Sunday, August 23, 2015

Academics at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2016


With thanks to Dr Jodi McAlister who drew attention to this on Twitter.

According to the Romance Writers of Australia:
The 25th Annual Romance Writers of Australia Conference will be held in Adelaide 2016.

Ain’t Love Grand will be held from 19 – 21 August 2016 at the Stamford Grand Hotel located at vibrant Glenelg, only a few minutes from the city centre.

As an additional bonus, we have partnered with Flinders University of South Australia to deliver an academic stream.
On Twitter they mentioned that this "academic stream" "will include Professor Catherine Roach, Dr Danijela Kakavaskovic" (tweet) and Professor "James McGoldrick" (tweet).

Catherine Roach, whose “Getting a Good Man to Love: Popular Romance Fiction and the Problem of Patriarchy” was published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies
also writes historical romance fiction under the pen name Catherine LaRoche; her first e-novel Master of Love was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012 and Knight of Love followed in 2014. [...]

Currently, she is writing about her experience of becoming a romance novelist in a general audience academic book on how the story of romance — “find your one true love” — is the most powerful narrative at work in popular culture. Entitled Happily Ever After, the book is forthcoming from Indiana University Press later in 2015. (Roach)
I couldn't find any details about a Dr Danijela Kakavaskovic but I wonder it there was a typo in the tweet and the name should be Dr Danijela Kambaskovic, who
is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia. She is a former a lecturer in Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at UWA. She has published widely in the fields of genre history and history of ideas and is an award-winning poet. (History of Emotions)
I also had problems identifying Professor James McGoldrick. There is one who co-authors novels under the name "May McGoldrick":
Nikoo McGoldrick, a mechanical engineer, and James McGoldrick, a professor of English with a Ph.D. in sixteenth-century British literature, collaborate in life as well as in literature. Writing under the name May McGoldrick, they produce historical novels for Penguin- Putnam, and Young Adult Highland romances for HarperCollins/Avon.

Under the name of Jan Coffey, they write contemporary suspense thrillers for MIRA. ("Jan" is an acronym for "Jim and Nikoo; "Coffey" is Nikoo's maiden name.) (NAL)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New to the Wiki: Shades and The Sheik


I've decided I should put up a post whenever I add (or someone else adds) an entry to the Romance Wiki bibliography because items are added quite frequently and I don't tweet or blog about them all individually, so people may not be aware of how often new items are added or what they are. In today's post, I'd like to draw attention to an issue of Women: A Cultural Review which should be of interest to romance scholars. I haven't actually been able to get hold of copies of these articles myself but the argument in the article about Heyer, in particular, seems controversial:

Deal, Clare H., 2015. 
"‘Throbb[ing] with a consciousness of a knowledge that appalled her’: Embodiment and Female Subjectivity in the Desert Romance", Women: A Cultural Review 26.1-2: 75-95.

Here's the abstract:

This article examines the relationship between the desert and embodiment in E. M. Hull’s international best-seller The Sheik (1919). This novel, a desert romance, has been the focus of feminist scholarship for decades because of its controversial rape narrative. Drawing on theories of embodiment, in particular the work of Elizabeth Grosz, the author interrogates how the desert is paradoxically presented as a space of liberation and oppression within which female sexuality could be explored despite the gendered violence of pre-existing patriarchal frameworks. Ultimately, the author provides a reading of Diana in terms of her transition from an androgynous ‘girl’ to a sexually desiring, seemingly feminized ‘woman’, and examines the connotations associated with this. The author establishes a connection between the transient nature of the desert and the liberation offered to women within this liminal space. Through an in-depth examination of the protagonist Diana’s corporeal subjectivity over the course of the novel, the author positions The Sheik as offering a voice to female sexuality and erotic fantasy, demonstrating Hull’s depiction of the desert as an appropriation of that space through which to explore female desires. This opens up new understandings of what constituted innovative literature in interwar Britain and marks Hull’s book, with its overtly erotic content and specific focus on female desire, as a political and social departure.
 
