Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Popular but Ridiculed?

Lately it's been popular and analysed. Conferences coming up include
  • The Southwest/Texas Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's Annual Regional Conference(February 14-17, 2007, Albuquerque, New Mexico). The call for papers on romance is here and, in an updated version, here, and according to the conference's main page the deadline for submissions has been extended to 1 December.
  • Eric Selinger and Darcy Martin will be chairing a session on romance at the National Popular Culture & American Culture Associations 2007 Joint Conference (April 4-7, 2007, in Boston, Massachusetts).
  • And, as mentioned earlier on this blog, there's a Feminism and Popular Culture conference coming up in the UK in June 2007.
If anyone knows of any other conferences at which papers on romance are being encouraged (and on which the calls for papers aren't quite so imminent or already past), please add details in the comments.

It's not that long since Eloisa James 'came out' and revealed that she's both an academic and a romance author (you can listen to her discuss why she made that decision here). In 2003 Dr Lee Tobin McClain wrote that:
Even though popular fiction has become more academically respectable in recent years, focusing on it can still seem hazardous to a professor's career. Studying a genre as devalued as romance is particularly fraught with difficulty, and writing romance has a reputation even below analyzing it.
As we can see, though, at the moment there are plenty of conferences and lots of academic interest in popular culture, including the romance genre, and over at the Romance Wiki there's a list of academics who write romance, including McClain herself (under her pseudonym) and Eloisa James. In her article McClain urges other academics to follow in their footsteps:
if popular fiction is your passion, working with it can be both productive and playful. In fact, popular fiction can provide a useful window into the scholarly world. As a romance-writing academic, I offer the following lessons for those who want to follow this treacherous path.
So perhaps things are slowly improving, but in the meantime some prejudices still linger. Here's a link to a short romance story by Linda Sole (who writes for Mills & Boon as Anne Herries) which touches on the issue. Avril, the heroine of For Those Who Believe is a fan of fantasy fiction and 'It wasn't unusual for friends to mock her about her choice of fiction. Not many of them shared her love of fantasy books and films'. Of course, it might be that her friends have some valid concerns about quite how seriously she believes in the fantasy world. But my sympathies are with Avril, and I think it'll be the same for most of us who know how to suspend our disbelief, so that (for a short time) the world of romance novel feels real.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Elizabeth Bevarly - The Thing About Men

As promised, here's a post about Elizabeth Bevarly's The Thing About Men. There are plenty of reviews of it, including one at Romantic Times, one at AAR, and one by Mrs Giggles. There's an excerpt here.

Ellen Micheletti, the AAR reviewer, comments that:
The theme of the book is the importance of family. Claire's parents died when she was only three, and she was sent to an orphanage. She was never adopted, so she does not want little Anabel to go through what she did. Ramsey Sage left a bad family situation when he was eighteen and has lived a hard life [...]. He's come to realize how important family is, and he wants that for his niece.
It isn't the theme I picked up on the first time I read the book, though Bevarly does say in the dedication that 'this book [...] deals with second families', which just goes to show that different readers can have very different perceptions of the same book. Ellen Michelleti's right, though, and this is an important theme in the novel, though not, I think, the only one. So I'll begin by taking a look at the theme of family and then turn to gender/gender constructs and what the novel has to say about them.

There seem to be two possible interpretations of the word 'family' offered by the narrative, one the biological family, the other the 'second families' that people create for themselves. That said, Bevarly's second family are her aunt's husband and children (her aunt being her mother's 'twin sister, who shared the same DNA'). At times, The Thing About Men acknowledges the ways in which the biological family can fail: Claire herself is an orphan and 'neither of her parents had left behind any relatives suitable for raising her - all had either been too dilapidated, too debilitated, too disinterested, or too dysfunctional. Or worse, all of the above' (2005: 29-30); it is not known who Anabel's biological father was; Claire's friend Olive 'had never had much of a family beyond her invalid - and now deceased - mother' (2005: 7) and Ramsey's family home 'had been a war zone the entire time Ramsey had grown up. [...] He couldn't recall a single day when his parents hadn't fought bitterly about something, unless he counted the days when his parents were too drunk to even get out of bed (2005: 125-126). Another of the characters is a social worker, and his disillusionment and world-weariness is due, at least in part, to 'the things he'd seen people do to their own children' (2005: 166).

We are shown how people can create family networks of their own, mostly made up of people who are not biological relations. Eleanor Sage's attempt at making family (apart from her daughter), involved no personal contact at all, and was based on her being Claire's '#1 fan' (2005: 13). Although she never met Claire, she
had begun writing [to her] nearly three years earlier [...] At first, the young woman's letters had simply proclaimed her love for the program. But eventually, they had begun to contain snippets of Eleanor's personal life, too. Most recently, those snippets had included anecdotes about the birth and ensuing adventures of Eleanor's daughter, now thirteen months old, whom Eleanor had named Anabel Claire Sage, after her deceased grandmother and her favourite celebrity. [...] Claire [...] had been both deeply touched and slightly appalled. [...] the thought that a television personality would hold a higher place in the woman's life than her family or her friends was just a trifle unnerving (2005: 13)
Claire herself has no family, and it is her friend and business partner Olive who gives her support, love and a sense of community. Olive is Claire's 'best friend in the whole, wide world [...] Claire had known her since they had been thrown together as roommates [...] thirteen years before and couldn't imagine how she would get along without her' (2005: 7), 'They had bonded immediately. And they had taken care of each other. Little by little, each had become for the other the family neither had ever had' (2005: 30). Much later Claire says that 'Family is a relative term [...] it takes more to make a family than people swimming in the same gene pool' (2005: 152).

The message about family and the way second families can be created that are non-biological is somewhat mixed however, because at many points in the novel the importance of biological ties is stressed very strongly, for example when Ramsey thinks 'Claire Willoughby could give Anabel lots of things that Ramsey couldn't. But they were unimportant things [...] What Ramsey had to offer his niece went straight to the heart. Anabel belonged with him. They were family. And that was the only thing that really mattered' (2005: 59). Shortly after this Claire thinks that 'a family was the one thing she had always wanted and had never had, and probably never would have [...] she felt like such an outcast from society because she'd never in her life had the very thing that defined the culture in which she'd grown up' (2005: 64-65).

There are plenty of romances in which the heroine is left in charge of a secret baby which she must introduce to its biological father (who usually feels an instant bond with the child, because it shares some of his DNA), or in which the heroine is the mother of a secret baby and the hero, the biological father, coerces her into marriage on the grounds that a baby needs both its biological parents (regardless if, at the time they marry each other, they at best feel tolerance for each other and at worse are in constant conflict). The Thing About Men does not quite have that sort of plot, but it's nonetheless true that Claire, the orphaned heroine, meets the hero because of his biological ties to the baby niece he didn't know he had. When the hero and the baby meet 'Claire could almost hear a zap of connection resonate between uncle and niece' (2005: 124) and finally the hero and heroine marry and form a two-parent family.

On the issue of Anabel's father one can almost sense the tension between the recognition that some biological familes can be disfunctional, even dangerous and the traditional mantra that 'blood is thicker than water':
He wondered briefly about the little girl's father, but decided that if Eleanor hadn't thought the man important enough to include in Anabel's life, then Ramsey probably shouldn't think of him that way, either. [...] Still, the girl's father deserved to know he had a daughter out in the world. Once Ramsey was more accustomed to his new role as her guardian [...] he'd see if he could find Anabel's father. Surely the guy would want to know about his next generation' (2005: 130).
Of course, Ramsey has a vested interest in stressing the importance of biological family, because other than his status as Anabel's uncle, he has little in his favour were it to come to a custody battle. Perhaps Bevarly's final conclusions on the issue of parental love, and what makes a parent, come through when Claire ponders that
even biological parents didn't learn their trade overnight, did they? She'd read enough issues of Parents and Parenting magazines in recent weeks to understand that no matter when or how one became a parent, one had no idea what one was getting oneself into until it was too late. And she'd learned, too, that no matter how chaotic and challenging the child, parents grew to love them unconditionally.
It wasn't too late for Claire and Anabel. (2005: 306)
Bevarly's said very similar things only recently on the Squawk Radio blog. And, of course, husbands and wives usually aren't blood relatives, but they are each other's 'family too' (2005: 333).

But if family (both biological and chosen) is the theme I missed, the one I noticed was one which touches on biological determinism:

This explanation of gender is based on the belief that all differences between men and women result from biology - the 'anatomy is destiny' argument. Biological determinism is often used to support generalisations about men and women, such as 'men are naturally more able in maths and technology' or 'women are naturally suited to domestic duties'.

These views are based on investigations of genetic differences between men and women, often searching for differences in brain function. However, even by the early 1990s, it was clear that the constant finding of psychological research is that 'sex differences are small, their origins unclear, and the variation within each sex far outweighs any differences between the sexes' (Segal 1990:63 as reproduced in Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998:44). (Queensland Government page on 'understanding gender')

The novel deals with stereotypes, prejudices, and judgements made about people on the basis of their appearance and gender, and demonstrates how these may be proved wrong. The very title of the book, The Thing About Men, invites the reader to conclude the sentence with generalisations about men. The back cover copy gives us a few possible ways to do this:
Three Things About Men:
They think dinner comes in a box ...
They never ask for directions ...
They never admit they're wrong.
Comments like that are, of course, sexist. As Wikipedia notes, sexism can be directed against males as well as females (and intersex and transsexual individuals) and 'some of the arguments for biological determinism come from women themselves—especially from what is described as proponents of “essentialist” feminism' (Barnett and Rivers 2005).

