Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance XIII: The Romance of Work? Books, Sex, Magic, and the Academic Heroine

Romance XIII: The Romance of Work? Books, Sex, Magic, and the Academic Heroine

Heroines in Bookstores: The Romantic Economies of You’ve Got Mail and Three Sisters Island

(Heather Schell, George Washington University)
Around the turn of the millennium, two Noras created popular love stories:  Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail and Nora Roberts’ Three Sisters Island trilogy.  While the plots differ strikingly, the heroines in both stories have strikingly similar work experiences:  Kathleen and Mia both own and manage independent bookstores, stores which are extensions of the heroines themselves and which serve as central meeting places in their communities.  Yet in both cases, Kathleen’s and Mia’s love interests appear to conflict directly with their work interests.  In fact, in both stories, the hero’s economic pursuits threaten to destroy or at least undermine the heroine’s bookstore.  Both the film and the romance novels discussed here pay careful attention to economic issues, and they have their heroines do the same.  However, the resolution of each love story reveals a distinct economic model underlying the plot:  a cynical neoliberalism in Ephron’s story, in which the heroine’s only option is to take a wage job provided by the hero; and, in Roberts’ series, an insistence on regulated economic planning based on community needs, which allows both the heroine and her hero to develop mutually beneficial economic strategies that benefit their island.  In fact, I would argue, the ideal economy in Roberts’ series is modeled on the ideal romantic relationship.

“She would take her fate into her own hands”: Sex work and Happily Ever After in popular romance

(Kathrina Haji Mohd Daud, Universiti Brunei Darussalam)

Popular romance as a genre confronts sex work as an inevitable facet of male-female relationships, particularly in historical romances, tending to condemn the industry and humanize its workers (particularly mistresses and prostitutes). This paper will examine the deployment of romantic heroine as sex worker in four texts: Lisa Kleypas’ “Dreaming of You”, Catherine Anderson’s “Comanche Magic,” Courtney Milan’s “Unclaimed” and Joan Wolf’s “His Lordship’s Mistress”.

A comparison of the central conflicts or “barrier” and the Happily Ever Afters of these four texts will query both the effectiveness of female solidarity and authority within the industry, and whether/how men can be allies to female sex workers. Additionally, this paper will explore the extent to which the texts resist the resolution of the tension between romance and the sex industry, by resisting the use of romantic hero as "saviour", and how this works with popular romance’s generic insistence on a holistic (physical and emotional) approach to romantic love.

Contemporary Supernatural Romance and the Academic Woman

(Jennifer Mitchell, Independent Scholar)

Deborah Harkness’s The All Souls trilogy (2011, 2012, 2014), Juliet Dark’s Fairwick Chronicles trilogy (2011, 2013), and Elizabeth Hunter’s Elemental Mysteries foursome (2012, 2013), all chronicle the supernatural romantic entanglements of young women in academia. Harkness’s Diana Bishop is an historian of alchemy, splitting her time between two prestigious institutions: Yale University and the University of Oxford. Dark’s Callie McFay is a scholar of folklore, mythology, and the Gothic who takes a tenure-track job at the aptly named Fairwick College. Hunter’s Beatrice de Novo is a serious student pursuing degrees in literature and library science. All three women, who are intimately tied to their respective fields of study, become involved with non-human partners: Diana falls for Matthew de Clermont and Beatrice falls for Giovanni Vecchio, both of whom are centuries old vampires while Callie has a tumultuous relationship with her own demon lover.

Each of these heroines is presented to readers as exceptionally intelligent, fiercely loyal, and, most interestingly, deeply committed to her own scholarly pursuits. Moving beyond the reductive eternal and teenaged romance of the Twilight novels and beyond the reconfigured Cinderella story of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, these works all speak to a particularly telling trend in the relationship between a woman’s academic identity and her romantic desires. As such, this paper analyzes the perhaps unexpected allure of young, sexualized female academics as the ideal protagonists of these erotic supernatural romances.

It's All Academic: Scholar, Scientist, Romance Heroine

(Jayashree Kamble, CUNY LaGuardia Community College)

From time to time, one encounters a romance fiction heroine who is an academic, be it as a field researcher or university professor. In some novels, such as Kresley Cole's Dark Desires After Dusk or Laura Kinsale's Midsummer Moon, the scholar heroine comes across as a familiar stereotype--an absent-minded and unworldly scientist, focused on her work to the extent of it being a near-fatal liability. In others, such as Linda Howard's Son of the Morning, the heroine is intrepid and clever, while in Nora Roberts's Jewels of the Sun, she is an Earth Mother fleeing from the cut-throat nature of academic life. As the genre has had a love-hate relationship with academia since the 70s, these choices provide an intriguing glimpse into how academia may appear to romance fiction writers.

No matter how these representation vary, however, the everyday reality of the researcher--teach, grade, read, write--is seen as problematic, co-terminus with backbiting, boredom, behavioral disorders, or breakdowns. Cole's Holly Ashwin is one academic who uses the staid routine of academic life to keep her anxieties--she has OCD--under control, anxieties resulting from being a closeted Valkyrie. In other words, Ashwin is a professor who has a hidden violent and homicidal side, one she does not comprehend herself. Ashwin's mousy work persona is a veneer that both protects her from her fear of her true self and manages to keep her enemies at bay till she can come into her powers as a warrior woman. In this take on the identity conflict that is central to the journey of romance heroines, Cole rejuvenates the trope of the workaday academic and turns it into an origin story of a superheroine.


  1. These papers aren't available online, right? I would love to read the one about Turkish soaps, haha. Never been a fan, personally -I probably would be if they were empowering- but they've really blown up in popularity.

  2. I imagine some of the papers will eventually be published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, so at that point they'll be available online.