Friday, May 29, 2009

Essential Words: "I Love You"

According to Pamela Regis, one of the "eight essential elements of the romance novel" (30) is "The Declaration," "The scene or scenes in which the hero declares his love for the heroine, and the heroine her love for the hero" (34). She adds that "In romance novels from the last quarter of the twentieth century marriage is not necessary as long as it is clear that the heroine and hero will end up together" (37-38). Jan Cohn explains the primacy of the declaration of love thus:
The proposal of marriage belongs to the tradition of comedy, but the declaration of love comes properly from romance. [...] The knowledge of her own love is accessible to the heroine, a discovery she can make. She cannot, however, learn by herself of the hero's love; that love must be announced, and it is, in fact, the saying that matters, the speaking of the word. [...] With the resonance of ritual, the word "love" is uttered at the denouement of every romance. [...] The formulaic, even ritualized significance of the declaration of love cannot be exaggerated. "Declaration," in fact, is an inadequate term; it is as confession, as something wrung from the hero, that love is spoken. A ceremonial, even an incantatory word, "love" brings with it the profound and permanent metamorphosis into union toward which the story has inexorably driven. (32-33)
Lisa Fletcher's discussion of the phrase "I love you" expands on this idea of the declaration of love as a ritual:
a performative utterance contains its own referent; the act does not precede the utterance. To utter "I love you" is, in both the Austinian sense and in common understanding, to do something; love is not declared/confessed/promised until these "three little words" are spoken. It is not enough for the amorous individual to behave lovingly towards his or her beloved; he or she must say "I love you." (26)
Romance can only quote. "I love you" is always and only a reiteration; yet to maintain its descriptive status, it must assert its originality or uniqueness at each utterance [...] it both claims a particularly intimate moment for its speaker ("I (like no other) love you (like no other)") and, retaining its ubiquitous history and corresponding reiterative force, continues to circulate as an infinitely and endlessly appropriable utterance. To this extent it conforms to the interpretation of myth offered by Barthes in Mythologies. As a mythic utterance, "I love you" carries the baggage of innumerable citations. At each utterance, however, "I love you" is emptied out, its history hidden, in order to facilitate the supposed and essential uniqueness of the particular relation it intends to communicate. [...] "I love you" is both a confession and a cliché; it is simultaneously meaning and form - an apparently empty utterance to be refilled by each lover, but which silently retains its history. (30)
It's also an utterance which is refilled by each author, and I'm sure we all have on our virtual or real "keeper shelves" romances in which the utterance of those words was particularly moving or interesting to us.

That said, are those three very specific words an utterance which it is essential to include in order for the novel to be a romance? When Jessica reviewed Stephanie Laurens's Devil's Bride, many commenters responded by saying that it was one of their very favourite of Laurens's novels. Yet Kaetrin observed that it isn't, in fact, until a later novel in the Cynster series that the hero of Devil's Bride actually says "I love you":
On a Wicked Dawn (I think I have that right - it was the second one of the twins books anyway and their titles are disconcertingly similar…) [...] is [...] the book **Minor Spoiler** where Devil finally says “I love you” to Honoria - (did you notice he didn’t in DB?) and after I read DB, I went back and re-read it and it was delicious!!
In Jennifer Crusie and Bob Meyer's first collaborative novel, Don't Look Down, Crusie insisted on the inclusion of the "mythic utterance":
When we presented in Reno at National last year the crowd of 300 women hissed at me when Jenny told how my hero never said "I love you" to the heroine in the course of the book. So I rewrote, bowing to the pressure, and as the chopper comes flying in for the final showdown and JT is standing on one skid and Lucy is standing on the other side on the other skid, he yells across the cargo bay: "Hey, I love you." Well, that didn't go over well either. (He Wrote, She Wrote)
I just noticed that two of the questions in the readers' guide for their second novel, Agnes and the Hitman, were "Did you notice that neither of them ever say 'I love you'? Did that make you distrust their future at the end?"

