In "'Traitorous Bodies': Cartesian Dualism in Romance Novels by Susan Johnson and E. L. James," Taylor D. Cortesi argues that
Applying René Descartes’s theory of mind/body dualism to the heroines in Susan Johnson’s Seized by Love and E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey reveals not only a separation between the heroines’ minds and bodies, but proves that both heroines are depicted as distinctly body. As such, serious complications arise for the female characters, including the acceptance of sexual violence and submission to the patriarchy. (viii)Cortesi suggests that
while Fifty Shades of Grey is superficially about the Dominant/Submissive BDSM relationship that develops between protagonists Ana Steele and Christian Grey, it is also the story of a Dominant/Submissive relationship that forms within Ana herself. Because of the Cartesian mind/body dualism evident in Ana, the opposition within her echoes the oppositional relationship between the two main characters. Ana’s mind is at first independent and strong, just as Ana is when she first meets Christian; however, once her body is awakened, Ana’s mind is weakened and becomes submissive to the desires of her body, just as she is weakened and controlled by Christian. (68-69)Melissa E Travis's PhD thesis, "Assume the Position: Exploring Discipline Relationships" isn't solely about romance novels but it does include a section on "discipline romance novels." As explained in the abstract,
Discipline relationships are consensual adult relationships between submissive and dominant partners who employ authority and corporal punishment. This population uses social media to discuss the private nature of their ritualized fantasies, desires, and practices. Participants of these relationships resist a sadomasochistic label of BDSM or domestic abuse.Romance novels about such relationships are apparently growing in number:
Discipline romance novels, published through independent vanity presses or as serials through memberships, are a salient feature in discipline culture. Over the last ten years I have watched the publication and sales of discipline romance novels grow from a grass roots, blog-based movement to a more formal established network. (159)Since these are romance novels, they share many features with other romance novels but whereas Susan Elizabeth Phillips argues in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance that
I can only shake my head in bewilderment when I hear the romance novel criticized for depicting women as being submissive to domineering men. Are the critics reading the same books I am? What is the ultimate fate of the most arrogant, domineering, ruthless macho hero any romance writer can create? He is tamed. (57-58)in discipline romance novels the heroes are
often dominant men, or men who find their dominant selves because of a woman who needs to be tamed or brought to submission. In traditional romance novels, dangerous men are often tamed and healed by strong heroines (Regis 2003:171). In discipline romance novels, dominant men often take on headstrong or unruly women and tame them through the use of discipline. One element of discipline romance novels is that submissive women are dangerous to themselves, their relationships, or behave destructively and must be changed through discipline from a dominant partner. These dominant men are unafraid of emotionality, brave women, or taming a bratty woman. They sometimes include a dangerous man archetype, but also include taming the shrew, and rape fantasies. After she is tamed, both characters have a mutually satisfying dominant man/submissive woman traditional role depiction, which fulfills both partners. (160-61)-----
Cortesi, Taylor D. "'Traitorous Bodies': Cartesian Dualism in Romance Novels by Susan Johnson and E. L. James." M. Lit. thesis, Texas State University - San Marcos, 2013.
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. "The Romance and the Empowerment of Women." Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2013. 53-59.
Travis, Melissa E. "Assume the Position: Exploring Discipline Relationships." Sociology Dissertations, Paper 71. Ph.D thesis. Georgia State University, 2013. [Section on "Discipline Romance Novels", pp. 159-66.]