Friday, August 31, 2007

Academic Research Grant for American Romance Scholars

This is me relaying another announcement that Eric made to the Romance Scholar list.

The Romance Writers of America's fourth annual Research Grant competition is now open.
The grant program seeks to develop and support academic research devoted to genre romance novels, writers, and readers. Appropriate fields of specialization include but are not limited to: anthropology, communications, cultural studies, education, English language and literature, gender studies, linguistics, literacy studies, psychology, rhetoric, and sociology. Proposals in interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies are welcome. The ultimate goal of proposals should be significant publication in major journals or as a monograph from an academic press.

The RWA Research Grant Program is open to faculty at accredited colleges and universities, independent scholars with significant publication records, and dissertation candidates who have completed all course work and qualifying exams. No candidate need be a member of the RWA. Candidates must reside in the United States. RWA cannot accept applications from international scholars at this time.

• Amount: up to $5,000
• Tenure: March 1, 2008 through March 1, 2009
• Closing date for receipt of all applications is December 1, 2007
The full details are available here.

Details of the research carried out by past recipients of the grant, including Eric, can be found here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Call From Eric - Black / Latina Romance Fiction

From April 11-12, 2008, the University of Illinois at Chicago will be holding a conference titled "New Movements in Black & Latina/o Sexualities". Eric is hoping to get together a panel on Black & Latina romance fiction (and / or erotica, and / or "chica lit").

He writes:
If you'd like to join me in proposing a panel / roundtable discussion, send me your ideas soon, by direct email ( as the deadline is on September 15! Feel free, also, to pass this along to interested romance / erotica authors--I'd love to have a roundtable that mixed authors and critics in some proportion.
The conference organisers write that:
Over the past decade, racialized representations of Black and Latina/o sexualities as perverse Others have been systematically challenged by scholars and political and cultural activists from myriad disciplinary fields. The steady emergence of new exhibitions, performances, media, writings, virtual communities, and activist groups bear witness to the importance of how Black and Latina/o people love and express themselves sexually. This conference brings attention to these “bodies of knowledge” – in their biological, social, cultural, and political forms – in order to rethink how the relationships between race, sexuality, and power has, and continues to, shape Black and Latina/o sexualities in the U.S.

This conference intends to highlight debates, ideas, and practices relating to the meanings assigned to black and brown bodies in the U.S., how black and brown people experience their socially regulated bodies, and how those bodies are positioned vis-à-vis knowledge, truth, politics, and history.

Bringing together activists, artists, independent scholars, faculty, practitioners, and students from a broad range of disciplines and fields, the conference aims to address issues of sexual desire and pleasure, cultural activism, black-brown dialogues and coalition-building, creating and performing sexual identities, human rights and social justice, and citizenship, among other topics.

The conference venue presents a unique opportunity for the participants to examine critically the state of empirically grounded, historicized, and theoretically informed inquiries and practices around Black and Latina/o bodies and sexualities. Equally important in this moment then, is the recognition and scrutiny of how these interventions have made an impact on the fields of African American studies; Latina/o studies; women’s and gender studies; sexuality studies; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer studies; as well as mainstream disciplines like literature, sociology, history, public health, psychology, art history, public policy, etc.

Participants from all disciplinary fields and perspectives who wish to engage with these issues are welcome.
The full details about the conference are here and here as a pdf.

While we're on the topic of race and romance, I thought I'd give a quick mention to the "series of interviews with authors both familiar and new about their experiences in the publishing industry as someone who is neither black nor white" that Angela at Reading While Black has been posting. So far she's interviewed Julie Elizabeth Leto, Sonia Singh, Barbara/Caridad Ferrer, and Nadina Dajani.

Angela's interviews continue the examination of the publishing industry's attitude towards the race of its authors which began in March this year when Karen Scott posted her Racism in Romance Survey and interviewed Lynn Emery, Kayla Perrin, Eugenia O’Neal, Marcia King-Gamble, Angela Henry, Gwyneth Bolton, Millenia Black, Shelia Goss, Bettye Griffin, Seressia Glass, and Raine Weaver.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Feminism and Popular Culture: The Three Musketeers in Newcastle

Earlier this year Laura, An and I all went to the 20th Annual Feminist and Women's Studies (UK and Ireland) Association Conference on "Feminism and Popular Culture" in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. What follows is a short summary of the chick lit panel on the first day of the conference.


Kerstin Fest (University College Cork): "Nannies, Personal Assistants and Domestic Goddesses: Female Labour in Contemporary Chick Lit"

Fest started discussing the tension in Victorian literature between ideals of femininity and the working woman, and continued to show that the problem femininity vs. working woman also exists in contemporary chick lit. Typically, in chick lit a low-status job denotes a "good woman", whereas higher-status jobs are held by "bad women," and thus importance is still placed on traditional female virtues.

The workplace is usually depicted as cold, cut-throat, and a masculine sphere, which is no proper place for the empathetic heroine. Consequently, career women or simply women who are successful in their jobs are masculinized, or even demonized.

In the following Fest proved her thesis by analysing three chick lit novels from three different authors:

Because the heroine comes from a loving family, she is suitable for childcare and loving relationships. The novel contrasts the middle-class heroine with the cold and corrupted upper-class villainess, who has got no time for her child.

Again, the novel contrasts the good heroine, an all-American girl, with the villainess, a female boss stripped of her human features. According to Fest, the moral of the book is to curb one's ambition, or else you'll lose your soul and femininity.

In this novel, love and femininity are not to be found in London, but in the country, which is another example of the defemininizing influence of the work place.
Thus, chick lit can in many ways be regarded as a backlash against feminism: it is about the Angel in the House instead of girl power.


Rocio Montoro (University of Huddersfield): "Cappuccino Fiction and Feminism: A Stylistic Perspective on Chick Lit"

Montoro chose a stylistic approach to analyse texts, and contrasted the heroine's stance towards feminism with what her voice reveals. The paper certainly brought up a number of good points, but was also terribly flawed in many respects. First of all, Montoro came up with a new term, "cappuccino fiction," because just like cappuccino these books leave a sweet taste in your mouth [her words, not mine!!!]. However, from her definition it didn't become clear why she needed this new term in the first place, or whether the term referred to chick lit or romance or both. Only when she continued with her analysis it turned out the term was meant to refer to chick lit, because she contrasted cappuccino fiction with romance fiction, namely books by Barbara Cartland and typical Mills&Boon [Harlequin, for the Americans] novels. She concluded that heroines of cappuccino fiction are more active than those in typical romance fiction, partly because of the omniscient narrator in romance. [As you can see, it didn't really come as a surprise when she revealed in the following the discussion that she hadn't actually read a romance.]


Elena Pérez Serrano (University of Lleida): "Chick Lit and Marian Keyes: Pro-Feminism or Pro-Patriarchy?"

Serrano analysed the novels by Marian Keyes in order to find out whether chick lit is a profeminist genre or whether it upholds patriarchal values. In order to answer this question she compiled two different lists:

patriarchal discourses (as found in Keyes's novels)

  • women need men
  • singles are pathetic
  • marriage is the only option
  • traditional family = shelter
  • women should always look good
  • women were made to procreate
  • your job won't make you happy


feminist messages (as found in Keyes' novels)

  • whole woman
  • is there a 2nd sex?
  • not female eunuchs anymore
  • single girls – let's celebrate!
  • are men necessary?
  • lies and myths about beauty
  • the revolution from within

Serrano concluded that chick lit contains both patriarchal and feminist discourses, and that the patriarchal elements have been introduced due to commercial purposes.


