Friday, January 01, 2021

Hoping 2021 is better than 2020

Romance is, after all, a genre of hope and

To cope with all the feelings of uncertainty that 2020 has brought, many have been turning to one place guaranteed to bring a happy ending and sense of optimism: romance novels.

Sarah Wendell, an author, podcaster, and co-creator of the romance community blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, has seen a 75% surge in traffic on her website since the pandemic began in March. Her site was so overwhelmed, in fact, that she had to upgrade to a new server. (Copeland)

Carolyn Copeland's article at Prism also offers a roundup of some of the romance activism that took place in 2020, most notably "Romancing the Runoff" which I haven't mentioned on the blog so far, I think, but which ought to be recorded here for posterity. It got a lot of coverage (including in the New York Times, but I couldn't read that because it was behind a paywall), and I've collected some of the items written about it below:

Bustle, Lily Herman, 24 November 2020

Entertainment Weekly, Maureen Lee Lenker, 25 November 2020

Jezebel, Kelly Faircloth, 25 November 2020

Newsweek, Katherine Fung, 25 November 2020

The Guardian, Lois Beckett, 25 November 2020

Kirkus Reviews, Michael Schaub, 27 November 2020

Slate, Rachelle Hampton, 7 December 2020

Vogue, Elena Sheppard, 8 December 2020

Just for the record, the last reference I saw to the total amount raised was (as of 17 December) $475k

Another thing I forgot to mention earlier in the year (but which maybe someone would like to contribute to as part of a New Year's Resolution) is that the Journal of Popular Romance Studies now has a new section.

This section will be a Notes and Queries section. It is meant to create a more immediate dialogue on issues and trends in the field. Moreover, it offers the opportunity for our community of scholars to share insights on aspects of popular romance that would not fit the scope and requirements of a more traditionally published academic article, but nevertheless, cultivates our shared knowledge and furthers our research.

You can find out more about it here. So if you have insights to share with romance scholars, please consider submitting to JPRS. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes up in the new section in 2021.

Monday, December 21, 2020

New at JPRS: Special Issue on The Sheik (and a bit about teaching romance in Sweden)


The final additions to issue 9 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies have now gone online and are (as always) freely available to read, both on the website and in downloadable pdf.

[Edited to add: JPRS have just added another article to issue 9

 That was added on 22 December.]


In the Special Issue on The Sheik are:

Introduction to the special issue on The Sheik
Amy Burge

The Oriental Beast: The Sheik and Fairy Tales
Pauline Suwanban

Garçon manqué: A Queer Rereading (of) The Sheik
Jessica Taylor

Olive Skin Chocolate Eyes: Echoes of The Sheik on Descriptive Patterns of the Italian Romantic Hero in Harlequin Short Contemporaries
Francesca Pierini

Let’s Not Get Carried Away by The Sheik
Laura Vivanco

The Sheik and Modernism
Ellen Turner

The Depiction of Masculinity and Nationality in The Sheik
jay Dixon

In Defence of the Perverse: Reflections on The Sheik (George Melford, 1921)
Elisabetta Girelli

On Eligible Princes: The Medieval Modernity of Sheikh Romance
Amira Jarmakani

Review essay on The Sheik
Amy Burge and Rachel Robinson

On Teaching, Not Teaching, and Teaching The Sheik
Eric Murphy Selinger

Authors on The Sheik: A conversation with Liz Fielding
Elizabeth Cole

Friday, December 18, 2020

Congratulations and Recent Publications

First of all, I'd like to congratulate the 2020 winners of the RWA Academic Research Grant. The

RWA Academic Grant Committee has recommended and the RWA Board of Directors has approved Dr. Julie E. Moody-Freeman, an Associate Professor in African and Black Diaspora Studies at DePaul University, and Hannah E. Scupham, a doctoral student in Literature at the University of Kansas, as recipients of the 2021 RWA Academic Research Grant. 

and here are more details about the research for which they've received the grants:

‘Lift as We Climb’: Black Romance Writers, Social Justice, and Institution Building, Dr. Julie E. Moody-Freeman

Grant funds will be used to aid in her research that will examine black writers’ representations of racial uplift in which their romantic plots and produce one season of the Black Romance Podcast, which documents the history of the production and publication of Black Romance through Dr. Moody-Freeman’s conversations with writers, editors, journalists, and scholars.

 

Sensual Politics: Modern Romance Novel Reading and Reimagination of the Victorian Past, Hannah E. Scupham

Grant funds will be used to fund dissertation research. Scupham’s work focuses on how contemporary popular romance novels set in the nineteenth-century century seek to challenge and change modern readers’ imaginations of the nineteenth-century, specifically on issues of gender, sexuality, and race.

Here are some recent publications, one of which, by Caroline Duvezin-Caubet, touches on the same area of research as Scupham's, and it's free to read online.

Duvezin-Caubet, Caroline, 2020. "Gaily Ever After: Neo-Victorian M/M Genre Romance for the Twenty-First Century." Neo-Victorian Studies 13.1: 242-269.

Intan, Tania, 2020. "Formula Romance Dalam Perfect Romance Karya Indah Hanaco: Kajian Sastra Feminis." Alayasastra 16.2: 301-316. [More details here.]

Murias, Rosana, 2021. "In Grey and Pink: The Image of the Bride through the Spanish Postwar Novela Rosa." The Bride in the Cultural Imagination: Screen, Stage, and Literary Productions. Ed. Jo Parnell. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. 17-34. [More details here.]

Monday, November 23, 2020

An Award, Congratulations and Publications: Masculinity; Movies; Hercules; Interwar Magazine Fiction

If you've got an unpublished essay on romance, you might be able to submit it for the Francis Award, which comes with a $250 USD prize and publication (after any needed revisions) in JPRS. The annual deadline for submissions will be December 31 28 February 2021, and the winner will be announced in April. 

Conseula Francis’s work on popular romance fiction focused on African American authors and representations of Black love, and priority for the Francis Award will be given to manuscripts that address Black-authored popular romance fiction and other work on Black love. Manuscripts on the diversity of, and diversities within, popular romance and romantic love culture—e.g., diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, sexuality, disability, or age—will also be considered.

More details here: http://www.jprstudies.org/submissions/the-francis-award/

[Edited to add: "To encourage more submissions, the deadline for the Francis Award has been moved (this year and moving forward) to the end of February--in this case, Feb. 28, 2021."]

Congratulations to Inmaculada Pérez Casal on the completion of her thesis, Antecedents and Development of the Contemporary Romance Novel in English: A Study of the Contribution to the Genre by Rosamunde Pilcher and Lisa Kleypas (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela)!

Other newly completed works on romance are:

Allan, Jonathan A., 2020. “Mourning and Sentimental Heroism in Maureen Child's Lost in Sensation.” The Journal of Popular Culture. Online First. 

Allan, Jonathan A., 2020. “'And he absolutely fascinated me': Masculinity and Virginity in Sherilee Gray’s Breaking Him.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies 9. [Open access.]

Charlton, Michael, 2020. "Till Death Do Us Part: Romancing the Stone, Death Becomes Her, and the Romance Genre." A Critical Companion to Robert Zemeckis. Ed. Adam Barkman and Antonio Sanna. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. 17-29.

OKell, Eleanor Regina, 2020. "Hercules as Romantic Hero in Twenty-first-century Historical Fiction." The Modern Hercules: Images of the Hero from the Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century. Ed. Alastair J.L. Blanshard and Emma Stafford. Leiden: Brill. 121–145. Here's the abstract:

This chapter will examine Hercules as a romantic hero in two distinctly different examples of the historical novel, which can be classified as chick lit.: Kate Mosse’s serious historical fiction Citadel, which is set in the Languedoc during the Second World War, and Stephanie Laurens’ romantic historical fiction The Truth About Love, set in Cornwall during the Regency period. Both these novels invoke Hercules by name and the hero provides contextualisation for the events and relationships therein. For example, in Mosse the myth of Hercules’ relationship with Pyrene underpins the whole landscape (it is an origin myth for the Pyrenees) and in Laurens the Garden of Hercules forms a frequently referenced part of the landscape which is of significance for events in the plot. In both novels the presentation of Herculean myth as a background prompts the reader to extrapolate from the legend of Hercules to the characters depicted and their struggles. The similarities of and differences between the two authors’ uses of Hercules demonstrates not only that twenty-first-century chick lit. is open to exploring facets of the ancient hero’s character which go beyond monster-slaying and into the realm of the romantic/erotic but also that the genre of chick lit. can exhibit qualities more commonly associated with ‘serious’ literary fiction.

