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Characteristics of Romance Fiction in Relation to BH+KJA

Posted: 27 Jan 2013 19:54
by Jodorowsky's Acolyte
I'm currently taking a Grad class on American literature, and we've just read The Last of the Mohicans. My instructor listed all the characteristics of the genre which Cooper's novel fell under, which is romance literature. Not romance as in love story, but as in ideal adventure story. (By the way, LotM also uses quotations at the beginning of each chapter, like our favorite Dune and Watership Down.) Since I recognize a few of these traits still being used in current pulp sci-fi, the Star Wars expanded universe novels, and the BH+KJA Dune continuations, I thought this might interest the rest of my sietch.

The characteristics of romance include:

*Action preferred to character.
*Action not restricted by reality.
* 2-dimensional characters.
*Relations narrow, but deep (obsessional).
* Extraordinary, astonishing events.
*Characters embody single trait.
*Focus on now, cut off from the past, which explains isolation.
*Character is vehicle of plot.
*Modern Epic.
*Aspires to loftiness of poetry.
*Physical difference is exploited to grotesque.
*Very manipulated plot (i.e. Being constantly recaptured by villains).
* Contradiction resolved in melodrama or pastoral idyll.

All of these traits were taken out of James Fenimore Cooper's novels, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter, but I'm amazed how a handful of these traits are used into current pulp sci-fi today. A couple of these traits Frank used (such as the grotesque physical difference, and focus on nature and isolation), but most of the traits I recognize in the current Dune series. BH+KJA don't write like Cooper or Melville, but their characters are limited, the relationships are narrow, and they often opt for melodramatic resolutions. Other sci-fi novels, especially Steve Alten's, have used a bunch of these traits. Twain's article on Cooper's "Literary Offenses" also applies to this kind of pulp fiction, but that's another matter.
That's about it.

Re: Characteristics of Romance Fiction in Relation to BH+KJA

Posted: 28 Jan 2013 15:35
by Naïve mind
And here I was hoping for an interesting revelation about the relationship between KJA and Harlequin publishers ...

More seriously, I believe that lists of characteristics like these are essentially the formalization of a mechanism for social exclusion. They start out as a way for the true connaisseurs of Literature to distinguish themselves from the unwashed masses, and the scholars then take these vaguely defined categories ("novels that people like us like", "novels that people like us admit to having read as a child", "novels that people like us would never read or enjoy", etcetera) and try to distill them into characteristics, creating meaning where there is none, and putting up boundaries where there is really only a continuum.

(Obligatory bit of self-awareness: This very forum is a social community founded on the basis of rejection of a certain kind of literature)

According to the definition below, Dune is obviously a romance novel, and I think there is nothing wrong with that. But NuDune also falls into the romance category. Can we really claim that this categorisation captures the most essential differences between different works of literature?

As the journalist and Literary scholar Karel van het Reve once pointed out: "There would be real merit to Literary scholarship if it tried to investigate what it is that makes a novel good. But the very idea seems to be abhorrent to its practitioners."

Re: Characteristics of Romance Fiction in Relation to BH+KJA

Posted: 28 Jan 2013 18:47
by Jodorowsky's Acolyte
I like how you're mind works, Naive Mind. You are one cool intellectual Mentat-Fremen dude.