As we discussed in my previous post, Bevarly is a feminist, and one whose husband
was the primary caregiver, a stay-at-home dad, until my son entered school. (Though, as said above, we are equal partners in the parenting these days, since we both work now.)

I don’t think there’s a gender divide in who can care for children better. My husband was much more patient and less anxious than I would have been, had our roles been reversed. (from the comments section attached to this post)
In the novel Beverly frequently sets up expectations (not just about gender) and then confounds them. Ellen Michelleti, for example, writes that ' I am not a fan of Martha Stewart, so when I saw that The Thing About Men was about a lifestyle diva, I hoped for a good plot since I knew I would not like the character. Silly me - the characters turned out to be the best thing about the book.'

In the opening scene Claire Willoughby, the heroine, is trying to work out what to do with a live chicken* (she needs it dead, so that she can cook it on her TV show) and
the irony was that the theme of Claire's nationally syndicated - and live - TV show, Simple Pleasures, like the theme of Claire's nationally distributed magazine, also called Simple Pleasures, was "Back to Basics." That was, in fact, pretty much the mission statement of her entire lifestyle business - to promote a return to the simpler ways of simpler times. Ways and times that had included, for example, raising livestock for the purpose of holiday cuisine. (2005: 2-3)
Claire's deception goes deeper than that (though unlike Martha Stewart's, it doesn't involve insider trading (a fact that's alluded to on page 331)). It is really Olive, her friend and business partner who has the ideas behind the show. Claire 'was actually little more than window dressing for the business' (2005: 8). Claire makes a snap judgement about Ramsey: 'it took only one, very quick, perusal of Ramsey Sage for Claire to know everything she needed to know about him. He was completely unfit to be anyone's mother. Or father. Or guardian' (2005: 41). Ramsey's aim is, despite his appearance, to 'convince you that I'm perfectly capable of raising Anabel being the man I am right now' (2005: 114).

Ramsey, unlike Claire, doesn't trust first appearances: 'Never in his life had he seen two more courteous, more refined, better-dressed people. Which naturally made him extremely suspicious' (2005: 51), 'As cultured and refined as she looked [...], he suspected she wasn't born to this lifestyle. Maybe it was because she tried so hard to appear to fit in' (2005: 53). Even so, he makes some mistaken assumptions too, such as 'neither one of them had the first thing in common' (2005: 53).

There are plenty of generalisations about men, for example when Ramsey 'seemed to understand the attorney's actions when she [Claire] didn't. Ah, well. One of those "guy things" she'd read so much about, she supposed. [...] That was the thing about men. They had a language all of their own. Unfortunately, it was about as intelligible to most women as baseball statistics were' (2005: 50-51). Ramsey has similar thoughts about a unique male-only language: 'Bar brawling was a primitive sort of communication, to be sure, but it had been around for a few millenia and was spoken universally by men' (2005: 56). There's more about male communication only a few pages later: 'Some guy thing that Claire couldn't hope to understand because, thankfully, her body produced too much estrogen' (2005: 68) and her further thought is 'testosterone clearly did something to the human brain she didn't want done to hers (2005: 69). Among the 'things about men' is: 'Diplomacy, after all, had kept the world a reasonably peaceful place, in spite of its being ruled by men. Because that was the thing about men. They could be well behaved if they put their minds to it' (2005: 112).

It becomes more and more obvious that Claire doesn't really know that much about men since, as she admits to herself, 'few [humans] had ever tried to get close to her, emotionally or physically. And none had shown any displays of affection' (2005: 236). Similarly, Ramsey doesn't know much about either men or women in normal situations: 'when was the last time Ramsey had actually had a relationship with anyone, of either gender? Not for a long, long time. In fact, he could think of only one real relationship that he'd had in his entire life' (2005: 240). This, and the fact that Claire's generalisations about men become progressively more and more absurd: 'That was the thing about men. They didn't understand chickens any better than they did cats' (2005: 139) or
that was the thing about men. They only heard the things you didn't want them to hear. The important stuff - stuff like, "Just forget you heard me say that" and "It's really no big deal" and "Lots of businesses are run that way" - went in one ear and out the other. But mumble a little negligible something about being a fraud, and boy, they were all over that (2005: 151-152).
raise the possibility that all these generalisations are simply part of the way the characters distance themselves from others, to avoid relating to others as individuals and falling into a real relationship. In addition, that one about what men tend to hear is extremely specific and relates to what Ramsey has just done, so one gets the distinct impression that although Claire's words imply she's talking about all men, in fact, she's just talking about one man: Ramsey. The second-last generalisation, 'that was the thing about men [...] they were so predictable' (2005: 344) is clearly humorous, particularly as only minutes before Ramsey had done something that Claire would never have predicted. The final generalisation is unlike the previous ones in that this time Claire states explictly that really, it's not a generalisation at all - she's only talking about Ramsey: 'Because that was the thing about men. Or, at least, that was the thing about this man. He knew a lot about pleasures.' (2005: 350). In addition to this rejection of the phrase 'the thing about men' for 'the thing about this man', the fact that many of the previous generalisations are made for humorous effect undercuts their sexism. Ultimately Bevarly's position on gender would appear to be encapsulated in Claire's serious response to a question that Ramsey asks her: 'I think people should do whatever they want to do, regardless of their gender or society's expectations of their gender' (2005: 340). Claire and Ramsey's happy ending is only possible because both are able to reject traditional gender roles.
  • Barnett, Rosalind C. and Caryl Rivers, 2005. 'Biology, Destiny, and Bad Science', Dissent Magazine, Summer 2005. [There is a copy of the same article, with a slightly different title, on the Brandeis University website.]
  • Bevarly, Elizabeth, 2005. The Thing About Men (London: HarperCollins). First Avon Books paperback printing, January 2004.

* As far as I can tell, Squawk Radio, the group blog to which Bevarly contributes and which includes pictures of all the Squawkers as hens, began in 2005 (originally at blogspot, though it's now moved to here). Clearly Bevarly had an interest in chickens even in those pre-Squawk days. And - SPOILER ALERT - the chicken survives and Claire takes it to live in her garden.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Romance Genre and Second and Third Wave Feminism

Elizabeth Bevarly posted yesterday about what it was like to be a girl coming of age in America in the 1970s. Particularly relevant to the romance genre was the message she, and many of her peers, received,
that if we wanted to reach our fullest potential, if we wanted to be strong, independent women, we had to do it ALONE. Movies like “An Unmarried Woman” and “My Brilliant Career” (both of which I loved) told us in no uncertain terms that we had to make a choice: Either fall in love and remain personally unfulfilled forever, or live a solitary life and find complete personal satisfaction.
She adds (in a comment attached to the original post) that: 'I’ve identified myself as a feminist since I learned what the word meant. I still consider myself such. But I think that’s the one place where the women’s movement went wrong. They should have told us, “Hey, we’re all equals now, so let’s work together to achieve great things.”'

Jenny Crusie's written about what it was like to grow up in an earlier decade:
I graduated from high school in the sixties. [...] The madness that defined women's lives back then was based on four Big Lies:

1. A woman wasn't a real woman until she was married.
2. A woman had to distort herself and deny her own identity in order to catch a man to marry. (Remember girdles, spike heels, inane laughter, playing dumb, and flunking math?)
3. Any husband was better than no husband.
4. Staying in a bad marriage was better than divorce because God forbid a woman should be unmarried again once she'd finally achieved the goal.
In many ways, the attitude that Elizabeth Bevarly describes was part of the backlash against the assumptions about women and marriage that Crusie describes. So what happened next? Well, I think that's where Third Wave feminism comes in. It's impossible to give a strict definition of Third Wave feminism, just as it's not possible to give a single definition of Second Wave feminism. Each is complex and comes in many different varieties, because as Jane Freedman, in her introduction to feminism makes clear, there is a huge diversity of thought covered by the term ‘feminism’:
as soon as you attempt to analyse all that has been spoken and written in the name of feminism, it becomes clear that this is not one unitary concept, but instead a diverse and multifaceted grouping of ideas, and indeed actions. [...] Any attempt to provide a baseline definition of a common basis of all feminisms may start with the assertion that feminisms concern themselves with women’s inferior position in society and with discrimination encountered by women because of their sex. Furthermore, one could argue that all feminists call for changes in the social, economic, political or cultural order, to reduce and eventually overcome this discrimination against women. Beyond these general assertions, however, it is difficult to come up with any other ‘common ground’ between the different strands of feminism. (2001: 1)
Broadly speaking,
If the First Wave comprised women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and the Second Wave gave us Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Shirley Chisholm, then the Third Wave includes young women who've grown up with the ideas of feminism but who are trying to define what it means for them now.(Baumgardner and Richards)
If you're looking for a quick (and therefore not very nuanced) breakdown of some of the differences between the Second and Third Waves you could look at this article by Alana Wingfoot. Third Wave feminists are often, I think, more concerned with sexism than they are with 'women's rights'. It's not that Third Wavers don't care about the rights gained by the struggles of Second Wave feminists, more that many Third Wavers take them as a given. My own favourite definition of feminism is by bell hooks: ‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression’ (2000: viii). As she makes clear, this includes the sexist stereotypes which tell men what is ‘manly’, just as much as the sexist stereotypes which tell women what they must be and do in order to be considered ‘womanly’. Such stereotypes ignore, or seek to disguise, the huge diversity of interests and abilities among men and women. [In earlier posts I've discussed gender and 'stereotype threat' as well as gender and male authors of romance novels.]