Gillis, Stacy, 2015. 
"The Cross-Dresser, the Thief, His Daughter and Her Lover: Queer Desire and Romance in Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades", Women: A Cultural Review 26.1-2: 57-74.

Here's the abstract:

When romance fiction consolidated as a genre in the 1920s and 1930s, a series of generic conventions concerning the heterosexual imperatives came about. This article considers how these heterosexual imperatives function as a mask for queer desire in Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades (1926).  Drawing on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the article identifies in the novel a detailed account of male–male desire through arguing that while the romantic narrative is concerned with the Duc of Avon and Léonie, his former cross-dressing page, the substantial sexual tension in the novel occurs in the meetings and exchanges between Avon and Léonie’s biological father, Henri Saint-Vire. While These Old Shades ends with the presentation of Léonie by Avon as his duchess, it is male–male desire which has (queerly) driven this romance plot to its ‘natural’ conclusion of marriage.  The article thinks through what happens when the rivalry, explicitly about desiring a woman, is an implicit homosocial bond and how this functions within the heterosexual imperatives of the romance novel. The article questions how desire functions in the romance novel and, more crucially, how romance fiction can be read as resisting, at least in part, that which has been traditionally understood as their raison d’être—the heterosexual imperative.
And in the same issue there's another item which may be of interest, though I won't be adding it to the Bibliography because I've not been adding Fifty Shades scholarship to it unless there's a clear link made to romance novels:


Booth, Naomi, 2015.
"The Felicity of Falling: Fifty Shades of Grey and the Feminine Art of Sinking", Women: A Cultural Review 26.1-2: 22-39.

Here's the abstract:
This article explores the frequent faints depicted in the Fifty Shades novels in the context of a long history of feminine swooning in the popular novel, and in light of Alexander’s Pope’s famous description of bathos as ‘the felicity of falling gracefully’. Pope’s satirical treatise describes not just a sinking from the high to the low, but from the present to the past, through a process of bathetic literary travesty. The author argues that the Fifty Shades novels travesty their literary precedents, troping in particular on past moments of female powerlessness and producing bathos through depictions of the fainting female form. The novels depend in particular on (mis)readings of Tess of the D’Urbervilles: their celebration of Tess’s abjection strips Hardy’s novel of its most complex and disturbing elements, euphemizing a bloody and tragic struggle as a swoon of ecstatic submission. At stake in this discussion is the question of how popular fiction deals with its past—in this case, how the novels deal with a history of exploited femininity iconized in the swoon. The Fifty Shades novels simultaneously invoke and deny the past, celebrating female abjection in a manner that disavows the specificities of that abjection, and denying the materiality of the materials they draw upon. E. L. James’s approach to her historical referents is contrasted with Angela Carter’s, through which the texture of the past (and the motif of feminine fainting) is vividly engaged with in an attempt to transform the future.


 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Misc: Who Reads Romance (in the US) and Does Popular Culture Shape National Identity


Thanks to various people on Twitter for news that,
According to Nielsen’s Romance Book Buyer Report, romance book buyers are getting younger—with an average age of 42, down from 44 in 2013. This makes the genre's average age similar to the age for fiction overall. In addition, 44% of these readers are aged 18-44 [...].

Romance book buyers are still more likely to be female than buyers of fiction overall, but with more attention than ever directed to the genre—especially given all the media coverage of Fifty Shades of Grey—more men are coming into the fold. In first-quarter 2014, men accounted for 15% of romance books purchased, compared with 12% in 2013.

These demographic changes aside, the general profile of romance fans in the U.S. remains fairly steady. Nielsen data shows that romance book buyers are more likely to be from the South and Mid-West regions, tend to be retired and identify as Christian.
More details here.

