Sunday, December 27, 2009

CFP: Popular Fictions: Selling Culture?

Association for Research in Popular Fictions

Popular fictions: selling culture?

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st November 2010
Liverpool John Moores University

Call for papers: We welcome papers considering popular narratives or cultural practices across any media (film, television, graphic novel, radio, print, cartoons and other narrative art, online), historical period and genre.

Topics for this conference might include, but are not limited to:
  • Book clubs and reading groups
  • Online discussions and communities
  • Fandom and cult media
  • Interactive fictions
  • Cultural industries and the production of culture
  • Cultural policy, cultural texts
  • Nineteenth-century serialisation
  • The bestseller
  • Interactive audiences
  • Syndication
  • Lending / renting commodities (e.g. the iPlayer and other IPTV)
  • Consumption and lifestyle
  • Merchandising and collecting
  • Product placement in popular narrative
  • Popular fictions as multi-platform brands
  • Long format TV
  • 3D and other immersive media
  • Children’s fictions
  • Online and multiplayer gaming
  • Copyright and format
  • 360-degree commissioning
  • Christmas books and specials
  • Content not conduit
  • Advertising and narrative
  • Selling science fiction and fantasy
  • Promotion and the author
Please contact: Nickianne Moody, convenor for ARPF, Liverpool John Moores University, Dean Walters Building, St James Road, Liverpool L1 7BR, U.K.
Email: Fax: +44 (0)151 643 1980

Calls for specific panels will be announced via the ARPF website

Monday, December 21, 2009

Romance Seminar at Yale

Michelle Buonfiglio has news that Cara Elliott and Lauren Willig will be presenting a seminar on “Reading the Historical Romance Novel,” at Yale University:
Beginning with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Elliott and Willig plan to examine some of the tropes and changes which are unique to the Regency romance, and those which, according to Willig, “mirror developments in the romance community as a whole.” From Austen, the course moves through Georgette Heyer and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, looks at changing attitudes towards sexuality and heroism in a variety of authors over a thirty-year time span, then continues through Regency paranormals to chick lit.
More details are available at Michelle Buonfiglio's blog and she also discusses the news at her Barnes & Noble blog.

Those at the university can apply to attend the seminar, which will take place in Saybrook in spring term 2010. They might also find it useful to know the following:
CSSY 222b (DC), Hu, "The Historical Romance Novel" Andrea DaRif and Lauren Willig, historical novelists. Lecturers in Yale College. Approved for elective credit to the major in English; not approved for credit toward the pre-1900 requirement.

Meetings: M 2:30–4:30
SY: Lyceum

The Regency romance tradition from the works of Jane Austen to modern permutations of the genre. Discussion of novels in textual, historical, and sociological context through examination of changing tropes and themes.

The illustration is from Wikipedia. These particular shades of Dianthus caryophyllus seemed appropriate in the circumstances (the flowers on that cover are certainly the right colour, but I suspect they might not be the right species. The book is by Cara Elliott's alter ego).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Congratulations, Sandy!

She has slain her papery dragon and convinced her oral examiners of her prowess so she is now Dr Sandra Schwab! Her thesis is titled
"Of Dragons, Knights & Virgin Maidens - Dragonslaying and Gender Roles from Richard Johnson to Modern Popular Fiction." It's basically an overview of the development of the dragonslayer story from 1596 to 2002, covering Elizabethan romance, folk literature, nineteenth-century & early-twentieth-century medievalism, fantasy and romance. The focus is mainly on the development in Britain, but I also discuss a few German ("Kinder- und Hausmärchen"!) and US American texts.

The origami dragon was designed and made by OrigamiWolf and copied in accordance with the Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sarah Frantz on "Darcy’s Vampiric Descendants"

I am very pleased to be able to announce that Sarah S. G. Frantz's "Darcy’s Vampiric Descendants: Austen’s Perfect Romance Hero and J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood" is now online in volume 30.1 (Winter 2009) of Persuasions On-line, a publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

The juxtapositioning of Darcy and vampires in the title of the essay reminded me of the existence of Vampire Darcy’s Desire: A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation by Regina Jeffers and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange, but Sarah Frantz's essay is not about such very direct vampiric descendants. Indeed, the fact that J. R. Ward's heroes are vampires is relatively unimportant to her discussion, except inasmuch as it is the cause of their "hypermasculinity."

Frantz argues that
the proof of the power and appeal of the hero’s confession, and of Austen’s genius in creating it in the first place, can be found in the modern romance reader’s continued desire for similar masculine confession and emotion in modern romance heroes. Indeed, the most significant change in popular romance over the last thirty years is the increase in the reader’s access to the thoughts and emotions of the romance hero. [...] From the perspective of popular romance narratives, then, Austen’s achievement was to locate the emotional climax of the novel in Darcy’s narration of his maturing emotional state, even though it was constructed primarily from the exterior through dialogue. Modern popular romances expand and exploit the power and appeal of Darcy’s confession by providing continuous access to the interior perspective of the romance hero as he realizes and admits that his heroine has become indispensible to his happiness.
It could, perhaps, be argued that the hero's confession was not created by Austen. In Diego de San Pedro's late fifteenth-century Spanish sentimental romance, Cárcel de Amor, for example, it is initially made through an intermediary. However, the hero's pains are also depicted via his apparent imprisonment in a prison of love, where he is chained, and crowned with metal spikes. He eventually dies of love, but his sufferings and their depiction suggest that there has been a very long and varied tradition of depicting heroes' immense emotional suffering caused by love. Even if one only goes as far back as Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) we can find a hero making a confession of love. Mr B.'s letter to Pamela, in which he opens with the words "In vain, my Pamela, do I find it to struggle against my Affection for you" (250) even contains the same words, "In vain" and "struggle," which are used by Mr Darcy: "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you" (Chapter 34). Mr B's love also appears to make him fall ill and he tells Pamela from his sickbed that:
Life is no Life without you! If you had refused me, and yet I had hardly Hopes you would oblige me, I should have had a severe Fit of it, I believe; for I was taken very oddly, and knew not what to make of myself: But now I shall be well instantly. (255-56)
Compared to some earlier heroes and the sometimes very dramatic manifestations of their lovesickness, Mr Darcy's outburst may indeed seem "relatively mild." Frantz argues that is the insights which modern romances provide into "the interior perspective of the romance hero" which have led to an intensification in the type of evidence provided of the hero's emotions:
Darcy’s relatively mild words to Elizabeth in both the first and second proposal scenes are meaningful because the lack of narrative access to his internal perspective makes the directly expressed words a powerful representation of the barriers he has overcome in order to be able to express them at all. But when access to the hero’s thoughts is granted by the narrative, the emotional power of the hero’s confession of his feelings for and his education by the heroine must be attained through other the narrative strategies, resulting not only in supernatural heroes whose inhuman abilities redefine the limits of the merely human hero, but also in a narrative insistence on locating the emotional climax of the novel in the hero’s tears. Stereotypically in modern popular romance, the more masculine the hero, the more emotionless he is, and the larger the barrier that must be overcome to achieve access to his emotions.
Frantz focuses on heroes' tears:
In order for these superhuman men to prove that they have broken through the barrier of their masculine emotionlessness enough to fall in love with and appreciate the changes wrought by the heroine, the narratives invariably depict them crying. Masculine tears are something modern women are taught to long for as demonstrating the depths of a man’s emotions, precisely because our culture paradoxically teaches boys and men that, in order to be “real” men, they should never cry.
Of course, not all modern romances feature "superhuman men," and not all "modern women are taught to long for" masculine tears. Furthermore, not all readers of the essay will share the same "culture." Given that Frantz's essay moves from analysis of an early nineteenth-century English tex to several early twenty-first-century American ones, it might have been useful to have been told a little bit more about differences between the cultures in which they were both produced. Perhaps differences in culture, as well as differences in the degree of access the author grants the reader into the heroes' thoughts, have affected the depiction of "the hero’s confession of his feelings." In addition, although Ward's novels "invariably depict them [the heroes] crying," not all modern romance heroes cry.

