Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance VIII: Imperialism, Transnationalism, and the Politics of Genre

Romance VIII: Imperialism, Transnationalism, and the Politics of Genre

Imperial Affairs: Colonialism, race and the early twentieth-century romance novel

(Hsu-Ming Teo, Macquarie University)

The romance novel became a distinct genre during the zenith of the British Empire and, unsurprisingly, women writers used Britain’s colonies as exotic backdrops for their love stories. At a time when many men insisted that the empire was ‘no place for a white woman’, romance novels from the 1890s to the Second World War spread imperial fantasies of women who travelled to the colonies, hunted, worked as governesses, nurses and secretaries, managed households, ran viable plantations, fended off attacks by ‘the natives’, fell in love, married and made a place for themselves in the empire.   This paper explores how dreams of love and empire building bloomed in the Kenyan novels of Florence Riddell and Nora K. Strange; the Rhodesian and South African romances of Gertrude Page; the New Guinean romances of Beatrice Grimshaw; and the Raj romances of Maud Diver, Ethel M. Dell, Bertha Croker, Alice Eustace and many more. Martin Green has argued that ‘the adventure tales that formed the light reading of Englishmen for two hundred years … were, in fact, the energizing myth of English imperialism … they charged England’s will with the energy to go out into the world and explore, conquer, and rule’. Romance novels may not have created such determinedly colonizing drives among women, but they were important nonetheless because they purportedly disseminated ‘knowledge’ about Britain’s colonies and naturalized colonial possessions and racial hierarchies among women readers. At the same time, they unintentionally foregrounded the fragility of love relationships between British men and women by portraying the strains colonizing activities placed on interpersonal relations and the racial anxieties caused by the sexual attractiveness of ‘native’ men.  

Tears and Desires: Qiong Yao’s Romantic Melodrama in a Transnational Frame

(Danju Yu, Stony Brook University)

Qiong Yao, the renowned Taiwanese female novelist, is known for her sensational novels that depict pathos, overwrought emotions and the ostensibly suffering female protagonists. The visual adaptation of one of her most popularly-received novel, You Can’t Tell Him (Tingyuan Shenshen, 1972), tells the story of a female schoolteacher’s rendezvous with a student’s blind father, who eventually discovers that this mysterious school teacher happens to be his beloved ex-wife who has been reported dead for years. The novel as well as its film adaptation mimic Jane Austen’s 1847 bildungsroman novel, Jane Eyre, while the narrative is relocated to Taiwan in the 1970s with the backdrop of problematic Cold War geopolitics and Taiwan’s rapid economic boom. Embedded in the romantic love affair are the film’s detailed depiction of Taiwan’s budding tea farm business and the growing community of working class women. This paper examines the gothic elements, melodramatic narrative, elaborate mise en scène to tease out the underlying neoliberal desires expressed through the tears and desires of female protagonists. In addition, this paper intervenes in the derogatory reading of Wenyi Aiqing melodrama (romance melodrama) films by shifting the attention to excessive emotions that provide ruptures in dominant ideologies. By tracing the transnational trajectory of You Can’t Tell Him, I explore romance melodrama and its role in opening up new spaces for female discourse.

“I’m Just Telling You a Story, That’s All”: The Reading and Misreading of Gendered, Raced, and (Dis)Abled Bodies in Courtney Milan’s The Heiress Effect

(Mallory Jagodzinski, Bowling Green State University)
Courtney Milan is quite well-known in the romance industry for walking away from a “very nice deal” at Harlequin to successfully self-publish her subsequent novels and for writing characters one doesn’t often see in the genre (such as virgin heroes, suffragette heroines, and heroines whose characters are defined by the work they do). In interviews, she alludes to the fact that this is because she has more freedom to write these characters due to the fact that there is no publisher asking her to make her characters more generic and typical. In her 2013 novel The Heiress Effect, which is set in 1867, Milan writes a “B” romance featuring an epileptic heroine, Emily, and an Indian student studying at Cambridge, Anjan.

In this paper, I show how Milan builds the romantic relationship between the heroine and hero through the reading and misreading of bodies in regards to gender, disability, and race. I argue that Milan uses the constraints placed on Emily and Anjan’s bodies by systems of power and privilege to illustrate the ways our society has and continues to allow bodies to speak for individuals rather than trusting their stories. It is only after Emily and Anjan begin telling stories to one another about their possible courtship that the two are able to achieve the genre’s requisite happily ever after, which I assert to be Milan’s insistence on importance of diverse representation in the stories American culture tells itself about who is worthy of love.

Brothers Under Covers: Race and the Paranormal Romance Novel

(Amanda Hobson, Ohio University)

From sparkling teen-angst-filled “vegetarians” to crime fighting warriors, the vampire hero has become a mainstay in novels, films, and television. Vampires have held the imaginations of readers since the time of the “penny dreadful” and Dracula.  In contemporary American culture, the vampire has shifted beyond the borders of the horror and science fiction genres to become a featured icon in the romance genre. The subgenre of paranormal romance has inundated the publishing market over the last decade for both adult and young adult romance readers.  One of the most glaring and intriguing aspects of these vampire romance novels is their consistent whitewashing.  Just where are all the undead heartthrobs of colour, and why are they seemingly absent? Though this piece will focus on Black vampire heroes specifically, where are the women of colour as female leads?  While these vampire romance novels may have periphery characters that are people of colour, they remain almost entirely populated by whites, mainly Americans descended from European heritages.  I explore the representations of race and ethnicity within the paranormal subgenre, focusing on two popular series as guideposts: Kerrelyn Sparks’s Love at Stake series and J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. How can a reader understand issues of race and ethnicity within these vampire romances?  The vampire, who has long-stood as the iconic symbol for the Other, reconstructs oppression within the narratives of these paranormal romance novels first by eliminating race and ethnicity from the vast majority of the texts and then by reinforcing the cultural stereotypes of Black masculinity.  The genre in which the vampire fiction is written matters a great deal for the representation and inclusion of Black vampires.  Using genre theory and critical race theory, this paper examines the lacuna of race and ethnicity present within vampire romance fictions.

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