I have a few more questions of my own.
  • How does this work in translations and languages other than English? In Spanish, for example, one could have "Te quiero," "Te amo," or "Te adoro." Does having more possible variations in the essential speech act make a difference to the ritual aspect of the declaration?
  • Cohn focuses on the hero's declaration of love, but has so much emphasis been placed on the hero's declaration rather than the heroine's only because of the heroine-centric point of view in which romances tended to be written? Is it also due, at least in part, to gender roles and particular ideas about masculinity and male sexuality? If so, are both "I love you"s equally important in m/m romance? Are both less important in f/f romance?
  • Is it absolutely essential for the characters to say "I love you"? Would another form of words be just as good? Have you ever read a romance in which there is no "declaration" at all?
  • Could it be that even if the characters don't actually say the words "I love you" themselves, we as readers might appropriate those words which "circulate as an infinitely and endlessly appropriable utterance" and, in some way, say them on behalf of the characters?

The photo of the love hearts comes from The hearts can carry a variety of declarations/confessions/promises/questions, but it's noticeable that the one in the very centre of the photo is the one with "I love you" written on it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dain's Very Hungry Caterpillar

I've been re-reading Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels and for some reason the following passage suddenly reminded me of something:

By Friday, he had debauched her in the window seat of his bedroom, an alcove off the portrait gallery, under the pianoforte in the music room, and against the door of her sitting room - in front of his mother's portrait, no less. And that was only the daytime depravity. (270)
It didn't take me long to work it out. At this point I should warn anyone who hasn't read Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar that there will be spoilers. As explained in Wikipedia
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a children's book written by Eric Carle, first published by the World Publishing Company in 1969. The winner of many awards, it has sold 30 million copies. [...]

  • Day 1: The main character is established. The hungry caterpillar eats through a single red apple.
  • Day 2: The caterpillar eats through 2 green pears.
  • Day 3: The caterpillar eats through 3 purple plums.
  • Day 4: The caterpillar eats through 4 red strawberries.
  • Day 5: The caterpillar eats through 5 whole oranges.
  • Day 6: On this day, the caterpillar devours its way through many, many different foods including; chocolate cake, ice-cream, a pickle, swiss cheese, salami, a lollipop, a cherry pie, a single sausage, a cupcake and a whole watermelon.
  • Day 7: The caterpillar eats through a single leaf.
  • Final chapter: The caterpillar cocoons itself and comes out as a beautiful butterfly. The hungry caterpillar is hungry no more - neither is it a caterpillar.

Do I need to mention that on first seeing Jessica, Dain "contemplated licking her from the top of her alabaster brow to the tips of her dainty toes" (27-28) or that after their marriage "The reality, he found, was sweeter, and the taste and scent of her more intoxicating by far, than the dream. [...] He inhaled her and tasted her" (261)? Dain's "hungry caterpillar" stays hungry, of course. Lord of Scoundrels isn't a children's book, after all. But emotionally one could say that he "pupates and emerges as a butterfly" just like romance rakes tend to do.

  • Chase, Loretta. Lord of Scoundrels. New York: Avon, 1994.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"It Takes Two" Final Tally!

Hello, everyone! Eric here with a final tally for the "It Takes Two" fundraiser for IASPR.

As of last night, "It Takes Two" had brought in $352 in donations: far more than we needed to pull in the $250 matching fund from me. Add that to the total, and together we've raised $602 for IASPR--and that's not even counting the 20 new memberships that came in during the fundraiser: 16 year long memberships ($25 each) and 4 sustaining memberships (5 years for $100).

But wait! There's more! The past week has also brought us generous donations from DePaul University and Samhain Publishing specifically in support of the Brisbane conference. With their help, and yours, the conference can rest on a solid financial foundation while keeping the registration fees at a reasonable level: an important goal in these tough times.

Thank you all for your support, and remember: if you haven't joined yet, or still want to donate, the IASPR website doors are always open!

Monday, May 11, 2009

It Takes Two: Eric's IASPR Fundraiser!

Hi, everyone! Eric here, hoping to raise some on-line capital for IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. For only $2, you--yes! you!--can build a sturdy foundation for the Association: a Travel Fund to help scholars come to our international conferences; an Honorarium Fund to leverage money for speakers; a documented base of support beyond our membership rolls that will help spread the word about this new wave of romance scholarship. Give now, and I'll match your donation.