In fact, Frantz seems to acknowledge this last point when she writes that "The current trend in the hero-focused popular romance means that the more alpha the hero, the more likely he is to cry to prove his love for the heroine." She has therefore chosen to study the tears shed by the heroes of J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series and she concludes that
As campy as they are, Ward’s hypermasculine vampires are Darcy’s ultimate heirs. Darcy not only must mature because of his love for Elizabeth, but he must also recognize and welcome the change his heroine has wrought in him. Superhuman, nearly immortal, cursed, and emotionless, Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Butch, Vishous, and later Phury and Rhevenge, represent the hyperbolic extreme of Darcy’s attractiveness, power, and pride. Their tears of love, acceptance, and despair break through strong taboos of masculinity and represent the inevitable physical embodiment of Darcy’s verbal expression of his emotional maturation. The stunning popularity of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series indicates that modern romance readers—just like Darcy’s first fans—appreciate the opportunity to plumb the true emotional depths of the romance hero. The more masculine the man and the more devastating to his own emotional control is his admission of the importance of love to his very existence, the more powerful and precious that admission is to the reader. Pamela Regis, after claiming Pride and Prejudice as the Ur-text of popular romance fiction, argues that “Ordering society is now an issue of taming or healing the hero. . . . Untamed or unhealed, the hero will not truly appreciate the role of the heroine in his life; he will not engage with her emotionally” (114). The spectacle of masculine tears in the popular romance both tames and heals the hero and allows him to accept, appreciate, and verbalize the necessity of his love for his heroine. But Darcy led the way two hundred years ago.
You can read the whole article at the Persuasions On-line website.

I do wonder where this analysis leaves Austen's other novels, and non-alpha romance heroes. Is Northanger Abbey the "Ur-text" of the modern romance beta hero, for example?

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. The Republic of Pemberley's online edition.
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela. Ed. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.

The photo of the "Title page from the first edition of Pride and Prejudice" came from Wikipedia. The photo of the cover of J. R. Ward's Dark Lover came from J. R. Ward's website.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CFP IASPR 2010 - Belgium

We would like to draw your attention to the approaching January 1 2010 deadline for submitting proposals for IASPR's second international conference in Belgium - August 5-7 2010.

Please feel free to circulate this CFP far and wide - the conference is open to scholars from all manner of fields and disciplines and at all stages in their careers.

As conference chair I hope to welcome many of you to Belgium!

The Second Annual International Conference on Popular Romance:
Popular Romance Studies: Theory, Text and Practice
Brussels, Belgium
5-7 August, 2010
The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) is seeking proposals for innovative panels, papers, roundtables, discussion groups, and multi-media presentations that contribute to a sustained conversation about romantic love and its representations in popular media throughout the world, from antiquity to the present. We welcome analyses of individual texts—books, films, websites, songs, performances—as well as broader inquiries into the creative industries that produce and market popular romance and into the emerging critical practice of popular romance studies.
This conference has three main goals:
• To bring to bear contemporary critical theory on the texts and contexts of popular romance, in all forms and media, from all national and cultural traditions
• To foster comparative and intercultural analyses of popular romance, by documenting and/or theorizing what happens to tropes and texts as they move across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries
• To explore the relationships between popular romance tropes and texts as they circulate between elite and popular culture, between different media (e.g., from novel to film, or from song to music video), between cultural representations and the lived experience of readers, viewers, listeners, and lovers
After the conference, proceedings will be subjected to peer-review and published.
IASPR is pleased and proud to announce that the Keynote Speakers for the conference will be Celestino Deleyto, University of Zaragoza, Spain, Lynne Pearce, Lancaster University, UK, and Pamela Regis, McDaniel College, USA.
Please submit proposals by January 1, 2010 and direct questions to:
We are currently pursuing funds to help defray the cost of travel to Belgium for the conference. If these funds become available, we will notify those accepted how to apply for support from IASPR.
For more information as it becomes available, please visit our website:

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Michelle Martin - Pembroke Park

After the discussion of homosexual panic in Heyer's Lady of Quality, I thought it might be interesting to look at a more recent Regency romance where there's very definitely some panic caused by homosexuality. Michelle Martin's Pembroke Park (1986) is subtitled "A bit of a departure: the first lesbian Regency novel," and its dedication mentions "Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer." Martin thus openly acknowledges both her novel's differences from, and its debt to, its literary ancestors.

Joke Hermes's article on "Sexuality in Lesbian Romance Fiction" contains a synopsis of the whole of Pembroke Park and Paulina Palmer has described the novel as "a lesbian version of Pride and Prejudice" (198). She continues by stating that Martin:
signals her debt to Austen by entitling her work Pembroke Park, which recalls the name of Darcy’s country seat Pemberley, and by choosing as the setting for her storyline the village of Heddington, a community as conservative and close-knit as Austen’s Meryton. The opening episode of her novel also displays affinities with Pride and Prejudice in that it centres on the arrival of an affluent visitor with aristocratic connections, and describes the gossip and conjecture the event generates. However, whereas in Austen’s novel the appearance of the rich and handsome Mr Bingley inspires pleasurable excitement among mothers with marriageable daughters, in Martin’s the arrival of the rich and beautiful Lady Diana March [...] generates feelings of despondency and alarm. They are scared that her money and good looks will attract the local gentry and result in her stealing their daughters’ suitors. (198)
The fact that a secondary character, Richard,
need[s] a son to carry on the Sinclair line. However unfair it may be, the estate is entailed solely to male heirs. If I have no son, Laurelwood will pass to my dreadful cousin Collins. (244)
may well recall the Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice who will inherit Longbourn since Mr Bennet lacks a son. Pembroke Park may also contain some slight verbal echoes of Pride and Prejudice: when Joanna's brother, Mr Garfield, declares that Lady Diana is "plain and unattractive" (15), his friend replies that "if she had smiled you would think her more tolerable" (15). This perhaps recalls the crucial importance of the word "tolerable" in Mr Darcy's first assessment of Elizabeth Bennet's physical charms: "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me" (Chapter 3). Joanna herself "dearly loved to be amused" (18) by the folly of her neighbours, much as Elizabeth does, for as the latter declared: ""Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at! [...] That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh" (Chapter 11).

