Maya Rodale’s Top 5 Romance Novels for a Women’s Studies Course

by Maya Rodale

As an avid romance reader and writer with two degrees in the history of the genre, I’m a passionate believer that romances should be taught in school—and studied in English lit courses, writing programs and examined for what they say about politics, gender, everything! Rather than being just light entertainment, romance novels reveal the real lives, issues, passions and conflicts of the readers and authors—something I write about extensively in my book Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation Of Romance Novels, Explained. So many romance novels published over so many decades provide a launching point for discussion on a variety of issues. Here are five that I would include in a women’s studies course.

The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss 

This is the romance novel that started it all—it’s an epic and sweeping love story with some very problematic aspects, such as the rape of the heroine by the hero. This book begs for conversations on consent, dynamics between the hero and heroine, what makes a heroine or what makes a hero.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

A few decades after The Flame and the Flower, the historical romance has changed dramatically, as this novel demonstrates. Widely regarded as one of the best romances ever, Lord of Scoundrels has a smart, determined, passionate heroine (no swooning here) and a hero whose major battle is learning to acknowledge and deal with his emotions, which had been previously stifled and ignored.

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Class issues are at the heart of so many romance novels and this one, in which a poor, immigrant student and the son of a billionaire tech entrepreneur trade places explores class and opportunities in a nuanced way—without overshadowing a sweet romance. But in novels like these, why are the men so often the ones with power and money, and what would the story look like if it were switched?

Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

This romance between a heroine of color and a hero hiding his real racial identity is set in a small Nevada town in the old West. It’s a beautiful love story complicated by color and class, but also shows the power of community to empower individuals and encourage happiness.

My Lady, My Lord by Katharine Ashe

In this Regency romance with a twist, the hero and heroine switch bodies—which means they switch places in society and see how the other side lives. It’s interesting to consider what defines gender in a strictly separated society like the Regency and how that might compare to today.

 

What books romance novels would you like to read as part of a women’s studies course?

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Maya Rodale’s Top 5 Romance Novels for a Women’s Studies Course

  1. I’m not sure which ones, but I would include both an M/M and an F/F title both because they are important to acknowledge and also to discuss the way that relationship dynamics change when there are not two different gender roles to fall into. A Trans story would be useful as well. Most readers of non-M/F books are straight women, and many say they read these books (sometimes exclusively) in large part because they are fed up with the overtly, unrealistically gendered roles and misogyny they see in too many mainstream M/F books.

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  2. I took a literature class titled “Romance in Popular fiction” my last semester in college last year and the entire 15 weeks were dedicated to studying romance novels, confronting stereotypes, and discussing how they contribute to our culture and biases. During the semester we read:
    A 1970s Harlequin
    Bowen, Sarina. The Shamless Hour. Rennie Roads Books. 2015.
    Crusie, Jennifer. Bet Me. New York: St. Martins. 2004.
    Hall, Alexis. Glitterland. New Jersey: Riptide Publishing. 2013.
    Lindsey, Johanna. Savage Thunder. New York: Avon. 1989.
    Pace, Pepper. Juicy. CreateSpace. 2012.
    Reisz, Tiffany. The Siren. New York: Harlequin. 2012.

    With these books we talked about how great romance novels are, but also how the genre falls short with diversity and its own stereotypes. It was a great class and even though I had been reading romance novels since I was in eighth grade, it made me think critically of a genre that I had always stalwartly defended!

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