Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast

22. The Romance Canon

This is a big ol’ podcast: we start out talking briefly about novellas and short digital reads that Jane liked, but our main topic is the canon. What romances form the genre’s canon for historical, contemporary, and paranormal? We talk in circles a good bit (sorry about that) and we discuss what a canon is, and why it means different things to different groups. Writers and readers, for example may have different ideas of what their romance canon would be.

I’m sure there’s many writers you think have been left off, and so if you’d like to add or subtract from our list, you can email us at

Or, and this is new, you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-DBSA. If you want to tell us why we’re wrong (or right!) about something, leave us a message, and please don’t forget to give us a name and where you’re calling from so we can work your message into our next podcast.

The music this week is, as always, provided by Sassy Outwater, and yes, we are all about the peatbog! The track is called “Room 215” and it’s by the Peatbog Faeries from their albums, which are available at their website. You can find them at iTunes as well.

If you like the Podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us at PodcastPickle.

Here are some of the books we mentioned in this week’s edition:

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  1. library addict says:

    I tend to think of canon more in terms of authors than individual novels. And I would include Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Sandra Brown, Christine Feehan, Linda Howard, Tami Hoag, Kathleen Woodiwiss, LaVyrle Spencer, Loretta Chase, Judith McNaught, Julia Quinn.. I’m sure I’m leaving some out, but these are all authors who influenced trends.

  2. SB Sarah says:

    That was our focus, too, on authors as well as some books that did Big Huge Things. And your list overlaps with ours quite a bit!

  3. Rebecca Frost says:

    Pamela: Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson is definitely one of forced seduction/outright attempted rape from the 18th century.…

  4. I listened to some of the podcast last night and I found the discussion about defining erotica or erotic romance very fascinating. It is hard to define.

  5. Unless I missed something, which is quite possible because I was listening to the podcast while making this list, I don’t think you’ve mentioned any UK authors/romances apart from E. M. Hull’s The Sheik (1919). Maybe that’s because you’re focusing on the “shared experience” of US authors (and as a UK reader, I haven’t read many of the novels/authors you discuss). However, if you’re thinking of the “canon” in terms of important authors and books in the history of the popular romance I’d suggest you might want to include:

    Georgette Heyer – An extremely important influence on historical romance, whose influence has been acknowledged by a lot of authors writing today, including Stephanie Laurens, who was mentioned in the podcast. Oh, and Heyer has a heroine who tells two twins apart in False Colours.

    Barbara Cartland – She took a very mystical/spiritual approach to love which possibly edges close to the idea of “fated mates.”

    Mary Stewart – She wrote quite a few romantic suspense romances, including Madam, Will You Talk? (1954), and there’s a paranormal element in Touch Not the Cat.

    Mary Burchell – She wrote lots of Mills & Boon/Harlequin romances, including a sequence of category romances (the Warrender Saga, 1965-1985) which featured recurring characters.

    Lucilla Andrews – According to Mary Cadogan, “Lucilla Andrews did not exactly create the modern nurse and doctor romantic drama but she has done a great deal to shape and influence it. Her first books appeared in the mid-1950s and they continued into the 1980s” (266).

    Cadogan, Mary. And Then Their Hearts Stood Still: An Exuberant Look at Romantic Fiction Past and Present. London: Macmillan, 1994.

  6. library addict says:

    I finally finished listening to the podcast (too many interruptions from real life). I think one of the reasons Nora Roberts is canonical is because she’s written so many different types of books which has led her readers to explore many subgenres they may never have picked up if not for her. So while I agree with Jane that there aren’t many writers one can point to and say “she writes like Nora Roberts” I do think her books have a great influence on many readers.

    Are you going to publish your list(s)? I think it was a fascinating discussion and wish it could have been longer.

  7. SB Sarah says:

    I was reading your list thinking, I know we mentioned Heyer and Cartland – and realized it had been edited out because we’d gone off on so many tangents, and that was one of them. You’re right – our list is US-centric, though I confess to not knowing the country of origin of many authors. I am sorry that Heyer and Cartland were edited out though. A mistake on my part, to be sure.