The plot of Pembroke Park does not, however, much resemble that of Pride and Prejudice. It is perhaps more appropriate to think of it as a metafictional novel which includes playful references to other works of fiction.

As the novel opens, Joanna is "walking down a dusty lane" (1), "her mind spinning away to Mr. Scott's newest novel, her thoughts fastening upon knights riding noble steeds as they galloped to the rescue of damsels in distress." Upon hearing hoofbeats, "she shaded her eyes, half expecting to find Ivanhoe galloping towards her" (2). Lady Diana March is no "knight in shining armor" but she is the new owner of Waverly Manor. The allusion to Sir Walter Scott's Waverley is unmistakable.

The convention-defying Lady Hildegarde Dennison perhaps recalls Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. A "silver-haired grande dame of perhaps fifty-five years" (72) she reprimands Joanna:
"Lady Sinclair I am most disappointed in you," Lady Hildegarde said, turning to Joanna. "To have a child is bad enough. To have a child who actually goes out amongst company is worse still. But to have one that screeches is inexcusable." (86)
The sentence structure here may recall Lady Bracknell's most famous pronouncement: "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness" (24). The suspicion that an allusion to Wilde's play is intended is perhaps strengthened by an earlier scene:
"Cruelty and propriety are often synonymous," Lady Dennison declared. Joanna stared at her in amazement.
"I must write that down in my diary tonight," Miss Hunt-Stevens exclaimed. "It sounds so very profound."
"I am always profound, Jennifer," Lady Dennison intoned. "I am surprised you have not remarked it before this."
"But I have!" Miss Hunt-Stevens hastened to assure her. "My diary is simply littered with your profundity." (79)
Wilde was known for his witty statements, which Lady Dennison's resemble, and Miss Hunt-Stevens joins Wilde's Gwendolen and Cecily in keeping a diary. Gwendolen never travels without hers because "One should always have something sensational to read in the train" (65) and Cecily "keep[s] a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn't write them down, I should probably forget all about them" (36).

In Chapter 10 we find an allusion to Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor when Diana and Miss Hunt-Stevens
sat in the main Waverly Drawing Room laughing heartily over letters each had just received from one Mr. Peter Elliot, who seemed to fancy himself a Falstaff. He had written two passionate, and identical, love letters addressed to a Daisy and a Penny who were, apparently, serving girls in a Lancashire tavern. Mr. Elliot, however, had erred in that he had placed these billet doux in envelopes addressed to Diana and Jennifer. (96)
Mr Garfield shows his unsuitability for inclusion in Diana's witty, irreverent circle of friends when he "brought her his own copy of Milton's Paradise Lost" (101). The contrast between their tastes and the respectable, theological work he chooses is emphasised by the fact that on the same page of Pembroke Park two of Diana's female friends are "arguing over Lysistrata" (101), a comic and extremely bawdy play, though Diana's spirituality is demonstrated via her reading of the poetry of Anne Bradstreet (124). Joanna, although Mr Garfield's sister, is able to fit in with Diana's friends because she has always had a penchant for literature of which her aunt disapproves, particularly "that scandalous Mr. Fielding and his Tom Jones of which Joanna was inordinately fond" (2). Joanna is to be found reading a copy of this work later in the novel (182).

The double entendres in Lady Dennison's comment that "Diana has a passion for art and she is [...] a very passionate young woman" (107) and in Diana's own statement to Joanna that having seen the latter's drawings "You have whetted my appetite and I must be satisfied" (109) hint at the connection between Diana's appreciation of art and her sexuality. Her lesbianism is paralleled by her championship of female artists:
Anne Vallayer-Caster [...] a Frenchwoman of consummate skill. She was highly regarded in her own lifetime I'm happy to say. [...] I think her superior to Chardin but most would quarrel with me there. They're all quite wrong, of course. She is a constant source of delight to me. I've another still-life of hers in my bedroom. (25)
and "Rosalba Carriera [...] is one of my favorites. She was particularly praised in her lifetime for her pastels and her allegories, though she is virtually ignored today" (31).

Joanna is an artist whose painting "gives me great pleasure" (32) but "my brother and my aunt cannot tolerate my working on a canvas. They do not approve of my passion for painting and think that I am idling my time away" (84). Diana's outrage at this proof of their "wretched [...] disregard for your needs and desires" (84) and Joanna's response that she is "used to such disregard" draw parallels between Joanna's creative and personal life. Diana's arrival causes Joanna to fully explore both her sexuality and her creativity. It is Diana who first recognises Joanna's talent (106) and
All that Joanna had hoped to capture in paint was seen somehow by Diana and admired in a rush of words and exclamations that left Diana constantly breathless and Joanna reeling with an [sic] hitherto unknown pleasure. (215-16)
The artistic talent isn't all on one side of the relationship, however. Diana composes music and is a talented pianist:
The room swelled with the music that poured from Diana. The surprise Joanna felt was quickly supplanted by the beauty of the music which invaded Joanna's senses and left her feeling curiously exhilarated. Diana [....] was playing her soul. [...] The music revealed its creatress, and awakened its listener. (141-42)
Given the importance of the creative arts in the novel, and the roles they play in stimulating desire and revealing the "soul" of the artist, it is interesting to note that in a "biographical sketch" Martin reveals that
I discovered my first love and only profession - writing - when I was twelve years old but did not start my first novel until after leaving Mills [College]. Three novels later I fell in love again. Pembroke Park was written in celebration.
One can't help but wonder how much Pembroke Park reveals of "its creatress" and her relationships with both literature and "Lightning," one of the people to whom the novel is dedicated and and someone whom Martin describes as both "my love and muse."