It so happened that An Goris and I sat side by side during this panel, which we didn't know at the beginning. We only found out later when I felt the somewhat urgent need to join the discussion and rectify some assumptions about romance, and An figured I must be either Laura or Sandra, since we were the only three romance gals at the conference.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Once Upon a Time ...

... once more. Some of you might remember that last year I wrote a post on romance and fairy tales, titled -- on a stroke of pure genius! -- "Once Upon a Time".

Today I wrote a post with the same title for Unusual Historicals: I give rough overview of the rediscovery of folk literature in the late 18th and early 19th century. There are wolves; fragments of ancient poetry which aren't ancient at all; even more ancient poetry (this time from England); really strange theories; little old women; mountains and other areas far away from evil civilisation; and a mysterious, black-holish library. And sex. Did I mention sex?

Feel free to stop by and join the fun!

Betina Krahn - The Book of True Desires

In my last post I took a look at how authors' nationalities might affect their work (in terms of how they're positioned vis-a-vis the market they write for, the cultural references they draw on, etc.). We also touched on what RfP described as "different national mythologies, both about one's home country and about other nations" and she quoted Terracciano et al's findings that "Perceptions of national character [...] appear to be unfounded stereotypes that may serve the function of maintaining a national identity". In this post I'm going to be analysing some of the "perceptions of national character" which appear in Betina Krahn's The Book of True Desires. As usual this isn't a review because I'm going to be looking in depth at one particular issue rather than giving an overview of the whole novel, and I'll also include spoilers.

The Book of True Desires won the 2007 RITA Award for Best Short Historical Romance and received very positive reviews from Romantic Times, and The Romance Reader. A short excerpt can be found on Amazon and, in truncated form, here.

All About Romance's reviewer, Leigh Thomas, however, struck a dissenting note:
The biggest problem is that the characters are rather flat. I really like the idea of a strong, adventurous heroine and amusingly persnickety, intellectual hero, but I never warmed up to these particular characters. I kept waiting for them to be deepened beyond those first impressions. They never were. Their development is perfunctory at best, with Cordelia and Hart never achieving more than two dimensions. As a result, the characters aren't as engaging as they should be, so their adventures aren't either. Everyone else ranges from the nondescript, like Cordelia's aunt (which prevents her subplot from having any impact), to one-note, like the cartoonish villain.
The Purple Pen reviewer, Lola Sparks, despite having a favourable opinion of the book as a whole, also states that
If one thing grates in this novel, it's Cordelia herself. She is painted as entirely too perfect for my liking. I'm not a fan of heroines who are too beautiful to be believed. Cordelia can do no wrong. She's been everywhere, she's done seemingly everything, she fights like a man, and is beautiful like no other woman on earth. If I could wish for one thing in this book, it would be to tone Cordelia down a notch, give her a few faults, which would make her more believable.
If Cordelia O'Keefe is emotionally "flat" and yet exceptional in so many ways, including being "beautiful like no other woman on earth" this is perhaps because she is characterised as seeming
to have escaped from Charles Dana Gibson's sketchbook, and it was little wonder. Her bountiful chestnut hair was a single pin away from falling into glorious dishabille…her long-waisted gown emphasized the provocative S curve at the small of her back…the creamy perfection of her skin was enhanced by a dark ribbon bearing a cameo at her throat. Gibson's celebrated talents could only have captured her in two dimensions and it was as clear as the winter sky that she was all but bursting the bounds of three. (1-2)
The picture of Cordelia as a Gibson Girl is reinforced by a later description of her having "an impeccable Gibson coif" (35).1 The Gibson Girl, while not a caricature, was an idealised stereotype of American womanhood: "The Gibson Girl was, in the artist's own words, 'The American Girl to all the world,' even as she raised her new-fangled golf-club and cried 'Fore!' She was spunky and sentimental, down-to-earth and aristocratic at the same time" (
She wasn't real, but she was the ideal. The creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), she represented a serene self-confidence that could surmount any problem, and a physical beauty enhanced by an elegant S-curve silhouette shape from bouffant to bustle that real women everywhere emulated into the fashion of the times.

But more than anything, she came to symbolize the "New Woman," a feminist ideal that emerged in the decades following the Civil War. (Shaw)
In some ways the novel reminded me of the adventures of Hergé's Tintin cartoons, though with a Gibson girl as the main protagonist rather than a young, male reporter. Tintin visits South America in a number of books, including The Broken Ear, Prisoners of the Sun, and Tintin and the Picaros. Hergé was "determined to get the details of the backdrops and locations of Tintin's adventures absolutely right, down to the smallest detail" (BBC) and Krahn demonstrates a similar interest in historical accuracy. In an "author's note" she states that "the details of time and place are as authentic as research can make them" (339) and she has photos of many of the locations here. As with Hergé's work, this leaves space for less than total realism with regards to the larger-than-life characters and the humour in the book, which draws on racial/national stereotypes. Whereas in Tintin and the Picaros Hergé has Tintin caught up in civil unrest in the South American state of "San Theodoros, where General Tapioca has deposed Tintin's old friend, General Alcazar" (Wikipedia), Krahn has her characters visit Cuba just prior to the Spanish-American War and her villain is a Spanish aristocrat with an uncle who is a "bishop of the church" (85).2 This villain is
moderately tall, slender to the point of gauntness, with dark hair and Moorish eyes that matched the exotic cut of his white linen suit [...]
"I am Don Alejandro Castille." He made a curt bow. [...]
[...] he must look less sallow and dyspeptic by candlelight [...] He tilted his head, [...] then smiled broadly enough to show startlingly large, tobacco-yellowed eyeteeth. (82-83)
These eyeteeth "lent his face a reined savagery" (149). His name may not be quite as obviously absurd as Tapioca's but there is definitely something of the stereotype about him.

In addition to the Gibson girl and the Spanish villain, we have a Professor Valiente of the University of Mexico. "Valiente" means "courageous" in Spanish, and he does have a chance to demonstrate this quality in the course of the novel. He is not as ruthless as Castille but "had the black hair and dark eyes common to Latin types and the flashy white teeth and reckless grin common to lothario types" (60). He is later described as "an aging Latin lothario" (164) who, "like so many of Castille's countrymen, clearly had a weakness for women" (268). He also has a penchant for stylish and expensive clothing, "He wore well-tailored trousers, handmade Italian shoes, and a shirt embellished with white-on-white silk embroidery" (60). The aging Valiente thus provides a somewhat humorous embodiment of the "Latin lover":
Since the days of early cinema, Latin men have portrayed some of the most virile, passionate and forbidden characters on the screen. With their swarthy good looks and smoldering eyes, these "Latin lovers" have caused female moviegoers to swoon for decades. But unlike his blond counterpart, the Latin lover was generally not cast in the leading role. He played the rogue to the Anglo gentleman. (Chapa)
Valiente is indeed contrasted with the Anglo Hartford Goodnight, and though the two are never truly love rivals, Valiente does introduce Cordelia to the very sexual tango, much to Goodnight's disapproval:
Suddenly the professor brought her body fully against his and guided her leg into a dramatic extension that pressed her into a startling proximity with his, mimicking a far more intimate dance between a man and a woman. [...]

