Monday, June 15, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (1)

Noted with interest, these passages from Joseph Crawford's very impressive monograph The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2014; distributed in the US by U Chicago P).  Page number precedes the quotation; a slash mark (/) mid-quotation marks a page break.

Crawford's introduction differentiates his project from Pamela Regis's Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003) in some interesting ways:
8-9: I have no strict set of rules for determining which works count as paranormal romances, like those which Pamela Regis proposes for the romance as a whole in her Natural History of the Romance Novel, for the simple reason that I do not believe that such rules reflect the way in which genres actually function.  A genre, in the sense that the word is used by readers, booksellers and publishers, is not composed of a checklist of generic requirements, against which any given work of fiction can be compared in order to discover whether it belongs to that genre or not; instead, it is / defined by a constellation of associated tropes, and words of fiction participate in those genres to the extent that they partake of those tropes which define it.  Nor is this constellation fixed: it can shift and change as the genre develops, and almost always does so. 
9:  An accurate generic history must, by necessity, include such hybrid works, for the simple reason that authors, readers and publishers almost never restrict themselves to 'pure' works of a given type, and thus lines of influence often run through other channels. 
9:  [Crawford has] tried to map out, to the best of my ability, that line of literary and cultural descent which ultimately led to the modern genre of paranormal romance, rather than limiting myself to those works which fit some Platonic definition of generic form.
Crawford's first chapter is called, deliciously, "The First 800 Years." It begins with the etymology of the word "romance," then moves into some literary and cultural history:
11-12:  The rise of the heroic romance as a literary genre in twelfth-century France coincided with the appearance of the aristocratic cultural ideal of fin' amor, 'fine' or 'courtly' love, which postulated the then almost unheard-of idea that, under the right conditions, love between men and women could potentially be a morally or spiritually ennobling force.  The development of both the romance as a literary genre, and of fin' amor as a cultural practice, were encouraged by Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of England and France: she and her eldest daughter Marie acted as patrons to important / early romance authors such as Chretien de Troyes and (probably) Marie de France, while simultaneously helping to spread the ideals of fin 'amor across the royal courts of Western Europe. The same ideals of love were reflected in the works of the romance-writers whom they patronized, and so thorough did the identification of this new code of courtship with this new form of writing eventually become that, when we wish to refer to intense and ennobling love-relationships today, we no longer speak of fin 'amor: we refer, instead, to 'romantic love.'
These romances "were not only love stories--they were also stories of war, magic and adventure," Crawford explains (12).
12:  This combination of courtly love stories with magical high adventure proved so enduringly popular that, for the next 500 years, a single genre -- 'romance' -- served simultaneously as Western Europe's preferred form of both.  Pure and perfect love was 'romantic'; but so were supernatural events, or incredible feats of arms. 'Romantic love' went alongside 'romantic heroism' and 'romantic enchantment,' linked so inseparably that, when Don Quixote decides to become a knight arrant like the heroes of his favourite romances, he concludes that not only must he be an invincible warrior who inhabits a world of magic and monsters, he must also have a beautiful and virtuous maiden with whom he is perfectly in love, on the assumption that the former must naturally imply the latter.
The "first question" for Crawford about contemporary paranormal romance is therefore not "how stories of love and the supernatural came to coexist within the same genre; rather, we should investigate how it came to pass that, after five centuries of unity, they ever came to be separated" (13).

I'll type up some notes and quotes on Crawford's account of how this separation occurred in the next of these posts.  For now, let me just say that I'm intrigued by the notion of starting my romance course with a book that somehow captures that earliest, internally-multiple version of the genre.  The one that I might try is Alexis Hall's Prosperity, which is a queer steampunk novel that includes romantic love, heroism, and enchantment, and which I've been trying to figure out how to approach in the classroom.  This might help!


  1. That's interesting. I never thought of those poems as romantic at all, given the ones I read were the authors lamenting a woman refusing to give them something they needed, patronage. The women seemed a means to an end; there was very little about them, it was all about the authors. Maybe I read the wrong ones.

  2. Which poems are you thinking of particularly, Nu? I'm not very familiar with medieval work, and would love to take a look for myself. I know that there has been some interesting scholarship on the deep connections between the culture of patronage and the language of love in later periods (the Early Modern period, especially). Thinking here particularly of "The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society" by Andrews and Kalpakli:

  3. It's been a long time, but it might have been Edmund Spenser's works... On second thought I guess it might have been the Early Modern poetry inspired by the courtly love tradition that rubbed me wrong, lol.