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Study information

'Reader, I Married Him': The Evolution of Romance Fiction from 1740 to the Present

Module title'Reader, I Married Him': The Evolution of Romance Fiction from 1740 to the Present
Module codeEAS3225
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Joseph Crawford (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module explores the history of the most commercially successful and least critically respectable of genres, the romance novel. While romance only took on its modern form in the 1930s, romance writers have always drawn upon the models provided by older fictions. This module maps out the historical links which connect Richardson, Austen, and the Brontës to their modern imitators and successors, investigating what has been changed, gained and lost along the way, in order to uncover how and why the popular love story has come to occupy such a controversial place within contemporary fiction. This module has no pre-requisites.

Module aims - intentions of the module

• This module aims to use the history of the romance novel in order to tackle some fairly large questions. Where do literary genres come from? How do they become popular, and why is there so frequently a mismatch between those works which are most critically respected, and those which are most widely read? What is the role of gender in the formation of literary genres and marketplaces, and why do the lowest-status genres so often seem to be the ones which are written by and for women? How and why do modern novelists draw upon the literary heritage of the past, and does it matter if they distort that heritage in the process? By studying this module, you should gain a greater understanding of a number of crucial issues within contemporary literary studies, including: the relationship between canonical literature and genre fiction, the relationship between novels and their film adaptations, the unique problems and opportunities created by the rise of mass-market fiction and ‘best-sellers’, and the overlapping roles of gender and genre in the contemporary literary marketplace.

• The module is structured chronologically, exploring the history of the prose love story from the eighteenth century to the present day. We will investigate whether we should read this history as simply one of decline, or whether we may be able to find other, perhaps more sympathetic, ways of understanding the modern romance genre and the women who read and write it. Is the romance a feminist or anti-feminist genre? What should we make of its troubling tendency to romanticise acts of sexual violence? Can we, and should we, read Twilight in the same way that we read Jane Eyre? If not, how should we read it? If a hundred million people love a book which we, as literary critics, dismiss, then what does that say about them – and what does it say about us?

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the romance genre, and a critical understanding of some of the key themes, topics and debates that emerge in the texts.
  • 2. Demonstrate an engagement with significant critical debates surrounding issues such as the relationship between canonical literature and genre fiction, gender and literary status, the effects of changing economic situations on the production of literature, and the adaptation of novels into films.
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of how the romance genre has developed, historically, from the eighteenth century to the present day.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse genre fiction and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, especially those of feminist criticism, and to apply these ideas to literary and film texts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Through group work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in teams.
  • 8. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 9. Through research for essays, and presentations, demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:
The syllabus will move chronologically through the history of romance fiction. The first four weeks will be devoted to canonical eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts such as Pamela, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights, which strongly influenced the subsequent development of the romance genre. The next three weeks will examine best-selling authors such as E.M. Hull and Barbara Cartland in order to explore the emergence of the romance as a genre of mass-market popular fiction in the early twentieth century. Finally, the last four weeks will investigate the ways in which the romance genre has developed since the 1950s, with special reference to the subgenres of queer romance, young adult romance, and ‘chick lit’, in order to chart out its current trajectories and speculate on where the romance may go from here

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching33Seminars: weekly lectures and seminars devoted to the main readings in each week
Guided independent study13Viewings of set films
Guided independent study33Study group meetings and preparation
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study151Reading, research, and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay302000 words1-6, 8Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Group presentation (groups of 4-6)2030 minutes1-7, 9Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Essay503000 words1-6, 8-9Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-6, 8Referral/Deferral period
Group presentationEITHER: Presentation materials and 500-word reflective piece OR: Essay (750 words) on presentation topic1-9 / 1-6, 8-9Mitigation Deadline / Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary Texts:
• Samuel Richardson, Pamela (Oxford)
• Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Oxford)
• Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Oxford)
• Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (Oxford)
• E.M. Hull, The Sheik (Virago – if unavailable, a free version can be found online on Project Gutenberg, at
• Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades (Arrow)
• Barbara Cartland, any historical romance novel of your choice (preferably one from the 1950s, if available)
• Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt (also sold as Carol) (Virago)
• Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary (Picador)
• Stephanie Meyer, Twilight (Atom)
• Kennedy Ryan, Long Shot (Scribechick)

Secondary Texts:
• Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
• Heather Glen, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës
• Deborah Lutz, The Dangerous Lover
• Joseph McAleer, Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon
• Tania Modleski, Loving With a Vengeance
• Janice Radway, Reading the Romance
• Pamela Regis, The Natural History of the Romance Novel

(A full list of suggested secondary reading is available on the module’s ELE page)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

• ELE –

• Project MUSE
• Journal of Popular Romance Studies (

Key words search

Romance Fiction, Genre Fiction, Popular Fiction, Love Stories, Women’s Writing, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, Contemporary Fiction

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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