Since I first posted about the essays on romance authors which had been published in the journal Teaching American Literature there have been some changes made. Most of the essays have been renamed and restored to their original (in some cases significantly longer) lengths:
- Gillian Mason's "Rosemary Rogers: The Positive Power of Romance and Sexual Fantasy" is now "Rosemary Rogers."
- Suzanne Milton's "Danielle Steel: Bringing Family Issues to Light" is now "Danielle (Fernande) Steel."
- Sarah S. G. Frantz's "Suzanne Brockmann: The Military and the Romance" is now "Suzanne Brockmann."
- Wendy Wagner's "Jennifer Crusie: Romance as Academic Question" is now "Jennifer Crusie."
- Fahamisha Patricia Brown's "Beverly Jenkins: African American History and the Romance Novel" is now "Beverly Jenkins."
- Patricia Kennedy Bostian's "Amanda Scott: Bringing History to Life" keeps the same title and url.
- Leslie Haynesworth's "Janet Evanovich: Comedy and Romance" is now "Janet Evanovich."
- Fahamisha Patricia Brown's "Anita Richmond Bunkley." Brown notes that
Anita Richmond Bunkley identifies herself as the author of nine book-length novels, two romances, three novellas, and one work of non-fiction. While it is difficult to say which two titles she would characterize as romances, what is certain is that all of her novels contain an element of romance. (1)Given that one of her novels, Suite Embrace, (published in 2008) "is a Kimani romance novel (Harlequin’s African American series)," that's possibly one of the two that Bunkley would classify as romances.
- Lee Anna Maynard's "LaVyrle Spencer." I was particularly interested in Maynard's description of
themes and motifs in The Fulfillment, most notably in the characters’ connections with the seasonal cycles on the farm. Life on a farm is dictated by the seasons, with they and not the farmer controlling the timeline of planting, cultivating, and harvesting, but Spencer forges a much deeper symbolic connection in her novel. (2)and her observation that, in Forsaking All Others,
With sly self-referentiality, Spencer opens her novel with a breakthrough assignment for Allison – shooting a lusty cover for a romance novel Allison finds herself absorbed in reading, although she bristles at the tidy, happily-ever-after ending and what she imagines will be its surefire appeal to women readers. (4)Maynard also discusses the symbolism of "the rejuvenation of a house" in two of Spencer's novels.
- Diana Stout's "Karen Robards." In the very first paragraph, Stout informs the reader that "Robards claims that she doesn’t write under any formula, and has never sold any of the cookie-cutter romances produced by such publishers as Harlequin and Silhouette" (1). I wonder if this is Stout's paraphrasing of the following exchange between Robards and an interviewer:
Did you ever write for the big formula-type romance publishers?Even if the description of Harlequin/Silhouette romances as "cookie-cutter" is the result of Stout's paraphrasing of Robards's response to the interviewer I'm still rather taken aback by it because it seems extremely dismissive of a great many romance novels and authors, including Nora Roberts (discussed below), who began by writing category romances. It has always seemed very ironic to me that, in a genre whose readers often complain that their novels are unfairly dismissed as "trash" or "fluff," some readers of single title romances often seem to be equally willing to take a negative, broad-brush attitude towards category romances.
No. I never did.1
- Wylene Rholetter's "Nora Roberts." One of the many interesting details about Roberts's career which are included in this extremely comprehensive essay is that "Roberts's name has come to be associated with connected stories during her more than twenty-year career, but, according to Isabel Swift, Vice President, Editorial, Silhouette, the concept was new in category fiction when Reflections and Dance of Dreams appeared in 1983" (2).
Another unusual aspect of Roberts's career is that The Last Honest Woman "was Roberts's fiftieth title for Silhouette, and Roberts herself served as the cover model for Abigail O'Hurley Rockwell, the novel's heroine" (6). I've included a photo of the cover in question, as well as a near-contemporary photo of Roberts, for comparative purposes.2
For all Roberts's success, the following claim seems overstated: "When Roberts entered the field in 1981, category romance was successful as a genre, but individual works within the category format had a shelf life of about thirty days. Nora Roberts challenged that limitation. She has proved that twenty-year-old category fiction still sells" (26). While it is certainly true that Roberts's novels for Harlequin have been repeatedly republished with impressive frequency and in impressive numbers, the Harlequin Classic Library had already reissued category romances which twenty or more years old. Juliet Shore's Doctor Memsahib, for example, is #4 in the Harlequin Classic Library. The publication details reveal that the novel was first published as a Mills & Boon hardcover edition in 1958, the first Harlequin edition was published in 1960, the "Golden Harlequin Library" edition was published in 1972 and the Harlequin Classic Library edition was published in March 1980. Lucy Agnes Hancock's Community Nurse was first published in hardback in 1944. The first Harlequin edition, in paperback, dates from 1953, and it seems to have been reprinted a couple of times between then and 1982, when it was added to the Harlequin Classic Library.
As Rholetter notes, people often describe "Roberts as a 'publishing phenomenon'" (22) but the statement that "The MacKades with their expletive-rich language, quick tempers, tender hearts, and steady love for family suggest that in the creation of male characters, as in other areas, Roberts has moved far beyond the limits of formulaic romance" (12, emphasis added) seems to me to do more than simply praise Roberts's skill at characterisation. It raises questions about what constitutes "formulaic romance," and how many other authors in the genre have "moved far beyond" its limits. Rholetter's clearly not alone in elevating Roberts by comparing her and her novels to an anonymous mass of other romance writers and their books: "According to Thomas Kellner of Forbes, Putnam's Phyllis Grann believed Roberts's books were 'much more complex and textured' than typical romance fare" (9). This got me thinking about how scholars who appreciate the genre can write about its outstanding proponents without wording that appreciation in ways which might be interpreted by others (particularly those who do not know and love the genre as we do) as a dismissal of much of the genre. I think Rholetter gets the balance right here: "Margo [...] is a familiar type to romance readers, the beautiful woman fully aware of her sexual power and accustomed to using it. What sets Roberts apart from lesser talents is the skill with which she uses the type yet creates a distinctly individual character" (13). Here Rholetter carefully distinguishes between the use of traditional plot types (which are neither denigrated nor praised, but simply mentioned as an integral part of the genre) and the skill of a particular author in bringing something new to their use.
1 Stout included the interview “Karen Robards: The Romance Writer & Her Crystal Ball” in her list of sources. The web address Stout gave no longer seems to be working, so it's possible the version I found may be different.
2 The photo of Nora Roberts came from Claire E. White's 1998 "A Conversation With Nora Roberts" at Writers Write. The image of the cover of The Last Honest Woman is a customer image provided on Amazon.com. This is the cover of the "September 1990 reprint of "The Last Honest Woman" by Nora Roberts, Silhouette Special Edition No. 451, April 1988." The original cover features the same picture, but without the inset portrait of the heroine/Roberts.