Registration is now open for IASPR's
Popular Romance Studies: Theory, Text and Practice
5-7 August, 2010
The keynote speakers for the conference will be:
Celestino Deleyto, University of Zaragoza, Spain
“The Comic, the Serious and the Middle: Desire in Contemporary Film Romantic Comedy”
The most interesting things in romantic comedies happen in the middle. It is there that the characteristic tensions between melodramatic intensity and comedic cool, between laughter and frustration, between the social and the psychosexual take place. In this talk I want to move away from traditional theories of romcom which privilege the happy ending as the repository of all the meanings and ideology of the genre and theorize the magic space of romantic comedy and its relation with the social world and sexual discourses at the beginning of the 21st century.
Lynne Pearce, Lancaster University, UK
“Romance and Repetition: Testing the Limits of the Love”
This paper will revisit the “deep structures” of romantic love that I explored in my book Romance Writing (2007), focusing, in particular, on the question of whether the retrospective test of “true love” lies in its non-repeatability (exemplified by the numerous heroes and heroines from folk-tale, myth and Gothic literature who prefer to mourn the lost loved-object rather than seek its replacement). I shall then reflect upon how the high value placed upon non-repeatability in (certain) romantic discourse is at odds with its oedipal origins as accounted for by psychoanalysis (which explains all adult relationships as a repetition of the child’s first ‘romance’ with its parents), as well as noting the extent to which both ‘comic’ and popular romance have depended, crucially, on the possibility of serial monogamy. The second part of the paper will explore the tensions between repeatable / non-repeatable models of romantic love further with reference to Sarah Waters’s The Nightwatch (2006), wherein the compulsion to ‘repeat’ a previous dynamic is seen to define all the key relationships.
Pamela Regis, McDaniel College, USA
“Criticizing Romance: The Last Quarter Century”
Respondent: An Goris.
From its definition to its effects on readers, from condemnation to praise, popular romance has long been a site of widely contrasting critical approaches and judgments. This address offers a meta-critical analysis and appraisal of the last quarter century of romance criticism to illuminate and advance the daunting project of interpretation that we romance critics have set ourselves: an account of the ubiquitous, wildly popular, analytically elusive popular romance. Guided by the question, “What does a critic owe the romance?” Regis and Goris will map the territory and identify the ways forward.
Over at the IASPR website the papers to be presented are listed alphabetically, by the speaker's surname. I thought I'd go for a thematic approach:
Romance in specific geographical contexts
“Romances: Novels Ceaselessly Evolving. What Mechanisms are at Work?” by Magali Bigey. Associated with preconceived images and full of prejudices, romance is a consumption product which embodies a social and cultural mirroring. In France for several decades, romance has gained an heterogeneous but loyal readership. What are the motives of those novels which are said to be all similar? What do they represent for the readership? These are some of the questions we try to answer in this multidisciplinary work. To do it, we chose romances published diachronically in France from 1942 until 2008, between the appearance of small romances named “Les Romans Americans” and the contemporary romances.
“Stereotypes of Muslim’s Women Ambition in Northern Nigerian Popular Romance” by Halima Buhari Sekula. The paper analyzes three texts, Rabiat, When the Wall Cracks, and Silent Tears, in order to explore the ways in which popular romance in Northern Nigeria perpetuates gender discrimination by depicting Muslim female heroines as docile and uneducated women. The female Muslim characters are often on opposing character scales with good and bad women sharply delineated. Often, the good woman is not university educated and is long suffering. This type of fiction often negates the dynamic image of the contemporary Nigerian Muslim woman. The paper is furthermore a discourse on the impact of such stereotypes as fundamentally limiting to the educational and economic horizon of Muslim women
“Love for a Dime: A History and Taxonomy of the German ‘Liebesromanheft’” by Cora Buhlert. This paper will focus on a field of German popular fiction that has received little serious critical attention domestically and is almost entirely unknown abroad, the so-called Romanheft. A distant relative of the American dime novel and the British penny dreadful of the nineteenth century, a Romanheft is a novelette, published as a digest-sized magazine and printed on cheap woodpulp paper with a glossy cover. Although Romanheft covers all genres of popular fiction, romance makes up the majority of market nowadays. This paper will provide a brief overview of the German Romanheft, its history and critical reception as well as genres, authors, major titles and publishers. The main focus will be on the romance genre and its various subgenres. I will also address common accusations levelled against Romanhefte regarding their lack of engagement with political and social issues of the day and alleged promotion of conservative values and gender roles. Finally, I will also draw comparisons between the German Romanheft and the popular romance in the US and UK, particularly with regard the impact of translated category romances on the German market from the 1970s on.
