We’ve all heard of historical romance novels, but there’s a new genre taking Australia by storm which, given the current trendiness of food/farming movements and back-to-the-land initiatives here, might be on its way to the United States. Called “rural romances,” these lusty reads focus on the agricultural pursuits of adventurous, intelligent female protagonists who value the environment as well as their families and independence (and who, presumably, meet a nice rural boy/man somewhere along the way). While I haven’t read one of these rural romances myself, I imagine they provide a little excitement – alongside good, traditional moral values and a fairytale ending – to women looking to live vicariously through the heroines.
According to an article in Jezebel, a satirical online news source in blog format composed by liberal, feminist, and surprisingly anthropologically-minded female writers, the rural romance genre debuted in 2002 with Rachael Treasure’s book Jillaroo. A self-proclaimed “regenerative agriculturist,” Treasure actually has a substantial professional background in farming and writing Her website is definitely worth checking out for an interesting twist on new food – or rather farming, in this case – activism. When asked by Jezebel whether other farmers read her books, Treasure noted that while people within “the culture” of agriculture comprise a large part of her readership, “I sell huge quantities in the city because people are hankering for the culture and community that rural living gives.” Farms and farming are not accessible to everyone, and rural romances are one way urbanites and suburbanites access the coveted (by some) stereotypes of life on the land.
I never thought romance novels were particularly anthropological, but the rural romance literary genre is certainly relevant to our discussion of the perceptions and values associated with rural life, how farmers may or may not play into these idealized visions when marketing themselves and their products, and the alternate entrepreneurial opportunities cash-strapped farmers can utilize for supplemental income. Some might see it as selling out, but I consider this a particularly advantageous hole in the market that creative and witty female farmers-turned-writers can fill. (You know, in all that free time they have while running full-time farming operations.)