...a 2005 poll by the RNA revealed that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, first published in 1813, still stands as the most romantic novel of all time.
I'm always curious about such things, so I checked out The Romantic Novelists Association's Valentine's Day poll, a survey of their membership which found its top ten "most romantic books of all time" to be:
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
4. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
6. Katherine by Anya Seton
7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
8. Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy
9. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
10. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
Clearly, RNA members believe that the only good romance novelist is a dead romance novelist. That strikes me as hilarious because RNA is an organization (perhaps I should say "organisation," since they're British) of about 700 professional and aspiring romance novelists. I can't help wondering if they're all eager to publish and perish so they can get famous.
Let's take another look at that list. Virtually all of the books on it are assigned reading in high-school or college-level English classes on this side of the pond, and I'm guessing it's the same for the Brits. That means the "winning" books had not just one, but two advantages over books by contemporary novelists like, let's say, Nora Roberts. I'm not a Nora fan, so I don't know which book is widely considered to be her magnum opus. But whatever that book is, did it have a fighting chance to make the top ten of this list?
No, it didn't, and here's why: First, more people have read Pride and Prejudice than have read Nora's best book. P&P has been around longer, for one thing, but the main reason more people have read it is simply that it's considered a classic novel while "genre fiction" like Nora's best book is usually dismissed by the literati and educators as trash. My high-school English teacher told me Jane Austen was a great novelist, but she never said a word about Nora Roberts (and if you haven't picked up on this yet, I'm using Nora to represent whomever you feel is the best contemporary romance novelist). So if we ask the average reader to name the best romantic novel of all time, she's going to say Pride and Prejudice because that's what she's been trained to think. And she's going to stick to that answer even if she hasn't read Pride and Prejudice since high school but she's read the best Nora Roberts book ten times in the last ten years because it always makes her feel so good.
What do you think? Is Pride and Prejudice the best romance novel ever written? Before you answer in the affirmative, are you absolutely certain there's not a single contemporary romance (or novel with romantic elements) that you think more highly of?
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