  8. SB Sarah says:

    We can publish it, sure. It’s certainly a work in progress as there isn’t a definitive canon nor is there only once source for what could be on it! I think it would be interesting to see what authors would say as to who influenced them, vs what readers saw as influential to the genre.

  9. Anna Cowan says:

    I was quite surprised Susan Elizabeth Phillips didn’t make the list. I don’t read much contemporary, but she’s the author who’s synonymous with that genre for me. Is there a reason she wasn’t mentioned? Does she fall in the popular-but-not-game-chaging category?

  10. Anna, I think SEP did get a mention, but right at the very, very end of the podcast. Jane had sent Sarah an email about her, after they’d finished recording the main part of the podcast.

  11. ducky says:

    Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer to me are the roots of romantic suspense and historical romance as I define them at the core.

  12. Terrie says:

    Very interesting.  I think, as others have noted, that Georgette Heyer has to be on a list of canonical writers.  I think she pretty much created the regency romance as a genre (as opposed to the literary focus of Austen).  Beyond that, it strikes me that a lot of historical romance is following that line, so she exists not only as an influence but a significant generative power.  When you asked the question, would romance look the same without Nora Roberts, I really thought about Heyer: what would the romance genre look like if there had been no Georgette Heyer?  Significantly different, perhaps to the point of non-recognizeable.  I think Heyer’s influence extends into contemporary writers as well—I’d suspect a writer like Susan Elizabeth Phillips for the way that Heyer combined romance and comedy specifically in the banter of the romantic leads. 

    Anne Stuart might be influential for the intensity of her dark heroes. 

    For me, some of the influence of writers like Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz is in the strength and independence of the heroines.  There is a certain feisty feet on the ground pragmatism (combined with humor, particularly in Krentz) that for me was a real turning away (thank you) from the victimized heroines of a lot of books preceding them.

  13. SB Sarah says:

    Yes, SEP got a mention, right at the end.

  14. rachel says:

    Jane!!! I have never met anyone who hated Bet Me but liked Welcome to Temptation other than me! It has such an obsession with weight and eating for a book about being comfortable with your body size and shape.
    Reading Whitney My Love in junior high turned me off romance until I was in my late twenties.

  15. BeretBrenckman says:

    Every great author did start in category, I totally agree.  I think Nora did the interconnected stories before Brockman.  Think MacGregors, Stanislaskis and Mackades.  Someone you didn’t mention in new canon supernatural:  Nalini Singh. 

    Also, what about?

    Warprize by Vaughn (supernatural)

    Dudes!  The Flame and the Flower!  Why are so many boys from the 70’s and 80’s named Brandon!? Because of the F&TF!

  16. Julie M says:

    I didn’t listen to the podcast yet –  but my father picked up “Change” by Ann Maxwell in the Sci-Fi section of the book store back when I was an early teen, then gave it to me after he read it thinking, I assume, that I’d like it. I loved it, prior to that I was reading Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart. I didn’t know that Ann Maxwell / Elizabeth Lowell was writing other books till I was in my twenties. By then I’d discovered Jude Deveraux and Jayne Ann Krentz, but Maxwell / Lowell would be canon for me, maybe you included her. I’ll have to listen and see.

  17. Julie says:

    I agree with Laura that I was surprised at the exclusion of UK authors such as Heyer, Holt and Stewart. Georgette Heyer influenced a vast majority of historical romance writers today. The traditional Regency romance genre owned its existence pretty much to Heyer. I’ve read countless interviews with romantic suspense authors, such as Elizabeth Lowell, Anne Stuart, Jayne Ann Krentz and Sandra Brown, who all stated that writers like Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and American authors like Barbara Michaels, Phyllis A Whitney were huge influences on them.

    I think UK category romance authors such as Charlotte Lamb, Anne Mather, Anne Weale and Penny Jordan should be on that list, too for changing the landscape of category romance, as well as introducing issues such as emotional and physical abuse and gender politics into their books.

  18. Anna Cowan says:

    oops! I’ve still only managed two thirds, but assumed it wouldn’t come back around to contemporary. Will finish listening before flinging any more accusations 🙂

  19. SB Sarah says:

    You’re right, and totally my error that Heyer wasn’t in the podcast. As I said upthread, she was part of a tangential discussion and I edited her out, thinking she was mentioned elsewhere. My fault entirely!

