Saturday, April 05, 2008

PCA 2008: Romance IX

Romance Fiction IX: Saturday, 10:00-11:30am

ew Critical Approaches
Chair: Eric Selinger

"Reading Romance through a Darwinist Lens: The Sylph and Indecent Proposal" Jonathan Gross, DePaul University
Jonathan’s paper was a consideration of whether Darwinian literary analysis was a fruitful way to look at romance? Darwinian literary analysis argues that the creative process is a result of natural selection. The wife who can be sold as a commodity is a theme that is Darwinian, as is a weaker male selling a woman to a stronger one, or two men fighting over a woman and the strongest one winning. Jonathan examined Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire's novel, The Sylph and the novel version of Indecent Proposal as examples of these literary tropes, finally concluding that Darwinian analysis could not hold up to rigorous but more traditional literary as a way to explain the themes of the novels.

"Beyond the Kitsch Mirror: Chick Lit and the Culture Industry" Laura Gronewold, University of Arizona
Laura’s paper was very layered, very interesting, and very heavily theoretical in a theory I have no experience in. While I can transcribe the words and the images I received, I’m having lots of difficulty getting to the heart of what she was saying, so, again, forgive me for the inadequacy of my summary.

Laura’s aim was to establish a framework to examine chick lit through the lens of kitsch. The image of kitsch is one of counterfeit. The term Kitsch about all about taste: clunky, emotionally heavy-handed, laden with sentimentality. There is no "wink" in kitsch taste, like there is in camp. The audience does not have the taste to know better than to like Kitsch. The taste is affected by class, race, gender, etc. There is a complicated interface between aesthetic taste and subjectivity, because taste is a way to understand oneself. Sentimentality is connected culturally to the idea of "average" values. The image in the mirror is connected to everything else that's in the mirror. The heroines of chick lit come off at Kitschy—cloying and sentimental and in opposition to smart post-feminist writing. Chick lit as a whole is a cast-off, unworthy form of literature, seen as unintelligent. Bridget Jones, after all, does not commit to progressive feminism. Sophie Kinsella’s novels are very coy about sex. In The Devil Wears Prada, she never actually shows sexuality at all, except adolescent preference for cuddling, which is very kitsch.

"Romancing the Genre" An Goris, KU, Leuven, Belgium
An is aiming to combine romance and genre theory. Genre theory and study of popular romance novels do not join up, like they should. Why, one might ask, is she interested in the concept of genre? It is omni-present in popular culture. Traditional pre-20thC genre theory argues that there is an intuitive understanding of genre, that genre is located in the text and there is a system of classification that denotes differences and similarities among texts. By this light, genre is seen as stable. Modern genre theory problematizes things more than that. Genre is not located within text, but is found in interactions between text and context, between text and all the institutions that surround the text. Genre, in this light, is connected most to the use and the users of text, but we can't predict how that will work. Genre is therefore inherently dynamic and ever-changing; it may seem stable, but only "stable for now." The importance of genre theory for romance scholarship is that the concept that all genres are dynamic and constantly changing refutes the most ingrained prejudice against romances that they're all the same, all formulaic, repetitive, hence literary worthless. Also, genre theory points out methodological concerns. Genre is used as the only parameter in the studies without being fully substantiated, which is problematic.

The problem in Radway’s study: she was trying to understand how "real" women read romance and why they like it, and uses psychoanalytic theory to do so. She relies on two conflicting genre models, which prevents her from achieving her goal. She asks the Smithton readers how they use romances, which uses the concept of use, which is both constructionist and dynamic, but her formula of romance is a static conceptualization. Additionally, Radway uses structuralist textual analysis, and draws sweeping, unsubstantiated conclusions but undervalues textual variation and dynamic change. She does not "get" the romance, doesn't understand reading experience, because she underestimates the text.