[Goodnight to Cordelia] "What's gotten into you - making a spectacle of yourself out there? There are mating rituals in Borneo less explicit than that. May I remind you that you're in a foreign country, you're on a mission, and the man whose shirt you just steam pressed with your ... body ... has just attached himself to our expedition to Mexico. (68-69)
The Mexican guides, Itza and Ruz Platano, with their ludicrous name and comic appearance also draw on a common stereotype and provide a source of humour:
two shaggy-looking men with broad, sunbaked faces and eyes so dark they were almost black. They were barefoot and wore ragged trousers and shirts from which the sleeves had been ripped. They looked up at her and their toothy smiles faded to looks of awe.
The taller, thinner one sprang up.
The shorter, stockier one joined him, nodding shyly.
They produced artless grins of appreciation. "Hola! Senorita. (136)
Cordelia reflects that they are "a pair of toothy yokels whose surname - according to her phrase book - meant 'banana,' and who had a bizarre, almost familial attachment to a pregnant burro" (138).

The mention of Cordelia's phrase book brings me to the issue of language. Krahn, by having a heroine who uses a phrase book, demonstrates the difficulties of language learning yet, despite the fact that some of the Hispanic characters have made the effort to learn a second language, English, and are far more proficient in it than the heroine is in Spanish, the way in which they speak English seems to be exploited for humorous effect. As Charles Ramirez Berg has written, the use of broken English in cinema has a long tradition:
Language divulges character and the relationship between character and culture. "Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity," Gloria Anzaldúa has written. "I am my language." Most Hollywood films not only deny this part of a Latino's identity, they adulterate it as well. In American culture and Hollywood films, the command of standard English establishes a person as well-educated, intelligent and credible. The use of "Hollywood Spanish" — broken English spoken with a heavy accent — marks a character as stupid.
The witch, Yazkuz, is
an old woman swaying forward with the help of a gnarled walking stick. She wore a red shawl over her head and as she approached, Cordelia thought she looked like one of the dried-apple people children in New England carve in autumn.
Frizzy white hair was visible beneath the shawl, and she had dark, piercing eyes. Bone bracelets clacked on each wrist and there were carved talismans on leather thongs hanging around her neck. (204-05)
She isn't precisely described as "stupid" but instead of her language learning skills being provided as evidence of her "intelligence" they're presented as the result of "patience and cunning" (217): "an unexpected student of English [...] she had acquired, through her little extortions and nefarious trading practices, three books published in English and had with patience and cunning sat down to decipher some of that foreign script" (217). Having acquired her knowledge by "nefarious" means, she uses it to flirt. After Cordelia has found her "brain being picked to correct Yazkuz's English [...] The result was an improvement in the old witch's ability to communicate with the 'handsome one'" (217). Yazkuz is described as "the old girl" (223, 226, 247, 290, 291, 314), her "guile" (223) is mentioned and when she speaks it is in a "voice [that] sounded like something straight out of Hans Christian Andersen" (209). This last is perhaps another indication that the characterisation is not intended to be entirely realistic, but instead draws on larger-than-life stereotypes or archetypes.

The characterisation of the Spanish/Hispanic characters seems to fit into a particular tradition. William Anthony Nericcio quotes from Gary D. Keller's Chicano Cinema: Research, Reviews, and Resources:
Hollywood has produced a huge number of films that depict Hispanic characters, mostly Chicano or Mexican . . . manufactured according to a formula that has overtly provided for the denigration of minorities and outgroups. . . . The Hollywood Celluloid Factory reflect[s] and reinforce[s] the pervasive racial antagonisms that have been the bane of American society from its origins. The initial Hollywood result was the cloning of greaser stereotype upon stereotype: incompetent bandidos, goodhearted simpletons, easy mujeres, perfidious criminals . . . and so on, ad infinitum and ad nauseam.
Castille is the "perfidious criminal", followed by an entourage including "incompetent bandidos" while the Platanos are "good hearted simpletons". The witch, Yazkuz, is an "easy" woman, despite her age and appearance, which makes her a source of humour too. She "winked coquettishly" (209) at the hero and when she's shut out of discussions between the two "Cordelia [...] was torn between outrage and amusement that the old woman had taken such a fancy to Goodnight" (212).