I saw a call for papers which is probably not looking for submissions from literary critics but which asked some questions I found interesting:
The existence and fundamental importance of nations, national identities, or national boundaries is rarely questioned. Yet, the scholarly literature on nationalism has shown that national communities are socially constructed, that national identities are fluid, and that national boundaries are constantly contested. Clearly, maintaining nations requires a great deal of collective effort. How is it that this effort is rendered invisible? How have nations come to be seen as natural? Why do individuals buy into the idea of national identity?

In order to fully answer these questions, we need to examine the links between nationalism and popular culture. Movies, TV series, popular music, sport, video games, comics and other elements of everyday culture are intimately involved in the production (and contestation) of nationhood. Showtime’s hit series Homeland, for example, closely reflects American values and sensibilities.
I've been working on a book about politics and US romance which, I hope, shows that there are some distinctively US elements to a lot of US romances. That, and Juliet Flesch's book about Australian romance, suggest that romance can work to reinforce national cultural norms and ideas about what it means to be a member of that nation. Jack Elliott's research demonstrates that some significant differences can be detected in authors' word choices:
the North American region has its own distinctive characteristics. [...] Some of these don’t have much bearing on theme or ideas—the use of “toward” rather than “towards,” for example, or the frequent use of the word “gotten”—but look at the striking preoccupation with time in the North American novels! “Forever” and “anymore” are both words favored by North Americans—although the more workaday “afterwards” is not (that’s a European word).
In addition, I wonder if there's an extent to which romance has tended to strengthen national boundaries by reinforcing stereotypes about stereotyped "Others": loyal kilt-wearing Scots, hot-blooded Greek tycoons, vengeful Italian aristocrats, proud Spaniards and domineering sheikhs from a variety of entirely imaginary nations.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Call for papers on Critical Love Studies


Essay submissions are invited for a special issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies on critical love studies, edited by Michael Gratzke and Amy Burge. 

The Troggs said it first. Wet Wet Wet said it. Even Hugh Grant as the UK Prime Minister said it: love (really) is all around. Love is durable and it is flexible. It is shaped and reshaped by physiological and psychological constants, by the extremely longue durée of evolutionary processes, by centuries of love doctrines, and by profound changes in society that have occurred in the last century and decades. While we tend to believe in eternal values of love and even eternal love, our experiences often feel new, unprecedented and challenging. 

The growing field of critical love studies looks at experiences and representations of love. Romantic love, the type of love with which popular culture is chiefly concerned, has long been of key significance for producers and scholars of popular romance. 

What is romantic love? What are its cultures, its artefacts, its residues? How do romantic love and competing concepts such as confluent love or “erotically charged intimate love” relate to each other? Is there a specifically queer type of romantic love? How does romantic love fare in the age of digital economies and consumer capitalism? What is romantic love in a post-colonial context? What are the emerging hybrid forms of love which may incorporate elements from different cultural settings such as arranged marriage and individualised romantic love at the same time? Does romantic love exclude parental love or culminate in it? These are a few, largely unanswered questions critical love studies have been asking in recent years.

Submissions are welcomed on the topics below; although all papers engaging with the subject of romantic love will be considered. We are open to submissions from a wide range of humanities and social science disciplinary contexts, including (but not limited to): sociology, philosophy, literature, cultural studies, law, psychology, anthropology, political science, management, geography, music, art.
  • The (material) cultures of romantic love
  • Intimate love 
  • Erotic love 
  • Romantic love and (kinky) sex 
  • Friendship and romantic love
  • Parenthood and romantic love
  • Love, romance, and form
  • Love, romance, and genre 
  • Love and creativity 
  • Romantic love and normativity 
  • Love and intersectionality 
  • Love, romance, identity
Published by the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR), the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Romance Studies is the first academic journal to focus exclusively on representations of romantic love across national and disciplinary boundaries.  Our editorial board includes representatives from Comparative Literature, English, Ethnomusicology, History, Religious Studies, Sociology, African Diaspora Studies, and other fields.  JPRS is currently available without subscription at http://jprstudies.org

Please submit scholarly articles between 5,000 and 10,000 words, including notes and bibliography by 31st December 2015. Manuscripts can be sent to Erin Young, Managing Editor, managing.editor@jprstudies.org. Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format. Please remove all identifying material (i.e. running heads with the author’s name) so that submissions can easily be sent out for anonymous peer review. Suggestions for appropriate peer reviewers are welcome. For more information on how to submit a paper, please visit http://jprstudies.org/submissions. 