I'm calling this the "It Takes Two" campaign, and here's how it works.

1) Think of your favorite romantic couple, whether real or fictional. (Or your favorite menage: not picky here.)

2) Go to the IASPR website.

2) Scroll down until you see the "Donate" button.

3) Click on it, and donate $2 (or more!) via Paypal.

4) Come back here, and post a comment to this post announcing in whose honor you've made a donation! Grateful tributes, steamy anecdotes, whatever tip of the hat you prefer. If you're on Twitter, post your comment with the hashtag #ItTakesTwo.

To sweeten the deal, I promise to match the first $250 in donations. Hey, I did some extra teaching this winter. What better use for that money?
**UPDATE! As of 5/13/09, we have received exactly $300 in donations! I'm in for the $250, for a total of $550 raised so far. That's not even counting the new memberships, folks. Can we make it an even thousand?
If you'd rather donate by check, you can make one out to IASPR and send it to me:

Prof. Eric Selinger
English Department
DePaul University
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

To kick things off, I've just tossed $2 in the pot in honor of my grandmother, Shirley, and my late late grandfather, Manny. She's turning 101 next week, and although he passed away more than a decade ago, I'll never forget his utter and unabashed adoration of her, as though he never could quite believe that a woman like her had married a man like him. (They ran off to Reno to marry in secret, during the Great Depression. The stories she can tell!)

Here's to Manny & Shirley, real life romance hero and heroine, and here's to IASPR!

So, folks--who's in with me?

Romance Scholarship: Looking Back with Thanks

2009 is going to be a very significant year for romance scholarship. There has been/will be
This year we're also seeing the launch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR ) and the Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS).

So, the future's looking bright for romance scholarship, but how did we get to this point?

There have been conferences on romance in the not-so-distant past: "During the years 1996-1998 and 2000, the MVRWA and Bowling Green State University's Popular Culture Library sponsored two conferences, 'Re-reading the Romance' and 'Romance in the New Millennium' (Browne Popular Culture Library). In 2005-2006 Pamela Regis hosted "Conversations about Romance" at the Smithsonian Institution with authors Suzanne Brockmann, Diana Gabaldon, Mary Jo Putney, Carly Phillips and Jennifer Crusie.

The Romance Wiki's section on romance scholarship includes a lengthy bibliography which demonstrates that in this area, as in so many other areas of academic endeavour, we are "standing on the shoulders of giants." We wouldn't be where we are today were it not for the work of those earlier scholars who, many decades ago now, began to establish the genre as one that was worthy of study.

Romance scholarship has evolved over the years, as was discussed in a 1997 volume of Paradoxa (and the discussion continued in a 1998 volume of the same journal). Kay Mussell began this discussion by explaining that when she first started writing about the genre "in the early 1980s, popular culture had not yet evolved into cultural studies, and women's entertainment forms were still marginalized in the academy"(8), and
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the first feminist studies were being conducted and published, readers, writers, and scholars appeared to be different people. Romance writers wrote novels. Romance readers read them. Scholars - particularly feminist scholars - studied the romance readers, writers, and novels and interpreted them, usually for an audience of of other scholars. [...]
By 1993, divisions among these roles had blurred. (7)
Perhaps most surprising [...] and certainly most interesting to me, was a marked change in the way some feminist critics presented themselves in their scholarship on romances. Instead of automatically assuming the role of outsider, of a presumably dispassionate judge and interpreter of a socio-cultural phenomenon, a few scholars admit up front their own predilection for romances. (8)
Mussell notes that an important feature of the 1997 Paradoxa essays is that four of them are "single-author studies [...] and thus demonstrate the value of examining the work of a single author in terms of depth of understanding as well as delineation of change " (10) and "the approaches of these contributors [...] recognize, understand, and celebrate the individual creativity and art of romance writers" (11).

