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Generational Divide Poll

Is there a generational divide in appeal for romance books

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I’m starting to wonder if there is a generational divide amongst readers of romance (and of writers too) wherein certain tropes appeal more to the older readers and certain tropes that appeal more to the younger readers.

I don’t mean to say that all readers/writers of a certain age fall into the “old school” v. “new school” dichotomy.   For example, I think Nora Roberts writes a very new school type of heroine: self confident, unafraid of sex, and personally powerful (if often emotionally weak).   Catherine Anderson writes old school heroines and plots as do authors like Cassie Edwards.   

I’ve come to understand that few book clubs order Paranormals.    I think that new school books are typified by the heroines you find in paranormals, particularly cross overs.

Do you agree or do you think I”m all wet?   If you agree, how do you take into account the popularity of Twilight which has, by all accounts, an old school virgin heroine?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. MoJo
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 09:46:45

    From my observations around Romancelandia, I think the “generational divide” would more precisely be described as “what year did you start reading romance novels and how old were you”?

    There are some pretty distinct dividing lines from, say “sweet nurse-doctor” to the Bertrice-Small-Rosemary-Rogers-Valerie-Sherwood rape fantasies to the evolution of the no-rape-alpha-male to the beta-male-nice-guy-next-door to the mix that we see now.

    I’d also say that paranormals let us have that Bertrice-Small-Rosemary-Rogers-Valerie-Sherwood “old skool” feel without having to deal with 21st century sensibilities re the rape fantasy.

  2. KCfla
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 09:53:58

    Well, IMVHO- I think it’s more *which* generation you come from more than anything.

    My daughter (18) and I (50-ouch!) have very similar tastes in books. She’s been glomming my keeper shelf for the last year or so, and we read almost every kind of romance novel there is. But we both agree that we really don’t care for the virgin heroine crap ( Though she did like Twilight- go figure?)

    My Mother ( 70+) on the other hand wouldn’t touch most of the books I read ( Nora is the exception here) with a 20 ft. pole! She LOVES virgin heroines, and all that old school type stuff. And she really hates anything paranormal. ( Vampire-Crap she calls it lol!)

    I know I’m just speculating here- but perhaps it’s because that’s the world she grew up in. Women were expected to be virgins back in the 40’s & 50’s. Where as I grew up in the 70’s – 80’s, and that was no longer an issue.

  3. Wendy
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:18:57

    I think “older” romance readers are more tolerant to certain themes. The one that immediate leaps to mind is when the hero wallows in a self-indulgent pity party, while the heroine is left on the sidelines, wringing her hands waiting for him to snap out of it. Or the Alpha jerk hero. Because let’s be honest – while these new editions might be jerks – they don’t hold a candle to the Alpha jerk heroes of say….25 years ago. By comparison, they aren’t that bad.

    That doesn’t mean to say that younger romance readers are immune to this sort of thing either. Hey, we all have our likes and dislikes. I’m Gen-X all the way, but I love westerns and was officially “over” the vampire/paranormal craze about three years ago.

  4. theo
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:19:01

    I don’t know that it’s so much a generational divide for me. Instead, it’s the story itself. Yes, I want a strong heroine, and they’re commonplace in contemporaries, unlike historical romance which, if it’s done accurately, would portray the heroine as a woman of her time, a virginal, somewhat submissive (in certain circumstances) and more likely to follow the alpha male through most of the story rather than grab him by the neck and drag him along.

    What I don’t see much of, which I’d really like to read, are more romances with the H/Hn in their 30’s, 40’s and even beyond! There really is life, romance and Oh Noes! Sex after the age of 27 but 27-29 seems to be the general cut off in contemporaries. I grew up in the late 60’s/early 70’s, and there are some days when I get so tired of reading about the 22 year old heroine, I want to burn the book!

    But! That’s just me. Everyone’s taste is different.

  5. Aoife
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:21:14

    I think it kind of depends on how you define “old school” and “new school.” I’ve been reading romance for over 40 years, and virgin heroines come and go, so if that is the primary way we are defining “old school,” I think that those lines are rather fuzzy. What I think of as OS might be quite different than what someone who has only been reading Romance for 10 years thinks of, so can we have some kind of discussion around how we want to differentiate the two?

  6. Jane
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:24:42

    @Aoife: Yes, yes, please discuss. My polls are always kind of off the cuff so I love reading the comments as people flesh things out.

