The romance genre was a popular literary form among writers and readers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but since then it has often been dismissed as juvenile, unmodern, improper, or subversive. In this study, William J. Scheick seeks to recover the place of romance in fin-de-siècle England and America; to distinguish among its subgenres of eventuary, aesthetic, and ethical romance; and to reinstate ethical romance as a major mode of artistic expression.
Scheick argues that the narrative maneuvers of ethical romance dissolve the boundary between fiction and fact. In contrast to eventuary romances, which offer easily consumed entertainment, or aesthetic romances, which urge upon readers a passive appreciation of a wondrous work of art, ethical romances potentially disorient and reorient their readers concerning some metaphysical insight hidden within the commonplace. They prompt readers to question what is real and what is true, and to ponder the wonder of life and the text of the self, there to detect what the reader might do in the art of his or her own life
The authors whose works Scheick discusses are Nathaniel Hawthorne, H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, H. G. Wells, John Kendrick Bangs, Gilbert K. Chesterton, Richard Harding Davis, Stephen Crane, Mary Austin, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Cholmondeley, and Rudyard Kipling. This wide selection expands the canon to include writers and works that highly merit re-reading by a new generation.