These two trends in romance scholarship, namely critics of the genre identifying as romance readers and a greater emphasis on distinguishing between individual romance authors and novels, continue in the 21st-century scholarship, though as discussed here at Teach Me Tonight, the newly formed IASPR will not be insisting that all members be "romance lovers." I think this is important because critics who do not love the genre, or academics like Tania Modleski who wrote about her ambivalent relationship with the genre, may provide thought-provoking critiques, even if those romance scholars who do identify as "romance lovers" vehemently (or partially) disagree with them.

In a year when we're looking forwards, to the expansion of this area of scholarship, I think it's also important to look back and recognise the positive contribution that many of the earliest critics made. It's worth bearing in mind that the genre about which they were writing has evolved, and criticisms of it made in earlier decades may have been more valid then they would be now if applied to all modern romances. Even if we disagree with some of their methodology, focus and conclusions, we wouldn't be where we are now if it wasn't for their efforts in opening up the genre to detailed academic scrutiny.


I should perhaps mention at this point that the 1997 volume of Paradoxa is rather difficult to find in libraries, but it's still available for sale directly from the Paradoxa website, and when I bought my copy I promised I'd mention this at Teach Me Tonight, in case it was of help to people wondering how to get hold of their own copy of the volume.

A brief history of the online romance reading community was recently posted at Dear Author by Jane and also looking back in order to place the present in its historical context, Robin's written a post about "some of the literary and cultural traditions influencing the genre [...] and its relevance to a long and robust history of Western literature." She focuses on captivity narratives and "those many novels of sentiment and sensation that comprised women’s fiction in the 18th and 19th centuries."

  • Mussell, Kay. "Where's Love Gone? Transformations in Romance Fiction and Scholarship." Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997): 3-14.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Open for Business

Sarah S. G. Frantz

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance is open for membership! Go to the website and click on the "Join Today!" link. Or just go straight to the membership page!

Through the power of PayPal, we take all comers and all their various currencies all over the world! Can't wait to have you join!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Princeton Romance Conference Opening Roundtable

Thursday, April 23
Keynote Roundtable: Romance Fiction and American Culture

Tania Modleski, USC
Used Lauren Berlant’s The Female Complaint as a point from which to analyze the romance genre. Chick lit, in particular, is the latest form of female complaint. Writing for or acting within the “intimate public” means assuming you’re writing for women (in this case) who are just like yourself. The core of complaint rhetoric is a fundamental ambivalence toward love, because it is both the source of most female complaints and also the cure. If it’s truly the cure, though, true social change will never happen. [One has to wonder why. I have a problem with statements like these, because they assume love will continue as it is currently constructed, which is not necessarily true.] Berlant focuses on middle-class, white women’s female complaint, ignoring women of color and privileging the problems and issues of those middle-class white women above those of any other female demographic. What happens, for example, when women of color write romances? Are they then more politically acceptable in their complaining? Male sentimental culture is strong: Clint Eastwood’s movies and male “weepies,” for which the men get awards and rewards, rather than the scorn women get for female-coded sentiment. This privileges male suffering when written, performed, produced by men.

Stephanie Coontz, Evergreen State University
Coontz feels like an outlier at the conference, because she’s never read romances. She can talk, though, about the evolution of marriage, courtship, romance in history. As an historian, she finds literature fascinating because it shows the tensions in people’s lives as they are soothed, resolved, highlighted. She is most interested in the variations between time periods, though, rather in the minute details. Before the eighteenth century, only adulterous relationships could count as love, because marriage was all about the practicalities. During the eighteenth century, though, western society began to imagine the concept of love in marriage and that young people should have the right to choose one’s own partners. The invention of the love match was a very scary thing to defenders of “traditional marriage.” It was seen as both a threat to male power, a threat to female safety, a threat to parental control. It was a far-reaching cultural redefinition in which marriage was no longer overtly a power relationship and men’s and women’s roles and spheres began to separate. Previously, women were seen as hyper-sexual; in 19thC, they were constructed as asexual instead, with their asexuality constructed as natural, rather than a necessity. Women began to turn to other women to talk about feelings, vulnerabilities, and increasingly foreign other gender. In the 20thC, mutual sexual attraction was reintegrated into marriage with the advent of dating, in which sexuality and attractiveness of men became associated with danger (“bad boy”). There was increasing anxiety over men’s intentions and society grappled with very real contradictions, because the dangerous but attractive Other is not a good bet for a stable marriage. Today, there are problems with maintaining sexual tension in a long relationship. Coontz finished her talk by asking how we make confidence in man’s intentions sexy? How to do eroticize equality?