  7. Anonymousie
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:24:57

    I think “generational divide” is too simplistic. After all, are we only talking about the heroine’s personality and “type” without considering all the stuff around her? If so, then, sure, you could look at Twilight as “old school”. But I doubt most of the generation who grew up reading virgin heroines is going to have much patience with the trappings of the story. (I should say here that I have no patience with Twilight. To me, it’s like Buffy with all the good stuff–the humor, the snap, the truths about life in high school–taken out.)

    When I started reading romances, there ones in the drugstore were Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, Harlequin “Presents” (although I think it was just Harlequin then, there weren’t all the other lines) where there was no sex, and then there were the rape fantasy books, which were primarily historicals. And sometimes, I like the no-sex books. But mostly I like romantic suspense, which often has quite a bit of sex and bad language.

    I don’t care for erotic romance, particularly, unless the story is really well done and the characters well drawn.

    On the topic of paranormals — well, I love fantasy, which pretty much destroys paranormal romance for me. I like the heroines well enough (I tend to prefer strong ones) but if you’re going to give me elements of fantasy, I want the world built completely. I don’t want a few elements tossed in without sufficient explanation or background, which is what tends to happen when people set out to write “crossover” work. The books I really like to read are those where the author writes fantasy or sci-fi with a romance element so strong that it could be shelved in romance, but the author doesn’t think of it that way, so the romance sometimes doesn’t get built out the way the world does. I can live with that far better.

    And I know some very young women — at least I think of them as young, women in their thirties and early forties — who prefer the “Presents” line of Harlequin. No sex, no language. That’s *their* fantasy, what makes *them* happy. And I don’t think that’s generational.

    So I don’t know what I am trying to say with this rambling other than that I need some caffeine!

  8. BevQB
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:27:28

    KCfla has a point, I think. While my mother (82) reads sweet romances for the most part, (although one of her favorite books of all time is The Proud Breed which gets kinda spicy), I’m about to turn 52 and I read pretty much the same things that 42, and 32, and some 22 year olds are reading- erotic romance, historicals if they have some heat, m/m, urban fantasies, paranormal, etc.

    The major differences I’ve noticed are that I also like some of the originators of spicy romances like Bertrice Small while a lot (most?) younger women don’t, and I do not read YA, while younger women seem to like a lot of it.

    So anyway, I voted ‘no”, because the divide is more between the grandmother/great grandmother generation versus the older teen/young adult generation. All the ages in between seem to have differences based on personal preferences rather than a generational difference.

  9. Monique
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:56:47

    I’m not sure how generational the divide is. I’m in my early 30s, started reading gothics – Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt. Loved those and keep in that sub-genre for a long time. I actually moved to Harlequin (and this is no joke) when the Librarian at my high school library offered me a chance to read her private stash and she is a nun. Presents in those days was very alpha males and wishy-washy women (or they hit the women). So, I got into the alpha male thing. I still like them too. But, my first love in reading were fairy tales and fantasy and I love, love, love paranormals – Feehan comes to mind. I used to read historicals like they were never going to write more; now I don’t. And, I really like Betty Neels for a change of pace. I have no problem with a virgin or a woman who is more comfortable with her sexuality. The only thing I don’t like are contemps because most of them read like chick lit and I can’t stand it. I agree with others who say that when you started reading and the types of characters has a huge influence on what you like, but I would add that what you like outside of romance is also important. For example. I think Twilight is a huge hit because the YA crowd is primed for it with Harry Potter, Eragon, etc., so the instinct to continue in a more fantasy/urban fantasy storyline is strong.

  10. GrowlyCub
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 11:09:47

    I don’t think age is the dividing factor, but personal outlook (dare I say politics, social outlook), what romances you started with, who your fellow readers were early on and where you are in your life now.

    I started reading romance over 25 years ago with Heyer, graduated to Coulter, Lindsey, Robards, Monson, Small, Putney and Howard and at 37 I am now reconnecting to some ‘old-style’ books such as the brand new Judith James’ title ‘Broken Wing’. I just posted a review of sorts on it at my LJ mentioning exactly that I like the older style feel of the book, but didn’t want to harp on that too much in fear of putting others off who may associate something different with that term than I do.

    I’ve gone through phases where I liked sweeter books, or would skip all the hot sexxoring, and other phases when hot stuff was just the ticket, the same goes with different styles of books. I’ve read super-alphas, nice betas, wishy-washy heroines or kickass ones. It all depends on whether the book is good and whether I’m in that kind of mood at the time.

    One thing I have been consistent about is, no suspense, no paranormal, no chick-lit, no women’s fiction and no other excuse for not concentrating on the character development in the romances I want to read. :)

  11. KCfla
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 11:14:41

    I know what you mean. I have a *few* of Ms. Small’s books, and those are the very few my Daughter won’t read.

