Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Popular Romance Studies and the Politics of Canon

Jonathan A. Allan

I have been following Eric’s posts on syllabi and his emails to the listserv, and this has me wondering about the politics of canon, or less canon and more literary history. One of the central challenges that popular romance studies must attend to – I think – is a lack of canon.

So many fields of study, and I believe that we hope to make popular romance a field, have lists of required readings. These need not be the “best” texts, but rather texts that were important in the development of that field. As much as scholars may wish to stop reading Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance, the text remains important precisely because it is cited and read by many, and it has informed so much of the criticism on popular romance. The point is not to reify texts or authors, but to recognize their influence or importance for the field.

As problematic as any canon surely is, it is also remarkably useful insofar as it allows scholars to have an understanding of the essential texts. Yes, texts will be missing. But I don’t think that is reason enough to discard any discussion of canon. Yes, some authors will be over-represented, while others will be under-represented (what happened to Northrop Frye?). And yes, the canon will be imperfect. But, again, is this reason to avoid the discussion altogether?

However, aren’t most of the reasons for not having a canon already true in popular romance studies? Do we not all agree that The Flame and the Flower was a turning point for American romance? Do we also not all agree that Nora Roberts is essential to the history of the American romance? I think I’ve heard on a couple of occasions someone ask a question about the place of Danielle Steele in popular romance; she is noticeably absent for these questioners. The critiques of canon are important precisely because the politics of canon are already at play in the field.

I cannot pretend to offer a canon here of the central texts of romance fiction that all scholars of popular romance should have read, but I do think it is an important discussion that perhaps we ought to have. The future of the field, if it is to become a field, requires that we establish its parameters, its histories, and its central texts.

I admit that the canon will not be perfect, but let’s take that as a given. Let’s draft a canon (or we can use another word), let’s admit its imperfections, and let’s welcome changes to the canon (we can think about it as a work in progress). But, let’s not give up on this task because it might get messy. In very practical terms, with so few PhD-granting institutions focussing on popular romance (indeed, few have even a single faculty member writing on popular romance), how can PhD students be evaluated in terms of the field? Or, how can graduate students present “popular romance” as a field, if the field has yet to define its key texts? (My field exam on “Genre: Romance” included: Pride and Prejudice, Ivanhoe, The Last of the Mohicans, Maurice, Passage to India, Atala, Lord Jim, Adolphe, Daniel Deronda, Sentimental Education, Paul et Virginie, to name but a few “Romances.” I managed to slip Twilight in the reading list. I’m not against what I ultimately studied, I think it was an important education in the genre, but it wasn’t “popular.”)

I’m not certain that I have a solution to any of this, and thus am very open to suggestions on how we might do this. Eric’s courses remind us that a canon is being developed, and moreover that it is a challenge worth considering. Perhaps there is a JPRS issue to be organized around the pedagogical and practical questions of romance. Or perhaps, we can crowd-source a canon, a reading list, a field, and see what happens. Or maybe I'm completely wrong and we don't need any of this. But this discussion has come up often enough at conferences, usually over dinner or drinks, that it seems worth considering.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CFP: CanPop Annual Conference

Call for Papers
Popular Culture Association of Canada (PCAC)
3rd Annual Conference, May 9-11, 2013

The third Annual Conference of the Popular Culture Association of Canada will be held at the Sheraton on the Falls Hotel, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada from Thursday, May 9 to Saturday, May 11, 2013.

We invite proposals for papers and/or panels on theories of popular culture, research methods in popular culture, the teaching of popular culture, forms and genres of popular culture, and any epiphenomena of popular culture, past or present. We also welcome presentation and exhibition proposals from visual and multi-media artists whose work engages with popular culture.

Our broad definition of popular culture encompasses communicative texts, practices and experiences, mediated and unmediated, contemporary and historical, Canadian and non-Canadian (including the local and the global).

We share an interdisciplinary vision of this Association. We are interested in featuring papers from scholars and/or producers and practitioners of popular cultural phenomena from a wide variety of disciplines and cross-disciplinary perspectives in the humanities, social sciences and sciences.

Single paper proposals should consist of a title, an abstract of no more than 200 words, and a list of keywords or key phrases (maximum 5), and should be accompanied by a brief biographical note of 100 words or less. Panel proposals should include all of the above information for each presenter, plus a proposed title for the panel and a brief rationale. For more information visit us at Proposals from visual and multi-media artists should follow the rubrics for individual papers or panels outlined above; however, the inclusion of selected images in the proposal will be welcomed.

The deadline for proposals is December 15, 2012. The conference organizers will endeavour to contact all potential participants by late January, 2013.