Reed, Eleanor, 2020. ‘Romance in Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly as Romance, 1918–39’, Journal of European Periodical Studies 5.2: 80–94. [Pdf available free online here.] The focus is on issues related to social class, but I thought this observation, that romance in these magazines functioned as a safe space within which to explore issues, relates to what I've described as romance's "pastoral care" function:

Interwar Woman’s Weekly fiction engages with issues including the rehabilitation of First World War veterans, marriage to a widower, frustration with housework, and single motherhood. Each story invites its reader to identify with a heroine whose experiences and dilemmas may parallel her own, and it is romance’s familiar, predictable structure that allows her to work through these potentially difficult or distressing issues. The guarantee of a happy ending establishes the story as a safe narrative space within which she can confront everyday problems. (86)

Friday, November 06, 2020

Thinking Outside the "Couple Norm"



The Tenacity of the Couple-Norm: Intimate Citizenship Regimes in a Changing Europe
by Sasha Roseneil, Isabel Crowhurst, Tone Hellesund, Ana Cristina Santos, and Mariya Stoilova (UCL Press, 2020) is a newly published (and freely available online for download as a pdf) book which raises an issue of relevance to popular romance fiction. The focus is on coupledom as a concept within society, which the authors refer to as the "couple-norm," defined as "the structure of affinity that is composed of an intimate/sexual dyad" (4) and the

book is about the ongoing strength of the couple-norm and the insidious grip it exerts on our lives as it defines what it is to be a citizen, a fully recognized and rights-bearing member of society. It exposes the construction of coupledom – the condition or state of living as a couple – as the normal, natural and superior way of being an adult. (3)

The book is not a rejection of coupledom, however. The authors argue that

coupledom is not in itself, necessarily, a social ill or a negative influence in people’s lives. Indeed, being part of [sic] couple can be one of the greatest sources of pleasure, fulfilment and security that life in a competitive, uncertain, fast-changing, sometimes dangerous, often precarious social world can offer. (232)

and they state that

There is a danger, identified by Biddy Martin (1996) and Robyn Wiegman (2012), that a relentless anti-normativity, such as that sometimes embraced within queer theory, can produce a somewhat superior, even contemptuous, hypercritical gaze that ‘fears ordinariness’ (Martin, 1996) and ‘names and shames’ ‘those normalities that are inhabited, desired and pursued within gay, lesbian, trans and queer discourses as well as outside them’ (Wiegman, 2012: 334), whilst idealizing practices that are regarded as transgressive of dominant norms. (26)

Rather, they are arguing that there is a need to examine the negative implications of the "couple norm" for those who do not form part of a couple:

The couple-form has historically been valorized and conventionalized, so that it is the very essence of ‘normal’. Whether a person is coupled or not is fundamental to their experience of social recognition and belonging: the good citizen is the coupled citizen, and the socially integrated, psychologically developed and well-functioning person is coupled. Being part of a couple is widely seen and felt to be an achievement, a stabilizing status characteristic of adulthood, indicative of moral responsibility and bestowing full membership of the community. To be outside the couple-form is, in many ways, to be outside, or at least on the margins of, society. (4)

Romances acknowledge the pressure exerted by the norm when protagonists complain about pressure from family to find a partner and, clearly, some popular romances already think outside the "couple norm." Could romance go further, however?

