Nothing But Good Times Ahead: the Novels of Jennifer Crusie
Edited by Eric Murphy Selinger and Laura Vivanco
Additional contributions are invited for a collection of critical essays on the work of Jennifer Crusie. Two publishers have expressed interest in the volume, but we would like to add to it before we submit the full manuscript.
Nothing But Good Times Ahead: the Novels of Jennifer Crusie will mark a turning point in the critical study of romance fiction, even as it demonstrates the richness of this author’s work as both an innovator in, and theorist of, her chosen genre.
Crusie's category and single-title romances have won numerous awards, and in a genre where most books go out of print quite soon after publication, hers have been repeatedly reissued. Crusie’s essays in defense of the genre articulate a theoretically sophisticated, ardently feminist argument on its behalf, and her novels, too, engage in cultural critique, subtly challenging readers’ expectations about what romance heroines, heroes, plot structures, and love scenes can be, while affirming the deeply-rooted optimism of the romance novel as a form.
We invite critical essays on the full range of Crusie’s novels, from her early category romances to her recent collaborations, whether read individually or comparatively.
All critical, theoretical, and methodological approaches are welcome; indeed, we encourage critics who do not ordinarily work on popular culture or romance fiction to submit abstracts for our consideration.
Here is a suggestive, but not exhaustive list of possible topics:
Magic, whether literal (as in The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes), metaphorical (i.e. "Fate," in Bet Me), or authorial (magic as a figure for creativity more generally).
Food: a recurring motif in Crusie's work, and one rich with allusive, symbolic, and other meanings. Apples, cherries, Krispy Kremes, chicken marsala, pancakes, Mob Food; eating alone or together.
Aging: Crusie has repeatedly explored the narrative and thematic possibilities of older heroines, whether as central or supporting characters.
Homes: literal and symbolic; domestic and communal; threatened and sheltering.
Crusie and the genres of romance and comedy, broadly and theoretically defined.
Crusie as theorist of romance: her essays, her criticism, her reflections online.
Crusie's work as it relates to developments in romance fiction over the past twenty years.
Crusie's romances as feminist novels, or more broadly, Crusie’s efforts to promote and exemplify romance fiction as a feminist genre.
Nothing But Good Times Ahead has the potential to reach audiences both inside and outside the academy. Our intended audience includes not only professors of popular culture, women’s studies, American studies, and literature, but also the intelligent, well-educated, and enthusiastically literate community of romance readers.
We will consider abstracts (approximately 500 words), conference papers, and full-length essays. All submissions should be e-mailed to Eric Murphy Selinger (email@example.com) and Laura Vivanco (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than May 1, 2008. Earlier is better!
In the course of the recent discussion on what does or doesn't constitute plagiarism when writing fiction, and how, why and when authors should document their sources, it became obvious there is a lot of confusion about the kind of research that goes into a historical romance and how this research is incorporated into the individual story. I thought it might be a good idea to clear up some of this confusion, and for this reason I started a series of talks about research on my podcast. The first episode of "Putting the History into the Historical" is now online and deals with historical London as a setting in fiction. I list all the general works on London I own (this includes a happy, squealing dive into my new 19th-century guide book), as well as more specific works on the Holland House circle and Albany, which I used for THE LILY BRAND and BETRAYAL respectively.
Here are a few of the online sources I mention in the podcast:
However, the original Event did spark some thoughts which still seem relevant. They're mostly Sarah's thoughts, so I'll quote from her at length, but I'll also throw in something that Sandra wrote recently, as well as mixing in a good stiffening of Northrop Frye and a sprinkling of quotes from a variety of other sources. I hope the end result won't be too indigestible.
The one thing this exercise has done for me is show me again how different are the tasks of reviewing and literary criticism. [...] I can analyze a book I despise (did it for my dissertation!), because it’s not about personal taste, but about what I can say about the book’s _______ (construction, organization, historical context, images of gender/class/race, etc.). When I was a baby graduate student, one of my advisers said “It’s not about whether I like the book, but whether I can say anything interesting about it” and I was horrified! Shocked, I tell you! And I promised myself I’d never get to that point. But getting to that point was what learning how to be a literary critic was all about. And I actually ended up arguing in my dissertation that analyzing books we dislike is *important* to understanding the culture we’re trying to analyze. It’s just as important, in fact, as analyzing books we love. [...]
As my husband just pointed out to me as I read this to him, you’ll notice that Laura and Eric and I never said in our posts whether we liked the book. That came up later in comments [...]. Because in reading the book in order to analyze it, liking it or not was not part of my thought process. [...]
All this is to say that I really love reading the reviews [...] but it’s a completely different skill from literary criticism (which is not to say you guys don’t analyze–you do, but in totally different ways from what we do at TMT), and that fact boggles my mind every time I read a really good review, even (especially?) if the book is awful (or, more likely, just not brilliant).
Northrop Frye also described this difference between the task of the reviewer (whom he called "the public critic") and that of the literary critic. He stated that
It is the task of the public critic to exemplify how a man of taste uses and evaluates literature, and thus show how literature is to be absorbed into society. But here we no longer have the sense of an impersonal body of consolidating knowledge. The public critic tends to episodic forms like the lecture and the familiar essay, and his work is not a science, but another kind of literary art. (8)
If reviews are "another kind of literary art" that may explain why some of them, the better ones, can entertain, infuriate, amuse and/or move us, even though we may never read the novel the reviewer is writing about.
Literary critics, on the other hand, are much less likely to move their reader emotionally, although we may frequently be irritating and can occasionally attempt to amuse our readers. Literary criticism at its best creates a sense of intellectual awe at the way in which the critic has succeeded in marshalling the evidence from the text and other relevant sources into an orderly, logical form. Frye asks:
What if criticism is a science as well as an art? Not a "pure" or "exact" science, of course [...]. The writing of history is an art, but no one doubts that scientific principles are involved in the historian's treatment of evidence, and that the presence of this scientific element is what distinguishes history from legend. (7)
It seems absurd to say that there may be a scientific element in criticism when there are dozens of learned journals based on the assumption that there is, and hundreds of scholars engaged in a scientific procedure related to literary criticism. Evidence is examined scientifically; previous authorities are used scientifically; fields are investigated scientifically; texts are edited scientifically. Prosody is scientific in structure; so is phonetics; so is philology. (8)
Everyone who has seriously studied literature knows that the mental process involved is as coherent and progressive as the study of science. A precisely similar training of the mind takes place, and a similar sense of the unity of the subject is built up. (10-11)
Document your frigging sources! ALL of them!!! No matter whether you use direct or indirect quotations. (If you don't document your sources, your teacher will be p.o. and you will fail the class.)
Prove your statements by referring either to the primary text(s) or to secondary sources.
It helps if you stick to the facts that are mentioned in the primary text: if the hero's childhood is never mentioned anywhere in the text, analysing the hero's childhood is ... not such a good idea.
Fictional characters are not real people.
Making sweeping statements about the historical background of a literary text is usually not a very good idea either: because if you do, you have not only failed to stick to Rule #2, but in most cases you are also spectacularly wrong.
Logic is a fine thing. Apply it freely and apply it often.
All primary and secondary sources you use in your paper should be listed in the bibliography.
The bibliography is supposed to consist of more than one secondary source.
