Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Martyrs and Helen Hackett's Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance

This is really just a very quick note which I'm posting (a) because I thought it might be helpful to mention the older (and very different) genre of romance at some point, albeit I'm doing so very briefly here and (b) because it tied in with a discussion taking place elsewhere.

Hackett devotes the second chapter of her book to exploring whether or not there are any similarities between the modern romance genre and the romances of the English Renaissance. She begins, however, by describing the older romance genre, which
can require some acclimatisation from the modern reader, since it operates not by the familiar principles of the novel, but in the fantastical, non-naturalistic mode [...]. It tends to be concerned, for instance, with the adventures of elaborately named knights and ladies in exotic lands and/or in periods of distant mythologised history. [...] These fictions usually also involve supernatural interventions, amazing coincidences and twists of fate, amidst a general ambience of the marvellous and wondrous; and their style is highly rhetorical [...]. Renaissance romances can be long and highly digressive, often consisting of many strands of narrative; Philip Sidney's New Arcadia and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene are obvious examples. These two romances underwent ongoing processes of revision and expansion by their authors and were left unfinished at their deaths, features which suggest open-endedness and the potentially infinite self-generation of the narrative. (1-2)
Given this description, it is not surprising that in the second chapter Hackett concludes that there are few similarities with modern romances: "analogies between Renaissance romance and modern romantic fiction depend upon a characterisation of Renaissance romance as a popular genre of courtship narratives offering escapist pleasures to women readers; yet each one of the terms of this equation is debatable" (32).

While I was reading Hackett's book, Jessica posted about rape in the romance genre and looked at it from a variety of perspectives, including that of sexual fantasy. One issue that Hackett's book raised, and which struck me as potentially interesting to explore in this context, is that it suggested yet another perspective:
What we often find in Renaissance romances is both the repression of female agency and, beyond this, the infliction of extreme torments upon female victims. [...] In all these episodes the infliction of pain or humiliation on a female body is dwelt upon in detail, with fascination, or even with relish. Violence and degradation serve either as a punishment of female characters who are transgressively dominant and sexual, [...] or as a test of heroines who prove their virtue through passive stoicism and noble self-denial. (28)
Rather than imposing stereotypical modern feminist definitions of heroism we need to reconstruct iconographies of martyrdom and sanctity which have become relatively alien to us [...]. In mediaeval literature, female saints and courtly-love mistresses were frequently addressed in virtually indistinguishable terms, while female saints’ lives recorded the bodily ordeals of virgin martyrs in ways which strikingly deployed potentially erotic material in the cause of holiness. [...] In Renaissance romances [...] heroines often adopt the behaviour of saints in the cause of love. An idea of ‘erotic sainthood’ might be a useful way of understanding the forms of female heroism found in these fictions, and the nature of their appeal to women. (32)
I suspect that although the "iconographies of martyrdom and sanctity" may have become "relatively alien to us," the eroticised martyr-heroine may still be with us, in a modified form. According to Rachel Anderson, writing about the beginning of the modern romance genre, "The ideals of most of the early romantic novelists were based loosely on Christianity. [...] But the majority of today's romantic novelists are far less specific about the motivating ideals behind their work" (275). Anderson was writing in 1974, so her study is hardly up-to-date, but nonetheless, as I've discussed before, there remains a very strong spiritual element in the genre. Looked at from this perspective, perhaps it's only to be expected that the genre might contain some martyr-like heroines who, though they lose their virginity to the sinner-heroes and/or are raped by them, can be thought of as ultimately triumphing over their seducers or rapists by redeeming them.

Jessica also wrote a review of one romance with a rapist hero in which she stated that "Great writers can make us believe in unbelievable things." I'd suggest that hagiographies can also make many people believe in miracles which they would dismiss as unbelievable were they to occur in other contexts.

Janine's response encapsulates why such romances may be felt by some readers to be positive narratives: "That Gaffney was able to begin the reader’s journey in such a dark place and then bring us out into the light is a lot of what makes the books so uplifting to me as well as so incredibly romantic." Are there any parallels to be found with the "uplifting" emotions that may be experienced by readers of narratives about female martyr saints as the focus shifts away from the torments inflicted upon their bodies by abusive, powerful men and towards a conclusion in which the souls of the martyrs are taken up into the light of Heaven?

  • Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.
  • Hackett, Helen. Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance. Cambridge: UP, 2000. A description, and a pdf of the first ten pages of Hackett's Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance are available from the University of Cambridge Press's website.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Romance on the Curriculum

Susan Holloway Scott's daughter surprised her recently by reporting that in "an honors English seminar in rhetoric and composition" they were studying romance:
“Mom,” she said gleefully. “You won’t believe this. We’re reading JENNY CRUSIE!!!”

I didn’t believe it. Mothers of teenaged girls have a finally honed skepticism. But she emailed me the syllabus, and it was true. I’ll quote from the professor’s introduction:

“This course examines the rhetoric surrounding romance and how we see it: what is romance? How has love been defined in Western society? How do perceptions of gender, class, and race affect how romance is portrayed, marketed, or used as a marketing tool? In other words, this course uses romance, both as a concept and a genre, as a lens through which we can discuss various approaches to critical analysis. . . .

“Ultimately, this course is designed to make you think critically not only about gender, genre, and emotion, but, more importantly, about how and what you write. Thus, you will examine different kinds of texts and different methods of analyzing those texts in order to foster a more critical approach to not only others’ writing, but your own as well.”
Susan felt a mixture of pride that her "much-maligned genre" was getting some respect, and concern about which books might be pushed off the curriculum by the inclusion of romance. I'd encourage you to go over to the Word Wenches', join in the conversation, and say how you feel about romance being on the curriculum. I'm looking forward to reading everyone's points of view.

The picture, which I found via Wikimedia Commons, is by LuMaxArt.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Institutionalised Discrimination

In Sarah Mayberry's Cruise Control there's a secondary romance between the heroine's brother, Danny, and his co-worker, Ben, who enter into a committed relationship. As a result Danny finds the courage to come out to his father and his work colleagues about his sexual orientation:
"I'm twenty-eight. I'm sick of pretending to be something I'm not. Ben and I told the people at work yesterday [...]."
Danny's tone was light, but his hands were shaking as he put the lid back on the pot.
"I think it's great," she said gently. [...] "Dad loves you, Danny. He would never reject you," Anna said. (231)
Danny's not so sure, and here's how he breaks the news to his father:
"You know how all these years you keep asking me when I'm going to settle down with one girl and stop playing the field?"
Their father frowned. "Yeah?" Then his face cleared. "Danny - you're not going to tell me you've got some girl pregnant?" he asked.
Anna bit her lip. Danny looked anguished.
"No. I haven't got a girl pregnant. The thing is, Dad. All these years ... I'm not really into girls, if you know what I mean." (237-38)
Danny's father didn't mean to cause his child pain, but he nonetheless causes him "anguish" due to his heterosexist assumptions. Gregory M. Herek writes of heterosexism that,
Like institutional racism and sexism, heterosexism pervades societal customs and institutions. It operates through a dual process of invisibility and attack. Homosexuality usually remains culturally invisible
One could perhaps think of the romance genre as being similar to Danny's father (and sometimes it's been even less caring). Jessica (a romance reader) commented that
I have GLB or T friends who would claim that since 90% or more of the genre upholds the idea that monogamous romantic relations between women and men are the moral norm, it is quite problematic
It's quite obviously the case that the vast majority of romances are about heterosexual couples and, regardless of whether or not individual authors wish to do so or not (and I'm certain that many would be horrified to think this might be the message that others might take from reading their works), they may cumulatively give the impression that "romantic relations between women and men are the moral norm."

So, if authors are inadvertently sending a particular message (and the genre's been accused of perpetuating racism and ageism as well as heterosexism, and no doubt a few other forms of discrimination) with which they don't actually agree, why is this happening?

Maybe it would be helpful to follow Herek by looking more closely at the concept of "institutional racism." Sir William Macpherson's report on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was focussed on a discussion of racism within a police force, and it might therefore seem to have little or nothing to do with romance novels. Nonetheless, here is Macpherson's definition:
For the purposes of our Inquiry the concept of institutional racism which we apply consists of:

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

It persists because of the failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership. Without recognition and action to eliminate such racism it can prevail as part of the ethos or culture of the organisation. It is a corrosive disease.