The authors of this book ask

What would it mean for an intimate citizenship regime to cease to promote coupledom and to work instead actively to attenuate the negative impacts of the couple-norm? (233)

What I ask is: what could romance fiction, as a genre, do, to normalise other forms of relationships in addition to coupledom, without abandoning the central love story and the happy ending?

I agree with Roseneil et al, that being in a "couple can be one of the greatest sources of pleasure, fulfilment and security that life in a competitive, uncertain, fast-changing, sometimes dangerous, often precarious social world can offer" (232) yet I feel that romance has room to expand in terms of the relationships it depicts. Indeed, romance has already been expanding, so that more individuals can see themselves and their lives reflected in the novels. The authors of the book found that their interviewees were

centring their lives around friendship, choosing to remain single, embracing solitude, forging non-cohabiting partnerships, sharing the raising of children outside the couple-form, resisting the romantic imperative, forming relationships with people from different backgrounds and defying monogamy. They were envisaging, and often finding, stability, security, love, intimacy, sex and domesticity in many different ways, outside the conventional couple-form. (233)

A choice to remain single would probably be a step too far for the romance, even if one could argue that, technically taking time to form a loving relationship with oneself could be the "central relationship" in a "love story" with an optimistic/happy ending. It is, though, already a possibility in chick-lit, I think. Non-monogamous relationships seem more easily adapted into the genre and, indeed, the genre already includes central sexual relationships involving more than two people and central couples who are not monogamous. What about "lives centred around close friendships" and "non-cohabiting partnerships"?

Monday, October 05, 2020

A short set of links: romance scholarship podcasts, LGBT+ issues, and some old Mills & Boon history

A few recent developments:
  • Eric's been at the Shelf Love podcast, discussing the history of romance scholarship. There's a transcript too, if you don't like listening to podcasts. There's mention of the Romance Wiki bibliography, which isn't now available but I've expanded on it at the Romance Scholarship Database. The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction is also mentioned, and the introduction to it can be found, free, here (click the "preview pdf" button).
  • Jayashree has been on the same podcast, discussing "the various ways romance can be studied. She gives a brief overview of the history of the romance genre and pop culture research, why she doesn't encounter the hierarchy of taste when teaching romance, and explains who romance scholarship is for." 
  • Queerly Chaotic M has written a document about ways in which the romance community needs to do better with regards to recognising the harms that it can cause when writing or discussing gender in exclusionary, binary ways.
  • Roan Parrish has announced she "will be writing the first on-page queer romance in any of the @harlequinbooks series romance lines!"

That qualifier about the "series" is a reference to the fact that, as Jack Harbon pointed out, the Carina Press imprint has been publishing more diverse romances for some time.

  • And on the topic of Harlequin/Mills & Boon history, at the other end of the spectrum here's a thread on Twitter about a scrapbook which "seems to have been the property of early Mills & Boon novelist Louise Gerard (1878-1970), and has cuttings from her first success in 1910 to the 1920s."

Friday, September 11, 2020

Black Romance Podcast

 Julie Moody-Freeman, of DePaul University, has started a podcast:

The Black Romance Podcast features conversations with Black writers, editors, and scholars of historical and contemporary popular romance fiction. Guests talk about a range of experiences: their difficulties trying to publish love stories with Black characters; their favorite books; writing and teaching about black romance fiction; traditional vs self-publishing; publishing queer romance fiction; the impetus for writing books that focus on inclusion and racial uplift themes; and their recently released books. These intergenerational voices of writers featured in this podcast are beginning to build a much needed archive on the production and publication of Black Romance.

You can find out more at @blk_romance, Apple Podcasts, Spotify.

New to the Romance Database

 

New articles have been published by the Journal of Popular Romance Studies:

and among the other items recently added to the database are:

Béja, Alice, 2019. "La new romance et ses nuances. Marché littéraire, sexualité imaginaire et condition féminine." Revue du Crieur 12.1: 106-121. [Excerpt]

Hijazo-Gascón, Alberto, 2009. "Cross-Cultural Differences in Conceptualization and their Application in L2 Instruction." Pragmatics Applied to Language Teaching and Learning. Ed. Reyes Gómez Morón, Manuel Padilla Cruz, Lucía Fernández Amaya and María de la O Hernández López. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 42-59. [This may not immediately appear to be about romance but it looks at metaphors in novels by Corín Tellado. Excerpt.]

