When I was a kid, they were called Harlequin Romances. The famous imprint, which used jacked-up male models in suggestively sexy painted cover shots with their target demo: women who read. The covers provided a kind of softcore titillation, allowing the lonely and/or literate a chance to fantasize their otherwise ordinary and uneventful life away. There, within the pages of its latest period piece pillow fight, a female could find her Prince Charming, her Royal Soldier, her ephemeral soulmate, earning a love that would sacrifice itself for her far more important wants and needs.
While names like Barbara Carlton and Barbara Taylor Bradford guaranteed sales, most of these novels where scrivener pulp, formulaic and flawed as both works of art and examples of the long form narrative craft. Still, they brought in the bucks, and with them, a fanbase always eager for more. Then, cable TV took over, introducing a little something called Lifetime to the lonely hearted. Within its gender-specific programming was a place for such specious escapes. Decades later, the network’s name has replaced the jester-based original for boo-hoo, bodice heaving bragging rights.