Both Harlequin Mills & Boon author Elizabeth Oldfield and romance cover artist Pino have recently died.
Laurie E. Osborne has written a number of academic articles on Shakespeare and popular romance (they're listed at the Romance Wiki). There is some overlap between the information contained in them and the information which appears on her Romancing the Bard website, but they're not identical. The site explores the uses of Shakespeare and Shakespearean references in popular romance novels:
In my attention to the ways that romance novelists incorporate Shakespearean texts into their generic requirements, I am implicitly agreeing with recent arguments about the significance of romance novel. Critics like Janice Radway and Carol Thurston cite romance's predominantly female authorship and readership, as well as its economic clout in the book industry as some reasons that cultural critics should attend more closely to its generic features and constructed fantasies. Examining the incorporation of the "patriarchal bard" into these popular novels potentially contributes to the ongoing arguments about whether the romance constitutes a reincorporation of dangerous patriarchal ideologies (as most academic critics seems to argue) or feminine empowerment.-----
Jessica, of Read, React, Review, has put up part 2 of her series of posts on ethical criticism of genre fiction: "This is a sketch of a project I am working on, and of a paper I gave at the Popular Culture Association conference in April."
Marie-Joelle Estrada's recent PhD thesis seeks to evaluate "romantic actions." It's available online via Duke University Library. In it she mentions that
According to the Romantic Construal Model, people’s judgments of whether a particular act is romantic is determined by three factors: the degree to which the action is (a) personalized (personalization), (b) special (specialness), and (c) conveys that the actor values the relationship (conveyed value). Personalization refers to the extent to which an action is tailored specifically to the receiver’s idiosyncratic personality, interests, preferences, and dislikes. Specialness refers to how “out-of-the-ordinary” the act is, the degree to which the act positively deviates from everyday partner actions. Conveyed value is the degree to which receiver perceives that the act originated from or conveys the actor’s high esteem for the receiver and the relationship. According to the model, higher levels of personalization, specialness, and conveyed value increase the likelihood that a particular expression or behavior will be regarded as romantic. (10-11)It seems to me that romance novels frequently contain romantic actions which are depicted as personalised and special and which convey "the actor’s high esteem for the receiver and the relationship." In a forthcoming essay, "One Ring to Bind Them: Ring Symbolism in the Modern Romance Genre," in New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction. Ed. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric M. Selinger, I've analysed some depictions of rings given to heroines by heroes, and one of the things I noticed about them was the frequent personalisation of these gifts. Furthermore, there were also a few contrasting instances of rings which lacked personalisation, and which were given to heroines by men who were not heroes. The correlation between hero status and personalisation of the ring, and between non-hero status and a lack of personalisation of the ring, accords with Estrada's suggestion that
Personalization [...] symbolizes that the actor cares enough to pay attention to details about a partner’s likes and dislikes (thereby suggesting that he or she is important enough to warrant cataloguing the smallest preferences) and knows the partner well enough to make appropriate behavioral choices. Remembering specific preferences also ensures that the behavior is one that the receiver will like, suggesting that the actor ultimately aims to make the receiver happy. (11)In Cathy Williams's The Italian's One-Night Love-Child the hero's gift-giving to the heroine is very special (it differs from his usual method of gift-giving) and personalised, both of which facts reveal to the reader (if not, at this point, to the hero) that he considers his relationship with her to be of high value:
Cristiano had never, personally, involved himself in the tedious pastime of buying presents for women. Firstly, he didn't have time to waste dithering in shops, peering at items of jewellery and asking sales assistants for help. Secondly, he could think of nothing more soul-destroying than trying to rack his brains and come up with a suitable present for any woman. No, this was where his faithful PA had always come into her own. A woman buying for another woman. Made sense.This passage also reveals another element often present in romantic gestures:
For the past six weeks, however, he had ditched the PA in favour of the personal touch and had found the exercise a lot less arduous than he had expected. In fact ... he had discovered that there was a great deal of enjoyment to be had browsing in the shops for things that would put a smile on Bethany's face. [...] Having made the initial mistake of buying her jewellery, which all women presumably loved, incredibly expensive jewellery with super-watt diamonds, only to find his present politely accepted and then equally politely returned, he had revised his ideas. [...]
'I just bet this is the sort of stuff you're accustomed to giving your girlfriends,' she had shrewdly remarked [...].
Cristiano, who had never failed to rise to a challenge, had become imaginative. (136-37)
A potential moderator included in the Romantic Construal Model involves the degree to which the personalization or specialness of the action is seen as requiring effort on the actor’s part [...] even though effort is not essential to romantic construal, greater effort on the actor’s behalf serves to increase the intensity of the action’s impact on the receiver because it implies that the actor cared enough to sacrifice time, effort, or other resources for the receiver. (Estrada 14)Estrada also mentions that
Social supportive behaviors convey affection indirectly through helpful and caring acts. They include behaviors such as giving compliments, offering financial assistance, doing favors, and accomplishing tasks to help the other person. Although supportive behaviors are indirect, if perceived by the receiver as communicating affection, they can “speak louder than words” and convey positive regard more powerfully than verbal or nonverbal expressions. Although socially supportive behaviors are an important way of communicating affection, recipients may construe supportive behaviors as practical rather than affectionate, or they might not even be noticed by the intended recipient. (3)As regards such gestures in fictional relationships, Jennifer Crusie has offered the following piece of writing advice:
Cut those romantic declarations you’ve been slaving over, the ones that sound long-winded and dorky no matter how hard you try. Go for the action; the telling gesture is infinitely more effective than telling dialogue.However, presumably this is only likely to be effective for readers if they recognise the actions as romantic. What happens if the readers "construe supportive behaviors as practical rather than affectionate"? And while it might be effective if the actions are not initially "noticed by the intended recipient" within the novel, it's not likely to be so effective if the readers also skim over the actions without really paying much attention to them. Getting back to real life,
Experts from the University of North Carolina in the US studied how couples behave when responding to nice gestures.An abstract of the article by Sara B. Algoe, Shelly L. Gable and Natalya C. Maisel can be found here and there's a longer description of its findings here.
They found that simply doing something for somebody else does not automatically generate feelings of gratitude. Instead, people can feel indebted or not notice the exchange at all, especially if things have become routine.
Yet those who respond in a positive way and show gratitude can expect greater feelings of satisfaction about the relationship. Their partners also feel better, too. (Press Association)
Now I'm wondering what an analysis of the "supportive behaviors" in romance novels would show, and whether romances would provide support for the Romantic Construal Model.
- Crusie, Jennifer. "The Five Things I’ve Learned About Writing Romance from TV."
- Estrada, Marie-Joelle. Testing the Romantic Construal Model: The Impact of Personalization, Specialness, and Value in Evaluating Romantic Actions. Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience in the Graduate School of Duke University, 2010.
- Williams, Cathy. The Italian's One-Night Love-Child. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2010.
The image is of some rosemary, drawn by Francisco Manuel Blanco. It came from Wikimedia Commons. Shakespeare's Ophelia observed, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember." My thanks to Tumperkin, who gave me a copy of The Italian's One-Night Love-Child.