  • Hermes, Joke. "Sexuality in Lesbian Romance Fiction." Feminist Review 42 (1992): 49-66.
  • Martin, Michelle. Pembroke Park. Tallahassee, FL: Naiad, 1986.
  • Palmer, Paulina. “Girl Meets Girl: Changing Approaches to the Lesbian Romance.” Fatal Attractions: Rescripting Romance in Contemporary Literature and Film. Ed. Lynne Pearce and Gina Wisker. London: Pluto Press, 1998. 189-204.
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. 1895. Forgotten Books, 2008.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One last call for PCA

The deadline for proposals for the Romance area for the Popular Culture Association national conference is November 30. That's tomorrow, Monday, November 30! So if you want to present a paper on ANY aspect of romance in popular culture (not just romance fiction--we've already got romance and video games, romance and social media, romance and TV shows), please send me and Darcy Martin your proposal.

The conference is in St. Louis, MO, March 31-April 3, 2010 (yes, that's Passover/Easter weekend, but we're done on Saturday night).

Official Call for Proposals/Papers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Romance and Chick Lit Links

Chris Szego on the romance genre and its relationship to fairytales.

Jessica at Read React Review's 'summary of "Reading Romantic Fiction", Chapter 4 of Joanne Hollows’ Feminism Femininity and Popular Culture.'

Chick Lit. Ed. Sarah Gormley and Sara Mills. Working Papers on the Web, 13 (September 2009). This is online and available to be read in full, for free. It contains:
  • 'Introduction'. Sarah Gormley discusses the definition of 'chick lit' and gives a brief history of the genre. She also notes that
    For Harzeswki, the depiction of serial dating in chick lit subverts the primary ‘one woman—one man’ tenet of popular romance identified by Radway (1989); the affording of equal or more attention in chick lit to the quest for self-definition rather than a sole focus on the romance plot shifts emphasis from the centrality of the love story in popular romance; unlike both the novel of manners and the popular romance, chick lit virtually replaces the centrality of the heterosexual hero with the prominence of a gay male best friend; and that narrative closure in the form of an engagement or marriage is not a prerequisite in chick lit reformulates the marriage plot of the novel of manners and the ‘happy ending’ of popular romance fiction.
  • 'Lad lit as mediated intimacy: A postfeminist tale of female power, male vulnerability and toast'. Rosalind Gill suggests that
    Perhaps the most striking feature of lad lit is the difference between the characterisation of masculinity here and in other fictional genres. In traditional romances the heroes are invariably strong, powerful and successful; in spy fiction and military genres they are presented as intelligent, valiant, purposeful; in lad lit, by contrast, readers are offered a distinctly unheroic masculinity—one that is fallible, self-deprecating and liable to fail at any moment.

  • 'When Romantic Heroines Turn Bad: The Rise of the ‘Anti-Chicklit’ Novel.' Sarah Gamble

  • 'Teening Chick Lit?' Imelda Whelehan

  • 'Chick Lit and Marian Keyes: The ideological background of the genre'. Elena Pérez-Serrano

  • 'Chick Lit: A Postfeminist Fairy Tale'. Georgina C. Isbister comments that
    To the extent that Bridget Jones’s Diary and other chick lit novels base their narratives around a love plot, they tend to do so by opposing two types of classic male suitors, the traditional Byronic hero (in Bridget’s case, Daniel Cleaver) and the contemporary nascent feminist hero (Mark Darcy). Here the two heroes together symbolize the protagonist’s negotiations of the traditional gendered romantic fantasy of love versus the contemporary feminist love of equality.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Romance Around the World

George Paizis has written of romantic fiction that
Today the genre originates from two primary sources - North America and the United Kingdom - is written by residents of these countries, acquired and published in these countries, yet translated and sold to tens of millions of readers all over the world. (Love 10)
While I suspect it's probably true that most romances are written, and first published, in English, Paizis seems to have overlooked the Australian and New Zealand romance authors. As far as I know associations for romance authors can be found in the UK (the RNA "started in 1960"), the US (RWA was "chartered in 1981" and has a chapter based in Canada), New Zealand (RWNZ was "founded in 1990"), and Australia (RWA was "formed in 1991"), . So I was very interested when, thanks to Lucy King's blog I came across news of

  • a conference about romantic novels, Jornadas sobre Novela Romántica, held in Sevilla at the beginning of this month. Designed for readers, authors, editors, and booksellers the conference has attracted both authors who write in Spanish and translators who translate romantic fiction into Spanish. There's a pdf introduction to this year's Jornadas here.

  • the launch of the Asociación de Autoras Románticas de España (ADARDE) which aims to support Spanish authors of romantic fiction and raise the profile of the genre in Spain.
The romance genre is popular worldwide and I'm hoping this will be a collaborative post, because I know Teach Me Tonight has an international readership. So, if you know of any other romance writers's organisations, or of websites aimed at romance readers who are based somewhere other than the US and Canada, please leave a comment and I'll try to incorporate the information into the body of the post.


According to
Karin Stoecker, editorial director at Harlequin Mills and Boon, [...] their medical romance programme had a loyal readership.

"Overseas, it's also a very popular programme - it's the best selling in France." (BBC)
Websites for romance readers include: Les Romantiques; Roselia. Onirik has a romance review section.


Websites for romance readers include: Die romantische Bücherecke, Romance Forum and Liebesroman Forum. There is a German magazine dedicated to the genre, LoveLetter (and there's also a LoveLetter blog).

Rike Horstmann of AAR has written an article about the "general disdain with which romances are regarded here [which] is partly dependent on the way they are marketed."

Sandra Schwab observes in the comment below that
German readers have finally started to blog, too, and the number of readers' blogs increases.

Though the German romance market is indeed dominated by English translations, this doesn't mean that there aren't any German romance authors. Most of them (have to) use English pseudonyms, though. Those who don't tend to write romantic comedies or chick lit.

Harlequin Mills & Boon India recently opened its offices there but they already had a strong brand presence. Andrew J Go, the Director of HM&B India says that
"A substantial percentage of Mills & Boon readership in India is male! You don't see that in other markets." Go has speculations on why this is the case. Perhaps it's just the sheer ubiquity of M&B novels: "Their sisters and mothers are reading them and since they are lying around the men read them too." Or perhaps it's because in a culture where information on sex and romance wasn't exactly in large supply, M&B novels were one available source. Perhaps it's just that Indian men appreciate the good read that most M&B novels are. (Doctor, The Economic Times)


Websites for romance readers: Isn't It Romantic?, Juneross Blog, La mia biblioteca romantica, Un mondo rosa and Rosa is for Romance.

