I think it’s pretty safe to assume that everyone has been to the bookstore, looked at the section of mass market paperback historical romance novels, and thought that no one under the age of 60 has ever read one of them. Well, they’re not wrong that the average age of readers does tend to skew older; however, these books are getting a bit of a resurgence from younger people on the internet, so I figured I’d give this infamous genre a try.
One of the leading authors in this genre as of late is Tessa Dare, who became popular as a result of her sarcastic and witty characters, as well as the feminist themes within her stories. Within the past couple of months, I’ve read four of her novels, and I can honestly say that I’m beginning to truly understand the hype.
I’ve now read the entire Girl Meet Duke series, consisting of The Duchess Deal, The Governance Game, and The Wallflower Wager, as well as Say Yes to the Marquess. All of these books are in a series of standalone novels that can be read in any order but have interconnected characters. They are each charming stories in dual perspective following a couple falling in love in the 1800s.
The Girl Meets Duke series follows a group of misfit women who are on the outskirts of society, as they fall in love with wealthy, infamous Dukes. These stories put an interesting twist on a variety of tropes, such as a marriage of convenience, enemies to lovers, and a nanny romance, all whilst denouncing sexist aspects of historical and present-day society. While these stories aren’t for everyone, the “trashy” label they have earned is unjustified and only coming from people who haven’t read them.
So, if these novels can be so much fun, why do people not want to read them in public or talk about them? Well, the answer includes many different factors, including the admittedly cheesy covers, but in reality, the issue is also deeply rooted in misogyny.
Romance novels in general are typically written by women for women, which as a result has carried a lot of stigmatization and misogyny that I did not realize I was a part of. Similar to pumpkin spice lattes, leggings, and UGG boots, these types of historical romance books have been ridiculed by both men and women alike. However, if those people actually took the time to read these books, instead of literally judging a book by the cover, they could realize that these books often explore themes of relationships and society in a thoughtful manner. While destigmatizing romance novels might not instantly dismantle the patriarchy, it’s at least a start.