The implication of Frye's assessment that literary criticism is a science is that:
at no point is there any direct learning of literature itself. Physics is an organized body of knowledge about nature, and a student of it says that he is learning physics, not nature. Art, like nature, has to be distinguished from the systematic study of it, which is criticism. It is therefore impossible to "learn literature": one learns about it in a certain way, but what one learns, transitively, is the criticism of literature. Similarly, the difficulty often felt in "teaching literature" arises from the fact that it cannot be done: the criticism of literature is all that can be directly taught. Literature is not a subject of study, but an object of study [...]. Criticism [...] is to art what history is to action [...]: a verbal imitation of a human productive power (11-12).
The reviewer, however, is giving a description of his or her experience of reading a text (for example whether it was a disappointment or a gripping read, how the reviewer related to the characters, whether the plot carried the reviewer along or whether her suspended disbelief crashed to the ground through a plot hole). SB Candy recently wrote a post about "bad taste" in which she stated that
unlike the absolute relativists (how d’you like THAT particular turn of phrase, eh?), I do think there’s such a thing as objective measures for how good or bad a book is, and that sometimes, you love something absolutely terrible, and other times, you dislike something that’s actually good.
The literary critic, as Sarah noted, does not primarily concern him or herself with his or her experience as a reader of the text, or with making declarations about "good" or "bad" taste, but instead relates to the texts in a very different, much less emotional way: placing the text in a literary context, providing textual evidence for his or her assertions, and not deliberately distorting the evidence by omitting to mention counter-evidence also present in the text.
Although there were some dissenting voices, the majority of reviewers seemed to feel, with Candy, that "Wulfric is a politically correct hero, and hot damn, does that ever make him tiresome," and Meriam observed that there is something "deeply ironic [in the fact] that a novel which disproves many of Bindel's charges against romance failed to satisfy so many romance readers. What can you do?" Some time ago Jayne Ann Krentz wrote about some young editors who tried to change the genre in response to criticism like Bindel's:
The first target of these reforming editors was what has come to be known in the trade as the alpha male. These males are the tough, hard-edged, tormented heroes that are at the heart of the vast majority of bestselling romance novels. These are the heroes who made Harlequin famous. These are the heroes who carry off the heroines in historical romances. These are the heroes feminist critics despise. [...] Why did we dig in our heels and resist the effort to turn our hard-edged, dangerous heroes into sensitive, right-thinking modern males? [...] We did it because, in the romance genre, the alpha male is the one that works best in the fantasy. (107-108, emphasis added)
I'm a literary critic, not a psychologist, so I'm not going to venture into in-depth discussions of people's fantasies, particularly when they're ones I don't share, but I think this internet event has been more than a condensed version of that long-ago experiment described by Krentz. As Sarah said, it's illustrated the difference between reviews and literary criticism, and from the point of view of literary criticism, as Eric said on the Romance Scholar list:
This really is a big deal [...] because for the first time that I know of romance readers and reviewers and scholars are all focusing, however briefly, on the same book at the same time, as part of a concerted effort. (It's also the first time that I know of when a single category romance has been written about at length by multiple scholars. Few romance novels get any critical attention at all; I'd love to see this as a model for future group efforts.)
Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957. Oxford: Princeton UP, 2000.
Krentz, Jayne Ann. "Trying to Tame the Romance: Critics and Correctness." Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992. 107-14.
As a feminist, Christine de Pizan directly challenged the destructive and demeaning attitudes towards women of a popular book of her day, Le Roman de la Rose, by writing Epistres du debat sur le Roman de la Rose (c. 1402), and arguing rather for the equality of women. (A Celebration of Women Writers).
As we've been discussing ferrets, I can't help but note that this latter work included the line "And do you not know that a small weasel is able to attack and destroy a great lion?"
A recent review of Bettie Sharpe's free ebook, Ember, reminded me that I haven't put up any links to online romances for a while.
Ember is available from Bettie Sharpe's website, and can either be downloaded as an ebook or read online. It's a reworking of the Cinderella story which offers the reader a startling, alternative version of how the story of Cendrillon (the title it was given by Perrault) came into existence.
The old tales, as Gertrude Mueller Nelson has succinctly expressed it (in her Jungian study, Here All Dwell Free) are about "anguish and darkness." They plunge heroines and heroes into the dark wood, into danger and despair and enchantment and deception, and only then offer them the tools to save themselves — tools that must be used wisely and well. (Used foolishly, or ruthlessly, they turn back on the wielder.) The power in fairy tales lies in such self–determined acts of transformation. Happy endings, where they exist, are hard won, and at a price.
Windling mentions the older Italian version, Cenerentola, in which we have a Cinderella who murders one step-mother only to find her replaced with an even worse one. And let's not forget the Grimm's version, Aschenputtel, in which one of the step-sisters cuts off her own toe, and the other part of her heel, in their desire to fit their feet into Cinderella's tiny shoe. Their deception is revealed when the prince looks more closely and sees first that "the blood was streaming from" the foot of the first step-sister and then that "the blood was running out of her [the second step-sister's] shoe, and how it had stained her white stocking." This tale ends on the moralistic note that "for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived" but no such punishment is inflicted on the murderous Cenerentola. In comparison with her, Bettie Sharpe's Ember begins to seem considerably more virtuous than she thinks she is. Ember's no shy virgin, though, so anyone who would prefer not to read something containing strong language should stay away from this story.
Oh, and for those who don't know, "nieves," which is mentioned in the last chapter, is Castilian for "snows," though the allusion is probably clear enough from the context that non-Spanish-speakers can work out the implications. Sorry to be cryptic, but I'm trying to avoid giving away any spoilers.
On the subject of re-imagining and retelling fairytales, Eloisa James wrote an article called "My Fairy Godmother, Myself" in which she argues that
Cinderella was never about the prince. It was about the wonders of a magical transformation. [...] That turns out to be the key to rewritten Cinderellas: the heroine learns to honor and appreciate her pre-transformation self, forcing the prince to do so as well.
I'm not really sure if that would be true of Ember, but maybe we can discuss that in the comments.
And going beyond the "happily ever after" are Kate Hewitt's online short stories "A Breath of Fresh Air" and "The Locket," which have heroines whose long-term relationships are in trouble. In her "Dreams to Share" the heroine learns to look beyond the more obvious trappings of true love. In her essay Eloisa James says that
We're trained to believe that princes fall in love as soon as a woman shows up in the right dress. But what if he doesn't? What if one night of dancing isn't enough? The way, frankly, one night at a club isn't enough in real life?
Real life love-stories may not always look as romantic as the ones in which the hero spots the heroine wearing a beautiful dress and immediately falls in love with her, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're lacking in true love.
We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom - symbolising an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change [...] ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
It may seem like overstating the case to compare plagiarism to the enemies of world peace, but in the Republic of Letters, plagiarism is the act of annexing another author's words. As Paul Tolmé, one of the authors whose words made their way into a Cassie Edwards novel, recently said:
Plagiarism victimizes writers. It betrays the trust of readers. It tarnishes the craft of writing.
But there is another victim here that has been lost in the discussion: the ferrets.
I hope that all the discussions that we, as a community of readers and authors, have been having recently about the issue will indeed be "a beginning - signifying renewal." I hope there is now greater understanding of what plagiarism is and why plagiarising from either fiction or non-fiction sources is wrong. I also hope that authors won't become overcautious, censoring themselves out of fear of being accused of plagiarism, because as Eve Gray says
All writers take over stuff from previous writers, incorporate it, allude to it, transform it. The essence is transformation. It is difficult to define the boundaries, but in the hands of a good writer, the borrowing becomes transformed into something new
[Edited to add: the Smart Bitches and their readers have now met Nora's challenge, so the Smart Bitches are now suggesting some other charities, related to topics described in Cassie Edwards's novels, which might appreciate donations.]
