Monday, April 29, 2013

The Fifth International Conference on Popular Romance Studies

Rethinking Love, Rereading the Romance

Aristotle University
Thessaloniki, Greece
19-21 June, 2014

Deadline: November 15, 2013

Eros, Philia, Agape:  for nearly three thousand years, these three Greek terms have been used in the West to triangulate the shifting concept called “romantic love,” not just in philosophy and theology, but also in popular culture.  In other parts of the globe, love gets framed quite differently—by ‘ishq and hub and their cognates, by shringara and bhakti and prem, by the shifting codes of qing and aiqing—but no matter the language, debates about what love is, how it should feel, and how a lover should behave cross the great divides that separate high art and intellectual discourse from kitsch, journalism, and popular culture. 

For its fifth international conference on Popular Romance Studies, to be held at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance calls for papers on romantic love and its representations in popular media, now and in the past, from anywhere in the world. 

We are interested in scholarship on all forms of popular media:  not just fictional modes (novels, films, TV shows, comics, song lyrics, fan fiction, etc.), but also didactic genres (advice columns, dating manuals, newspaper debates about love or marriage “in crisis”), depictions of real-life love, and the representations of love, romance, and material culture deployed by advertising (wedding dresses, courtship rituals, etc.). 

All theoretical and empirical approaches are welcome.  Proposals may focus on single authors, texts, songs, films, TV series, and marketing campaigns, or on broader topics and issues, including discussions of pedagogy and the theory or practice of popular romance scholarship. 

Given our conference locale, we invite proposals that discuss Greece, the Balkans, and the Eastern Mediterranean as settings for love-culture, but we are also looking for proposals on love in Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American popular media, and on popular romance media from any place or period (including classical, medieval, early modern, etc.) in which the concept of “romantic love” gets contested or revisited. 

Submit proposals for individual papers, full panels, roundtables, interviews, or innovative presentations to by November 15, 2013. All proposals will be peer reviewed.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Prices Slashed!

Well, one price, anyway!

At this year’s Popular Culture Association conference there was enough interest in Lisa Fletcher's book, Historical Romance Fiction:  Heterosexuality and Performativity (2008) that the publisher, Ashgate, decided to lower the price, making this important study much more readily available. 

Originally it sold for about $99 USD, but the price is now going to drop to $39.95/£19.99. If you order on line from Ashgate, the price seems to be $35.96 /£17.99.  Individual scholars and libraries are both going to be happy about that--and I'll be curious to see whether this change in the price puts Lisa's ideas into broader circulation, as the next few conferences come up.

The price cut hasn't shown up yet on Amazon, etc., but I gather it will in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile you can read the table of contents and the introduction at the Ashgate website:  there's some fascinating theoretical work here, and chapters on both popular and literary historical romances, which makes the book particularly useful if you're interested in teaching or talking about texts across that great divide.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

May Day, May Day

As mentioned in a recent tweet, from 1 May Sarah Frantz will be leaving academia to become a "full-time, salaried acquisition editor" at Riptide Publishing.

On the same day Hsu-Ming Teo's Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels will be launched in Australia:

Launch - Wednesday 1st May, 6.00pm for 6.30pm


Desert Passions

To be launched by Mary Spongberg

Venue: gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe
Cost: Free event
Bookings: gleebooks - 9660 2333 or email:
Drawing on "high" literature, erotica, and popular romance fiction and films, Teo examines the changing meanings of Orientalist tropes such as crusades and conversion, sexual slavery, and the figure of the powerful Western concubine. Teo suggests that the rise of female-authored romance novels transformed the nature of Orientalism because it feminized the discourse; made white women central as producers, consumers, and imagined actors; and revised or collapsed the binaries inherent in traditional analyses of Orientalism.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New Publication: Thrill of the Chaste

Weaver-Zercher, Valerie. 2013. Thrill of the Chaste: the Allure of Amish Romance Novels. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

According to Johns Hopkins University Press
Valerie Weaver-Zercher combines research and interviews with devoted readers, publishers, and authors to produce a lively and provocative examination of the Amish romance novel. She discusses strategies that literary agents and booksellers use to drive the genre's popularity. By asking questions about authenticity, cultural appropriation, and commodification, Thrill of the Chaste also considers Amish fiction's effects on Amish and non-Amish audiences alike.
Weaver-Zercher is a Mennonite and as she writes in The Mennonite,
I wrote myself and my Mennonite identity into the book. I needed readers to know that I had some skin in the game, so to speak, and that I felt a strange blend of flattery and revulsion as I watched the burgeoning size and commercial strength of the genre.

I'd wager that many North American Menno­nites feel a flicker of pride in our theological and historical connection to the group that has become the buggy-driving superstars of popular culture. [....] Maybe all the Amish hoopla in popular Christian and secular cultures signals that there really is something excellent about this faith to which we belong. [...]