On the other hand, Pamela Regis provides us with a traditional literary history of the popular romance novel. She sees it as old and stable form, with eight required elements, which is also a static conceptualization of genre, a strict definition with eight essential elements. She makes distinction between genre and formula, because the elements can be embodied in a range of ways, which allows for variation, whereas formula is static. She relies on the dynamic nature of the genre, adapted to specific the social and historical context in which the novel appears. However, first, her emphatic claims that romance is "an old and stable form" overshadow the dynamic nature of her analysis. Second, her understanding of genre is overwhelmingly textual and does not pay attention to the use to which a text is put. She imposes her own definition of romance novel on the reader. In fact, the methodological basis of study is somewhat questionable in a post-modernist context, opening her theories up to critique from more theoretical-minded colleagues.

As a whole, then, romance scholarship would methodologically benefit from being analyzed through the lens of genre theory. However, genre theory does not adequately include popular culture and needs to expand. There needs to be a development of a genre model adapted to needs of popular culture, which is what An hopes to do in her dissertation.

An’s paper was incredible. If the promise of this introduction to her dissertation topic is realized in the actual dissertation, the study of popular romance fiction will have a truly great scholar. Watching An’s development as a scholar and the development of her ideas is truly a privilege.

"Nothing but Good Times Ahead? Romance, Optimism, and 'Authentic Happiness'" Eric Selinger
Radway's psychoanalytic analysis of heroine and reader argues that "The goal of all romances is the reestablishment of bond between mother and child." Readers, however, argue that reading the romance has transformed them in important ways, and Radway dismisses them. She cringes most visibly when the Smithton women talks about how reading romance makes them happier and gives them a more positive outlook on life, gives them feelings of hope and encouragement. What if we chose to take seriously the Smithton women’s argument that there is a therapeutic effect to romance reading?

There is empirical research into optimism, happiness, and how these can be created. Scholars like Martin Seligman argue that there are three contributors to how happy we can be: genetics and life circumstances account for no more than 8-15% each of a person’s happiness. Then there's a separate category that can be labeled as satisfaction about the past, happiness in the present, and optimism about the future. In Jennifer Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman, Carpenter performs a marriage ceremony using these phrases and talks about learned optimism. The way the characters act en route to their HEA helps them move toward it. Satisfaction about past means that the interpretation of the past governs the present emotions about a past event. Rescripting thoughts and interpretations towards gratitude or forgiveness helps build present happiness. In Crusie’s Anyone But You, Charity writes a memoir about her romantic relationship past that is very harsh and cruel. A critique groups tells her that she needs to rewrite the same stories to draw out the good stuff about the past, to show that she has learned from her mistakes and that she should imagine purely as fiction a HEA for the heroine of her book. The cognitive therapy she uses to rewrite her past changes her entire world view.

Optimism can be learned, not as positive thinking, but as recognizing and disputing negative thoughts, rationally and actively. Bet Me's Min learns to dispute her negative interpretations of herself, her relationships, and the world around her. Of the three theories of love, only Beth's fairy tale allows women to have feelings of being in control and it’s the theory that comes to be accepted by the novel as the “right” one. Strategies for increasing happiness in the present include pleasure, and entirely sensory process, and gratification, which calls on skills as we live up to a challenge. Pleasure is consciously taking a mental photograph of an experience, focusing on a single sense, telling someone else about it, and self-congratulation. Gratification is putting oneself through painful things, and living up to challenge. Heroine in Welcome to Temptation does the pleasure stuff in the first sex scene, but the second half of the novel shows Sophie learning how to use her signature strengths. She has always used them with deeply mixed emotions, but she eventually finds a way to put her strengths to use in ways that the novel sees as worthy and she is morally and libidinally rewarded for the exercise. The final scene is not comfortable for Sophie, but she's justifiably proud of herself.

It is generally seen as slightly lower class to be taught life lessons by books, but the concept of learned optimism is taught by romances and readers pursue the aesthetics of romance through optimism.


  1. I just came across an interview with Janice Radway (the details had recently been added to the Romance Wiki biblography). It's

    Williams, Jeffrey J. "The Culture of Books: An Interview with Janice Radway." Minnesota Review: A Journal of Committed Writing ns 65-66 (2006): 133-148.

    It's also available online and in it she explains a bit about how she came to write Reading the Romance.

    I know that I'm responding to Sarah's notes, which are summaries rather than the full text of what An actually said, which makes it a bit tricky to comment, but I'll try anyway.

    her understanding of genre is overwhelmingly textual and does not pay attention to the use to which a text is put.