As Dr Oakely points out, the disease cannot be attacked by the organisation involved in isolation.
It seems to me that romance may, at times, have failed to provide the same "service" to all its potential readers. It may often have done so unwittingly but it is clear that some groups have felt excluded by the mainstream of the genre and its portrayal of romantic relationships between predominantly young, white, heterosexual protagonists. Of course, the genre does not exist "in isolation" from society. Its readers and authors form part of society, and few editors would choose to publish a romance which they believe would not attract readers, and would thus fail to make a profit.

I may be overly optimistic, and I'm certainly basing my opinion on a very small sample of the huge total of romances published, but I think over the decades there has been some progress towards ending discrimination in the genre. As Hsu-Ming Teo has observed, "Between 1890 and 1945, an astonishing number of novels were published in Britain dealing with the theme of romance in India or exploring the possibilities and perils of interracial love" and
these novels legitimized British imperialism. Romances naturalized the colonial order by normalizing the Raj as an exotic background to British love, telling the love story in such a way that the local Indian population, which vastly outnumbered the British, was marginalized and written out of its own landscape and history.
In this context I was very interested to read recently that Harlequin Mills & Boon, as part of its expansion into India,
wants to expand its roster of romantic heroes.

"We are also looking at the Indian prince idea. He is a clear extension of the alpha male and we are looking at launching this next year," says Ms Somerville.

It is also running a competition to find new local authors in India.
Penny Jordan has written about "pushing the boundaries" in this direction because her "first ever book set in India, with an Indian hero, is due out in North America." The first chapter of Virgin for the Billionaire's Taking is available here (there are arrows at the top of the page so that you can scroll forwards in the text). Maybe this is the start of a new trend and we'll eventually find Indian heroes written by Indian authors making their presence felt in the Harlequin Presents line. I do wonder whether or not they'd (a) be non-stereotyped depictions and/or (b) whether such heroes would almost always end up paired with white women, much as HP sheiks usually are.

Ebooks seem to be the place where the dominance of heterosexuality seems most likely to be challenged at the moment, but I also wonder if there's been a trend towards including more secondary couples who are not heterosexual (and not merely the "gay best friend") in paper-published romances. The most well-known recent romance of this kind is probably Suzanne Brockmann's Force of Nature (spoilers about the relationship here), but I know there are others, including Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me (2004), Louise Allen's The Dangerous Mr Ryder (2008), Anita Bunkley's Suite Temptation (2008), Ellen Hartman's His Secret Past (2008) and, of course, Sarah Mayberry's Cruise Control (2006) with which I started this post.1

Can you think of other examples? Do you think the depiction of non-heterosexual secondary couples in mainstream romances is a signal that in time they'll one day take centre stage, or do you think they're likely to stay in second place for a long time to come? Does the emergence of an Indian Harlequin Presents hero strike you as an exciting new development, or do you think he's a type that won't differ much from the existing sheiks, Greek tycoons, Spanish aristocrats and Italian billionaires?

The photo of many different colours of pencils is from Wikimedia Commons.

1 Crusie includes a lesbian friend of the hero's who finds her own happy ending; Allen (writing a Regency includes a scene in which the hero's sister tells the heroine about their (the hero and his sister's) half-brother, a duke who
does not find women attractive. Not sexually attractive. Do you understand me?
'Oh. Yes.' One came across it, of course, although Louis had had to explain it to her. 'But is that not illegal?'
'Yes. You see how I trust you. [...] Charles has lived, secluded on his Northumberland estate, for eight years, very happily with his lover who, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, is his steward.' (254-55)
Dear Author recently reviewed Anita Bunkley's Suite Temptation and Jane reports that the hero has an employee who is gay and "his live in partner was Todd"; Hartman's heroine has a brother who's already found his "Mr Right." I've not yet read the novels by either Bunkley or Hartman, so it may be that the gay couples don't end the novel as happily as they begin it, but I've not yet read anything in the reviews that indicates this is the case, so I've included them in my list.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Eric's Romance Rorschach Test

You can read all about it at Romancing the Blog. Having done that, I went off to find out a little about about Rorschach tests, and now I'm wondering what it says about me that when I saw the Rorschach blot on the right I thought it looked like two house elves clinging to a bell.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"O Promise Me!": Marriage Vows through History

This is a guest blog post by Virginia on the history of marriage vows. I've only added the hyperlinks, the illustration, and the description of the illustration.


O Promise Me!

