Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: Betz and Uszkurat on Lesbian Romance

Betz, Phyllis M. Lesbian Romance Novels: A History and Critical Analysis. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Uszkurat, Carol Ann. "Mid Twentieth Century Lesbian Romance: Reception and Redress." Outwrite: Lesbianism and Popular Culture." Ed. Gabriele Griffin. London: Pluto Press, 1993: 26-47.

In her preface Betz acknowledges that she is "not the first to examine specifically lesbian works" (2). This is true, since lesbian romances have been discussed in earlier articles by Ehnenn (1998), Esquibel (1992), Hermes (1992), Juhasz (1998), Palmer (1998), Uszkurat (1993) and Weir and Wilson (1992) and in a PhD thesis by Pearce (2004).1 I can't guarantee that this is a comprehensive list of work on lesbian romances, but it does rather suggest that serious analysis of these texts really only got under way in the 1990s. The reasons for this are explored by Carol Ann Uszkurat.

Uszkurat has stated that "during the rise of the second women's liberation movement, which took an increasing interest in lesbianism throughout the 1970s, lesbian romance was ignored" and she asked "What was it that prevented lesbians from looking at a crucial part of their own cultural history?" (30). She suggests "that the answer to this question is, at least in part, associated with the rise of lesbian feminism from the late 1960s onwards and the attitudes towards pre-liberation movements' lesbianism promoted by some lesbian feminists" (30). Firstly, "Feminism in general provided a critique of the heterosexual demarcation of gender-assigned roles. This had a direct bearing on the way in which lesbian butch/fem role play was consigned to the dustbin of unsound practices" (31). I wonder if echoes of this critique of "butch/fem role play" can be found in Betz's book, and perhaps explain why she is apparently so keen to accept descriptions of heterosexual romances as texts which promote rigid gender binaries. They can therefore be contrasted with lesbian romances, in which "the main characters do not always embody a rigid set of contrasting qualities" (Betz 177).

Secondly, "the texts under consideration, lesbian romances of the 1950s, were produced at a time that was seen as deserving little or no respect" (Uszkurat 31), "There was, I would suggest, a definite link between the politics of lesbian feminism of the 1970s and the lack of critical regard dished out to pre-Stonewall popular paperbacks" (31). Uszkurat suggests that in the 1970s "the interest was in literally canonising those women whose writing could be re-categorised as some kind of feminist 'classic' belonging to a tradition of great women's writing" (32).

Thirdly, Uszkurat observes that
Both the initial and prevailing radical feminist readings of popular culture during the 1970s were infused with deep suspicion. In a feminist reification of the kind of orthodox Marxist/Frankfurt School that proliferated in the 1960s and popularised concepts such as 'mass/false consciousness', radical feminists rewrote 'dominant order' to mean 'oppressive patriarchy'. (35)
Uszkurat then turns to the psychoanalytic theories used by critics of heterosexual romances:
Time and time again, critics define desire by picking up on the kind of feminist psychoanalysis which mushroomed in the mid 1970s. Theorists like Dorothy Dinnerstein and Nancy Chodorow are used as the analytical hook on which to hang readings of popular romance. Not surprisingly, analysis that sought to dissect woman/man relations is both limited and highly problematic when looked at for transferable models that might offer some means of reading lesbian romance. (37)
Uszkurat demonstrates how Janice Radway's conclusions about romance readers, which are based on Chodorow, become problematic when applied to lesbians (and, as Uszkurat notes, Chodorow was also "Seemingly ignorant of the materialist dynamics that take the working-class mother out to work" (38)). Uszkurat also briefly mentions problems with the psychoanalytic underpinnings of Snitow, Modleski and Coward's work on heterosexual romances.

So, "If lesbian feminism is antagonistic towards psychoanalysis, it is hardly likely to take anything from readings of popular heterosexual romance which rely heavily on such perspectives" (42). Nonetheless, "This radical feminist mistrust [...] has been increasingly challenged in the 1990s" (43) and Betz, while noting differences between heterosexual and lesbian women in the context of Chodorow's theories as they appear in Radway, does not utterly reject those theories.

Uszkurat concludes her essay by turning to Diana Hamer and her work on "the lesbian paperbacks produced during the 1950s and 1960s" (43), in particular those of Ann Bannon, which are also discussed in some detail by Betz in her book, in her chapter on "pulps." Uszkurat notes that
'romance' as it is conceptualised in these openly lesbian texts is discounted by Hamer, because she rightly notes the lack of formula which, according to heterosexual feminists, is evident in heterosexual romance. This leads to a dismissal of any comparison with Mills and Boon because 'such a parallel is questionable in terms of generic conventions' (Hamer, p 50). But is there not room to consider how exactly 'romance' was part of the lesbian culture of the 1950s and why? I leave this question open. (44)
Betz does not really explore the issue of genre classification either, but the historical contexts she mentions should, I think, be borne in mind when attempting to classify lesbian romantic fiction. In earlier decades the less-than-optimistic outcomes for lesbian relationships which are portrayed in lesbian texts may well have been shaped not by the authors' preference for this kind of ending, but by the fact that even when, rather daringly, the characters' love dared to speak its name, it was not acceptable for that speech to be rewarded in print. Furthermore, lesbian readers may still have found the endings "Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic" (RWA) because, as Betz suggests, "they allowed the reader to imagine more positive outcomes" (46).

Betz notes that, in general, analysis of lesbian romantic fiction has tended to "concentrate on the pulp novels of the 1950s and early 1960s or is limited to discussions of Jane Rule's Desert of the Heart, Isabelle Miller's Patience and Sarah, Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, and a small handful of other texts" (2). There are, however, some gaps in Betz's bibliography: I noticed that she does not include all the previous works on lesbian romance which I listed above.

