Romance as the genre is very old, the romance novel or romantic novel discussed in this article is the mass-market version. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."
There are many subgenres of the romance novel, including fantasy, historical romance, paranormal fiction, and science fiction. Romance novels are read primarily by women.
The term romance is also applied to a type of novel defined by Walter Scott as "a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvelous and uncommon incidents."
A thriving genre of works conventionally referred to as "romance novels" existed in ancient Greece.Other precursors can be found in the literary fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Samuel Richardson's sentimental novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and the novels of Jane Austen. Austen inspired Georgette Heyer, the British author of historical romance set around the time Austen lived, as well as detective fiction. Heyer's first romance novel, The Black Moth (1921), was set in 1751.
The British company Mills and Boon began releasing escapist fiction for women in the 1930s. Their books were sold in North America by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd, which began direct marketing to readers and allowing mass-market merchandisers to carry the books.