  20. Taylor Reynolds says:

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet (stoopid job!) but I’d have to add Lindsay McKenna if you didn’t mention her. She virtually created the military romance genre back in the ‘80s as a military veteran herself and I think much of the action/adventure/spy/SEAL/Special Forces/mercenary plots, tropes and characters we see now can be traced back to her. It took awhile for that action/military plot to start to really interest readers, especially in the Harlequin and Silhouette lines, but by the ‘90s you had Linda Howard and Debbie Macomber bringing military themes into their books. Candace Irvine and Merline Lovelace also gained popularity then and they are both military veterans as well.

    (Clearly, I have an agenda here and I’m passing out the love to all my sister veterans 🙂

  21. Lynnd says:

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet, but I would have to agree that Victoria Holt definitely should be on that list.  So many women of my generation (mid 40s) developed their love of the romance genre (particularly historical and gothic) as a result of Ms. Holt (and her other personas – Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr).

    I would also love to see a written list of the cannonical authors/books.

  22. Again, though, I think you could see precedents for this type of romance in older authors than the ones discussed in the podcast. Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army are historical military romances. I haven’t yet read Jane Potter’s Boys in Khaki, Girls in Print: Women’s Literary Responses to the Great War 1914-1918 but I know she discusses some contemporary romances which dealt with the War. Ethel M. Dell’s The Way of an Eagle (1912) was a hugely successful action romance. Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground is an action/adventure/spy romance. And what about Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel? I wonder if that’s the source for so many of the aristocratic spy romances we have today.

  23. Taylor Reynolds says:

    Good point, Laura! And I have a couple more titles to add to my TBR pile 🙂

  24. Rae says:

    I’m listening as I type, so you may mention this later…with the NR novels, with her more recent titles there are references back to some of her earlier novels (see Chesapeake Blue & Face the Fire using a CD produced by Darcy of Heart of the Sea)…so there’s call backs that prove it exists in the same “world” but it isn’t overlapped like JR Ward is. The world-building like JR Ward and such drives me batsh!t crazy because there’s all these asides that you can’t just pick up any of the books without having read the others. World building, such as you see it in SciFi, is not well done regularly in Romance—in my experience—where you can pick up a book by an author and KNOW what is going on in the world but not feel like you’ve lost something completely by not having read all the novels. For ones with a shadow of romance, see the Pegasus series by Anne McCaffrey (well, until the Rowan books, where you really should read all of them…but they do stand alone), Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, Borchardt’s werewolves… sigh.

  25. Tensy says:

    This is not romance book related, but when I was in high school in the early seventies, the soap opera Dark Shadows (which is coming out soon as a Johnny Depp parody) was my first exposure to paranormal romance. My sisters and I were totally addicted to the soap and ran home from school to start it on time. So when my daughters got addicted to Twilight series, I totally understood the attraction.

  26. Emily says:

    I’d add Joanna Bourne to the list I can see.
    I have no idea how to listen these podcasts. Its REALLLY frustrating as a fan, because I feel like I missing out on the most interesting book discussions going on either blog. 

  27. Linda Hilton says:

    Another non-podcast-listener here (technologically challenged), but just the names mentioned as missing here bring up a huge question in my mind:  how is a “canon” defined?  And how is this particular canon defined?  What are the criteria for inclusion?  Is it only seminal works, or is it any works/authors that match the criteria?  I’d agree that Heyer and Cartland are essential, along with their prototype Austen, but if Austen is included, doesn’t that push the time frame back, and does that not then suggest that there’s a whole 19th century lacuna? (And even more, if Richardson and Fielding are included, taking the history back to mid-18th C. and bringing into consideration at least Dale Spender’s “Mothers of the Novel”)) 

  28. Sarah says:

    There should be a “play” button in the entry to listen on your computer. Do you not see it? I am sorry you feel like you are missing out and would like to help if I can.

  29. Linda Hilton says:

    Woo hoo!  Thank you Sarah!  Though I must say it took my technologically challenged little literal brain to figure out what to look for as a “play” button, since nothing had the word “play” on it:  On my computer it’s a little pink triangle-that-points-to-the-right next to a speaker icon, underneath all the sample covers.  I’m sure no one else is as, uh, challenged 😉 as I am, but just in case. . . .look for the little arrow/triangle.  Bingo!  (I love days when I learn something new about technology, no matter how trivial.)