Feel free to contact the editors of this special issue to discuss possible topics before submission of an article: 

Dr Amy Burge amy.burge@ed.ac.uk   
Professor Michael Gratzke M.Gratzke@hull.ac.uk

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

E. M. Hull, Robin Hood and a conference on "Love and the Word"


A new article, about the mysterious/secretive E. M. Hull, author of The Sheik has sadly remained mysterious to me. However, the abstract of Ellen Turner's "E. M. Hull's Camping in the Sahara: desert romance meets desert reality" (published in Studies in Travel Writing) was available online and it points out that, not content with starting a Western craze for sexy fictional sheikhs, Hull also sought to position herself as an authority on non-fictional deserts and their inhabitants:
The publication of Camping in the Sahara, seven years after its author E. M. Hull was reluctantly catapulted to fame on the back of her ignominious debut novel, The Sheik (1919), made relatively little impact on her already cemented reputation as a bestselling author of desert “trash”. Nevertheless, her travelogue served to clarify her relative authority on the North African Saharan regions in which her novels were set. Hull's fictional output, abetted by Rudolph Valentino's screen performance in the novel's film adaptation, directed by George Melford (1921), served as a stimulus to the “sheik obsession” which was to capture the imagination of a generation during the 1920s. Even though Hull's name is forever wed to The Sheik, the woman herself remains something of an enigma. There is little critical or biographical information on Hull and her travels in Algeria. This article aims to piece together the available evidence. It also aims to begin to unravel the connection between Hull's fictional and non-fictional writing and to comment on its impact on the desert romance craze of the 1920s. Having examined how travel trends to the Sahara in the 1920s were informed by movements in popular culture, the essay proceeds to explore how Hull constructs the desert as a backdrop to her own story into which she writes herself. Hull's desert in Camping in the Sahara resembles a film set in which the scenery is imagined through a camera lens and the people she encounters are inadvertently assessed through the eyes of a casting director.
There aren't many romances which feature Robin Hood, but they do exist and maybe someone would like to write about them for the International Association for Robin Hood Studies (IARHS), which "is pleased to announce the creation of a new, peer-reviewed, open-access journal, The Bulletin of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies". More details here.

The Australasian Universities Languages & Literature Association Conference takes as its theme "Love and the Word" and will be held in Melbourne, Australia from 7th-9th December 2016:
The conference theme draws on AULLA’s origins as an association of scholars working in fields of philology. Thus we examine both philos (love) and logos (word). How does affection affect words? What do people mean by ‘love’ and its counterparts in the world’s languages? Or perhaps: how does it ‘do’ those meanings?
More details here. It sounds to me like the kind of conference which could benefit from romance scholarship such as Lisa Fletcher's, author of Historical Romance Fiction: Heterosexuality and Performativity (2008):
“I love you” is, for her, “the romantic speech act”: a performative utterance characteristic of the historical romance and revelatory of its function (25). “[R]omance is a fictional mode which depends on the force and familiarity of the speech act ‘I love you,’” she explains (7). To call something a “speech act,” in J.L. Austin’s terms, means that someone’s saying or writing it makes something happen: an event or condition is actually brought about by the utterance, rather than simply described by it. Statements that begin “I promise…,” “I bet…,” and “I apologize…” are all examples of speech acts. Rejecting the idea that “I love you” is simply a reliable report of its speaker’s emotional state, Fletcher focuses instead on what the sentence does—and, by extension, on what the genre defined by “I love you” also does, as though the entire genre were also a speech act, a performative utterance, in its own right. (from Pamela Regis's review of Fletcher's book).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Romance: Reflecting, and Reflecting on, Society


