For a long time I'd been a bit puzzled by the popularity of romances in which the protagonists seemed to spend most of their time tormenting each other or otherwise causing each other a lot of suffering. Then, not that long ago, on a blog not so very far away, Smart Bitch Sarah wrote a grade D review of a Charlotte Lamb novel, The Boss's Virgin, and in response Tumperkin recommended Lamb's Frustration (Lamb is a favourite of Tumperkin's). I decided that as part of my general research into the genre, I needed to read some of Lamb's novels and obtained copies of both The Boss's Virgin and Frustration. Both involve a domineering hero who forces himself on the heroine repeatedly until she finally admits both her desire and her love for him. Or, as Smart Bitch Sarah put it,
Not only are there an abundance of punishing kisses (ow) but there’s a great deal of insistence on the part of the Insane Hero that she likes it: “You little liar! You love it when I kiss you!” That pretty much sums up the hero, that sentence right there. [...] The [...] heroine vacillates between spineless - or possibly unconscious - and strong enough to run away from a hero who scares her. Insane Hero You Love It When I Kiss You is autocractic, demanding, and, dare I say, punishing in his affections, which he declares immediately and presumes she returns based on… well, based on what evidence I have no idea. Perhaps falling in love for him is based on the idea that if you insist upon it enough, it will come true? The plot goes in loopy circles that don’t spell out so much forward progression as they do plain old loopyness, and yet. I. Cannot. Put. It. Down.I could easily have put them both down. But I make noble sacrifices in the name of research, so I read on, hoping to discover what it was about these books that appealed so much to Tumperkin and rendered Sarah unable to Put. It. Down. Finally Tumperkin very kindly gave me an explanation:
I did not concern myself with [...] judging the hero's actions against 'reality'. And I think that that is the case for a lot of romance readers (although I appreciate you are reading romance as an academic - I am not). You talk about the definition of the romance novel as being two characters/ love story/ HEA. That's all well and good, but I don't think it follows that just because that is what the story is 'about' that readers (or all readers) are concerned with the authenticity of the central relationship. My own view is that for many readers, it's more about the journey - the roller-coaster if you like. A story arc contains highs and lows that deliver an emotional punch to the reader. A story with a very dark hero (abusive in the real world) might deliver a much more satisfying journey for certain readers. I tend to think of the more lurid examples of this type of story as 'emotional porn'.So it's a high adrenaline ride with a plot that performs multiple loop the loops which, if viewed logically, seem a repetitive and rather inefficient way of getting from point A to B. But then, with a roller coaster, getting to point B really isn't important. As Tumperkin said, it's all about the journey.
I began to wonder if maybe there was some correlation between reading preferences and the personality continuum which runs from Big T to Little T personalities: "Type T personality is a personality dimension which characterizes individuals along a continuum ranging from those who are stimulated by risk-taking, stimulation-seeking and thrill-seeking (Big T) to those who are risk, stimulation, and thrill-avoiding (Little t)" (from the abstract of a paper by Knutson and Farley). Certainly
research suggests that high sensation-seeking reaches into every aspect of people’s lives, affecting engagement in risky sports, relationship satisfaction before and during marriage, tastes in music, art and entertainment, driving habits, food preferences, job choices and satisfaction, humor, creativity and social attitudes.and
[...] Probing further, Zuckerman has found evidence for both a physiological and biochemical basis for the sensation-seeking trait: High sensation-seekers appear to process stimuli differently, both in the brain and in physiological reactions.
High sensation-seekers, who crave novel experiences, are at one end of the scale, while low sensation-seekers, who actively avoid excitement, are at the other end. Most people fall in the middle, with a moderate inclination to seek out new experiences, but a disinclination to push too far, he says. (Munsey, Monitor on Psychology)
In photographs, television, films, and reading, the high sensation seekers show a greater interest than the lows in morbid and sexual themes, whereas low sensation seekers find these themes distasteful and avoid them. High sensation seekers are more likely to be found among those attending sexually explicit (X-rated) movies and horror films. There is some evidence that the high sensation seekers may habituate more rapidly than lows to scenes in horror films. (Zuckerman 223)What do you think? Do you enjoy an emotional roller coaster? Do you think there's any correlation between your reading choices and your personality type?
- Zuckerman, Marvin. Behavioral Expressions and Biosocial Bases of Sensation Seeking. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.