Magenya, Sheena Gimase, 2020. “Reading between the lines: A review of Dark Juices and Afrodisiacs: Erotic Diaries Vol 1.” Agenda. Online first. [Abstract and excerpts]

Saint-Jacques, Denis et Marie-José des Rivières, 2011. «Le féminisme problématique d’un roman d’amour, Anne Mérival.» Recherches féministes 24.1: 61–76.

In particular, I've been adding a lot of French-language items, some of which were in the old Romance Wiki database and some which were new to me. I'm also working my way through the chapters in The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance, adding details for each and also carefully checking each chapter's bibliography for items that are not already in the Romance Scholarship Database.

Friday, August 28, 2020

New Book: Jodi McAlister's "The Consummate Virgin"


Jodi McAlister's PhD thesis has now been published as a book by Palgrave. The Consummate Virgin: Female Virginity Loss and Love in Anglophone Popular Literatures 

explores dominant cultural narratives around what makes a “good” female virginity loss experience by examining two key forms of popular literature: autobiographical virginity loss stories and popular romance fiction. In particular, this book focuses on how female sexual desire and romantic love have become entangled in the contemporary cultural imagination, leading to the emergence of a dominant paradigm which dictates that for women, sexual desire and love are and should be intrinsically linked together: something which has greatly affected cultural scripts for virginity loss. This book examines the ways in which this paradigm has been negotiated, upheld, subverted, and resisted in depictions of virginity loss in popular literatures, unpacking the romanticisation of the idea of “the right one” and “the right time”.

It has chapters on historical romance and category romance which will be of particular interest to scholars of popular romance fiction.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Vivian Stephens and the RWA

There's a fascinating article in the Texas Monthly, by Mimi Swartz, about Vivian Stephens, a ground-breaking romance editor.

Stephens was also one of the founders of the RWA and the article discusses the differing visions for the RWA which led to a parting of the ways. A few years ago, the RWA leadership apparently again failed to listen to her; if they had, they might have avoided the 2020 racism implosion. And now the RWA is naming their main award after her.

A horrifying detail which emerged as a result of the publication of this article is that the account given by staff to Courtney Milan of a conversation they had with Stephens is diametrically opposed to what Stephens herself told Swartz. The conversation took place

in March 2016. She is at lunch at a white-tablecloth restaurant in Houston’s Museum District with three white women: two members of the RWA’s executive staff and the then president of the organization, Diane Kelly. Everyone has their hands in their laps, and some kind of ice cream and pastry dessert sits in front of each of them. Despite their smiles, the party looks a little stressed.

At that time, the racism roiling within the organization had not yet burst into public view. Stephens, who had mostly lived the life of a retiree since moving back to town, usually met with the RWA executive staff once a year or so, and the meetings were typically friendly, full of small talk. But during this lunch, Stephens told the women that she could see trouble was coming, and she had brought along the RWA magazine that featured photos of all the RITA winners, none of whom were Black, as a visual aid.

“Well, what do they want?” Stephens recalled one of the women asking.

“The same as you,” was her retort.

Courtney Milan has now tweeted:

My aside: I was on the Board when this conversation happened, and was told about it afterwards. This is absolutely not what was conveyed to me by the white participants in the conversation.

I was told that Vivian Stephens did not think I should be speaking up about racism. [...] I know they often heard...different things than what was said, which then had to be resaid along with assurances that no, I didn’t think they were racist, but... Just to be clear: they conveyed to me that Vivian Stephens thought I was white. They said Vivian Stephens specifically referenced this blogpost and thought I should not be speaking.

Allison Kelley is the person who told me this. Carol Ritter was also at that meeting. Those are the two unnamed staff not mentioned, but I’m thinking we could already guess that.