Mary Bly/Eloisa James, Fordham University, speaking today as Eloisa James
Bly/James would like to see a conversation about shame in romance studies. We don’t like to think of shame as attached to reading, writing, or talking about romance, but we need to think about issues of where shame interacts with money in the romance genre. When she was growing up, her reading romance caused a family crisis. For every romance she read, she had to read a classic novel from “acceptable” literature. Her grandmother with no education was undervalued by the family, and that’s mostly where Bly/James got her romance from as a child and teen. Romance were a waste of her time, ruining her brain, like TV. Success hasn’t changed that equation for her. Money doesn’t help; in fact, it exacerbates the problem for her. When she was at Yale, she got “caught” by her friends with romances at the library. Her friends said, “I certainly see why you didn’t want anyone to see that,” and Bly/James felt intense shame. She believes very strongly that it shouldn’t have to be that way. The only way she could give herself permission to write romance was to say it was for money, and even then it became a completely underground career. Her ingrained sense of shame was so huge that she couldn’t reveal herself in the English departments she worked for. Even when she did come out, the shame didn’t go away. Any other popular genre would have been “cool,” but romance was humiliating. Romance scholars simplistically say that the romance genre is an affirmation of female desires, but for women to be reading/writing about sex is a very vexed topic. We have to recognize that and interrogate how shame and feminism and complexity can and do coexist. As scholars, we can’t ignore this. She wants another version of her, in ten years, to be able to use her romance writing as well as her scholarship of whatever kind FOR tenure, rather than having to hide it. She wants to be a part of diminishing the shame.

Jennifer Crusie, Romance Author
Crusie gets up and says, “Hi, I’m Jennifer Crusie, and I have no shame!” Her experience with romance has been very different. She rejects the assumption that people have that writers must agree that they’re writing trash because “everyone knows” that’s what romances are. She argues that romance writers and readers give away too much power because we want to belong. Romance is not merely a US tradition; it’s from all times and all places. It represents the feminizing of a form of fiction—a woman is on the center stage of a romance novel and she struggles and wins, proving that the world is an emotionally just place and that love and women can make a difference. Love is the biggest risk that humans take, but the stories about it are not cool. People turn back to literature of hope. They are not trashy, not stupid, not low class. Crusie ends, “the arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice,” claiming that romance is getting its due.

Someone asked about the proliferation of the marriage plot in Reality TV. Bly said that she’d read that the most successful Reality shows are those that are aspirational (American Idol, for example, where you can see yourself achieving same dream). Coontz talked about the proliferation of niche marketing, but argued that there’s far less “Bachelor” on Reality TV nowadays than in the marriage markets in 18thC London.

Someone asked how the subversiveness of feminism works for or against the acceptance of romance (not sure I got that right). Crusie answered that the goal of a writer has to be to tell a good story, rather than insert a message into a book. The book succeeds with a reader because it resonates with a theme inside her, but you can’t predict that theme. Her literary criticism changed radically when she started writing. She’s trying to tell the truth of the people on the page. The true subversive message is that if you struggle, you will win.

Someone asked panelists to talk about Coontz’s final question of how we eroticize equality. Crusie said that the struggle is the story, the power dynamics are what drive it, and the equality comes at the end. Bly said that desire is very stubborn and may not be PC or cool, no matter how much we might like it to be. Coontz said that romances shouldn’t avoid the very real problems that exist in the world and in relationships. In sexuality, fear struggles with confidence. Modleski finished by saying that she thinks it would be most interesting to look at lesbian romances, where the power dynamics are necessarily different.

Overall, I’d heard or read most of the information from this panel before, except what Modleski discussed. Which is not to say that it wasn’t a perfect way to start the conference, because I absolutely think it was. We got a general historical overview (Coontz), theoretical overview (Modleski), and a clashing of some of the major themes in the study of the genre (shame, confidence, happiness, power dynamics, freedom, equality).

