The world of the romance novel has long been prone to easy ridicule, but perhaps no other genre of romance is as strange, fascinating, and misunderstood as the little-known Amish romance novel. Though purists probably wouldn't consider these books a genuine type of Amish literature, nor are they necessarily intended to be romance novels for Amish people, the genre is a unique and surprisingly influential one. The first thing most people notice about Amish romance novels is the first thing people notice about any romance novel: the cover. But in place of swelling bosoms, massive man-pecs, and lusty looks, you see a timidly smiling young woman, usually wearing a prayer headcover, cape dress, and apron, standing in a serene country setting. This portrait sets the stage for a very specific kind of love story: amour in the land of the Amish.
Many readers—far more than you might think—enjoy Amish romance novels for the escapism and entertainment they provide, even if the novel offers little resemblance to real Amish culture. For those unaccustomed to these types of books, it may be helpful to learn a bit more about Amish romances to better understand their peculiar appeal and the place they inhabit in contemporary literature.
- Photo: Bethany House
It All Started With A "Shunning"...
Lewis's novel The Shunning, published in 1997, is the book widely credited with popularizing the modern Amish romance novel. Though Amish literature has been around since the early 1900s, fiction focusing squarely on Amish love stories only came to the forefront with The Shunning. Lewis's tale revolves around Katie and Daniel, both raised Amish; a scandalous secret concerning adoption; and a relocation from a cloistered Amish life to the oh-so-liberal conservative Mennonite life. The Shunning has sold more than a million copies.
- Photo: Zondervan
There's No Skin In This Game
Readers looking for steamy erotica that involves actual rolls in the hay of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country will be sorely disappointed in Amish romance novels. There is no sex of any kind to be found. In fact, there is rarely kissing or even handholding. You will have to be content with longing gazes on the front porch; protagonists standing obscenely close to one another at a barn-raising; or the rebellious wisp of hair escaping from a prayer headcover. Nothing so scandalous as even an inadvertent reveal of the ankle to whet one's carnal appetites.
- Photo: Revell
The "Amishness" In Amish Romances Is Usually Minimized
Remember: Amish romances are usually not written by Amish people or for Amish people. With the books' target demographic being Christian Evangelical women of a certain age, most authors typically cater to the beliefs and tenets of their readers and not the beliefs and tenets of real-life Amish folks. Though the Ordnung, or Order—which prescribes how a certain Amish group will live—varies between different communities, there are some traditional Amish principles that are consistently downplayed in Amish romances simply because they do not fit into an Evangelical worldview. Fundamental Amish ideals of nonviolence and forgiveness (Gasp! Pacifism!), and a more egalitarian lifestyle and emphasis on community (Gasp! Socialism! Communism!) are not usually main plot points in Amish romances; conversely, also omitted is the epidemic of abuse against women, children, and animals that plagues the Amish community as a whole.
Buggy Crashes Are A Common Plot Device
Without any sex scenes to heat up an Amish romance, authors have to get creative with ways to ensure their protagonists get thrown together or have a wrench tossed into their plans. As it turns out, buggy crashes are an ideal way to accomplish this. The buggy accident has long been a staple of Amish romance novels. They provide a convenient avenue for two chaste lovers to be jostled into making bodily contact, or they can create some drama that causes daunting-but-not-totally-insurmountable problems for the heroine and her hero.