    It seems to me that most literary criticism "does not pay [a lot of] attention to the use to which a text is put," because literary critics are primarily interested in the use to which an academic reader performing literary criticism would put it, and that reader's interpretation of the text. Then that individual reader publishes her/his reading of the text, and other individual academic readers engage with that reading and with the original text.

    Also, if one's used to working on texts which were written centuries ago, it's kind of tricky to have much idea of what the original readers thought, because you can't ask them and most of them left no record of their thoughts. The best you can do in a lot of cases is try to relate the text to a general cultural/historical/social context.

    Even if one does have access to real readers, I'm not sure it's fair to expect any work of criticism to do everything (i.e. engage with the text and explore all the possible uses and interpretations of the text). It would take an omniscient being to write that, and since none of us are omniscient everyone's analysis/textual criticism is open to critique by someone.

    So I think it's only reasonable to expect all works to have gaps/areas they can't address. The real problem arises if the author pretends there isn't a gap and/or makes statements which they can't back up with evidence (e.g. if someone says that all romance readers read the novels because it enables them to eat while distracting themselves from thinking about how many bon-bons they're consuming). I think Radway did make some problematic, generalisations and so, despite the fact that she was aware of the small size of her sample, the over-broad way in which she worded her conclusions has led other people to assume they were applicable to all romance readers.

    Getting back to Regis and "She imposes her own definition of romance novel on the reader," which reader does Regis impose the definition on? The reader of her book of criticism? Or all romance readers? I think it's only the former, really, and even so, I don't see the definition being one which is "imposed" on anyone, but more as one which is offered to the reader for discussion, and which can be contrasted with the definitions produced by others (e.g. the RWA definition, the RNA definition).

    I tend to assume that all literary criticism is intended to be part of a conversation, rather than a final and definitive statement. I certainly get that impression from the interview with Radway, for example. She clearly saw herself as someone who was learning a lot on the job, and she's aware of some of the gaps/limitations of her work.

    It's difficult to find the balance between (a) sounding too tentative about one's own conclusions, and (b) coming across as though you think you have the definitive reading of a text. And texts of literary criticism are themselves texts which will be read by different readers in different ways.

    I'm now feeling a bit dizzy thinking about all the possible layers of texts and and all the different readers, all with their own interpretations of each of those texts. And dizzy is how the picture on Daniel Chandler's Introduction to Genre Theory makes me feel too. ;-)

  2. To expand a bit on the topic of kitsch, Felski's written that the

    "persistent gendering of mass culture as feminine and inferior" has affected representations of both popular texts and of their audiences. In this regard, the notion of "kitsch" is a key term in identifying the ideological assumptions underlying the phenomenon of the "feminisation" of mass culture. The origins of the word are usually traced back to the 1860s, when it was coined by artists in Munich, West Germany as a label for cheap, rapidly produced paintings sold to tourists. "Kitsch" gradually acquired a broader and international currency; in the writings of the Frankfurt School and of the American liberal intelligentsia of the 1940s and 50s, it functions as the direct antithesis of "avant-garde," an over-arching label used to designate the banality and triteness of mass-produced art. As such, it encompasses the taste cultures not only of the working class but also of the non-intellectual middle-classes deficient in the cultural capital of educated elites. At the same time, even a cursory survey of definitions reveals an unambiguous sub-text of gender-specific associations. Kitsch is defined as consisting of "cheap, vulgar, sentimental, tasteless, trashy, pretty, cute objects," is linked to the "pretty" or "decorative" and to "pleasant, sugary feelings," seen to exemplify a "flabby passivity" and "stickiness," or indeed a "muscular slackness." Even more telling is one critic's definition of kitsch as "any over-sentimental, oversweet, luscious, in short chocolate-boxy production in art, music and literature."

    Thus while "kitsch" is sometimes employed as a general synonym for "popular, commercial art and literature," it simultaneously carries more specific and gender-specific connotations.

    Felski, Rita. “Kitsch, Romance Fiction And Male Paranoia: Stephen King meets the Frankfurt School.Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture 4.1 (1990).