The fundamental premise of the romance novel is that it will conclude with, or in some cases revolve around, a marriage or a betrothal. Since, for much of the course of European history, the betrothal was a legal contract, for all practical purposes as binding as the marriage vows themselves, it won’t be considered separately in this essay.1 Rather, the question considered here is precisely what, for the purpose of historical romances, the bride and groom were promising, considered themselves to be promising, and were believed to be promising by their families, the civil authorities, and the ecclesiastical authorities.2

In the 1960s and 1970s, when brides and grooms started to “write their own marriage vows,” most of their contemporaries looked upon this as a radical departure from tradition. “Traditional” marriage vows, for most English-speakers, were either those of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer itself or some derivation thereof. So, to start with those vows, there is a convenient reprint of the version of the 1559 edition in Mark Searle and Kenneth W. Stevenson, Documents of the Marriage Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), pages 215-226. These were essentially the same as Cranmer’s 1552 version and the post-Restoration 1662 version. Like their predecessor, the medieval English Sarum Manual (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 163-178), these vows were very elaborate by the standards of almost all others.

The introductory statement by the clergyman brings to the notice of the bride and groom that marriage was instituted for the procreation of children, as a remedy against sin and to avoid fornication, and for the “mutual societie, helpe, and comfort, that the one ought to haue of the other, both in prosperity and aduersitye” (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 217).3

He then asked the groom if he would have the woman to be his wife and “love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health? And forsaking all others, keep only to her as long as you both shall live?” The question to the bride was formulated as, “Will you obey him and serve him, love, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health? And forsaking all other, keep only to him as long as you both shall live?” After this, the couple recited the vows of “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish [and, for the wife, to obey] until death do us part.” The groom then proceeded to say, “with all my worldly goods, I thee endow.” The exchange of rings was followed by the admonition to the witnesses, prayers, and Bible readings. The entire sequence covers several printed pages.

How did these vows develop? How widespread were they?

During the first three or four centuries of the development of Christianity, it does not appear that there was any kind of church marriage service at all. Matrimony remained a matter for the families to arrange in accordance with the provisions of secular law. A priest might be asked to bless the marriage, but it certainly was not a requirement (Stevenson 1983, 13-21; Searle and Stevenson 1992, 253). By the fourth and fifth centuries there was the option of having a marriage ecclesiastically blessed (Stevenson 1983, 27; Searle and Stevenson 1992, 253-254), but it was not a requirement for a legally valid marriage (Stevenson 1983, 31; Searle and Stevenson 1992, 5, 253-254). During the early medieval period, in Europe, the customs of the Germanic peoples also saw marriage primarily as a private, domestic, matter arranged by the families (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 257), although the Catholic church continued to encourage the practice of an ecclesiastical blessing in a church ceremony.

There’s a general overview in Chapter 4, “Weddings,” in Beatrice Gottlieb, The Family in the Western World from the Black Death to the Industrial Age (Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 68-88. It’s particularly relevant when pointing out that in southern Europe, especially Italy, well into the 1300s, the actual consent by the couple was often made either in the office of the notary (for UK terminology, think solicitor) who drew up the marriage contract or in the bride’s home. Only after that, sometimes as much as a year later, did the couple proceed to obtain a blessing of the ceremony in church. [LV - for the situation in medieval Castile see the chapter on marriage in Heath Dillard's Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100-1300.]

It was probably not until the fourteenth century that the ceremony, held at the door of the church, in which the couples recited vows to one another in the vernacular language, became a part of the liturgy, at least in French and English rituals (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 13). The ritual from the Abbey of Barbeau (Diocese of Sens, France) from the late fourteenth century reads for the betrothal that, if both parties consent,
the priest shall take the right hand of each of them and say:
N., say after me:
N., I pledge to you that I will take you to be my wife and spouse within forty days, if holy Church agrees.