Please send proposals, requests for information, or any press/media inquiries, to the conference committee at:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Winter Popular Romance Syllabus (Draft)

My daughter was at a "con" today, and I got to play chauffeur.  Hanging out in the hotel lobby, I've been tinkering with my syllabus for ENG 232, the Popular Romance Fiction course I'll be teaching in the winter.  It's a Liberal Studies (AKA Gen Ed) class, the kind that gathers 35 students from all across the university (College of Commerce, College of Communications, College of Science and Health, etc.) and introduces them, among other things, to the basics of literary study.  

In the past I've organized the class in various ways, from historical surveys starting with The Sheik to thematic units.  Last Winter, when I had two courses on romance, I built the Liberal Studies class around a series of questions and topics, including "Romance and / as Religion" and "Romance and the Problem of Patriarchy," and the other, for English majors, around more purely literary topics:  "Introduction to Romance Criticism," "Romance Among the Genres," "Romance as Metafiction," "Romance as Didactic Fiction," etc.  They both worked well, which didn't surprise me. In my experience, roughly 25 classes now, it's hard for a course on popular romance fiction to go wrong.

One successful experiment in the second, more literary course last winter was my use of Laura's For Love and Money as a course text.  I ordered it from Lulu as a print edition, but emailed students in advance to let them know they could buy the e-book, which several did.  I then assigned chapters from the book in advance of particular novels to which they seemed relevant, "priming the pump," so to speak, of class discussion.  The experiment was successful enough that this winter I plan to try it with the Liberal Studies students, since For Love and Money can serve them as a model for close reading, as well as a source of ideas about the genre.

Here's the syllabus I cobbled together here in the lobby.  Most of the novels in it are the same books I taught last winter in ENG 232--I cut one book, Beverly Jenkins' Something Like Love, to make room for Laura's study, but I re-shuffled the order of novels so that we could follow the sequence of topics in For Love and Money, at least for the first half of the term.

Topic 1:  What is a “Romance”?  A “Romance Novel”?  A “Popular Romance Novel”?

M:  Introduction to the Class and to each other.  Introduction to “romance,” the “romance novel,” the “popular romance novel” and the “Harlequin Romance” as critical and historical categories.
W:    Vivanco, Introduction and Chapter 1 (“Mimetic Modes”) of For Love and Money

M:  Brockmann, Unsung Hero:  chapters 1-10 (feel free to read ahead)
W:  Unsung Hero:  the rest of it!

Topic 2:  Twice-Told Tales: Romance, Myth, Scripture, and Fairy Tale

M:  Vivanco, Chapter 2 (“Mythoi”)
W:   Rivers, Redeeming Love, chapters (TKTK)

M:  Redeeming Love (TKTK-end)

Topic 3:  My Metafictional / Metaphorical Romance
W:  Vivanco, Chapter 3 (“Metafiction”)

M:  Crusie, Welcome to Temptation (tktktk)
W:  Welcome to Temptation (tktktk)

M:  Vivanco, Chapter 4 (“Metaphors”) and Conclusion
W:  Chase, Lord of Scoundrels

M:  Lord of Scoundrels 

Topic 4:  Romance Fiction as “Problem Fiction”
W:  Thomas Roberts, An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction, chapter 7 (“Thinking with Tired Brains”) and chapter 8 (“Reading in a System”); Catherine Roach, “Getting a Good Man to Love:  Romance Fiction and the Problem of Patriarchy” (JPRS)

M:  Stark, Homecoming
W:  Homecoming

Topic 5:  Isn’t it Just “Porn for Women”?
M:  Ann Barr Snitow, “Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different” (D2L); James, Fifty Shades of Grey
W:  James, Fifty Shades Darker

M:  Dahl, Start Me Up
W:  Start Me Up

I haven't ordered the books yet, so there's still some time to play with (or simply second guess) this list.  For example, I can see using Crusie's Bet Me in the section on mythoi, and Phillips' Natural Born Charmer in the section on metafiction--but then I lose Redeeming Love, which has taught very well the last few times I've tried it, and which adds tonal variety to the opening weeks of term.  

(I've just noticed from her blog that Francine Rivers is pretty ardently opposed to Barack Obama's re-election.  I wonder how this will affect my decision to assign the novel, depending on what happens next week. I doubt I'd take it off, both because I love the novel and because  I have a steady cadre of students who agree with her, theologically and otherwise.  But it's something I might factor into my teaching--the question of how to read an author well whom you resist, as well as one you espouse.)  

Now, I don't pretend that this is a perfect course on the romance genre.  There's no paranormal romance in the mix, no sheikh romance, no medical romance, no category romance of any kind, and nothing by an author of color; there's no m/m romance, although I gather it outsells f/f; it's skewed to contemporary romances; it's overwhelmingly (although not exclusively) American, not just in the authors treated but also in the novels' settings.  As An Goris will quickly notice, it's missing the most popular novelist in the genre, Nora Roberts; it also leaves out anything written before the 1990s.

