Reading Romance in a Crime Ridden South Africa
In the West romantic fiction is one of the most popular genres in book publishing. It is estimated that in the USA more than 50 million women are regular readers of such fiction. Romantic love is the essence of romance fiction and is portrayed as "the ultimate meaning in life, revealed in another human being" (Johnson). Radway, in her seminal study 'Reading the Romance' in which she profiles readers of romance novels, asserts that romantic fiction fulfills deep psychological and emotional needs. Women read romance novels to escape from the partriachal western world view that often leaves them emotionally untended. Romantic fiction provides an escape into a world where fantasy is truth and where emotional needs are fulfilled. In a South African study to determine the reader profile of Afrikaans speaking readers of romance novels, Radway's questionnaire was used and the findings of the two studies were compared. This paper focuses only on the motives given for reading romance novels and specifically how these motives are formed by the social context in which the reader exists. Post-apartheid South Africa, characterised by a high crime rate that affects the whole society, is taken as an example. The paper will argue that although it is accepted that reading romance novels is escapism, the social context in which they are produced and read determines why they are read. Radway's simplistic notion that romantic fiction allows women to escape from the partriarchal male dominated western society is complicated by showing that adverse social conditions may suppress? this motive.
Keywords: Romance novels, Romantic fiction, Motives for reading, Social context
Dr Cecilia Penzhorn
Lecturer, Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria
Assistant Professor, Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria