as something else. When romance get sold in book stores and bought by libraries, it is usually labelled as a romantic thriller, romantic suspense or just plain suspense. No bookstores has any shelves labelled “Romance”, not even the ones that has one labelled “erotica”. The nearest shelve I’ve found with this term is in Copenhagen (an 8 hours boatride and short passport controll away)!
    I believe these factors results in the romance genre being completely overlooked by norwegian writers, and the genre overlooked by the book stores both in original language and in translation.

    Sorry about the long post…

  13. Thanks for some really interesting posts; it seems that the northern European and Hispanic areas have a culture of romance novels, as well as the English world. It’d be really interesting if one could do a comparison of the conventions, themes, formulas, and whatnot of different romance novels. Ah, if one had time and linguistic skills enough in all the world…

    It’s interesting what msaggie says about the culture of the HEA – certainly it’s not integral to the Chinese idea of happiness. I never thought about looking to fairy tales as an indication of the culture’s mindset about this, but “And they lived happily ever after” is certainly one of the (present) catchphrases when thinking about fairy Western fairy tales, even if it wasn’t and isn’t always so.

  14. Japan, South Korea and, perhaps, mainland China do have their own stables of romance authors, but historically and traditionally, the majority of those novels tend to have “tragic” endings (I quote tragic because it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s tragic; sometimes it just means it’s the final chapter of this life and that they have happiness in the afterlife and probably in their next lives if they are fated to be together). The majority of popular ‘romance’ authors are male, too. Think Nicholas Sparks. I think this is true for Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries as well.

    In traditional East Asian publishing, it still focuses on publishing the translated romance novels (single titles and M&B/HQN) by western (British, American, Australian and Canadian) authors.

    But that landscape is rapidly changing nowadays, though, especially in Japan – due to the wild popularity of romantic stories in mobile/cell/hand phone format, usually written by amateur novelists online. For this kind of fiction, it’s usually published under something that resembles YA, e.g. romantic stories with HEA is still regarded as something only junior and senior high school girls would enjoy, but this mentality is changing.

    In spite of this I think some are still struggling to define ‘Romance’ and an attempt to nurture home-grown authors, but it’s still largely a slow progress. Right now, it’s more acceptable to have romance in other genres, such as SF, action, college drama, crime, and melodrama, which is so bizarre because many are so romance-driven that they ought to be recognised part of Romance.

    [Am digressing a bit here: the Japanese media seems to be anti-romance as it frequently mocks romances. It's frustrating that female romance authors are expected to apologise for writing this sort of thing while male romance authors don't have to. It might be my biased perspective, though.]

    Sorry for the length of this response.

  15. *Forgot to cite examples of popular romantic novels translated into other languages including English. I’ll opt for Japanese novels as it’s easier for me to recall:

    Be With You (original title: I’m coming to be with you now) – Takuji Ichikawa (male)

    Socrates in Love (original title: Socrates in Love) – Kyoichi Katayama (male). Probably best known for spawning an industry of its own with various film, radio and comic adaptations in many countries under different names including ‘Crying Out Love, In the Centre of the World’ and ‘My Girl and I’.

    There are many English-translated romantic novels, available in the US, by female romance authors, but all are BL/yaoi. So odd. I still don’t know why US publishers won’t publish straight romance novels by female authors.

  16. Thanks for Jean and Maili’s posts which expand on my initial post about culture influencing the availability of non-English romance novels. I was a fairy tale geek as a child and have read all the anthologies of fairy tales from different cultures across continents – the HEA is not exclusive to the western culture in fairy tales, but it is most prominent. Persian and Arabic fairy tales (e.g. Scheherazade and the 1000 nights) also have many HEA motifs – but then anthropologically, Europeans, Persians and North Indians share Caucasoid genes. In African and Oceania, fairy tales (or folk tales, really) have stories that are more like Aesop’s fables – they have a moral lesson, call it a learning tale, like a biblical parable – because people accept/learn moral lessons better through a story than by being told what to do (maybe because the consequences are spelled out in the staory-telling). Anyway, I digress.