While looking for info on confectionaries in the early nineteenth century, I've just stumbled across this lovely book on Google Books. Now that's what I call a great source for historical sweets! Guess whose future hero will have a fondness for bergamot drops.
Btw, if you haven't yet discovered the wonders of Google Books, go exploring straight away. This service is just fantastic, not just for authors of historical fiction researching Regency sweets or snuff shops, but also for scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature (I'm not quite sure how many older books they have scanned in). With Google Books you can make full-text searches in all books that have been registered with Google or have been scanned in by Google. You don't always get a full view (even if the book in question is no longer under copyright), but the limited preview or even the snippet preview can be helpful. You can also limit your search to books published within a specific time.
This post is obviously written as Teach Me Tonight's (partial) response to the apparent plagiarism by Cassie Edwards that the Smart Bitches uncovered and reported. Much of what I might have said if we'd commented earlier instead of being mesmerized by the debate has already been said. ETA: And it was posted minutes before the post on SBTB that Edwards seems to have copied from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel as well, which changes the debate substantially. However, while there are many things swirling around in my head, I think I want to focus on the connection between academic writing and fiction writing.
Disclaimer time: While I obviously speak for Teach Me Tonight, this is also only my opinion about the topic that come from my ::sob--I'm OLD!--sob:: fifteen years of experience in academia. Eric and Laura (and all our other contributors) might have other ideas and might even disagree with me. If they do, I expect they'll let me know in the comments.
The one gray area that keeps popping up in debates is the question of exactly how fiction authors should use their research in their novels. Sandra Schwab asks in the comments at a Dear Author post:
Do you seriously propose that the same standards should be introduced in fiction? Have you any idea what novels would look like in this case (if anybody is interested I’d be happy to take a page of one of my novels and document my sources as I would do if I were writing an academic text)?
And whatever people may have said in the comments of the many posts both at Dear Author and at the Smart Bitches, I would say the answer is "No, absolutely not."
In my opinion, and in broad sweeping generalizations, no one actually expects fiction authors to cite all their research. That would defeat the purpose of fiction. We're not reading non-fiction, after all; we're reading fiction, and while we want it to accurately reflect reality, or as accurately as works for the individual story, we don't want all the nitty-gritty details of how fiction authors found all the reality they're reflecting to interrupt our novel reading.
Academia, of course, is different. In academia, everything has to be cited. In my syllabi, I say that plagiarism is the unattributed use of someone elses' words, thoughts, ideas, or structure (and by structure, I mean the structure of putting words together into sentences and into paragraphs, as well as the overall structure of a plot)2. And although what is expected of me as a literary critic and a professor writing academic articles for publication and what I expect of my students is different in content, the expectations of correct citations remain the same. If I or my students use someone else's words, thoughts, or ideas to come up with original analyses, we have to acknowledge that debt in a correctly formatted citation.3
Research for fiction, on the other hand, is supposed to be an accretion of knowledge that results in an original, creative work. Fiction authors do a whole bunch of research and then incorporate it into their stories in their own words. And I'm not a fiction writer, but I assume that they might come across a cool fact in just ONE source and put it into the mouths or thoughts of their characters in their own words, so it's not always a case of finding information from many different places and incorporating it into the fiction.
So, where's the difference? In academia, any use of someone else's facts or opinions needs to be cited and the use of someone else's words needs to be set off with quotation marks AND also cited. In fiction, the use of someone else's facts or opinions does not need a citation as long as the fiction authors paraphrase the facts/opinions in their own words. And because the use of someone else's WORDS cannot be set off in quotation marks as it can be in a work of non-fiction, because it would jump the reader out the world the story is trying to create, it should not be done.4 While it IS plagiarism in academia to "borrow" someone else's thoughts, opinions, and facts without attribution, it is NOT the same for fiction, as long as fiction authors aren't ALSO borrowing the non-fiction author's WORDS.
If I were to quantify this in order to answer the question, "Is it okay to use words, thoughts/ideas, or language structure from one source to another without attribution?" the table would look like this:
And, for me, it is because the specific words of non-fiction texts CANNOT be acknowledged with quotation marks if used in fiction that they should not be used. The thoughts/ideas, on the other hand, CAN be acknowledged in an historical note either before or after the story.
Non-fiction authors write about their topics precisely so that people will read it and say "That's cool!" and then want to use that knowledge. There wouldn't be any point in us writing if we didn't want people to use it. But the plagiarism comes in when fiction authors don't put the ideas/facts into their own words that fit their characters' thoughts and words. With the use of non-fiction sources in fiction, it's the *words* that counts. If Cassie Edwards had paraphrased the sources she used for research, she would have been fine. Paraphrase away, but don't hijack the specific creative expression of the original source. When Janet Dailey plagiarized Nora Roberts, the scandal was located in the fact, not that she was stealing Roberts' words, per se, but that she was stealing Roberts' creative expression. Edwards did the same, IMO: she stole the creative expression of the facts she wished to incorporate into her novels, and therein lies the outrage and the moral indignation expressed over the last week.
So, to all fiction authors out there, please keep researching. Keep filling your books with real facts and real ideas that we academics research and publish for the world to read. But don't use our words.
1. From the song "Show me" in My Fair Lady (Music by Frederick Loewe, Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Book by Alan Jay Lerner, Film in 1964.) I think it's a particularly appropriate song considering the writerly injunction of "Show, Don't Tell!" that we hear so often:
Words! Words! Words! I'm so sick of words! I get words all day through; First from him now from you! Is that all you blighters can do? Don't talk of stars, burning above; If you're in love, show me! Tell me no dreams filled with desire If you're on fire, show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night! Don't talk of spring! Just hold me tight! Anyone who's every been love will tell you that This is no time for a chat! Haven't your lips longed for my touch? Don't say how much, show me! Show me! Don't talk of love lasting through time. Make me no undying vow. Show me now! Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme! Don't waste my time, show me! Don't talk of June, don't talk of fall! Don't talk at all! Show me! Never do I ever want to hear another word There isn't one I haven't heard. Here we are together in what ought to be a dream; Say one more word and I'll scream! Haven't your arms hungered for mine? Please don't "expl'ine," show me! Show me! Don't wait until rings wrinkles and lines Pop out all over my brow, Show me now!
And for the sake of full disclosure, much of this post is a reworking of an email of mine to someone interested in this debate.
2. I once had a student who plagiarized in a way that TurnItIn didn't catch. I did, however, but only because he used the word "solipsism." I have only a tenuous understanding of what a solipsism is myself, so it made me go, "Hrrr?" I Googled "solipsism [text title]" and came up with the article that he used. While every word was different, the sentence-by-sentence structure of his paper was exactly the same as the original article. It must have taken hours of work with the Thesaurus function of MS Word--far less time, in fact, than just writing a paper using his own ideas would have taken. The only word he didn't change was solipsism, probably because he didn't know what it meant AND because it doesn't have a synonym according to MS Word. I failed him because, well, he didn't cite his source, so that was the major wrong, but it would have been a rewrite anyway because of the *structure* plagiarism.