As a course that can teach students about how to read romance as part of their "Arts and Literature" requirement, though, I think it could work, and work well.  


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Love and Islam? Christian Love? (Nu, Jewish, Too?)

Just a quick post, this, to remind everyone that there's a call for papers out for a special issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies on "Love and Religion in Global Popular Culture."  If you're interested in the topic yourself, or if you have colleagues who might take an interest, I hope you'll spread the word.  
My gut sense is that there's a world of relevant texts out there, from Indonesian rock bands singing about love and Islam--any fans out there of Dewa?--to Indian films to Leonard Cohen songs and American evangelical romance novels.  Dial back the clock before the 20th century and the range of offerings might be even more robust.  
Here's the text of the Call for Papers.  If you can think of a place to circulate it--a listserv, another blog, a scholarly network or conference--please feel free to do so.  I'm off Twitter and Facebook myself, but feel free to link back to this post, or the journal, from any and all of the social networks you belong to, too.
Love and Religion in Global Popular Culture
“Love is my religion,” Ziggy Marley testifies in a hit from 2006.  From reggae to Rumi (the bestselling poet in the United States across the 1990s), Bollywood to South Park, global popular fiction, film, poetry, music, and other media have extolled romantic love in sacred terms—and, in the process, they have sometimes raised provocative, complex relationships about the relationships between religion and romance.
Some popular romance texts remain securely inside the boundaries of orthodox belief, bringing theologies of love to accessible affective life.  Others blur the lines between sacred and secular love, or between different national, cultural, and theological traditions, threatening those distinctions and, sometimes, drawing sharp condemnation in the process.
To explore the vast terrain of love and religion in global popular culture, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies calls for essays, interviews, and pedagogical materials for a special forum guest-edited by Lynn S. Neal (author of Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction).  The deadline for submissions is December 1, 2012, and the forum is slated for publication in September, 2013.
Texts from all traditions, media, and periods are welcome.  Topics of particular interest include:

  • Sacred love stories retold in popular culture
  • Hymns, love songs, and the porous boundary between them
  • Romantic love as a surrogate or secular religion, and debates over this
  • Crossover texts and figures:  Rumi, the Song of Songs, etc.
  • Representations of interfaith romance
  • Love and religion in popular culture from before the 20th century, and from indigenous and other non-hegemonic religious traditions (Candomblé, Wicca, etc.)

Published by the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR), the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Romance Studies is the first academic journal to focus exclusively on representations of romantic love across national and disciplinary boundaries.  Our editorial board includes representatives from English, Comparative Literature, Ethnomusicology, History, Religious Studies, African Diaspora Studies, and other fields.  JPRS is available without subscription at
Please submit scholarly papers of 5000-10,000 words (including notes and bibliography) by December 1, 2012, to An Goris, Managing Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format.  Please remove all identifying material (i.e., running heads with the author’s name) so that submissions can easily be sent out for anonymous peer review.  Suggestions for appropriate peer reviewers are welcome.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"The Nature and Culture of Love" (Syllabus Brooding)

--Eric Selinger

I’m going to be teaching another ENG 390 senior capstone course next term.  The official title is "The Nature and Culture of Love," but I neglected to turn in a course description for the catalog, so that students would know what the course is about.  Oops!  Oh, well.  The course filled up anyway, with 25 students (8 men, 17 women), which puts me in an interesting position:  a full course for me to play with, in terms of content and structure.  This ought to have me perky and cheerful, and would, if it weren't late in the fall term, a time when I'm always a bit discouraged about how my current courses are going.  Instead of perky, then, I'm brooding over the vast abyss of my future syllabus, wondering how to fill it.

My original plan for the course was to reframe my work on popular romance fiction as work about the "culture of love," so that I'd have leeway to bring in films or TV shows, advice books or pop songs, really the whole panoply of love-work out there, now and in the past.  The structure I'd planned was to start with an assortment of readings about love and romance (and marriage, perhaps) from various disciplinary perspectives, followed by an in-depth inquiry into one or two primary texts, from whatever medium currently caught my eye. 

As my current courses stagger to the finish line, however, I find myself haunted by a thought that I seem to forget whenever I put together a syllabus:  that course teaches best which teaches least, or assigns least, anyway.  The more I try to "cover," the less satisfied I usually am.  And, conversely, the smaller the assigned reading list, the more interesting I tend to find each individual class discussion.

What does that mean for my seminar?  Well, there are several options I’m considering, and I’m trying to figure out which would be best.