Then the priest shall say to the woman:

N., say after me:
N., I pledge to you that I will take you to be my husband and master, etc. (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 157).
For the marriage itself, the husband to was recite after the priest, in a ceremony at the entrance to the church:
I take you to be my wife and my spouse and I pledge to you the faith of my body, that I will be faithful to you and loyal with my body and my goods and that I will keep you in sickness and in health and in whatever condition it will please the Lord to place you, and that I shall not exchange you for better or worse until the end

The woman shall say the same words after the priest
(Searle and Stevenson 1992, 159).
This was followed by a portion of the ceremony in which the priest asked for the rings and thirteen pieces of silver. He gave some of the money to charity, put the remainder in the bride’s purse, supervised the exchange of rings, and had the groom say:
N., with this ring I wed you, with my body I honor you, and I endow you with the dowry agreed upon by my friends and yours (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 160).
The full rite in the Sarum (Salisbury) Manual in England is printed in the original fourteenth-century English, with some explanatory material, in Searle and Stevenson (163-178). In the betrothal ritual, the fiancée agrees to be “buxum [obedient or compliant] to hym,” while in the marriage ceremony she promises to be “bonoure and buxum [agreeable and compliant], in bed and at borde” (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 165-166).

For the Catholic church, the formalization of matrimonial procedures came in the decree Tametsi issued in 1563 during the Council of Trent, which required the parish priest to be one of the witnesses to a marriage. The Missal that followed in 1570 (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 179-183) contained an order for a nuptial mass, since by this time Catholicism clearly defined marriage as one of the seven sacraments–a matter that had been in some dispute until the Council of Florence in 1439. The mass was not, however, yet a requirement – the mutual consent before the priest and other witnesses brought a valid marriage into existence.4 Tametsi allowed for continued use of local customs beyond the essential kernel of the the ceremony (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 14). One essential purpose of the new Tridentine requirements was to ensure that marriages were public, not clandestine or private exchanges of vows between the couple, which brought a renewed emphasis on the prior publication of banns and the formal keeping of parish marriage registers. Searle and Stevenson describe the ceremony in the 1614 Rituale Romanum as “the irreducible minimum that had been defined in 1563, . . . in liturgical form” (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 14). By contrast to the elaborate Sarum ritual, the priest was simply to obtain consent:
N., will you take N., here present, to be your lawful wife, according to the rite of holy mother Church?

The bridegroom answers:

I will.
with an exact mirror vow for the bride (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 185). The rubric emphasized that the priest was to make sure of the free consent of both, pointing out that the consent of only one did not make a valid marriage.

The allowance for local variants in the vows and ceremonies associated with matrimony continued to be used in the Catholic church throughout the early modern period, especially in France. In France, also, wide differences developed between Catholic requirements for valid marriage and those under secular law, particularly in regard to the age of consent. This resulted in situations in which two teenagers, or indeed any couple who married when one of them was under twenty-five, might have a marriage which was valid from the perspective of the church, but invalid from the perspective of the state, because the guardian(s) had not given permission.

Searle and Stevenson, 189-209, reprint the 18th century Ritual of Coutances for both the betrothal and marriage rites. With the same pragmatism that had marked the French four centuries earlier, the priest prays, “O Lord, sanctify these coins, offered as a symbol of the settlement which has been agreed” (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 195). The French rituals did not use the hyperbole of the the English “with all my worldly goods I thee endow” (which manifestly, under English common law, was not a truthful statement) or even the earlier English “with all my chatthel [personal property]”. The vows, in the Coutances ritual, were mirror images: of the man, the priest asked, “Do you promise to be faithful to her in all things as a man should be faithful to his wife, according to the command of God?” while of the woman he asked the same question, substituting only the word “husband” for “wife” (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 198-199).

Let’s take a look at Martin Luther’s 1529 Order of Marriage for Common Pastors (in: Ulrich S. Leupold, ed., Luther’s Works: American Edition, Volume 53, Liturgy and Hymns. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1965, 110-115).5 This pamphlet, addressed to ministers, contained a lot more explanation of the assumptions on which the rite was based than it did vows. Luther did not mention the preceding betrothal and the marriage contract by which the families regulated the financial aspects marriages, but appears to have taken their existence for granted as a matter of secular law rather than church practice. He starts out:
Many lands, many customs, says the proverb. Since marriage and the married estate are worldly matters, it behooves us pastors or ministers of the church not to attempt to order or govern anything connected with it, but to permit every city and land to continue its own use and custom in this connection. Some lead the bride to the church twice, both evening and morning, some only once. Some announce it formally and publish the banns from the pulpit two or three weeks in advance. All such things and the like I leave to the lords and the council to order and arrange as they see fit. It does not concern me (Leupold 1965, 111-112).
Nonetheless, pastors had civic obligations. If asked to publish the banns, they should do so. If asked to witness the vows and bless the couple, they should do so. Luther’s version of the entire marriage vows, which the bride and groom were to exchange at the entrance to the church, consisted of:
Hans, do you desire Greta as your wedded wife?
He shall say: Yes.
Greta, do you desire Hans as your wedded husband?
She shall say: Yes.
This was followed by the exchange of rings and a reading of Matthew 19:6 (What God has joined together, let man not put asunder). If the wedding party desired it, everyone could then proceed into the church for a sequence of scripture readings and prayers (selections from Genesis, Ephesians, Proverbs, etc.). Luther’s selections were not the same as those of the Church of England liturgy. Those from Genesis included the man’s need to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; those from Proverbs included, “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing.”