The stereotype which is most explicitly and repeatedly explored is that of the British male. The hero is first referred to as a "Brit" with a "stiff back and flared nostrils", and a "Damned limey" (4). Shortly afterwards he displays a "frosty British air" (21) and "very British disdain" (26) or, as Cordelia later phrases it, "his upper-crust British superiority" (155). When Cordelia announces
"I wear men's shirts."
Men's shirts. The words echoed in Hart Goodnight's head and - alarmingly - in his blood. She wore men's shirts. He was rocked to the very roots of his British-bred propriety. (37-38)3
Then, because he's "Tall, bloodless, and British" the heroine wonders "What would such a man want?" (42) and later we're informed that he has a "long, superior British nose" (43) and that when he "stood with his arms crossed and his legs spread, refusing to recheck anything" he is "a monument to the hidebound aspects of British character" (139).
"I'm stubborn, not insane." He glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
"I thought you were just British," she said [...] "Which explains perfectly your gambling problem."
"I do not have a gambling problem," he said [...].
"Of course you do. It's the English disease. That and blocked bowels." (150)
By the time that Hartford Goodnight decides he's "tired of being thought a contrary, priggish, inept British domestic. And even more tired of thinking of himself that way" (201) I have to admit that I was more than tired of all the stereotypes, because even to begin with I couldn't see the humour in them. That said, I'm sure that some people do, or the novel wouldn't have received the accolades it has. So is humour just that, and nothing to be concerned about? David Pilgrim has observed that
There are those who claim that political correctness has run amuck. Get a sense of humor, they say, lighten up. Quit being sensitive. Learn to laugh at yourself; learn to laugh at others. Humor is good. True, but humor at the expense of others is divisive and selfish. Humor that relies on racial stereotyping promotes an us-versus-them dichotomy. It ensures our membership in the in-group by excluding others. It promotes an unjustified sense of superiority.
It seems significant to me that the humour in this novel is always directed at non-Americans. The Americans, in particular the Irish-American Captain O'Brien and the Irish-American heroine, are depicted as being on the side of freedom, engaged in helping others throw off the shackles of oppressive imperialist rule.4 When the protagonists stop over in Campeche (Mexico)
everyone seemed to know Johnny "Dynamite" O'Brien. During their post-siesta meal in a quaint, saffron-scented cantina, the owner and other patrons were eager to retell the story of how the captain had acquired his nickname: carrying explosives to the canal builders in Panama when no one else would. And they were told that he had been a friend and admirer of Jose Marti, one of the first leaders and greatest martyrs of the Cuba Libre movement. Clearly, many in Campeche sympathized with the Cuban revolutionaries and welcomed O'Brien because of his support for them. (118)
In the "Author's Note", Krahn explains that
Captain John "Dynamite" O'Brien was a historical figure, a champion of the freedom of the Cuban people who repeatedly risked his life smuggling guns, ammunition, and freedom fighters into Cuba. Cubans revere him to this day. I'd like to think he would have enjoyed spiriting Cordelia and Hart away from danger and collecting a tidy little sum to help purchase weapons and supplies for his freedom loving Cuban friends. (340)
Even if O'Brien's motives were entirely as described, the contrast between the humour/villainy assigned to the representatives of British and Spanish imperial power and the noble, freedom-loving American O'Brien is perhaps somewhat problematic. Without in any way wishing to minimise or deny the negative consequences of British and Spanish imperialism, positioning the Americans quite so unambiguously on the side of freedom, and having them be acclaimed by the South American population, seems troubling when one considers the broader history of the US's relationship with its so-called "backyard":
From the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, the U.S. military sharpened its fighting skills and developed its modern-day organizational structure largely in constant conflict with Latin America-in its drive west when it occupied Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and took more than half of that country's national territory. And in its push south: by 1930, Washington had sent gunboats into Latin American ports over six thousand times, invaded Cuba, Mexico (again), Guatemala, and Honduras, fought protracted guerrilla wars in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Haiti, annexed Puerto Rico, and taken a piece of Colombia to create both the Panamanian nation and the Panama Canal. For their part, American corporations and financial houses came to dominate the economies of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, as well as large parts of South America [...] After World War II, in the name of containing Communism, the United States, mostly through the actions of local allies, executed or encouraged coups in, among other places, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina and patronized a brutal mercenary war in Nicaragua. [...] By the end of the Cold War, Latin American security forces trained, funded, equipped, and incited by Washington had executed a reign of bloody terror -- hundreds of thousands killed, an equal number tortured, millions driven into exile. (Grandin)
In addition, it is the "Anglo" Goodbody who is entrusted with
fulfilling the promise of the Jaguar/God in a scientific manner. Yazkuz is relegated to the role of a "lowly servant", while she declares that Goodbody is the man specially chosen by the Jaguar:
All healing comes from the Creator ... who walks the earth as a jaguar from time to time and speaks to lowly servants who do work in his name. This is why I have brought the tall healer here to this place. The Jaguar Spirit told me of his coming long ago, in the sacred bones. So, when I saw him and learned of his interest in healing, I knew he was the one. [...] Now the tall healer must carry the remembrance of the Jaguar's gift with him back to the world. (247)
The Jaguar's gift is a rare orchid with potent healing properties and
Before he left, Yazkuz loaded him up with enough herbs and botanical curiosities to keep him busy in a laboratory for years. And after considerable consultation with the Jaguar Spirit, she insisted on sending three of the bags of gold back to civilization with them, to help fund Hart's healing mission. (316).5
Ironically, the United States of America is one of the few states which has still to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity. The convention was designed to address concerns about the exploitation of the biological resources of "developing countries" by companies and individuals from the "developed countries":
Most of the world's biodiversity is found in developing countries, which consider it a resource for fueling their economic and social development. Historically, plant genetic resources were collected for commercial use outside their region of origin or as inputs in plant breeding. Foreign bioprospectors have searched for natural substances to develop new commercial products, such [as] drugs. Often, the products would be sold and protected by patents or other intellectual property rights, without fair benefits to the source countries. The treaty recognizes national sovereignty over all genetic resources, and provides that access to valuable biological resources be carried out on "mutually agreed terms" and subject to the "prior informed consent" of the country of origin. When a microorganism, plant, or animal is used for a commercial application, the country from which it came has the right to benefit. (CBD website)
Such exploitation could include more than the appropriation of biological material:

When botanists for multinational corporations go to the Third World to gather plants, says Pat Mooney of the Rural Advancement Fund International (RAFI), "they do not just collect plants, they collect the knowledge of [local] people; the botanists don't have the slightest idea" which plants are valuable. The botanists gather the plants that local farmers and herbalists have cultivated and breeded and which they unsuspectingly report as useful to the multinational's representatives. (Weissman)

In return for her help in locating extremely medically useful plants for Goodnight and, through the Jaguar's gift of gold, funding Goodnight's scientific research, Yazkuz receives "a telescope, a photo of the U.S. Capitol, several spools of ribbon, some lavender sachets, rose-scented soap, a tin of maple candies, four china teacups, and a bottle of Goodnight's precious whiskey" (204) and later a further $0.35 (214).6

1 I suspect that this is intended to refer to Cordelia's hair, or coiffure, not to a coif.

2 This uncle, "Ramon de Castille, Bishop of Sienna, is well known throughout Spain, Cuba, and even Mexico" (86). It is not entirely clear where "Sienna" is, if it is not the Italian city of Siena. It is also unclear why this aristocratic Spanish family are using the French version of their name, "Castille", rather than the Spanish "Castilla".

3 In this period
Changing attitudes about acceptable activities for women also made sportswear popular for women, with such notable examples as the bicycling dress and the tennis dress.

Unfussy, tailored clothes were worn for outdoor activities and traveling. The shirtwaist, a costume with a bodice or waist tailored like a man's shirt with a high collar, was adopted for informal daywear and became the uniform of working women. (Wikipedia)
Given this, I wonder how shocking the wearing of men's shirts would really have been.

4 Cordelia's Irish background is mentioned when her grandfather (who at this point does not know of his relationship to her) muses
"Boston. O'Keefe." He shifted back in his chair with a frown. "Irish."
"Half," she said with an arch look, which caused him to glance between her and his aunt and think better of whatever comment he was about to make.(8)
Cordelia's freedom-fighting is feminist in nature, asserting the abilities of women and refusing to settle into a relationship with anyone unable to accept her as she is: "I've yet to meet a man who would put up for very long with a wife who has a head full of ideas, a penchant for digging up secrets, and a yen to see what's over the next mountain" (9). Her triumph over imperialism is to transform the British Hartford Goodnight and contribute to the defeat of Alejandro Castille.

5 The use of the word "civilization" in this context is rather telling. It would appear to position America as "civilization". Krahn does write in an "Author's Note" that:
As to Mayan culture ... my understanding of and respect for the Maya has changed forever the way I look at the "settling" of the New World and the flow of subsequent history. The Mayan culture was highly developed and, unlike the Aztecs and other conquered people, the Maya still exist in huge numbers and celebrate their culture. (340)
Again, it seems telling to me that there are references here only to Mayan "culture" not to "Mayan civilization". Perhaps it will be argued that I'm quibbling over semantics, but, as all writers know, the nuances of language can be crucial in shaping a reader's responses to a text.

6 Cordelia has thought carefully about the items to be exchanged:
"In the agrarian cultures we are likely to encounter, sharing food and drink has special significance, as does the sharing of ceremonial vessels. Teacups are as close to ceremonial as we can get without being sacrilegious. Presenting village elders with them is a good way of sharing a part of our culture and ensuring good will." She propped her hands on her waist. "More effective and respectful than cheap tin mirrors and strings of coloured beads, don't you think?" (126)
I can only wonder why Cordelia thought "a photo of the U.S. Capitol" would be appreciated. Perhaps it symbolises the long reach of American cultural, economic and military power?

Illustration of Charles Dana Gibson's Their First Quarrel is from Wikipedia.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Romance Novels and National Identity

The RWA (that's the Romance Writers of Australia) held their sixteenth national conference in Sydney, from the 10th-12th August 2007. Here's a newspaper report from the conference which notes that 'The problem for Australian writers of romantic fiction is that it is largely ignored by Australian publishers, save for the odd outbreak of its younger sibling, chick lit. The global centres for romance publishing are New York, London and Toronto'.

