Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harlequin Presents: Capitalism and Competition

It seems as though Harlequin Presents must be selling very well, because there are plans to increase the rate of publication from 8 to 12 per month in the US. Harlequin is therefore holding a competition to find new authors for the line (details here).1

What particularly interested me were a couple of the descriptions of the line which were given in Tessa Shapcott (Executive Editor, Harlequin Presents)'s "Tips on Writing for the International Market":
The successful writer will be able to tell a story that contains universal emotional truths [...] What are universal emotional truths? You need to think of the emotions that bind all of us together, for example, love, death, birth, renewal, trust, betrayal, happiness, jealousy, lust, hurt, loss, loyalty…

And remember, too, that basically every person the world over aspires to the same things: unconditional love, family, material affluence, safety, success, justice, truth, strength, contentment, passion and tenderness…
Kalman Applbaum, in his article "Crossing Borders: Globalization as Myth and Charter in American Transnational Consumer Marketing", observes that
North American transnational corporation (TNC) managers and their experts have been particularly avid consumers of globalization literature since the media prophet Marshall McLuhan (1995) augured the First Coming of the "global village." For these business people, globalization represents opportunities of boundless proportions. (258)
Despite TNC marketers' avowal to operate with sensitivity to local cultural conditions when considering how to adapt product offerings and promotions locally, my research suggests the reverse. Marketers operate within a consumption-led universalizing paradigm. They believe in innate universal psychological tendencies that transcend local culture. (260)
He gives as an example Harlequin's "foray into Poland" (265) during which the company sought "not just to reeducate a segment of Polish consumers about romance novels, but to influence the entire cultural framework for thinking about love, beauty, and romantic relationships" (265):
The firm aimed to standardize Polish taste by influencing the cultural environment surrounding the product Harlequin expected to succeed at being the experts on love in Poland because they believe that love and romance—and for that matter the means of "escape into" these—must have a single, objective, universal, global expression. It was only temporarily, under repressive communism, that this global essence had been distorted. Polish teenagers could now, with the help of bar-coded paperbacks, be liberated to the global truth of romantic love. (266)
The idea that "basically every person the world over aspires to the same things" is, it seems to me, incorrect. Certainly we can all agree that every person the world over has certain basic needs (e.g. for food, water, shelter), but, particularly when it comes to more abstract desires such as "love," "success," and "justice," it seems difficult to ignore the very different ways in which culture affects the expression of such desires. And if we think of the past as "a foreign country: they do things differently there" (Hartley), then we've pretty much circled back to the debate about historical accuracy in romance. Most readers would accept that "success" for a Roman of the patrician class during the Republic would not have had exactly the same meaning as for a medieval nun, an English aristocrat living in the first decade of the nineteenth century, a viking, a samurai, or any number of individuals from different genders, historical periods, social classes and geographical locations.