These changes within society and within feminism have affected both the contents of romance novels (many romance novelists, for example, consider themselves feminists) and the way that the romance genre is perceived by academics. As Kay Mussell observed in 1997,
Twenty or so years ago, when academic feminists first became interested in the romance genre, there was wider agreement among feminists themselves on what the feminist agenda should be - and conventional romantic relationships, widely assumed to be discriminatory toward women, were not part of it. Thus romances were seen as threatening to female autonomy. But as feminism has matured - and as feminist scholars have come to recognize a broader range of female experience - some scholars have challenged those earlier notions in productive ways.
Mussell pinpoints unease with and suspicion of 'conventional romantic relationships' as the source of much of the feminist criticism of the romance genre. As I mentioned in an earlier post, many (particularly First and Second Wave) feminists have believed that marriage is inherently patriarchal and oppressive to women, and in the romance genre, the Happy Ever After ending usually involves marriage. However, as I also mentioned in that earlier post, not all feminists believe that marriage and feminism are incompatible and, as one Third Waver says about her wedding:
the second wave of feminism is bedrock to us. Wedding traditions carry the vestiges of male dominance, but they also have beauty and power that I feel entitled to. Two rings are better than none. The white dress signifies new life, not virginity. Sexual commitment enriches our pleasure in each other. We both kept our names. Two glasses broke under two heels at the ceremony's conclusion, claiming our cultural tradition but discarding the asymmetry. We took what we wanted from tradition and left the rest.
The feminist critique wasn't just about the institution of marriage, though, it was also about the power imbalances and gender expectations which shaped heterosexual relationships:
Romantic love as most people understand it in patriarchal culture [...] supported the notion that one could do anything in the name of love: beat people, restrict their movements, even kill them and call it a “crime of passion”, plead “I loved her so much I had to kill her.” Love in patriarchal culture was linked to notions of possession [...] Within patriarchy heterosexist bonds were formed on the basis that women being the gender in touch with caring emotions would give men love, and in return men, being in touch with power and aggression, would provide and protect. Yet in so many cases in heterosexual families men did not respond to care: instead they were tyrants who used their power unjustly to coerce and control. (hooks, 2000: 101)

Romance authors and readers were forcibly confronted with these issues in 1999 when:
The close-knit romance writers' community was devastated by the news of Richards-Akers' murder. It was the third such death by domestic violence among romance writers in the past three years (novelists Pamela Macaluso and Ann Wassall were also shot by their husbands in 1997 and 1996) (Salon, 1999)
When, in 1992, Mary Jo Putney described the appeal of the romance genre, her description contained many of the words which hooks used to criticise heterosexual relationships under patriarchy, and these are aspects of the genre which came under intense scrutiny in the aftermath of Richards-Akers’ murder, as discussed in the Salon article. This, though, is what Putney had to say in 1992:
Often the dark hero is obsessed with the heroine, driven by a primitive passion to possess her in every sense of the word. An aura of potential – and sometimes actual – violence hovers over such books. As Jayne Ann Krentz says, the male protagonist of a romance is often both hero and villain, and the heroine’s task and triumph is to civilize him (1992: 100)
She adds that:
The theme of the man who is “saved by the love of a good woman” is common in both life and romance. In reality savior complexes are dangerous because they encourage women to stay with abusive mates, but that is another story [...]. What matters in a romantic context is that healing the wounded hero is a fantasy of incredible potency. (1992: 101)
Unfortunately not all readers make this distinction between fantasy and reality. One feminist reader of romances wrote that:
I knew from the time I was 11 and got my hands on Victoria Holt's House of a Thousand Lanterns exactly what I wanted in a man: he had to be a rake, but not just any rake-oh no. He had to be a rake ready to settle down, a rake I could reform. He would meet me and all the many women he'd known before would fade into the past as he became swept away by my purity and goodness.

I didn't explicitly understand that romance novels were shaping me, but looking back the pattern is clear. I tried to be pure; I tried really hard. To little avail, but still I tried. And I found the worst men I could possibly find. Gorgeous and horrible, men who treated women like objects or angels of mercy but who never, as I learned only too late, had any intention of reforming.

[...] I could not break free from the stories about gender and romance those novels had embedded in my mind. Even when I knew they were unrealistic and sexist, still they stayed with me, as part of me, shaping who I looked to as attractive and who I looked past as unattractive.
One 2001 study of women in violent relationships, conducted by Dr Julia Wood found that:
People commonly use stories to make sense of their lives, placing themselves within those stories, said Wood: "Some of the images of men and women in these romance novels are entirely consistent with the dynamics of violent relationships."

Even if Prince Charming doesn’t hit, he often shares plenty of characteristics with the real-life man who does, Wood wrote: "Prince Charming is strong, powerful, sure of himself and commanding … control, domination and even violence fit equally well with Prince Charming and the Prince of Darkness. Women who seek to sustain a relationship that is fraught with chaos have available to them culturally legitimated narratives that reconcile what is irreconcilable, make sense of what is not sensible. These narratives … simultaneously license women's oppression."
A recently published book on rape law in Australia compares and contrasts these laws with the situations described in romance novels and, according to one reviewer :
For Larcombe, the critical link between rape scripts in law and romance fiction is the way romance fiction reproduces ‘gender hierarchy and a fiction of vulnerable feminine subjectivity’ (6). Larcombe explores the writing, production, distribution and content of Harlequin Mills and Boon fiction in Australia, arguing that love is the critical element that allows for the modification of ‘the hero’s desires’ the renegotiation of the ‘terms of heterosexual exchange’ (34). Despite responsiveness ‘to readers’ desires and preferences and to changes in women’s social and familial roles’ (138), these fictions continue to represent the negotiation of that heterosexual exchange as ‘the ultimate guarantor of feminine satisfaction’ (138). (Maher 2005)

Clearly there are many, many romance readers who do not find their romance reading problematic in the ways described above, and, in addition, it could be argued that romance has changed significantly over the past few decades. There are huge numbers of romances which do not feature abusive/possessive heroes. It nonetheless seems that some romances do tell stories which justify, or can be used to justify, the oppression of women, and which may be damaging for readers who see these novels as recipes for how to find a successful mate. Perhaps the way the alpha male has become more frequent in paranormal romances, where he not infrequently makes an appearance as a werewolf or vampire will help to signal more clearly the difference between the fantasy and reality.

In my next post I'm planning to take a look at Elizabeth Bevarly's The Thing About Men, to see what it has to tell us about gender and relationships.

  • Freedman, Jane, 2001. Feminism (Buckingham: Open University Press). Sample chapter available as a pdf document here.
  • hooks, bell, 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (Cambridge, MA: South End Press)
  • Maher, JaneMaree, 2005. ‘Scripts of Rape’, review of Wendy Larcombe’s Compelling Engagements: Feminism, Rape Law and Romance Fiction (Sydney: The Federation Press, 2005). Hecate’s Australian Women’s Book Review, 17.2.
  • Putney, Mary Jo, 1992: ‘Welcome to the Dark Side’, in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance, ed. Jayne Ann Krentz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), pp. 99-105.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Laura Guest-blogging at Romancing the Blog

My guest blog is up at Romancing the Blog today, and I've been discussing how different academics have responded to the genre. I hope some of you might pop in there to give your comments, and for anyone who's just come from there and who hasn't been here before, you're very welcome and I hope you'll find it interesting.

Vicki Lewis Thompson - Nerd in Shining Armor

The title of Nerd in Shining Armor is clearly a play on the phrase 'a knight in shining armour' and given that I'd recently written about chivalry, I couldn't resist picking this up. I'm going to have to give a few spoilers, so if you're just looking for a review, you might want to look at AAR's review of the novel, or the one at The Romance Reader, or Mrs Giggles'. There are excerpts here and here and a sort of epilogue to the epilogue here.

Susan Scribner, at TRR describes it as 'a quick, breezy (albeit silly) read', while Blythe Barnhill at AAR comments that 'When Gen talks about her childhood, she manages to touch on every possible stereotype, and I found it all a little hard to believe'. I'm of the opinion that this book is full of deliberate parodies of romance and movie conventions and clichés, as well as of stereotypes about hillbillies and nerds, an opinion which is reinforced by the titles of some of the other novels in Thompson's Nerd series: Nerds Like It Hot (Some Like It Hot); Gone With the Nerd (Gone With the Wind); The Nerd Who Loved Me (The Spy Who Loved Me).

Parody can be hard to pin down, and people do sometimes say or write things which are meant to be parody but which are not recognised as such, and the reverse can also happen. I happen to think that the parody here is deliberate, but without confirmation from the author I can't be certain I'm right. What I'll do is try to demonstrate how a variety of romance conventions are included, only for the reader's expectations to be confounded by parodic reversals, or for the situation to be described in a comic manner.

Our heroine, for example, is in love and thinks that she will be the one to tame the rake (she's a secretary, he's the boss, a common pairing in romance):
Nick might not realize it yet, but he needed her in his life. [...] He was gorgeous, rich, and single. And wounded. Not anywhere you could see, but deep in his soul. [...] Nick was an orphan who'd had a rough childhood, so he didn't trust people (2003: 2)
We also learn that he, like so many romance heroes, has a smell which the heroine finds irresistible: 'that purely sinful, strip-naked-for-me aftershave' (2003: 2). The hero's unique scent is one of the details that romance authors are often advised to include, and Karen Weisner, for example, gives the example of one of her heroine's who 'loves the way the hero smells, so much so that she tries to buy his cologne to wear herself' and Gail Gaymer Martin writes that 'The sense of smell is often captured in the awareness of perfume or after shave'.