In this context, it seems like a good time to discuss just one of the issues arising from Juliet Flesch's From Australia with Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels, that of national identity. Flesch argues that 'Australian romance novels are distinctively Australian in both style and ethos' (2004: 13). She demonstrates very convincingly that many Australian romance authors write about Australian locations and touch on specifically Australian cultural issues (e.g. in novels which feature remote outback locations or which describe Aboriginal culture and characters) but of course not all do (this is particularly the case with the Australian authors of historical romances set in Regency England).

I'm not quite so convinced by the suggestion that all the authors share a common Australian 'style and ethos'. There are a very large number of Australian authors (take a look at the list here) and to take just a few, I'd say that Anne Gracie's style is different from Stephanie Laurens' (who, incidentally, was 'was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)', while Ally Blake's is very different from Margaret Way's. Flesch does, in fact, acknowledge that 'Each writer is an individual whose moral view, narrative preference and skill and sense of humour are different' (2004: 285).

It's a relatively easy matter to identify the nationality of romance authors, although a difference between place of birth and place of residence may complicate matters. Jo Beverley, for example, was born in the UK but has lived in Canada for decades. On her website she describes herself as a 'Proud Canadian and English author'. Note that's 'English', not 'British'. Before Gordon Brown (who's Scottish) became Prime Minister he was quite keen to emphasise his Britishness and he wrote about
a Britain that is defined not by ethnicity but, at its core, by common values and shared interests that, in turn, shape our institutions. Britain pioneered the modern idea of liberty and, not least from Adam Smith onwards, there is a golden thread that intertwines this unshakeable British commitment to liberty with another very British idea – that of duty and social responsibility, which comes alive in civic pride, charitable and voluntary endeavour, and encouragement for what Edmund Burke called the "little platoons".

Most nations subscribe to universal values like freedom, but it is how these values come together – in Britain's case, in liberty married to social responsibility and to a belief in what Churchill called "fair play" – and then are mediated through our institutions and our history that defines the character of the country.
It's hardly a new discussion, though. In 2005, for example, Julian Baggini wrote that
All previous attempts to capture what it means to be British and English have failed. Roger Scruton's essentially rural form of Englishness has nothing to do with the experience of the urban or suburban majority, while "cool Britannia" was a "metropolitan" construction which few outside the major cities - or in them for that matter - could identify with.

The problem is that Britain is wonderfully and irredeemably diverse, and the more specific your idea of national identity is, the more people it excludes. Go the other way, however, and you end up with something too thin. Brown's idea of Britishness included tolerance, liberty, fairness and civic duty. Those last two characteristics were also cited by Blunkett in his portrait of the English. But as the much wiser Lord Parekh pointed out, these can't be uniquely British values, as that would mean that the French, Indians or Danes aren't tolerant, liberal or fair.
I wouldn't deny that there are some broad national differences (though one has to allow plenty of room for personal difference and also cultural diversity within a state). I've even tried to analyse some in the past. But I wonder if Flesch is maybe going a little far in suggesting that
British romance writers are generally unremittingly serious, while American authors depend more on wisecracking dialogue. The laconic humour in Baby Down Under (a characteristic Charlton shares with many others, including Marion Lennox) also distinguishes her writing as Australian. (2004: 259)
She also reports that
Among the characteristics attributed by Australian writers to both hero and heroine are egalitarianism, independence of spirit, a sense of fair play and a sense of humour, as well as qualities which Lucy Walker might characterise as imperturbability and informality and later writers call being laid-back. At a writers’ forum [...] in 1999, one novelist commented that:
in confrontational situations between the hero and heroine, the heroine in a book by a British author is most likely to ‘pout and walk off in a huff without saying anything,’ whereas the Australian heroine is most likely to ‘tell the hero to get stuffed and say it like it really is.’ (2004: 259)
Personally I haven't noticed many British-authored heroines pouting and walking off in a huff. Is this because I haven't been paying attention, or because I haven't been reading the books which feature these heroines? Or is it because whichever Australian novelist made the comments has a certain idea about how Australians differ from British people in general? There's no doubt that there are stereotypes about 'Poms', but whether many British people would recognise themselves in the stereotype is another matter. And I'm fairly sure that many, many British women would 'say it like it really is' rather than huff and pout.

I suspect that there are differences between authors in terms of how aware they are of their own national identity and the extent to which they wish to promote/celebrate them. In 1957 Alan Boon (of Mills & Boon)
sent a copy of [Joyce] Dingwell’s eighth book, The Girl from Snowy River, to the Australian Minister for Immigration, with the comment, ‘We feel it is good propaganda for immigration.’ Dingwell [Mills & Boon's first Australian author] and her contemporary [and fellow Australian], Lucy Walker, both specialised in British heroines and wrote for a British readership. What they told their readers about Australia at a time of high interest in migration was therefore of considerable significance. (Flesch 2004: 276)
Nowadays Harlequin has a specifically American line, targeted at the American market, Harlequin American Romance, with guidelines which specify that 'it's important that these stories have a sense of adventure, optimism and a lively spirit—they're all the best of what it means to be American!' Yet there are also many differences within America, and some authors prefer to celebrate their particular region. BelleBooks, for example 'specializes in upbeat, sentimental, traditional fiction about life in the South. [...] we are primarily interested in gentle, wholesome stories about contemporary Southern life from the 1930s onward'. Here's a short, romantic story, Sweet Hope, by one of their authors, Deborah Smith, which has an extremely strong sense of place and of local traditions and characteristics.

Going back down under, but to New Zealand this time, Cheryl Sawyer's short story From Whence The Music Came was written 'partly in tribute to the love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekei'. The last sentence is: 'he knew what it meant to her to place her hands on each side of his face, kiss his eyelids and say his name, and press her lips to the mouth from whence the music came'. While it's easy to appreciate the romance, a reader can't fully understand the significance of the heroine's actions without knowing the story of Hinemoa and Tutanekei. Parts of it are referred to in 'From Whence The Music Came' but it's related in full here.

So, do romances often reflect the nationalities of their authors? And if, as in the case of the Australian authors writing for editors in America, Canada and the UK, the novels are edited and widely read abroad, does this affect the writing? Does writing for an international audience make authors tone down national differences because different nationalities of readers have different preferences?

  • Flesch, Juliet, 2004. From Australia with Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels (Fremantle, Western Australia: Curtin University Press).

The first photo is a panorama of Uluru (Australia) at sunset, from Wikipedia. The second is another panorama, this time of 'Sydney Opera House viewed from the water with the city skyline behind', again from Wikipedia. I chose them to demonstrate visually the variety to be found in the Australian landscape, and, in this case, between rural and urban, as well as between the outback and the coast. The photos of locations in the UK aren't panoramas, so I had to include them in a slightly larger size so that the details would be visible. This is no reflection on the relative size or merits of the UK and Australia. The first UK photo is of the village green in Comberton, Cambridgeshire, also from Wikipedia. It's in marked contrast to the Norman Foster design of London's City Hall, from Wikipedia.

