Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
This article highlights the gains of approaches other than that of text analysis to the study of literature. The romance is a literary genre that developed in Western culture mainly in English speaking countries. Romantic love is the essence of romantic fi ction and romances focus primarily on the love and romantic relationship between a man and a woman and have optimistic and emotionally satisfying endings. Until quite recently the idea of reading a romance often evoked derision, and there was a general assumption that the novels were read by less educated and less sophisticated women. However, romance publishing is big business in the West and also in South Africa and the question thus arises as to why this genre is singled out for ridicule. This article, which is based on a readership study of Afrikaans readers of romance novels, seeks to understand this phenomenon. After a short overview of research perspectives that focus on the association of the reader with the text, the context and results of the readership study are discussed. The study was undertaken on behalf of a South African publishing house and focuses on the demography of Afrikaans speaking romance readers, their overall reading practices and the reasons for reading romances. The investigation was loosely based on Radway's seminal study on readers of romances as discussed in her book Reading the Romance (1983). Questionnaires were included in a consignment of romances sent to members of romance book clubs. The questionnaires included, inter alia, the questions of why the respondents read romances and why these novels are preferred, or are felt to be "better" to read, than other books. One of the main themes that emerged from the responses was the women's need to escape from the unsatisfactory realities of everyday life. This corresponds directly with results obtained from other studies of the genre. However, a surprising difference with existing studies also emerged when the responses regarding what respondents were escaping from were analysed. In spite of the patriarchal environment in which Afrikaans speaking women in South Africa fi nd themselves, this was not, as was predominant in other studies, mentioned as a reason/factor from which to escape. Instead, the South African women overwhelmingly indicated that they read romance novels to escape from the realities of rampant crime and violence touching upon their everyday lives. The main contribution of this readership study therefore, in which Afrikaans romance readers indicate that through their reading of romance novels they manage to escape from an unsatisfactory, crime-ridden reality, is that it clearly shows the close relationship between reader, text and sociohistorical realities. It furthermore demonstrates that literature can also be studied for the role it plays in the life of the reader and how the reader, by means of romance texts, may cope with such contexts and/or realities.
Keywords : romance; romantic fiction; reception study; readership study; lovestory; popular literature.