The other description in the "Tips on Writing" for the Harlequin Presents line that interested me was as follows:
The successful writer [...] will be able to create an international setting that is aspirational for readers everywhere, and that beckons them to venture beyond their own small personal worlds. [...] Remember the values that underpin the Presents series – such as, wealth, luxury, sophistication, escapism and a good dollop of passion.
It was at this point that I began to wonder if perhaps, when I last discussed her work, I hadn't given enough space to Bridget Fowler's commentary on the relationship between the romance genre and capitalism. Fowler writes of the "domestic romances of the 1840s" that often
the romance was located in the world of urban capitalist class relations. Yet however severe its critique of elitism, however much it softened the practices of a market economy with an appeal to charity or ‘caring capitalism’, opposition to the desire for social reconstruction championed by the new working class was its secret centre. One effect of popular romance is precisely to make the institutions of capitalism – urban or agrarian – seem inevitable, so that the aspirations growing out of the early Utopians’ social theory seem to be profoundly incompatible with common sense. (17)
Her description seems equally applicable to a Harlequin Presents line which is "aspirational" and underpinned by the "values" of wealth and luxury. I'm reminded too of Peter Darbyshire's analysis of what it is that makes Harlequin romances, in the words of Tessa Shapcott, "globally appealing." According to Darbyshire, "Harlequin’s success in the Eurasian sphere is actually a result of the romances’ success infulfilling an ideological fantasy for their readers, one that has more to do with the benefits of successful capitalism than it does with America itself" and
The inextricability of the Harlequin romance from the ideology of democracy and capitalism was perhaps made most clear when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Within hours of the borders between East Germany and West Germany being opened, Harlequin employees were handing out free books at the border crossings, eventually giving out 720,000 Harlequin romances. For many citizens of the former communist nation, then, their first encounter with democracy was literally in the form of Harlequin romances. Brian Hickey even seemed to recognize the ideological content of his company’s romances in a 1991 speech to shareholders, when he called the books “propaganda” (Grescoe 254). This association of Harlequin with democracy and capitalism set the stage for a pattern that repeated itself in other former Eastern Bloc nations, such as Poland. When Harlequin expanded there, for instance, the company took over an entire television channel for eight hours on Valentine’s Day (now popularly known as Harlequin Day in Poland).
The competition's deadline for submissions is, appropriately enough, Valentine's Day 2008. Darbyshire also states that
it is this narrative of capitalist success which is ultimately responsible for the success of Harlequin romances in Europe and Asia. The novels are fantasies of the ability to transcend economic class, a world where women enjoy working in privileged positions in the economic system of capitalism and men are the masters of this system, the power figures who take care of those less wealthy than themselves. Lack of money is never a problem in the world of Harlequin romances, and romance itself is inseparable from an abundance of wealth and possessions. The appeal of such fantasies to readers living in emerging capitalist markets like Poland and Russia is obvious.
Equally obviously, one shouldn't forget the appeal of a "good dollop of passion", and my favourite Harlequin Presents also have a "good dollop" of humour, but I do wonder if it's the fact that, more than any other line, the Harlequin Presents are "narrative[s] of capitalist success", that has made this line Harlequin's "most popular series" (The Book Standard, 2006). And, in the spirit of Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," if Darbyshire is right that "what is perhaps most threatening to Harlequin’s long-term success in these markets is not the limitations of an emerging capitalist system but the economic strength of a healthy capitalist state," then perhaps Harlequin can feel confident in the face of any possible global economic recession.
  • Applbaum, Kalman. "Crossing Borders: Globalization as Myth and Charter in American Transnational Consumer Marketing." American Ethnologist 27.2 (2000): 257-82.
  • Darbyshire, Peter. "Romancing the World: Harlequin Romances, the Capitalist Dream, and the Conquest of Europe and Asia." Studies in Popular Culture 23.1 (2000). 28 Nov. 2007 <>.
  • Fowler, Bridget. The Alienated Reader: Women and Popular Romantic Literature in the Twentieth Century. Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.

1 The competition is actually for authors who aspire to write for one of 2 lines (though there is no distinction made between them in the US): Harlequin Presents [North America] are sold as two lines in the UK and Australia: Mills & Boon Modern Romance™/Modern Heat [United Kingdom] and M&B Sexy/Sexy Sensation [Australia and New Zealand]. The Modern Heat line actually has a very different tone from the Modern/Presents line. The ones I've read seemed to me to be less like Presents/Modern and more like a more sexually explicit version of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance line (and plenty of HM&B Romance line authors have been trying their hands at writing Modern Heats).

Sunday, November 25, 2007


There's been a lot of debate at AAR recently about historical accuracy in romances and one poster, MarianneM, noted that:
there have always been rebels, like Lady Hester Stanhope, who are willing to go outside the rules of society, and pay the social price, to defy the rules and triumph. But first the writer needs to know the 'rules and regs' of the society in which his hero or heroine developed in order to show what a triumph his protagonist has achieved in going against those rules.
Madeline Hunter said something similar in a recent interview:
not all women toed the line the way we often think. Some of them did have "modern sensibilities" and chafed at the restrictions. Some of them "worked the system" to have more freedom. Some of them removed themselves from polite society and thrived in other circles, those of the arts for example, where other ideas about women were more welcome. There have always been nonconformists.

