Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 3:00pm - 4:30pm
“Darkness Piles Up in the Trees”: Love and Lyric in Eloisa James
Eric Selinger - DePaul University
In 1993, Allan Bloom announced the “death of eros.” It was not by natural causes. Feminists, sexologists, and the ghost of Jean-Jaques Rousseau conspired in this “de-eroticization of the world” and consequent “disastrous decline in the rhetoric of love.” “There have been hardly any great novelists of love for almost a century,” Bloom sighed, although “cheap romantic novels, the kind that are sometimes stuck into boxes of household detergent, apparently flourish among housewives who haven’t heard that Eros is dead.” Bloom’s fears about the “end of the novel of love” (as Vivian Gornick described it four years later) find a curious echo in period concerns about the “death of poetry,” which was announced and contested by Joseph Epstein (1988) Vernon Shetley (After the Death of Poetry, 1993), Donald Hall (Death to the Death of Poetry, 1994), among others. What, one wonders, do these “deaths” have in common—and what are we to make of the evident survival, even flourishing, of both poetry and eros in “cheap romantic novels” from the 1990s and after? The romance novels of Eloisa James provide an ideal oeuvre in which to explore these questions. Professor of Renaissance drama, daughter of the poet Robert Bly and short-story author Carol Bly, James quotes and alludes to poetry throughout her work, not least in her latest novel, The Duke is Mine. Renegotiating the cultural status of both poetry and romance fiction, she explores the afterlives of love and lyric in a (post-?) skeptical age.
Picturing the Self in Nora Robert's Sanctuary
Zohar Korn - Independent Scholar
My paper explores Nora Roberts' use of photography as the central metaphor for the self in her 1997 romantic suspense novel, Sanctuary. My claim is that through her treatment of photography, which she uses to develop characters as well as further the action, Roberts proposes two models of the self: the autonomous subject and the self-in-relation, advocating the latter. Both heroine and villain are photographers; the model of photography each chooses not only shows what each of them privileges as the principle around which to construct his or her sense of selfhood, but also implicitly provides Roberts’ commentary on those principles.
In the romantic plot, Roberts uses the heroine's roles as practitioner, object and observer of photography to positively construct a selfhood that promotes affective wellbeing. The heroine’s gradual transition from taking pictures of unpopulated scenery to including portraiture shows a growing emphasis on care and relationship rather than self-sufficiency and independence, an emphasis that is portrayed as strength rather than sacrifice. Thus, framed within its narrative through the theme of photography, Sanctuary proposes a theory of selfhood that can, despite its different genre, be put in conversation with psychoanalytical theories.
Furthermore, the mystery plot juxtaposes the two photographers, determining that one is good and the other evil. By associating autonomy with the murderous villain who takes pictures as part of his killing ritual Roberts suggests that this notion of selfhood is morally problematic because it leads to objectification and violence. By showing that autonomy leads to objectification of others and violence while self-in-relation gives strength through care without negating selfhood, Roberts makes an ethical and affective claim in favor of the latter, which complicates criticism of the romance genre by showing that the self-in-relation is not a limiting construct used by heteronormative society to subject women but rather a positive way of life that might actually subvert some principles of heteronormativity.
Recovering the Hero: The Male Rape Victim in Romance Novels
Sarah Maitland - University of Rhode Island
Rape is a common trope in romance novels, typically perpetrated on the heroine. Often, although not always, the rape serves the purpose of positioning the heroine to be saved by the hero. We can identify the hero by the way he reflects multiple cultural norms of masculinity, including the ability and willingness to physically defend both himself and his woman from harm, or to seek revenge when harm is done. In this paper I will discuss a number of novels that deviate from these typical roles. The novels I examine also include rape, however instead of the heroine, these novels cast the hero as the victim. When the hero of a romance novel is raped the cultural norms of masculinity are violated. Typically the penetrating body, rape changes the landscape of the male body to be the penetrated. Romance novels that compromise the inviolability of the male body destabilize the gender roles that define the genre. In my paper I will examine the process the hero must undergo to reestablish his masculinity and reinstate the gender roles. In conversation with feminist theory, I will consider what the presence of the rape victim-hero and the process he must undergo means for the genre and what it may provide for readers.