Monday, July 24, 2006

Metaromance (1)

In honour of the forthcoming Romance Writers of America conference in Atlanta, and the recently concluded Romantic Novelists' Association conference in Penrith, I thought I'd post about metaromances. We’ve mentioned them on the listserv a few times, but haven't really gone into a lot of detail about why metafiction intrigues so many of us. Metafiction is:
a type of fiction which self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction.
It is the term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality.
and one of the most common forms of metafiction, and certainly of metafictional romances, is ‘A novel about a person writing a novel’ (both quotations from Wikipedia).

On the listserv we were using the term ‘metaromance’ to describe romances in which one of the characters (usually the heroine), is a writer, and usually the author of a romance. I thought I’d mention the author-characters of the metaromances, so they could take their place alongside the poet-characters discussed by Eric. In that post, Eric mentioned that questions were often asked about possible negative consequences resulting from reading chivalric romances, and he alluded to Cervantes’ Don Quijote, who went mad from reading too many of them, and as a result ended up tilting at windmills. Here’s a picture of Don Quijote in the world of his imagination, surrounded by all the strange creatures and exotic people who inhabit the world of the chivalric romances.

I thought I'd start with Amanda Quick's Reckless. Gabriel Banner, Earl of Wylde, is the anonymous author of The Quest, ‘the most popular book of the Season’ (1997: 24) and Phoebe, the heroine, is Wylde’s anonymous editor and ‘the mysterious backer who had rescued Josiah Lacey’s faltering bookshop and publishing business’ (1997: 24). Both Gabriel and Phoebe are collectors of manuscripts of chivalric tales. The owning, writing and editing of chivalric romances, as well as a shared love of the genre set the hero and heroine on a quest of their own. In the process, it raises the issue of whether Phoebe and other reader of romances and chivalric romances are mad, or at least, naive, to believe in chivalry, love and happy endings to quests. This being a romance novel, not a parody of the chivalric romances, the answer is that they’re not.

Other metafictional works by Quick, The Pirate, The Adventurer and The Cowboy (all from 1990) have been discussed by Pamela Regis (2003). She writes that:
As a romance novel with a heroine who is a romance novelist and a hero who reads one of her books (208), The Pirate is self-referential. This novel points explicitly to its own genre. Krentz uses the romance novels that her character has written to create a perspective - an echo, a mirror, a doubling, an ironic contrast - for the essential romance elements of the actual novel, The Pirate, that we, the readers, are holding in our hands. Through mirroring or echoing an element of the core romance novel, Krentz adds a set of meanings to the actual romance novel, intensifying them, commenting ironically on them, but never actually undercutting them. This generic self-referentiality becomes part of the courtship. (2003: 171)
This being the season of conferences for romance authors, though, it's interesting to explore not just how metafiction comments on fiction and the conventions of fiction, but also the ways in which the metaromance can explore issues such as the marketing of novels and what is involved in being a published author. The metaromance aspect of Reckless, for example, touches on issues related to the marketing of romance novels. Phoebe describes The Quest to a potential reader as a
novel [which] engages the most lofty of the sensibilities. Very inspiring treatment of the subject of love. You will be especially pleased with its hero. He is even more exciting than one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s heroes (1997: 110)
It’s the verbal equivalent of the modern back-cover blurb and I imagine Quick/Krentz would consider this a fairly appropriate description of Reckless itself. Reckless even concludes with a publicity event which will boost sales of the book, though Wylde is a somewhat shy author who has trouble coping with the adulation of his fans: ‘Wylde was very set against being identified as the author of such a successful book. I believe that when it comes to that sort of thing he is rather shy’ (1997: 368). Wylde comments that:
“I do not like this business of being a famous author.”
“Nonsense”, Phoebe said. “ [...] Surely you can handle a few admirers on the rare occasion such as tonight.”
“The occasions had better be extremely rare,” Gabriel warned. [...]
“They will be,” Phoebe promised. She gave him a gloating smile. “And just think of what it will do for your career. I’ll wager we shall have to go back to print for another five or six thousand copies after this lot returns to London. Everyone here cannot wait to inform his or her friends of the true identity of the author of The Quest. Lacey’s Bookshop will make another tidy little fortune.” (1997: 369-370)
Clearly this is an extremely close editor/author relationship, but the reclusive author’s reluctance to court publicity, and the editor’s desire to have the author meet his/her fans in order to boost sales remind me of comments I’ve read on the blogs and websites of modern romance authors. Here's one such description of writers, from Susan Holloway Scott/Miranda Jarrett on today's blog post at the Word Wenches:
Writers cherish anonymity. We’re not by nature a glamorous bunch. Books may be considered part of the entertainment industry, but writing is not a performing art. Which is why when we have to “go public” –– whether at a big conference like RWA, or a small book signing at a local store –– the results can be, well, challenging.
Quick, Amanda, 1997. Reckless (London: Orion).