Using a character who does not conform requires anchoring her unconventional ideas in the context of the time period. If a writer doesn't then it appears anachronistic and contrived.

I think that the character has to acknowledge the mores and strictures and respect the power that they have in her world. I think that she has to experience the penalties of violating the social rules. The other characters can't act like it is no big deal either. I believe it helps if she does not live in a contrary way for frivolous reasons, or take stupid risks and do silly things just because she is in a pique of rebellion.
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon has a whole blogful of historical scandalous women. Here's one example, which ends with a real 19th-century sheik romance. Jane Digby (her portrait is on the left) had already lived an exciting, scandalous life when,
middle-aged but still stunningly beautiful, and vowing to renounce men, she headed for Syria, to see Palmyra the legendary kingdom of Zenobia, where she met and married the love of her life, a Bedouin nobleman, Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab who was twenty years her junior. Medjuel offered to divorce his wife for Jane, within minutes of meeting her. Despite the advice of the British Counsel and her family, she threw caution to the wind, finally finding the one man, she could bond body and soul with.

On the topic of history, when I was reading Adrianne Byrd's When Valentines Collide recently I was suddenly reminded of Eloisa James's Your Wicked Ways. Both books
  • tell the story of a hero and heroine who share a profession. In James's novel they are both musicians, while in Byrd's the couple are "love gurus" who run popular shows giving relationship advice.
  • each believes that the other is dismissive of his/her talents.
  • both couples are famous. In James's novel this is because they are members of the aristocracy, and so form part of the social elite, whereas in Byrd's novel they are part of the modern equivalent of the "ton"; media celebrities.
  • the hero and heroine are already married to each other.
  • the marriage is in serious trouble and the couple need to rediscover the sexual attraction they used to feel for one another.
  • in both cases, childbearing, or the lack of it, is an important issue.
  • in both novels, the characters have to try to avoid scandal.
It's with regard to that last point that the difference in "the 'rules and regs' of the society" in which the novels are set is most noticeable. In part that's also due to the difference in their professions: Byrd's couple would lose professional credibility if their marital difficulties were revealed to the public, whereas in James's novel it's the heroine whose reputation would be damaged should some of the details of their relationship become widely known. Nonetheless, the fact that the books are so very similar in many ways both in terms of plot and style (in addition to the points outlined above, both novels contain humorous episodes and interesting secondary couples) really highlighted for me the importance of the setting. Although some problems related to love, marriage and celebrity seem to have changed very little in the past few hundred years, the historical period in which the stories are set does and should make a difference to how those problems manifest themselves and what the characters think and do about them.

The illustrations show the changing nature of celebrity gossip. The first is a photo of modern Australian gossip magazines, taken from this article. The second is a James Gillray print from 1808 depicting caricatures displayed for sale in a shop window.
In October the Smart Bitches posted about a letter published in The Lancet in which Dr Brendan D. Kelly reported, in a tongue-in-cheek manner on his research into medical romance novels. His sample size was small (20) but he was nonetheless able to detect some common features and draw some conclusions:
These novels draw attention to the romantic possibilities of primary care settings and the apparent inevitability of uncontrolled passions in the context of emergency medicine, especially as practised on aeroplanes. These novels suggest that there is an urgent need to include instruction in the arts of romance in training programmes for doctors and nurses who intend working in these settings.
The BBC also reported on Kelly's research and he told them that medical romances can give "a good insight into how people think medicine should be." The novels certainly do present an ideal, yet the Harlequin guidelines for the medical romances seem to go a little further and suggest that the novels
capture the pace, warmth, tensions, dilemmas, traumas and triumphs of modern medical professionals — strong, dedicated, determined and caring men and women. Heroes and heroines are equally matched and equally respected professionals. They would also move a mountain to save a life or find the right treatment — heroes and heroines you would like on your side in a medical emergency.
One can't quarrel with that last sentence. Whatever their romantic trials and tribulations, the heroes and heroines of medical romances never let their patients suffer as a result.