Details of the Creative Commons licenses for all the photos can be found on Wikipedia, on the pages I've linked to for each photo.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Call for Papers: San Francisco PCA Conference, March 2008

Goodness, I have missed romance.

I've been teaching poetry all summer--or, rather, teaching teachers to teach poetry, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities--and starting tomorrow, I'll swing into pedagogical action once more, this time with a different workshop series, just for Chicago-area middle school teachers (grades 6-8, that would be: say, ages 11-14), again on poetry.

Now, I like poetry as well as the next guy. OK, more. Much more. But in the heat of summer, a boy's thoughts lightly turn to thoughts of love. Home at last from a family vacation, I'm eager to catch up on Laura's posts and add a few of my own about the few (the happy few) romance novels and novella's I've read in the past few months. For now, though, let me simply post this little missive: a Call for Papers for the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association's next National Conference, which will be held in San Francisco, March 19-22, 2008.


CALL FOR PAPERS: Romance Fiction

We are considering proposals for sessions organized around a theme, special panels, and/or individual papers. Sessions are scheduled in one-hour slots, ideally with four papers or speakers per standard session.

Should you or any of your colleagues be interested in submitting a proposal or have any questions, please contact one or both of the area chairs (see below). Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.

We are interested in any and all topics about or related to romance fiction: all genres, all kinds, and all eras.

Some possible topics (although we are not limited to these):
  • Individual Novels or Romance Authors
  • Definitions and theoretical models of romance fiction
  • New Directions in Category Romance (recent and forthcoming lines, changing demographics, etc.)
  • New Directions in Romance Scholarship (historicist, formalist, queer-theoretical, etc.)
  • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Romance, and same-sex love within predominantly heterosexual texts
  • Genre-Bending and Genre-Crossing authors and texts (erotic romance, SF romance, chick-lit, crossover texts, etc.)
  • African-American, Latina, and other Multicultural romance
  • Young Adult romance
  • History of Romance Fiction and its major subgenres (major authors and texts, turning points in the development of the genre or any subgenre)
  • Romance on the World Stage (texts in translation, romance mangas, non-Western writers, readers, and publishers)
  • Romance communities and the Romance Industry: authors, readers, associations, publishers, websites, blogs
If you are a romance author and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in the romance genre, please contact us! Last year’s author panel, featuring papers from Jennifer Crusie and Mary Bly (Eloisa James) with Suzanne Brockmann as a respondent, was a highlight of the conference, and we would love to have one or more such panels this year as well, in whatever format you prefer.

Presenters are encouraged to make use of the new array of romance scholarship resources on line, including the romance bibliography (, the RomanceScholar listserv (, and the academic blog on romance fiction, Teach Me Tonight (

Submit a one-page (150-250 word) proposal or abstract (via regular mail or e-mail) by November 1, 2007, to the Area Chairs in Romance:

Eric Selinger
Dept. of English
DePaul Univ.
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

Darcy Martin
Women's Studies
East Tennessee State University
(423) 439-6311

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mary Balogh - The Secret Pearl (2)

As discussed in my previous post, this is a novel underpinned by a particular moral view, namely that in the face of adversity one should behave in an oysterish manner, and in turn the morality in the novel is based on theology. Mary Balogh once wrote that
I make great claims for love. Occasionally, a reader will accuse me of putting too much faith in its power. I believe one cannot put too much faith in the power of love. The belief that love in all its manifestations (and I speak of love, not of lust or obsession) is the single strongest force on this earth is central to my very being. The universe, life, eternity would have no meaning to me if anyone could prove that something else – evil, for example – was more powerful. Love, I believe, can heal all wounds, pardon all offenses, soothe and redeem the deepest guilt. (1999: 27)
The use of theological terms such as 'faith', 'belief', 'lust' and 'evil' is clearly not accidental here. Balogh is described in North American Romance Writers as being 'involved in her local Catholic Church as an organist and cantor' (1999: 19). In this post I'd like to take a quick look at some of the theology which pervades The Secret Pearl.

Shortly after his encounter with Fleur, Adam misquotes William Blake:
"Every whore was a virgin once." The poet William Blake had written that somewhere, or words to that effect. There was no reason to feel any special guilt over being the deflowerer. Someone had to do it once the girl had chosen her course. If he had been her second customer instead of the first, he would not have known the difference and would have forgotten about her by that morning. (2005: 14)
Adam's attempt to rid himself of guilt by placing the blame upon the woman and her choices cannot help but recall the original Adam who declared 'The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat' Genesis 3:12. He is also twisting what appears to be the meaning of Blake's poem, To the Accuser Who Is the God of This World, the first verse of which reads:
Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
And dost not know the Garment from the Man.
Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan. (Wikisource)
According to Alfred Kazin,
The "Accuser" is Satan, who rules this world, which is "the Empire of nothing." It is he who tormented man with a sense of sin; who made men and women look upon their own human nature as evil; who plunged us into the cardinal human heresy, which is the heresy against man's own right and capacity to live. The "Accuser" is the age in which Blake lived and it is the false god whose spectre mocks our thirst for life. It is the spirit, to Blake, of all that limits man, shames man, and drives him in fear. The Accuser is the spirit of the machine, which leads man himself into "machination." He is jealousy, unbelief, and cynicism.
Blake's meaning isn't entirely clear, but it seems to me that he's implying that it's the essence of the woman that is important, and that that is not necessarily changed when her 'garment' is changed from that of 'virgin' to that of 'whore'. Certainly that's the case in this novel: Balogh both demonstrates that Fleur does not become a lesser woman because of becoming a whore and the novel also reveals the hypocrisy of those who judge 'fallen women' harshly while themselves being members of postlapsarian humanity.

Daniel Booth is a clergyman whom Fleur had once hoped to marry but after the turmoil and suffering she has experienced she comes to the conclusion that
"I think he is too good for me," she said. "He can see a clear distinction between right and wrong, and he will stick by what he believes to be right no matter what. I can see too many shades of gray. I would not make a good clergyman's wife." (2005: 330)
When Fleur uses the term 'good', however, she is perhaps meaning that he is 'good in the conventional sense', whereas she herself has a different, more nuanced and compassionate measure by which to judge both herself and others. Here is her response when Daniel asks if she repents of her choice to become a prostitute:
He lifted his head at last, though he did not turn around. "Are you sorry?" he asked. "Have you repented, Isabella?"
"Yes and no," she said steadily after a pause. "I am more sorry than I can say that it happened, Daniel, but I am not sorry that I did it. I know that I would do it again if it were my only means of survival. I suppose I am not the stuff that martyrs are made of."
His head dropped again. "But how can you expect God's forgiveness if you do not truly repent?" he asked.
"I think perhaps God understands," she said. "If he does not, then I suppose I have a quarrel with him." (2005: 316)
Daniel, it seems, would perhaps benefit from reading Matthew 7: 1-5 (which, incidentally, is followed by a verse which mentions pearls):
1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Ultimately Daniel does come to recognise his own hypocrisy:
"I thought," he said, "that it would be possible to love only someone I felt to be worthy of my love. I thought I could love other people in a Christian way and forgive them their shortcomings if they repented of them. But I could not picture myself loving or marrying someone who had made a serious error. I was wrong. [...] I have been guilty of a terrible pride," he said. "It was as if I believed a woman had to be worthy of me. And yet I am the weakest of mortals, Isabella. [...]". (2005: 363-64)
Unlike Daniel, Adam quickly recognises his own sinfulness, and he acknowledges that Fleur is, if anything, less culpable than he: '"If you are a whore," he said, "I am an adulterer. We are equal sinners. But you at least had good reason for doing what you did. [...]"'(2005: 147). He also responds in an extremely orthodox manner to his sin, working through the various stages of the sacrament of penance: 'The Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, c. 3) declares: "the acts of the penitent, namely contrition, confession, and satisfaction, are the quasi materia of this sacrament"' (New Catholic Encyclopedia)