Scott McCracken has observed that
To study popular fiction [...] is to study only a small part of popular culture. Nonetheless, written popular narratives can tell us much about who we are and about the society in which we live. [...] Popular fiction is both created by and a participant in social conflict. (1-2)
Support for his view can be found in a variety of reports from the 2015 Romance Writers of America conference. Suleikha Snyder, for instance, found the conference a source of enjoyment and comradeship but also felt there was what could almost be considered a parallel RWA conference,
The one where publishers still don't quite know what to do with multicultural and queer romance. [...]
The one where you feel as though your presence is just barely being tolerated, and these other women are indulging you as long as you stay quiet and don't draw too much attention.
This other conference was a convergence of microaggressions. From being side-eyed in elevators to having us confused for each other — Falguni Kothari and Alisha Rai are not the same person, FYI — to being told that diverse books were not a priority for Pocket/Gallery...there was a thread of something that was almost like resentment. “Why do we have to talk about diversity?” “Why are there so many of you here?” “My God, can't you all be quiet and go away, so we can go back to the way it was before?”
Here are a few of Rebekah Weatherspoon's comments in a similar vein:


A collection of tweets from the RWA panel on "Diversity in Romance: Why it Matters", at which Weatherspoon was one of the panellists, has been compiled by Alisha Rai and the handout from Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, K. M. Jackson and Falguni Kothari's workshop on "Multicultural Romance: When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong - and How to Make it Right" is now online too.

From an academic point of view, all of this reinforced for me a number of points most/all romance scholars are aware of:

* Romance, like all popular culture, reflects (and sometimes explicitly reflects on) the social/cultural/economic context from which it emerges and that context is not solely the context of white, middle-aged, cis-sexual, heterosexual women of the kind studied by Janice Radway. It never was, of course, and it certainly isn't now.

* This means that while it may be tempting to claim romance as a bastion of one particular point of view and/or make generalisations about romance (e.g. "romance is feminist!", "romance authors are supportive of one another!") such claims need to be qualified.

* If our collective body of work (both written and pedagogical) is not to present a misleading and/or incomplete picture of popular romance fiction we must make romance fiction's diversity apparent to our readers/students.

Any other conclusions romance scholars could benefit from bearing in mind?

[Edited to add: Jessica Miller's reflections on the conference focus on
socioeconomic class issues. Here are a few random examples:


1. Meetings at the Broadway Lounge in the conference hotel. So many meetings happened there, both scheduled and informal. A drink at the lounge will set you back $10-15 plus tip.

2. Dressing for the conference and the RITAs. There’s a lot we can say about the gendered nature of the term “business casual”, (does it ever apply to men?), the beauty norms, etc. But I’m thinking about the cost of showing up for the meetings, the cocktail parties, and the RITAs. And the issue isn’t even just having to dress up. I think a middle class woman can show up in casual clothes and not feel bad about it. Someone in a different situation might find it important to dress to hide her economic status (“Dress for success!” “Dress for the position you want, not the one you have!” etc.).
It barely needs saying given the number of romance protagonists who are billionaires/tycoons/rich aristocrats, but issues of socioeconomic class are also present in romance fiction itself.]