    Another factor that has to be taken in is the fact that English language media can penetrate a much larger market than any other language currently. Yes, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world because the Chinese are the largest ethnic population in the world sharing a common language – but then, outside of China, not as many people read Chinese. It’s still millions of people, but in comparison to English, which is a truly international language, and the second language of many millions more who are fluent enough in it to read consistently in English…..if I was a non-native English writer of romances, I would write my book in English. I can think of Rebecca Ryman (writer of Olivia and Jai) who is Indian, but there may be others.

    Will the trend change as we become more and more globalised? Reading Maili’s post about Japanese media reminded me of the rising popularity of anime and manga among young people today. many have western-type romantic motifs, but the HEA is not as heavily featured – and again I think this may be cultural. In Far Eastern cultures, there is an acceptance that your “destined true love” may not be your spouse and that’s OK. You will be united in the afterlife, and that’s what happens. This motif is found in several traditional Chinese folk tales, and probably reflects the culture of arranged marriages pre-Communist China – many people did not marry the person they loved, but married for dynastic reasons in obedience to their family’s wishes (as another very important factor of Far Eastern culture is filial piety – and the mindset of “family, community and country before self”. It’s very interesting to watch Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese (HK or mainland China) TV serials – they are quite different in focus from Western TV serials. The more recent ones have more western concepts in them, but a lot of the time, there is a uniquely politico-cultural subtext permeating them (I was not aware of this until my uncle who subscribes to network channels which offer these explained it to me when I was watching them with him).

  17. Israel: in continuation to what Michal has said. There have been forays into the genre. More often historical novels. One such example is Shulamit Lapid’s Valley of Strength, which was recently translated. There is another author who inveted Israeli chick lit, but these kind of novels rarely get translated. By the way I sometimes get my romantic fix by watching Korean drama series like Coffee Prince and Full House, or reading manga like Honey Mustard, Skip Beat and the like.

  18. Jean wrote:

    “It’d be really interesting if one could do a comparison of the conventions, themes, formulas, and whatnot of different romance novels.”

    A while ago I came across a dissertation about the experience of Harlequin in Sweden, titled “Global Infatuation: Explorations In Transnational Publishing And Texts – The Case Of Harlequin Enterprises And Sweden” by Eva Hemmungs Wirtén, published by Uppsala University, 1998. (In the acknowledgments section, Janice Radway is mentioned as one of Hemmungs Wirtén’s co-advisors.) It sheds some light on how romance novels are viewed in Scandinavia – especially, how romances written by Britons and Americans are treated.

    (Chapter Four.) Reader reports are filled out to determine whether a book is suitable for a Scandinavian and Finnish audience (Harlequin’s Nordic headquarters are located in Sweden). For example: “Are there brutal/rough scenes? Can they be toned down in the translation?” “[…] it is far more important to the editor that the [final transedited] text reads smoothly and with rhythm and ‘feel’ to it that makes it come across as ‘Swedish’, than it is as ‘faithful’ or ‘accurate’ as possible in relation to the original.

    Chapter Five, Transediting: Global Made Local, shows how Harlequin’s Swedish editorial board moulds titles, character names, and particularly the linguistic details and logics of the actual story to fit their perception of what is pronouncable, understandable, and acceptable to a Scandinavian audience. The back blurbs, for example, are shown to be completely re-written. The text of the story is converted into Swedish through a dual process of translation and rigorous editing – transediting.

    Details: Besides minor adaptations such as, “Kleenex” becoming “paper tissues”, “Lead on, Macduff” becoming “Well, show the way, Sherlock”, and “fly in the ointment” becoming “spoilsport”, or, literally, “joykiller”, there are also questionable decisions that occur when the person translating is either not fully bilingual or objects to translation that is a mechanic conversion of anglicisms and Anglo-Saxon sentence constructions to the target language.