He's also described by reference to a movie hero: 'He was the spitting image of Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby' (2003: 4), and that's a technique which is also used not infrequently in romance novels (though it can have its disadvantages). Unfortunately for Gen, though, this selfish, promiscuous man is not going to be changed by the love of a good woman, and he's not the hero of this romance. In fact, he's the villain.

AAR's November 13th At the Back Fence column dealt with obnoxious heroes, and one poster responded by saying that sometimes the main difference between a hero and a villain isn't so much the way they treat the heroine (because some heroes treat the heroine atrociously) but simply that the author has decided that this man is going to be the hero, so the heroine falls in love with him and he has a sudden change of heart and (usually) behaviour towards the end of the novel. Romance readers are also used to the convention that the first eligible man described in a romance is usually the hero. Liz Fielding, for example, says of the hero and heroine that
These are the most important characters in a short romance. The sooner you can introduce them the better. On the first page is good. In the first paragraph is better. In the first line if at all possible. [...] The reader is like a newly hatched chick, programmed to bond with the first likely character she meets. Ensure that it is the hero or heroine.
Because of this convention, readers are primed to recognise the hero, even if he behaves like a villain (this is not the case in Gothic romances, where for much of the book the heroine and the reader remain unsure of the identity of the hero, and may for a long time think that the hero is a villain). Thompson turns the convention on its head, and thus for a time confuses a reader who expects Nick to be the hero.

And here is the nerd-hero:
His eyes were red, his glasses smudged, and his dark hair stood out in sixty-eleven directions. To make matters worse, he'd decked himself out in a sweet-potato-orange plaid shirt and pants the color of a rotten eggplant. Because he was tall, there was a lot of orange plaid and a lot of rotten purple, and all of it was wrinkled (2003: 5).
He has a habit of thinking up computing-related metaphors, for example Jack's thoughts about Gen's eyes sound just a little like a geek version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, in which Shakespeare rejects the clichéd descriptions of female beauty. Where Shakespeare says that 'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than her lips' red', Jack describes Gen's eyes as 'that blue-green color that reminded him of a tropical lagoon picture he'd used once as a screen saver. He'd loved the color of the water in that screen saver.' (2003: 68). Clearly Jack doesn't mean this to be satirical, but I wonder if a description such as this is gently poking fun at the descriptions of other romance heroine's eyes.

Jack never stops being a nerd, but during their adventure his outer appearance is transformed:
"You do have manly sex appeal, Jackson." She seemed quite amazed by the discovery. [...] I would never have thought so, but with your beard, and-"
"It was rough on your face. I'm sorry about that."
"The beard made all the difference. When you kissed me I felt like a maiden captured by a pirate, a maiden who had been flung down on the sand and ... well, you know what I mean."
"Ravished?" (2003: 72)
Pirates are, of course, the swashbuckling heroes of many classic movies and romances. And Thompson even manages to fit in a pretend forced seduction. Jack
lifted her over his shoulder [...] She struggled and kicked, but she was careful not to kick him anywhere that she'd do damage. The more she struggled and wiggled against him, the more she liked his idea. But she didn't want him to know that yet. [...]
"You're going to force me to have sex with you?" [...]
"It won't be forced and you know it."
He had a point. "Then could we ... pretend it's forced?"
His laugh was breathless. "Sure. One ravishing coming up."(2003: 206)
As Candy at The Smart Bitches says, rape and forced seduction has long been a staple of the romance genre, and the original romance genre rapes and forced seductions were not humorous:
Rapist heroes are not nearly as common as they used to be. Between 1972 and about 1988, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a rapist hero in the face. Starting in about the mid-80s, though, the tides started turning, and by the mid-90s, rapist heroes were mostly a thing of the past, although forced seductions still popped their heads up here and there. (There are readers who maintain there’s no difference between forced seduction and rape, of course.)
Thompson's example, with Jack cast as the pirate seducer but with an entirely willing 'victim' playfully subverts these romance conventions.

The actions of the villain involve at least 2 movie-villain clichés, though Thompson makes them more plausible than usual by making the villain worried about leaving bullets in the bodies and/or not having anywhere to dispose of them:
  • The bad guy, having finally gotten the good guy into his clutches, will usually spend a few meglomaniac minutes gloating over his victory and his opponent's downfall. This increment of time will prove just enough to allow the good guy to figure a way out of his predicament, or just long enough to allow a rescue attempt.
  • The bad guy, instead of simply offing the captured good guy on the spot, will devise some sort of drawn-out, fiendishly clever method of execution that will take enough time to allow the good guy to figure out his escape.
  • I wonder also if the situation the two find themselves in is intended to recall faintly that of Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe manages to rescue some supplies, and so does Jack, though in this case the supplies include condoms and a curling iron rather than the more practical tools salvaged by Crusoe. One might also wonder, in this context, whether Gen, with her knowledge of how to survive in the outdoors, is the female equivalent of Crusoe's Man Friday, and the references to filmstars from the 1940s (see below) perhaps reinforce the possibility that Gen is being cast as Jack's Girl Friday.

    For all that this is a light-hearted romance, there is a serious theme in here, about not judging people on appearances alone. Gen eventually says of Jack 'You're ... you're real, Jack. [...] So many people in this world look like they came right off the assembly line some people factory. They wear what everybody else wears and they talk like everybody else talks." Like she'd been trying to do herself.' (2003: 215). He certainly isn't the usual type of romance hero. Jack also comments on appearances, though, being a nerd, he uses a metaphor from computing: 'relationships were so damned complicated. With computers it was strictly WYSIWYG, What You See Is What You Get, and he loved that. With women you could never tell. Like Genevieve - a perfect example [...] Genevieve had always reminded him of a movie star from the forties - Katharine Hepburn, maybe, or Lauren Bacall' (2003: 15). Jack's exactly right, but this appearance did not come naturally to Gen, whose mother had 'learned everything she knew about manners and fashion from watching Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Ingrid Bergman. She'd done her best to teach those things to Genevieve' (2003: 14). I'm assuming that the repetition of these names is deliberate, as they occur on adjacent pages and emphasise the extent to which Gen's 'look' has been carefully created. It also takes an effort to maintain, and 'the deeper they got into this mess [the adventure they end up on], the more she was reverting to the little hillbilly she once was' (2003: 65). Jack is a nerd, but his problems with colour-coordination are due to him being colour blind, and underneath them he's got an impressive body and a loving heart. And as for the glasses? Well, Gen has a pair too, she just doesn't wear them, because glasses 'made her look like too much of a nerd' (2003: 30).

    If you've read this book, did you think it was spoofing romance genre conventions? If you haven't, do you think that there are some romance clichés which are ripe for parody?
    • Thompson, Vicki Lewis, 2003. Nerd in Shining Armor (New York: Bantam Dell).

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Feminism and Popular Culture Conference

    The Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK & Ireland) 20th Annual Conference, to be held at the University of Newcastle (June 29th-July 1st, 2007), will have as its theme feminism and popular culture.

    Among the suggested possible topics are 'Rereading the Romance', 'Romantic Comedy' and 'Genre Fiction'. The deadline for proposals for papers and panels is 1 December 2006 (more details here).

    It looks as though some of us on the RomanceScholar listserv may be able to attend, and I thought I'd post a note here too, to notify others who are not on the listserv. I'm still busy trying to think of a possible angle to take on the topic of the romance genre and feminism (though I have a few ideas).

    There are plenty of scholars of the romance genre who think it's feminist. Kay Mussell certainly thinks so:
    I don't know how you can read many romances today as anything but feminist. To take just one issue: Heroes and heroines meet each other on a much more equal playing field. Heroes don't always dominate and heroines are frequently right. Heroines have expertise and aren't afraid to show it. Heroes aren't the fount of all wisdom and they actually have things to learn from heroines. This is true of both contemporary and historical romances. I'm not trying to argue that all romances before the 1990s featured unequal relationships or that all romances today are based on equality. That's clearly not the case. But in general heroines today have a lot more independence and authority than their counterparts did in earlier romances. I think that's clear evidence of the influence of feminism on romances and of the ability of romance novels to address contemporary concerns that women share.
    There are also plenty of romance authors who would consider themselves to be feminists, prominent among whom is Jennifer Crusie, who writes that:
    If romance novels are a guilty pleasure, then romantic comedies are the designer chocolates of literature, rich, fun and seemingly without nutritional value. But underneath that sugar coating is one of the most feminist forms of literature ever devised. Jane Austen knew it two hundred years ago and writers like Susan Elizabeth Phillips know it today: romantic comedy empowers women and makes their world a better place.(Crusie: Romantic Comedy)
    She does qualify this somewhat elsewhere, noting that 'not all romance novels are feminist' (Crusie: You Go, Romance Writer). [For an interesting short discussion of romance and feminism, see this blog post which includes a link to a discussion specifically on Crusie, Bet Me and feminism).

    What do you think? Are all romances feminist? Or are only some of them feminist? And what sort of feminism are we measuring the novels against anyway? Do you want them to be feminist or would you rather they weren't? One of the arguments against romance being feminist is that it's heterosexist (though there are some gay and lesbian romances) and suggests that what women need is marriage. But is this actually true? Does the genre tell readers that all women will find their ultimate fulfillment in a monogamous romantic relationship, or does it simply focus on those who do, leaving open the possibility that other women (whose stories might be told in other types of book, including women's fiction and chick lit) may not want it?

