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Romance and Its Reception

Romance and Its Reception

(p.26) One Romance and Its Reception
The Danger of Romance
Karen Sullivan
University of Chicago Press

While the word “romance” emerged in the twelfth century to refer to a series of relatively lengthy, narrative literary works in the vernacular tongue, it was only after the Middle Ages had come to a close that these works were conceived as a literary genre. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the “old romances” of the Middle Ages were grouped with contemporary Italian heroic poems, French heroic romances, and Spanish books of chivalry. In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, all of these romances were redefined in relation to novels, whether as a point of comparison or contrast. For its critics, romance lacks utility, imparting no lesson; it lacks verisimilitude, failing to represent people as they are; and it lacks realism, “idealizing” or “romanticizing” the world it portrays. For its defenders, romance imparts a lesson, though indirectly; it represents people as they should be and, in doing so, inspires them to better actions; and it represents people as they yearn to be, despite the confines of their environment. Though this conceptualization of romance is posterior to the Middle Ages, it necessarily informs how we read medieval romance and it articulates what are, in fact, attributes of this body of literature.

Keywords:   romance, novel, history of romance, history of novel, reception of romance, reception of novel, idealization, realism

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