While the term "romance" is widely used to refer to literature that tells a "love story," when used in a literary sense, the term refers to a specific kind of literature.
Romance refers to literature that tells a story of love and chivalry. In fact, the term derives from "romanz," an old French term for chivalry and love. Romance refers to stories of chivalrous acts of duty, courage, and rescue of "damsels in distress." Often romance includes heroes and knights.
Even modern day romance novels often follow this typical storyline. A female character is portrayed as a "damsel in distress"-she has a problem that she cannot overcome alone. A chivalrous, courageous male character is portrayed as her "knight" who comes along and helps her solve her problem. He "rescues" her.
The Legend of King Arthur is an example of romance. King Arthur and his knights of the round table fight heroic battles to preserve the peace of their kingdom, Camelot. In the legend, Queen Guinevere has a specific knight, Lancelot, who fights for her. The legend is that the queen falls in love with Lancelot and betrays Arthur.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is also an example of romance that has been passed down through the ages. Sir Gawain is King Arthur's nephew, and he accepts a challenge from the Green Knight. He is tempted by a lady, but remains honorable in the story.
Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennett and William Darcy. Miss Bennett's "problem" in the novel is that she had her family are poor, which affects the chances of her and her sisters to make a good match in marriage. Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth by being prejudiced to her and her sisters, invoking her pride. In the end, Mr. Darcy wins Elizabeth's favor by showing his true nature as he helps to rescue one of her sisters from shame. He uses his wealth and power to "rescue" Elizabeth and her family.
Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks is an example of a modern day romance. The female character in the novel runs away from an abusive relationship. She ends up in a small seaside town and meets a gentleman who is widowed. They become friends and then lovers, and in the end, he "rescues" her from her past when her abusive ex-husband shows up.
Literary Terms Examples