Friday, December 02, 2011

JPRS 2.1 continued

Some new essays, and some reviews, have been added to issue 2.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. In “When chick lit meets romanzo rosa: Intertextual narratives in Stefania Bertola’s romantic fiction,” Federica Balducci writes of romanzo rosa ("Italy’s tradition of popular romance") that
The master of romanzo rosa was Liala (Amalia Liana Cambiasi Negretti Odescalchi, 1897-1995), who remains the most popular romance writer to date (Arslan and Pozzato 1039; Roccella 12); all her novels have been continually reprinted through the decades. Her career stretched from the early 1930s to the 1980s, and her life and writing are so deeply interwoven that they have become the rosa’s prototype and foundation stone (Lepschy; Roccella 53). A member of the Italian aristocracy, Liala married Marquis Cambiasi, almost twenty years her senior. Shortly after the marriage she met the aircraft pilot Centurione Scotto and the two fell in love. Cambiasi agreed to divorce but in 1926, before the paperwork could be completed, Scotto died while performing an acrobatic flight. Liala’s first novel Signorsì (Yes, Sir) published in 1931 by Mondadori, is inspired by these events and became an instant bestseller (Lepschy 183-84).

According to Pozzato, Signorsì presents the “estetismo di massa” (“mass aestheticism”) that would become a trademark of Liala’s writing. Characterised by a sophisticated vocabulary and syntactical constructions, this style was rooted in the late-nineteenth century literary movement of decadentismo (Decadence), whose tones and values Liala absorbed and reworked in a more popular form, aimed at a broader readership (90). The main features of Liala’s “mass aestheticism,” Pozzato explains, are stunning heroines and stylish heroes, moral integrity, exquisite settings infused with a sense of grandeur, and refined tastes expressed through close attention to visual details, particularly when describing clothes, houses, cars and other material belongings (90). From a formal perspective, Anna Laura Lepschy identifies a strategy of “double focalization” in Liala’s courtship plots; that is to say, the emotions of both male and female characters are granted equal visibility and importance in the story (186).
I was struck by the number of similarities between Liala and Barbara Cartland (1901-2000): they were of the same generation, had very long careers, become figureheads for the genre in which they wrote, had aristocratic connections and wrote novels which featured "stunning heroines and stylish heroes, moral integrity, exquisite settings infused with a sense of grandeur, and refined tastes expressed through close attention to visual details, particularly when describing clothes, houses, cars and other material belongings." As far as I know, however, no-one has yet suggested that Cartland's writing was "Characterised by a sophisticated vocabulary and syntactical constructions."

Balducci's description of the much more recent writing of Stefania Bertola makes me wish that I knew Italian (or that that Bertola's novels had been translated into English).

Another new item which discusses chick lit and romance is Suzanne Ferriss's review of Chick Lit and Postfeminism by Stephanie Harzewski. Ferriss comments that
Harzewski notes that while popular romance fiction adheres to a “one woman-one man” ratio, chick lit presents one woman involved with many men. If in romance fiction, the quest for romance is central, in chick lit, the heroine’s quest for self-definition and the need to balance work with personal relationships is given equal, if not greater, attention. The idealized protagonist of romance fiction, typically an active, intelligent beauty, is nowhere to be seen in chick lit, which features protagonists who are highly conscious and critical of their physical appearance and who are more often pictured as flawed than feisty.

More significant differences center on the characterization of men and depictions of love and sex. Harzewski argues that romance fiction presents men as objects of erotic desire who are valued for their sexual prowess. By contrast, in chick lit, she argues, men are “not really valued as individuals as much as a means to a lifestyle, wedding, or in some cases beauty boost” (33). The moments of genuine eroticism that punctuate and, for some readers, characterize romance fiction are missing in chick lit.

Above all, the two genres differ in their endings. There are no HEA (“Happily Ever After”) endings in chick lit, which offers “a more realistic portrait of single life and dating, exploring in varying degrees, the dissolution of romantic ideals, or showing those ideals as unmet, sometimes unrealistic, expectations” (40).
Other new items are:

Romancing the Past: History, Love, and Genre in Vincent Ward’s River Queen” by Roger Nicholson.

Kay Mussell's review of Reading the Adolescent Romance: Sweet Valley High and the Popular Young Adult Romance Novel by Amy S. Pattee.

Johansen Quijano's review of Boys' Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, ed. by Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry, and Dru Pagliassotti.

Jonathan A. Allan's review of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker.

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