The first model is to do what I originally planned:  choose a bunch of secondary readings and then focus on one or two objects of inquiry.  I'd have to pick the secondary readings now, and keep myself from assigning too many, as I have with poets in the Love Poetry class; off the top of my head, I'd pick...oh, dear.  That's a hard one.  Probably Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, since I'll be writing about it for a collection of essays in the early spring, but I'd want something to go with it that strikes out in a different direction:  maybe a contrasting romance novel?  A novel that's not a popular romance?  A TV show?  A film?  

Paralyzed by options, I move on to model two.

Model two is for me to pick a romance novel and do with it what I did with Laura Kinsale's novel Flowers from the Storm a couple of years ago:  that is, spend the whole ten weeks on one book, first  reading it on its own, teasing out the various topics and issues that it raises, and then having students do independent research projects based on those discussions, culminating in papers about the book from any number of perspectives. 

Natural Born Charmer would work here, because it has a lot of interesting things going on:  allusions to pop music, art history, and aesthetics; ekphrastic passages; an interesting focus on money and the market; a nice mix of "progressive" and "conservative" political ideas that we can chew on as well.  (I put these in quotation marks because I'm not sure how well the terms apply, but you get the idea.)  

When I posted about this quandary at one of my other blogs, Say Something Wonderful, Laura suggested that Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me would make an idea object of inquiry.  Characters in it talk about love from a variety of perspectives and in contrasting discourses--scientific (psychological) language and fairy tales most obviously--; the book is rich with allusions to popular culture (pop songs, musical theater); Crusie herself has mentioned one well-known philosopher, Erich Fromm, as being of use to romance authors, so we could bring him into the mix.  The question here would be to decide whether to assign secondary readings myself, assembling a shelf of sources for them at the bookstore or the library, or simply to read the novel and see what topics emerge in discussion, sending students out into the wild to find the material themselves.  (The latter is easier for me, but riskier.)  

The problem with the one-book approach, of course, is that some students might not like the book, and that negativity can shut down the kind of exuberant discussion on which a successful senior seminar more or less depends.  I could do two, and diversify the course in various ways:  say, by adding an LGBT romance, or a text about lovers of color, or a non-Western romance, or a text without a happy ending.  But then I face the anxiety of options again (see above), so I'm not sure that solves my dilemma. 

The third model I'm considering is to choose a handful secondary sources about love or romance or marriage—books and essays that I’ve liked in the past, or am curious about now—and then spend the quarter reading them, one by one, without any specific "object of inquiry" in mind.  Students would then fan out and find a bunch of those objects, “primary texts” of their own choosing, from songs to films to TV shows to ad campaigns, and write final projects that use ideas from the secondary sources to write about the things that interest them.  

The scary things about this model is that I'd be reading those books, plus the novels for my other class, a popular romance survey, and that’s a lot of reading—harder to find the time to edit and write.  The advantage of it, though, is that it forces me to put time and energy into doing some of the secondary reading that I’d like to do anyway, like Simon May’s book about the history of love or Eva Illouz's various books about love, which otherwise might be hard to fit into the quarter.  

I guess the next step would be to brainstorm a list of exactly what books and essays would be good for option three, and see what that looks like.  Any suggestions?  What should be on The Love Bookshelf this winter, everyone?  

Monday, October 22, 2012

50 Shades of Pedagogy; or, "To Teach, or Not to Teach?"

I'm choosing books for my next course on popular romance--a lower-division undergraduate class, aimed at a "Gen Ed' student population--and a question has begun to bother me.  Should I add Fifty Shades of Grey to my syllabus?

As of the last time I taught the course, it was organized around a series of topics:  "What is a Romance (and a Romance Novel)?"; "Romance and the Problem of Patriarchy"; "Romance and / as Religion"; "Romance as Problem Fiction and 'Edutainment'"; and, everyone's favorite, "Romance Fiction as 'Porn for Women.'"  Each topic got one or two novels and a bit of secondary reading, whether it was an essay or a book chapter or an interview, and for a final project, we looked at Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation through each of the lenses we'd used across the quarter.

Now, I'd already decided to add Laura's For Love and Money to my syllabus, since it does a great job of introducing students to a lot of the ideas about the genre that we use in the opening unit, as well as the close-reading techniques that we continue to deploy all term.  Ordinarily, that would be enough novelty for one quarter--that, and maybe shifting out a novel that I've already taught a lot (like WTT) and replacing it with another one that's on my mind (say, Natural Born Charmer, which I've already taught several times).

The overwhelming media presence of Fifty Shades, though--and its natural fit in the section on "Romance as 'Porn for Women'"--makes me want to add it, too, to the syllabus, even though this violates my usual self-imposed commandment to teach only novels that I really enjoy reading.

And, of course, if I were really ambitious I could swap out J. R. Ward's Dark Lover--which comes up in the 'Patriarchy' section--and put in Twilight somewhere, so that we could talk about that book and the E. L. James together.  Of course, I haven't read Twilight yet, so I don't know if this, too, would violate my usual rules about liking the texts that I teach.