3. Therein lies the difference between a Works Cited page and a Bibliography page. As I explain it to my students, a Works Cited page is exactly that--It's a list of all the works you've cited in your paper. A Bibliography page is where you can prove how clever you've been, by acknowledging all the books you've read while doing research for the paper, even if you didn't cite them in the body of the paper.
4. This statement does not take into consideration issues of intertextuality. I'm talking about a fiction author borrowing from a relatively obscure non-fiction source, and NOT about incorporating the words of a real person that the reader can be expected to recognize.
"Publish and be damned." Duke of Wellington 1769-1852: replying to Harriette Wilson's blackmail threat, c1825; attributed (OED online)
I'm applying the Duke's words to a rather different situation, but they seem apt. Any author who uses source material incorrectly, and is discovered to have done so, is liable to get into a lot of trouble. However, although some types of usage are very clearly wrong (and Sarah's going to be posting more about that later) there are some rather tricky areas, where authors have to exercise a bit more personal judgement about what is, or isn't, acceptable use of source material.
Over at Dear Author Sandra's asked about some of these greyer areas in the relationship between texts and what type of referencing can realistically be expected in a work of fiction. Janet/Robin's given her answer, but I'd like to take a look at this too, in a bit more detail.
Do you seriously propose that the same standards should be introduced in fiction?
Obviously one isn't going to expect fiction to be written in MLA style with a full bibliography, footnotes and references within the text to the source of each fact or quotation.
Beyond that acknowledgement of an acceptable difference between the standards expected in fictional and non-fictional works, things become rather more tricky. In general, it's easy enough to say that an author of fiction needs to read non-fiction texts, absorb the information and include it into the fiction in a way which is not simply paraphrasing or quoting chunks (or entire original phrases) from the non-fiction text. It remains a controversial area, however, particularly with regards to the use of historical sources:
Historical details, as McEwan has said, bring life and vigour to fiction. The imagination is crucial, but research brings truth. So what is the novelists’ responsibility to their sources? How can a contemporary novel speak to the past, or speak out of it, as Adam Thorpe puts it? (Alden)
My feeling is that if an author of fiction want to include any text verbatim from other sources there needs to be a very good reason for it. The treatment of the material will also differ depending on
whether it can be assumed that the reader will recognise the borrowing. For example, if in a historical novel the Duke of Wellington says "Publish, and be damned!" that would be something one might assume many people would know to be a statement that's generally attributed to him, just as one might assume that readers would realise that the depiction of him was based on a real person. So the author might not need to mention that in a little bibliography at the end of the novel.
whether the source is more obscure and so it should be assumed that the reader is not likely to recognise it. In this second case, the author of the fictional work should, in my opinion, inform the reader about their source. For example, if there were frequent quotations from the Duke's letters within the text of the novel, I would expect that to be mentioned in a historical note/bibliography at the end, because the author would not have made up those words and the texts could not be assumed to be widely known enough for the public to be able to recognise their source.
Similarly, if the novel is based on a real person that the public could not be expected to recognise, then I would expect that to be mentioned somewhere, otherwise the public might be deceived by the text which is usually to be found on the copyright page and which usually runs something like this:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. (from the copyright page of a novel published by Harlequin)
Clearly that would not be the case if one had a large chunk of one's novel set around the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo. However, they're famous enough that readers could be expected to know that the battle was a real event. If it was a less famous event, though, or a less famous real person, then some recognition of that would be required, I'd think, in a historical note at the end/beginning of the novel.
In addition, if one's borrowed very heavily from particular sources, the extent of the debt would need to be made clear. Amanda Grange, for example, has written several novels which are heavily based on works by Jane Austen, and that's clear right from the start, in their titles: Mr Darcy's Diary, Mr Knightley's Diary, and so on. Grange is in no way attempting to pass off either the plots or the characters as her own, but openly and fully acknowledges her debt to Austen. The same sort of proceeding would also apply to non-fictional sources. Being lightly inspired by someone's account of her time as a wartime nurse is rather different from a novelist using several scenes from the nurse's autobiography as the basis of several scenes in a novel. The latter would require rather more acknowledgement, and use of her actual words would demand yet more.
Intertextuality, the relationship between one work of fiction and other, earlier, works of fiction, and the way it should be dealt with by authors is also much debated and disputed. It does depend, I think, on the extent to which you can assume that your reading public will be able to recognise what you're doing, how close the parallels are between the two texts, and whether any material is being used verbatim. The more obscure the source text, and the greater the reliance there is upon it, the more need there is for explicit acknowledgement of this.
I think it would be a reasonable expectation to assume that at least some members of the public would recognise intertextual allusions to myths, fairytales, Shakespeare, the Bible and other well-known texts and tales. I think it would also be a reasonable expectation to assume that the public would recognise other texts which are perhaps less authorative, but are well-known at the time of writing, such as some works of popular culture.
However, if an author of fiction found a relatively obscure play/novel/poem/film (and as with the famousness of real people and their public statements, obscurity can be difficult to define, and there will be borderline cases) and quoted chunks of it in the text and/or paraphrased chunks of it and/or borrowed significant amounts of its plot, then I'd expect that to be recognised somehow in a historical/bibliographical note. If the characters just quote from poems/plays/novels, and it's clear in the text that they're quoting, then one probably doesn't need to have a complete bibliography, even if some of those works are not so well-known. But it might be of interest to readers to find out more about those poems/plays/films/novels. In Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation, for example, some of the characters quote from movies:
"Oh, relax." Amy peered at Sophie over the top of her pink cats-eye sunglasses. "It's a video shoot, not a bank heist. What could go wrong?"
"Don't say that." Sophie sank lower in her seat. "Anytime anybody in a movie says, 'What could go wrong?' something goes wrong."
A green sign that read Temptation 1/4 Mile loomed ahead, and Sophie reviewed her situation for the eleventh time that hour. She was going to a small town to make an unscripted video for a washed-up actress she didn't trust. There were going to be problems. They'd show up at any minute, like bats, dive bombing them from out of nowhere. A strand of her dark curly hair blew across her eyes, and she jammed it back into the knot on top of her head with one finger. "Bats," she said out loud, and Amy said, "What?"
Sophie let her head fall back against the seat. "'We can't stop here. This is bat country.'"
As far as I can remember, not every single movie quotation in Welcome to Temptation is "labelled" in this way, but many are, and the reader is certainly aware that the characters frequently quote from movies, even if he or she can't recognise the precise source of all the quotations. That would be acceptable in and of itself, but Crusie's also listed them on her website, which is a nice way of giving additional acknowledgement of the source of the material.
If the intertextuality is there and might not be recognised by the general reading public, but is minor, then it wouldn't need to be acknowledged. Loretta Chase has said that in Not Quite a Lady:
Imagining a pig is easy, even for a city girl, but getting Hyacinth’s world right was trickier. What did a sty look like, exactly? What did it smell like? To create a believable fictional environment, I needed, among other things, live pigs.
Even if Chase had never mentioned this, it would have been quite acceptable, I think, because as one can tell from her description, Chase did not simply lift Wodehouse's description of the Empress of Blandings and place it in her novel. She was inspired by Wodehouse's text, but then made the pig her own by doing further research and writing about it in her own words.
We therefore decided to analyse one of the novels mentioned by Bindel, Louise Allen’s Virgin Slave, Barbarian King, and because we were joined by many other bloggers, this was an Internet Event of Stupendous Proportions.