To my knowledge Betz's study is the first book-length study of lesbian romances to be published by an academic press. She offers the reader "my analysis of one of the most prominent of the popular genres - the romance novel" and discusses "how lesbian authors utilize and adapt the form for their particular audience" (1). Given the diversity and size of the genre, this would seem a daunting undertaking, and Betz's book is only 219 pages long. Perhaps because of this, in her analysis of heterosexual romances she depends rather heavily on conclusions derived from secondary sources, particularly Janice Radway's Reading the Romance, Carol Thurston's The Romance Revolution, the Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women volume edited by Jayne Ann Krentz and Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Unfortunately, many of her statements about heterosexual romances suggested to me that she lacked first-hand knowledge of the primary sources:
The heterosexual hero and heroine usually enter their story as diametric opposites, in class, mobility, and power. Typically, the hero enjoys not only the privileges of his gender, but the constant expression of them; he is, to use Jayne Ann Krentz's term, the "alpha male" who dominates all of the other characters in the book, but most importantly the heroine ("Trying to Tame the Romance" 107). [...] Blond hair, lighter skin tones, and smaller builds are not attributes given to the hero; such figures become false heroes, temporarily misdirecting the heroine's desires in malicious or accidental ways, or they are subordinates to [sic] the hero. (92)
What, then, of "beta" heroes? What of the heroes who are blond, or shorter than the heroine, poorer, or younger? What of inter-racial romances featuring Black women and White men? All of these do exist, but Betz would appear to be entirely unaware of them. As the following quotation demonstrates, Betz's incomplete knowledge of heterosexual romances affects her assessment of lesbian romances:
the configuration of the lesbian couple does not fully replicate the model found in mainstream romance. This is, perhaps, the essential difference between the two genres: without a definite hero and heroine, the traditional romance cannot work: "In a romance novel, the relationship between the hero and the heroine is the plot. It is the primary focus of the story ..." (Krentz "Trying to Tame the Romance," 108, emphasis in text). He must be aloof; she must be able to connect. He must acknowledge his emotional need; she must accept the responsibility of nurturing those feelings. He must take and retain control; she must be willing to cede power. Even if the ending presents some awareness by the couple that both are responsible for maintaining the relationship, the conservative framework within which the romance works requires the recognition that male desire still directs it. This dynamic will be found in the pages of lesbian romance, but with important differences. (93-94)
Betz also makes generalisations about the structure of heterosexual romances. For example, despite frequently quoting from Pamela Regis, who was careful to note that the various elements she had identified "can appear in any order" (30), Betz seems to believe that "the typical romance [...] ends with the declaration of mutual love" (109) and she therefore states that lesbian romances are significantly different inasmuch as they continue
to explore the implications of that assertion beyond this ecstatic moment. Once the couple has accepted their attraction and expressed this acceptance by making love, their story is not complete. Particularly in more recent novels, the women must confront a variety of challenges that must be faced together. (109)
It may well be the case that the case that more lesbian romances than heterosexual ones end in this way, but Betz does not provide much evidence that this is the case. One scene she describes does indeed show the ongoing happiness of the lesbian couple many years after the conclusion of the events in the main body of the romance, but to me it did not seem radically different from many of the epilogues to be found in heterosexual romances.

Sweeping, and therefore somewhat inaccurate, generalisations about heterosexual romances could be of relatively little importance in a book about lesbian romance novels. Indeed, I wish I could focus solely on what Betz has to say about lesbian romances, because they have received far less scholarly attention than heterosexual romances. Unfortunately, I have felt obliged to write at some length about her opinions of heterosexual romances because Betz attempts to describe the defining features of lesbian romances by contrasting them with heterosexual romances. Given the apparently rather incomplete nature of her reading of heterosexual romances, I was less able to feel confident about her conclusions regarding the unique features of lesbian romances.

It is perhaps worth noting that Betz 's
reading of genre romances is a late development, partially coming from my teaching courses in popular/genre literature. My reading of lesbian romances has to be linked to my coming out, when I was looking for images of lesbians and lesbian life as well as models of behavior. (200)
Betz therefore praises the lesbian romance genre because it "positions the lesbian at its center and reframes her marginal status; this allows her to escape the stereotypic and homophobic depictions of the lesbian as deviant, disordered, and demonic" (196-97) and allows her to "momentarily experience the fantasy of complete acceptance" (197). That it is a "fantasy," however, is something on which Betz insists, because she believes that "The pursuit and maintenance of love is more complex than is described in the romance, and social expectations impinge on the couple's attempts to establish a private life more strongly than they do inside these narratives" (196). Indeed, Betz writes that
Perhaps no other genre is said to call for such a complete suspension of disbelief as the romance. Once a reader accepts the premise that life exists on other planets or that time travel is possible, science fiction novels make sense. While coincidence often plays a role in the solution to a crime, as long as the investigation adheres to the particular rubric of its type of mystery, a reader will accept the investigation's outcome.2 Romances, however, are seen as asking their readers to willingly overlook the reliance on extreme yet limited stereotypes, highly stereotyped characters, highly contrived plots, over-wrought themes, and unrealistic outcomes. (169-70)
Since Betz qualifies her initial sentence with "Perhaps," and ascribes the views she describes to some unidentified people ("is said to call," "are seen as asking") it does not seem entirely safe to assume that she shares these views, but her repeated use of the word "fantasy" to describe the genre does tend to make me think that this paragraph reflects her own opinions, as does her description of the characters in lesbian romances:
both main characters are stunningly attractive, although there tends to be a reliance on some variation of the butch/femme dyad common in lesbian literature [...] Like heterosexual romances lesbian romance narratives are situated within an exaggerated environment, where the focus and direction of the plot center on the progress of the romance. (15)
Betz's history of lesbian romance novels begins in Chapter One with a brief mention of "authors and texts that form, what can be called, the 'official canon' of lesbian writing: Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein, among others" (27). As she notes, "Many of the lesbian authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in fact, did not even treat overt romantic relationships between women" (27) and "When two female characters express strong feelings and attachments for each other, they are generally framed within the context of the romantic friendship [...]. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Silent Partner and Mary Wilkins Freeman's The Country of the Pointed Firs [Betz seems to have made a mistake here because Sarah Orne Jewett was the author of The Country of the Pointed Firs] typifies this situation" (27).

Turning to "Recognizable popular lesbian romance" (28), Betz begins with early novels in which
In each case, with the exception of Rule's Desert of the Heart and Miller's Patience and Sarah, the demands that the lovers adhere to society's conceptions of proper female looks and behavior destroys or limits not only their relationships but their very lives. [...] Throughout the pulps the recognition that a woman's desires for another woman are called deviant challenges her very sense of self, and the institutionalization, the deaths, and the emotional and social isolation that are offered as the only possible outcome for expressing such desire indicates the terrible price for transgressing social norms. (Betz 105)
The first novel to be described at any length by Betz is Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness and "Sally Cline states the [sic] Hall recognized the limitations within which she positioned her narrative and gave them [her characters] the ending that society would accept" (35).