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Carola Dunn - Crossed Quills

    There's a review of Carola Dunn's Crossed Quills at The Romance Reader, where the reviewer concludes that this is a 'refreshing, intelligent Regency featuring two characters who are perfectly matched. This one is a delight, and comes with a strong recommendation'. So, as usual, I'm not going to write a review. What I want to focus on is the fact that this is a metaromance, and one which includes considerable detail about the politics of Regency England.

    We've already discussed politics in contemporary set romances, and the conclusion we'd reached was that politics is more likely to appear in a historical, but that this does not mean that there aren't any parallels to be drawn between contemporary and historical politics. The historical context does, however, provide a certain distance, so that even if the characters are members of a particular political party or political movement, the author cannot be accused of engaging directly in contemporary party politics. We've also had a look at historicals and wallpaper historicals.

    I've recently been noticing how many authors of historical romances post information about their historical research on their websites and blogs. Claire Thornton, for example, has a section on black people in 18th-century England, Kalen Hughes offers some interesting insights into wearing a corset, while Loretta Chase writes about the practical reasons why a Regency dairy might have had tiled walls and marble floors, and Cheryl St. John gives some background on the Harvey Girls. I'm sure the authors of historical romances must have to leave out vast amounts of information that they've researched, and it's nice that they can now share it with readers online.

    Crossed Quills is not a novel in which hefty chunks of undigested historical background have been dropped clumsily into the characters' discussions. It's quite possible to read the novel, enjoy it for the storyline and pay only cursory attention to the political and historical background. That's just as well, because I'm sure the reviewer wouldn't be describing it as a 'delight' had it read like a history textbook. Nonetheless, the historical background is interesting and somewhat unusual.

    There is a strong yet somewhat forgotten tradition of radical politics in the UK. The Guardian recently 'asked readers to tell us which neglected radical event from British history most deserved a proper monument' and you can read about the result and various of the nominees here. As Pam Rosenthal discovered when she began to research the politics of 'Our cherished, charming, civilized Regency' period, it most certainly wasn't all charm, politeness, glittering ballrooms and dashing aristocratic spies.

    In Crossed Quills the heroine is a writer of political articles, written under the pen-name 'Prometheus'. The hero considers them 'brilliant [...] well-reasoned yet pithy, both incisive and persuasive. Whereas Cobbett's language is far too incendiary to be taken seriously by anyone but rabble-rousers and the starving masses' (1998: 5). William Cobbett
    was not afraid to criticise the government in the Political Register [the newspaper he founded] and in 1809 he attacked the use of German troops to put down a mutiny in Ely. Cobbett was tried and convicted for sedition and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Newgate Prison. When Cobbett was released he continued his campaign against newspaper taxes and government attempts to prevent free speech.

    By 1815 the tax on newspapers had reached 4d. a copy. As few people could afford to pay 6d. or 7d. for a newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes. Cobbett was only able to sell just over a thousand copies a week. The following year Cobbett began publishing the Political Register as a pamphlet. Cobbett now sold the Political Register for only 2d. and it soon had a circulation of 40,000.

    Cobbett's journal was the main newspaper read by the working class. This made Cobbett a dangerous man and in 1817 he heard that the government planned to have him arrested for sedition. Unwilling to spend another period in prison, Cobbett fled to the United States,
    This escape is referred to in Crossed Quills (1998: 75). Cobbett soon returned to England and continued writing for the Political Register and 'in 1832 [...] after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act Cobbett was able to win the parliamentary seat of Oldham'. Dunn makes reference to the price of the Political Register when Wynn, who has been reading Prometheus' article in this newspaper, 'picked up the Register again, the shilling edition. He no longer had to be satisfied with the twopenny pamphlet edition, reduced in size from the newspaper to avoid the stamp tax which put it beyond the reach of the poor' (1998: 5). Even in his previous state, before he ascended to the viscountcy, Wynn was, as he acknowledges, still considerably better off than the majority of the population:
    he and his family had never been without food or clothes or a roof over their heads. They had even scraped up enough to give his eldest sister a Season on the fringes of Society. In spite of gowns turned, made over, and retrimmed, Albinina had married well, into an ancient if untitled family.
    In fact, they had fared splendidly compared to a large proportion of Britain's people, workless and hungry since the end of the war. (1998: 6)
    This was a time of economic and social unrest:
    whilst the laurels were yet cool on the brows of our victorious soldiers on their second occupation of Paris, the elements of convulsion were at work amongst the masses of our labouring population; and that a series of disturbances commenced with the introduction of the Corn Bill in 1815, and continued, with short intervals, until the close of 1816. In London and Westminster riots ensued, and were continued for several days, whilst the bill was discussed; at Bridport, there were riots on account of the high price of bread; at Biddeford there were similar disturbances to prevent the expiration of grain; at Bury, by the unemployed, to destroy machinery; at Ely, not suppressed without bloodshed; at Newcastle-on-Tyne, by colliers and others; at Glasgow, where blood was shed, on account of the soup kitchens; at Preston, by unemployed weavers; at Nottingham, by Luddites, who destroyed thirty frames; at Merthyr Tydville, on a reduction of wages; at Birmingham, by the unemployed; at Walsall, by the distressed; and December 7th, 1816, at Dundee, where owing to the high price of meal, upwards of one hundred shops were plundered. (from Sam Bamford's autobiography, Passages in the Life of a Radical [which] was published in parts between 1839 and 1841)
    As Chubby, Wynn's friend, comments, there were 'universal suffrage petitions and Prinny getting shot at in the Mall. That happened only last week, the twenty-eighth of January [1817]' (1998: 7).

    In addition to the politics, Crossed Quills has, as mentioned, a metafictional aspect, since both the heroine, Pippa and the hero, Wynn are authors and each admires the other's works. Each, for differing reasons, fears discovery and writes under a pseudonym. The politics and the effects of being an author of particular kinds of work are intertwined with the love story, and even there, the metafictional aspect of the novel can be felt, for Dunn has created a hero and heroine who are not paragons of beauty. Wynn's first opinion of Pippa's looks is that she's 'no antidote. When animated, her face is quite fetching if rather pale [...] but she would not do as the heroine of a romance, you know' (1998: 30). Wynn, Lord Selworth has 'flyaway flaxen hair' (1998: 12) which, when he runs his hand through it bears a 'likeness to an ill-made hayrick' (1998: 19), is 'slim, and not much above middling height' (1998: 12) although in the heroine's opinion while he's 'not precisely handsome, at close quarters his lordship's smile was simply devastating' (1998: 13).

    The metafictional aspect of the novel is introduced almost as soon as the political, when Wynn declares that
    the style I developed to write those wretched Gothic romances is [...] unsuitable for a maiden speech to the House of Lords [...]. Somehow I just can't seem to keep out the melodrama and bombast.
    "Seems to me," said Chubby judiciously, "you were a devilish sight happier writing your romances than you have been since your great-uncle popped off and made you Viscount Selworth." (1998: 6)
    Wynn has written under the pseudonym of 'Valentine Dred' and fears that 'public exposure would blight my political career, if not wither it entirely. [...] I should not be taken seriously.' (1998: 141). Pippa is a reader and admirer of his novels: 'She liked Valentine Dred's novels because there was always an undertone of amusement beneath the horrors of headless horsemen and mad monks. One smiled even as one shuddered' (1998: 78-79). Pippa, not knowing Wynn's secret, but thinking there's a similarity between Wynn's writing style and Dred's, observes that 'a serious aspiring politician was bound to be distressed if informed that his style resembled that of a writer of racy fiction' (1998: 79). This is perhaps rather topical in the light of the way fiction made its way into the recent US elections. In the Virginia senate race
    Mr. Allen has spent months disparaging Mr. Webb as a writer of fiction, as if a novelist's experience is any more divorced from everyday reality than the life of a U.S. senator. His campaign suggests that because some female characters in Mr. Webb's books are portrayed as sleazy or servile Mr. Webb must himself see women in that light. (Washington Post, 1 November 2006)
    and in the campaign to become Texas' Comptroller of Public Accounts, Susan Combs, who had written a romance novel, 'was accused by her opponent, Fred Head, of writing pornographic novels, based on excerpts he published online from her novel, A Perfect Match' (Romance Wiki). As it happens, both authors won the elections and Wynn has perhaps rather less cause for concern than he imagines, but nonetheless, the fact that a writer's fiction can be used against them, even nowadays, suggests that Wynn's caution is far from unjustified. A politician and novelist active in a period very much closer to Wynn's is Benjamin Disraeli, who was a Tory, but one very interested in social reform: 'Social reforms passed by the Disraeli government included: the Artisans Dwellings Act (1875), the Public Health Act (1875), the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1875), the Climbing Boys Act (1875), the Education Act (1876)'. The Climbing Boys Act is, in fact, referred to in a Historical Note at the end of Crossed Quills.

