Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective
I wonder whether Jessica Taylor found the Canadian Romance Authors Network, which might have rounded out her information as well as providing her with many Canadian romance authors to talk to.http://www.canadianromanceauthors.com/There used to be a page listing romance novels set in Canada, but I can't find that now. There certainly are some, some published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon.It is true, however, that Can Lit considered romance novels not-books. I've never figured out how they generate and maintain this space in their heads, but they do, and defend it vigorously.I think there's some odd illogic which says, If romance novels are books, then I can't be writing books. As my identity is bound up is being a writer of books, romance authors cannot be writers of books.All prejudice is rooted in fear.Jo
There's a small list of Canadian-set romances (including one of yours) at AAR."It is true, however, that Can Lit considered romance novels not-books."Jane Litte, in her paper at the conference, referred to how this sort of attitude was stated quite explicitly by Hilzoy in a post at Obsidian Wings:"romance novels [...] are not "books", as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."Hilzoy was then challenged about this, and her further explanation really didn't make things much better:"Gary and others were offended by the part about romance novels. I think I didn't make my point particularly clearly, so let me try to explain what I meant.First, a clarification: I meant, and should have said, genre romance novels. I did not mean Jane Austen. Moreover, I meant genre romance novels, not genre fiction generally. [...]I did not mean it to imply, anything about the quality of genre romances. I honestly think not just that most of them stack up pretty well against your average Hustler centerfold, which isn't hard, but that some of them are quite good.[...]when I said that "romance novels are not "books", as that word is normally used", I should, first of all, have said not books but novels, and specifically non-genre fiction. For better or for worse, I think that genre romance (again, I'm agnostic on, because largely ignorant of, other genres) is a different thing than non-genre fiction, and different in large part because it is best seen as a highly constrained performance -- as more like the compulsory program in figure skating, while non-genre fiction is like the freestyle part, where you really can do whatever you want.I did not, and do not, mean this claim to imply anything at all about the merits of genre romance novels. Even my original claim only implies this if you think (which I assume no one does) that books are more valuable than anything else, or that if something isn't a book in the normal sense, it must be less good. This is obviously false"Hmm. Ironically, Hilzoy's post was tagged "Why Are They Saying Those Things?"
In response to the first comment, I can't speak for Jessica, but I do recall her saying that she attended at least one meeting of Canadian romance authors, and my impression is that she has been really diligent about immersing herself in all the different aspects of romance publishing.
I understood Hilzoy's comments about the genre, because I have argued for some time that it does not lend itself to standard critical approaches which are applied to other fictions. One can read a romance fiction and admire the deftness with which the author plots, characterizes, describes and remark upon successes or failures in that regard. One can even be led to think about the "problem" around which the story proceeds. But one knows before beginning that there must be pair of protagonists; that any problem considered within the book will not affect the results of the relationship, which must end happily; that the primary purpose of the book is to bring about that ending. If the author has done these things well, if her style is not off-putting, if one can agree that the story has proceeded in such a way as to justify the HEA, one can end the book and say I liked the story or I disliked the story.dick
Dick, Hilzoy's initial instinct was to deny that romances are books and to compare them "to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold." As I understand it, all modern romances are works of prose fiction, not boxes which have to be filled with numbers, or visual, sexually stimulating images.That's not to deny that there are differences between Sudoku games (some are more difficult than others, for example), or that there is no skill involved in taking photos for Hustler. But they are very different mediums from works of prose fiction."One can read a romance fiction and admire the deftness with which the author plots, characterizes, describes and remark upon successes or failures in that regard.Indeed, and one can also look at the historical/intellectual/national context in which a particular romance was written. For example, as various contributors to the PCA panels noted, there do seem to be national differences between US, Australian and UK romances. Or, to take another example, while some romance authors state that they and their works are feminist, others do not.One can look at the way an individual romance fits into a particular sub-genre e.g. is it accurate in its use of history or does its use of history reflect contemporary mores?One can look at a romance's use of metaphor and imagery and whether it's clumsy (e.g. Lord Hawk HardRock seemed to swoop down on Daisy Sweetness, a hard look on his predatory face....") or more subtly contributes to the characterisation and/or complements the plot.As another of the contributors to the PCA observed, you can look at how certain romances make use of quotations or allusions to authors such as Shakespeare.That's not an exhaustive list by any means.one can end the book and say I liked the story or I disliked the storyAgain, I agree, and I also tend to say the same thing about works which are firmly embedded in the canon. I like the story in some of them and very much dislike the story in others of them.
