According to my Harmon and Holman A Handbook to Literature, “romance” has had a special meaning in terms of literature since the beginning of the novel. As opposed to a “novel,” a term which suggested realistic manners and society, a “romance” was more unlikely to happen in reality.
In common usage, [romance] refers to works with extravagant characters, romantic and exotic places, highly exciting and heroic events, passionate love, or mysterious or supernatural experiences. In another and more sophisticated sense, romance refers to works relatively free of the more restrictive aspects of realistic verisimilitude. (“Romance,” page 450, William Harmon and Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, eighth edition 1999)
Since I do not normally enjoy science fiction and rarely read fantasy beyond children’s books, I’m starting to suspect that the original classics that were the precursors are likewise not likely to be my favorite of classics. The Monk by Matthew Lewis (published 1796, when Matthew Lewis was 20 years old) is subtitled “A Romance” and such a description, had I realized the original connotation, should have been evidence enough that it would not be a cherished read. I loved the beginning and the end (more on that in a minute) but for the most part, The Monk was a drudge for me to read.
But, this may very well be just the right classic novel for you.
Lest you take my word for it, I will suggest that The Monk is far different from the stereotypical 1790s classic, such as the contemporary and perennial favorite Jane Austen. I picked up The Monk based on Amanda’s review, in which she explains what a fun novel it was. It was funny: I laughed out loud on many occasions. But I simply dislike the extreme drama that is a part of the early “romance” novel. I also didn’t like Dracula for similar reasons. I kept rolling my eyes with both books.
I also will say I went in knowing very little about how it would play out. All I knew was it dealt with monks, love, and fantastic pacts with the devil. There is so much more to it, but knowing little is, I think, a perfect way to approach it. The humorous episodes are much more random when one does not expect them. If you haven’t read this yet and may be interested in doing so, keep in mind that the remainder of this post may contain spoilers.