In the literary world, dark romance has carved out a niche and recently, it's becoming more and more popular. When we say 'literary world', we're referring to where a book or a piece of creative writing is depicted as literature not trash. Dark Romance, if written well, is a rich blend of passionate love stories infused with darker, often foreboding transgressive elements. The romance genre in general is experiencing a notable surge in popularity, dominating the book market with substantial growth in recent years. In 2018, the genre garnered $1.3 billion in sales in the U.S alone, accounting for a quarter of all book sales and half of mass-market book sales (source). This upward trajectory has continued, with the genre witnessing a remarkable growth of 41% in 2021 and further escalation in 2022, marking the highest sale point since 2014, as per data from NPD BookScan. Additionally, the UK observed a similar trend, recording the highest sales since the release of "Fifty Shades of Grey" in 2012, with an estimated 14.3 million copies sold from January to August in the last year, a significant increase from over 11 million sold during the same period in 2020. Industry experts anticipate this trend to persist in 2023, solidifying romance novels as a booming sector in the literary market.
But how has this genre evolved over time? This article will walk you through the historical milestones that have defined the dark romance genre, enriched with examples and deep analyses of notable works. Let's take a historical journey to understand the depths of dark romance literature and what we can predict about the future of this genre based on data.
The Genesis: Gothic Romance (18th Century)
"The Castle of Otranto" by Horace Walpole
"Mysteries of Udolpho" by Ann Radcliffe
The seeds of dark romance were planted in the 18th century with the emergence of Gothic romance. The Gothic genre is named after Gothic architecture, which is distinguished by pointed arches and flying buttresses. This architecture, which was common in old French and English cathedrals, was coupled with sensations of creepiness and fear that no one had ever experienced in a building like this before. Gothic literature tries to portray this sense of unease (source). With the publication of The Castle of Otranto in 1764, Horace Walpole is often regarded as the father of Gothic Romance. By introducing something as innocent as romance into the backdrop of a Gothic novel or film, we are left with a distressing story in which we sympathize strongly with the leads' search for love.
“It is sinful to cherish those whom heaven has doomed to destruction.” ― Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
19th Century: A Period of Blossoming
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë
"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë
As we venture into the 19th century, the dark romance genre witnessed a blossoming, with books exploring complex relationships filled with passion and darkness. Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” stands as an epitome, where love transcends life and death, weaving a complex web of passion and vengeance.
"If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day." ― Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
20th Century: Modern Complexity
"Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier
"Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell
In the 20th century, the genre matured, reflecting the complexities of modern relationships. “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier delved into psychological depths, presenting a love story shrouded in mystery and tinged with darkness.
“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say.” ― Daphne duMaurier, Rebecca
21st Century: A Diverse Landscape
"Dark Lover" by J.R. Ward
"Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James
The 21st century has ushered in a more diverse landscape for dark romance, encompassing a range of narratives that explore love in different, often controversial, shades. E.L. James's "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a testament to this evolution, painting a love story enriched with darker desires and complex dynamics.
“There's a very fine line between pleasure and pain. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other.” ― E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey
THE Rise of Dark Romances & Traumatic Narratives
In the contemporary literary scene, Colleen Hoover stands as a formidable giant, having a significant influence that spans both self-publishing and traditional publishing avenues. Last year, her literary prowess culminated in an impressive sales record of over 8 million books, resonating particularly with young adults and teenagers who are fervently reading her works, commonly referred to as "CoHo". Hoover's storytelling technique, which delves deeply into intense and emotional topics such as domestic abuse, substance addiction, and homelessness, is markedly appreciated for its hopeful conclusions, providing a sense of solace amidst the chaos.
This trend of blending romantic elements with traumatic narratives is not unique to Hoover. Authors like Ana Huang, with her "Twisted Love" series, and Abby Jimenez explore characters grappling with painful pasts, infertility, varying forms of abuse, and illnesses, expanding the thematic range in the romance genre.
Furthermore, there is an emergent popularity in the sub-genre known as Dark Romance. This niche often ventures into territories involving mafia narratives, kidnapping plots, explorations of non-consensual experiences, and even delves into rape fantasies. While treading closer to erotica at times, these stories find a substantial following, featuring heavily in romance-centric discussions and platforms like BookTok (2B views on Dark Romance Books). The appeal largely stems from the cathartic experiences these novels offer, echoing the storytelling traditions since the times of Ancient Greece. They promise intense emotional engagements, intriguing plots, and an exploration of sexual taboos.
The Future of Dark Romance Trends
Based on the data presented, it seems that the romance genre, including the dark romance subgenre, is poised for continued growth and transformation. The genre has been experiencing a resurgence in recent years, with sales and revenues reaching remarkable heights. Particularly notable is the engagement of younger readers, who represent a significant portion of the romance readership demographic. This younger audience is likely to be more receptive to dark romance novels, which often intertwine elements of passion and suspense, offering a more nuanced and potentially darker narrative compared to traditional romance stories.
Moreover, with a sizeable 46.4% of readers consuming at least one novel per week, there exists a substantial market for dark romance narratives that can captivate readers with enthralling and intense storylines. (source) The digital transformation of the genre, with a prominent preference for e-books, might foster the growth of dark romance, facilitating the accessibility and distribution of a diverse range of stories in this subgenre. Thus, the future seems promising for dark romance, likely witnessing an expansion of its readership and a proliferation of innovative, gripping narratives that appeal to a new generation of readers.
To conclude I can say that Dark romance has traveled a long road, from the haunted corridors of Gothic castles to the complex modern landscapes where love intertwines with darker elements. As we stand in the 21st century, the genre offers a rich and diverse tapestry of narratives that continue to push boundaries, inviting readers to explore the darker corners of love and passion. By understanding its historical evolution, readers and writers alike can appreciate the depth and complexity that the dark romance genre has to offer, promising a future where the boundaries of love and darkness continue to expand and evolve.
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