------
McCracken, Scott. Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Romance Academics at the RWA


As usual, I wasn't at the conference but I read quite a lot of tweets and blog posts about it. One exchange of tweets related to the panel on:
Why Professors Love to Study Romance: The 10 Year Anniversary of RWA’s Academic Grant (SPECIAL)

Speakers: Conseula Francis, Joanna Gregson, Stacy Holden, Madeline Hunter, Jayashree Kamble, Jen Lois, Sarah Frantz Lyons, and Catherine Roach

At the ten-year anniversary of RWA’s Academic Research Grant program, a select panel of award winners will discuss how the grants have supported a wide range of projects that raise the profile of the genre and bring attention to the craft, values, and unique voices of romance writers. Attendees will learn what this particular group of scholar-readers finds interesting, challenging, and compelling about romance fiction.
Here's the exchange:

If an author asked me what they could do to support my research, I'd be very tempted to suggest that they go and read Jennifer Crusie's handout (also from the conference) on motif and metaphor, with the caveats that, obviously, the author doesn't have to act on my or Crusie's suggestion and also that this may not necessarily help other researchers. I do like a juicy motif/metaphor, though and what Crusie says makes it clear that what she's arguing for is not the imposition of extraneous metaphors just for their own sake, but the discovery of motifs and metaphors which are already
personal to your story. The metaphors that you choose, consciously or subconsciously, are part of its deeper meaning; they grow organically from the story you're telling. That's why it's best to find the metaphors already present in your text after your first draft, rather than superimposing a literary idea on it.
Since they're already in the text, romance scholars may find them anyway, without additional help from the author. But if working on them a little in the way Crusie suggests can make them clearer to us and enhance other readers' experience of a text (which is what Crusie suggests they'll do), then it seems like a not too onerous suggestion to make to authors.

If anyone can point me in the direction of more tweets or blog posts related to that panel, please let me know and I'll try to add links here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Theory in Love: International Comparative Literature Association, 2016

Organisers: Brendon Wocke (Université de Perpignan), Francesca Manzari (Université d’Aix-Marseille), Apostolos Lampropoulos (Université de Bordeaux III)
International Comparative Literature Association
XXIst Congress: “The Many Languages of Comparative Literature” July 21 – July 27, 2016,
University of Vienna, Austria
http://icla2016.univie.ac.at

This panel concerns theory speaking in terms of love, seeking to establish the relationship between “l’amour” and theory.
In The Politics of Friendship Derrida reflects on the question of the indecidable possibility, the “peut-être,” of love, of friendship, and of desire: “‘Je t'aime entends- tu?’; cette déclaration d'aimance hyperbolique ne pourrait donner sa chance à une politique de l'amitié que soumise à l'épreuve du peut-être, de l'indécidable” How then can we express a refusal, a no, without listening, without hearing? How can one express the divergent and differential possibilities opened by this phrase? And yet Derrida already has, in Envois, where he explores, theorizes and dramatizes a love affair, tracing the course of its refusal in the various postcards and letters which remain unsent, forever awaiting their destination.
What Derrida performs in Envois is effectively echoed by Lacan who, in Seminar XX, says: “people have done nothing but speak of love in analytic discourse. [...] What analytic discourse contributes - and perhaps that is, after all, the reason for its emergence at a certain point in scientific discourse - is that to speak of love is in itself a jouissance.”
If, as Lacan says, the troubadours understood that love is nothing other than form, we could perhaps establish a relationship between love’s discourse and theoretical discourse as bridging the gap between philosophy and literature.
Does love function as a theoretical paradigm? Or should we think of theory as an act of love? Or even as born out of love? Can one think of a polyamorous theory? And what would such a theory consist of, in the writhing phrases which intertwine like the honeysuckle of Tristan and Iseult.
We welcome contributions on the subject of love and its relation to theoretical writing.
Please submit your abstract online by August 31, 2015 via the conference website http://icla2016.univie.ac.at/abstract-submission/
You will need to create an account with the website and enter the seminar number 17327 into the “topic” field on the “add abstract” screen. The participants will be informed of their inclusion no later than December 31, 2015.
For further information contact brendon.wocke@gmail.com 
Papers in either English or French will be accepted. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative


I recently spotted a call for papers from:

StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative

StoryTelling is dedicated to analyses of popular narrative in the widest sense of the phrase and as evidenced in the media and all aspects of culture.  Manuscripts should: see the narrative as a reflection of culture; use theory to analyze the work, not work to illustrate theory; employ scholarship; and be written for the general audience.  The editors are especially interested in visual accompaniments, bibliographies, and interviews with creators of popular narratives.  No limits on period or country covered.  No creative writing.
More details here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (3)


Crawford draws a useful distinction, I think, between our retrospectively constructed pre-history of genres (conceived of as characteristic themes and topics and plots) and a more historically-aware account of genres as existing not just between the covers of books (as themes and topics and plots) but also, and crucially, as paratextual and epitextual phenomena:
If we take the hallmark of 'Gothic fiction' to be a preoccupation with fearsome events and / or supernatural phenomena, and the hallmark of 'romance fiction' to be a story that revolves around the development of a love relationship between two characters, then both must be thousands of years old: many examples of each could be found, for example, in the mythology of ancient Greece.  But the fact that the conceptual categories of 'Gothic fiction' and 'romance fiction' are very much newer than this, and only started to be used by readers, writers, booksellers and publishers in the 1790s and the 1920s respectively, should give us pause.  Love and fear have always been written about, but they have not always had literary genres to call their own; those emerged only at specific points in history, when the right cultural and commercial conditions were in place to call them forth (Twilight of the Gothic, 15).
I am, as always, grateful to An Goris for adding the terms "paratextual" and "epitextual" to the way I talk and think about romance.  The image by Gustave Dore, from his illustrations to Milton's Paradise Lost, a text which "can now seem rather Gothic when viewed in retrospect" (Crawford 15).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (2)

I hope you'll indulge me as I continue taking notes on Crawford here.  These will be useful to me in the opening lectures of my upcoming romance classes, I suspect, and I doubt I'm the only one who'll find them helpful.  I should note that most of the sentences I'm quoting here have footnotes, and if you'd like me to post the sources he cites, I can add them in.

Crawford says that the "unravelling of the medieval romance tradition" occurred in several stages.
"The first element to disappear was its reliance upon the supernatural, which Cervantes mocked in Don Quixote (1605), reflecting the increasing scepticism regarding the reality of supernatural forces which was then taking root amongst the educated elites who read and wrote romances" (13)
The second stage has to do with the extraordinary nature of the characters and events.
"Seventeenth-century romance-writers still preferred their heroes and heroines to be larger-than-life figures living in far-off times and places, perfect in love, and superhuman in war; but, by the eighteenth century, tolerance for even this level of 'romantic' heroism had started to wane" (13).
In the 18th century we begin to see the clash between "romance" and "the novel," as the new, upstart form "defined itself against the romance, establishing its cultural credibility by eschewing the less naturalistic elements of the tradition which it aspired to replace" (13).  Thus,
"Early novels such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Richardson's Pamela (1740) achieved lasting popularity and fame throughout Europe by recounting the loves and adventures, not of morally perfect aristocratic heroes and heroines living in a fantastical version of the past, but of flawed, ordinary people living in a recognizable, realistic present; and, in their wake, the genre of romance came increasingly to be dismissed as suitable only for the ignorant poor, who were thought too credulous to understand the difference between the pointless fantasies favoured by earlier, more superstitious centuries and the realistic, educational novels by which they had now come to be displaced" (13).
The novel also defines itself largely as a genre focused on love, says Crawford:  "to the extent that 'novel' and 'love story' became almost synonymous terms" (13) as novel after novel "told the story of one or more young people, and the various difficulties that they had to navigate on their way to (hopefully) securing a suitable marriage with the partner of their choice" (14).

In the novel, as opposed to the romance, the barriers between lovers were "social, emotional and psychological rather than physical" (14):  class difference rather than an earthquake, say, or parents rather than pirates.  "The eighteenth-century novel tradition [...] generally prioritized good sense and social responsibility over grand passion, and often went to some lengths to demonstrate that an overly 'romantic' view of the world, and of love, could lead young people -- especially young women -- very dangerously astray" (14).