  30. CK says:

    I agree with many of the names mentioned in the podcast, but I disagree with several as well. I think some are popular authors who have good books but are not canonical. I think part of my problem is that my view on canon is probably different than yours. I was really surprised that there was no mention of McCaffrey and Lackey (since Rice and Hamilton were mentioned) because to me they were incredibly influential in how I view romances even though I’ve never considered their books traditional romances.

  31. SB Sarah says:

    Yup, that’s it! I should add a “Click here to play” direction above it – my apologies that it wasn’t obvious!

  32. Tracie says:

    I wonder if Julie Garwood would be considered a canon of the more humorous historical which would predate Julia Quinn.

  33. Christy in NC says:

    I definitely agree that you really must include Heyer and Victoria Holt. For more recent (80s and 90s) Regencies, I think you have to include Mary Balogh. I feel like her Regency world has been a huge influence on many, many others.

    I don’t much care for Nora Roberts now, but in the 80s I devoured her books because of her hero viewpoints. I agree that that aspect of writing alone makes her canonical.

    IMHO, SEP is the greatest at contemporary romantic comedy and should definitely be in there.

    Finally, I completely agree with Jane about not liking Bet Me. I was surprised how much I liked The Cinderella Deal, because I’d just assumed I didn’t like Jennifer Crusie. I’d agree with putting her in the canon though. You don’t have to like them for them to be influential.

    I think you’d absolutely have to include Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in the canon. Talk about your tortured heroes! Romance truly wouldn’t be the same without the Bronte sisters.

  34. Sofia Harper says:

    I’ve read tons of Nora so I’m sort of surprised it’s thought that she’s never written a connected series outside of the trilogies. Went to look it up and there are 15 MacGregor stories in all(But that could be wrong). Also, I’ll agree with the person upthread who said that her niche or contribution is the amount of genres she’s written.

    Now I’m writing this and haven’t listened to the full podcast, but I’d add Catherine Coulter to the mix on the historical side.

    Lastly, I’d add that maybe some of these authors were popular because they were doing something fresh and different within the genre. But that argument could lead to a chicken or the egg circular ideal. Anyway, really interesting discussion.

  35. Linda Hilton says:

    Thanks for the podcast.  Very interesting start to what could be an ongoing conversation.

    I won’t clutter up your blog with my comments.  I already cluttered up mine instead.…


  36. Deslivres says:

    betty neels! But is she canonical? Hugely read – but how influential?

  37. Deslivres says:

    oh. that little pink triangle thing. I’ve been galloping off to iTunes because I couldn’t find any link on the blog post.

  38. I did think about mentioning Neels but I’m not sure that anyone’s tried imitating her. I think she pretty much had a monopoly on Dutch doctors. Violent Winspear was also very prolific and was certainly notorious for a while due to her comments about writing heroes “who frighten and fascinate” and are “the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be left alone in the room with.” I’ve certainly come across more than one novel of hers in which the hero forces an unwilling heroine into a marriage which he insists must be consummated, and I think she repopularised sheikh heroes so perhaps one could think of her as a bridge between E. M. Hull and the bodice-rippers of the 1970s. Charlotte Lamb pushed boundaries and I think McAleer mentions that other authors copied her approach to writing more explicit depictions of sex. I vaguely recall some HM&B authors mentioning that they were influenced by Jane Donnelly, though she probably isn’t a name that would spring to the mind of many readers as a major figure in category romance.

  39. SB Sarah says:

    I’m sorry you galloped to iTunes. I will add a “press play!” mention above it so it’s more obvious. My apologies!

  40. Teresa says:

    I’m not sure what it means that my favorite authors seems to be non-canonical: Connie Brockway, Anne Stuart, Loretta Chase and Julie Ann Long come to mind. I like to think its because their voice is so unique it’s hard to replicate.

    I would put Nora in the canon for this reason: I think her ability to write characters which exist in a “real” world positively influences all of contemporary romances.

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