    And I only have that few because my Mom has borrowed/stolen the rest lol!

  12. Darlene Marshall
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 11:38:46

    I agree with Growlycub. I think it’s personal outlook more than age. I have readers in their 30’s who say I have too much sex in my novels, and readers in their 90’s (no kidding) who say my books are just the way they like them, with lots of hot loving.

    I’m much more bothered by contemporary novels where the heroine doesn’t use contraception or prevention against disease than I am where she’s jumping from bed to bed and partner to partner.

  13. Caty
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 11:45:07

    I’m undecided on this one. There are certainly divisions, but I’m not sure whether they’re generational.

    I generally steer clear of erotic romance, I have no problem with virgin heroines, and I’m a little wary of romances that start out with one night stands or “just sex” relationships (although I’ll read them – and probably enjoy them – if they’re highly recommended). If it’s not strictly m/f, I’m not touching it with a barge pole. I avoid paranormals like the plague; the closest I’ll get is a bit of time travel or a ghost or two. On the other hand, I also have no problem with one or two very explicit scenes and heroines with some experience. I’m 30. I’m also from a fairly… hmmm… shall we say traditional background.

    I think GrowlyCub’s right about ‘personal outlook’. I think age is likely to affect personal outlook, but it’s about more than age. And I think it does depend on what you began reading when. I cut my teeth on Georgette Heyer and early/mid 1990 Mills and Boons, including more than a few Betty Neels borrowed from my mother.

    (And yes – more older characters would be good. It’s kinda odd when you reach the not precisely ancient age of 30 and realise that almost all the heroines are several years younger than you. As if I don’t get enough comments in real life about when I’m going to find a man and settle down. Remind me that there’s hope yet, please!)

  14. joanne
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 12:45:22

    I’m with Aoife since I’ve been reading Romance books for well over 40 years.
    I’m not so sure it’s a generational divide as it is a division of what’s new that you are willing to try.

    Fortunately I have young reading-fanatic female friends that drag me kicking and screaming into the many ‘faces’ of romance writing, many that I would not ever have tried if I were left alone to choose. Thank God.

    I would never have read about vampires because in my head they all looked like Bella Lugosi. Not pretty. Certainly not like the ones in today’s paranormal romance books. Guardian angels? OMG, that’s a sacrilege… until I read Meljean Brook and thought… hmmm, that’s some fun & very good sinning!

    Shape-shifters? Give me a break… and then here comes Nalini Singh winning my heart and my book buying bucks.

    I do have to “age” some heros in my head so I don’t get feeling icky about them… Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Ash is like 22? Not in my mind… he’s older just so I don’t think I’ll get arrested fantasizing about him.

    I would never have read m/m or m/f/m or all the combinations that come along if they hadn’t said see if you like this author and his/her writing. I often do.

    There are things that I personally don’t want to read about now and that’s all about my age. I’m not the least bit interested in a heroine that is around my own age and probably more importantly I don’t care why I don’t, I just don’t. (there are many perks to getting old and one of them is not giving a flip what other people think about what you’re reading). Contemporarys are a bit harder since I’m never sure if the heroine is just being current or cute. I hate cute. Always have.

    I demand the same things now from an author that I did when I was a young girl: good writing, good plot, likeable protagonists, believable sexual encounters and a HEA. To my thinking the rest is more a matter of taste then age.

  15. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 13:47:08

    And I know some very young women -‘ at least I think of them as young, women in their thirties and early forties -‘ who prefer the “Presents” line of Harlequin. No sex, no language.

    Anonymousie, there’s quite a lot of sex in the Harlequin Presents line nowadays.

  16. Kathleen MacIver
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 14:11:35

    I don’t think it’s so much a generational divide, as it is a divide in reader’s viewpoint of the world. Generation often influences it… but so does religion, upbringing, and life experiences.

    And even then… the line is very, very muddy.

  17. willaful
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 14:53:20

    In Twilight, she wants to have sex, so that makes it O.K.

    I voted yes, but I’m mostly guessing. I actually enjoy both old and new skool romance. But some of the die-hard Presents fans from years back really demand those virgin heroines, and that makes me think yes, there is a generational divide.

  18. April
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 15:36:05

    I don’t know about a “generational divide.” I think the difference in romance reading styles comes from an evolution of personal reading styles. I grew up loving the suspense/thriller romance…Phyllis A. Whitney type stories. Over the years I grew impatient with the suspense element and just wanted a good romance. I moved on to devouring Harlequins by the dozens. As that obsession waned, I found that I longed for better characterizations and more fully developed plots. Then I moved to Sandra Brown and Catherine Coulter as my go-to romance authors.