    Major exclusions and substitutions: Issues of Americanization and feminism play an undeniable role in both the selection and transediting of a Harlequin book. “Transediting may also involve profound and radical changes to the text” to “neutralize the ideology of the text” and “edit out unacceptable passages”. “Since there are no rules to be found anywhere concerning ‘objectionable’ material, the determining factor will be the interaction of a network of personal and cultural values in the process of transediting.” Entire paragraphs, sentences, or words may be cut out or toned down. The elements that trigger this include “issues of race, colonialism, or character” and “verbal violence”, for example “deceitful/unreliable little bitch!” ending up as “little fool”. As one editor explains, “[…] they are supposed to love one another, he’s not supposed to hold her down through the whole book, both physically and mentally, to discover on the last four pages that he really does love her. There are books, there are such books, and if you must publish that particular book, I think you have to polish a bit”. “The editors consistently take out violence and abuse from the books.” Sex is quite often censored, making the language less explicit, but in the process of transediting, the romanticism of the scene sometimes becomes the inadvertent victim – especially if the translator is male and is unable to “turn the ‘sexual into the sensuous’”.

    As Hemmungs Wirtén notes, “I’m sure there are those who find this chain of events strange and amusing, in view of the diehard and widespread prejudice that Sweden is the final outpost of sexual emancipation”.

    Does transediting on this scale happen outside Harlequin? Personally, I have not noticed anything remotely like it. Admittedly, it is a long time since I read translated versions of English-language originals.

  19. I don’t know elsewhere in latinamerica, but down here in Mexico there is zero publishing of Romance novels, or even chick lit, other than translations. But event those aren’t that good, because they bring the books from Spain and there is a world of difference between the Spanish we speak here and the one in Spain (certain words in particular, that at very common place to Spaniards are very offensive to us, for example).

    The closest people here come to reading romance is reading Corin Tellado’s short stories in the back of magazines, but honestly, the poor woman should have retired ages ago. Her stories have spiraled right into nonsensical, though once upon a time I enjoyed them quite a bit, now they are just dumb (the woman is like 100 years old, and I doubt she’s still behind the stories, actually).

  20. Adding my personal perspective here, fair warning though: this might be a bit outdated as it’s been a while since I’ve read romance novels in Finnish (too little time, too much else to read). Also, I’m strictly a common reader here, with very limited knowledge of how the publishing industry works in this country, so any fellow Finns out there, feel free to correct me! ;)

    First: Like others have said there are native romance writers in Finland (and the other Nordic countries). Quite popular ones at that, though they’re certainly not celebrated at the annual literary award galas and such. And I do wonder if most of their readership would identify with the label “romance reader” at all.

    It’s been years since I’ve read anything by a newer Finnish author, though and it seems to me that chick lit is/has been taking the place in publishing that used to be more straight romance. Also, I’ll agree with those who said that romance isn’t a genre here in the sense that publishers would seek books to publish under the label (excluding Harlequin of course, but then again Harlequin isn’t really seen as a legitimate publisher of books by the “general population” here, they’re more like kiosk-fiction: sold in kiosks, gas stations and by the cashier in the grocery stores. Never in bookshops or libraries. And as far as I know Harlequin only publishes translated material here. There used to be Finnish equivalents to it in the ‘80s and the ‘90s that also published Finnish authors.)

    Romantic novels are usually seen as general fiction and more specifically as historicals, suspense or sci-fi/paranormal, etc. depending on the content of the book. This is done to both translated and Finnish novels. This might be changing though, as most libraries – where most of us go to find most of our books instead of bookstores – have had a section labeled “Romance” for at least a decade now, I think. Bookstores – the two major chains at least – still seem to have a very snobbish attitude/limited understanding of the genre, when it comes to romance though.

    I wonder if all of this has more to do with the facts of economics rather than genetic differences, though? i.e. The different ways that publishing works in different countries/regions? There doesn’t seem to be much need for genres here. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that of all the books the major publishers publish here crime/suspense (which is by far the most profitable section of publishing here) and science fiction/paranormal/fantasy are the two that are labeled into “genres” that are separated from general fiction (aside from YA/children’s books and maybe the classics). Maybe it also has something to do with the size of the consumer base vs. the supply? There are so many English readers and books out there that there’s much more need to have labels on your product to guide the consumer to it than there is in “a smaller pond”? You even have subgenres and sub-sub-genres, right? ;) What I mean to say is that I think lovestories are read in every culture across the world, but as a ”genre” romance is perhaps a very American/English phenomenon?