    Pippa is the author of political articles but she cannot let her gender become known since
    Cobbett could not afford to go on publishing articles the world did not take seriously. How much influence would they exert if it became known that the author was a mere female?
    And a youthful female, at that! (1998: 16)
    Pippa's fears seem well-founded, since in this period women (along with very many other sectors of the population) did not have the vote. At a performance of The Merchant of Venice Pippa muses that 'Jews ought to have the vote, she thought, as well as Catholics, Nonconformists, and the property-less massses. Not to mention women. [...] Shakespeare had recognized the talents of women. Pippa was not unique in her abilities, merely rare in being encouraged to develop them' (1998: 130).
    In Great Britain woman suffrage was first advocated by Mary Wollstonecraft in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and was demanded by the Chartist movement of the 1840s. The demand for woman suffrage was increasingly taken up by prominent liberal intellectuals in England from the 1850s on, notably by John Stuart Mill and his wife, Harriet.
    even when women did finally receive the franchise, it was restricted to older women, not those of Pippa's age:
    The need for the enfranchisement of women was finally recognized by most members of Parliament from all three major parties, and the resulting Representation of the People Act was passed by the House of Commons in June 1917 and by the House of Lords in February 1918. Under this act, all women age 30 or over received the complete franchise. An act to enable women to sit in the House of Commons was enacted shortly afterward. In 1928 the voting age for women was lowered to 21 to place women voters on an equal footing with male voters.(both quotations from the Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    Wollstonecraft was, like Pippa, a radical and she
    attacked the educational restrictions that kept women in a state of "ignorance and slavish dependence." She was especially critical of a society that encouraged women to be "docile and attentive to their looks to the exclusion of all else." Wollstonecraft described marriage as "legal prostitution" and added that women "may be convenient slaves, but slavery will have its constant effect, degrading the master and the abject dependent."
    The ideas in Wollstonecraft's book were truly revolutionary and caused tremendous controversy. One critic described Wollstonecraft as a "hyena in petticoats".
    Dr Samuel Johnson's somewhat similar view of eloquent women is quoted in Crossed Quills itself: 'A woman preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well: but you are surprised to find it done at all.' (1998: 23). Given this background, one can understand Pippa's concerns about maintaining her identity a secret.
    • Dunn, Carola, 1998. Crossed Quills (New York: Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing Corp.).

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Primary Texts, Long Tails and Electronic Solutions

    I've got a long post planned about politics in a particular historical romance, but I thought I'd wait a bit longer before posting it, since many of you will either be fed up hearing about current U.S. politics, or will still be glued to analysis of the results. We've had quite a lot of coverage of them here in the UK, and I'm sure there's interest in them all around the world. In previous years we heard a lot about pregnant, dimpled and hanging chads, as well as about irregularities concerning the electronic voting machines. Clearly electronic voting has both advantages and disadvantages.

    Today, prompted by an item in the Dallas Morning News, Maya Reynolds was posting about e-books in classrooms, and she discussed their advantages and disadvantages. It seems unlikely that these students would be studying romance novels. Even at university level 'there are very few enlightened institutions of higher learning where romances are making up many of coursepacks', as Isabel Swift, Harlequin's VP, Author & Asset Development has observed.

    One problem facing scholars who wish to study and teach romance is availability (or rather non-availability) of texts. While it may be possible for an individual to find second-hand copies on ebay, at Amazon or in second-hand book shops, they're not the most dependable sources if one wants to buy large quantities of primary texts. University libraries don't tend to have extensive collections of romance novels (I'd imagine that many university libraries have no mass-market romances at all), although there are a few exceptions, such as The Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University, which
    holds a wide range of romance materials from novels to valentines. The collection includes more than 10,000 volumes of category romance series from publishers such as Harlequin, Silhouette, Loveswept, Candlelight Ecstasy, and others. The holdings also include a sizable collection of mass-market romance novels, including Georgian, regency, gothic, contemporary and historicals. Leading novelists like Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Eden, Faith Baldwin, Barbara Cartland, Janet Dailey and Jayne Ann Krentz, among others, are represented in the collection. (more details here)
    and the University of Melbourne:
    The Romance Fiction Collections is a comprehensive collection of paper-back fiction by Australian and New Zealand, as well as British and American romance novelists; published from the 1960s up until the present, by publishers such as Mills and Boon, Silhouette and the Women’s Weekly Library. (more details here)
    A significant problem for romance scholarship, then, is availability of primary texts, and not just in university libraries, but in the quantities needed if the novels are to be bought and read by large groups of students. As Juliet Flesch has noted,
    These days, romance novels are published with all the appurtenances of normal books: they have title-pages, printing histories, ISBNs and copyright statements. They have, however, a remarkably short shelf-life. Harlequin Enterprises, for example, keep a backlist of three months. After that, unless they are reprinted in a “classic” edition, the books are out of print. (Flesch 1997: 119)
    While single-title romances may remain available in the bookshops somewhat longer, availability, particularly for non-current titles written by some of the less famous authors, or even for the earlier works of now-famous romance authors, can be problematic. And if an academic wishes to have students study a category romance, he or she is going to have to work fast to find the book, read it, analyse it, decide it's worth teaching and make sure that the students buy sufficient copies of it, all before the book is replaced by next month's batch of category romances.

    There's been a lot of talk about the 'long tail' (see here, for example), whereby a book continues to be sold and read long after its publication date:
    [Chris] Anderson [who coined the term] argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Examples of such mega-stores include the online retailer and the online video rental service Netflix. The Long Tail is a potential market and, as the examples illustrate, the distribution and sales channel opportunities created by the Internet often enable businesses to tap into that market successfully. (Wikipedia)
    There are two ways in which this relates to the romance genre. The first is due the rise of the e-book. Many romances are now being published or republished as e-books (though there are still problems with standardising formats and hardware). The second is the creation of the Espresso Book Machine:
    which can print black-and-white text for a 300-page paperback with a four-color cover, and bind it together in three minutes. [...] "Our goal is to preserve the economic and ergonomic simplicity of the physical book," said Epstein, who laments the disappearance of backlist and ready access to books in other languages. By printing from digital files, ODB hopes to make warehousing—and much of today's distribution model—obsolete. "In theory," said Epstein, "every book printed will be digitized, which means the market will be radically decentralized. A bookstore with this technology, without any expense to themselves [other than the machine] can increase their footprint." [...] While the Espresso Book Machine can print original manuscripts [...], the ODB team has a more ambitious goal: they want stores and libraries to use the machine to print copies of slow-selling titles or books that have temporarily gone out of stock, as well as rare books. (Publishers Weekly)
    I hope these new technologies will prove to be the perfect partners for the serious, detailed, in-depth academic study and teaching of individual modern romance novels.
    • Flesch, Juliet, 1997. ‘Not just housewives and old maids’, Collection Building, 16.3: 119-124.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Compare and Contrast

    Paperback Writer's challenge to authors to write a free online short story/e-book has produced 'one of the largest collections of free e-books by a group of writers as diverse as we are, so there is probably something here for every type of reader'. As it happens, none of them were in the romance sub-genres I tend to read, and while I don't think I'd choose to read any of these sub-genres again, reading these short stories/novellas did give me a tiny bit more insight into those sub-genres (though obviously I wouldn't make assumptions about the quality/themes etc of a whole sub-genre on the basis of just a few short examples).

    Not all the stories are romances, but some are, and the variety certainly produces some interesting juxtapositions. For example, we have Sandra Barret's contemporary American-set lesbian romance short story One on One alongside Rachel Brown's contemporary Australian-set Christian Inspirational romance Pelican Point.

    There were actually a lot of similarities. Both writers have other short stories available on their websites, for one thing, and both of these stories make reference to religion (though Barret's heroine is a Catholic, and Brown's a Protestant), and depict characters who struggle to do the right thing. What really struck me, though, was how both of the heroines assume their dating choices are limited, and that it's unlikely they'll find the right partner in their current setting. In Pelican Point Claire muses that
    her feet were too firmly planted on the ground to expect that anyone she met outside of her church circles would be likely to share her strong commitment to God. And as far as she was concerned, it was entirely irrelevant how attractive any man was if he wasn't a Christian. (Chapter 1)
    and later Cameron admires how 'she boldly owned her Christian faith' (Chapter 4) rather than hiding it. Claire herself says that 'my belief in God is the most important part of my life, and it affects everything I do and say, so it's much easier if you're aware of that right from the beginning' (Chapter 1).

    I'm not sure whether committed Christians have more limited dating options than lesbians do, or whether they face more prejudice from others about their faith than lesbians do about their sexuality. And one would perhaps have to assume that Claire, who tells a suicidal man that if he goes ahead he'll end up in Hell (Chapter 11), would offer similar advice to the lesbian heroine of Barrett's story. Nonetheless their feelings, in the case of one heroine about her religion, and in the other about her sexuality, make them hesitant, uncertain that they will be accepted for who they are. It seems to me that this is perhaps much rarer in other romances, where, although the characters may worry that they're not beautiful or rich enough, or that they lack some other quality (such as social status) these aren't such fundamental aspects of who the characters are, compared to one's faith or sexuality. Appearances can be changed - and there are plenty of heroines who, with a quick makeover, are rendered stunning. Both of these romances are about heroines who know that there is something about them which is non-negotiable, essential to who they are, and which any potential partner must not just accept, but also fully share, in order for the relationship to work.

    Another of the short stories was Selah March's Dark of the Day, which is described as an 'Erotic Paranormal Romance'. What I found interesting was that this story dealt with suicide, one of the secondary issues in Pelican Point, but instead of the would-be-suicide being dissuaded by a discussion about God, Hell, fire and brimstone.... well, I'll let you read it. But it's interesting that both stories are very spiritual in their own way, both argue against suicide, and yet the methods of persuasion, the individuals doing the persuading and the theology behind the stories are very, very different. I wonder how many paranormal romances are, in fact, erotic Inspirational romances, just not Christian inspirational romances? Is New Age spirituality perhaps having an effect on the types of spirituality depicted in romance?