I wouldn't have Fifty Shades be the only novel for that section of the class; in fact, part of the plan would be to play it off against a book that does some different, more self-consciously artful things with romance and the erotic (probably one of Victoria Dahl's books).  Or I could go back to an older, more chronological course model, so that we'd be reading some other scandalous blockbusters for comparison, like The Sheik or The Flame and the Flower.  (What other novels fit into that category, from other decades, I wonder?)

So, folks, what do you think?

Sandra on Seeing Clearly

In “‘It Is Only with One’s Heart That One Can See Clearly’: The Loss of Sight in Teresa Medeiros’s The Bride and the Beast and Yours until Dawn,” published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Sandra Schwab asks "How is disability, in particular visual impairment, used in romance fiction?"

It's not a question that can be answered fully in just one paper, so Sandra focuses her discussion on two novels by Teresa Medeiros. As stated in the abstract, Sandra concludes that "Medeiros rejects various dominant cultural stereotypes about visual impairment and disability such as the disempowerment and perceived helplessness of blind characters" but she adds that,
even if in The Bride and the Beast the lack of sight becomes a vehicle to criticize the body cult in romance fiction and even if Yours until Dawn rejects many common stereotypes about disability and closes with a reference to the old body, the literal cure in both novels aims at normalizing the bodies of the protagonists and thus results in what Davis has called “the neutralizing of the disability” (542). In regard to visual impairment, this is a common trope in romance fiction, whereas other forms of disability are often used to enhance the dark appeal of the male protagonist and act as externalizations of his inner wound. Though the genre thus creates new stereotypes about disability, [...] it generally rejects depictions of disability as a disempowering force that creates helplessness and dependence. (288)
Schwab, Sandra. “‘It Is Only with One’s Heart That One Can See Clearly’: The Loss of Sight in Teresa Medeiros’s The Bride and the Beast and Yours until Dawn.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 6.3 (2012): 275–289.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Questions Arising: JPRS 3.1

Issue 3.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies is now available:
  • Drawing on their varied expertise as scholars, authors, editors, and publishers, a trio of contributors (Katherine E. Lynch / Nell Stark, Ruth E. Sternglantz, and Len Barot / Radclyffe) collaborate to trace the history of the queer heroine in high-art and popular romance from the Middle Ages to 21st-century lesbian paranormal romance;
  • Novelist Ann Herendeen (author of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander and Pride / Prejudice) reflects on the literary, historical, and erotic underpinnings of her novels’ surprising—yet oddly familiar—heroes, each of them a bisexual “top,” as dominant in the social structure of Regency England as he is in the bedroom;
  • Bringing Young Adult literature into our discussions, Amanda Allen explores the female power struggles and economics of “boy capital” in Mary Stoltz’s novels of adolescent romance in the years after World War Two;
  • In our first essay on TV romance, Spanish scholar Beatriz Oria offers a close reading of the mix of consumerism, postfeminism, and romantic nostalgia in a crucial episode of Sex and the City;
  • An Goris offers a “differential” approach to popular romance fiction, revisiting the broad theoretical claims made by an earlier scholar, Catherine Belsey, about how romance novels represent the mind and body in love and testing them against a selection of novels from across the career of Nora Roberts;
  • In a groundbreaking essay, librarian Crystal Goldman attempts to define what a core collection in Popular Romance Studies would look like, and she considers the likelihood of academic libraries allocating funds to build such a collection.
There's also
I've got a few questions.

(1) An Goris writes that there are three stages "in Roberts’ conceptualisation of true love": "The first stage consists of a remarkable discomfort, unease and even fear the protagonists experience over (some of) their physical reactions," "The second phase [...] consists of a rudimentary linguistic acknowledgement of the physically enacted emotional truth," and in the third phase there is "the actual use of the word 'love' in naming the physical and emotional phenomenon the protagonists are experiencing." In her conclusion Goris writes
While it is, for example, clear that this construction of romantic love recurs in Roberts’ romance novels, it remains unclear whether it is specific to Roberts’ work. Comparative analyses of other authorial romance oeuvres are necessary to determine the wider occurrence of this pattern.
Do you think it's "specific to Roberts’ work"? My feeling is that it isn't, because I can recall quite a lot of romances in which, for example, the heroine can't work out why she gets strange electrical charges running through her when she touches the hero. She may put this down to irritation and/or say that she hates him, or realise it's attraction but feel that her body is betraying her. And I would think that most romances have stage three. What do you think?

