A History of Romance and Harlequin

A must-read article for all those interested in the history of the development of the romance novel, and in particular, the category romance, was published earlier this month at Pictorial. The article, by Kelly Faircloth, is entitled How Harlequin Became the Most Famous Name in Romance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Faircloth’s style is a wonderful combination of irreverent fan and knowledgeable feminist.

When I was in grade school, my next-door neighbor was a housewife and avid reader of Harlequin romances. She had boxes of them and was happy to share them with me. I was also an avid reader and had devoured most of the fiction in my school’s library. By the summer between seventh and eighth grade, I was out of books and growing increasingly bored. My parents did not own a television at that time and books were my favorite form of entertainment. My neighbor offered me a couple of boxes of her Harlequins that summer and, after my mother scanned a few and determined they were acceptably bland, she allowed me to accept them. I had a great time that summer, thanks to all those Harlequin romances.

Faircloth’s article finally helped me put together all of the various aspects of popular romance history. I lived through that time, but never really understood what was going on in the romance publishing world. Then, I was just looking for another romance to while away a summer evening or Saturday afternoon. But as an historian, by both training and avocation, I enjoyed learning how Harlequin rose to its position of prominence. And, I finally understand the long relationship between Harlequin and Mills and Boon. Even better, Faircloth has included more than a dozen images of Harlequin book covers over the years, as well as a couple of magazine ads they used to run. This article was a wonderful walk down the memory lane of romances for me. If you read category romances yourself, or would just like to know more about their origins, I think you will enjoy this article.

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