Olivia Ardey brought to our attention Mariangela Camocardi (whose many historical novels have been published by Mondadori and Harlequin Mondadori) and the recently published Elisabetta Bricca (published by Harlequin Mondadori). Harlequin Mondadori is
A joint venture, created in 1981 by two large publishing groups - Harlequin Enterprises and Mondadori, Harlequin Mondadori is a specialised publisher of fiction for women and has become a point of reference for a new genre of women's fiction .
Every year Harlequin Mondadori publishes around 650 titles, an average of 50 per month, translated from the originals of around 1,300 Anglo-American writers, and with total sales in 2008 of more than 6 million copies and more than 260 million over twenty years.
The distribution channels used by the company are essentially three: newsstands, retail outlets and direct subscriptions.
Interestingly, despite there being no mention in this summary of the company's activities of romantic fiction written by Italian authors, they clearly are publishing some, in addition to the translations of novels originally written in English.


Websites for romance readers: Ivanhoe Station's blog. According to George Paizis
The taste of Japanese readers is different to that of others. "[They] love stories about Arabian sheiks and Mediterranean heroes but don't like romances set in hospitals or rural American settings." Also, the covers of the books must show less naked skin than those of the US market and use lighter colours. ("Category" 135)

MD comments that
translations from English (mostly US authors) are made very promptly, and sell well both as hardcover and as paperback. The society is dismissive of romance (all the worst stereotypes are magnified many times), but, like in the US, the books do sell. There are Russian authors as well, but even though they are published in Romance series, I would call them women's fiction.

Spain and South America

Amelia Castilla, writing in El País about romantic fiction stated that 'En el año 2000, el porcentaje de venta en el mercado español era mínimo y el año pasado llegó al 4%, lo que supone unos ingresos de unos 30 millones de euros' [In 2000, the percentage on sale in the Spanish market was minimal, and last year [2006] it reached 4%, which translates into sales of around 30 million Euros]

Corín Tellado had her first novel was published in 1946 and continued writing throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first until her recent death. Jo Labanyi's "Romancing the Early Franco Regime: the Novelas Románticas of Concha Linares-Becerra and Luisa-María Linares" focuses on two other authors from this early period. Authors who have arrived on the scene more recently include Florencia Bonelli, from Argentina.

As the news at the beginning of this post demonstrates, there are some very active romantic novelists in Spain today. There would also appear to be increasing numbers of websites for Spanish-speaking romance readers, including: Autoras en la Sombra, Cazadoras del Romance, El rincón romántico, E-románticos, Gauchas Románticas, Noche en Almack's, Universo Romance.

I also found an online romance magazine and a blog written by a reader who reads her novels in English, but reviews them in Spanish.

  • Paizis, George. “Category Romance in the Era of Globalization: The Story of Harlequin.” The Global Literary Field. Ed. Anna Guttman, Michel Hockx and George Paizis. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2006. 126-51.
  • Paizis, George. Love and the Novel: The Poetics of Romantic Fiction. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1998.

The photo of the map of the world is from Wikimedia Commons. It shows a "1763 Chinese map of the world, claiming to incorporate information from a 1418 map. Discovered by Lui Gang in 2005."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eric Enters the Twilight Zone

Eric's been quoted at length in an article in the NY Daily News:
there are at the very least two really contrasting ideas of love in western culture right now, and they've been at work for centuries," says Eric Selinger, an associate professor at DePaul University and the executive editor for the Journal of Popular Romance, an online publication that delves into love and desire as represented in romantic fiction.

An idealized, unconsummated romance like Edward and Bella's, he says, falls in the tradition of Eros, which dates back at least to the Greek poet Sappho in the 7th century.

"The highs are so high and the lows are so low, and its all-consuming and everything else falls away," Selinger says.

This type of love "is really about desire, but without the consequences that come with practical concerns of negotiating a life together.

"It's the tradition that conceives of love as something that transforms the self," he says. In the case of "New Moon," Bella's desire to renounce her humanity and follow her beloved into the world of the undead gives this a literal form.

The transformative aspect of this type of love, Selinger continues, may be especially compelling to teens.

"In terms of young readers, the appeal of the Eros tradition can be really powerful because you're changing so much, and any relationship changes you and introduces you to new emotions, new music, new styles of clothing, potentially a whole new self, as part of your longing for person X."

Edward's refusal to change Bella into a bloodsucking creature of the night also creates a potent experience for readers, Selinger says, in that the story prolongs her moment of hovering on the brink of transformation.

"When you see yourself doubly - you see yourself as you are, you see an image of the person that you would be if the transformation took place - the reader holds on to that really emotionally powerful doubleness," he explains.

"You're one person - and then you are that plus something else, but without the consequences of actually having that new life," which in Bella's case would involve learning to drink the blood of animals. [...]

"It's significant that this story takes the form of a series," Selinger says. "It's one thing to end one story on a note of longing. You leave the book in that wonderful state of expectation, and it's kind of bittersweet.

"But then, there is another desire that starts to kick in. We want that heady moment of possibility before anything happens. But we also want comfort and security and trust and safety.

"One thing that romantic fiction and films do is that they take these contradictory things that we want and turn them into a sequence."

In that way, over the course of four books, the "Twilight" saga also fulfills our desires for the other type of love - the happily ever after kind we'd associate with a book like "Pride and Prejudice" rather than "New Moon."

Rather than the Eros tradition, at the core of which is the individual and his or her desire, "This second tradition is about the couple, and the relationship. It's about two people working out a life together," Selinger says, as happens in "Breaking Dawn."

These two strains of Western romantic love "can appeal to the same reader at different times in his or her life," he continues.
You can read the whole article here.

Ironically Good News

If I ever had to keep confidential the details of my attempts to get a particular paper published, then I no longer have to do so. I've received an acceptance letter for a paper I sent off to a highly respected journal in the field of popular culture. It's very gratifying. But in the context of the most recent unfolding drama elsewhere in the romance community concerning Harlequin's venture into vanity publishing, it does seem somewhat ironic to note that before I can see my paper published I will have to: wait for around 2 years; pay to subscribe to the journal; sign away my copyright. Oh, and there will be no royalties of any sort flowing in my direction, and no "advance" either. This is all absolutely normal in academic publishing (well, apart from the delay in publication, which is a little bit longer than usual). I know the publishing model is very, very different than that for popular fiction, so I'm not trying to criticise the journal. In fact, I wanted to pass on what I think is good news. I'm really happy that my essay is going to be in the Journal of Popular Culture. As I said, it's a very respectable peer-reviewed journal, and I hope that my paper will help bring to wider attention the most recent wave of romance scholarship.

All the same, it does seem deeply ironic that the acceptance letter for my paper on "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Harlequin Mills and Boon Romances" should arrive during this particular controversy. I'm not worried about my paper becoming obsolete. In fact, in the paper itself I point out that the romance genre is a fast-changing one. But I do wonder what the situation will be with Harlequin, the RWA, and romance publishing in two years' time when my paper finally appears.

The image was taken from the Journal of Popular Culture's website. I hope they won't mind. The website has four pictures at the top, of an alien, a pair of superheroes, a horrified woman, and a spy. I didn't really feel I could make the others remotely relevant to the present post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heyer 2009: K. Elizabeth Spillman: 'Cross Dressing and Disguise'

K. Elizabeth Spillman is currently working on fairy tales at the University of Pennsylvania, having completed an MA Thesis in Literature at the University of Wales, Bangor in 2007. This thesis, titled "The Morphology of a Love Story: Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic Structures in Romance Fiction," focused on Austen and Heyer. Spillman has also studied the ways in which
Fairy tales have provided a body of imagery adapted by the wedding complex and used to elevate a single day and its rituals to iconic status, at once universalizing the bridal experience by connecting it to familiar narratives, and individualizing it with the promise of the extraordinary. As the mainstream American wedding becomes ever-more extravagant and complex, these intertexts are called upon to provide accessible imagery in the project of constructing meaning for an increasingly commercialized ritual. (abstract of paper presented to the American Folklore Society in 2008)
Whereas modern brides may be choosing to dress themselves as fairytale princesses, a number of Heyer's early heroines choose, or are forced, to disguise themselves as men. In 'Cross Dressing and Disguise in Heyer’s Historical Romances' Spillman observed that disguises may in some ways reveal almost as much as they conceal. If gender is performative, then this is revealed by the act of wearing drag. Spillman raised the question of whether heroines who wear male drag expand or obscure their identities, and she also suggested that drag might be the impersonation of gender.

Disguise in Heyer's novels is certainly not limited to wearers of drag. Spillman noted that the hero of The Black Moth [1921] is an aristocrat in disguise and in Powder and Patch [1923] Philip in a sense disguises himself as a fop. Again this seems to raise issues concerning gender, since Philip believes that being a fop is "unmanly." Eventually, however, his costume becomes his identity, and in performing he has become transformed.

Spillman discussed three Heyer novels which include cross-dressing. These are
  • These Old Shades [1926] - in which Léonie, the heroine, has lived as a boy for years. The Duke of Avon declares that he knew from the beginning that "Léon" was really a "Léonie." She rejects femininity to start with as she feels it is unnatural. For a long time after she is obliged to reassume her female identity she continues to keep a suit of masculine clothes for recreational purposes. She also learns to fence and attacks her kidnapper. Although she gradually learns to be a lady, she does not give up all aspects of her former masculine identity and she retains some of the agency she had as a boy.

  • The Masqueraders [1928] - in which the reader is introduced to the heroine, Prudence, while she is disguised as a man, and the secondary hero, her brother Robin, is disguised as a woman. The Lacey siblings have not been forced into their masquerade to the same extent as Léonie was. Peter and Kate are truly accomplished drag artists. Prudence/Peter begins to feel more like a man than a woman, but she observes her own performance and assesses how good her disguise is. She is thus constantly aware that she is performing. Sir Anthony is perhaps alerted to her true gender by the "odd liking" he feels for her and he admires the courage of her performance. [LV comment: Some time after he has worked out that Peter is female, Sir Anthony reveals that "I've had suspicions of your secret since the first evening you dined with me."]

    Robin/Kate seems more confident in his disguise. Indeed,
    There could be no fault found [...] in his deportment. [...] Prudence watched him with a critical eye. He had several times before donned this woman's garb, but never for so long a stretch. She had coached him to the best of her ability, but well as she knew him could still fear some slip. She had to admit knowledge of him was deficient yet. Sure, he might have been born to it. [...] He seemed to know by instinct how to flirt his fan, and how to spread his wide skirts for the curtsy.
    Perhaps because of this he is also given the opportunity to spend more time performing his male role, rescuing Miss Grayson and, as a masked stranger, receiving her admiration. He masters both genders and moves fluidly between them. Unlike Prue, his disguise is not guessed at by his beloved.

  • The Corinthian [1940]- in which the hero assists the heroine, Pen Creed, in perfecting her masculine disguise. Her disguise is not hidden from him and although the disguise is not very successful in helping the heroine to get the husband she initially wants, she does escape an unwanted husband. There is more comedy in the disguise/cross-dressing in this novel than in the previous two. For example, the novel ends thus:
    The coach lumbered on down the road; as it reached the next bend, the roof passengers, looking back curiously to see the last of a very odd couple, experienced a shock that made one of them nearly lose his balance. The golden-haired stripling was locked in the Corinthian's arms, being ruthlessly kissed.
    "Lawks a-mussy on us! whatever is the world a-coming to?" gasped the roof passenger, recovering his seat. "I never did in all my born days!"
    "Richard, Richard, they can see us from the coach!" expostulated Pen, between tears and laughter.
    "Let them see!" said the Corinthian.
    The breach of heteronormativity is the punchline. The Corinthian is Heyer's last cross-dressing novel and forms part of a move towards comedy in Heyer's later novels.
There is also a rather brief, comic cross-dressing attempt in The Talisman Ring [1936] when Ludovic disguises himself as a clumsy maid. [LV comment: Another brief instance of cross-dressing can be found in Simon the Coldheart [1925] when Lady Margaret disguises herself as a boy in a futile attempt to escape from Simon.]

In Faro's Daughter [1941] the heroine does not dress as a man, but she does long for male agency: "Oh, if I were a man, to be able to call him out, and run him through, and through, and through!" Her aunt sighs and responds that she "can't think where you get such unladylike notions!" Although she does not dress as a man, she does for a short while adopt a different identity [LV comment: that of a woman of a lower social class].

In Regency Buck [1935] Judith Taverner races her curricle in a way that is not appropriate for a lady. Heyer's later heroines thus show independence within a female gender identity rather than by contravening social norms and dressing as male. Spillman suggests that Heyer used cross-dressing to explore how women could appropriate power, but she later taught herself to empower her heroines without resorting to cross-dressing.

[LV comment: Spillman's paper, about heroines who dress as men and thus gain the ability to act and talk like men, reminded me of the discussions we've had in the romance community about how readers relate to the heroes and heroines of romances. As usual when it comes to my thoughts on how people read, what follows is mostly speculation on my part, as I (a) attempt to work through what other people have written about their process of reading and (b) attempt to draw parallels with Spillman's argument.

I wonder if there's a similarity between some of the cross-dressing heroines of romance and some romance readers who, as Laura Kinsale has suggested, imaginatively become the heroes of the novels they read:
I think that, as she identifies with a hero, a woman can become what she takes joy in, can realize the maleness in herself, can experience the sensation of living inside a body suffused with masculine power and grace [...], can explore anger and ruthlessness and passion and pride and honor and gentleness and vulnerability [...]. In short, she can be a man. (37)
These readers aren't physically cross-dressing but, Kinsale suggests, during the time they spend engrossed in the novel, they are able to dress themselves in a male body in order to appropriate male power. Perhaps, to parallel the development in Heyer's heroines, these readers are thus enabled to integrate into their daily lives as women some of the masculine behaviours and emotions they have learned from their time spent "cross-dressing" as heroes.]