In The Well of Loneliness the main character, Stephen Gordon (who despite her name is female), ends by relinquishing her lover to a man. A similar ending to a lesbian relationship can be found in Mary Renault's The Friendly Young Ladies. Betz then turns to lesbian "pulps", which "Between 1950 and the mid-1960s" were "the dominant format for descriptions of lesbian relationships" (40). This is followed by brief descriptions and analyses of Isabel Miller's Patience and Sarah, Jane Rule's Desert of the Heart and Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle.

In Chapter Two Betz moves on to Katherine Forrest's Curious Wine (1983), "considered a classic of modern lesbian romance" (63). Betz writes that,
Unlike Hall, Renault, and others, Forrest's lovers are presented not only as self-identified lesbians, but fully satisfied and confident with that identity. The ambiguity of the texts discussed in Chapter One disappears [...]. Ultimately, in the earlier romantic texts, the weight of the larger society diminished or destroyed any chance of lesbian love succeeding. Stephen Gordon surrenders Mary to a conventional heterosexual marriage; Leo willingly leaves Helen for Joe. The pulps portray lesbian desire and fulfillment as something either to be prevented, through death or institutionalization, or lesbian relationships as being incapable of providing any sense of stability or permanence. To be lesbian is to be tortured with self-doubt and self-loathing. (70-71)
This chapter also looks at the relationships depicted in other recent lesbian romances, including "Janet McClellan's Winter Garden, Claire McNab's Under the Southern Cross, and Shelley Smith's Horizon of the Heart" (73).

Betz's focus is on examining how "social codes are woven into the narrative" (85) and showing that "a lesbian-authored text not only gives the lesbian reader permission to look, but to look as a lesbian looks" (84). This means that she is not analysing the literary aspects of the novels, though she does mention that in Rule's Desert of the Heart the use of "Images of heat, blinding light, dust, all suggest the impossibility of relationships being able to survive" (50) and the way in which "Emily Dickinson's poetry [...] becomes a communicative bridge" (70) for the protagonists in Forrest's Curious Wine.

In Chapter 3 she describes the settings to be found in lesbian romances:
Like their mainstream counterparts, lesbian romances set their narratives within conventional settings. Perhaps the most common backdrop for the love story, especially in novels set in the present, is the city. The prominence of this environment reflects its importance in the history of gays and lesbians: the city has always been seen as providing the gay man or lesbian a surrounding in which the individual is able to express non-traditional sexual desire more openly. The city offers anonymity at the same time it facilitates the creation of a shared community. (86)
The social statuses of the characters is also examined:
the lifestyles enjoyed by the characters in lesbian romances tend to reflect a middle to upper-middle class status. [...] The portrayal of lesbians as economically successful is constantly reinforced in these books and may be seen as contributing to one aspect of the romance novel's creation of fantasy, not of romantic passion but of material comfort. (87)
and, as in many romances featuring heterosexual protagonists,
Many lesbian romances [...] utilize the contrast in the class status of the couple as either a complication that must be resolved if the happy ending is to be achieved or as a marker of suitability. B. L. Miller's Accidental Love constructs the romance around the first plot situation. (88) [Miller has made this novel available on her website, where it can be read for free]
In this, they resemble a great many romances with heterosexual protagonists: the "Cinderella" type romance story, between a poor(er) woman and a rich man is a common one. However, Betz suggests that in lesbian romances wealth can play an additional role: "The association of financial security with a lesbian identity attempts to bridge the gap between perceived deviance (lesbian) and socially approved status (wealth); the one condition assumes acceptance of the other" (87).

Betz also describes how
A particular sub-set of lesbian romance novels began to appear in the mid-1990s that brought together a group of women who work together [...], live in the same neighborhood [...], or enjoy and rely on long-standing friendships [...]. One of the prominent features of these group romances - because while they could be classified as comedies of manners like their mainstream counterparts, finding suitable, long-term partners is the narratives' starting point - is the shared environment in which the characters reside. Not surprisingly, these novels do not replicate the traditional romantic plot; the narrative tends to center on one of the group, tracing the ups and downs of her searches for romantic relationships. The circle of friends provides a full range of support, criticism, and blind dates. [...] The comic tone of these novels represents another distinguishing factor for [sic] more traditional romances. (90-91)
Betz herself raises the question of how to classify these novels, and I wonder if she might have found rather more parallels between them and their "mainstream counterparts" if she had looked for those counterparts among chick lit novels rather than in the romance genre.

The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the impact on lesbian romance of another product of popular culture:
From its first broadcast [in September 1995], Xena, Warrior Princess teased its audience with suggestions of more than just a friendship between its two main characters. [...] While Xena and Gabrielle could play at being more than just friends, the requirements for keeping a mainstream audience prevented the relationship from crossing the boundary from play to actual romantic connection. Yet, it is this consummation that recent lesbian romance novels play out again and again. [...] What is striking in the majority of recent lesbian romances [...] is the authors' insistence on incorporating what can now be seen as iconic images and characterizations, especially since the show went off the air in 2000. In fact, the frequency of Xena- and Gabrielle-based characters is so common that some texts have begun to acknowledge the references. (107)3
In Chapter 4 Betz's "critical analysis" turns to the relationship between sex and love in the romance genre: "To separate sex from romance, in the final analysis, is rather like trying to separate the oxygen and hydrogen while attempting to drink water" (111). She suggests that
In many ways the incorporation of sexual intimacy functions in the same manner within the pages of the lesbian romance as mainstream romance. The couple desires the intensity of physical connection, since it signifies the moment of recognition of a mutual attraction and commitment between the lovers. Sexual passion and expression parallels emotional desire and articulation. [...] Unlike its heterosexual counterpart, however, the lesbian romance must contend with a mainstream essentialist view of the lesbian: the equation of sexual identity with sexual practice. (117)
Again comparisons with heterosexual romances abound. For example: "lesbian texts differ noticeably from heterosexual ones. Although contemporary traditional romances will describe the sex between the hero and heroine in explicit language, these scenes tend to be brief and limited in frequency" (122) and
The type of heterosexual romantic text influences how much explicit sexual content is allowed, but generally the number of sex scenes in mainstream straight novels is limited. The exception would be those novels that advertise themselves as explicitly erotic. However sex appears in these works, a distinct pattern of engagement can be discerned. The heroine's sexual awakening, for example, must come from the hero. (131)
If such statements contain inaccuracies about heterosexual romances, then they will fail to convince the reader that "lesbian texts differ noticeably from heterosexual ones." The quotations from, and descriptions of, lesbian sex scenes did not strike me as particularly different from many of those I've read in heterosexual romances (although, obviously, they describe two women's bodies instead of the bodies of a man and a woman). In addition I could see parallels between some of the novels Betz describes, in which one of the protagonists comes out as a lesbian during the course of a romance and learns eagerly from her more experienced partner, and the rapid learning curve of many romance virgins in heterosexual romance novels. Betz, however, states that "Unlike the romantic hero, who, traditionally, uses his sexual power to overwhelm the heroine's resistance and dominate her will, the more experienced lesbian in her romance will behave more as the teacher" (122).