“Francophone Perspectives on Romantic Fiction: From Academic Field to Readers’ Experiences.” by Séverine Olivier and Agnès Caubet. Although Francophone academic criticism has experienced an evolution from condemnation to serious analysis, French readers have rarely been interviewed. Explaining why contempt for romance remains predominant in the Francophone academic field and describing the characteristics of the Francophone romance market, this paper will first and foremost insist on romance readers’ experiences. Focusing on findings linked to a sociological survey led in 2007-2008, it will lead us to a conversational discussion between a scholar (Séverine Olivier) and a reader (Agnès Caubet) who will speak about her own experience. Webmaster of Les Romantiques, a French website dedicated to romance and women’s fiction, Agnès Caubet will show how, far from being passive victims of their reading, romance readers are more than ever active readers.
“The Time-Traveler’s Dilemma: Consuming Chinese-Language Web-based Time-Travel Romances” by Jin Feng. This paper focuses on An Economical and Serviceable Man in the Qing Dynasty, a web-based time-travel romance posted at a Chinese-language discussion forum, in order to discuss writing and reading practices related to web-based popular Chinese romances. It investigates specific literary devices that the author uses, especially the trope of time-travel, and their functions and aesthetics both in the tradition of Chinese popular romances and in the context of Chinese cyber culture. It also performs a “virtual ethnography” by examining reader comments and discussions among themselves.
“Translated romances: the effect of cultural textual norms on the communication of emotions” by Artemis Lamprinou. Romance writers employ a variety of linguistic strategies in order to express the emotions of their characters. Studying translations allows us to examine how emotions are expressed and described in other languages and cultures, based on claims that different cultures favor different ways for conveying emotions. Romances as cultural products offer potentially rich material for this purpose. Employing the concept of Toury’s translation norms, the paper will attempt to show how culture can affect the expression of emotions using the Greek translations of a small corpus of modern English-language romances.
Sexuality and gender
“Theorising Virginity in the Romance” by Jonathan A. Allan. Northrop Frye wrote that prudery about virginity in romance “is structural, not moral.” Taking this claim as our starting point, this study aims to theorize the nature of virginity in romance and teasing out the limits of Frye’s claim: if the question is structural why is the male virgin not considered? If the question is moral why is virginity uniquely concerned with the female? This study focuses its attention on questions of virginity in the Twilight series of novels by Stephenie Meyer. Ultimately, the core concern is the place of heroic virginity in romance.
“Alpha Male: Power, Confession and Masculinity in Popular Romance Fiction” by Sarah S. G. Frantz. This presentation will discuss a unique cluster of romance novels, published between 1994-1995, that consistently rank at the top of lists constructed by romance readers of the best romance novels: Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ It Had to be You, Lisa Kleypas’ Dreaming of You, Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold, Linda Howard’s After the Night, and J.D. Robb’s Naked in Death. Written after the publication of Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women (1992), an anthology of essays written by romance authors responding to the critics of popular romance fiction, these novels embody the period in which the authors of popular romance are newly conscious of and reflective about the artistry and cultural influence of their books. The presentation will examine the construction of an ideal romantic masculinity as the product of female-constructed masculine emotional confession that includes an exploration and appropriation of sexual and power dynamics.
“Violent Sex or Sexual Violence: Redefining Ravishment in the works of Nora Roberts and Linda Howard” by Ashley Greenwood. The romance novel has consistently been a place where discussions of female sexuality have flourished. If issues of female submission and male domination have come under attack within romance fiction, the debate has gained center stage in the area of the ravishment scene. The most serious charge being levied at this expression of (hetero)sexuality is that these scenes perpetuate the myth that women want to be raped. It is important to remember that romance fiction and therefore sex within the romance genre is working under a patriarchal framework that necessarily limits and marginalizes any expression of gender that does not fit into traditional notions of male and female. Although it is true that romance fiction plays into patriarchal notions of gender and sexuality they also offer subversive interpretations of those same aspects.
“‘Is that another crack about my weight?’: Using Discourse Analysis to Study Romantic Fictional Dialogue” by Stephanie Moody. This paper traces the debate among scholars about the usefulness of discourse analysis in analyzing fictional dialogue, and then defines and examines the interpretive repertoires and ideological dilemmas present in several excerpts from Anne Stuart’s Ice series. These novels depict conversations in which characters debate what it means to be masculine and feminine and what roles these expectations play in gendered relationships. Although scholars have argued that romance novels reinforce heteronormativity and patriarchal ideologies, close examination of romantic fictional dialogue suggests that they also offer moments of resistance, challenge, and transgression. The use of discourse analysis can help to reveal these moments and shed further light on the appeal of romances novels.