The photo is of a "Robe à la française or open gown with stomacher, 1740s, England," from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heyer 2009: Sarah Annes Brown: ‘Lady of Quality and Homosexual Panic’

Sarah Annes Brown tends to teach Shakespeare, Renaissance literature and Tragedy. Her Devoted Sisters: Representations of the Sister Relationship in Nineteenth-Century British and American Literature, however, "draws on recent psychoanalytical and anthropological research to illuminate nineteenth-century depictions of the sister relationship. Building on the work of Girard and Kosofsky Sedgwick, Brown concludes her study with an exploration of the Deceased Wife's Sister Act and the 'lesbian incest effect'." (Ashgate). Unfortunately for Sarah, she was still recuperating from a bad cold during the colloquium, but this did not prevent her either from introducing the other speakers or from giving her own paper. Ironically, the subject of her paper, Miss Annis Wychwood, was also convalescing at the end of the novel in which she finds herself, though from the flu rather than from a cold. [LV comment: clearly Annis's companion, Miss Farlow's, garrulousness and propensity to digress have affected me! I hope you will all excuse any further instances of "bibble-babble" for I, too, am "desperately anxious to please," although perhaps not quite as desperately anxious as Miss Farlow because as she once said ....]

In ‘Lady of Quality and Homosexual Panic’ Brown was once again drawing on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, this time to explore the idea of "homosexual panic." This was a term used by Sedgwick to describe how men felt in a period when male homosocial contact was encouraged but homosexual activity was illegal and taboo. [LV comment: Ron Becker has written that "homosexual panic," in the sense in which it is used by Kosofsky Sedgwick, occurred when "the line that separated acceptable homosociality from unacceptable homosexuality was unstable" (20) and "bespeaks a wider social anxiety - specifically that stirred up by the unstable boundary between categories of sexual identity" (21). More on Kosofsky Sedgwick's ideas about "homosexual panic" can be found in her "Toward the Gothic: Terrorism and Homosexual Panic," a chapter in her Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, particularly pages 89 (final paragraph)-90 and in Epistemology of the Closet (see pages 19-21) she elaborated on the differences between her usage of the term and the way it has been used as a legal defence in court cases.]

Brown wishes to explore "homosexual panic" in this paper largely with reference to the female characters. In the novel we see women mixing with women, being chaperoned by women, living with a person of their own sex and having female friends. If a woman was not married, it was not socially acceptable for her to live with a man or alone. Brown is not suggesting that Heyer's female characters are depicted as experiencing "homosexual panic," but she would like to raise the possibility that at least some of Heyer's readers might feel (or have felt) it on their behalf.

So, is there anxiety about being or becoming lesbian in the background of Lady of Quality? Annis, the heroine, is 29 and an "old maid" who lives with Miss Farlow, a poor relation of hers. It would have been more conventional for Annis to have continued to live with her brother. There is nothing sexual between Annis and Miss Farlow but Amabel, Annis's sister-in-law, and Annis once had the following conversation about Annis's living arrangements and her relationship with her brother, Geoffrey:
'[...] The only time when we have been in perfect agreement was when he assured me that I should love his wife!
'Oh, Annis!' protested Lady Wychwood, blushing, and turning away her head. 'You shouldn't say such things! Besides, I can't believe you mean it, when you won't continue living with me!'
'What a rapper!' commented Annis, the laughter still dancing in her eyes. 'I could live happily with you for the rest of my days, as well you know! It's my very worthy, starched-up, and consequential brother with whom I can't and won't live. Yes, isn't it unnatural of me?'
The discussion between the pair moves on to a review of Annis's suitors:
'Stop, stop!' begged Annis laughingly. 'I found nothing to dislike in any of them, but I couldn't discover in myself the smallest wish to marry any of them either. Indeed, I haven't any wish to marry anyone at all.'
'But, Annis, every woman must wish to be married!' cried Lady Wychwood, quite shocked.
'Now that provides the answer to what people will think when they see me living in my own house instead of at Twynham!' exclaimed Annis. 'They will think me an Eccentric! Ten to one, I shall become one of the Sights of Bath [...] I shall be pointed out as -'
Amabel interrupts her at this point, so we do not discover precisely what Annis thinks she will be "pointed out as." The thought is left hanging, with readers left to fill in the blank. Under the influence of "homosexual panic" what could be thought of an "unnatural," "Eccentric" and shocking woman who feels no desire to marry a man but admits to loving her sister-in-law and who states that she "could live happily with" that sister-in-law "for the rest of my days"?

The reader learns all of this via a flashback and the main action of the novel begins when, en route to Bath, Annis encounters Lucilla Carleton, a very young, and a very pretty girl" who hopes to become a lady's companion [LV comment: Lucilla, like Annis, is avoiding marriage]. Annis suggests that if she is "set on being a companion, come and be a companion to me!" Miss Farlow's feelings are "wounded by the imputation that her own companionship did not suffice Miss Wychwood." Having arrived in Bath, Annis changes out of her travelling clothes and checks up on Lucilla:
she went to tap on the door of the Pink bedchamber, and upon being bidden to come in, found her protégée charmingly attired in sprig muslin [...] and with her dusky curls brushed free of tangles. They clustered about her head, in the artless style known as the Sappho
This reference to Sappho, the famous lesbian poet, in the context of a visit by one women to another's bedchamber, can hardly serve to calm any existing "homosexual panic" and we soon learn that Lucilla's father had a close personal relationship with another man:
Papa [...] was killed at Corunna, and Lord Iverley - well, he wasn't Lord Iverley then, but Mr William Elmore [...] has never been the same same man since Papa died. They were bosom-bows, you see, from the time when they were both at Harrow, and even joined the same regiment, and were never parted until Papa was killed!
Lucilla's paternal uncle, Oliver Carleton, comments on his brother's relationship with William Elmore that
At Harrow, he formed a close, and, to my mind, a pretty mawkish friendship with young Elmore. They were both army-mad, and joined the same regiment when they left Harrow. [...] I knew, of course, when he bought Chartley Manor [close to Elmore's home] that the bosom-bow friendship between him and Elmore was as strong as ever, and I suppose I should have guessed that such a pair of air-dreamers would have hatched a scheme to achieve a closer relationship by marrying Elmore's heir to Charles's daughter.
Brown commented that Sedgwick would no doubt have pounced on this plan to marry Lucilla Carleton to Ninian Elmore because she wrote about the various ways in which women were used as conduits to strengthen bonds between men. [LV comment: For example, in Devoted Sisters Brown mentioned
the male pairs described by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Between Men. Here she argues that men who woo the same woman use her as a conduit to strengthen their own relationship. Such a process might appear specifically patriarchal, dependent upon a society characterised by 'the use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men,' (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1985, 25-6). (Brown 147)]
Annis and Oliver Carleton do consider the possibility that the marriage between Lucilla to Ninian was proposed, or at least continued to be promoted, for mercenary motives:
'Well, that is what I suspect,' nodded Miss Wychwood, 'but it is only right that I should tell you that Ninian says it is no such thing. He says his father has never had a mercenary thought in his head.'
'On the whole,' said Mr Carleton, with considerable acerbity, 'I should think the better of him if his motive had been mercenary! This mawkish reason for trying to marry Lucilla to his son merely because he and my brother were as thick as inkle-weavers fairly turns my stomach!
Clearly Oliver Carleton has a strong dislike of what he's choosing to term "mawkish" behaviour.

