Via Smart Bitch Sarah and Twitter comes news of another article about the romance genre's seemingly recession-proof success. What's particularly gratifying is the fact that although the article uses the unfortunate "bodice-ripper" label, the focus here is on the fact that the genre is "enjoying long-awaited cultural recognition":
The article, by Misty Harris, also includes discussion of the covers of romances and details of a forthcoming exhibition about them:
this spring the genre will be the subject of [...] an academic symposium at Princeton University [...]
"Romance fiction is fascinating to look at as a social barometer," says Eric Selinger, co-organizer of the Princeton symposium. "It registers tensions, ideas and debates about gender relations, about love, about marriage, and about the relationship between domestic and public spheres."
Selinger, whose romance scholarship grew out of a personal passion for reading the books — he credits his wife for introducing him to the pastime — extols the genre as "wonderfully unpretentious," with resilient, optimistic characters and "a level of artistry" akin to sonnets in the surprising ways authors play with formula and literary convention.
"It's an art-form that hasn't gotten nearly the attention or respect of other literature," says Selinger, who teaches graduate seminars on romance at DePaul University in Chicago.
The '70s and '80s were hard on the genre. But even leading feminists such as American scholar Tania Modleski, who once dismissed romance as reaffirming patriarchal fantasies, have since come to praise the genre's role in validating female desire.
"There's legitimacy to feminist concern over a certain narrow type of romance narrative," says Canadian scholar Catherine Roach. "But there's a much wider scope to the romance-fiction industry as a whole."
Roach, an Ottawa native and expert on popular romantic fiction, finds it suspect that critics who malign romance novels for their idealistic, happily ever-after tales don't also target equally optimistic messages aimed at men.
"You see James Bond novels and detective stories . . . perpetuating the myth that justice will prevail and bad guys will be punished in the end, which are also false stories," says Roach, an associate professor at the University of Alabama. "But things that are women-dominated tend to accrue less power and prestige in our culture."
[Elizabeth] Semmelhack notes heroines of romantic fiction were taking jobs as doctors, travelling alone and creating their own economic advantages long before it was widely accepted to do so off the page. These changes are often visible on the books' covers, which the Toronto-based art historian feels are worthy of close examination.
"The same way Rockwell wasn't considered an artist for many, many decades but has now been added to the art history canon, many of these (romance) artists are very deserving of having their work looked at critically."