A follow-up to the initial interest in Dr Kelly's research was recently reported at the I Heart Presents blog: "Bestselling Medical author Caroline Anderson was interviewed [...] on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour as part of a feature on romance, medical drama and fiction." The audio clip is still available at the BBC website.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Publishers Weekly on Romance

The cover story of today's edition of Publishers Weekly, titled "Textually Promiscuous: Romance readers definitely read around," by Sarah J. Robbins, takes a look at the many different romance sub-genres and has quotes from Pamela and Eric:
“The story of a courtship is something that all women go through—or imagine themselves doing so—but any way you look at it, love's not simple,” says Pamela Regis, an English professor at McDaniel College and author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2003). “These books solve that problem, and at the same time, they put women at the center of the narrative more than in any other genre. You're not just the prize at the end of the hero's quest, the mother of the king, the arm candy... there's more.”
and on Jane Austen
“She was the first genius to write romance,” says Pamela Regis, an English professor at McDaniel College and author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2003). “And my contention is that she wrote only romances. I think Pride and Prejudice is the best romance novel ever written.”
“Romance readers really are in touch with one another and with authors. They're now able to get their voices heard by publishers and editors in a way that's never been true before,” says Eric Selinger, Ph.D., an English professor at DePaul University in Chicago and the co-chair for Romance Fiction of the Popular Culture Association. “There's simply a constant stream of feedback going on, a cycling back through that community.”

Selinger contributes to, a group site that offers a view of romance fiction from an academic perspective. The blog provides links to other like-minded online avenues, including [...]

“Because publishing is so much easier online, you have a proliferation of new genres and new mixings of genres,” says Selinger. “You have a lot of material that traditional publishers might be skeptical about, but in the case of Ellora's Cave, there was so clearly that market, the publishers jumped in.”
It's gratifying that the new wave of academic interest in romance novels is being reflected in the media coverage of the genre. The Publishers Weekly article discusses the various romance sub-genres, particularly inspirational romance, erotic romance, paranormal romance, historical romance and contemporary romance.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Pleasurable Purgatory of Pulp

The illustration is a detail from Domenico di Michelino's painting of Dante and the Three Kingdoms, from Wikipedia. Like Dante observing the souls trudging round and round the terraces of Purgatory, Scott McCracken, author of Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction, finds some redeeming value in the various types of pulp fiction, even if, like the souls, the readers must endure repetition as "one [novel] is consumed after another" (98). When pulp is described in these terms, I can't help but wonder if the critics hope that one day the readers will finally ascend to a better class of literature or at very least, like Dante, only visit it occasionally. The idea that "popular fiction" is something to be read while one is in a state of transition (like the souls in Purgatory, but, given the admitted pleasures of reading popular fiction, in considerably less pain) is suggested in McCracken's introduction, in which he reveals that
Some of my happiest experiences reading popular fiction have been on trains. There is something about the combination of being trapped yet going somewhere that is particularly conducive to the pleasures of pulp. While the popular narrative also traps in its predictability, despite, or maybe because of, that predictability, there is more scope for an escape into fantasy. (1)
However, Bridget Fowler, author of The Alienated Reader: Women and Popular Romantic Literature in the Twentieth Century, were she not writing from a decidedly secular perspective, would almost certainly condemn romance readers to one of the lower circles of Hell. Here's her categorisation of the women readers she interviewed (the numbering is not in order of her personal preference, since she has high regard for the "radical canon of popular literature", yet it is clear that "formulaic romantic fiction" is bottom of her list literally and in terms of her judgement of its merits):
1.Legitimate taste.
2.Middlebrow taste.
3.Radical canon of popular literature.
4.Non-formulaic, or less formulaic, uncanonised women’s fiction: the ‘Cookson’ group.
5.Formulaic romantic fiction (120)
We learn from Fowler that "Pleasure in legitimate works is most often linked to disdain for romantic fiction and the expression of a sense of pollution by it" (123). There were exceptions, however, for
legitimate culture does not automatically bestow a visceral intolerance towards contemporary romantic fiction. A minority who had acquired a disposition favourable to ‘serious fiction’ occasionally read a Mills and Boon novel. They confessed these private, behind-the-scenes departures from legitimate taste as I imagine Kinsey’s respondents must have yielded up their perversions for scientific scrutiny, fully aware of the pejorative connotations of such consumption in the perspective of the intelligentsia. (124)
It seems that such lapses of taste can be forgiven, but only if the reader is penitent enough. And yet, neither McCracken nor Fowler have managed to explain to my satisfaction what it is that distinguishes the perversions of pulp, particularly romance, from the legitimate pleasures of "good" literature. Fowler's main objection to romance would appear to be ideological since she argues that "in the arena of romantic fiction, literature may anaesthetise its readers’ perceptions by dependence on stereotypes, dominant ideas and regressive myths" (158) and her "conclusion is that the formulaic fiction partly locks these women into collusion with dominant ideas – economic, patriarchal and racist – or, less strongly, it increases their lack of systematised resistance to them" (173). According to McCracken
all theorists of mass culture agree that popular culture cannot be understood in terms of individual texts. Instead those texts must be read and interpreted in relation to the totality of production, distribution and consumption that organises the conditions of their reception. (24-25)
And yet if popular fiction must be read and interpreted in relation to the system of publishing which produces them since "Contemporary popular fiction is the product of a huge entertainment industry" (1), and if it is also the case that "the small-scale production of 'literary' novels is subsidised by popular fiction" (22), must not all novels be seen as products of the same "industry"? Is it really possible to read the "literary" novels without taking into account their place within "that totality of production, distribution and consumption that organises the conditions of their reception"?1