Yet as I read Amish novel after Amish novel, I felt a niggling sense of annoyance, too. It had something to do with the borrowing and benefiting at work in the fact that 60 non-Anabaptist novelists are advancing careers by locating their stories in Amish country. [...] I wondered whether readers were learning anything about Anabaptism's communitarian ethics, nonresistant commitments and history of persecution. The near absence of references to nonresistance in the books made me suspicious. Although I hesitated to blame romance novels for offering a partial view of a complicated and centuries-old religious tradition, I [...] wondered whether these gentle narratives of marriage and family and neighbor and land did more to illuminate or obscure the identity of a complex culture. 
Those of you interested in virginity in romance may be intrigued by her suggestion that "the Amish are seen as premodern virgins":
Chastity descends from the Latin term castus, meaning a state of being “morally pure” or “holy,” and this concept fuels the genre in several ways. The Amish, who reject public grid electricity, phones inside homes, and car ownership, are often viewed as chaste residents of an otherwise defiled larger culture. Like the mythic virgins of literature and lore, whose rejection of sex earned them respect and even beatification, the Amish are frequently imbued with power commensurate with their ability to abstain from what many view as essential intercourses of a technological age: driving cars, flipping light switches, using a laptop, owning a cell phone.  (Excerpt adapted for First Things)
You can read another excerpt here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Call for Papers: The Long (British) 19th Century

Journal of Popular Romance Studies

Romancing the Long British 19th Century

The long British nineteenth century (1789-1914) appears to have the long global twentieth century (including the first decades of the twenty-first) in its thrall. Regency and Victorian settings proliferate in popular romance fiction, ranging from scenes of domestic life within the United Kingdom to British espionage in Europe and British colonial settlements. Retellings and “sequels” of Jane Austen’s novels line our (digital) bookshelves and fill fan-fiction websites, spilling over most recently into the YouTube sensation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Such adaptations of Austen’s novels, along with film and TV versions of the Brontë sisters’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, suggest that modern audiences cannot get enough of stories about Georgians, Victorians, and Edwardians in love.

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies seeks papers on this enduring love affair with 19th-century Britain. Why does a period that is historically associated with the establishment of the Industrial Revolution, the consolidation of the Empire, and the coalescing of middle-class mores now strike us as a particularly “romantic” era? How do popular and middlebrow media from around the world construct, interpret, and recast the world of 19th c. Britain, broadly construed? What do these interpretations say about our current moment and our modern (or postmodern) thoughts and feelings about romance?

We welcome submissions that explore these and related questions from any disciplinary or theoretical angle. We invite papers that cover different media, including (paper and digital) literature, film, TV, online content, and marketing.

This Special Issue of The Journal of Popular Romance Studies is guest edited by Jayashree Kamble and Pamela Regis. Please submit scholarly papers of no more than 10,000 words, including notes and bibliography, by March 1 2014, to An Goris, Managing Editor, at  

Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format. For more information on how to submit a paper, please visit

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Help a Prof Out? (Non-Western Romances)

Romance scholar and teacher Pamela Regis writes with a question:

I find myself designing an independent study for two honors students who need to study popular romance and non-Western works.  I imagine using written texts or film, but graphic works, digital works--all fair game.  Half of the primary texts need to be non-W in order to pass muster with the assigners of general education tags--our curriculum committee. 
What non-W works in English translation/with English subtitles, accessible to honors undergrads (both students are in our honors program) would you recommend? 
Or, more specifically, for the following list of  W romances, what non-W romances,  would you pair with any of them?   
Austen. Pride and Prejudice
Bronte. Jane Eyre (bildung and romance, in my view)
Crusie. Bet Me
Kinsale. Flowers from the Storm
Shields.  The Republic of Love
Byatt.  Possession
Chase.  Lord of Scoundrels
Heyer.  Civil Contract (my fave Heyer) or Devil's Cub (everyone else's fave Heyer)
Roberts.  Chesapeake Trilogy or Robb first two In Death
James.  When Beauty Tamed the Beast
Ward.  Dark Lover
SEP. Heaven, Texas
Jenkins.  Indigo 
Nothng sacred about that list.  If you know of a W/non-W pairing that makes sense, I'd love to hear of it. 
This came in at the RomanceScholar listserv, and has already gotten a handful of replies, including some from me (I had some Korean TV-dramas to suggest, and a couple of Indian films).  But we could sure use more help--and if anything comes to mind, we'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Rape Culture: Taming the Male

