Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance IV: Outlander, Adaptation, and the Art of the Middlebrow

Romance IV: Outlander, Adaptation, and the Art of the Middlebrow

Middlebrow Love: Popular Romance with an Attitude

(Maryan Wherry, Independent Scholar)

The 20th century popular romance provides what Nicola Humble calls “narrative excitement without guilt and intellectual stimulation without undue effort.” As entertainment or escapist fiction, romances dramatize and heighten experiences about which women may be ambivalent. The popular romance embodies basic values and conflicts of the popular middle-class mind. This paper will show how the popular romance novel functions within the definition of middlebrow culture as it depicts women’s perspective and concerns regarding such topics as courstship, love, romance, sexuality and the promotion of literary quality by examining the rhetoric and aesthetics of the genre and the complexity of that expression.

From Trope to Truth: MetaRomance in the Outlander Series

(EMS note: Nicole was unable to join us and present, but I hope we'll hear more about this in the future.)

(Nicole duPlessis, Texas A&M University)

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series regales readers with love, sex, relationships, history, and the metaphysics of time travel. Beyond the more obvious themes, Outlander strives to reassert a certain vision of reality over historical fantasy and theorizes historical truth.  Frequently, the novels depict “reality” by placing eighteenth-century social constraints over the strong will of displaced twentieth-century female Claire—other times, by stressing oppressive smells rather than conventions.  In the third and fourth books of the series, Voyager and Drums of Autumn, the implied discourse on truth in fiction turns explicitly to the to the Romance genre.  In Voyager, Claire discovers Romance literature in a hospital waiting room after surgery and bonds with Joe Abernathy, fellow medical student, over her virgin read.  Her Romance reading parallels Jamie’s experience—not of literature, though strikingly he is reading Fanny Hill, but of a Romance-ready scenario of coercion by a headstrong young virgin above his station.  Drums of Autumn continues the parallel with the historical Romance novel depicted in Voyager as Jamie and Claire’s daughter is raped by a pirate in stark contrast to Tessa and Valdez of the Spanish Main.  Thus, Gabaldon sets up a dialog between truth and fantasy with explicit reference to Romance fiction, acknowledging the uses of Romance literature while offering a caricature and critique of the tropes of the genre.

Lights! Camera! Adaptation! Outlander as Cable TV Series

(Jessica Matthews, George Mason University)

“Watched” any good romances lately? Probably not. The most recent adaptations of book to screen involve mysteries (Gone Girl), science fiction (The Hunger Games and Divergent), and fantasy (Game of Thrones and The Hobbit). In the summer of 2014, however, producer Ron D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame, debuted the first half of his 16-episode adaptation of one of the most popular romance novels ever published: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. The first eight episodes aired on the Starz network in August and September. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with much praise heaped upon the lavish production, which Moore shot entirely on location in Scotland, and the stellar performances of the lead characters and supporting cast. What more could a fan of the book want from a cable series adaptation?

Apparently, fans did want more: they wanted the romance. In adapting Outlander to suit the genre demands of a cable series, Moore and his writers shifted the narrative from a hero-centric romance to a feminist historical adventure. Doing so meant suppressing the virility of the marquee player of the Outlander series, the heroic 18th-century Highlander, Jamie Fraser, and emphasizing the quest of the time traveling heroine, Claire, to return to her 20th century life and the husband who waits for her there. When the series went on hiatus in September 2014, the Outlander fan groups found themselves with a sense of unease: thrilled to see the novel they love come to life, but missing what made them love the novel in the first place: the charming, cocky, confident hero and his courtship of an unconventional woman. “Where is Jamie?” was the most common refrain, followed closely by “Where is the romance?”

This paper explores whether the elements readers expect in romance fiction can survive in a cable television series. Does the requirement for an HEA or HFN deny a cable series the suspense it needs to maintain viewer interest? Must the focus on courtship be subdued in order to attract the male audience needed to keep a cable series alive? In other words, can a romance remain a romance and be a successful cable television series? If Starz’ Outlander series is any indication, the answer is no, and yet it depends on fans of the novel to promote it as it competes for a viewership in an increasingly crowded field of cable series.

Relying on over a year’s worth of conversations in the Outlander social media universe that exploded in size when the cable series was first announced in the early summer of 2013, this paper analyzes how the marketing blitz of the series’ key players, to include executive producers, writers, actors, and Gabaldon herself, sought to influence the highly literate Outlander fan base to accept the narrative shift from romance to historical adventure. 

Such conversations reveal the myriad negotiations readers make as they come to terms with the transformation of “their” book by a creative artist other than the author. For readers of the popular romance, readers who often have a strong attachment to the novel’s hero and heroine and more direct contact with the novel’s author, this transformation generates joy and apprehension, as well as support and outrage. This fan reaction in social media reveals insights about romance readers’ interpretive processes, as well as their desire to protect that process when confronted with a significant challenge to it from a film or television adaptation.

1 comment:

  1. Well written and yes a cry I still voice. Jamie has been diminished to fit RDM sense of Mastermind Claire. No longer the book adaptation but a popular label in many groups, called Ronlander, sadly so.