Regis, Pamela, 2003. A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).


  1. I stumbled on a delightful idea for a metaromance yesterday, Laura--haven't read the book itself yet, so I can't vouch for it, but the concept is a hoot.

    To wit:

    "Writers Celeste and Corinne Carson have each created an ultra-alpha hero who stars in each sister's highly successful series of novels. Celeste writes of the future and her hero Jarred. Corinne writes of the barbarian Mykhayl. Both heroes are adventurers in their respective times, hot sexy lovers, and, as it turns out … quite real and very angry about everything their creators have forced them to do.

    Jarred and Mykhayl are about to exact hot, sweet revenge upon their respective creators; a little payback for the angst and the peril these women have placed them in time after time. Kidnapped and taken to the worlds they write of, Jarred and Mykhayl begin Celeste's and Corinne's punishment..."

    Thus the publicity teaser for "Captive Dreams" by Angela Knight and Diane Whiteside, forthcoming in September 2006 from Berkley. (It seems to have won an award in 2002, however, so I suspect it's a reprint.)

    Pirandello, eat your heart out!

  2. Yes, it's a reprint. It was first published by Ellora's Cave according to this website and there's a review at Romantic Times.

  3. Some fairly recent meta-romance are the "Maggie" series by Kasey Michaels. They're more chick-lit/mystery than romance, since they don't come with a traditional HEA, but the heroine's a romance writer whose hero and sidekick come to life. Lots of commentary on the industry as well. The sidekick/hero relationship means it's interesting to think about Don Quixote while reading these ones.

    And going back in time, Jude Deveraux had a best-selling romance writer as a heroine in her short story, "Matchmakers" in The Invitation. It stuck in my head because this was about the first example of this sort of thing I came across in the genre, but it's interesting because she references things (shops, whisky, settings) from her other books as well.

    Off topic, The Invitation's an interesting collection because she also writes an older woman/younger (virgin) man romance and one with an aging hero who is quite broken-down. All of which were seemed quite different to me when this was first published (1994 - I think).

  4. I was thinking of Borges, because I'd read his story about a library containing all possible works, and came across a reference to another short story of his about Don Quijote. Here's a short description of the two works:

    "In The Library of Babel, Borges imagines an infinite library filled with every conceivable book, but most of these contain random sequences of letters. Somewhere, he explains, there must be a book that is the catalogue of all of these, a book that contains the key to all the others. The person who owns this book is 'analogous to a god'."


    "In Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, the eponymous 20th Century author re-writes Don Quixote word for word. This book, Borges argues, is superior to Cervantes' original despite the fact that they are identical. 'The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer'."

    Borges really knows how to play with the reader's mind. In the first story, the book the reader is reading must also be in the library, and in the second, Menard is an invention of Borges', so you have a fictional character trying to recreate word for word a metafictional work supposedly written by a fictional character (Cide Hamete), and then Borges gives an academic commentary on the relative merits of Menard's work versus that of Cervantes (which are textually identical). I haven't read it myself, but it sounds mind-bending.

