Monday, November 23, 2020

An Award, Congratulations and Publications: Masculinity; Movies; Hercules; Interwar Magazine Fiction

If you've got an unpublished essay on romance, you might be able to submit it for the Francis Award, which comes with a $250 USD prize and publication (after any needed revisions) in JPRS. The annual deadline for submissions will be December 31, and the winner will be announced in April. 

Conseula Francis’s work on popular romance fiction focused on African American authors and representations of Black love, and priority for the Francis Award will be given to manuscripts that address Black-authored popular romance fiction and other work on Black love. Manuscripts on the diversity of, and diversities within, popular romance and romantic love culture—e.g., diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, sexuality, disability, or age—will also be considered.

More details here: http://www.jprstudies.org/submissions/the-francis-award/

Congratulations to Inmaculada Pérez Casal on the completion of her thesis, Antecedents and Development of the Contemporary Romance Novel in English: A Study of the Contribution to the Genre by Rosamunde Pilcher and Lisa Kleypas (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela)!

Other newly completed works on romance are:

Allan, Jonathan A., 2020. “Mourning and Sentimental Heroism in Maureen Child's Lost in Sensation.” The Journal of Popular Culture. Online First. 

Allan, Jonathan A., 2020. “'And he absolutely fascinated me': Masculinity and Virginity in Sherilee Gray’s Breaking Him.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies 9. [Open access.]

Charlton, Michael, 2020. "Till Death Do Us Part: Romancing the Stone, Death Becomes Her, and the Romance Genre." A Critical Companion to Robert Zemeckis. Ed. Adam Barkman and Antonio Sanna. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. 17-29.

OKell, Eleanor Regina, 2020. "Hercules as Romantic Hero in Twenty-first-century Historical Fiction." The Modern Hercules: Images of the Hero from the Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century. Ed. Alastair J.L. Blanshard and Emma Stafford. Leiden: Brill. 121–145. Here's the abstract:

This chapter will examine Hercules as a romantic hero in two distinctly different examples of the historical novel, which can be classified as chick lit.: Kate Mosse’s serious historical fiction Citadel, which is set in the Languedoc during the Second World War, and Stephanie Laurens’ romantic historical fiction The Truth About Love, set in Cornwall during the Regency period. Both these novels invoke Hercules by name and the hero provides contextualisation for the events and relationships therein. For example, in Mosse the myth of Hercules’ relationship with Pyrene underpins the whole landscape (it is an origin myth for the Pyrenees) and in Laurens the Garden of Hercules forms a frequently referenced part of the landscape which is of significance for events in the plot. In both novels the presentation of Herculean myth as a background prompts the reader to extrapolate from the legend of Hercules to the characters depicted and their struggles. The similarities of and differences between the two authors’ uses of Hercules demonstrates not only that twenty-first-century chick lit. is open to exploring facets of the ancient hero’s character which go beyond monster-slaying and into the realm of the romantic/erotic but also that the genre of chick lit. can exhibit qualities more commonly associated with ‘serious’ literary fiction.

Reed, Eleanor, 2020. ‘Romance in Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly as Romance, 1918–39’, Journal of European Periodical Studies 5.2: 80–94. [Pdf available free online here.] The focus is on issues related to social class, but I thought this observation, that romance in these magazines functioned as a safe space within which to explore issues, relates to what I've described as romance's "pastoral care" function:

Interwar Woman’s Weekly fiction engages with issues including the rehabilitation of First World War veterans, marriage to a widower, frustration with housework, and single motherhood. Each story invites its reader to identify with a heroine whose experiences and dilemmas may parallel her own, and it is romance’s familiar, predictable structure that allows her to work through these potentially difficult or distressing issues. The guarantee of a happy ending establishes the story as a safe narrative space within which she can confront everyday problems. (86)

Friday, November 06, 2020

Thinking Outside the "Couple Norm"