  3. Laura, have you read Pamela Hansford Johnson's ON INIQUITY? The inspiration of this rather muddled but deeply felt book was the week or so she spent covering the Moors Murders trial for a newspaper. One of the principal themes of the book is that there is something wrong with a culture that sneers at traditional bourgeois, kitschy values and celebrates anomie and pointless, shocking violence. (She's talking here about some of the avant-garde British plays of the time.)

    I think she makes an excellent point: the art itself may be deeply flawed, but that doesn't mean that what it depicts is.

  4. No, I haven't read that, Tal.

    I think she makes an excellent point: the art itself may be deeply flawed, but that doesn't mean that what it depicts is.

    And sometimes it isn't even deeply flawed. Sometimes things get labelled "kitsch" or "cheesy" just because of what they depict e.g. they demonstrate some kind of belief in the power of love, or the possibility of happy relationships that last. I'm reminded of something that Jenny Crusie wrote in one of her essays:

    An intelligent and critically acclaimed author I admire greatly wrote, “Uplifting endings and resolutely cheery world views are appropriate to television commercials but insulting elsewhere. It is not only wicked to pretend otherwise, it is futile.” I use this in my classes to show that even the very intelligent can make absolute fools of themselves in print because, obviously, it's as unrealistic to pretend that life is all tragedy as it is to imply that life is all happy endings.

  5. Isn't part of the point though that life does not end happily, but tragically (i.e. in death)--unless you happen to believe in Heaven of course.

  6. It seems to me that

    (a) life does not always end tragically, at least not in the literary sense. In tragedy "if he [the protagonist] is superior in some way(s), the tragic pleasure is intensified. His disastrous end results from a mistaken action, which in turn arises from a tragic flaw or from a tragic error in judgment" (from here).

    (b) to focus on death as the defining feature of life seems a little strange to me, since in a way it lets death (because of its finality) negate the importance of all the years of life that went before.

    (c) if one accepts (b) then yes, one may be uninterested in whether the life lived is a happy one or not, because the gloom of death seeps backwards into the life that's still being lived. But just as in literature as a whole tragedy is balanced by comedy, so in life, unhappiness and death have their opposites in happiness and birth (literal and metaphorical, with the love relationships in romance novels depicting the births of new relationships).

    (d) in any case, if a person is embedded in a community, their happiness/good example/positive results of their life can live on after them. I'd disagree that "The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interrèd with their bones" (Julius Caesar - though it's open to question whether Mark Anthony really meant it).

  7. life does not end happily, but tragically (i.e. in death)

    I'm not sure dying is necessarily tragic, but I agree that this awareness can be important. It's one reason that readers sometimes rebel against epilogues that spell out a detailed "happily ever after". There are no guarantees, and the approach of death (as well as lesser unhappinesses) can color reading set in some periods or about characters of a certain age.

    But there's no reason a novel has to extend to the end of the characters' lifespans. Most fiction depicts only a particular slice of the characters' lives. Ending a story with a resolution (mystery solved, stalker stabbed, romance flourishing) doesn't automatically grant the characters immortality or inoculate them against future problems. I generally read it as a happy ending for that particular story, not necessarily for the characters "ever after".

  8. But, as Joseph Campbell said in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, what matters is the achievement of the quest, which secures the community or saves it (depending on whether the hero slays the dragon or brings the serum to Nome). In fact, in the examples he cites in his book, I think most of the mythic/epic heroes die in the end.

    And Robert Farrar Capon, in The Third Peacock, which is a meditation on the nature of evil, describes the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, where the New Jerusalem descends from Heaven and the Church becomes the Bride of Christ, as "they got married and lived happily ever after." Dante meant something similar in his DIVINE Comedy.

    Even in a tragic ending (not so much in the Aristotelian sense as in the death-of-the-hero sense), there can be a sense of victory, if he has accomplished his mission.

    There's a lovely bit in Dorothy L. Sayers's Gaudy Night, set in an Oxford women's college, where the dons and the heroine are arguing over sherry in the SCR after dinner, in one of the frequent academic debates that enliven the mystery. Someone points out that all great battles are fought as rear-guard actions, and usually end with the rear guard getting killed to the last man (Thermopylae, Camlann, Roncesvalles). It is the Dean of the college, IIRC, who replies, "Very well, then; let us die in our tracks, having accomplished nothing but an epic."