McCracken also suggests that popular fiction, and specifically the romance genre, is different because of the way it is read:
The serial reading of formula romances, where one is consumed after another, means that it is unrealistic to treat each as separate. Rather, they should be read as one long saga, where the happy ending is constantly rejected for a new, unhappy beginning. Each new beginning then reactivates the search for an explanation of the marginalised feminine position in contemporary society. (98)
But why is romance being singled out as being particularly repetitive, as being a genre in which the works are pretty much identical? Could someone not attempt the "serial reading" of "literary" novels? We, as romance readers, know that all romances are not the same, and I'd argue that surveys such as AAR's latest "Top 100 Romances" poll prove it. Romance readers don't simply "consume" one novel after another as though they were all part of "one long saga". We can pick out favourites (and many of us keep and re-read them). Romance readers also go through reading slumps, times when we can't find enough romances which meet our current reading needs. Furthermore, all romance readers don't simply "consume" one romance after another, since many readers of romance also read widely in other genres.
  • Fowler, Bridget. The Alienated Reader: Women and Popular Romantic Literature in the Twentieth Century. Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.
  • McCracken, Scott. Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.

1 According to recent figures from "the Business of Consumer Publishing 2006, the net revenue from retail sources in the U.S. accounted for $6.31 billion in 2006. Romance sales accounted for $1.37 billion or 21% of the overall sales."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Eric Rereads the Romance

Eric's had a review article on romance criticism published, so I thought I'd discuss its contents here. The full reference is Selinger, Eric Murphy. “Rereading the Romance.” Contemporary Literature 48.2 (2007): 307-24 and if you have an Athens password you can read it online here.

Eric defends the genre, observing that the fact "That romance novels can, themselves, display intelligence, worthy politics, and aesthetic accomplishment remains one of the best-kept secrets in literary study, however easy to find and read the books themselves may be" (308-09) and noting that "Romance novels have rarely, if ever, been treated by scholars as aesthetic objects, but rather as fungible, even standardized products" (313).1 The article is, however, primarily a review of the following recent works on the romance genre:
  • Juliet Flesch, From Australia with Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels. Fremantle, Australia: Curtin University Books, 2004.
  • Sally Goade, ed., Empowerment versus Oppression: Twenty-First Century Views of Popular Romance Novels. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Scholars, 2007.
  • Deborah Lutz, The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative. Ohio State UP, 2006.
  • Lynn S. Neal, Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2006.
  • Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.
Eric begins by putting this new romance criticism in its historical context, and very kindly mentions me and a comparison I've made in the past between medieval Castilian cancionero love poetry (which was, for a time, the butt of many an insult from the academic community) and the modern romance genre (312-13). As this is my blog post, I'm going to expand on this extremely minor point from Eric's essay, which I am sure he only made because he's kind and wanted to refer to as many of the new wave of romance scholars as possible.