(2) Given my interest in rings in romance novels, I was quite intrigued by the discussion in Oria's essay of two engagement rings which appear in an episode of Sex and the City which "concerns Aidan’s (John Corbett) marriage proposal to Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker). Carrie says of the first ring
“It was a pear-shaped diamond with a gold band,” which apparently is a bad thing. Carrie justifies her dislike for the ring because “it is not her”—that is, she takes Aidan’s mistaken choice as a sign that he does not really know her and they are not meant for each other: “How can I marry a guy who doesn’t know which ring is me?” she demands. The conversation thus reveals the importance that Carrie bestows on material objects, which points towards her association between (luxury) consumer goods and happiness and romance.
Given that, in my experience with romance novels, I've found that rings can have symbolic meanings which aren't dependent on the "association between (luxury) consumer goods and happiness and romance," I wonder if anyone knows why a "pear-shaped diamond" would not be right for Carrie. Does anyone here know? And when Carrie does accept a second, different, ring, is it more expensive than the one she rejects? If it's of equal or lesser value, then what makes the second one more acceptable? Is it just that its design is more fashionable or is there something else that makes one ring "me" and the other not?

(3) Lynch et al refer to "the historical romance, the most popular form of romance fiction until the late twentieth century." I can just about accept that in the context of US single-titles, but I have a hard time believing that historical romances have been more popular overall if one includes all the contemporary category romances. Mills & Boon didn't even have a historical line until 1977. What do you think?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Book on Orientalism and Romance Novels

Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels by Hsu-Ming Teo will be published by the University of Texas Press in November:
The Sheik—E. M. Hull’s best-selling novel that became a wildly popular film starring Rudolph Valentino—kindled “sheik fever” across the Western world in the 1920s. A craze for all things romantically “Oriental” swept through fashion, film, and literature, spawning imitations and parodies without number. While that fervor has largely subsided, tales of passion between Western women and Arab men continue to enthrall readers of today’s mass-market romance novels. In this groundbreaking cultural history, Hsu-Ming Teo traces the literary lineage of these desert romances and historical bodice rippers from the twelfth to the twenty-first century and explores the gendered cultural and political purposes that they have served at various historical moments.

Drawing on “high” literature, erotica, and popular romance fiction and films, Teo examines the changing meanings of Orientalist tropes such as crusades and conversion, abduction by Barbary pirates, sexual slavery, the fear of renegades, the Oriental despot and his harem, the figure of the powerful Western concubine, and fantasies of escape from the harem. She analyzes the impact of imperialism, decolonization, sexual liberation, feminism, and American involvement in the Middle East on women’s Orientalist fiction. Teo suggests that the rise of female-authored romance novels dramatically transformed the nature of Orientalism because it feminized the discourse; made white women central as producers, consumers, and imagined actors; and revised, reversed, or collapsed the binaries inherent in traditional analyses of Orientalism.
Here's what Eric has to say about it:
Desert Passions is a groundbreaking study. No other book has studied mass-market romance fiction at length through this lens (Orientalism); the studies that exist are short papers that do not treat the subject with anything close to the historical depth or contextual richness this book provides. Teo demonstrates that this strand of contemporary mass-market romance fiction can profitably be read as part of a tradition that stretches back several centuries, and which includes high, middle, and lowbrow texts: a significant achievement. . . . I find Teo’s treatments of the rise of the desert romance, The Sheik, The Kadin, and several category romance novels to be exemplary work, the kind that sets a standard for future scholarship. . . . This book promises to be a major contribution to the field.”
The book can currently be pre-ordered at a significant discount from the University of Texas Press and from the Book Depository. An excerpt is available via Google Books.

Friday, October 05, 2012

PCA 2013 (and a bit more about IASPR 2012)

Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association
2013 National Conference

Washington D.C., March 27 – March 30

Call For Papers: Romance Area
Area Co-Chairs: Eric Selinger and An Goris

Deadline for submission: November 30, 2012.

Love and romance are mainstays of popular culture, cutting across the great divides of medium, language, and historical period. From Beyoncé to Bollywood, Dan Savage to Sweet Savage Love, K-Pop to qawwali: if it’s about love, it’s a welcome topic at the PCA Romance area.

We will consider proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and special panels. Sessions are scheduled in 90-minute slots, typically with four 15-minute papers or speakers per standard session, with the remaining time available for discussion.

If you are involved in the creative industry of popular romance (romance author/editor, film director/producer, singer/songwriter, etc.) and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in popular romance culture, please contact us!

