Question Ciaran Art, Media & Literature

Characterisation of Romances

How are romances characterised?

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Answer Internal Staff

The term ‘romance’ is usually applied to prose fiction from prior to the rise of the novel. Romances are thus usually missing the above elements, and pay liberal attention to various aspects of reality in their narratives. Their focus is often on portraying a grand adventure, or any other succession of dramatic deeds, usually undertaken by aristocratic characters (or, in the ‘blood will tell’ convention, those who are secretly of noble birth), and they often feature magical settings, numinous entities, divine interventions or achievements beyond the bounds of logical possibility. Many romances are also prosimetric, incorporating a mixture of prose and poetry across their text. In terms of overall story structure, it is not uncommon for romances to be episodic, moving from one adventure or conflict to another, rather than the more focused organisation of the plot around central events, characters and themes that developed in the novel. Northrop Frye analyses these and many other romance elements in his book The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (1976).

An example of romance literature in English is Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur (1485). As, even outside Europe, much prose literature of pre-industrial periods features the same characteristics, texts like Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms have been similarly designated as romances when encountered by English literary scholars.