One thing that struck me more than anything else, and I didn’t get an opportunity to ask my question, but I was fascinated with the panel’s elision of the masculine, of the hero. Modleski talked about female complaint, Coontz about the construction of love and of the feminine, Bly and Crusie about the motivations of female writers and readers. But no one mentioned the hero of the romance and considering the thematic focus on masculinity in so many romances and romance series, this seemed an interesting omission. I asked Crusie about it after the panel finished and she said very definitely, “The hero’s the MacGuffin” (referring to the film term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock meaning the quest object that has no inherent value in and of itself except in that it catalyzes quest, which is where the real story lies). I wholeheartedly disagree. The hero might be the McGuffin for female-focused romances and romance series (like those of Crusie and James), but it certainly isn’t for me with my absolute hero-focus, and for readers like me who make Suzanne Brockmann, J.R. Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Stephanie Laurens best-selling authors and m/m romance the fastest growing field in erotic romance.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Final Call For Papers for Brisbance Romance Conference

An International Conference

August 13-14, 2009
Brisbane, Australia

Sponsored by
The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR)
University of Queensland
Queensland University of Technology
Romance Writers of America

For decades, scholars have studied popular romance, whether in romance novels, films, comics, or other media. They have studied its sexual politics and aesthetic structures, its audiences, its authors, and the industry that produces and distributes it world-wide. For the most part, however, they have done so in isolation, divided by boundaries of nation, genre, and academic discipline.

On August 13-14, 2009, the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology will host “Popular Romance Studies: an International Conference,” to be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Romance Writers of Australia. Scholars from Australia, the United States, and elsewhere will convene for this event, which will take place on the QUT campus (Thursday) and at the University of Queensland’s Fryer Library, home to a remarkable archival collection of Australian romance materials.

We are interested in papers on romantic love in the popular media (print, film, music, etc.), now or in the past, anywhere in the world. Topics addressed might include:
  • Romance on the World Stage (texts in translation, romance manga, romantic films in Western, Indian, and Far Eastern traditions, non-Western writers, readers, texts, and publishers of romance fiction)
  • National romance traditions and the impact of global publishing
  • The romance industry (print, film, electronic, other)
  • Romance between media: crossover texts and the relationships between romance fiction and romantic films, music, art, drama, etc.
  • Romance high and low: texts that fall between “high” and “low” culture, or that complicate the distinctions between these critical categories
  • Romance then and now: ancient, Renaissance, modern, postmodern love
  • Romance in marketing; the Business of Love
  • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Romance, and same-sex love within predominantly heterosexual texts
  • Romance communities: authors, readers, websites, blogs
  • Theoretical models for, or approaches to, popular romance
We note that 2009 marks the 90th anniversary of E.M. Hull’s novel The Sheik (the film dates from two years later), the 70th anniversary of the film version of Gone With the Wind, and the 10th anniversary of Paperback Hero, the Australian film in which Hugh Jackman plays a truck driver turned romance novelist. Papers related to any of these subjects are particularly welcome.

Submit a one-page (150-250 word) proposal or abstract no later than May 30, 2009 to the conference organizers; email is preferred. Early proposals will receive an early response, in order to facilitate travel plans and travel funding requests. A small amount of travel funding for full-time U.S. faculty has been made available by the Romance Writers of America; please mention your interest in your proposal.

IASPR welcomes proposals from independent scholars, and from romance authors, editors, and publishers, as well as from those with academic affiliation.

Proposals and questions should be sent to:

Dr Toni Johnson-Woods,
English, Media Studies and Art History,
University of Queensland
St Lucia Q 4072 AUSTRALIA
T: (+ 61 7) 3381 1572
F: (+ 61 7) 3381 1565

Dr Glen Thomas
Creative Writing and Cultural Studies
Creative Industries Faculty
Queensland University of Technology
Victoria Park Road
Kelvin Grove, Q. 4059.
T: (+ 61 7) 3138 8284
F: (+61 7) 3138 8238
M: 0412 232 163

Prof. Eric Murphy Selinger
Dept. of English
DePaul Univ.
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614