Here's Anita Brookner, one of my favourite writers, talking about romance novels:
"The true romantic novel is about delayed happiness; the pilgrimage you go through to get that imagined happiness. In the genuine romantic novel there is confrontation with truth and in the “romance” novel a similar confrontation with a surrogate, plastic version of the truth. Romantic writers are characterized by absolute longing—perhaps for something that is not there and cannot be there. And they go along with all the hurt and embarrassment of identifying the real thing and wanting it. In that sense Edith Hope is not a twentieth-century heroine, she belongs to the nineteenth century. What I can’t understand is the radical inauthenticity of some women’s novels that are written to a formula: From the peatbogs of Killarney to the penthouses of Manhattan, orgasms all the way! Pornography for ladies. It is not only impure artistically, it is untrue and unfeminine. To remain pure a novel has to cast a moral puzzle. Anything else is mere negotiation."
- Anita Brookner: The Art of Fiction, no.98, Paris Review
I love that distinction between "delayed happiness" and "mere negotiation"; there's something grubby implied in the latter. And all great novelists are moralists, she argues, from Eliot to James and Camus.
"I would love to be more plausible, flattering, frivolous, but I am handicapped by my expectations. Isn’t it sad?"