For those accustomed to the English rite and its derivations, the ceremony appears starkly simple. Many regional and national German and Scandinavian ecclesiastical ordinances elaborated it somewhat as the 16th century progressed, in accordance with the proverb that Luther had quoted at the beginning of the pamphlet. One example of this is the continuing use of the bridal crowns in the area around the Baltic coast, but the most frequent addition was the addition of the introductory homily on the three purposes of marriage. Less common, but sometimes occurring in Lutheran rites, was a brisk pastoral reminder that the Biblical grounds for divorce were adultery and desertion, and some theologically phrased warning that “what’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.”

Both Luther and his contemporary John Calvin were anxious to ensure that in marriage ceremonies, the Protestant doctrinal position that marriage was not a sacrament be made clear. Calvin wrote, at one point,
Lastly, there is matrimony, which all admit was instituted by God, though no one before the time of Gregory regarded it as a sacrament. What man in his sober senses could so regard it? God's ordinance is good and holy; so also are agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, hair-cutting legitimate ordinances of God, but they are not sacraments (John Calvin, Institutes, IV, xix, 34).
Nonetheless, the actual ceremony that Calvin prescribed for the Genevan church in 1542 had the husband promise to be faithfully “loving and caring” for his wife, whereas she promised to “obey, serving him and being submissive to him” (Stevenson 1983, 131). This order of service was later largely adopted into the Scots Presbyterian ritual (John Knox’s 1564 Book of Common Order, see Searle and Stevenson 1992, 227-233), which, like the Genevan order, omitting the ring, contained vows that have considerable similarity to those of the Book of Common Prayer (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 16). Knox omitted the blessings but had an extensive “exhortation” addressed to the spouses. The man promised to:
kepe her, to love and intreate her in all thynges accordynge to the dewtie of a faythful howsband, forsakyng all other duryne her lyfe; and briefelie, to lyve in holy conversation with her, kepynge faythe and trewthe in all poyntes (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 231).
The wife’s promise did not involve love, but rather “subjection and obedience” (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 231). It’s possible that many Presbyterians found this a bit much, for the order for the solemnization of marriage issued by the Westminster Assembly in 1645 had the groom promise to be a “loving and faithful” husband, and the bride a “loving and faithful” in addition to “obedient” wife (Searle and Stevenson 1992, 237). Not all Calvinist marriage orders omitted the rings. Several in the German states, such as that of the Palatinate, retained the practice of exchanging them (Stevenson 1983, 132).

Calvinism, like Lutheranism (but unlike the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England) acknowledged the existence of “biblical” grounds for divorce – namely adultery and desertion. This can be of importance to authors and readers of romance novels, because it meant that the Scottish secular laws covering the termination of a marriage developed quite differently from those in England.6

Throughout the early modern period, all European Protestant countries had state churches. In some regions, such as in Switzerland and most of the German Protestant states, matrimonial (consistorial) courts consisted of both lay and ecclesiastical officials. They had the task of sorting through the debris of failed but legally binding betrothals, abandonments, and adulteries, many of the lawsuits and petitions being introduced by women.7

In this context, the possibility of termination allowed for considerably more civilized endings to matrimonial debacles than those of Henry VIII in England. In 1574, William the Silent divorced one of his wives, Anna of Saxony, for adultery, after thirteen years of marriage and six children. The survival of the co-respondent, who later became the father of the artist Pieter Paul Rubens, made a big difference to the art world. Johann Casimir of Saxe-Coburg divorced another Anna of Saxony, also for adultery, in 1593.