  21. tirlittan wrote:

    “Romantic novels are usually seen as general fiction and more specifically as historicals, suspense or sci-fi/paranormal, etc. depending on the content of the book.”

    Yes, I remember browsing the general fiction section in Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki years ago and finding Nora Roberts and other romance authors shelved there. There was no separate romance section either in the domestic or the foreign-language areas.

    As I think tirlittan is saying, this does not mean that what we would classify as romances (as separate from mainstream romantic fiction) did not exist in Finland (or Sweden or Norway, for that matter); it is a case of the genre label that is used in the USA, for example, being ignored.

    The Swedish word for any type of novel is “roman”, and in discussing romances and romantic fiction, the term is “kärleksroman”, which literally translates into English as “love novel”. In Finnish the term is “rakkausromaani”, which translates the same way. Thus the concept of “romances” being seen as a separate genre does not seem to have a linguistic or historical foundation in Scandinavia or Finland- the terms “kärleksroman”/”rakkausromaani” fill the need and tend to imply a happy ending. As these books are, or at least were, a decade ago, automatically shelved together with mainstream fiction and literature, I never felt the stigma of reading them.

    As tirlittan points out, however, Harlequin category romances were, then and now, a different story. (Sorry for the unitentional pun!)

  22. Like others here said, you will probably find some variation of romantic fiction in every culture, though they may not necessarily conform to US genre conventions and they may also be marketed outside the bookstore system.

    As for Germany, we have a romantic fiction tradition going back at least to the 18th century. There were many contemporaries of Goethe and Schiller (i.e. late 18th(early 19th century) who wrote popular romantic fiction, among them was Christian Vulpius, Goethe’s brother-in-law, who outsold him and wrote epic adventure romance, and playwright August von Kotzebue, who has the distinction of being mentioned by Jane Austen in “Mansfield Park”.

    In the 19th and early 20th century, there were Eugenie Marlitt who wrote gothics and Hedwig Courths-Mahler who wrote Cinderella stories. Both were extremely popular and remain in print till today. Their novels were serialized in magazines and newspapers.

    In the 20th century, you have a big subculture of romantic fiction published in magazine form and sold at newsstands, grocery stores and the like, similar to what someone reported for Norway above. The prestige of those publications is extremely low and buying one can get you funny looks. Big names for this sort of romantic fiction are Patricia Vanderberg, Leni Behrendt, Karin Bucha, Anne Altenried, Toni Waidacher, Andreas Kufsteiner, Michaela Dornberg etc… However, you won’t find in any bookstore. Harlequin’s German translations operate in the same territory, sold as little magazines in grocery stores, though some of the bigger Harlequin authors also come out in paperback. And German Harlequin translations are definitely edited for length and sometimes content like in Sweden.

    In the 1950s to 1970s you also have some very successful authors of mainstream hardcover romance, which is often more reminiscent of woman’s fiction with plots involving troubled marriages and the like. Sometimes, they also included suspense elements. Marie Louise Fischer, Uta Danella, Sandra Paretti are the writers to name here.

    At around the same time, you also had a type of social issue fiction with romantic elements. Those novels were often serialized in magazines and later republished in book form. The formula was: Take a social issues ripped from the headlines (e.g. families torn apart during WWII, Iron Curtain crossing romances, espionage stories, ecological scandals, unscrupulous journalism, boat people from Vietnam, etc…), add in a highly dramatic love story (not always ending happily) and a lot of suspense. The authors were usually male for some reason, big names were Heinz G. Konsalik and Johannes Mario Simmel. Another author in the same vein, who has been on my mind recently, was Eduard Rhein a.k.a. Hans-Ulrich Horster. German TV just adapted one of his novels from the 1950s, “Suchkind 312″ (Lost child No. 312), which got me interested in the original novel.

    The story is about a woman whose fiancé is killed in action during WWII, while she finds herself pregnant with his child. Then, she is separated from her infant daughter while fleeing the oncoming Red Army. Ten years later, she has married an ambitious middle management type, has another child and a comfortable life, though she never told her husband about her lost oldest daughter. Then, one day she sees a photo of a lost child searching her parents in a magazine and recognizes her lost daughter. The husband is furious, because his wife’s illegitimate daughter might damage his reputation, and forbids her to contact the authorities and get the child back. Of course, she contacts the authorities anyway, but there is another potential mother out there. And then, the supposedly dead fiancé returns after ten years spent in a Soviet POW camp. So definitely high romantic drama with a serious real life background of families being torn apart by WWII.