Chapter 5 focuses on "the work of three well-known lesbian romance writers - Radclyffe, Karin Kallmaker, and Jennifer Fulton" (138). Betz apparently chose them because "While Radway's and Thurston's analyses are built on extensive surveys of romance readers" (3) Betz had no comparable source of information about lesbian romance readers and these three lesbian romance authors all have websites which "allow readers to contact the authors with their reactions, criticisms and questions. The answers open up the authors' writing processes, as well as their comments on issues such as the role of sex and the value of the work to its audience" (3). All three authors "express a strong sense of their awareness of writing for a specifically lesbian readership" (138), feel a "sense of responsibility for providing lesbian readers with recognizable and believable stories and characters" (139), "stress a commitment to representing as wide a range of lesbian experience as possible" (139) and "indicate an awareness that they are part of a particular lesbian literary tradition" (139). In addition to being authors, "Kallmaker is the editorial director for Bella Books; Fulton, the senior editor/acquiring editor for Bold Strokes Books; and Radclyffe [...] is the president and founder of Bold Strokes Books" (140).

In Fulton's True Love "most of the women of the group [including "Rosie, whose quest for true love provides the central narrative focus"] end in the same situation - single - as they began the story" (144) but Betz argues that the novel "must still be read as a romance novel because, even if only temporarily, members of the group [...] do experience the thrill of finding a compatible lover" (144). Apparently "Fulton's later romances adhere more closely to the traditional romantic framework" (144).

Karin Kallmaker
has paid close attention to the importance of community within the pages of her novels. [...] Finding one's heart's desire, as required by the romantic narrative, takes precedence, but Kallmaker emphasizes that the couple belongs to a wider world and has a responsibility to acknowledge that relationship as well as the private. (151)
Betz also notes Kallmaker's "deliberate references to other literature" (158), particularly Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Radclyffe specialises in romances in which
one or both of the main characters enters the story burdened by a past which impacts the present and which must be confronted and addressed if the character(s) will be able to pursue the relationship that has developed over the course of the narrative. (159)
Betz quotes a comment by Radclyffe:
"Some of the most powerful themes in my work, which I revisit frequently, are redemption, healing, and self-acceptance. These are classic themes in romance fiction and the sex of the character has nothing to do with the emotional landscape of the character or the challenges she faces in accepting and giving love." (160)
In Tomorrow's Promise one of the protagonists, Tanner, has sex with Adrienne but "cannot yet separate the two drives [emotional and physical] and returns to her 'normal' sexual behavior, indulging in one-night stands" (165). I found this intriguing, because I think it would be unusual for either of the protagonists in a heterosexual romance novel to find new sexual partners after having had sex with their hero/heroine. Betz does not analyse this, so I have no idea whether this kind of scenario is more common in lesbian romances than in heterosexual ones. There is some description of the metafictional elements in Love's Masquerade, in which Haydon Palmer, writing under the pseudonym of Rune Dyre, "is transcribing her relationship with Auden [who works for her publisher] in the fiction" (166) which Auden reads and "Their courtship for the first part of the novel is carried out through email and the submission Rune/Haydon sends to Auden" (166).

Chapter Six analyses the relationships between the novels and their readers:
The reader's importance to the success of the romance novel cannot be overlooked; every examination of the genre, whether critical or popular, emphasizes the impact readers' expectations of and responses to the texts not only has on their own preference, but on the writers of these works as well. (170)
Betz states that heterosexual romance novels show "the balance of opposites" and "this reconciliation of opposites is the reiteration and normalization of a conservative social construction of heterosexual relationships" (176). However
While lesbian romances retain the basic outlines of the heterosexual romantic plot and characters, they incorporate important variations that represent a specific lesbian sensibility, since these are written for a specifically lesbian audience. For example, the main characters do not always embody a rigid set of contrasting qualities. (177)
It would be surprising if lesbian romances did not "represent a specific lesbian sensibility" but if it is demonstrated by the presence of main characters who "do not [...] embody a rigid set of contrasting qualities" then many heterosexual romances, for example those with "beta" heroes, must also "represent a specific lesbian sensibility." As on earlier occasions, Betz's apparent lack of knowledge about heterosexual romances (or a reading of them which is based on the assumption that they must reproduce a "conservative social construction of heterosexual relationships") undercuts her insights into lesbian romance novels. Where Betz does see similarities with heterosexual romances, these do not seem to meet with great approval:
The impact of the heterosexual paradigm in the definition of a successful romantic outcome can be seen in the novels' maintaining of the notion that each woman has, and can find, her one true soul mate, thus encouraging the lesbian reader to imagine, at least during the reading of the novel, that such an achievement is possible. (179)
While I might not use the term "one true soul mate," the "notion" that women ( heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual etc) can find lifelong romantic partners does not seem to me to be an "achievement" which is only possible within the pages of a romance. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, for example, were together for over fifty years, until the former's death. Betz concedes that "given that even the concept of a successful lesbian relationship is discredited by mainstream society, the serious treatment of the search of one woman for emotional and physical fulfillment with another woman becomes reasonable" (180).


1 Complete details of these texts can be found in the Romance Wiki bibliography. This list is not intended to be taken as a complete list of previous work on lesbian romance novels, but it does include some items not cited by Betz.

2 Elsewhere, in an earlier book, Betz has analysed depictions of sex and love in lesbian detective fiction. On pages 42-44 of her book on lesbian detective fiction Betz actually gives a brief overview of the heterosexual romance genre which gives a taste of her approach to the genre in Lesbian Romance Novels.

3 According to an article by Malinda Lo,
female/female slash, or femslash, has historically been quite rare. It was not until Xena: Warrior Princess, with its often quite overt subtextual homosexual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, that the amount of femslash approached male/male slash in volume. Since Xena, other femslash pairings have included Seven of Nine/Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager; Buffy/Faith, Willow/Tara, and numerous other female/female pairings on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer; CJ and a number of female partners on The West Wing, and Olivia Benson/Alex Cabot on Law and Order: SVU, among others. [...]

