Popular romance novels are a twentieth- and twenty-first century literary form defined by a material association with pulp publishing, a conceptual one with courtship narrative, and a brand association with particular author-publisher combinations. The theme of romantic love in romance novels forms the basis of a drama involving the extra-private worlds of the protagonists (financial, civic, and familial). The framework of the romantic relationship allows the genre to study the challenges these spheres face over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A comprehensive look at the genre's history and diversity, as well as its reception in different readership communities, undergirds this analysis of three tropes involving the romance hero--capitalist, soldier, and heterosexual. The analysis proves the genre's struggle with an economic, political, and social ideology that has gathered force over the last hundred years. Though popular as well as academic critiques of the genre disparage its formulaic sexual content or its attachment to the ideology of middle class morality, its very nature as "commodity literature" helps challenge conservative thought on capitalism, national defense strategies, and sexual orientation.
The dissertation also considers the impact of the dust jackets and paperback covers of romance novels on non-romance readers. A survey of this material history suggests that it has contributed to derogatory opinions on the genre; in particular, the genre has been indicted because of the "bodice-ripper" covers that adorn many romance novels rather than for the actual content. A look at reader and author discussions on the genre, alongside textual analysis of selected works, proves that romance fiction is not fixated on a clichéd plot and descriptions of sexual intercourse; it involves complex themes that are disguised as stereotypical genre elements. Readers' online debates demonstrate how this romance "formula," albeit a function of the genre's commodification, engages them in addressing quandaries related to societal preoccupations. The concluding study of romance reading in India further supports the possibility of multiple, even liberating, readings that can empower romance readers.