1 - contrition:
interior repentance has been called by theologians "contrition". It is defined explicitly by the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, ch. iv de Contritione): "a sorrow of soul and a hatred of sin committed, with a firm purpose of not sinning in the future". (New Catholic Encyclopedia)
Adam reaches this stage when, despite his attempts to convince himself that 'He had no reason to feel guilt' (2005: 14), he 'could not help feeling responsible' (2005: 15) and regrets the pain he has caused Fleur: 'If he had known [that she was a virgin], he could have done it differently' (2005: 14).

2 - confession:

Adam's confession of guilt occurs when he admits what he's done both to himself and to his 'sensible and hardworking and discreet' (2005: 57) secretary, Peter Houghton.

3 - satisfaction:
satisfaction regards both the past offense, for which compensation is made by its means, and also future sin wherefrom we are preserved thereby: and in both respects satisfaction needs to be made by means of penal works. (Aquinas, Summa theologica)
Adam means to make reparation for his sin by finding Fleur and offering her employment. He himself thinks of it in these theological terms: 'He had done his part to atone both for his sin of infidelity and for his part in setting the girl on the road to degradation and ruin' (2005: 73). In itself, merely giving Fleur employment did not involve him in 'penal works' but he confesses his sin to her, as well as to Houghton and promises to do 'penal works' should this be required: 'if there is ever no one else to whom you can turn, then come to me' (2005: 148), 'I was angry at my own weakness that night, Fleur, and I used you crudely and cruelly. I have much to atone for. I would like to do you a kindness' (2005: 149).

In fact it would appear that Fleur and Adam's sexual sin is actually quite minor because there are extenuating circumstances. Fleur prostituted herself only out of the direst necessity and Adam, in making use of her services, had been seeking 'a release from all the pain and self-consciousness and degradation he had lived with for six years' (2005: 73), 'The need to spend a night sheltered in the arms and body of a woman who would accept him without question. [...] The need for some peace. The need to soothe his loneliness' (2005: 127). In other words, his primary motivation was not lust, though he was guilty of cruelty and anger in his behaviour towards Fleur. Although technically he commits adultery, we eventually learn that his marriage has never been consummated, so there would be grounds for an annulment. In this context, when he and Fleur have a second sexual encounter, again at a tavern, but this time with love existing between them, spiritually if not technically he considers them to be married: 'In one way, Fleur, you will always be my wife, more my wife than Sybil is. And physically I will always remain faithful to you. There will never be any other women in my bed' (2005: 349).

Adam in fact comes to consider his original sin a felix culpa, since it saved Fleur: '"Thank God it was me," he said, his eyes burning into hers. "If it had to be anyone, then thank God it was me."' (2005: 308). This thankfulness for the original sin, given it's outcome, perhaps parallels the way in which the sin of the first Adam with Eve in the garden of Eden was sometimes described as a happy or fortunate sin and one for which people have also thanked God, 'Deo gracias!', because
Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our ladie,
Abeen heav'ne queen.

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias! (Adam Lay Ybounden, a 15th-century carol)
Fleur similarly feels that 'despite all the pain, despite all the despair, she would not wish to have lived her life without knowing Adam. Without loving him' (2005: 363) and she trusts that 'everything that happens in life happens for a purpose' (2005: 332), though her optimism is qualified by the words 'We become stronger people if we are not destroyed by the troubles of life' (2005: 332).

  • Balogh, Mary, 1999. 'Do It Passionately or Not at All', in North American Romance Writers, pp. 24-28.
  • Balogh, Mary, 2005. The Secret Pearl (New York: Bantam Dell).
  • North American Romance Writers, 1999. ed. Kay Mussell and Johanna Tuñón (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press).
The picture is Albrecht Dürer's Adam and Eve (1507), from the Web Gallery of Art.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mary Balogh - The Secret Pearl (1)

Mary Balogh's The Secret Pearl was first published in 1991 and Balogh writes that "It is often named by long-time readers as one of their favorites among my books." You can read an excerpt here and there are glowing reviews available from The Romance Reader and All About Romance.

The central metaphor of Mary Balogh's The Secret Pearl is obvious from the title: it clearly concerns a secret pearl. Adam, the hero, says that in his "pre-Waterloo days [...] I thought the world my oyster with a priceless pearl within. I suppose we all believe that when we are very young" (122). Fleur, the heroine, then thinks about what he has said:
Once he had been young and handsome and carefree. Once he had thought the world to be his oyster, life a priceless pearl. In his pre-Waterloo days, as he had described them. And yet he had spoken sadly, as if those dreams had proved to be empty, worthless ones. (123)
The repetition serves to emphasise the metaphor. The symbolism of the pearl shifts, however, as Adam begins to see glimpses of the happiness he might have with Fleur:
She was coming to dominate his thoughts by day and haunt his dreams by night. He was coming to live for the moments when he could see her, listen to her music, listen to her voice, see her eyes on his. She was beginning to give light and meaning to his days.
In her he was beginning to glimpse the precious pearl that he had once expected of life. (234)
Again the metaphor is emphasised through repetition. Adam describes Fleur as his "pearl beyond price" (323) and he dreams of a time when he could
love her by night. [...] And he would fill her with his seed. He would watch her grow with his children. And he would watch those children being born and watch her giving birth to them. [...] He would be happy again and happy forever. He would open the oyster shell and find the pearl within. (327)
Fleur's name suggests that she is a flower but she in fact has multiple identities.1 I'd like to suggest that this multiplicity of names and roles also characterises her relationship to the pearl/oyster metaphor. Clearly she is, at times, Adam's "pearl beyond price", but when she is being filled with seed, and growing "with his children", she perhaps more closely resembles the oyster. As an oyster she brings forth objects of great beauty and worth, whether these be love, happiness or offspring.