    Nowadays, you have several German chick lit writers who are very successful (Hera Linda, Ildiko von Kürthy, David Safier). There is Charlotte Link who writes romantic suspense. There are a couple of historical romance authors, mostly writing medievals, it seems. Of late, there have also been several German writers of paranormals who appeared in the wake of the Twilight boom. However, bookstores don’t necessarily have a romance section and at least one bookstore sells only translations of US novels in the romance section (all with horrid “bodiceripper” type covers, whether they match the book or not), while the German writers are in the general fiction section. Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz are often in the crime section, ditto for other romantic suspense writers. One bookstore has a section labeled “Starke Frauen” (Strong women) for chick lit, women’s fiction and contemporary romance.

    As for why there are so many translations, for a long time German publishers preferred to buy the rights to a book that had done well in the US and pay a pittance to a translator (literary translators are notoriously badly paid, particularly in low prestige genres like romance) rather than take a chance on a German unknown. This is changing a bit of late and you see more German writers, even in genres like SF and fantasy which used to be 90% translations.

  23. Some additions to Cora’s remarks about romance in Germany:
    First: E. Marlitt, the first best selling author in 19th century, didn’t write gothics at all, she wrote women’s fiction with strong romantic elements. What was special about her was that she took serious social problems and made them a theme in her novels. She wrote against some privileges of the nobility but also against capitalists without a conscience (During the 1870s in Germany was an economical situation quite similar to that what we’ve seen in the last years.), she had a heroine with a jewish grandmother and showed that there was no reason for prejudice. What I most like about her: She was an early feminist, she wrote for female education and so on! As she was widely read her influence surely isn’t to be denied totally. But as a woman and a bestselling to boot, she isn’t acknowledged by “serious” critics till today!
    Second: As I seem to be older than Cora I remember well the many German authors published in the 1950s to 1970s. In the early 80s a Judith Krantz book was a huge success in Germany (can’t recall the title, something with the name Daisy in it perhaps) and since then the American romances began to overflow the German market (Nora Roberts and so on). But during the last decade especially in the historical genre some German authors have become very successful. As in Germany the rules for romances seem to be not as strict as in the English speaking countries these books can be pure historical romances, historical fiction or a mix of both. The time periods go from medieval settings to late 19th century and the locations are spread all over Europe or even wider.

  24. Some really interesting contributions – I’d read that dissertation, Danielle C! It’d be neat to be able to read some of these books, just to get a good feel for the different conventions. Translations are happening more and more frequently, I think, especially with mysteries – Nordic mysteries are very popular, as well as Boris Akunin’s books and, of course, Stieg Larsson, to name just a few.

    Ah well. We can but wait.

  25. Pingback: Monday Morning Stepback: Jane Austen Fight Club, Metaphors, and Chocolate on My Tongue « Read React Review

  26. Philippines: there are many local publishers, like http://bookwarepublishing.com/ and http://phr.com.ph/, who release romance books written in Filipino. I say ‘books’ and not ‘novels’, because most of them are only around 100 pages in length. I’ve never read them, but I believe they are quite popular, as most bookstores have them on prominent display. They’re also cheap — they sell for the equivalent of less than a dollar (US) each. ‘Serious’ readers look down on these books, though, deeming them too ‘baduy’ or ‘jologs’ (slang for ‘low-class’). Not that I share their opinion (people should be free to read whatever they want).

  27. It seems almost every novel in Thailand is a romance of some sort! Even the ones with ghosts and whatnot. They’re mostly in the vein of old-fashioned bodice rippers though. Thais love the idea of the “taken” heroine.

  28. I read several novels written about Indian arranged marriages:

    A Good Indian Wife Anne Cherian
    The Hindi Bindi Clue Monica Pradhan
    Imaginary Men and Invisible Lives by Anjali Banerjee

    I loved all four of these and heartily recommend them.

    maggie b.

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