Thursday, April 24, 2014

Links: Medical Romance, Fifty Shades, Viking Bondage and L. M. Montgomery

Jessica, of Read React Review, presented a paper about medical romance novels at the PCA/ACA conference and she's summarised it on her blog. She argues that
it’s possible to view commercial fiction as actually participating, however indirectly, in bioethical conversation. [...]
The Penhally Bay series was written in the first decade of the 21st century, a time when organized medicine was having a lot of internal debates about what “professionalism” means. [...] The professionalism project emphasizes old fashioned values of altruism, compassion, and integrity. It focuses on individuals, and on maintaining continuity with a perceived tradition of medical professionalism dating back 200 years. Medical sociologists, identifying a number of competing accounts of medical professionalism, identify this as “nostalgic professionalism”. [...] I think that the Penhally Bay series presents a version of medical professionalism closely aligned with nostalgic professionalism in several ways.
The full post can be found here.

Eva Illouz has a new book out soon: Hard-Core Romance: "Fifty Shades of Grey," Best-Sellers, and Society will be published in May by the University of Chicago Press. In it, Illouz
delves into its remarkable appeal, seeking to understand the intense reading pleasure it provides and how that resonates with the structure of relationships between men and women today. Fifty Shades, Illouz argues, is a gothic romance adapted to modern times in which sexuality is both a source of division between men and women and a site to orchestrate their reconciliation. As for the novels’ notorious depictions of bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism, Illouz shows that these are as much a cultural fantasy as a sexual one, serving as a guide to a happier romantic life. The Fifty Shades trilogy merges romantic fantasy with self-help guide—two of the most popular genres for female readers.
Madison Prall, a student at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne has created a conference poster which
compares a contemporary historical romance novel series published between 2001 and 2004 by Karen Marie Moning with an older historical romance novel series published between 1980 and 1994 by Joanna Lindsey, in order to assess changing values regarding idealized romantic relationships between men and women.
Madison notes that "All three female protagonists in the Lindsey novels are enslaved by their future husbands, and Kristen and Erika are even forced to wear chains by their romantic partners." Madison finds "disturbing [...] the implication that rape and domination are elements of romantic relationships that romance novel readers think are acceptable or even desirable."

Given the recent success of Fifty Shades I can't help but wonder, though, if "Johanna Lindsey's portrayal of the bondage and domination of her female protagonists by the male protagonists" was an earlier way of writing "hard-core romance" at a time when explicit BDSM would not have been so acceptable. In other words, was it intended to be read more as a "Viking rape scene" than as a suggestion that rape could be romantic or acceptable in real life?

There's been a lot of discussion of the "romance canon" recently. It looks as though some people might be lobbying for the inclusion of L. M. Montgomery (or maybe they'd rather she stayed out of the romance canon and was accepted into the literary canon). The reissue of a book about her works may be of particular interest to romance scholars working on romances for younger audiences given that Montgomery's best known for her series about Anne of Green Gables but she did write some works for adults, including The Blue Castle:
When it originally appeared, Elizabeth Rollins Epperly’s The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass was one of the first challenges to the idea that L.M. Montgomery’s books were unworthy of serious study. Examining all of Montgomery’s fiction, Epperly argues that Montgomery was much more than a master of the romance genre and that, through her use of literary allusions, repetitions, irony, and comic inversions, she deftly manipulated the normal conventions of romance novels. Focusing on Montgomery’s memorable heroines, from Anne Shirley to Emily Byrd Starr, Valancy Stirling, and Pat Gardiner, Epperly demonstrates that Montgomery deserves a place in the literary canon.

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