The typical criticisms of cancionero love poetry were summarised by Keith Whinnom, who quoted some of the insults that dripped from the pen of Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, who attacked both poets and poetry:
"versificadores débiles y amanerados", [...] "la mente de sus autores, extraviada por el mal gusto" [...] "de más interés histórico que poético" [...] "el convencionalismo a que todos rendían parias" [...] "ausencia de verdadero pensamiento." (Whinnom 9)

"weak and mannered writers of verse" [...] "the mind of their authors, gone astray down the path of bad taste" [...] "of more historical than poetic interest" [...] "the conventionality to which they all rendered tribute" [...] "lack of any real thought"
Whinnom argued that the criticism was wrong, because "ha sido equivocado el modo de aproximarse a la cuestión" ("it has approached the question in the wrong way"; 11) and he suggested that cancionero love poetry should instead be judged in terms of its own style and aims, not by comparison with other forms of poetry which are more varied in their vocabulary, or appear to the critics to be more realistic and sincere in their expression of emotion.

Eric observes that early critics of the romance genre similarly conducted their work while under the influence of certain prejudices about what literature ought to be about, what made it good and what its purpose was: "the first twenty years of serious analysis of romance fiction treated it and its readers with ambivalence at best, and often with undisguised contempt" (309-310). Janice Radway, for example, critiqued the genre because it "fails to supply the reader with 'a comprehensive program for reorganizing her life in such a way that all needs might be met'" (Selinger 310), yet, as Eric points out, "As a rule, comprehensive programs for reorganizing life are the stuff of self-help books, theology, and political manifestos, rather than literature" (310).

Eric then contrasts the newer works he reviews with the older works of romance criticism. He finds that Pamela Regis's book "answers the need for an expansive, theoretically grounded account of the genre and bids fair to be the standard introductory text for romance-fiction study in the coming decade" (311) and "Even those primarily or exclusively interested in ideological, psychological, and philosophical approaches to romance fiction will want to have Regis’s precision tools in their kit" (313).

In Lynne S. Neal's book about inspirational romance "the appeal, aesthetics, and cultural work of such romances receive her attention, since Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction attends primarily to readers and reading practices rather than to texts" (314-15), bringing "a new, dispassionate aplomb to the ethnographic analysis of readers" (316).

Empowerment versus Oppression: Twenty-First Century Views of Popular Romance Novels is a collection of essays edited by Sally Goade. These include an essay by Guy Mark Foster in which he "takes up 'black women romance novelists and the taboo of interracial desire,' arguing that 'no other literary form has thus far attempted to take up the vexed question of interracial sex as it relates to black women' with 'the commitment and purpose' of popular romance" (317).2 Emily Haddad's essay "looks at how the enduring subgenre of 'Arab abduction romances' changed in the years just before and after 9/11" (317). Jayashree Kamble's "Female Enfranchisement and the Popular Romance: Employing an Indian Perspective" "reports on the ways the Indian readers whom Kamble surveyed in 2005 both perceive and use the genre" (317).

Eric describes Juliet Flesch's From Australia with Love as "The most fully developed exploration of romance from a comparative perspective, at least so far, [...] a crisp historical inquiry into “whether there is such a thing as ‘Australian romance’” (318).

Deborah Lutz is a contributor to Sally Goade's volume and the author of a book that's been discussed on this blog previously and which Eric refers to as "a radically new way to attend to the genre, and one as needed as the aesthetic turn we find in Regis" (324).

