According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “romance” was originally used to mean:

“a composition in the vernacular (French, etc.), as contrasted with works in Latin.”[1]

Later, the word progressed to signify

“a medieval narrative (originally in verse, later also in prose) relating to the legendary or extraordinary adventures of some hero of chivalry.”

The word was first used in this sense in 1300:

“Romanz reding on þe bok.”

It was in the late 14th century that romance began to be used as a verb meaning “to recite a narrative”, “to be romantically enthusiastic” or “court as a lover.”[2] This usage is still common today, as the courtship stage of relationships are often referred to as the “romancing stage.” The noun “romancer” was also a frequently used in the 14th century, describing a “seducer, or wooer.” This shift towards a sexualized connotation of the word romance is the beginnings of one of its most oft used contemporary derivatives, as accusing someone of being a “romancer” usually deplores that person’s morals and self-restraint regarding carnal impulses, or to engage in “a love affair, especially one that is not long-lasting” [3].

Gaining increasing momentum from the 5th to the 16th centuries, medieval romance literature originated from early oral epic tales and the tradition of the “Chansons de Geste,” which is Old French for “songs of deeds.” A majority of source materials and inspiration for medieval romance came from ancient “mythology, legends, and folklore”, such as the Arthurian traditions, tales of which remain popular to present day. Two of the most significant ancient roman poets who influenced medieval romance literature were Virgil, the creator of the still-acclaimed Aeneid, and Ovid, who wrote several erotic poems before composing the Metamorphoses, an epic poem regarding the shifting nature of Greek and Roman mythology.“The most prominent subject matter of medieval romance literature is knightly exploits like chivalry and adventure” as well as the pursuit of romantic love, though “this aspect is not what gives the genre its name.” Some other important aspects of medieval literature are “improbable, miraculous, or even mystical events, objects, and people” as well as “elevated” or exaggerated language.[4] The most common usage of romance in the medieval era referred to chivalry, an implication that has carried into modern diction in reference to the apposite behavior of a man attempting to gain the affections of a woman.

The shift from medieval romance to the rise of the early English era of romantic literature occurred mid-16th century, with the term “romantic” being defined as “of the nature of a literary romance, characteristic of an ideal love affair.” This designation of romance “as a love story” may explain the preferential subject matter of many 16th and 17th century writers. Idealized love being the most ubiquitous theme in many of the texts from this era that still garner immense acclaim today may be seen as proof of the genre’s inexhaustible success at its inception and through the centuries.

The word romance gained new implication in the mid-17th century, as it came to signify “any of various kinds of short vocal or instrumental piece, typically simple, informal, or lyrical in character.” One example of such a usage, “We found the family in the lower room, setting in a circle (without a candle) amusing themselves in singing romances,” shows the broadened sphere in which the word romance was utilized during this period. However, the most accepted and consistent idiom of romance, which led to our modern interpretation of the word, continued to refer to the intimate interactions between two individuals.

The notion of romance as “a love affair” began at the turn of the 19th century, closely followed by the emergence of the genre “romance novels” in 1964. Modernly, the consensually accepted idiom for romance, particularly regarding literature, is that of a love story, often with idealized and glorified notions of amour.


Today, the word “romance” can be used to refer to a myriad of different nouns, as well as verbs and adjectives. It can refer to a British category of poetry (in which William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge participated), as well as a medieval tale that focuses on a chivalrous hero. For our purposes, romance is a genre of novel, poem, and song that focuses on the development of a relationship between two romantic partners. This makes sense, because the broad definition of the word “romance” is the “Ardour or warmth of feeling in a love affair; love, esp. of an idealized or sentimental kind.”

While all romance novels focus on the romantic relationship between two people, one may wonder what sets YA romance novels apart from generic romance novels? Overall, many of the elements are exactly the same. A romance novel will have “well-developed characters; sappy, authentic dialogue; believable scenarios and character dynamics; growth as a result of the romance, and assertions about the nature of love” whether it is YA romance or regular romance. [5] What seems to set YA romance novels apart from the rest is the newness or innocence that often accompanies the relationship. For example, many romance novels will include the way that the romantic couple’s sexual relations impact their relationship. In YA romance novels, “sex is often a momentous decision, as it’s usually the first time for one or both of the protagonists, and they discuss it and prepare for it in a mature (but still authentically awkward) way.”