In England, the system was somewhat different. Essentially, however, from the Reformation onwards, the English church operated under legal provisions established by laws passed in Parliament. The marriage vows in the Book of Common Prayer, summarized at the beginning of this essay, were a part of the civil laws of England as well as of the church ceremony. When the Church of England was “in,” they were a legal requirement. During the period of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, Parliament abolished them and substituted a system of civil marriages. At the Restoration, the Book of Common Prayer was, like the Merry Monarch, restored. Nearly a century later, such a significant procedural change in regard to matrimony as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 was a civil law that was implemented and executed by ecclesiastical authorities.8 It was Parliament that determined the complex, multi-stage, mixed ecclesiastical and secular, procedure which was the only mode by which an Englishman could obtain divorce during the early modern period.

It was also Parliament which determined that in England, when it came to matters of divorce, the matrimonial vow of fidelity made by both man and wife in the church applied only to the woman when it came to obtaining a divorce on grounds of adultery.

So much for promises.


1 For a general discussion, see Kenneth Stevenson, Nuptial Blessing: A Study of Christian Marriage Rites (Oxford University Press, 1983).

2 Since the overwhelming majority of historical romance heroes and heroines are presented as European and therefore presumably belong to some variety of church that falls within the Christian tradition, whether or not it plays a significant role in their beliefs and actions, the issue here is the promises made within that context. Even when one or the other comes from a non-Christian tradition (e.g. Thomas B. Costain, The Black Rose, 1945), the relationship is almost shown as involving an ultimate monogamous commitment and ultimate settlement of the couple somewhere in Europe. It is statistically astonishing how many of the “sheikhs” from the original to 21st century series romances turn out to be of at least partly European ancestry, educated at European, usually English, schools and universities, and adherents of some form of the Christian faith.

3 This formulation was adopted by John Wesley. In 1792, the Methodist Synod in the United States removed the preface from the wedding ceremony on the grounds that it was “too indelicate.”

4 This led in the French context to the occasional mariage à la gaumine (left-hand marriage) in which a couple who could not obtain permission to marry, perhaps because one of them was excommunicated, or they were more nearly related than canon law permitted, etc., would meet the technical requirements of Tametsi by standing up at a regular Sunday mass and rapidly exchanging the words of consent in the presence of the priest and congregation. Such a marriage was “irregular” in the sense of not occurring through the forms prescribed by law, but was not invalid. If the couple later returned to good standing in the church, obtained the necessary dispensations, or otherwise completed their paperwork properly, they could have the marriage “rehabilitated,” as could Catholic couples who married by exchange of vows in the present tense before non-ecclesiastical witnesses only in the unavailability of a priest (in frontier conditions or, for example, in colonial New York, where it was illegal for a Catholic priest to enter the colony).

5 There’s another version of this reprinted in Searle and Stevenson 1992, 210-214.

6 See Leah Leneman, Alienated Affections: The Scottish Experience of Divorce and Separation, 1684-1830 (Edinburgh University Press, 1998) as compared to Lawrence Stone, Road to Divorce, England 1530-1987: A History of the Making and Breaking of Marriage in England (Oxford University Press, 1995).

7 Joel F. Harrington, Reordering marriage and society in Reformation Germany (Cambridge University Press, 1995); Jeffrey R. Watt, The Making of Modern Marriage: Matrimonial Control and the Rise of sentiment in Neuchâtel, 1550-1800 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1992).

A Catholic territory, such as Bavaria, did not have the option of divorce with the right to remarriage, but both men and women could petition for “separation from bed and board” if they found their marriage intolerable. See Rainer Beck, “Traces of Emotion? Marital Discord in Early Modern Bavaria,” in: Richard Wall, Tamara K. Hareven, and Josef Ehmer, eds., Family History Revisited: Comparative Perspectives (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, and London: Associated University Presses, 2001), 125-160.

