'Reader, I Married Him': The Evolution of Romance Fiction from 1740 to the Present (EAS3225)

StaffDr Joseph Crawford - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Despite its specialised subject-matter, this module aims to use the history of the romance novel in order to tackle some fairly large questions. Where do literary genres come from? How do they become popular, and why is there so frequently a mismatch between those works which are most critically respected, and those which are most widely read? What is the role of gender in the formation of literary genres and marketplaces, and why do the lowest-status genres so often seem to be the ones which are written by and for women? How and why do modern novelists draw upon the literary heritage of the past, and does it matter if they distort that heritage in the process? By studying this module, students should gain a greater understanding of a number of crucial issues within contemporary literary studies, including: the relationship between canonical literature and genre fiction, the relationship between novels and their film adaptations, the unique problems and opportunities created by the rise of mass-market fiction and ‘best-sellers’, and the overlapping roles of gender and genre in the contemporary literary marketplace.


The module is structured chronologically, exploring the history of the prose love story from the eighteenth century to the present day. Weeks one through four deal with the ancestors of the modern romance: Pamela, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Weeks five through seven deal with novels which helped to establish the modern genre of romance fiction, and the classic film adaptations which did so much to spread their fame: The Sheik, These Old Shades, and Gone With the Wind. Finally, weeks eight through eleven deal with the development of modern mass-market romance fiction, represented here by the novels of Barbara Cartland, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Stephanie Meyer, and E.L. James. We will investigate whether we should read this history as simply one of decline, or whether we may be able to find other, perhaps more sympathetic, ways of understanding the modern romance genre and the women who read and write it. Is the romance a feminist or anti-feminist genre? What should we make of its troubling tendency to romanticise acts of sexual violence? Can we, and should we, read Twilight in the same way that we read Jane Eyre? If not, how should we read it? If a hundred million people love a book which we, as literary critics, dismiss, then what does that say about them – and what does it say about us?

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the romance genre, and a critical understanding of some of the key themes, topics and debates that emerge in the texts;
  • 2. demonstrate an engagement with significant critical debates surrounding issues such as the relationship between canonical literature and genre fiction, gender and literary status, the effects of changing economic situations on the production of literature, and the adaptation of novels into films;
  • 3. demonstrate an understanding of how the romance genre has developed, historically, from the eighteenth century to the present day;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the genre of romance fiction and its predecessors, and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context;
  • 5. demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history;
  • 6. demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, especially those of feminist criticism, and to apply these ideas to literary and film texts;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups;
  • 8. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose;
  • 9. through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.

Syllabus plan

Part 1: Ancestors


Week 1: Samuel Richardson, Pamela

Week 2: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (and one episode of the 1995 TV series)

Week 3: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (and the 1943 film)

Week 4: Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (and the 1939 film)


Part 2: Foundations


Week 5: E.M. Hull, The Sheik (and the 1921 film)

Week 6: Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades

Week 7: Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (and the 1939 film)


Part 3: Consequences


Week 8: Any one Barbara Cartland historical romance novel of the student’s choice

Week 9: Kathleen Woodiwiss, The Flame and the Flower

Week 10: Stephanie Meyer, Twilight (and the 2008 film)

Week 11: E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching33Seminars
Guided Independent Study13Viewings of set films
Guided Independent Study33Study group meetings and preparation
Guided Independent Study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study151Reading, research, and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay: analysis of a contemporary mass-market romance novel not otherwise studied on the module302000 1-6, 8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Group Presentation2020 minutes1-7, 9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay5030001-6, 8-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Critical analysisCritical analysis1-6, 8Referral/deferral period
Group presentationEITHER presentation materials and 750-word reflective piece OR essay (1500 words) on presentation topic1-9 / 1-6, 8-9Mitigation Deadline / Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-6, 8-9Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary Texts


Samuel Richardson, Pamela (Oxford)

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Oxford)

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Oxford)

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (Oxford)

Barbara Cartland, any historical romance novel of your choice (preferably one from the 1950s, if available)

E.M. Hull, The Sheik (Virago – if unavailable, a free version can be found online on Project Gutenberg, at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7031/pg7031.html)

Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades (Arrow)

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (Pan)

Kathleen Woodiwiss, The Flame and the Flower (Avon, or other editions as available)

Stephanie Meyer, Twilight (Atom)

E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey (Vintage)


Secondary Texts


Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen

Heather Glen, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës

Deborah Lutz, The Dangerous Lover

Joseph McAleer, Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon

Tania Modleski, Loving With a Vengeance

Janice Radway, Reading the Romance

Pamela Regis, The Natural History of the Romance Novel


(A full list of suggested secondary reading is available on the module’s ELE page)


ELE – http://vle.exeter.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=3836


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources: ECCO, LION, JSTOR, Project MUSE, Journal of Popular Romance Studies (http://jprstudies.org/)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Romance Fiction; Genre Fiction; Popular Fiction; Love Stories; Women’s Writing; Eighteenth Century; Nineteenth Century; Twentieth Century; Contemporary Fiction.