    Eventually I moved away from romance altogether in favor of straight literature.

    Now, I’m back to romance, but I won’t countenance a suspense/thriller romance (unless it’s written by Nora Roberts), I must have steamy sex scenes in my romance, and I won’t put up with a doormat for a heroine.

    My long-winded point is that individual readers develop and evolve over the years. I have no patience for the type of writing that I used to love. My daughter (12yo) and I generally enjoy the same types of YA novels–usually fantasy/sci-fi or paranormal (she can’t stand romance). But when I was 12 I loved only Anne of Green Gables, Love Comes Softly, or Little House books which she has no patience for. She did devour all my Lois Duncan books, however.

    As for Twilight…I’m usually in love with the strong female, not afraid of sex type. Bella may be a virgin in those stories, but she IS a strong female. She’s only a virgin because the love of her life is a vampire. She’s innocent before she meets him, not because the lesson of the book is chastity, but because she is young and hasn’t met THE ONE yet. I think that this series shows that there isn’t really a generational divide in romance. Mothers and daughters alike are flocking to these stories. We are all just romantic saps at heart that have developed different tastes in how the “boy gets girl” story is played out.

  19. DS
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 16:08:21

    I’ve been in and out of reading books that are romancy in nature– genre romance didn’t exist when I started reading gothics and romantic suspense in the mid 60’s. My mom had some Harlequins but I wouldn’t touch them– girl cooties, I guess. !968, Jr. High, I ran into Heyer– I actually know the year because I have my original Heyer paperbacks with the date written in them.

    I also read a lot of historical novels– Dorothy Dunnett, who I discovered at the home of a teacher I baby sat for one summer– and Elswyth Thane.

    Then I read the Flame and the Flower– I was baby sitting again when I first ran into this and was pretty repulsed by it as well as the Sweet Savage Books. I didn’t pick a romance up again until I found some in the Lady’s Lounge (this was on the plaque on the door) at my first real job after college. A co-worker brought in the ones she had read. I was quickly repulsed by running into a book where the heroine was raped by everyone on the pirate ship. It wasn’t that I hadn’t read historical novels with rape in them, it the salacious way that the rape was described.

    About 1989 I had a friend who introduced me to some of the better romances of the period– Judith Cuevas (Ivory), Laura Kinsale, Tom and Sharon Curtis, Deana James. She and I didn’t always agree on the best books– I was more into writing/plotting/characterization, she wanted specific elements of the romantic fantasy, i.e., the couple had to be married and the heroine pregnant by the end of the book. If that didn’t happen she was dissatisfied. She also like forced pregnancies which grossed me out.

    Lost track of romance again for a while then started reading it again after there started to be some honest reveiws showing up online. I mainly want something different. I don’t care about the sexual experience of the heroine as long as the book is well written, has good world building (historical or sff) and the degree of hotness of the sex doesn’t affect me as long as it doesn’t take over the plot. As for the plot I wanted it to be focused on the relationship but rarely do I want it totally focused on the relationship.

    So, no, I don’t think it is generational. All kinds of things enter in to it–education factors, socio-economic factors, fantasies– sexual and otherwise, and a lot of things that I haven’t had time to think about.

  20. Emmy
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 20:38:07

    I don’t know about a generational divide, but romance has certainly evolved since I started reading. The first romances I read were the Zebra and Avon and whatever else the Doubleday Book Club offered by Johanna Lindsey, Janelle Taylor, Cassie Edwards, etc. It featured simpering women, mostly young virgins, who largely depended on the more wordly males to make their life complete.

    Most of the more recent stuff I’ve read includes heroines who are more independent, well educated, savvy women for whom men is a wonderful surprise, but not a necessity to breathe or, you know, make them a real woman.

  21. ldb
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 22:27:35

    At 23 I love books from the 80s and 90s and tend to read very few new authors, the only nonhistoricals I’ll not think twice about buying are HQs, not Blazes (and I only say that to show I like the more old fashioned lines). So if there’s a divide I don’t help show it.

  22. Cathy
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 13:45:14

    For me it’s not so much a generational divide as global divide. I recently found out that most of my favorite Harlequin witers were from Australia & N&Z. Maybe I should try to find more writers from there. Although that may not work. When I was a teenager I got tired reading about innocent virgins and bought lots of books with widows thinking I could avoid them that way. Didn’t work. Who knew there were so many virgin widows?

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