Ravishing the Reader: Examining Contemporary Pleasure in Historical Romance Novels

Publication Date

April 2015


Ruth Nisse


College of Letters


English (United States)


Romance novels offer a fantasy; they invite readers to step outside of their reality and away from their real-world problems. Historical romances, in particular, present an escape from contemporary society. They offer highly structured fantasies set in the past, which operate around the rules and customs of that time, though it must be noted that historical accuracy always takes a backseat to the romance plot. This thesis focuses specifically on heterosexual historical romance novels set in and around the English Regency and marketed to a contemporary American audience of mostly women. The Regency has been a popular setting for romance since the Regency itself. It is a period marked by strictly defined gender roles that allow men far more agency than women and give women few options besides marriage. Using Simone de Beauvoir’s theory that women have been historically characterized as the “Other” in society, I analyze the ways in which historical romance novels make women the “Subject” of the story and of their own lives, even as they are constrained by their society. This thesis investigates three issues, the arrogant hero, the independent heroine, and the happy ending as they relate to their historical setting and the pleasure they give contemporary readers.

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