Some other newer works of romance scholarship are also mentioned in passing:
  • “What ‘Race’ Is the Sheik? Rereading a Desert Romance,” Susan L. Blake’s "superb new historical reading of the E. M. Hull best seller in light of the debates over race and divorce in the 1910s and 1920s" (316) in Doubled Plots [2003], edited by Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden.
  • The "groundbreaking [...] economically focused" (316) “Desire and the Marketplace: A Reading of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower” by Charles H. Hinnant, also in Doubled Plots.
  • The "delightful" (316) “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Book Like This?” by Stephanie Burley, "an exploration of 'homoerotic reading and popular romance'" (316), again from Doubled Plots.
  • Sarah S. G. Frantz's "'Expressing' Herself: The Romance Novel and the Feminine Will to Power" in Scorned Literature (2002) in which she "draws on Michel Foucault and Hélène Cixous for an inquiry into romance and the 'feminine will to power.' Her analysis of romance novel scenes in which the hero breast-feeds from a nursing heroine is as vivid and counterintuitive as the scenes themselves, and through old-fashioned close reading of such scenes, she demonstrates the subtlety with which authors have invited readers to identify across boundaries of both gender and power" (317).
  • Selinger, Eric Murphy. “Rereading the Romance.” Contemporary Literature 48.2 (2007): 307-24.
  • Whinnom, Keith. La poesía amatoria de la época de los Reyes Católicos. Durham Modern Languages Series, Hispanic Monographs, 2. Durham: UP, 1981.

1 To go off-topic, the word "fungible" is one of those which comes up at FreeRice.Com. FreeRice "has a custom database containing thousands of words at varying degrees of difficulty. There are words appropriate for people just learning English and words that will challenge the most scholarly professors". To play the game, an individual has to "click on the answer that best defines the word. [....] If you get it right, you get a harder word. If wrong, you get an easier word. [...] For each word you get right, we donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program."

2 There may be "commitment and purpose", but, as noted in a recent newspaper article on race and the romance genre by Brian Miller, "A Billion-Dollar Romance Novel Industry, And Its Lonely Black Author: The Fabio business finds itself short on diversity", published in the Seattle Weekly yesterday, romances by black authors are usually segregated, shelved in African American sections. This tends to leave the romance sections of bookshops filled with books among whose "covers, where yearning maidens cling to strapping lads with gilded locks, it's nearly impossible to find an African-American face. Nor any Latina features, nor any Asian figures, nor any sign that love exists for nonwhite women."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Anne Weale Dies

Last weekend I put the finishing touches to my ballot for AAR's Top 100 Romance Novels. Among the many category romances that ended up being on my list is Anne Weale's Castle in Corsica at #56. I found the book five years ago in the darkest, dustiest corner of the English Bookshop in Mainz, together with several other old Harlequin novels. I greatly enjoyed Weale's novel, especially the ending when, just as the heroine is about to leave the island, the hero races after her to make her face the truth about their relationship:
"For once in your ostrich existence, I want you to face the truth. If you honestly believe that the feelings that you've been at such pains to suppress boil down to nothing more than antagonism -- well, I still won't be convinced but I'll accept it. But be very sure you aren't deluding yourself, little one." He paused and she saw the muscles at his jaw working. "I'm asking you to marry me, Polly."
Right on the next page he calls her a nincompoop and continues to give her an ultimatum: he'll wait outside in the car and give her half an hour to make up her mind -- and she lets him wait 25 minutes (which he apparently spends "pacing up and down the pavement behind the car" -- tee-hee, he is definitely not as cool as he wants to make her believe) before she finally comes after him. I have, of course, no idea whether the author intended it to be read this way, but I thought the scene very sweet and funny, though it does have some gritty undertones. Yes, from among that stack of old Harlequin novels I found in that dark corner in the English Bookshop, Castle in Corsica is one of my favourites.

Yesterday I was greatly saddened to learn from a post on Kate Walker's blog that Anne Weale had died on 24 October. Between 1955 and 2002 she wrote 88 novels for Mills&Boon, the last one having been The Man from Madrid. In the "Dear Reader" at the beginning of the book, she calls herself a "World Wide Web enthusiast" and writes, "I believe the Web can be used to enhance our enjoyment of reading." It is therefore not surprising that from 1998 to 2004 she wrote a website review column for the UK magazine The Bookseller, which she later used as a basis for her blog, Bookworm on the Net.

A biography of Anne Weale can be found on the Harlequin website (for some reason the link on the M&B website seems to be broken). Both Kate Walker and Liz Fielding have written tributes to her on their blogs.