    Not a bad motto. I recommend the book to all you academic females--not least because at the time it was written, higher education for women was still a debatable subject.

  9. Laura, thanks for your comments on my paper. It's taken me a while to find the time to read them carefully, but I'ld still like to reply.
    You have a point in saying that academics are mostly interested in interpretation of texts instead of use. My argument, however, is that when dealing with genre - as Regis is very clearly doing, she is trying to define the genre - contemporary theory requires that we take use of texts into account because genre seems to be intimately connected to use of texts. Many contemporary genre theorists argue that a generic label (e.g. romance) can in fact be regarded as an expression of the use to which that text is put. So if any one reader interprets or regards a certain text as a romance novel - that is, if he or she uses it as a romance novel - there seems to be little ground on the basis of which other people can say that person is "wrong" (although there is some, not everyting goes. A shoppinglist, e.g., is overall not regarded as a romance novel). To that extent, genre is inherently connected to use and thus when academics discuss genre, theory would demand they take use into account.
    This is closely connected to the other point you discuss, namely that I say Regis imposes her defintion on the reader. I mean the lay reader, not only the reader of her book. I come to that conclusion because Regis deals with such a strict defintion. She argues, for example, that Gone With the Wind is not a romance novel, but a love story because it does not have the required 8 elements. Regis further remarks that readers often interpret this book as a romance novel because their reading of it is "incomplete" or "inaccurate" (p. 48) - that is, they disregard certain elements or fill in others so as to make it fit the romance paradigm. It is this position which I interpret as imposing a defintion on the reader. Regis contends that if readers consider Gone With the Wind a romance novel they do this because they disregard certain elements and add certain others in their experience of the novel and thus the reader forces this book in the romance paradigm. From a contempory genre theory point of view I would contend - though I am extensively familiar with this particular novel - that readers might have their own interpretation or use of genres and that such a use might not include all 8 elements Regis considers necessary for the romance novel. So instead of adding or disregarding elements, they simply have a slightly different conception of what a romance novel is.

    On a final note I do want to add, as I did in the oral version of my paper, that I'm aware of the fact it is quite "easy" to adopt a certain paradigm or perspective and use it to criticize a study which was in fact carried out in another paradigm. I'm aware of the fact that to a certain extent that is what I am doing with Regis, who herself identifies her paradagim as a 'traditional literary history approach'. This is not the same paradigm I am using, obviously. Therefore I want to stress, as I hope I did in my presentation, that I do value what Regis (and Radway) have done for romance scholarship. I think Pamela Regis in particular presents a very good study which gives an important impetus to our entire field of scholarship. I equally believe, though, that, as you say, Laura, literary criticism is part of a conversation in which we all respond to one another. We cannot develop further if we consider any one account as a definitive one, so even though we greatly value what others have done, I believe it is important to continue to remain critical. It is in that spirit I hope my critique can be received.

    I don't know if I'm making much sense here, but I hope to have somewhat clarified my claims (which were very completely and correctly rendered by Sarah's extensive summary of my paper).

  10. if any one reader interprets or regards a certain text as a romance novel - that is, if he or she uses it as a romance novel - there seems to be little ground on the basis of which other people can say that person is "wrong" (although there is some, not everything goes. A shoppinglist, e.g., is overall not regarded as a romance novel).

    So then wouldn't it be the case that Regis can't be "wrong" in her definition, because that's her usage? Not that you said she was "wrong" but you said she was "imposing" her definition, and yet, it seems to me that according to what you're saying about use, her book can only "impose" something if the reader of Regis's book chooses to use it that way i.e. if they make that their "use."

    Or am I misunderstanding the theory?

    I'd agree that everyone is entitled to have their own definition of what "romance" means, and their own ideas about which books they consider to be romances, but on the other hand, one person can't generally force their definition on other people. I'm thinking that it's maybe like language use in general. I could unilaterally decide to call all cats dogs, but my usage would be unlikely to be widely adopted. On the other hand, in my own particular Laura-language, I wouldn't be wrong if I called that animal a "dog," even though no-one else would.