Monday, June 15, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (1)



Noted with interest, these passages from Joseph Crawford's very impressive monograph The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2014; distributed in the US by U Chicago P).  Page number precedes the quotation; a slash mark (/) mid-quotation marks a page break.

Crawford's introduction differentiates his project from Pamela Regis's Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003) in some interesting ways:
8-9: I have no strict set of rules for determining which works count as paranormal romances, like those which Pamela Regis proposes for the romance as a whole in her Natural History of the Romance Novel, for the simple reason that I do not believe that such rules reflect the way in which genres actually function.  A genre, in the sense that the word is used by readers, booksellers and publishers, is not composed of a checklist of generic requirements, against which any given work of fiction can be compared in order to discover whether it belongs to that genre or not; instead, it is / defined by a constellation of associated tropes, and words of fiction participate in those genres to the extent that they partake of those tropes which define it.  Nor is this constellation fixed: it can shift and change as the genre develops, and almost always does so. 
9:  An accurate generic history must, by necessity, include such hybrid works, for the simple reason that authors, readers and publishers almost never restrict themselves to 'pure' works of a given type, and thus lines of influence often run through other channels. 
9:  [Crawford has] tried to map out, to the best of my ability, that line of literary and cultural descent which ultimately led to the modern genre of paranormal romance, rather than limiting myself to those works which fit some Platonic definition of generic form.
Crawford's first chapter is called, deliciously, "The First 800 Years." It begins with the etymology of the word "romance," then moves into some literary and cultural history:
11-12:  The rise of the heroic romance as a literary genre in twelfth-century France coincided with the appearance of the aristocratic cultural ideal of fin' amor, 'fine' or 'courtly' love, which postulated the then almost unheard-of idea that, under the right conditions, love between men and women could potentially be a morally or spiritually ennobling force.  The development of both the romance as a literary genre, and of fin' amor as a cultural practice, were encouraged by Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of England and France: she and her eldest daughter Marie acted as patrons to important / early romance authors such as Chretien de Troyes and (probably) Marie de France, while simultaneously helping to spread the ideals of fin 'amor across the royal courts of Western Europe. The same ideals of love were reflected in the works of the romance-writers whom they patronized, and so thorough did the identification of this new code of courtship with this new form of writing eventually become that, when we wish to refer to intense and ennobling love-relationships today, we no longer speak of fin 'amor: we refer, instead, to 'romantic love.'
These romances "were not only love stories--they were also stories of war, magic and adventure," Crawford explains (12).
12:  This combination of courtly love stories with magical high adventure proved so enduringly popular that, for the next 500 years, a single genre -- 'romance' -- served simultaneously as Western Europe's preferred form of both.  Pure and perfect love was 'romantic'; but so were supernatural events, or incredible feats of arms. 'Romantic love' went alongside 'romantic heroism' and 'romantic enchantment,' linked so inseparably that, when Don Quixote decides to become a knight arrant like the heroes of his favourite romances, he concludes that not only must he be an invincible warrior who inhabits a world of magic and monsters, he must also have a beautiful and virtuous maiden with whom he is perfectly in love, on the assumption that the former must naturally imply the latter.
The "first question" for Crawford about contemporary paranormal romance is therefore not "how stories of love and the supernatural came to coexist within the same genre; rather, we should investigate how it came to pass that, after five centuries of unity, they ever came to be separated" (13).

I'll type up some notes and quotes on Crawford's account of how this separation occurred in the next of these posts.  For now, let me just say that I'm intrigued by the notion of starting my romance course with a book that somehow captures that earliest, internally-multiple version of the genre.  The one that I might try is Alexis Hall's Prosperity, which is a queer steampunk novel that includes romantic love, heroism, and enchantment, and which I've been trying to figure out how to approach in the classroom.  This might help!