8 Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge University Press, 1987); R.B. Outhwaite, The Rise and Fall of the English Ecclesiastical Courts, 1500-1860 (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

The picture is by Pietro Longhi (1702 - 1785), dates from c. 1755 and is titled "Il Matrimonio." It forms part of a set of seven paintings about "I Sette Sacramenti." The paintings of all seven sacraments can be found at the Querini Stampalia virtual gallery. I obtained a copy of this particular painting, however, from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Miscellaneous Links

I thought I'd share some links to interesting blog posts about romance that I've come across recently.
  • Over at Dear Author they've been running a series called “If You Like” [...] hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author." I've already mentioned Sarah's contribution to the series. Today's "iconic author" is Jennifer Crusie, and Morgan S has included plenty of analysis as well as description of Crusie's novels.
  • Jessica at Read React Review thinks she's spotted a pattern: "in romance series featuring male siblings, you can often find the same character types."
new article by Aaker, Drolet, and Griffin in the Journal of Consumer Research [which] says our memories are less reliable for experiences that provoke mixed emotions. We tend to remember our feelings as more definite than they were, and over time we forget the intensity of our initial mixed feelings.
    she analyses some of the implications there might be for our perception of the books we've read.
The photo is of the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, was taken by Babak Gholizadeh, and is available via Wikipedia. Have you come across any interesting analysis of romance recently in the grand bazaar of romance blogs and websites?

In other news, both The Spiced Tea-Party and the Dishing with the Divas blogs are closing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah on Structure

Sarah's written a post for Romancing the Blog which puts her recent post about the structure of Suzanne Brockmann's Breaking Point into a wider context:
it’s worth digging under the surface. When reading a book, it’s hopefully easy to fall into a story (that’s the point, right?) and not think about how much thought goes into how it’s constructed. Reading accounts of RWA and listening to authors, however, tells us how much authors think about their books, how many times they revise, how they agonize over the phrasing of one sentence to get just the right meaning. And while it’s important that we just fall into a book, we can also discover a lot ABOUT the book and its themes and message, if we focus on the deeper meanings of how its actually put together.

The illustration is a model of the structure of a glucose chain. It's from Wikimedia Commons. More details about glucose and the different structures it can take can be found here.

Brockmann's narrative construction

I'm reading my way through Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter series again. This is actually the first time that I've read them book after book after book (up to thirteen now with Into the Fire released last month). And doing so is instructive. I've noticed two things in particular.

First, is particular to Breaking Point (TS#9). This book has always bothered me and I've only read it once before. It's very confusing at until about half way through, because rather than having clearly separate World War II stories, as she does in TS#1-6 and TS#8, the flashbacks in Breaking Point are all to much more contemporary memories of Max and Gina's relationship. But it's not just flashbacks to 18 months ago, it also flashes to 4 months ago, 22 months ago, seven months ago, 17 months ago, 19 months ago, seemingly randomly. All of which makes the book very confusing to start and difficult to figure out. But as the action gets further along, the flashbacks drift away so that the action all takes place in the present.

Brockmann writes so cleanly and so beautifully, and her plotting is so perfect, I've never been able to figure out why she had done this to Breaking Point. This time I got it. Max's problem is his struggle to control the chaos in his head. And while he is separated from Gina in the "Present Day," the book is chaotic in and with the flashbacks. But as Max and Gina get closer to their HEA, as Max's mind calms down and accepts his feelings for Gina, as he accepts the chaos in his head, the book calms down and sticks to one stream of reality. Masterful.

The second issue I noticed in the construction of most of the novels is why Brockmann should still be classified as romance, rather than as military suspense or military action. While Brockmann has been, in my opinion, a large part of the surge of male interest in novels classified as romance, there's still a fundamental difference between Brockmann's novels and the few military suspense I've read written by men.

I noticed the difference in Flashpoint in particular, in a scene in which Jimmy Nash tells Tess about an incident he had. Or rather, tries not to tell her, tries to hide the worst of what happened to him. The scene is told from his perspective, and we see both what he tells Tess and what he tries to hide from her as he thinks about whether or not to hide it. What we DON'T see is the scene as it happens. We don't see him being betrayed by his contact, being chased, "taking out" the people chasing him. We only see the scene in retrospect as he tells Tess about it. Why? Because, for Brockmann, the interest in the scene lies not in the fact that it happened, but in how Nash himself and Tess react to it having happened. The interest in the "action" scene lies in how the two protagonists relate to each other because of what the "action" means (Nash's guilt, Tess's frustration). For Brockmann, the "action" scene is about relationships, about reaction, about emotion, not about the pure adrenalin of the scene itself. And THAT'S why her books are still romances. And I think that's an important thing to understand.