The mother of all femslash is, without a doubt, Xena: Warrior Princess, which premiered in September 1995. Xena was unique in that it was a television program in which the hero and the hero's sidekick were both women. That relationship, between former warlord-turned-heroine Xena and the initially innocent bard Gabrielle, was one of the most three-dimensional relationships between women seen on television. That relationship also involved them in a number of sexually suggestive situations, as the two famously bathed together, shared mystical kisses, and sang to each other in melodramatic musical episodes.


  1. The support Betz outlines for her contention that "perhaps no other genre is said to call for such a complete suspension of disbelief as the romance" is, IMO, weak. The TV science fiction "Star Trek," for example, as I remember it, asked that a viewer frequently suspend disbelief about the means of transport, the weapons, the aliens, and so on. Mysteries with coincidence playing too large a part in the solution stretch belief to a definite thinness. Seems to me some suspension of disbelief is inherent in formulaic fiction for nothing in real life operates so regularly as formulae usually do.

    Still, I prefer historical romance because the distance supplied by its occurring in the past somehow reduces the automatic comparisons to real life I make when reading contemporaries, so I can't discount Betz' contention as much as I would like.


  2. The only comment I dare make here is that any comparison between heterosexual and lesbian romance seems to me to be fraught with really huge difficulties, since all the parameters have been changing continually over the last century or so.

    These parameters include: the wider social and moral attitudes towards all sexuality; attitudes (and legal constraints) attached to the publication of fiction addressing sexual relationships (of any kind); social, moral and legal attitudes towards homosexuality; gender roles in society; and of course the changing fashions and preferences in published love-stories. I have probably forgotten a few.

    Because all of these things are moving targets, I don't see how valid comparisons can be made without a very tight chronological framework that only compares like with like and that takes into account all the background attitudes at the time. Regional differences come in, too, and so, I fear, do class differences.

    I can only admire Betz for trying to tackle this gargantuan task, but I am not in the least bit surprised that some of her generalisations seemed dubious to you.

    And while I'm here, can I say to everyone, if you haven't read any Jane Rule, you should. She was a great novelist.


  3. Patricia Highsmith's _The Price of Salt_ (1952) is a lesbian romance novel--romantic suspense, to be exact. Don't miss her Afterward in the Norton edition. A sample sentence: "Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality (so it was stated), or by collapsing--alone and miserable and shunned into a depression equal to hell" (261).

    Highsmith is perhaps best known for _The Talented Mr. Ripley._ _The Price of Salt_ should be better known.

    Pam Regis
    McDaniel College
    pregis at mcdaniel dot edu

  4. Thank you: I didn't know of the Highsmith example -- and I see it was originally published under a pseudonym (Clare Morgan), which is interesting.

    In the UK, the 1950s saw a gradual but inexorable shifting of public opinion in the direction of greater tolerance and understanding of both male and female homosexuality, and I suppose this was happening in the USA, too. Here, Mary Renault's The Charioteer came out in 1953, and although I am sure today's gay men regard it as quaintly, even laughably, old-fashioned, it has a lot to tell us about the changing perceptions that were in part driven by the social upheaval of the Second World War. I must read the Highsmith as a comparison. Of course, in the UK, male homosexual practices were still actually illegal in the 1950s, whereas lesbians suffered only moral obloquy.

    Rule's The Desert of the Heart was published in 1964, and she had a lot of trouble getting it published. Her later books are not really 'lesbian novels': she had done her coming-out thing, and went on to write with acute perception and generosity about people of all kinds, straight and gay. Just like real life...

  5. Dick, re "nothing in real life operates so regularly as formulae usually do," I think that's true, but I think that it's so because (almost?) all fiction, having been constructed by an author, is inherently different from real life. The reader knows there's a plan behind what happens and, depending on the skill of the author, and the nature of the fiction, evidence of that plan may manifest itself in absurd coincidences, an expected type of ending, careful foreshadowing, interesting recurrent motifs etc. Of course, some people might argue that God also has a plan for people's real lives, but even so, I think they'd probably agree that God works in ways that are rather more mysterious than the ways of most authors.

    My suspicion is that when Betz argues that the romance genre requires greater suspension of disbelief, she's implying something about the fictional happy endings, and about real life romantic relationships.

  6. "I can only admire Betz for trying to tackle this gargantuan task, but I am not in the least bit surprised that some of her generalisations seemed dubious to you."

    Yes, it's definitely a huge task she set herself. Even writing a comprehensive history of lesbian romances would have been a very significant undertaking, but attempting to compare them with heterosexual romances seemed to me to be biting off rather more material than could conveniently be chewed in a book of this length. I can see why Betz might have thought it would be interesting to try to make comparisons, but as the first book on the topic of lesbian romance, I think it would have been better to have spent more time exploring a wider range of lesbian romances, and provided more detailed analysis of them. As I mentioned in my review, Betz didn't really analyse the literary aspects of the novels she looked at.

  7. "Patricia Highsmith's _The Price of Salt_ (1952) is a lesbian romance novel--romantic suspense, to be exact."

    Thanks for mentioning this, Pam (and thanks, Tigress, for the details you added about the UK situation). I really know very little about lesbian romances, and I was hoping to learn rather more about them from Betz than I felt I did. Betz does mention The Price of Salt, but only very briefly:

    "Chapter One will end with a discussion of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt which is seen by many critics as the dividing line between the more limited representation of lesbian life of the pulps and the modern romance narrative." (17)


    "positive endings were not unheard of; Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt, written under the pseudonym Claire Morgan in 1952, famously ends with Carol and Therese not only acknowledging their love, but implies its continuation:

    Carol raised her hand slowly and brushed her hair back, once on either side, and Therese smiled because the gesture was Carol,and it was Carol she loved and would always love. Oh, in a different way now, because she was a different person, and it was like meeting Carol all over again, but it was still Carol and no one else. It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together, in heaven and in hell. Therese waited. Then as she was about to go to her, Carol saw her, seemed to stare at her incredulously a moment while Therese watched the slow smile growing, before her arm lifted suddenly, her hand waved a quick, eager greeting that Therese had never seen before. Therese walked toward her [276].

    Other novels ended more ambiguously, but they allowed the reader to imagine more positive outcomes.
    " (46)

    And that's all Betz has to say about the novel, so its importance didn't really register with me as I read Betz's book, but Norton, whose edition you mentioned, are rather more forthcoming about its merits:

    Now recognized as a masterwork, the scandalous novel that anticipated Nabokov's Lolita.

