Thursday, April 05, 2012

Fashioning Character

To mark the publication of New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, I've put up a new mini-essay at my website on the topic of clothing (and accessories) in popular romance fiction.

New Approaches includes my essay, "One Ring to Bind Them: Ring Symbolism in Popular Romance Fiction," about which Eric has commented that "Thanks to Laura Vivanco’s essay on 'Ring Symbolism,' you’ll never look at an engagement ring in quite the same way again." Since I've also got an essay titled "Jennifer Crusie's Literary Lingerie" coming out later this month in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, I wanted to give a bit more background information about why I felt moved to write about clothing and accessories in romance novels, which have often dismissed as mere "filler" (Snitow) that establishes “that, like ordinary readers, fictional heroines are ‘naturally’ preoccupied with fashion” (Radway). I'd argue that in romance novels, as in literary fiction, clothing and accessories can, to quote Professor David Lodge, function as "a useful index of character, class, life-style."

Since I'd already discussed engagement rings in New Approaches, I thought it would make a change to write about a wedding ring, so I'm using Michelle Styles's Sold and Seduced as an example of how romance authors " can overlay various ring symbolisms, some of which arise out of a particular novel's plot and characterisation."

I hope you'll enjoy reading "Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)."


  1. I wonder if we might go further here, which is, what could we say about something even "smaller," say, what could we say about the colours that are mentioned? I ask this because the closing chapter of my dissertation is a reading of a novel by Maureen Child and her use of the colour blue.

  2. Yes, colour symbolism can play a very important part in giving clothing meaning. I discuss that in quite a lot of detail in my forthcoming essay on Jennifer Crusie's literary lingerie, and I also mention the colours of various precious stones in the rings I discuss in my essay in New Approaches.

  3. Great. Looking forward to reading New Approaches.