Appropriately for the time of year and the historical setting of the novel, these posts, Janus-like, look back to a debate from last year, and look forward to a new era of romance scholarship which is based on detailed analysis of the primary texts in question. Allen’s novel also looks both back and forwards. The first chapter begins on the 24th of August 410 AD, the date of the fall of Rome, it looks both back to the Roman past and forwards into a Visigothic future.
Here are the posts from those of us at Teach Me Tonight. They're not reviews, so they do include plentiful spoilers.
Rev Melinda's a frequent visitor to Teach Me Tonight, and on her blog she's analysed Allen's "exploration of what it means to be a family."
Eric Selinger, with a focus on Allen's revision of "bodice-ripper" conventions
There have also been quite a large number of reviews of Virgin Slave, Barbarian King:
CataRomance's Julie Bonello states that "Louise Allen’s historical romances are in a class of their own. Meticulously researched, wonderfully evocative and absolutely mesmerizing, her novels are a surefire guarantee of excellence [...]. Romantic, enthralling and atmospheric, Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is a powerful love story featuring two vividly drawn characters you will find absolutely impossible to resist." Star Rating: 4.5
Romantic Times's Kathe Robin gives the following summary: "Accurate political details, a noble savage hero, a heroine who comes to appreciate another culture and a jealous woman who schemes to win the hero's love all harken back to the classic '80s Indian romances. Allen proves that timeless themes always entertain." RT Rating: 3 stars
Mrs Giggles gives the following summary: "This perplexing politically-correct, sanitized, and rather bloodless story makes being a captive slave of a Visigoth barbarian come off like a walk in the park. File this one under It does not compute." Her review specifies that she finds the book unbelievable mainly because of issues of historical inaccuracy: "While this book is pretty readable, I find that there is too little in this story that feels remotely real for the setting and storyline." She gives it a rating of 65/100.
Terri Pray writes that "Ms. Allen has written a delicious novel that I found hard to put down. Wulfric is strong, compelling, honorable, and sensual. He makes some hard choices that put others first ahead of his own desires in life and love, and by doing so he won my heart in a way that few romantic heroes have done before."
Alicia Thomas at The Good, the Bad, the Unread gives the novel a B: "Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is fiction but the presentation of the principal parties involved (under light, quick inspection) rings true. So, with historical accuracy out of the way, what about the characters? Wulfric is a great hero. He’s exactly what you’d want a hero to be. He’s a little too perfect but it’s ok. Julia has a lot to learn and she changes and grows through the book. [...] a few things niggled at me. Over all, though, this book is a great read for any historical buff."
Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books "finished the book deflated and disappointed that a premise that could have yielded so much was flat, predictable, and ultimately a big yawn." SB Sarah touches on something TMT Sarah felt was the most unusual aspect of the book: "Beyond the cultural differences, which are easily mended with the Superglue of effortless assimilation and blithe acceptance, there is no villain, no issue to be overcome except that of choice and geography." Trashy Books Grade: D
Jayne and Jane at Dear Author give their opinions. For Jayne "There are parts I like which then got balanced with things that seemed to be taken straight from Romance Central and that I’d read 100 times before. The whole ends up being a C+". Jane managed to find "one positive thing I can say about this book [...] I didn’t find it to be advancing the agenda of the male patriarchy and the suppression of females." Other than that, Jane thought that "There was no serious introspection at the differences between Roman and Visigoth cultures. Instead, the cultural conflict comes down to Goth=Good and Romans=Rotten." She gave it a C- .
Candy at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gives the novel a D and says that "Wulfric is a politically correct hero, and hot damn, does that ever make him tiresome. [...] he’s not a human so much as he is a Ken Doll, except instead of plastic, he’s molded from untempered wish fulfillment". Laura finds this highly diverting, since she'd been comparing Wulfric to Aeneas. Admittedly "The extent to which the Aeneid promotes or subverts the political program of Augustus is debated," but if you read it as "a national epic, a glorification and exaltation of Rome and its people", then Virgil really couldn't have got any more "politically correct" than that, and Aeneas has been described as being "handsome and strong, pious and brave, serious and wise, indeed just a bit too perfect in some people's eyes" (Janson 53).
Meriam at Rape and Adverbs thinks that "Allen has taken a situation ripe with conflict and then effectively removed the heart of the conflict. [...] some of my favourite romances deal with this imbalance beautifully - To Have and to Hold, My Reckless Heart, Voices of the Night, The Smoke Thief. These stories work so well because the imbalance is compellingly portrayed, before it is negotiated and then redressed to achieve a satisfying HEA (to put it very simply). Having failed to present a compelling power imbalance with suitably high stakes (incredible as it seems, in a master/ slave dynamic) the romance fails to take off in VS,BK. I was left thinking that the only other master/slave romance I have read - Johanna Lindsey’s Hearts Aflame, complete with spanking, chains and a giant Viking heroine - worked better as a romance." She gives Allen's novel a C+
Shannon C at Flight into Fantasy is of the opinion that "The characters are standard romance novel fare. Julia is a feisty, well-bred woman with a touch of the Mary Sue [...] Wulfric is equally derivitive. He’s a leader of men who is nonetheless kind to children, women and puppies, and he has the world’s most intelligent wolf as a companion and pet. [...] But the real disappointment for me was the setting. I really wanted to learn more about Rome and the Visigoths, and I felt that this rather colorful time period was rather underutilized. It’s obvious that Ms. Allen did some research, and while I didn’t really want pages and pages of it crammed down my throat, I’d have liked a bit more." She gives the novel a C+
Our internet extravaganza even spawned a couple of non-review responses:
Hotflashes51 does "the Bindel thing. I blogged about the book without buying it." Her comments, which have something of an "a plague on both your houses" feel ("Of this debacle the only one that holds my sympathy and admiration is Louise Allen. She has behaved elegantly. Very professionally. She is a writer, so she wrote a book to entertain the masses. She didn’t write it to change the world or perpetuate any kind of myth or behavior. Nor did she write it to be meticulously analyzed by all a thunder"), can be found at her blog, Hot Flashes Cranky Life.
The illustration is of Janus, "the Roman god of gates and doors (ianua), beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions" and this month takes its name from him. I've borrowed the picture from the University of Memphis's Cognitive Computing Research Group.
"Every poem," says Harold Bloom, "is a misinterpretation of a parent poem." Is every romance novel likewise a misreading, a creative revision, of some parent romance? Probably not, but Bloom’s approach to literary history was all the rage when I headed off to graduate school in the 1980s, and I’ve never entirely grown out of it. And Virgin Slave, Barbarian King can certainly be read as a text that rewrites—for better or for worse—one famous predecessor, Kathleen Woodiwiss's early bestseller The Wolf and the Dove (1974), and more confidently as a text that echoes and revises crucial topoi from the sweeping historical romances that revolutionized the genre in the 1970s. Allen borrows scenes and character descriptions familiar from, and made popular by, the “bodice-ripper” romance, but she tames them, drains their violence, and imbues them with more consoling, egalitarian values. Just as her Visigoths want to build a new society in the shell of the old, adding a dash of “Visigoth honour” to “the good things of the Empire” (147), Allen’s novel aspires to offer the best of both worlds. Whether you think it succeeds, comes across as nostalgic, or simply fails, a lamb in wolf’s clothing, may be a matter of taste. For now, description, rather than evaluation, is the task at hand.