    "I have long had a theory that Nabokov knew
    The Price of Salt and modeled the climactic cross-country car chase in Lolita on Therese and Carol's frenzied bid for freedom," writes Terry Castle in The New Republic about this novel, arguably Patricia Highsmith's finest [...]. With this reissue, The Price of Salt may finally be recognized as a major twentieth-century American novel.

  8. I'm a little surprised that no writers (or even regular readers?) of lesbian romance seem to have weighed in on this topic. It would be helpful to hear their views.

    One of the reasons I was diffident about commenting at first was that I was expecting to be smacked down by somebody with a strongly partisan view.

  9. I have read one of Karin Kallmaker's and enjoyed it immensely. I'd recommend her to many of you, though I can no longer remember the specific title. The book I read was set during the time of Harvey Milk in San Francisco and very consciously set the romance within social and political changes of that period. At the same time, it's a complete straightforward romance, and I loved it. Flipped page after page and it's the only time I've written a bit of fan mail to an author. Kallmaker even kindly replied to my, now I know rather naive and possibly annoying, letter.

    Laura, you asked about sex with people other than the future One after meeting the protag met her One, and that did occur in this novel. I don't know how common it is. I would guess there are several things going on in this, however:

    1) One of the main changes the POV protagonist is undergoing is moving from thinking of herself as a woman who had physical relationships with other women to a lesbian as something like an identity as represented by falling in love with and committing openly to another woman. So, as she makes that change, she slowly declines from those other physical relationships. 2) I thought a gradual commitment was more honest than love at first sight; 3) it was set in 70s San Francisco, which had different sexual mores than, say, a Regency novel. 4) I think it was supposed to be somewhat of an erotic novel, so you gotta have some hot action.

    I actually enjoyed that book more than most hetero romance novels I've tried to read. Tying into the original post, I think part of it is the lack of the alpha male whom I typically just want to slap around for being a jerk, not see him fall in love. I'm sure it helps that I found both people in the couple attractive.

  10. I agree with AgTigress that comparison of same sex romance with heterosexual romance is "fraught with difficulties," but for different reasons. I'm pretty much a nominalist and trying to associate the idea of "romance" with m/m or f/f relationships makes my mind whirl. Romance, it seems to me, almost has to be a joining to the "other," the yin to the yang, not a melding of sameness. Slash fiction may tell a love story, but how can it be romance?

  11. "I was expecting to be smacked down by somebody with a strongly partisan view."

    I'd hope that the discussions would remain polite. But maybe one can have polite smack-downs?

    I'd recommend her to many of you, though I can no longer remember the specific title. The book I read was set during the time of Harvey Milk in San Francisco and very consciously set the romance within social and political changes of that period. At the same time, it's a complete straightforward romance, and I loved it.

    Pacatrue, Betz mentions "1978 San Francisco and the election, then assassination of Harvey Milk in In Every Port" (151). Was that the romance you were thinking of?

    "Tying into the original post, I think part of it is the lack of the alpha male whom I typically just want to slap around for being a jerk"

    I can understand that, since personally I'm not keen on that type of "alpha male." I'm being a bit specific about "that type" (i.e. the kind which specialises in "being a jerk") because there seem to be so many different ideas about what it means to be an "alpha male" and some readers use the term to describe heroes who are leaders, but do their leading without becoming "a jerk."

    I'm pretty much a nominalist

    Is that you again, Dick? I looked up nominalism but I'm still not sure what you mean.

    "trying to associate the idea of "romance" with m/m or f/f relationships makes my mind whirl. Romance, it seems to me, almost has to be a joining to the "other," the yin to the yang, not a melding of sameness."

    Your definition of "romance" doesn't make "my mind whirl" but it does make me feel kind of constricted. I don't like the idea of limiting romance to opposites-attract stories. I suppose my starting point would be that everyone is different, therefore any individual is a potential "other." I know that romance can sometimes go to an extreme in emphasising difference, (he's male, big, hard, dark-haired, aggressive and she's female, petite, soft, blonde and heals little animals) but I don't feel that such differences make the novel or the relationship more romantic. In fact, an author might have to work extra hard to convince me that the relationship was really a "marriage of true minds" rather than a marriage of gender stereotypes.

  12. Oh, I was expecting to be smacked down politely! :-)

    I believe that the definition of 'alpha male' has been distorted and badly undermined by many who don't understand the original meaning, to the extent that it does now mean two things. I use the term in its basic zoological, animal-behavioural sense, where it originated, in which it means the natural leader, an individual who makes the decisions but who is also a protector and takes risks on behalf of others, who is respected and followed unquestioningly. In human terms, that should mean a person who is confident and charismatic, one to whom others turn in a crisis, but who is also well-liked and admired. Definitely NOT a pushy, arrogant jerk who thinks he is always right, and who is heartily loathed by all around him.

    I think the concept of a confident, even 'alpha', woman is now being distorted in the world of romance in the same way; I have read heroines that I'm sure the author thought of, and was presenting, as self-assured and efficient, whom I should describe as 'rude, ill-bred, pushy bitch' -- actually the direct female counterpart of the 1980s rude, arrogant 'hero'.

    I have no problem whatsoever with the term 'romance' used to describe a love-story between two people of the same sex. Love has no gender. The establishment of a lasting, happy pair-bond between two people, with all the obstacles that may occur in its path, is a romance, and the sexes of the people involved seem completely immaterial to me.

  13. I have to agree with Laura and AgTigress. I see no reason that two men or two women cannot be in a romance. Even if you define romance as a "joining to the other", I see no reason that sex must be the other thing. I do think that men and women are different in various ways determined by our biology, but we vary in many other ways as well. One could easily have sameness across gender lines and difference within gender. The claim also seems to not match empirical data. Almost all men and women I know in long-term relationships with someone of the same gender view their relationship as a romance. We could define romance in such as way that they are incorrect, but I see no gain in such a move.

    Laura, yes, that must have been it. In Every Port. Our protagonist starts the novel with lovers in many ports. (She travels as a consultant if I recall correctly.) There is an argument near the end of the book that I didn't believe at all and seemed contrived in order to have a final reunion and commitment (couldn't be a wedding after all), but otherwise I liked it.

    As for AgTigress' last comment about alpha males and alpha females, my amazing discovery was that it often has a lot to do with who one is attracted to personally. I started writing a story once with a heroine that I knew was arrogant and full of herself. I recognized the flaws in her, and the story, never finished, involved her getting over them. The point is: I didn't mind her arrogance because she was attractive to me. Since I'm not attracted to other men, I suppose I need their personality to be immediately engaging. I was happy to wait for my heroine to get better, but not patient enough with some heroes to improve.