    A theme that was at the heart of all of these romances was the characters' feelings about their own lovability. As Jenny Crusie has said:
    Romance fiction is the most popular, elastic, exciting, and creative genre in publishing today, but it's also the hardest kind of fiction to write. All you have to do is convince the modern, jaded, ironic reader that your heroine and hero have not only fallen in love and surmounted all the barriers in their path, but that their love is unconditional and will last throughout time. (Crusie: Emotionally Speaking)
    Believing that finding unconditional love is even possible for them is something that many of these lovers find a struggle. They don't believe that someone could love them despite certain aspects of their personalities, the truth about their pasts and/or their less-than-perfect bodies. In the erotic romances acceptance of, and enthusiastic participation in, the other's fantasies is an indication not just of sexual broadmindedness and physical compatibility, but of emotional connection and trust. In Charlene Teglia's short erotic vampire romance Night Rhythm, for example, the heroine thinks that:
    it hadn't been a purely sexual fantasy. She'd felt like there was a bond between them, a connection that went far beyond the physical. She'd felt happy. Secure. Loved. She'd felt confident and relaxed, as if she could trust Valentine with anything, and that level of trust had led to the freedom to enjoy the physical without any reservations. [...] What man had she ever trusted enough to play kinky games with instead of sticking to basics?

    While Pelican Point is extremely chaste (kisses only) and Amie Stuart's erotic romance The Big Girl's Guide to Buying Lingerie is not, the issue of acceptance and trust is of central importance to both. In Pelican Point the heroine has a very difficult relationship with her father, whose personality was not unlike the hero's father (now deceased) in TBGGTBL and the family background of the hero in Pelican Point reminds me somewhat of that of the heroine in TBGGTBL. The heroine of TBGGTBL thinks she's too fat, and the hero of Pelican Point thinks he's too disabled to find love. And of course, despite the obstacles that these secrets and worries place in the path, true love triumphs in the end. As Jade, the heroine of TBGGTBL says, 'Love isn’t about control, or making someone into what you want them to be, but about appreciating them for who and what they are' (297).

    Despite the variety of sub-genres, then, it's clear that these romances have a lot in common beyond the focus on the romantic relationship and the happy endings. Whatever the sub-genre, romances seek to make sense of many of life's most challenging problems, particularly the doubts and fears that stop individuals finding true emotional intimacy.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Black and White

    Some people like to see things in black and white. It's simpler that way. But, as Benjamin Zephaniah's poem 'White Comedy' demonstrates, these colours have particular connotations:
    I waz whitemailed
    By a white witch,
    Wid white magic
    An white lies,
    Branded by a white sheep
    Lived off the white economy.
    Caught and beaten by de whiteshirts
    I waz condemned to a white mass,
    Don't worry,
    I shall be writing to de Black House.
    Zephaniah's reversal of black and white in this poem reveals the extent to which, in English, the colour white has, both in the past and in the present, been associated with goodness and cleanliness (cleanliness being next to godliness), while black has often been associated with evil and dirt. The continued acceptance of these connotations is demonstrated by the following quotations from a webpage about a software programme to be used to create colour schemes:
    White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection. White means safety, purity, and cleanliness. As opposed to black, white usually has a positive connotation. [...] In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness because it's the color of snow.
    Black, on the other hand, has dangerous, sinister connotations, it
    is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor,'black death').
    In the romance genre whiteness (blonde hair, or the redhead with very pale skin) has often been associated with beauty and purity. In E. M. Hull's The Sheik, for example, the heroine, Diana Mayo (whose name is that of the virgin goddess of the hunt), has a 'thick crop of loose, red-gold curls' (page 3 of the Project Gutenberg edition). Even today 'The majority [of heroines in sheik romances] are slender, with long fair hair' (Sheikhs and Desert Love), though there are exceptions, such as Brenda Jackson's Delaney's Desert Sheikh, in which the heroine is African-American.

    Dandridge notes of the post-1989 historical romances written by African-American authors that they challenge the convention which so frequently links the heroine's beauty to her pallor:
    The new image is that of the dark-hued heroine who triumphs. This figure revises the mulatta stereotype dominant in early African American historical romances and descended from the tradition of the blond, fair lady populating the traditional genre. In the later works, the dark-skinned heroine is a masculinized or toughened character, whereas her light-complexioned counterpart is too often perceived in black male and female fiction as too weak to effect societal change. [...] Dispensing with weak, light-complexioned heroines, post-1989 black writers of historical romances give victory to strong black women darker than mulattas. These narratives celebrate black women's victories in the tradition of black women pioneers who paved the freedom path. (2004: 4-5)
    The associations between the features of the white heroine and beauty would, however, seem to persist in some of the Carribbean romances analysed by Morgan:
    In some of the texts [...] curious permutations remain. Whereas the dark-skinned hero dovetails neatly with the bronzed Caucasian hero of the traditional formulaic romance, the requirements for female beauty are far more stringent, leading to peculiar formulations. [...] Charles's heroine may be brown of skin, yet her face, which is "a legacy from her Spanish ancestors, was that of a Renaissance painting of the Madonna" [...]. In this case, the darkness is, in a literal sense, no more than skin deep; every other feature remains Caucasian in ancestry and in construction. (2003: 808)*
    Dandridge and Morgan's observations about the skin tones of African-American heroines reveal that skin colour remains an important issue, not just for 'white' people, but also for African Americans themselves. Monica Jackson's contemporary paranormal romance Mr. Right Now opens with the quotation 'I am black, but comely...' from the Song of Songs, thus affirming that black is beautiful. Later one of the characters asks 'Is he light or dark-skinned?” [...] Danni wasn't asking if he were white or black, she was asking about skin tone.' This isn't generally a question that would be asked about a white person perhaps because, as Kathry Perry observes, 'Gradations of shade in the skin colour of white people [...] carry little of the corresponding significance that slavery attached to the range of colour in black people' (1995: 176). In a short online novella, The Choice, also by Monica Jackson, Evelyn, the heroine, has very noticeably darker skin than her sisters:
    Deb was beautiful, trim and small with smooth skin that looked like honey and long black relaxed hair hanging over her shoulders and down her back. Deb favored her other two younger sisters and her mother’s sister, Aunt Jean. Not for the first time did Evelyn wonder why she’d gotten such a different set of numbers in the gene lottery, with her stocky body, dark skin and short, kinky hair. [...]

    Her body was sturdy and plump, not willowy with feminine curves like her sisters. Her skin was the color of Hershey’s chocolate, her features distinctly African. Brothers who would turn all the way around when one of her sisters passed wouldn’t give her a second glance on the street.
    Of course, this isn't just about aesthetics and which colours or types of physical characteristics are more pleasing to the eye. Colour is usually interpreted as an indication of racial origin and Evelyn's appearance, for example, is described as being considered less beautiful not just because her skin is darker but because it, her hair, her body-shape and features are 'distinctly African'. Steig, writing about 'Indian romances' (i.e. romances set in India and written by British authors during the period 1890-1930) notes that:
    All authors of Indian Romances during this period were firmly committed to the notion that the two groups [Indians and British] were different in fundamental ways and should remain separate. They would have agreed with the mother of two girls in a Fanny Penny novel that “there was very little romance when it was a question of color.” [...] Indian Romances were clearly on the heredity side of the heredity vs. environment debate. The theme “blood will tell” recurs again and again. (Stieg 1985: 7)
    Stieg adds that
    When sex between English and Indians rears its ugly head, Indian Romances become almost-if not actually-hysterical. The credo of the Romance was “that nature itself has built a wall between East and West” and any interracial connection violated that natural law. There is more than an implication that Indians commonly engaged in deviant forms of sexual activity to intensify the reaction. (1985: 8)
    Teo adds that in these romances 'If interracial love was to be contemplated, it could not be between an Indian man and an English woman, only between an English man and a high-caste Indian woman' (2004).

    In the context of this sort of attitude, where genetics is thought to inexorably shape a character's personality, a novel such as Julia Collins' 1865 The Curse of Caste with 'its dominant themes of interracial romance, hidden African ancestry, and ambiguous racial identity' can be read as a challenge to simplistic, racist divisions between black and white, good and bad. On the other hand, as implied in Dandridge's comments about the very dark-skinned heroines of the recent historical romances, the mixed-race and paler-skinned heroine might be taken as an indication of capitulation to white aesthetic and cultural values. This ambiguity of interpretation exists in many other texts which deal with race. Is the marriage of Shylock's daughter to a Christian in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice a triumph of inter-racial harmony, understanding and tolerance, or is it a way of destroying Shylock by denying him the possibility of having fully Jewish grandchildren who are aware of, and proud of, their Jewish heritage?
    in late-fifteenth-century Iberia, and increasingly throughout sixteenth-century Europe, the idea that meaningful national identities are determined immutably by inherited 'blood' began to take hold [...]. In The Merchant, Jessica herself enters this discourse – against the 'blood' fatalists. Of Shylock, she says, 'though I am a daughter to his blood, / I am not to his manners' (II.iii.18-9) (from a review written by Rebecca Nesvet)
    Is the fact that Daniel Deronda, in George Eliot's novel of that name, can only marry the Jewish heroine once he discovers that he himself is Jewish (and the fact that the Jewish heroine rejects a non-Jewish suitor) an indication that individuals should not marry outside their own racial group? If we return to romance, we find that in E. M. Hull's The Sheik, the hero is not, in fact, Arab in origin and the heroine 'learns that she need harbour no further qualms about having sex with a man of a different race. It turns out that he is actually as white-skinned as she (though, of course, a touch more sun-bronzed) and is the son of a British peer and his strikingly beautiful Spanish wife' (Cadogan 1994: 130). Modern sheik romances do feature heroes who are Arab or Beduin, but 'In most cases, the heroines of these stories are women who hail from progressive countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia or Great Britain' (Sheikhs and Desert Love). In many cases 'while the sheik’s country is often described as a utopian state where the people are happy and rich, it is also backwards and needs modernizing. [...] Often, the heroine somehow has the key to this modernization' (Taylor 2003). Is the heroine's role to 'tame' and civilise the noble savage? Or can the modern sheik romances be seen as rejecting the racism of the earlier works in this sub-genre?