[Note: with her attention to historical detail, Allen probably has more in common with Roberta Gellis than with Woodiwiss as an author, and Woodiwiss, an American, may not have had nearly the impact in the UK that she had in the US. That said, as a text, Virgin Slave, Barbarian King strikes me as more profitably to be compared with The Wolf and the Dove--not least for the whole "wolf" thing--than with Gellis's Roselyndenovels, and I am comfortable working by comparison and contrast even if no direct influence can be proved.]
As you may recall, The Wolf and the Dove begins with a deliciously campy "myth," impossible to read now without hearing the dulcet strains of Spinal Tap in the background.
"In times of yore," Woodiwiss writes, "when druids roamed the northern forests of England and held their sabbaths in the dark of the moon, a young man grew enamored with battle and violence and studied the arts of war until none could best him." This young man, nicknamed "The Wolf," angers the Great God Woden with his “impudence”; Woden therefore turns him into an iron statue of his namesake and leaves him waiting in the woods near Scotland for "times of war" to come. Then, only, then, will he be set free to prove that he can turn his strength into actual “valor.” The eponymous hero of this novel, Wulfgar, likewise must be changed, this time by love, from a bitter, violent man into a warrior for what is right and good. The comparison to “Beauty and the Beast” is obvious; less obvious, but just as crucial, would be the way that Woodiwiss here repeats the plot of E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, in which the hero must change from a cruel, self-centered man into a “preux chevalier.” To coin a term, each man needs to be chivalrized, and in the process, each must learn to love and respect the woman he has heretofore simply taken.)
As the prologue closes, it’s business time, or at least time for a clash of cultures, medieval-style. "William's hordes crossed the channel and Harold rode from the north and war drew near,” Woodiwiss writes; a page later, as the novel proper begins, the author posts a talismanic date: October 28, 1066, a day when "hewn bodies" litter the earth outside newly Norman Darkenwald Hall and an assortment of Saxon women--notably our heroine, Aislinn, her mother Lady Maidia, and the unlucky 15-year old serving girl, Hlynn--wait within to be brutalized by evil Sir Ragnor de Marte. In the first twenty-six pages, all of the women have been bound and kicked, snoods and bodices (well, gunnas) have been ripped, and Hlynn has been gang-raped. “You are mine, I am your master,” Ragnor slurs, drunken, into Aislinn’s neck as his naked body pins her down—and with that, the first chapter ends.
The sexual violence in these opening scenes serves a number of functions in this novel, and in others like it from the period.
Structurally, it serves as a baseline of awfulness, against which the reader can measure subsequent events and encounters, especially sexual encounters. When we meet Wulfgar, we know that we’re supposed to prefer him to Ragnor; the latter is repulsive and a vile rapist while the former is attractive and, we’re told, his kisses and later sex with the heroine spark pleasure in her, first unwilling, and finally exultant. (The trajectory of the novel runs from sexual victimhood to sexual agency, from “unwilling” pleasure to actual enjoyment, with recurrent threats of rape from Ragnor and others to keep the book’s distinctions clear.)
Politically, we might say that it gives us a justification for patriarchy and for particular negotiations with it. The alternative to Wulfgar is not freedom, not equality, but anarchy, to which women are particularly vulnerable. We might say that this subgenre of romance includes both a critique of patriarchal violence, or at least of male violence, as well as a vision of how to triumph, not over, but within those parameters, largely through connection with and transformation of the strongest male around. (Given the context of the early 1970s, we might say that such novels place themselves somewhere to the left of The Total Woman, but well to the right of Fear of Flying; they have My Secret Garden somewhere in their view as well.)
Psychologically—well, here things get dicey, for me. Had I but world enough and time, I’d use Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination to discuss this deployment of sexual violence. Briefly, if to be a woman in this context is to choose between bad choices, hawk and wolf (as Aislinn puts it on p. 43, forced to pick either Ragnor and Wulfgar) then it’s both logical and tempting for the heroine to affiliate, or even identify, with a man who claims to respect one’s fighting spirit, who insists on “taming a shrew” (56) through pleasure as well as force, and so on. Yet this does little to explain the appeal of such scenes to the reader, or the use of them to affect the reader. Is there some clue to be found in Laura Kinsale’s essay on “The Androgynous Reader,” or in Deborah Lutz’s notion that the “dangerous lover” serves as a distant mirror of the heroine, who “finds her most authentic self at the heart of what seems at first most foreign and outside her way of being—an arrogant, hateful other” (xi)? Perhaps a fantasy of resilience is at work: the heroine endures, resists, and triumphs over horrors, and we identify with that? One last, less fraught explanation might come from the well-documented psychological phenomenon of “misattributed arousal.” Through fear the text triggers an adrenaline rush—pounding heart, physiological excitement, emotional frangibility—and for some readers that excitement then gets associated with the hero / heroine relationship, perhaps. (Clearly I need help with this—but I don’t think I’m the only one who does!)
There is more to say, of course, about the Woodiwiss, but in the interests of time, let me turn now to Virgin Slave, Barbarian King.
You don’t have to read very far into Allen's novel for it to feel a bit familiar—not a bad thing, in romance aesthetics—or for its softening, revisionist moves to begin. Let me start with the familiarities, the signals this novel sends that it has an older, “bodice-ripper” version of historical romance somewhere in its ancestry.
Like Woodiwiss, Allen begins with a date--"24th day of August, AD 410"--, which marks a moment of crisis. In both novels an invasion has occurred, and in both war has stripped away the veneer of civilization, revealing the sorry truth that Hobbes warns about in Leviathan, quoting the Roman author Plautus: in the absence of authority, homo homini lupus est, man is wolf to man. A nameless slave, about Hlynn’s age, has already been the first victim, here killed before she could be forced. Before the second page is through we see the requisite, genre-defining tug at our heroine’s neckline: “His fingers grasped the neck of her tunic and yanked downwards, his sweaty hand sliding over the bared flesh” (8). When our hero appears, he is again a leader of the pack: a figure who is not simply powerful, but also (the narrator assures us) “alien, utterly male” (10). Within a few chapters we hit such familiar topoi as the erotic bathing scene (62-5), a hero who is “angry enough to turn [the heroine] over his knee” (60) and who wonders whether he will need to “break her spirit” in order to “bend her to his will” (61), a pervasive rhetoric of ownership (“mine,” “my woman,” “”you are mine” declared “with the arrogance that never failed to take her breath away” ), and any number of scenes in which sexual passion is described as “savage” (193), laced with “violence” (164), and so on. I do not, I should emphasize, list these as a criticism of the book; rather, I see each as a generic marker, a set piece, even, that places this novel in the sub-genre of erotic historical romance. They offer Allen an opportunity to repeat and vary generic conventions, just as the set scheme of a pentameter line allows us to spot and savor metrical substitutions. Allen seizes this opportunity, revising her material through a series of substitutions and gestures of containment.