    Of course, sometimes it's just bad writing.

  14. @ L. Vivanco: Sorry. I forgot to sign the post.
    I was using "nominalist" as meaning that a name means what the greater majority of people would think it meant within a context. I think that, if one were to query 100 people about what the word "romance" meant, they would say a love affair between a man and a woman. Expanding the meaning of the term to include m/m, f/f love affairs makes it even more difficult to use than it already is.

    @L Vivanco, AgTigress, & Pacatrue:

    The otherness of the yin/yang which I mentioned though, more aptly fits the standard idea of romance than the m/m-f/f variety. Romance does the same, celebrating what the yin/yang symbolizes--rebirth through uniting the genders, a continuous retelling of the myth.


  15. "I think that, if one were to query 100 people about what the word "romance" meant, they would say a love affair between a man and a woman."

    I think it would depend which 100 people you asked. In 2005 the RWA board sent out a

    Member Survey “concerning the direction in which the membership wants our organization to go.” The task force working with member input to come up with a “Basic Definition of Romance that can be applied when questions arise as to what, for our group’s purpose, constitutes a romance” has offered members two choices in the survey ballot. (Alison Kent's blog)

    The survey apparently offered the following as a definition:

    “Romantic Fiction” or “Romance” means a story in which a predominant part of the story line focuses on the romantic relationship that develops between CHOICE #1 one man and one woman / CHOICE #2 two people on more than a physical level. Although other elements and subplots may also be components of the story line, by the book’s conclusion the romantic relationship has been resolved in an emotionally satisfying manner. (again, from Alison Kent's blog)

    The "one man and one woman" definition was not adopted. Marlys Pearson has an addendum to the story: in 2006 there was

    a Letter to the Editor in the August Romance Writers Report, in which the author called for the Romance Writers of America to restrict the definition of romance to relationships between one man and one woman [...] She also seemed to think that her views reflected the majority of the RWA.


    The October issue of the RWR is now out, and the responses to her letter are unanimously against her view. Not only does it include a special notice from the Board of Directors reminding us that they'd already decided, over a year ago, that "any definition of romance should be broad and inclusive," there are eleven letters to the editor (including mine) in favor of keeping the definition just where it is

    And re your objection that

    "Expanding the meaning of the term to include m/m, f/f love affairs makes it even more difficult to use than it already is."

    There are already lots of adjectives which are used to specify particular types of romance e.g. historical paranormal romance, time-travel romance, inspirational historical romantic suspense. If, as in Betz's case, one wants to discuss lesbian romances, it's really not at all difficult or confusing to call them "lesbian romances."

  16. Thank you, Laura, for this very helpful review. I've been looking for lesbian romances to add to my syllabi, and although the Betz looks interesting, it may not be as useful from a literary angle as I'd hoped.

    Pacatrue, I've just ordered the Karin Kallmaker you enjoyed, and it looks like she's quite prolific. If I enjoy it as much as you did, I'll explore further.

    Dick, we must know different hundreds of people! I find the notion that romance must be m/f as baffling as the idea that marriage has to be m/f. On the other hand, as a nominalist you'll be open to the way that words' referents shift across time. Before the 18th century, the equation of "romance" with "love story" was much weaker, for example. The automatic association of both "marriage" and "romance" with heterosexuality may linger, but will fade, as the next few years go by.

  17. @L Vivanco: I should have said 100 persons on the street to my comment. The advantageousness of the broader definition accepted by the RWA qualifies its merit a bit, I think. The terms "lesbian romance" only works if that broader definition is accepted.

    @ E. Selinger: I'm aware that the term romance, unfortunately for those of us discussing it, is applied to a number of different forms. But those that most influenced the genre this blog is about were most influenced, I think, by those that DID include a love story between a male and a female. And I agree that the association of romance with heterosexuality may possibly fade as time passes. I don't think, though, that the association of romance with heterosexuality has become a ghost yet. The greatest number of romances published still tell the story of a m/f relationship, and I'm doubtful that ratio will change for a long time to come.

    One of the things the HEA of the romance formula has always implied in my thinking, as evidenced by the penchant authors have for epilogues and continuing mentions of h/h's in subsequent books is that the union (marriage or whatever) of the two brings continuance far into the future through their progeny; it's almost as if the "ever after" of the HEA has to be demonstrated in order to be complete. Homosexual relationships, even though the m/m or f/f in the relationship might rear children, cannot provide that possibility. A m/m or f/f relationships may have romantic overtones, have the same kind of structure as other romantic fictions, but I don't think they can bring that powerful myth of the generative forces to the fore as heterosexual romance does.


  18. I think Dick's comments raise some fundamentally interesting and important points.

    As a (deliberately) childless heterosexual woman, I have thought quite a lot about the place of procreation in the concept of the 'happy ever after'. The emphasis on childbearing as the primary, or even the sole, legitimate purpose of sexual relations in Judaeo-Christian thought (well exemplified in the words of the traditional Anglican marriage ritual), has always grated on me: it has seemed so limiting, so exclusive in spirit. (If taken absolutely literally, it would frown on the marriage of a couple where either person was unable to reproduce). It is firmly based on periods of history in which life-expectancy was generally short, and infant and child mortality very high, when those who lived long could rely only on their own biological children to care for them. Procreation used to be one of the primary duties of adult humans, just as it still is for many other species. That situation still exists in some parts of the world, but it is really no longer applicable at all to modern Western societies, where, on the contrary, over-population is becoming a threat. While it seems to me perfectly reasonable that the birth and upbringing of children can be used as a very convenient shorthand symbol of the continuing and new social order that is the culmination of a happy and lasting romance/love-affair, and is thus a useful way of indicating that the romance is crowned with success, I do not take it literally, and never have done.

    A romance resolves conflict, and moves society onwards into a new, more stable order, creating new families and a new, continuing generation. Now, a new family/generation does not always require actual childbirth as such. A family, a small integrated community of people of both sexes and all ages, is widely recognised as a stabilising and positive element in society, but it does not necessarily consist of a mother, a father and their biological offspring. I regard my stepchildren (and their children) as my 'family' every bit as much as if I had given birth to them, and I regard their mother (my husband's ex-wife) and her partner as an integral part of that family, my family, too. The basic elements of a family consist of an interlocking series of long-term, sound pair-bonds and continuing connections over succeeding generations. Adopted children and step-children are as much a part of this pattern as direct biological issue. It follows that homosexual pair-bonds may play just as significant a role in such patterns as heterosexual ones.