    On the topic of non-standard relationships (older heroine, for example) and the idea that romance is traditionally moral, I'm thinking that this isn't at all the case if one thinks about medieval romance, where courtly love usually involves adultery. And I'm not sure about the ages of the heroines, but there seems to be more than a hint of Oedipal feelings in some sorts of courtly love because:

    'noble boys often left home around the age of seven to be taught the aristocratic arts of war and courteous service in another household. Duby has suggested that this separation entailed a desire to regain maternal love. In his view the fabulous female creatures of romance “are probably best understood as substitutes for the knight’s lost mother' (Wack 1990: 160)


    'In a number of instances that fantasy was hardly unconscious; the desire for union with the mother was scarcely, or not at all, repressed or displaced. A remarkable number of medieval stories recount examples of incest between mother and son' (Wack 1990: 154).

    Thinking of more modern romance/romantic stories, there was the extremely popular Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, published at the beginning of the 20th century (and available online online here in which the heroine is a much older, married woman.

  5. Sorry, forgot to give the reference for Wack. It's

    Wack, Mary Frances, 1990. Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The ‘Viaticum’ and its Commentaries, University of Pennsylvania Press, Middle Ages Series (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania).

  6. Oooh... Borges. Your and Eric's post had me thinking about Sancho Panza and sidekicks, which is why I mentioned Don Quixote, but thank you for reminding me about him. I heard a little about his writing on the radio a while back and made a mental note to look out for something of his, but then promptly forgot. (Brain = sieve).

    Another book which also plays tricks on a reader's mind is The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza. Since I haven't read any Borges, I don't know how much Somoza owes to him, but he uses two narrators, one translating and commenting on the text of the first. Over time, the translator appears to find references to himself in the text he's translating, and then seems to find himself the subject of the text itself.

    As regards the non-standard romances, I think the JD stories stood out because they were so different to most of the genre romances being published at that time. Or maybe I'd just been reading a lot of "traditional" series books with the older hero/very young heroine when I came across these.

    But I found a lot of food for thought in your comments about older women in medieval romances. For one thing, (not my area, so correct me if I'm wrong), but wasn't Eleanor of Acquitaine quite important in the development of this genre and the rules of chivalry? Also wasn't there an awful lot of brother/sister incest in medieval literature too? (Although my view could be distorted since I haven't read much more widely than some long-ago reading lists).

    BTW - thank you all for the blog, which I always enjoy reading.

  7. Your and Eric's post had me thinking about Sancho Panza and sidekicks

    Are you thinking of me as Sancho Panza to Eric's Don Quijote? ;-)

    The French romances of chivalry are outside my area of knowledge, really, since I studied 15th century Castile, but I do know that Chrétien de Troyes was at the court of Marie of Champagne, one of Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughters, as was Andreas Capellanus, who also spent time at the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine herself. It's not entirely clear how much/little of Capellanus' De amore is reliable regarding actual practice. For example, Capellanus describes 'courts of love', with aristocratic ladies acting as judges. However there is a fair amount of controversy about this:

    The late-twelfth century treatise De Amore et amoris remedio, by Andreas Capellanus, has been readily viewed as a description of existing 'courts of love'. Although this reading did not originate with Amy Kelly, it was most imaginatively developed by her and has been the target of roundest criticism. Bibliography on Eleanor at ORB

    Marie was certainly a patron of Chrétien de Troyes, who wrote chivalric romances. Here are a few excerpts from Chrétien's Lancelot, dedicated to Marie.

    Elinor herself was 11 years older than her second husband, Henry II of England.

    Re incest, Charlemagne was reputed to have committed incest with his sister, producing Roland, and King Arthur commits incest too, producing Mordred. It does depend which version of the legends one reads, though. Again, it's not a topic I know much about, but I did find a synopsis of a relevant book: Elizabeth Archibald's Incest and the Medieval Imagination.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. I'm enjoying contributing to it.