Some possible topics for Romance (although we are by no means limited to these):
  • Love, Globally:  local traditions, transnational media, adaptation and translation issues
  • Fifty Shades of WTF:  the reception of popular romance
  • Romance Across the Media
  • Romance High and Low (i.e., texts that remix or blur distinctions between “high” and “low” culture)
  • Modern Love, Postmodern Love, and Romantic Nostalgia
  • Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
  • Queering the Romance: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Kink romance
  • Gender-Bending and Gender-Crossing / Genre-Bending and Genre-Crossing / Media-Bending and Media-Crossing Popular Romance
  • Romance communities, IRL and on-line
  • The Politics of Romance, and romantic love in political discourse (revolutionary, reactionary, colonial / anti-colonial, etc.)
  • African-American, Latina, Asian, and other Multicultural romance
  • Young Adult Romance
  • History of/in Popular Romance
  • Individual Creative Producers or Texts of Popular Romance (novels, authors, film, directors, writers, songwriters, actors, composers, dancers, etc.)
More details here.

The BDSM/Kink/Fetish area is chaired by Sarah Frantz and they're
interested in any and all topics about or related to the study of BDSM, sexual kink, or sexual fetishes in all genres, all media, all countries, all kinds, and all eras. All representations of BDSM, Kink, and fetishes in popular culture (fiction, stage, screen—large or small, commercial, advertising, music, song, dance, online, real life, etc.), from anywhere and any-when, are welcome topics of discussion. We also welcome any academic discussion of the real-life practice of BDSM, sexual kink, or sexual fetishes, as well as the lived experiences of people identifying as kinky.
The full details about that call for papers can be found here.

As mentioned earlier, Dr Nick Redfern posted his paper, on romance at the box office, at his blog. Now Remittance Girl has posted a summary of the conference. Jane Lovering, who "recently won the Romantic Novel of the Year 2012, awarded by the Romantic Novelist’s Association, for her book Please Don’t Stop the Music [... which] has also been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance" (IASPR) spoke at a special session and she's got a brief comment about it at her blog.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Steaming into a Victorian Romance

Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology will shortly be published in hardback by Scarecrow Press (I think the ebook version is out already) and it contains a couple of articles which discuss steampunk romances:

Pagliassotti, Dru. "Love and the Machine: Technology and Human Relationships in Steampunk Romance and Erotica." Steaming Into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology. Ed. Julie Anne Taddeo and Cynthia J. Miller. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow, 2012. 65-8?. [Excerpt]

Taddeo, Julie Anne. "Corsets of Steel: Steampunk's Reimagining of Victorian Femininity." Steaming Into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology. Ed. Julie Anne Taddeo and Cynthia J. Miller. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow, 2012. 43-63. [Excerpt]

 Here's what the publishers have to say about the volume as a whole:
A popular sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction, steampunk re-imagines the Victorian age in the future, and re-works its technology, fashion, and values with a dose of anti-modernism. While often considered solely through the lens of literature, steampunk is, in fact, a complex phenomenon that also affects, transforms, and unites a wide range of disciplines, such as art, music, film, television, fashion, new media, and material culture.

In Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology, Julie Anne Taddeo and Cynthia J. Miller have assembled a collection of essays that consider the social and cultural aspects of this multi-faceted genre. The essays included in this volume examine various manifestations of steampunk—both separately and in relation to each other—in order to better understand the steampunk sub-culture and its effect on—and interrelationship with—popular culture and the wider society. This volume expands and extends existing scholarship on steampunk in order to explore many previously unconsidered questions about cultural creativity, social networking, fandom, appropriation, and the creation of meaning.
And if anyone could tell me what the number is for the last page of Dru Pagliassotti's essay, I'll be very grateful and update the details at the Romance Wiki bibliography.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

CFPs: Zombies and other "Dangerous Things"

Anthology on Zombies, Sex and Sexuality 

Over the last decade, the zombie has become ever-more popular as a horror archetype. That renaissance has been accompanied by a surge of academic interest in the monster; a wealth of new scholarship that has offered new insights into the cultural, social and philosophical significance of the undead. However, few of those contributions have focused specifically on the issues of sex and sexuality. This is a surprising oversight given the rise of zombie pornography films such as Bruce LaBruce’s L.A. Zombie and Rob Rotten’s Porn of the Dead, sexually-themed zombie films such as Deadgirl and Zombie Strippers!, and undead romances such as Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse in Love and Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. As one of the most distinctive innovations of the recent zombie boom, undead sexuality urgently requires dissection.

This anthology seeks to investigate zombie sexuality in all its forms and manifestations.

More details here.

Please send 150 word abstracts for proposed chapters and a short biographical statement to by Friday November 9th 2012.

University of Brighton
Faculty of Arts
April 10th/11th, 2013.

… [T]he sexualisation of culture from the ‘pornosphere’ to the public sphere has included with it a democratisation and diversification of sexual discourse. The commodified cultures of advanced capitalist societies have come to function as spaces for the articulation and dissemination of diverse sexual identities and radical sexual politics.
Brian McNair (2002) Striptease Culture: Sex, Media, and the Democratisation of Desire.

