Romance: The Truly Modern Genre?

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 10 August, 2019

I'm currently reading Natalia Marandiuc's The Goodness of Home: Human and Divine Love and the Making of the Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) and came across a passage which interested me with regards to how popular romance is evaluated (relative to other popular genres):

“The notion that the life of production and reproduction, of work and the family, is the main locus of the good life flies in the face of what were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization,” according to which the lower forms of life were viewed in marked contrast from higher activities, be they political leadership, war heroism, contemplation, or extraordinary asceticism.


Modernity has moved the contrast somewhere else. Its new locus is in the different ways in which one can lead the ordinary life of work and close relationships—from kinship and friendship to romance and all manner of partnerships and attachments.

Romance, then, is modern because it identifies the good life in terms of human relationships. Other genres, though, perhaps cling to what "were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization": they emphasise more abstract values (e.g. justice) or former "higher" modes of behaviour such as "political leadership, war heroism". What's interesting is that despite this, romance and the relationships it values have led to it being considered a "lower form" of writing.


Marandiuc is quoting from page 23 of Charles Taylor's The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).


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