    I'm wondering how/on what basis one decides what does or doesn't "go." I think that something doesn't "go" when it's not accepted by a significant number of readers. I get the impression that some sort of consensus tends to arise from the conversation among readers and writers (and can be helped along by marketing people and editors) and becomes generally accepted as a definition. For example, I think the RWA definition of "romance" and the RNA definition/description of "romantic fiction" are good examples of a consensus of opinion among a significant number of readers/writers. Someone could have a different definition, but for it to become widely accepted, they'd have to join in the conversation and convince other readers.

    I'm rather fond of the RWA definition because

    (a) it's broad enough to include lots of variations on the settings, protagonists and the development of the love story but

    (b) it's narrow enough to exclude the books I'm less interested in studying ;-)

    The RNA definition (of "romantic fiction") is wider, and I have the impression that there isn't the same idea of romance as a genre in the UK as there is in the US. But, that said, particular expectations have arisen among readers of Mills & Boon in the UK (and elsewhere), and Harlequins and single-titles in the US and Canada. From what I can tell, most readers of these novels would expect a novel marketed as "romance" (in the US and Canada) or as a "Mills & Boon" to be a love story which ends optimistically.

    The term "romance" can be used retrospectively by some of us, but most often it seems to be used to refer to novels that are fairly recent (and I'm a medievalist at heart, so for me "fairly recent" probably means written in or after the twentieth-century). So I'd agree that the genre definition is dynamic: it's grown up over a relatively short period of time and remains open to discussion, and, moreover, there may well be different national traditions which affect an individual reader's "use" of the texts.

  11. Laura, I once wrote a piece surveying the various meanings of "romance," starting with the original meaning of something written in roman, the language intermediate between Late Latin and Old French (i.e., the Strasbourg Oaths and the Chanson de Roland, through medieval romance, William Morris, and on to Tolkien as well as what we usually think of as "romance novels." A lot of things have been included in the definition over the years that might come as a surprise to modern Mills & Boon readers, such as an interest in the life of the common man and revolutionary politics. The subject is a veritable minefield of alternative definitions! Me, I stick with Frye.

    Word Verification: iliauqoo --one if the 170 Inuit words for "romance," translated as "I want to get you naked and cover you with blubber."

  12. I once wrote a piece surveying the various meanings of "romance,"

    You're right, of course. There are lots and lots of definitions of "romance" which have nothing much to do with the sort of novels we discuss on this blog, and perhaps that emphasises how recent an idea it is that novels-with-a-central-love-story-and-an-optimistic-ending constitute a genre. It's also why we sometimes end up using the phrase "the modern romance genre" to refer to it, in an attempt to distinguish it from all the other types of literature which have been called "romance."

    In some ways it can be seen as a very old genre, but I think it's more that it's a genre with very old roots (and it owes a lot to what, with hindsight, we can now think of as precursors of the modern genre).

    As far as "romance" existing in the modern sense and being recognised as a genre goes, I'd agree with An that "a generic label (e.g. romance) can in fact be regarded as an expression of the use to which that text is put" and perhaps I'd add that it's also important to consider the uses to which the publisher and author would have expected it to be put, so it's difficult for me to think of older love-love-stories-with-happy-endings in quite the same way as modern novels which were written by authors conscious of their books' place within what we could call the "modern romance genre." That awareness that the books, by virtue of their central love story and happy ending, form part a "romance genre" as we'd think of it here, seems relatively new.

    And having said all that, nowadays I nonetheless tend to think of Austen's novels (among others) as "romances" because (a) I tend to read them for the love story and (b) I'm probably thinking of that term as a shorthand way of describing all novels with a central love story and optimistic ending.

  13. Laura, what about love stories with UNHAPPY endings, like the archetypal medieval romance of Tristan and Yseult, or the much-debated GONE WITH THE WIND?

    Word Verification: hiwkjshk

    Another Inuit word for romance, meaning "Is that a secret baby, or are you just full of walrus blubber?"

