Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance VI: Risky Business: Love, Abuse, and Violence

Romance VI: Risky Business: Love, Abuse, and Violence

Domestic Abuse and Violence in the Works of Nora Roberts

(Pavla Stefanska, Masaryk University)
Love overcomes everything. Everything is fair in love and war. There is a fine line between love and hate. These and similar sayings may evoke an impression that there is a close connection between love and violence. Apart from that, they also represent some of the beliefs which permeate western culture’s ideas of love and relationships. As people have the tendency to accept these sayings at their face value and rarely question where these ideas come from and how they affect their behavior, they seldom realize that these beliefs pose a potential threat to their intimate relationships.

Based on the article by Julia T. Wood “The Normalization of Violence in Heterosexual Relationships: Women’s Narratives of Love and Violence” in which she cites western gender and romance narratives as responsible for the high number of women who stay with abusive partners, this paper examines several novels by Nora Roberts, one of the most popular romance writers of our time, in which the author uses domestic abuse in hero’s or heroine’s past as a barrier which stands in the way of their HEA. The paper explores whether Roberts’ portrayal of the domestic violence corresponds to the narrative categories proposed by Wood, and is looking in more detail at the ways in which the after effects of the trauma caused by the abuse are dealt with in terms of reclaiming one’s own identity and re-establishing oneself not only within the narrative of a successful romantic relationship, but also within the much wider narrative of one’s place in community and society, to show that are differences at Roberts’ descriptions which mirror the changing trends in society and the de-tabooing of the issue of domestic abuse in the last thirty years. 

“It Felt Like A Kiss”: Violence and Violations in Jo Beverley’s An Unwilling Bride

(Angela Toscano, University of Iowa)

The title of this paper is taken from The Crystals’ 1962 single, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss).” This was a song that was not popular even in its own time, and it garnered criticism for its supposed endorsement of spousal abuse. Yet, the song is not simply an unthinking approval of domestic violence. Rather, it reveals something—both in its tonality and its lyrics—about how love and violence intertwine and tangle until one becomes the metonymic stand in for the other. Similarly, discussions of Jo Beverley’s 1992 novel, An Unwilling Bride, question whether the book simply endorses violence as being synonymous with love.

Somewhere, someone once called An Unwilling Bride a novel that puts “the alpha male on trial.” Yet, it this what is being tried? What Beverley’s novel tries are the boundaries between love and violence, passion and anger, anger and abuse. These terms are alternately collapsed and separated throughout the course of the novel. What distinguishes an act of violence from an act of abuse? What is abuse? How are both related to passion? While romance community discussions of the novel have focused on either the acceptability of the hero’s actions or the believability of the novel’s HEA, my paper will argue that the novel plays out the logic of violent love in order to untie that metonymic bond between the two terms.

The Witch Must Die---- Gaze, Female Transgression and Misogyny in Linda Howard’s Dream Man

(Adam Tang, Springly Seasons International Publishers)

Linda Howard’s Dream Man, published in 1994, highlights the issue of misogyny toward female transgression through a combination of thrillers and popular romances. The story focuses on a number of female victims whose occasionally ill manners offend the male serial killer and thus are doomed to death as punishment. Howard explicitly depicts the bloody murder scenes as well as the irrational gender-specific hatred, which is rarely specified in popular romantic narratives.

Death and murder has long been a part of romantic narrative since Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Unlike the detectives or mystery, however, popular romances focus on the relationship development between the heroine and the hero rather than the process or motives of the murder itself. Mostly, murder in popular romances is never the center of romance readers’ gaze, functioning only as the story background or plot stimulation. The purpose of death and murder in romance narrative serves for the protagonists to recognize their love for each other as well as for the readers to contrast the expected happy ending. Hence, the murder depicted in popular romances is usually personally motivated. The cause of death is comprehensible and definite, lest the uncanny death threat should shadow the happily ever-after.

Yet Howard’s Dream Man portrays an irrational serial killer whose victims have little personal involvement with him. Through the heroine’s psychic sight/ gaze, the readers are presented with detailed bloody processes of murders. The murders become the center of romance readers’ gaze and none of the deaths is out of personal causes but of misogyny. This essay aims to elaborate the treatment of murder and misogyny in Linda Howard’s Dream Man and how it celebrates the female strength through a modern version of witch hunting.

Fifty Shades of Anti-Feminism: The Distortion of the Fetish and the Romance Novel in Post-Feminist Culture

(Kalauren McMillan, Winthrop University)

Fifty Shades of Gray, an erotic novel by E.L. James, tells the story of Ana Steele, who is forced via her attraction and dynamic position into an abusive, pseudo-BDSM relationship with Christian Gray. In my paper, I argue that the novel promotes a harmful trend of disempowerment of women through distorting the BDSM lifestyle, glorifying an oppressed heroine, and textually placing Ana in forceful passivity to Christian.

I start my presentation by surveying how romance novels are traditionally seen as anti-feminist. However, scholars have proven that this is not a requirement of the genre. Romance novels may contain feminist facets. I argue that James does not incorporate feminist literary techniques, but has shaped aspects of the novel toward oppression. The BDSM aspect of the novel does not conform to the tenets of the lifestyle and distorts the subculture into a mode of abuse and feminine disempowerment. In addition, Ana has no defense against the aforementioned factors due to her naivety and lack of self.

I conclude that the impetus of this novel is the post-feminist movement. The rise of post-feminism has allowed James’ novel to gain popularity with many female readers. These women, as a result, exalt the characteristics that allow and encourage Ana’s oppression via Christian. In light of Ana idolizing Christian for aesthetic beauty and perceived perfection and ameliorating his abusive and non-consensual sexual tendencies, I conclude female readers of the novel now see this portrayal of the “ideal” man as a potential romantic partner. Seeing Christian as the height of sexual and relationship pleasure, women are encouraged through the novel to seek oppression and disempowerment as “happiness” and “liberation.”

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