I'm going to further explore the pearl/oyster metaphor by comparing Fleur's experience with that of the oysters used in the cultured pearl industry. Admittedly this industry did not come into existence until well after the Regency period in which the novel is set, and it could be argued that I'm pushing the metaphor far further than it was intended to be taken, but I think the comparison with cultured pearls is both interesting and, in many ways, appropriate. This is not solely because I'd like to play on the word "culture", though Fleur is clearly a cultured woman in the sense that she appreciates the arts (she possesses musical talent, can dance and paint well, and has an appreciation for literature and the theatre) but because the cultured pearl is in part man-made, just as Fleur's troubles are.2

The process of creating a cultured pearl begins when a man-made implant is inserted into the oyster's gonad:
Cultured pearls are formed in a pearl oyster, thanks to human interference. In any pearl formation, two things are required, the outer epithelium of the mantle lobe and core substance or nucleus. It was found that cut pieces of the mantle epithelium would provide the pearl secreting cells and that processed shell beads would be accepted by the oyster as the foreign body. Through careful surgery, the mantle piece graft tissue and the shell bead nucleus are implanted together, side by side, into the gonad of the oyster. (James)
That clinical procedure which affects one of the oyster's sexual organs sounds unappealing and painful for the oyster, even if the worker, like Adam, might claim that "The treatment I gave you [...] was not rough" (9). It is, in fact, rather like Fleur's first experience of sex:
He leaned across her and took her by the upper arms, moving her so that she lay across the bed instead of along it. He grasped her hips and drew her forward until her knees bent over the side of the bed and her feet rested on the floor.
He slid his palms between her thighs and spread her legs wide. He pushed them wider with his knees [...]. And he spread his fingers across the tops of her legs and opened her with his thumbs. [...] He positioned himself and mounted her with one sharp deep thrust. (5)
And so the irritant, the foreign body, is inserted into Fleur. Oysters take some time to recover from the procedure and "A common cause of death is serious infection of the wounds inflicted at the time of the implantation operation" (James) . Fleur "bled intermittently throughout the day. She was so sore that sometimes she squirmed against the sharp pain of her torn virginity" (10).3 That Fleur's loss of virginity is also emotionally traumatic is quite clear: "she had discovered that survival after all was not necessarily a triumphant thing, but could take one into frightening depths of despair" (10) but "Never, even during this day of blackest despair, had she considered suicide as an escape from her predicament" (12).

To give them time and a safe environment in which their wounds can heal, "Freshly operated oysters should be reared undisturbed for a few days" (James), often in the laboratory, before being placed in the waters of the oyster farm. It is "five days after she had become a whore" (17) that Fleur is offered a post as a governess, and by then 'The bleeding had stopped and the soreness had healed" (17). It is a further "six days later" (21) that she is ready to be transplanted to Adam's country estate, Willoughby Hall, where the process of transforming her trauma into something rare and precious will begin.

It is from this point onwards that the process of creating the pearl is identical in both natural and cultured pearls. Although the industrial procedure deliberately introduces a bead into the oyster, naturally occurring pearls also result from the oyster's "response to an irritant inside its shell" and in both cases the oyster "secretes the calcium carbonate substance called nacre to cover the irritant" (Wikipedia). The layers of nacre build up, creating the pearl and thus the oyster, like Fleur, makes something valuable out of a process that has caused it distress.

Finally the pearl will be removed. If this is done carefully, the oyster will survive: "In case the oysters need to be re-used for a second time, the pearls are carefully removed by opening the pearl-sac through the gonad taking care not to damage nor stress the oyster" (James). The extraction of the "pearl", Fleur's love for Adam , is both a relief and a source of renewed pain to her, since the pearl must be kept secret and Fleur herself, the oyster, is left alone in her native environment to recover from her loss. She must remain a lowly oyster (a schoolmistress), albeit one who has produced a secret pearl (her love for Adam, an object created by the overlaying of layers of respect and desire over the initial, implanted and traumatising man-made bead) until, though the open acknowledgement of their relationship she can be fully identified as a cultured pearl, a duchess.

She takes the place of the previous duchess, Sybil, who never learned to behave like an oyster and is instead destroyed by her troubles.4 Like Fleur, Sybil lost the chance to marry the man she loved, but unlike Fleur she never accepted this or became a stronger person:
she could have helped herself. [...] But Sybil's character was not a strong one. Had she been given happiness, doubtless she would have remained sweet all her life. But she was a taker, not a giver, and once everything she held dear had been taken from her, there had been nothing left in her life except bitterness and hatred and a desperate reaching out for sensual gratification (374)
Fleur's predicament and her response to it are therefore contrasted with those of Sybil. This romance would appear to be one with a moral, and that moral is that even if the world isn't your oyster, you should behave like one and make precious pearls out of life's harsh realities.
1 Fleur's name may also be a pun on her loss of virginity, since it means "flower" and Adam is her "deflowerer" (14). It is the taking of this flower that ensures that Adam "could not help feeling responsible" (15). The other man responsible for her fate is Lord Brocklehurst, who calls her by her first name, Isabella, perhaps suggesting that the source of his obsession with her is her beauty, since the name sounds like "is a bella" ("is a beauty"). [The true origin and meaning of the name is in dispute.]

2 When interviewed for the post of governess Fleur reveals that
I was proficient in all my lessons. I speak French and Italian tolerably well, I play the pianoforte and have some skill with watercolours. I have always been particularly interested in literature and history and the classics. I have some skill with a needle. (18)
In addition to these abilities she can dance well, as is demonstrated various times in the course of the novel, when she returns to her home village to work as a teacher she plans to teach the children to sing, and she has "a poise about her, a sense of dignity" (391). She is, then, an "accomplished woman' even by Mr Darcy's stringent definition:
observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman."

"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it."

"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved."

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."

"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."

"Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?"

"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united." (Austen, Pride and Prejudice Chapter 8)

3 The extent of Fleur's bleeding and pain as a consequence of her loss of virginity is clearly a deliberate choice on Balogh's part. As has been noted, Adam was not particularly rough in his handling of Fleur, and many women experience little or no pain during their first experience of sexual intercourse. According to one article by Betina Arndt in The Sydney Morning Herald
no-one really knows how common it is for women with intact hymen to bleed on first intercourse. Sara Paterson-Brown, an enterprising British gynaecologist at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London, surveyed 41 colleagues about their first intercourse experiences and found 14 bled, 26 did not and one did not remember.
Arndt notes that tampon usage may play a part in this and apparently it's also reflected in the descriptions in romance novels:

Sandra Pertot is a Newcastle clinical psychologist who has specialised in sex therapy for three decades. She's struck by the fact that these days the hymen rarely rates a mention by her clients. [...] Pertot believes tampon use is contributing to this change, not just through stretching of the hymen but by changing girls' attitudes to first intercourse. [...] This probably means fewer women are experiencing pain or trauma the first time around. Pertot mentions a recent shift in the plot of Mills and Boon romance novels. "When we were growing up the novels always described the first time as 'pleasure mixed with pain'. Today the pain is gone. It's always wonderful right from the start with him taking her to heights of ecstasy she never knew before."

Anyway, after that not very brief, but hopefully interesting digression, I'll get back to Fleur. It seems to me that her experience is particularly bloody and painful and the fact that it's so traumatic is not simply a reflection of reality but at least partly symbolic of her emotional trauma at becoming "a member of a profession the very thought of which had always horrified and disgusted her. She was a whore. A prostitute. A streetwalker" (11).

4 I can't help but wonder if Sybil's name is significant. Sibyls, in ancient times, were pagan prophetesses. T. S. Elliot's The Waste Land includes an introductory epigraph:
“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere . . .”, [which] translates “For once I saw with my own eyes the Cumean Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked the Sibyl, 'what do you want?' she answered 'I want to die'.” (The Literary Encyclopedia)
Another suicidal Sibyl is to be found in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray:
Living in a theatrical world of make-believe and melodrama, Sibyl cannot accept the reality of Dorian's rejection. When she decides to give up acting for his love, she is shocked at Dorian's callous, "without art you are nothing" (100), followed by his desertion. Steeped in theatrics, Sibyl commits suicide. (Gates)