In our 2010 essay for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, Kyra Kramer and I wrote that in romance we often find that
The heroine, who is generally unaware of the extent of her GHH’s [Glittery HooHa's] power over the MW [hero's Mighty Wang], may initially fear the “magic spell” cast by the MW. Such fears are not unfounded. In Barbara Samuel’s The Love Talker, in which the hero is quite literally a magical being, we are given a description of the full extent of the damage a MW can cause to women whose GHHs are not glittery enough to tame it:
The Love Talker is a fixture of Irish faery lore, a seductive and dangerous being indeed, a conscienceless faery who ravishes the senses of unsuspecting women and leaves them to pine away to their deaths. In all the poems and stories, he is the King of Rakes, a libertine of unholy power. (195)
This reflects the way in which male sexuality is culturally constructed as an active, unemotional, possibly dangerous part of masculine behaviour.
Today I came across an essay by Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress which reminded me of this model of male sexuality:
In a (not surprisingly) depressing post railing against equal marriage rights over at National Review, Maggie Gallagher, the founder of the misleadingly-named Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, quotes an anti-equality speaker who argues that “Only one creature has been known to calm men down into faithful and stable relationships since the dawn of time — a woman.” What makes that attitude so sad is the low estimation in which it holds men, an attitude reflected in the hysterically angry reaction to the idea that men can play a role in stopping sexual assault. To different degrees on the same spectrum, these views both agree that men are not particularly in control of themselves, and that if they are to be tamed into monogamy and consensual sex, women will have to do a sometimes enormous amount of work, at great expense to their own expectations and personal liberties, to bring about those outcomes.

These views are very sad, but part of what’s depressing about them is that they aren’t necessarily exceptionally marginal. The idea that it takes a woman to tame a man is at the core of an enormous amount of popular culture—particularly culture aimed at women.

One of the most prevalent arenas for the idea that men need to be tamed by good women, and one of the places where that trope has evolved most, is in romance novels. As I wrote at Slate last week, that genre’s evolved from its earlier reliance on character arcs in which the heroine would be seduced, ravished, or outright raped [...] to one in which the rakish hero [...] meets the woman who makes him realize that monogamy isn’t just socially acceptable—it will make him happier than he’s previously been tomcatting around. These men in contemporary romance novels are rarely as repulsive as their earlier counterparts [...]. But there’s still an air of condescension operating there: it seems to have never occurred to any of these otherwise smart, handsome, and professionally adept men that their own behavior might be causing their unhappiness. And often, rather than being truly responsible for their romantic and sexual choices, romance novel heroes are broken in a certain way that can only be fixed by the ministration of heroines whose value was previously overlooked: often they had cruel or absent parents, particularly fathers, who damaged their ability to connect, and rather than seeking out therapy or staring their own deficiencies straight in the face, its up to women to give them the love they were previously denied.
She goes on to suggest that the emotional work required of heroines in romantic comedies is even greater.
Rosenberg, Alyssa. 'Maggie Gallagher, Rape Culture, And The Persistent Idea That Women Can Tame Men And Need To Fix Them', Think Progress, March 26, 2013.

Vivanco, Laura and Kyra Kramer. 'There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre', Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Disability Studies Reads the Romance

Ria Cheyne's latest article, "Disability Studies Reads the Romance" is out now in issue 7.1 of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies. The article explores the depiction of disability in a selection of romance novels. This is a rather understudied area of both popular romance studies and disability studies:
Cultural disability studies scholars have repeatedly criticized academics in the humanities for perpetuating a “critical avoidance” (Bolt) of disability and disability issues. Yet cultural disability studies scholars themselves have been reluctant to engage with certain types of cultural production, and romance novels are a prime example of this. As the most popular of the popular genres, romance novels are an obvious site of investigation for a field concerned with the effects that representations of disability have upon the world. Though recent articles by Kathleen Miller, Emily Baldys, and Sandra Schwab indicate the productive potential of a dialogue between disability studies and popular romance studies, the critical conversation about disability in romance novels has only just begun. Focusing on selected novels by Mary Balogh, a bestselling author of historical romance, I argue that romances with disabled protagonists offer significant opportunities to challenge negative stereotypes around disability. (37)
Cheyne focuses on "the six books in the Slightly series (published 2003–04),
and the Simply quartet (2005–08)" (39) and argues that,
In the context of a contemporary culture in which there is “a pervasive cultural de-eroticization of people with disabilities” (Mollow and McRuer 4), the emphasis placed on the development of a sexually satisfying relationship is significant. Anna Mollow and Robert McRuer note the “segregation” of “sex and disability” in “dominant cultural representations” (2). Depicting disabled heroes and heroines in satisfying sexual relationships and as erotic agents, as Balogh does, challenges this segregation. [...] More broadly, the depiction of disabled characters achieving the HEA is significant in a society still dominated by tragedy-model perspectives and thus ambivalent about whether disabled people are worthy or desiring of love. (40)
She also addresses the question of whether disabled secondary characters are marginalised and/or used as "yardsticks" to measure the tolerance, good nature etc of non-disabled primary characters.
Cheyne, Ria. "Disability Studies Reads the Romance." Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 7.1 (2013): 37–52.