Consider, for example, the wolf we meet in the opening scene. It is not wild, nor does it attack, although it may guide and warn. “The animal had [Julia’s] arm between its jaws,” Allen writes in the opening chapter. “It was not biting, just holding on with a pressure that would not crack an egg, yet which had all the potential to rip her flesh from her bones” (17). Obviously this serves as a figure for Wulfric, powerful enough to rape or kill Julia yet bound by honor and simple kindness, never threatening either. (Wulfric starts, as a character, with the traits that Wulfgar must struggle to achieve.) Less obviously, I take it that the wolf’s hold is a figure for the “hold” that the rhetoric of male strangeness, heroic arrogance, sexual power struggle (see 66), and erotic possession has over the reader, or at least over the genre. In their wild state, uncontrolled, these would be terrible; to be useful, they must retain just enough strength to lend a shiver of the illicit, the lawless, the extreme. The novel invokes them repeatedly, along with familiar claims about impulses that are “fundamentally” male and female—but the reader who goes to Virgin Slave, Barbarian King for the strum und drang of a Woodiwiss novel will be disappointed. The novel may gesture towards the high drama of sexual difference, but it treats this material awfully sweetly, lightly, even naively. It’s costume jewelry, like the chains--“light, and of a precious metal, naturally”--that Julia imagines in a brief, soft-focus fantasy of herself as a “sex slave” (107-8). Or, to draw another metaphor from the book, it’s like the dormant volcano on whose slopes the couple first make love. When Julia comes, she wonders, “Did the volcano explode?” ( 130). It hasn’t, it doesn’t, and the erotic “force beyond her understanding” it represents doesn’t really seem that far beyond her understanding, after all (130).
At its heart, Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is a domestic, even domesticated romance. I mean by this not only that its treatment of eros and sexual difference tends to moderation, not extremity, but also that the novel consistently longs for and valorizes a particular version of “home.” Julia has no real home as the novel begins—we are repeatedly told that she is lonely in her life in Rome, that she has no network of relationships to make her happy there, and still worse, no work to do that anyone values, that matters to anyone. (Allen frames Julia’s captivity as an opportunity for her to prove her strength and learn to fight (20), to show her strength, as she would never have done in the safe confines of Roman society.) Among the Visigoths she finds all of these—it’s as though she had been carried off to a bourgeois Forest of Arden, and as though the reader were carried off, while she reads, to a similarly supportive community, not all that different, finally, from “real life.” Wulfric has a place among the Goths, friends and family and work to do, but the community itself is homeless, nomadic, and he’s essentially a public figure there, with no separate private, domestic life. (No life without wife, as Mr. Kohli says in Bride and Prejudice.)
The foundation of the home this couple creates lies partly in their demonstrated care for one another, and partly in a sexuality for which we have, I think, a less famous, less elaborated, less dramatic, and potentially less sexy rhetoric to draw on: a mix, as the novel puts it, of “innocence and trust and desire” (124). What shall we make of this combination, their “esteem enlivened by desire,” to quote the poet James Thomson, from The Seasons (Spring)?
In her essay on the novel’s account of masculine honor, Sarah refers to what she sees as its jarringly anachronistic version of marital love. Whether or not it is in fact an anachronism, their notably egalitarian, affectionate love match fits quite nicely into the book as a “new foundation myth,” as Laura puts it in her own impressive piece. Just as Milton writes a (for his time) modern notion of companionate love into the story of Adam and Eve, the origins of mankind, Allen inscribes companionate love into a deep, foundational moment in European culture, “the basis of the Europe we live in today” (294).
As history, this may be bunk. I’ll need to spend a day or two with Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: a History and Jean Hagstrum’s Esteem Enlivened by Desire: the Couple from Homer to Shakespeare to judge, and even then I’d probably be bluffing. (More on this anon.) As literature, though, such transpositions serve a worthwhile purpose, and even have a fancy theoretical name, courtesy of Harold Bloom, the critic I came in with. In Bloom, a move like this is called a “metaleptic reversal”: a rhetorical turn whereby something later (a text, an idea, whatever) claims to be in fact earlier than its temporal precursor, or even manages to seem the original, with the previous text simply a falling off or secondary instance. Surely it’s no accident that Allen’s hero and heroine end up living together in Provence, home of the troubadours, or that their imagined villa lies “in the shadow of Mont Ventoux” (294), a mountain internationally famous thanks in large part to the poet Petrarch.
In Allen’s foundation myth, as in Milton’s, companionate love is older than troubadour fin amors or unrequited Petrarchan longing--just as, to be too clever by half for a moment, her novel's merger of cultures antedates the one enacted in the Woodiwiss novel. In fantasy, it is not a new turn in marriage, circa 1750; rather, it is at the very least contemporary with the colder-hearted thought that marriage is a move in the struggle for power, with every wife, in Julia’s words, “a gaming piece on the board where family and civic status was decided” (103). It is, therefore, an original version of love, perhaps the original, and thus the one to which subsequent "revolutions "actually, and quite properly, return.
The main theme of this novel, as I read it, was that of honor and the knotty questions of how to define it, how to live it, who was allowed to possess it, and how to deal with it in a love relationship. The honor projected in this novel was a particularly masculine honor, but then how female authors construct masculinity, how that affects the love story, and what it means for the reader are my particular obsessions. This novel, however, seemed almost tailor-made for my brand of analysis, especially as it comments on Bindel's analysis of the romance genre.
A few words about historical accuracy: I chafed against our choice of this book from the three Bindel commented on. I don't like reading novels set before about 1750, because our understanding of our own subjectivity, of love relationships, of individuality, of our socio-economic place in life, of what it meant to be human changed in the eighteenth century and historically accurate depictions of life before the eighteenth century would, in my opinion, be almost incomprehensible to modern readers because what it means to be human has changed so much. Take that back 1600 years to 410 AD, and my concerns are multiplied ten-fold. Modern subjectivity is a Romantic-era construct, to a large degree, and what has changed the most is the power and importance and expression of love between two individuals and its relation to marriage. So reading about a Visigoth and a Roman "falling in love" and finding their happy ending in marriage in ways that our modern sensibilities can understand is a complete historical anachronism and that bugs me. So I usually avoid novels set before 1750, and certainly this is the first romance I've read set before 1300 AD (and it's only Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart that sets that date back before the eighteenth century). I will state now that it is my belief that Allen's construction of masculinity has nothing to do with "real," historical Visigoths except in that she plays now and then with modern popular understanding of "barbarians." Rather, her depiction of Wulfric and of the Romans represent a completely modern representation of ideal masculinity.
That aside, Bindel could hardly have made a more ironic choice than Allen's novel when condemning popular romances as "misogynistic hate speech" that perpetuates violence against women. The first act performed by the hero Wulfric when he enters the action of the novel is to kill the two Romans who have killed Julia's female slave and are trying to rape Julia (10). He punishes violence against women swiftly and finally. Almost the first thing Wulfric says to Julia is in response to her fear of rape: "I do not approve of ravishing women, as you saw just now. You need not fear that" (16). When the reader enters Wulfric's point of view in Chapter Three, the first thing he reveals is his inability to explain his attraction to Julia: "Something about this dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned creature called to him" (33), but the second thing is a reiteration of his feelings about rape:
There was fear at the back of those brown eyes, fear that he would force her to do more than carry water, despite his pledge, and that angered him.
These Romans had no concept of honour, no respect for a man's word. (33-34)
Wulfric's horror and complete disavowal of violence against women, then, is tied to his concept of honor. Indeed, later this link is made even more explicit: "And he would not take what he so easily could, because his faith told him it was wrong and his honour despised the thought that he would force a woman" (69).