And Alyssa Cole's response sums up my response too:

Monday, August 10, 2020

New: The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction

The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction is, sadly, very expensive in the current format (hardback), but it's out now, and it's very exciting for the field of popular romance studies that it exists because its purpose is to provide

an overview of disciplinary approaches to studying romance fiction, and critical analyses of important subgenres, themes, and topics. It also highlights new and understudied avenues of inquiry for future research in this vibrant and still-emerging field.

[BREAKING NEWS: It's a lot cheaper as an ebook (i.e. approximately US $37.57/£28.79 depending where you go). Buy links here.]

It's edited by Jayashree Kamblé, Eric Murphy Selinger and Hsu-Ming Teo and there's a chapter in it that I co-wrote with Eric.

I'm told a somewhat cheaper (but probably still not cheap) ebook version should become available next year.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction [can be downloaded as part of the "preview pdf" available from the publisher]

Jayashree Kamblé, Eric Murphy Selinger, Hsu-Ming Teo

PART I: NATIONAL TRADITIONS

1   History of English Romance Novels, 1621–1975

jay Dixon

2   The Evolution of the American Romance Novel

Pamela Regis

3   Australian Romance Fiction

Lauren O’Mahony

PART II: SUB-GENRES

4   Gothic Romance

Angela Toscano

5   The Historical Romance

Sarah H. Ficke

6   Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

María T. Ramos-García

7   Young Adult Romance

Amanda K. Allen

8   Inspirational Romance

Rebecca Barrett-Fox and Kristen Donnelly

9   Erotic Romance

Jodi McAlister

10   African American Romance

Julie E. Moody-Freeman

11   Explorations of the "Desert Passion Industry"

Amira Jarmakani

PART III: METHODOLOGICAL APPROACHES

12   Romance in the Media

Jayashree Kamblé

13   Literary Approaches

Eric Murphy Selinger

14   Author Studies and Popular Romance Fiction

Kecia Ali

15   Social Science Reads Romance

Joanna Gregson and Jennifer Lois

16   Publishing the Romance Novel

John Markert

17   Libraries and Popular Romance Fiction

Kristin Ramsdell

PART IV: THEMES

18   Class and Wealth in Popular Romance Fiction [a pre-print version is available here]

Amy Burge

19   Sex and Sexuality

Hannah McCann and Catherine M. Roach

20   Gender and Sexuality

Jonathan A. Allan

21   Love and Romance Novels

Hsu-Ming Teo

22   Romance and/as Religion

Eric Murphy Selinger and Laura Vivanco

23   Race, Ethnicity, and Whiteness

Erin S. Young

24   In Response to Harlequin: Global Legacy, Local Agency

Kathrina Mohd Daud


Friday, July 24, 2020

New Romance Web Archive

From Steve Ammidown (Manuscripts & Outreach Archivist, Browne Popular Culture Library):

Browne Popular Culture Library at BGSU and the University of Michigan Libraries have partnered to create a web archive meant to capture significant sites related to the romance genre. You can find it here: https://archive-it.org/collections/13215

This is still a work in process, and some sites are not listed yet due to some technical issues, but the idea is to capture both full sites and articles and other significant moments within the genre. If you look now, you’ll notice that there are many pages related to this winter’s RWA scandal, for example. We’ve also partnered with several sites to capture everything they’ve posted, including Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, the Fated Mates Podcast, All About Romance, WOC In Romance, and more. Our hope is to avoid a situation like what happened with the Romantic Times Book Review site, where only a portion of the important historical content on that site was captured before it disappeared.

Much of the credit for this project goes to Maura Seale at Michigan, who approached me with this idea last year [...] and took responsibility for managing the technical aspects.

I hope this becomes a valuable research resource for years to come. If you have sites that you think would be useful to capture, please feel free to reach out to Maura or myself. It’s worth pointing out that when it comes to capturing entire sites, we are doing it only with the consent of the site owners. There are several sites we approached who have asked us not to capture their content, and we’ll respect those wishes. That said, we’re happy to reach out to others if the research community thinks it’s worthwhile!

---
Here's the announcement to Twitter, which will help with contacting Steve and Maura. I've added a link in the Teach Me Tonight sidebar to this resource.