I agree that looking at the history of romance--romance per the recipe, ie--is interesting and informative. An author's use of metaphor and imagery can also be interesting and informational. But they are interesting and informational only as externals to the romance itself, because the recipe will be fulfilled regardless whether these things are present or not. And they will not change one's perception of like/dislike of the specific book much at all, because in romance what brings like or dislike are the characters and their actions and whether the plot allows those particulars to result in the HEA. A romance as poor in all those elements as a novel by Connie Mason nonetheless has appeal for a great many readers, not because of those things nor the lack of those things, but because it fulfills the recipe in such a way that the reader is satisfied. Canonical works, on the other hand, often gain from such critical attention as suggested. The story itself somehow becomes less important than the way it is told or the words and syntax used to tell it, as with a poem by G.M. Hopkins, or a novel by Herman Melville. And that gain influences the like or dislike in a way that I don't think happens with a romance, in which story overshadows everything else. dickYou are remarkably patient with my recalcitrance. I appreciate it.
Dick, one could say the same thing re: formula about sonnets or blank verse or elegaic forms or, for heaven's sake, epics (invocation to muse, trip to underworld, betrayal, epic final battle, etc). But that doesn't negate their literariness. Despite YOUR inability to see that romance is worthy of study and your repeated insistence that it's not, others disagree. Eric Selinger has a brilliant piece in our upcoming book that discusses precisely what you're talking about and shows how one of Laura Kinsale's book is available for precisely the type of analysis you're saying romance doesn't reward. My own discussions of female-authored masculinity demonstrate how authors play with and adapt the romance genre conventions. For some, it's precisely those conventions that are worth examining, because they're not static. They change and adapt to the times, reflecting and affecting societal concerns about gender and genre in fascinating ways.
"An author's use of metaphor and imagery can also be interesting and informational. But they are interesting and informational only as externals to the romance itself, because the recipe will be fulfilled regardless whether these things are present or not. And they will not change one's perception of like/dislike of the specific book much at all"But again, I think that's how I feel about canonical works too. As I said, there are some I like and some I dislike, and if I dislike one (because of the plot and/or characterisation) then studying it in depth may help me to better appreciate the author's artistry, but it won't make me "like" it (i.e. respond to it emotionally in a positive way) more.I've actually studied quite a few romances already to which I don't respond on an emotional level, but which I greatly admire on an intellectual level because of the skillful way in which they've been crafted so that characterisation, imagery, the theme, and details of the plot complement each other and give the work much greater intellectual depth.
Dick, in saying that language is "external" to the romance recipe and won't really affect a reader's response to the book, aren't you universalizing your own experience? There are romances that are so awkwardly written that I will not finish them. I don't see how language can ever be "external" to a text--the characters and plot exist only through the language. I also wonder whether you do not see the kind of cultural approaches Laura mentioned above as "literary" study? What counts as applying techniques of literary analysis to you? I ask because you're so insistent that romance doesn't repay study, in the face of this long series of posts about people studying it, that I wonder if you don't see this is "real" literary study.And Laura, the predatory Lord Hawk HardRock? Can't you take a break from scholarly work and write this book?
@S.G. Franz:I'm not sure which of my posts you're responding to, but I think it's the one about Hilzoy's comments. I don't think I said that romance is not literary, but that it's literature of a kind that doesn't lend itself to criticism of say a formalist kind, except that its content can't be separated from its formula. Fulfilling that formula is the intent of the author, the purpose of the book, and the reason for reading for the great majority of readers. It doesn't really matter whether the language is choice, the syntax elegant, whether it's replete with metaphor. A potboiler by Connie Mason, as I've commented in the next post, will fulfill it as well for a great many readers as the wordsmithery of E. Lowell in her earlier works. I think, that if, in the hundred requisite years, the detritus of romance fiction has dropped away, then the genre may benefit from critical attention, but I'm not certain even of that. dick
And yet STILL you get my name wrong, dick. And I'm just going to say unequivocally that I think you're absolutely and completely wrong. I also think you have a very narrow view of why literary critics do what we do and I think your utter wrongness arises partly from that and partly from a completely shuttered viewpoint about the artistry of many romances (not all or even the majority, but many) out there.And there we will end, because we will never agree.
@ElizabethI didn't intend to convey that. As with you, bad writing makes me abandon reading. But for a great many readers, perhaps even the majority, I'm not sure that's true. Like A. Pope's watches, reponses to romance fiction are as various as the number of readers. dickIn a way, you're right. I am and have been a devotee of Cleanth Brooks' "new" criticism, at least when reading poetry, but I carry over the idea that a work of literature is a whole thing, that one cannot separate intent and purpose from form. It's with authors of romance, then, as it is with bakers of bread: They must include certain things. If those things are included, about all that we can say of the end product is it's to our taste or it's not to our taste. And taste is not critiquable, is it?
@ Ms. Frantz:I apologize for the misspelled name. Your thinking I'm wrong is your right, of course. dick