It is always important that a reader relates to what they are reading in some way. YA romance novel readers are more likely to identify with characters who are experiencing love for the first time. Additionally, they are more likely to identify with characters when factors from adolescent life contribute to the romance. For example, “Possibly the most important thing to remember about young love is that it doesn’t always last. There are great romances, but there are also great breakups.” [6] YA romance novel protagonists do not hold steady jobs or own their own homes. There are many things about their lives that they do not have control over, and this contributes to the likelihood that the romance in which they become involved will last.

There are romances that do not have happy endings, and while in regular romance novels this is addressed in more of an adult context, in YA literature these tragic endings are often not in the protagonists’ control. This may be the reason that “sick lit” is so appealing to young adults — because it captures the tragedy of love that is ended because of forces outside of one’s control.

Overall, YA romance novels are very similar to regular romance novels, but they approach topics with more innocence and often vulnerability in an effort to better relate to the reader. The angst, embarrassment, and confusion of being a teenager all contribute to the romance. In this way, the relationships and characters are more authentic to the YA reader.


Some of the first texts to be recognized as romance literature include “Pamela” by Samuel Richardson, along with several Jane Austen novels; the unbridled, unbroken success of “Pride and Prejudice” has led many people to regard it as the best romance novel of all time. American author Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “The Flame and the Flower,” published in 1971, underwent much criticism due to its divergence from the putative standards of romance novels, which until that point had been “very chaste, with minimal physical intimacy between the characters” [7]. Woodiwiss’s controversial novel ushered in a wave of diversified romantic literature, and explicitly stated sexual intimacy moved from taboo to almost anticipated.

The romance genre “boomed in the 1980’s, with the addition of many different categories of romance and an increased number of single-title romances.”[8]

Romantic literature continues to thrive to this day, and has grown to encompass many sub-categories, with Young Adult romance being arguably the most popular division of the genre.


There has been a high degree of critical debate regarding the elements that represent an archetypal romance novel. It is generally accepted that this genre focuses primarily upon the development of romantic relationships- most often occurring between a man and a woman, but sometimes revolving around homosexual relations as well. It is also agreed that the emphasis of a romance novel should center upon the relationship, and that the rising action, climax, and resolution of the story should be dependent upon the progression of the relationship.

Leslie Gelbman, a president of Berkley Books, stated that romance “must make the ‘romantic relationship between the hero and the heroine … the core of the book.’”[9] Another widely agreed upon aspect of romance novels, particularly Young Adult romance novels, is the idyllic happy ending, although this prerequisite would exclude texts such as Romeo and Juliet, and is therefore continually challenged by scholars.

As evidenced by its broad spectrum of sub-genres, romance novels continue to grow in popularity and diversity. Young Adult romance literature has gained massive acclaim in recent years, with nearly every Young Adult novel that has become a major motion picture involving, in a high degree, the development of young relationships. These novels appeal to both genders, and all age demographics, because of their fluid adaptability to audience preference and their almost infallible deliverance of happy endings.

Works Cited

  1. Jump up Romance. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 4 Feb. 2016. <>
  2. Jump up “Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
  3. Jump up Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. “”Romance”” The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989. N. pag. Print.
  4. Jump up Medieval Romance Literature: Definition, Characteristics & Novels. 4 Feb. 2016.<>
  5. Jump up Hedeen, K. and Smith, R. What Makes a Good YA Love Story? The Horn Book Magazine. Media Source. May/June 2013. 6 March 2016.
  6. Jump up Hedeen, K. and Smith, R. What Makes a Good YA Love Story? The Horn Book Magazine. Media Source. May/June 2013. 6 March 2016.
  7. Jump up Thurston, Carol. The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1987. Print.
  8. Jump up Medieval Romance Literature: Definition, Characteristics & Novels. 4 Feb. 2016.<>
  9. Jump up Romance. Wikipedia. 4 Feb. 2016. <>