present difference: the cultural production of disability was a conference held in Manchester this year from the 6th to the 8th of January. The full programme can be found here. Included in it was a session on "Genre Fiction" which featured the following papers:
Those links will take you to details about the speakers, and to synopses of their papers, but I've cut and pasted in the synopses here to try to preserve them for posterity, just in case the original webpages about the conference are taken down.
- Ria Cheyne Liverpool Hope University
‘We are both maimed’: Disability and Trauma in Historical Romance
This paper explores the relationship between disability representation and genre conventions in the historical romance subgenre, focusing on the work of bestselling author Mary Balogh. Balogh’s novels frequently feature disabled characters. I focus on two novels featuring disabled heroes, The Secret Pearl (2005) and Simply Love (2006). In these novels, the war-wounded hero’s physical trauma is equated with psychological trauma suffered by the heroine. ‘We are both maimed’, as the hero of Simply Love puts it. Yet this recognition of kinship is not enough to ensure the successful conclusion of the romance plot; before the hero and heroine can be permanently united, the hero has to confront his own internalisation of what Carol Thomas terms the psycho-emotional aspects of disability, and understand himself as worthy of the heroine’s love.
Balogh’s use of disability allows her to create a compelling romance narrative, a refreshing antidote to the blandly attractive couples who populate the genre. Equally, though, the conventions of historical romance – particularly its combination of a contemporary sensibility with a setting remote in time – allow her to do particular things with disability representation. Disability is frequently marginalised in romance narratives (rendered invisible by the eyes of love or even cured by love) but in Balogh’s work impairment is accepted as an integral part of the beloved, is a part of everyday life, and disability is located in society as well as in the individual body. Rather than enforcing normalcy, then, Balogh’s novels challenge it.
- Kathleen A. Miller, University of Delaware
What’s At Stake?: Dis/Ability in Tanya Huff’s and Charlaine Harris’s Contemporary Vampire Romance Fiction
With the phenomenal commercial success of Stephenie Meyers’s Twilight series, vampires—and, more specifically, vampire-human romance narratives—have become big business. Reading Tanya Huff’s Blood Price and Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark, as well as their television adaptations (respectively, Blood Ties and True Blood), through the conventions of romance and female gothic genre fiction, I suggest that these texts present readers with messages of female freedom and gender equality. But as scholarship by Rosemarie Garland Thomson and Martha Stoddard Holmes on the literature of disability helps us to see, these feminist statements also come filtered through the texts’ compelling narratives of disability. Each work advances a red-herring theory that vampirism is actually a disability, a form of chronic illness; nonetheless, despite their “disability,” the vampires prove to be “hyper-able” — destined to live eternally, impervious to most bodily threats, and uncannily gifted as lovers. Yet vampires are not the only ones to challenge categories of ability and normalcy in these texts, for the central human characters are disabled heroines, who also prove extraordinarily able. Huff’s female protagonist has a degenerative eye condition, while Harris’s protagonist identifies her telepathy as a “disability.” Through their status as heroines with seemingly disabling “differences,” they display their various abilities, including their strength, insight, and romantic desirability. Furthermore, negotiating and embracing their disabilities leads them to challenge existing notions of gender roles and to construct new alternatives for female accomplishment. Much like that of the supernatural vampire, the disabled female physical body becomes extraordinary, as it helps the protagonists to counter threats of violence and to protect themselves and those around them. In these works, as I will demonstrate in my paper, women authors are using the trope of disability to reclaim the female body in the popular imagination, even as they contribute to the reinvention of the vampire romance genre.
- Sandra Martina Schwab, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz, Germany
"It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly": The Loss of Sight in Teresa Medeiros's The Bride and the Beast and Yours Until Dawn
The ability to see clearly and the loss of sight play an important role in the historical romances The Bride and the Beast (2001) and Yours Until Dawn (2004) by the American author Teresa Medeiros. While Yours Until Dawn features a blind hero, large parts of The Bride and the Beast are set during the night, and the darkness makes the heroine unable to see the face of the male protagonist. In both books the physical inability to see clearly is not only connected to a lack of recognition, but is also indicative of a lack of psychological insight. In Medeiros's two novels blindness thus functions as a symbol for internal problems the characters have to overcome in the course of the stories, namely their inability and unwillingness to face the truth about oneself and others. This psychological blindness also hinders the development of the love relationships. Therefore in both books the happy ending is dependant on the protagonists learning the same lesson the Fox teaches Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince: "It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."