When sexuality turns female, we find it still enmeshed in semantics linking women, fire and dangerous things.
G Lakoff (1987) Women, Fire and Dangerous Things

This two-day inter-disciplinary conference will bring together a number of critical conversations opened up by the commercial and popular success of the trilogy of stories which started with Fifty Shades of Grey (2011). We will look in particular at the histories and meanings of:  the eroticised narrative of the romance, and by the conservative romancing of erotica; by the novel technologies the trilogy both used and departed from; and by those critical responses which found the text wanting in feminism, ‘authentic’ representations of BDSM, and/or literary ‘taste’.

Creating and working from a close reading of the narrative dynamics of the trilogy and other examples of such fiction (as text or on the screen), we will discuss the ways in which representations of female sexuality in contemporary  erotic and/or romantic  fiction  reproduce or depart from the dominant tropes of such fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The consequent alignments or departures will be explored as ways of enquiring into the current state of feminism, gender hierarchies, female desire  and popular culture.

At the  motivating core of this conference is a need to re-engage with questions about feminism, post-feminism, and  anti-feminism in the fields of past and present popular culture. To do so, we will, inter alia, interrogate the popularity of E.L. James’s texts amongst millions of women readers. These texts knit together the long narrative romance tradition of women-as-‘fixer’-of-broken-male (from Jane Eyre, North and South to the works of Barbara Cartland and the texts which inhabit the categories of Mills and Boon), with the historically more recent yet powerful narratives of erotic fiction which think of themselves as being written ‘for women’. As such, the trilogy  is perfectly placed to allow us begin a broad and deep  exploration of the contradictory conservatism of much popular culture when it comes to the representation and interpretation of female sexual desire.

It will be our contention that the success of the trilogy, and the ideological intensity invested in the various responses both to the texts and to their popularity, speak to larger or wider concerns in contemporary Western cultures – concerns about sexual politics, about how to preserve the authenticity and autonomy of sub- or counter- sexual cultures, and concerns too about cultural value or ‘taste’ in the realms of gendered spaces.
Hence we invite papers which turn on or engage with the following themes:
  • Fifty Shades of Grey and the History/Histories of Erotic Fiction for Women.
  • Feminism and Romance
  • Representations of Sadomasochistic Sexuality and Narratives of  Gender and Power.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey and Sexual Subcultures in the ‘mainstream’.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey and the Re-Privatisation of Reading – the Technological Conditions of ‘Reading without Shame’.
  • Sex and Fiction: the Politics of Popularity.
  • New Technologies, Gender  and the ‘Democratisation’ of Pornography
  • The Repositioning of Reading as Writing -   ‘Fan Fiction’ as an Emergent Genre?
  • Pornography, Pleasure and Politics in the realm of the ‘feminine’.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to before the 15th of December.

Details from here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Women's Historical Fiction

Here's Professor Diana Wallace (author of The Woman’s Historical Novel: British Women Writers, 1900-2000) discussing historical fiction written by women. She argues that
historical fiction has been, from its very beginnings, a female form. We tend to forget this because critics so often cite Walter Scott's Waverley (1814) as the first proper historical novel. In fact there's a much earlier novel, Sophia Lee's The Recess, or a Tale of other Times (1783), which has a strong claim to be regarded as the first fully-formed historical novel.
She also discusses Heyer and cross-dressing heroines:

Via the Middlebrow Network comes news that, to "mark 100 years in education," the University of Glamorgan is "offering 20 new Centenary Doctoral Scholarships."
The Scholarships are intended to provide financial support for 20 full-time home or EU students to undertake a PhD at the University beginning this academic year. Bursaries are £15,000 per year available up to 3 years of study, which is not inclusive of fees. (Full time Research Degree fees £3,828 per annum for EU/Home students) 
One scholarship will fund research into:

Women's Historical Fiction, 1920 - 1969

This project will focus on the rich but currently under-researched body of women’s historical fiction produced between 1920 and 1969. By generating historically and theoretically-informed readings of some of the historical fictions of this period, it will aim to contribute to current reassessments of the development of this genre with specific attention to issues of gender and nationality. Within this broad remit applicants are welcome to suggest and develop their own interests in particular authors and texts. Applicants with a specialism in Welsh Writing in English are particularly welcome.

Based in the Division of English, the student will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team comprising Professor Diana Wallace, Professor Jane Aaron and Dr Fiona Reid and will additionally be able to draw on expertise from the Centre for Gender Studies in Wales. In RAE 2008 90% of the English Research Unit’s publications were judged 'internationally-recognised’, with 40% classified as 'world-leading’ or 'internationally-excellent’.

How to apply

Please complete the Research Degree Application Form and return it marked for the attention of Dr Louise Bright by email to no later than the 15th October 2012.