“Finding True Love and Finding Her Sexuality in Vampire Romance Novels” by Chiho Nakagawa. Many popular romance novels cherish the convention of the romanticized view of sex in which the first sexual encounter confirms the hero as the heroine’s true love. Vampire novels, on the other hand, have traditionally offered a way to explore transgressive sexuality in the absence of sexual acts. However, the new breed of vampires in contemporary vampire novels, such as The Twilight Saga and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, abstains from sucking blood from humans, supporting in the end the romanticized view of sex. My paper examines this contradictory new breed of dark heroes and the concept of true love in relation to the significance of sexuality today.
“The Queer Theory of Eve Sedgwick and Homoeroticism at the Edges of the Popular Romance Imagination” by Pam Rosenthal. In Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet, the late theorist and critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick drew a formidable map of the western literary tradition’s anxious readings and misreadings of love, sex, and power. The foundational importance of her career for queer studies has been widely recognized. This presentation asks what Sedgwick’s work tells us about what she called “the whole, astonishing and metamorphic Western romance tradition,” first via a reading of some current male/male and male/female popular romance, and finally by tracing representations of male homosociality through some more typically heterosexual popular romances.
“’When my lust hath dined’: Rape, ravishment, and forced seduction in romance” by Angela Toscano. If rape in romance is no longer a frequently used motif, then it is certainly a defining and a disturbing aspect. The intent of this paper is to examine rape in both contemporary and ancient romances as a trope of the genre rather than as an expression of female sexual fantasy. It asks the questions: what is the narrative motif of rape conveying about the nature of desire and its connection to violence? What is the narrative purpose of rape in romance? And how does it serve the broader thematic and structural elements of both the genre and the individual plot?
“Gender, Romance, and Performance: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and the Female Knight Errant” by Tom Ue. By reading Bella’s quest in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga in comparison with Mary’s in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, and against the theoretical framework of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, this paper will show how Meyer rewrites this tradition for a twenty-first century young-adult audience. As Bella overcomes obstacle after obstacle and as she repeatedly tries to write and rewrite her own story, her episodic romance fosters a different kind of readerly engagement and investment. This paper pays heed to both Meyer’s treatment of gender, and her command of conventions of romance as a genre.Romance - Other Topics
“‘Weird and kinky and medieval’: The idea of the ‘medieval’ in contemporary popular sheikh romances” by Amy Burge. A distinctive subgenre of Harlequin/Mills & Boon publishing, sheikh romances have become especially popular in recent years. However there has been no examination of a key trope in these texts: their use of the “medieval.” This paper examines a selection of sheikh titles published between 2000 and 2009, alongside theoretical work in medievalism and Orientalism, to consider how (and why) the “medieval” has evolved as a byword for both the “East” and barbarity. What does “medieval” mean in these romances? Why is the “East” synonymous with contemporary understandings of “medieval”? How is the “medieval” relevant to contemporary romance?
“‘Pride in the Ancestors’: Beverly Jenkins and the Historical Romance” by Piper G. Huguley-Riggins. In Chapter 9 of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the figure of the ancestor, Baby Suggs, preaches a clarion call to blacks and commands them to love themselves. Only then, according to Baby Suggs, can they learn to love one another. Morrison’s response to the devastation of slavery in the lives of African-Americans finds an interesting line of literary descent in the work of historical romance author Beverly Jenkins. Jenkins has used her historical romance novels to continue to heed the clarion call of Morrison by showcasing self-love and pride through positive portrayals of the history of African-Americans.
“Nora And J.D.: Identity in Nora Roberts’ Romance Fiction” by Faye O’Leary. My paper will focus on the work of Nora Roberts, particularly some of her romantic suspense novels, and the importance placed on the idea of identity. I will outline the different identities Roberts uses when writing within this genre – Roberts and Robb – and the possible reasons behind her assumption of a pen name. Roberts, her publishers, and editor all claim that the Robb persona allows her to write a “different” type of fiction. However, an examination of the marketing techniques used in the promotion of the work of both Roberts and Robb, and a materialistic study of some of the covers of her novels reveal a connection between author and pseudonym. This link will be further explored in relation to Michel Foucault’s idea of the “author-function” and Anthony Giddens’ theory of the self in modern society. A close examination of two of her RITA award-winning romantic suspense novels, Survivor in Death and Remember When, will show that her work also shows a preoccupation with the theme of identity.
