Modern romantic novels (romans a l'eau de rose) comprise 15 per cent of all paperback sales in France. They are produced on a monthly basis to a standard format and length, much like magazines, and sell in supermarkets, railway station kiosks and corner shops as well as by mail order. Harlequin, owned by the Canadian media group Torstar, is the market leader and accounts for well over 60 per cent of sales of romantic novels. It began publication in 1978 with four novels per month and its translations of English-language contemporary romances were so successful that in six years it had reached a sales peak of 20 million books and a readership of 6 million. Harlequin's success stimulated emulation and a number of French publishers followed with locally written contemporary romances, notably J'Ai Lu (who also publish Barbara Cartland), Presses de la Cité, Jean-Claude Lattès and Tallendier.
The romantic novel is a love story, narrating the birth of an affective and sexual bond between a man and a woman. The narrative programme is organized by an initial meeting of the protagonists, usually producing a conflict between attraction and repulsion. There then follows the overcoming of obstacles, both internal and external, and a resolution which culminates in a happy ending. The roots of the theme can be traced back to Ancient Greek mythology, via medieval romances, the classics L'Astrée, La Princesse de Clèves, Manon Lescaut, The New Heloise (La Nouvelle Héloïse) and The Lady of the Camellias (La Dame aux camélias). Its modern form, however, is more usefully seen as emerging in the mass market for literature that developed in the course of the nineteenth century, in the roman-feuilleton (serial novel) appearing in the popular press, via Georges Ohnet's Le Maître de forges (The Ironmaster) and continued into this century by Delly, du Veuzit, Bernage, Magali and Anne and Serge Golon's Angélique, writers whose books dominated the field till the arrival of Harlequin. Thereafter, the dominant model of the successful romantic novel has been derived from the Anglo-Saxon world, originally based on the books of the UK publisher Mills and Boon. The bulk are based on the contemporary workplace, though recently the romantic novel publishers have added series that evoke detective fiction. The central focus of the narrative, however, remains the love conflict of the two main characters, although the social profile and position of the heroine, as well as sub-themes, evolve to reflect the constantly changing expectations and aspirations of women in our times.
b. 1910, Paris;
d. 1972, Paris