This is the same honor that is posited as the cause for the sacking of Rome in the first place. Berig, Wulfric's squire, explains to Julia:
"We keep our word, all of us. Your emperor is an oath-breaker." He put loathing into the words. "There is nothing worse. If you cannot trust a man's word, what can you trust? He is less than a man, he is not fit to lead."
"It is politics. Honorius must do what is right for the state," Julia protested. What am I doing, debating politics with a barbarian youth while the city burns around us?
The boy stared at her as though she had sprouted two heads. "Do Roman women understand nothing of honour? Your emperor gave his word. He broke it, now he must pay." (21)
Honor, therefore, is a particularly masculine trait, and is explicitly tied to what it means to be a good man. The barbarian men are consistently shown as possessing honor (even the men who challenge Wulfric do so with honor--there is no villain in this book), whereas the Roman men are shown as lacking in honor because they lack the desire to act like men (they run, hide, facillate, don't fight to defend their own, keep themselves fit for show not action, and lie in political situations).
Julia (and the reader) is indoctrinated into the definition of masculine honor through the first half of the novel by observing it in Wulfric's actions. He kills the Romans who are trying to rape her; he doesn't rape her; he acts as councillor to his king; he wins a challenge fight against a fellow barbarian. Everything he does, he does with honor, and this point is hammered home to Julia and the reader again and again.
In the scene in which Julia understands the importance of the long hair of Visigoth men (and the Samson and Delilah imagery is glaringly obvious here!), masculinity is presented as THE defining characteristic of subjectivity for Wulfric: "she could see it went to the heart of what he was as a man" (76). Realizing what she almost did by cutting his hair, she thinks, "she could not imagine killing someone's soul, their sense of themselves. It seemed Wulfric knew that about her, just as she knew, deep down, he would never force her, never harm her" (76). The barbarian symbol of masculinity--their long hair--is a symbol of "their sense of themselves," defining who they are as people. And again, that iconic masculinity is joined with Wulfric's inability to rape Julia.
Besides NOT raping her, Wulfric allies his brand of honor and his relationship with Julia in important ways. After a particularly explosive sexual encounter, Wulfric realizes that Julia trusts him: "Somewhere there was a trust in him and in his honour. He should not care, but it seemed that he did and that the thought warmed him, deep inside where he kep the emotions that a leader could not show" (69). Wulfric's emotions for Julia are paired with his belief in her trust in his honor. if he didn't know that she knew that he was a Good Man, he wouldn't be as attracted to her as he is. He spends a lot of time unsure of his own feelings, unable to name them when he feels them ("What in Hades was wrong with him now?" he asks himself when he's worried for Julia's safety (122), and admits to himself that "I have no idea what it means" that he is angry about his concern for her safety when she disappears (123)), but when he finally admits to himself that he loves her, he connects it again with his honor: "To liken a man's honour in battle to his feelings for a woman just showed how far he had fallen into love with this brown-eyed Roman" (196). The very thing that defines him as a man--his willingness to fight for "his kin, his tribe, his king, his family, his God" (183)--is conflated with his love for Julia.
Which is not to say that Bindel's concerns aren't still valid. Bindel wrote, "But rather than becoming a "new man", it seems he has become even more masculine and domineering in order to keep the heroine in line. This is how the rape fantasies so integral to the plot have been able to persist." Wulfric certainly fits this mold as well. The first few sexual encounters between Wulfric and Julia are almost violent, and Wulfric is invariably described as dominant and dominating, but also unable to control himself around Julia.
One of their first kisses is told from Julia's perspective:
They were both angry. She had no idea whether she was more angry at him than herself, but there was no mistaking that Wulfric was furious with her, and utterly determined to bring her panting and pleading to his feet.
His grip on her was punishingly hard, his mouth plundered without any mercy, lips and teeth and tongue possessing and taking with a power that seemed to only increase as she refused to be cowed by it. He plunged his tongue into her open mouth, hard and hot. Innocent of a man's body she might be, but Julia knew what this invasion mimicked. (66)
After their encounter, she "saw on Wulfric's face nothing but male arrogance and the desire to dominate" (66). The power in these sexual encounters, however, is balanced with the absolute belief in Wulfric's inability to rape (when they finally do have sex, Julia's consent is explicitly sought and given: "'Certain?' he asked quietly. 'Certain.' She nodded" ), and with domesticity.
While the Visigoth's attacked Rome because the Roman emperor had no honor, what they had been promised and never given was land of their own that they could settle on. Wulfric and his barbarian horde are depicted as wanting domesticity more than anything else. Wulfric thinks, "They had taken the greatest city on earth, they held the sister of the emperor, they could strip Rome of gold and slaves and treasures. But were they any closer to what they needed, their safe homeland?" (34). Julia observes:
Through the open doorway, Julia could see the bustle of camp life as the sun began to set. Men were beginning to come back to their home fires, children running out to met [sic] them, womenfold standing up from tending their cooking pots to wave, or to exchange a kiss with the big, long-haired warriors. So fierce, so savage looking, and yet, apparently, so domestic. There seemed real affection there." (38)
This domesticity allows Julia to feel at home in the Visigoth camp on her first night there: "Hazily there was the realisation that she was not feeling lonely, she was feeling warm and safe and at home" (45).
Once again, this innate quality in Wulfric is soon turned to the service of the love story. Wulfric comes to view "home" and the stability it offers as residing in Julia, rather than in a particular place:
He had given up calling anywhere home years ago, clinging instead to the vision of a villa somewhere in Gaul, shady courtyards, lush fields, a vision that Alaric's orders to go south had dashed to fragments. It had become an impossible dream and yet now one slender girl with brown eyes and the courage of a warrior had given him a home wherever she was." (150)
The suspense at the end of the novel is located in the uncertainty over who will succeed the dead king, with Wulfric depicted as one of the best men for the job because he's the only one who doesn't want it. But the reader is not privy to the resolution of that tension because Julia is taken home by the Roman army after they attack the Visigoth band. She is in Rome when the new Visigoth king is named and all she knows is that it's not Wulfric, making her fear that he's dead. He comes to rescue her, however, just as she's ready to rescue herself. But he cuts off his hair, the symbol of his masculinity, of his leadership, and his "sense of himself," in order to be able to blend into the Roman crowd. Once they are together again, he tells Julia, "I want to go north into Gaul, not wait for Honorius and Athaulf to talk endlessly for years. I want to buy land, no wait for it to be given. I want to settle, learn to live with my Roman neighbours. I told my kin that, and said that if that is not what they wanted, then I released them from their fealty" (286). So the main tension of the novel is resolved off-stage, as almost a side issue, because after Wulfric's decision to find his domestic space by himself, the issue of who is king and what that means to the Gothic tribes is unimportant. Wulfric is creating his own reality, and while "a king must keep his hair . . . in this new world, a leader need not" (286). When they escape Julia's parents' house and find their ox carts hidden in the streets, Julia settles on is and tells Wulfric, "now I am home" (291). Wulfric agrees: "So am I. Do you know, I thought I would never have one until we found a place to settle. I did not realise all that I needed was to be where my love was. So simple, so hard to find. You are my home, Julia, my love" (291).
Ideal masculinity, then, is embodied in a man who is a natural leader, but unambitious, a fighter and warrior who just wants a home where he can farm, a barbarian and "savage" who finds violence against women abhorrent, a man whose personal sense of honor is paramount but who will sacrifice its symbol to recover his lover, and the construction of this image is the heart of this novel.