Novels by Danielle Steel are Not Romances

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 12 July, 2018

I recently added the following entry to the Romance Wiki bibliography

Blouin, Michael J., 2018. 
Mass-Market Fiction and the Crisis of American Liberalism, 1972–2017. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.[13] [See Chapter 3 on 'Danielle Steel and the New Home Economics' because Blouin refers to romance scholarship and describes Steel as "the undisputed master of the mass-market romance" (75). This is, however, disputed, both by many romance readers (thanks to everyone who responded to my tweets about this!) and by Steel herself, who has "insisted that her books aren't romantic fiction. 'They're not really about romance ... I really write more about the human condition,' she said. '[Romance] is an element in life but I think of romance novels as more of a category and I write about the situations we all deal with – loss and war and illness and jobs and careers, good things, bad things, crimes, whatever'." (The Guardian)

Just in case that wasn't definitive enough, here's a quote from Rita Clay Estrada and Rita Gallagher's You Can Write a Romance (1999) on the issue:

Danielle Steel-types of books aren't romances. They're known as soaps. Why? Because they're problematic - one heart-kicking dilemma after another. One life-threatening quandary after another. One tear-jerking, emotional death and divorce after another. The romance is secondary to the problems, growth and tears of the heroine. That's a soap. Danielle Steele [sic] created the written form and made it her genre. Many have followed, but few have had the success she has. (3)

---

Clay Estrada, Rita and Rita Gallagher. You Can Write a Romance. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1999.

Michael (not verified)

Friday, 10 August, 2018

While there is undoubtedly room for debate about how to classify Steel's fiction, I believe that this line of argument misses my central point. When I describe her as a "master," I'm referring to the marketing, not the substance. Her fiction has undoubtedly been marketed as "romance" (whether academics agree or disagree with this designation). More to the point, though, my chapter examines the ways in which Steel's work challenges tropes from the romance and, indeed, creates something quite different. She is hardly taken to be "representative" of the genre. I appreciate the argument over category, but I think it is a separate issue from the one that I consider.

Thanks for commenting and clarifying, Michael. The issue of genre classification mattered to me at that point because I regularly add new items to the online bibliography I mentioned at the start of my post, and it's limited to items about romance novels/refer at length to scholarship about romance novels (as defined by the RWA).

I was thinking, when I read your chapter, that it would be interesting to compare/contrast your findings with Erin Young's work on "Corporate heroines and utopian individualism: A study of the romance novel in global capitalism" (that's a link to her thesis, but she's had an article published on the topic too).