“There Be Dragons: Romance and the History of Stories” by Sandra Martina Schwab. Dragons – mostly as the four-legged, winged and fire-breathing variety, but also as giant worms or winged snakes – have inspired the human imagination for centuries. Tales of dragons and their slayers can be found in myth and legend, in medieval romances, in folktales, in fantasy fiction – and in popular romance. Using the specific example of the dragonslayer story, this paper aims to show in what way narrative elements of romance are connected to other cultural texts, and how romance conventions shape existing narrative patterns.
“Shame, Postmodernity, and the Poetics of Popular Romance Fiction” by Eric Murphy Selinger. When scholars describe popular romance fiction and its readers as divided or conflicted, they reveal their continuing debt to modernist anxieties about an art that is, in Lionel Trilling’s words, “consumer driven and comfortable,” designed to “soothe and lift the thoughts” of its readers. This paper will use the deft, metafictional romances of Jennifer Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips to propose a new, less fraught theoretical account of the poetics of contemporary American romance fiction: a genre that looks back to the pre-modernist dictum that art should “instruct and delight,” yet often does so in a distinctly and self-consciously postmodern way.
“‘The Bells Are Ringing for Me and My Gal’ or How the American Rom Com Wedding Cycle Found its Way into Greek Cinema” by Despoina-Betty Kaklamanidou. My paper aims at comparing the US “wedding cycle” of the contemporary romantic comedy to three of the most successful Greek romantic comedies (I Just Broke Up, The Kiss of Life, both 2007 and S.E.X., 2009). Based chiefly on Altman’s semantic/syntactic approach to genre theory, I intend to compare the romantic narratives from the two countries, in order to register how the Greek texts have absorbed, shaped and/or rejected the pervasive American influence while also taking into account the extra cinematic parameters which may lead to structural changes in the film narratives.
“The Signs of Romance: Visualizing Love and Romance in German Soap Operas” by Heike Klippel. Popular literature has its special means to create the idea of sensual abundance by using words which accumulate sensual stimuli. The language is mostly imprecise, if not empty, but open for the imagination of the reader. What happens to this characteristic of the popular text in a visual medium? I will take a closer look at the materializations of emotion, using German soap operas as an example: which objects are chosen, which situations are created, and, most of all, which meanings about romance and love are communicated?
“Shakespeare and the modern romance of adolescence: 10 Things I Hate About You” by Claudia Marquis. Inevitably, given the distance it has travelled from its origin in The Taming of the Shrew, the Californian teen flick 10 Things I Hate About You raises many critical questions. Spatial and temporal distances are involved; distinct genres and modes converge; cultural attitudes collide. In this mix, as adolescent romance, the film permits pleasure in the transgressive, but never questions the validity of core American values: the fantasy of the adolescent is central to this ideological complex, but depends on the presence of a larger social frame. In that sense, the shrew tamed by the film is adolescence itself.
“Indian Popular Romance: Devdas in Bollywood and Reading Film in Three Screen Adaptations” by Pradipta Mukherjee. The paper will analyze three Bollywood film appropriations of the iconic Indian love legend, Devdas (1917) by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Roy and Bhansali’s films deify the male hero as the object of desire. The two films project the image of masculine authority through a desiring female look and invite its audience to share the subject position with the women characters in terms of the gendering of spectatorship. The male figure’s authority is positioned in line with a devotional female regard. Kashyap’s version, on the other hand, foregrounds a narrative of feminist resistance to the dominant socio-cultural structures that the film seeks to critique.
“Romancing the Past: Historical Fictions and the Fear of Nostalgia” by Roger Nicholson. This paper offers a reading of four historical romances on film, The Man from Snowy River, Braveheart, Vincent Ward’s medievalist The Navigator and, especially, his River Queen, which treats of the New Zealand Maori Wars. All reveal a primary interest in telling stories for a general audience, fusing adventure to love and passion; all discover in the lives that they glamorize an experience that might be read as exemplary at the national level. Is romance bad faith, in such cases, or, in employing the logic and force of film spectacle, does it construct modern “theatres of memory”?