    When it comes to that other group of 'noble savages', the Native American, we find
    the figure of the Native American in the widely popular "Indian romance," as the industry has named these novels that depict a love affair culminating in marriage between a European American character (usually the heroine) and a full- or half-blood Native American. Like Cooper and previous writers, the Native American in these texts represents more of the American cultural imaginary; these novels do not reflect reality so much as fantasy and include a mythical depiction of the tribal community as an integral part of that fantasy. (Wardrop 1997)
    McCafferty has analysed a sample of these 'Savage' romances (they all feature the word 'Savage' in the title' and would appear to be historical romances) and finds that
    The basic story formula is as follows: young, beautiful, white, affluent woman meets young, handsome, Native American man. Eighty percent of the time, players meet along border spaces, where the female has fled from an economically privileged but repressively gendered role. [...] Native lovers, “pure” or “half-pure,” come to accept mixed blood in themselves/their children, through the catylyst of romantic love for the white hero[ine]. In doing so they overcome the dominant model of oppositional racism, in favor of “miscegenation.” (1994: 46-47)
    These romances about sheiks and Native Americans, then, present mixed-race relationships in a positive light, though they often emphasise the role of the white woman in 'civilising' the sheik or present a hightly idealised portrait of the world of the Native American hero. The latter 'offers as symbolic capital a utopian society in which women are valued for their social contributions; where they are sexually assertive members of a group distinctive for cooperation and solidarity' (McCafferty 1994: 51).

    Romances perhaps use racial difference/difference in skin-colour and the differences in culture between the tall, dark, handsome and 'othered' Arab or Native American hero and the pale, beautiful heroine to reinforce the binary opposition of gender which is already emphasised in many romances. As Taylor observes,
    The central ethnic/racial/national identification in the category romance, the non-Other condition, is that of the heroine, which is generally white Anglo Westerner. Thus, the male Other ethnic/racial/national positions do not just include the Arab sheik, but often also the Greek tycoon, the Italian count-- a type of aristocratic Mediterranean lover.
    But if the tall, dark, handsome, male and 'Other' role can be filled by powerful men of Arab, Mediterranean and Native American origin, why is it so rare to find African-American heroes, who would also be tall, dark, handsome and male, in the non-African-American romance lines and in the general romance sections of bookshops? African-American heroes can be found in large numbers in modern romance novels, but they seem generally to be confined to the segregated African-American romance lines and African-American sections of many bookshops.

    One possible answer to why this might be the case is suggested by McCafferty is that
    In the choice of Native American (rather than African-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Filipino, or Japanese American) lover, a tension concerning romantic love’s vulnerability to economic instability is avoided. The myth runs that the Native American man lived comfortably off the land (1994: 51).
    The sheik too offers economic security, which is an important aspect of the romance fantasy for many readers (the hero of the popular Harlequin Presents/Mills & Boon Modern line, for example, is always 'wealthy'). I suspect, however, given that there are plenty of affluent, successful African-Americans, that financial status is not the only factor which impedes the acceptance of black heroes in mainstream contemporary romances.

    As we have seen, racist attitudes towards sheiks, Indians and Native Americans did, in novels from an earlier period, preclude them from being cast as heroes. It is worth remembering too that where these heroes are present in modern romances they are usually paired with a white heroine. To my knowledge, romances featuring both a Native American hero and a Native American heroine, or a sheik and an Arab heroine are few or non-existent in the Western romance genre. Nor am I aware of many modern, Western romances which feature non-white heroines paired with a white man. This is not to say that there are not exceptions, but they remain rare (some are to be found here).

    Inter-racial relationships between white and African-American characters would seem to have remained problematic for the romance genre and in Mr Right Now the black heroine, Luby, tries to resist her attraction to a white man (the hero): 'He’d probably never be attracted to a black woman, and to be frank, he wasn’t what I wanted either'. She also questions the motives of white women who seek out sexual relationships with black men:
    Danni liked black men and black men only, although she was a petite, pretty blonde with a generous chest and big blue eyes. I know, once you go black, you don't go back, but it was deeper than that. She had issues and apparently sleeping with black men helped.
    Most white girls like that were subconscious racist bitches wanting only to degrade themselves, but I’d known Danni long enough to see she didn’t have a bigoted bone in her body.
    The suspicion about the motivations of people in mixed-race relationships can come from both black and white people, even from some of those individuals themselves engaged in a mixed-race relationship. Kathryn Perry writes that
    Many white people are wary of discovering that the myths of black sexuality have spilt over into their own imaginations. Uncomfortable to be seen to have 'a thing' about black people, they deny that their desire may also encompass their partner's blackness. Others unashamedly desire the 'forbidden fruit' of racist mythology. (1995: 174)
    Issues of race remain highly divisive and controversial within society and within the romance-reading and writing community, as suggested by the history of the African-American romance and African-American authors' ambivalence about courting a white readership (Monica Jackson, for example, has said that 'Disloyalty to the [African-American] niche is perceived as disloyalty to the readers who shell out their dollars to support us and our work. How can we diss them?'). Discussions of race generally, and of sexual relationships between members of different races may create unease. They can question the very foundations of 'race' itself and the cultural differences (and perceived differences) which have grown up around them. They may not do so as incontrovertibly as the
    DNA analyses [which] illuminate the raging scientific debate about whether there is anything real to the notion of race.
    "There's no genetic basis for any kind of rigid ethnic or racial classification at all," said Bryan Sykes, the Oxford geneticist and author of The Seven Daughters of Eve. "I'm always asked is there Greek DNA or an Italian gene, but, of course, there isn't. . . . We're very closely related."
    Likewise, The New England Journal of Medicine once editorialized bluntly that "race is biologically meaningless" (CNN, from The New York Times, 2003)
    but even if race is 'biologically meaningless', racism exists, and cultural diversity is often tied up with a perception of racial/national identity. It's an issue to ponder while looking at the photo of these babies (we're discussing romance, and given the popularity of babies in romance, I thought I'd finish up with a couple of them):
    Beautiful baby twins Alicia and Jasmin Singerl certainly make people look twice.
    Alicia has dark brown eyes and complexion, while Jasmin is blue-eyed and fair-skinned.
    Experts say the chance of twins being born with such different physical characteristics is about a million to one.
    Conceived naturally, the sisters from Burpengary, north of Brisbane, were born at Caboolture Hospital in May. (The Courier Mail)
    • Cadogan, Mary, 1994. And Then Their Hearts Stood Still: An Exuberant Look at Romantic Fiction Past and Present (London: Macmillan).
    • Dandridge, Rita B., 2004. Black Women's Activism: Reading African American Women's Historial Romances, African-American Literature and Culture, 5 (New York: Peter Lang).
    • McCafferty, Kate, 1994. ‘Palimpsest of Desire: The Re-Emergence of the American Captivity Narrative as Pulp Romance’, Journal of Popular Culture, 27.4: 43-56.
    • Morgan, Paula, 2003. ‘ “Like Bush Fire in My Arms”: Interrogating the World of Caribbean Romance', Journal of Popular Culture 36.4: 804-827.
    • Perry, Kathryn, 1995. 'The Heart of Whiteness: White Subjectivity and Interracial Relationships', in Romance Revisited, ed. Lynne Pearce & Jackie Stacey (New York: New York University Press), pp. 171-184.
    • Stieg, Margaret F., 1985. 'Indian Romances: Tracts for the Times', Journal of Popular Culture, 18.4: 2-15.
    • Taylor, Jessica, 2003. '"And you can be my Sheikh": Gender, Race, and Orientalism in Contemporary Romance Novels', an online essay.
    • Teo, Hsu-Ming, 2004.'Romancing the Raj: Interracial Relations in Anglo-Indian Romance Novels', History of Intellectual Culture, 4.1.
    • Wardrop, Stephanie, 1997. 'Last of the Red Hot Mohicans: Miscegenation in the Popular American Romance', MELUS, 22. 2, Popular Literature and Film: 61-74. [Unfortunately this article refers to only two of the modern romances in this sub-genre, both published by Zebra,so the sample size is extremely small.]

    * I wonder what Faith Smith's Smith 1999 'Beautiful Indians, Troublesome Negroes, and Nice White Men: Caribbean Romances and the Invention of Trinidad' in Caribbean Romances: The Politics of Regional Representation, ed. Belinda Edmondson (Charlottesville, VA: UP of Virginia), pp. 163-182 has to say about race and representations of race in these romances. It's an item I haven't been able to find and read.