  14. Laura, what about love stories with UNHAPPY endings, like the archetypal medieval romance of Tristan and Yseult, or the much-debated GONE WITH THE WIND?

    I'm not sure what you're asking. Do you want to know my personal feelings about them, or whether I'd think of them as "romances"?

    If it's the former, then the answer is that stories with unhappy endings are not what I'd choose to read for entertainment.

    If it's the latter then (a) a medieval romance, regardless of its content, is a medieval romance not a modern one but (b) if you're asking about how I'd categorise that sort of story-line if it were in modern prose form, the answer is no, I don't think of novels about love stories with unhappy endings as part of the modern romance genre. They're certainly "romantic fiction" according to the RNA definition, but the term "romance" in the sense of "the modern romance genre which includes Harlequin Mills & Boon novels" creates an expectation (for me, and for a great many other readers) of a happy ending.

    I haven't actually read Gone With the Wind and I know there's considerable debate about whether the ending is or isn't "optimistic," so I'm not offering any opinion on how to label that particular work.

    As an aside, being a Hispano-medievalist, I can't help but remember every so often that in Spanish "romances" means "ballads." There's also a tiny little genre known as the Spanish Sentimental Romance which tends to feature love stories which don't end well and with each work tending to be a composite of different kinds of text e.g. letters, poems, allegory, and prose, but see paragraph A.2.3. here for a more accurate list of features.

  15. Well, of course the original verse romances were sung, too. There's little to choose between the Child Ballad and the metrical-romance versions of the Orpheus legend. And Aucassin et Nicolete is a chantefable, a form in which parts are recited and parts sung. The thing is, the two works I've cited are generally considered the epitome of what is romantic; so I was wondering how you reconciled your contemporary definition of what constitutes a romance with the traditional view.

    Incidentally, The White Raven, a novel based on the Tristan legend by my old grad school roommate Diana L. Paxson, got an award from RWA, IIRC.

    Word Verification: onlnezsxr

    Title of well-known Inuit erotic novel; English title Harpooning the Harlot

  16. Incidentally, The White Raven, a novel based on the Tristan legend by my old grad school roommate Diana L. Paxson, got an award from RWA, IIRC.

    That just shows that even RWA can get things wrong (she says with a grin). I wouldn't describe The White Raven as a romance, but rather as a fantasy novel with strong romantic elements. It doesn't really meet the criteria of popular romance, and not only because the participants in the central love story die before the reader has reached the end of the novel. I would place The White Raven firmly in the tradition of retellings of the Arthurian legends, for which the literary circle around Marion Zimmer Bradley was famous.

    Tal, you really shared a room with Diana L. Paxson? Not just with a few of her novels??? I'm completely and utterly envious!

  17. We shared a flat for a year. There were three roommates and four libraries. (The other roommate was storing a friend's books.) Fortunately two of the rooms (it was a converted house) had had enormous sliding-door dividers replaced by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on both sides. Still, we had books in the pantry.

    (And you wouldn't be quite so envious if you'd tasted her cooking! I think she's gotten better, though.)

    Word Verification: ddwizm

    Well-known Inuit romance novel: THE ESKIMO'S SWEETIE-PIE

  18. Tal, I feel one of my more fan-girlish moments approaching (= Sandra sits in front of her computer, claps, and squeals "wheeee!"): Diana L. Paxson is one of the authors who have had a longlasting effect on the mythological landscape of my own writing. In fact, The White Raven is mentioned in the acknowledgments of my latest release.

    Who cares about the cooking?

  19. I should point out that the three of us were living on a food budget of $3 per person per day--and we actually could do it! Ah, the good old days!

    My favorite of Diana's books is THE PARADISE TREE, mainly because I'm familiar with all the locations.

    Have you seen her new website?

    Word Verification: crrwn

    Inuit for "love song"

  20. OOPS! Just looked at my last comment and noticed that I got the math wrong. It was ONE dollar per person per day! Lots of bacon ends, odd-shaped pieces of cheese, chicken necks and backs, and day-old bread. Fortunately, the third roommate was a culinary genius.

    Word Verification: kwnru

    Inuit for "My kayak or yours?"