“A Family Affair: Romance and the single-parent in contemporary Hollywood” by Claire Jenkins. The single-parent is becoming an increasingly visible character in Hollywood’s romantic comedies, ranging from Sleepless in Seattle (1993) to Mamma Mia (2008) or from Jerry Maguire (1996) to Maid in Manhattan (2002). This paper explores the depiction of single-parents in these films, arguing that love plays little part in romantic pairings and that the central concern of these films is the recreation of a pseudo-nuclear, patriarchal family. This is done by placing the films within a wider context of gender and cultural studies and by exploring two central themes: the importance of financial security in romantic matches and the role of the child in orchestrating the parent’s romance.
“‘It’s (Not That) Complicated’: Hollywood’s Construction of Middle-Age Romance in the Films of Nancy Myers” by Margaret Tally. This paper explores the phenomenon of romantic comedies for older women. Specifically, in many recent U.S. films, middle-aged women are constructed as objects of desire by both younger and older men. Drawing on these Hollywood constructions, this paper will focus on the work of one filmmaker in particular, Nancy Myers, and will analyze the ways in which she taps into the desires of her older female audience for representations of them as romantic subjects. I will then ask, more generally, why these films are being made now, and how are female audiences responding to these films? How do these films draw on earlier romantic narratives about heterosexual love, and how do they further incorporate recent postfeminist narratives about women’s desires at mid-life?
Other Romantic Narratives
“From A Royal Love Story to Whatever Love Means: The Charles and Diana Biopics as Soap Opera” by Giselle Bastin. Television biopics about the courtship and marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer appeared in the months immediately after the “wedding of the century.” They continued to appear at intervals throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and drew their material from reportage about the royal marriage, biographies, and official press releases issued by the couple’s press office. This paper shall contend that these biopics are scripted according to the dominant tropes of the soap opera and that the films Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) through to Whatever Love Means (2005), have played an integral role in the construction and dissemination of the idea that the Windsor marriage was itself a “royal soap opera.”
“Paratextually Yours: Story Papers, Seriality, and the Shape of Late-Nineteenth-Century American Romance Fiction” by William Gleason. Although considerable energy has been expended in examining late-nineteenth-century dime novels for men and boys, relatively little effort has been spent on the contemporaneous serial story paper romance fictions composed primarily for American women readers. In this talk I will develop a “paratextual” reading of story paper romance fiction. Focusing on the textual and visual materials that typically framed periodical romance narratives (including advertisements, illustrations, poetry, anecdotes, and editorials), I will demonstrate the ways in which this important precursor to twentieth-century modes of mass-circulation romance took shape not in isolation but within an array of interrelated and overlapping cultural conversations.
“Indian Chick Lit as Popular Romance” by Prasita Mukherjee. This paper explores the circuit of chick lit in India as a sub-genre of popular romance literature in the twenty-first century, with primary emphasis on the emergent Indian New Woman and how she has “come of age.” It also attempts to trace the shift in chick lit from an essentialist Western literary genre to a more variegated yet culture-specific form in the era of globalization. In this context I shall consider Trust Me, Piece of Cake, The Zoya Factor, and Almost Single, all widely read and critically acclaimed, even though the corpus of chick lit is in infancy in India.
“Romantic Comedy / Chick Lit as a Transmedia, Immersive, and Participatory ‘Experience’ for Women” by Alison Norrington. Staying Single was a cross-media fictional blog, offering participation and engagement options as fragmented emails, SMS, Twitter, video and UGC. Writing and analysis of Staying Single highlighted the escapist nature of romantic comedy. Further research catapults this engaging genre to the forefront of transmedia storytelling, focusing on what women readers want from possibilities and opportunities that “digital” offers – accessibility, value and choice. Loving NY is an immersive, participatory experience as a print novel, but with a web-centric mode of delivering additional, exciting elements. This presentation on contemporary romantic comedy / chick lit as a transmedia, immersive and participatory “experience” for women will highlight behaviours, consumption trends, and potential scope for this genre in exciting digital times.
“Expressions of Romance in Comics: Young Romance and Oniisama e…” by Natalie Pendergast. This paper compares different modes of expression in two graphic novels. The American Young Romance series (1947-1975) by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and shōjo (young girl) manga comic, Oniisama e… (1975) by Riyoko Ikeda develop differently the medium and semiotics of comics in order to either comply with or subvert various censorship constraints. The paper explores how the artists’ different styles of illustrative and textual narration affect the generic space of the romance, while also discussing the commercial demands on the artistry of both a popular culture medium (comics) and a popular culture genre (romance).Details about each of the speakers are available at IASPR's website.