The Tenacity of the Couple-Norm: Intimate Citizenship Regimes in a Changing Europe
by Sasha Roseneil, Isabel Crowhurst, Tone Hellesund, Ana Cristina Santos, and Mariya Stoilova (UCL Press, 2020) is a newly published (and freely available online for download as a pdf) book which raises an issue of relevance to popular romance fiction. The focus is on coupledom as a concept within society, which the authors refer to as the "couple-norm," defined as "the structure of affinity that is composed of an intimate/sexual dyad" (4) and the

book is about the ongoing strength of the couple-norm and the insidious grip it exerts on our lives as it defines what it is to be a citizen, a fully recognized and rights-bearing member of society. It exposes the construction of coupledom – the condition or state of living as a couple – as the normal, natural and superior way of being an adult. (3)

The book is not a rejection of coupledom, however. The authors argue that

coupledom is not in itself, necessarily, a social ill or a negative influence in people’s lives. Indeed, being part of [sic] couple can be one of the greatest sources of pleasure, fulfilment and security that life in a competitive, uncertain, fast-changing, sometimes dangerous, often precarious social world can offer. (232)

and they state that

There is a danger, identified by Biddy Martin (1996) and Robyn Wiegman (2012), that a relentless anti-normativity, such as that sometimes embraced within queer theory, can produce a somewhat superior, even contemptuous, hypercritical gaze that ‘fears ordinariness’ (Martin, 1996) and ‘names and shames’ ‘those normalities that are inhabited, desired and pursued within gay, lesbian, trans and queer discourses as well as outside them’ (Wiegman, 2012: 334), whilst idealizing practices that are regarded as transgressive of dominant norms. (26)

Rather, they are arguing that there is a need to examine the negative implications of the "couple norm" for those who do not form part of a couple:

The couple-form has historically been valorized and conventionalized, so that it is the very essence of ‘normal’. Whether a person is coupled or not is fundamental to their experience of social recognition and belonging: the good citizen is the coupled citizen, and the socially integrated, psychologically developed and well-functioning person is coupled. Being part of a couple is widely seen and felt to be an achievement, a stabilizing status characteristic of adulthood, indicative of moral responsibility and bestowing full membership of the community. To be outside the couple-form is, in many ways, to be outside, or at least on the margins of, society. (4)

Romances acknowledge the pressure exerted by the norm when protagonists complain about pressure from family to find a partner and, clearly, some popular romances already think outside the "couple norm." Could romance go further, however?

The authors of this book ask

What would it mean for an intimate citizenship regime to cease to promote coupledom and to work instead actively to attenuate the negative impacts of the couple-norm? (233)

What I ask is: what could romance fiction, as a genre, do, to normalise other forms of relationships in addition to coupledom, without abandoning the central love story and the happy ending?

I agree with Roseneil et al, that being in a "couple can be one of the greatest sources of pleasure, fulfilment and security that life in a competitive, uncertain, fast-changing, sometimes dangerous, often precarious social world can offer" (232) yet I feel that romance has room to expand in terms of the relationships it depicts. Indeed, romance has already been expanding, so that more individuals can see themselves and their lives reflected in the novels. The authors of the book found that their interviewees were

centring their lives around friendship, choosing to remain single, embracing solitude, forging non-cohabiting partnerships, sharing the raising of children outside the couple-form, resisting the romantic imperative, forming relationships with people from different backgrounds and defying monogamy. They were envisaging, and often finding, stability, security, love, intimacy, sex and domesticity in many different ways, outside the conventional couple-form. (233)

A choice to remain single would probably be a step too far for the romance, even if one could argue that, technically taking time to form a loving relationship with oneself could be the "central relationship" in a "love story" with an optimistic/happy ending. It is, though, already a possibility in chick-lit, I think. Non-monogamous relationships seem more easily adapted into the genre and, indeed, the genre already includes central sexual relationships involving more than two people and central couples who are not monogamous. What about "lives centred around close friendships" and "non-cohabiting partnerships"?