    I would like to recommend many of the novels of Jayne Ann Krentz to illustrate this point (including some of her historicals, written as Amanda Quick). 'Family' is always one of Jayne's central themes. She has what seems to me a very clear mental definition of 'family', which, though it certainly includes simple 'parents and their children', also takes in older siblings who bring up their younger brothers and sisters, grandparents, step-parents and step-siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who become part of a network of love and support for the next generation. Gay couples (both men and women) feature as important secondary characters in many of her books as pivotal elements in such networks, and I know, from personal knowledge and observation, that they really do work in exactly the same way as heterosexual pair-bonds, as sources of stability for a rising generation.

  19. "Homosexual relationships, even though the m/m or f/f in the relationship might rear children, cannot provide that possibility. [...] I don't think they can bring that powerful myth of the generative forces to the fore as heterosexual romance does."

    No, but not all heterosexual romances do either. There are infertile protagonists in romance, and also couples who decide to be childless/childfree by choice. Jennifer Crusie's Anyone But You and Bet Me are good examples of the latter situation.

    I don't think that procreation is the central "myth" of romance. Pamela Regis argues that

    the romance novel itself is a subset of [...] comedy [...]. The writers of Greek New Comedy [...] established the pattern of comedy, which the romance novel would modify [...]. The context of comedy, its setting, is society. Comedy's "movement ... is usually ... from one kind of society to another" ([Frye] Anatomy 163). This, then, is the usual sequence that the reader encounters - an old society (which is often corrupt, decadent, weak, or superannuated), a hero, his intended, paternal opposition to his intended becoming his wife, a removal of that opposition, the hero's triumphal betrothal, and a wedding symbolizing a new, vital society. (28-29)

    The romance genre, by giving more importance to the heroine, does change this pattern, but Regis argues that its central myth remains the same. This being so, as AgTigress argues, although

    the birth and upbringing of children can be used as a very convenient shorthand symbol of the continuing and new social order that is the culmination of a happy and lasting romance/love-affair, and is thus a useful way of indicating that the romance is crowned with success

    But it is not the only way in which to indicate it.

    I'd also like to briefly note that Deborah Lutz has suggested that there are actually two different kinds of romance which, although they are placed within the same genre, actually have what we might call two different "myths":

    In her study of early romance genres (from 1674 to 1740), Ros Ballaster creates two categories of use here: didactic love fiction and amatory fiction. [...] Ballaster’s category of didactic love fiction—romance that has a didactic project, is future-directed, and attempts to represent a moral way of living, a “just” kind of love (depending on what constitutes the “morals” of the particular time period in question). On the opposite extreme, the dangerous lover type falls under the rubric of amatory fiction. Amatory fiction cannot be, generally speaking, recuperated morally, nor does it play out in a socially sanctioned realm. (2)

    The creation of a new, improved society, then, is not the central myth of amatory fiction. And there is plenty of heterosexual amatory fiction in the romance genre.

    So, I'd suggest that (a) we're maybe looking at a genre with more than one central myth, (b) that even in didactic romances, the central myth is about the creation of a better society (not about procreation), and (c) that the way that this myth is symbolised and/or represented can and has changed in response to authors' preferences, skill, and the social contexts in which they write and in which they place their characters.

    Lutz, Deborah. The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2006.

    Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P., 2003.

  20. @AgTigress & L. Vivanco:

    I think that, if we were to look at the works of the most successful romance novelists, we would find that the greater majority do NOT envision a new society; rather, they re-establish a traditional one. The greater majority of them either imply or outright state in epilogue or in mentions of the h/h in later works, that the traditional mother/father/children family has been established by the love story of the romance and that seems to hold true in all the sub-genres. In fact, I would argue that the greater number of heroes in romance fiction do a complete 180 degree turn and eagerly embrace fatherhood, marriage, family, and love. It's also worthy of note that even in those romances in which one or the other of the protagonists is supposedly sterile or unable to reproduce something remarkable happens in a majority of the books to remove that impediment. Is it not these elements of the genre which bring forth the accusation that it's replete with patriarchicalism?

    Krentz also stated somewhere in her Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women that romance "unites" the male and the female principles (p. 7). Elsewhere she remarks how often romances end with the births of children (p. 9).

    I disagree with Lutz' division of romance fictions, especially since it's based on the years 1674 to 1740 and with her contention that "amatory fiction," the dangerous lover type, cannot be recuperated morally. In fact, I would say that is exactly what dangerous lover/amatory fiction does--it redeems the dangerous lover and re-establishes him in society. That is exactly what empowers the heroine in such fictions and is probably why the "rake," the womanizer, the "bad boy," appears so often as the hero: The more egregiously alpha the hero is, the greater the power of the heroine who tames him. I don't think Richardson's "Clarissa" was published until after 1740, so the only "romance" I can bring to mind from the period is "Pamela," in which the hero/dangerous lover is, if I recall correctly, redeemed.

    Regis would have been more accurate if she had stated that the ending of the greater number of romances revitalizes traditional societal roles rather than establishing new ones.

    I think romance fiction is fundamentally traditionalist in the stories it tells, even in those which depart from the standard formula, such as m/m, f/f romances. Isn't that the major thrust of the arguments that have been posed?

  21. I can't figure out how to edit posts; I'm hopelessly inept at using computers. I've added this post to "sign" the previous one by Anonymous, which I forget to do, and to remove the word "somewhere from the citation to Krentz. I had to get the book from the attic to be sure of the reference.

    How does one edit? Is it possible to do so after a comment has been posted?


  22. It's only possible to edit a comment before your post. After that, I or one of the other bloggers here could delete it, but even we can't edit posts, I don't think.

    I think romance fiction is fundamentally traditionalist in the stories it tells, even in those which depart from the standard formula, such as m/m, f/f romances. Isn't that the major thrust of the arguments that have been posed?

    First of all, I think that for a long time love matches were decidedly untraditional. Secondly, I think one needs to distinguish between the broad definition of the genre (which focuses on a love story which ends happily), and the situations and characters which have most often appeared in romances. Explicit descriptions of sexual activity are commonplace now, but they weren't at all common in the 1950s, for example. Rich heroes are extremely common, but that doesn't mean that one can't have poor heroes. For a time, almost all protagonists were White, but there was no generic reason why there shouldn't be Black protagonists. I'd argue that the same is true of LGBT protagonists: they may have been rare, but there's no generic reason why they should remain so.