Kristina Deffenbacher, Professor of English at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/159709-lesser-shades-of-jane/#.UCHs_6LE1jI.facebook
What 19th century romance novelists were doing, which most modern ones are not, is very carefully examining, discussing and criticising the world around them in a conversation that was almost entirely held between women. Novelists during this period, especially romance novelists, were almost exclusively women, as were their readers. Men were still expected to read and write poetry if they were going to read and write any kind of art, because poetry was the higher art form, and also accessible only through the classical education that was denied to most women at the time. So women wrote (and read) novels, which were derided as ‘low’ forms of entertainment until men like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens came along and legitimised the medium by writing the first ‘historical’ and ‘state of the nation’ novels.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is probably one of the subtlest and smartest critiques of the way women like Elizabeth Bennett - self-possessed, opinionated, well-read, passionate - were portrayed in the media in the late 18th and early 19th century. A young, ‘over’-educated woman with opinions of her own was probably the most derided figure in the medium, soundly mocked as utterly self-deluded, ugly, undesirable, raised by fools and liked only by fools; at best she’d end up eventually repenting all her previous opinions and meekly settling down to spinsterhood, at worst she’d end up dying tragically by the end of the novel whilst its real heroine, a stereotypical feminine angel, married happily having surrendered herself entirely to her husband. Pride and Prejudice turned this formula on its head, making Elizabeth the desirable heroine because of her opinions, her education, her self-possession, and fiercely criticising the idea that a woman who gives up her entire self to (the idea of) a man/a marriage, can ever be truly happy (see, Mrs Bennett, and Charlotte, even Lydia).
In essence, the original, great romance novelists of the late 18th and early 19th century, were doing their best to engage with and subvert the problems they saw for women in particular in the world around them, especially in the ‘pop culture’ of the age, commentating in the only medium available to them. The current generation are interested only in pandering to popular culture, not taking it apart and shaking it up and calling out its bullshit - and therein lies the problem.