Romance writers are often looked down upon by those who read “serious literature”–and have generally never even picked up anything labeled “romance,” yet judge them anyway. And as much as we romance writers rail against that, it’s a tale as old as–well, as popular fiction.
Back–I’m talking way back–in the day, all “serious” work was written in Latin. That would include medical, scientific, philosophical, religious, and political works. But then people started writing more fun stories. Stories of adventure and love, of chivalrous deeds. (If you’ve read Don Quixote, these are the tales of chivalry that it was mocking.) These stories were meant to be accessible to the common man, so rather than being written in Latin, they were written in the common language.
Now, I daresay everyone has heard the term “romance language.” These are the languages descended from Latin (Roman). French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Back in these middle-ages days, people would refer to things written in the common languages as “romances.”
In many of the romance languages today, some variation of romance still just means “novel.” Not a particular kind of novel, just a novel.
So why did it take on meanings of love in English? Well, we extended the meaning to include the type of story told in common vernacular–a love story. This had become a solid meaning by 1660. By 1800 or so, it could mean “an adventurous quality.” It didn’t actually mean “a love affair” until 1916! And the term “romance novel” as a whole separate genre is quite new indeed–from 1964.
So really, all these genre snobs need to get off their high horse, because they are reading romances…unless, of course, they only read works written in Latin. 😉