Strong suspicions might also be raised by Annis's own behaviour, for as her brother points out, "To all intents and purposes you [Annis] have kidnapped the girl [Lucilla]!" and when Oliver Carleton appears in Bath to investigate the situation he reveals that Lord Iverley had informed him
'[...] that if I wished to rescue my ward from the clutches of what he feared was a designing female, calling herself Miss Wychwood, I must leave for Bath immediately.'
'Well, if that is not the outside of enough!' she said wrathfully. 'Calling myself Miss Wychwood, indeed! And in what way am I supposed to have designs on Lucilla, pray?'
'That he didn't disclose.'
The possible designs remain undisclosed, which again leaves hanging a possibility which could be supplied by the brain of a reader suffering from 'homosexual panic.'

Interestingly, after this meeting between Annis and Oliver, any panic in the text is firmly focused on their relationship because of Oliver's dubious reputation. From this point onwards, references which could be interpreted as implying lesbian activity or desires vanish from the novel. It makes sense that "lesbian panic" should vanish precisely at the moment that Annis begins a heterosexual relationship.

[LV comment: Jennifer Kloester mentioned in her presentation that it is possible Heyer suppressed The Great Roxhythe (1922), which she described as "this immature, ill-fated work," at least in part because it might be deemed to have a homosexual slant. She also noted that there are lesbian characters in Penhallow. Lisa Fletcher has observed in her “‘Mere Costumery’? Georgette Heyer’s Cross-Dressing Novels,” in Masquerades: Disguise in English Literature from the Middle Ages to the Present, Eds. Pilar Sánchez Calle and Jesús López-Paláez Casellas, (Gdansk: University of Gdansk Press, 2004). 196-212, that in The Masqueraders
Sir Anthony does not guess Peter's secret immediately. Instead, it is precisely his growing "interest" in a young man which rouses his suspicions: "I believe [...] I have an odd liking for you, little man. One of these strange twists in one's affections for which there is no accounting" (99-100). The romantic hero will always see through false costume. If, like Sir Anthony, the hero does not expressly guess the cross-dressed heroine's secret immediately, when he does finally realise or learn the truth, he also realises that he has in fact known inarticulately or subconsciously all along. (208)
Fletcher concludes that in such novels "Homosexual desire is both abnormal ("strange," "odd") and always already heterosexual (the boy is really a girl)" (209).]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heyer 2009: Catherine Johns: ‘Class and Breeding’

Catherine Johns is an archaeologist and retired museum curator who has published both academic and popular books on Roman art and archaeology, on Graeco-Roman erotic imagery, and two books on animals in human culture, Horses: History, Myth, Art and Dogs: History, Myth, Art. These latter works have some bearing on the paper she presented at the colloquium, Class and Breeding.’

Johns began by pointing out that Heyer had ways of thinking which would have seemed self-evident to people of her generation. Heyer was born in 1902, lived through the First World War and was middle-aged by the end of the Second World War. Although great social changes came into effect after the Second World War, Heyer's attitudes had already been formed. Nowadays some of these attitudes seem quaint or even shocking. We read Heyer through the filters of (1) Heyer's historical settings (2) Heyer's early twentieth-century perceptions and (3) our own attitudes.

She was a contemporary of Patricia Wentworth, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Mary Renault, a generation that has now, itself, passed into history. It is easier to perceive Heyer's own attitudes if one reads her contemporary novels. Her detective fiction, published between 1932 and 1953, remains readily available and provides insights into her perception of her own times, such as her loathing of the increasingly heavy taxation of the rich, and her acceptance of national stereotypes.

It must also be borne in mind that Heyer was writing comedy so stereotypes about class are used for comic effect. Sometimes her humour is broad and boisterous, even reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse. The end of The Grand Sophy is pure farce and Heyer's use of language and dialect, including the use of 'cant' often produces deliberately humorous effects. On occasion she also included characters' words, spoken in French, in English but with French word order, again for comic effect. These linguistic techniques, standard in earlier twentieth-century comedy, are paralleled by her exaggeration of class markers.

Heyer was not snobbish in the sense of believing that some classes were intrinsically superior to others. She specifically mocks assumptions of that kind in The Unknown Ajax. However, her observations of class, and her consciousness of it, result in the use of class signifiers to "mark" the characters.

In the period when Heyer was growing to adulthood, the relative influence of nature vs. nurture was much discussed (and it is, in fact, still open to debate). By the early twentieth century popular ideas about the issue had been partially influenced by the ideas of scientists such as Lamarck (1744-1829), Darwin (1809-1882) and Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton (1822-1911), who has now fallen into disrepute because of his beliefs about eugenics. Ideas about human "types" and "breeds" were also affected by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments in the breeding of livestock. A Shire horse is clearly different from a Thoroughbred because each had been bred to perpetuate and emphasise particular qualities. While this does not mean that one is better than the other, they are different, and suited to different types of work. Similarly, an earl might not be considered "better" than a man of the working class, but he would have been thought to be suited for a different role in life. It would have seemed easy to provide evidence for such allegedly innate class differences because there was so little opportunity for class mobility: children usually remained in the same social class as their parents.

Social rigidity really only began to break down drastically after the Second World War and it not until after 1945 that higher education was opened up to people from a wider range of social backgrounds. Social stratification was thus far more visible during the period in which Heyer began writing but Johns used a still image from a sketch from The Frost Report (1966-67) to illustrate the types of ideas about class and breeding which survived at the time the sketch was first broadcast (though, obviously, at this point they were being brought into question and parodied). Here's the video version:

There's a transcript below. Note that it includes a reference to "innate breeding."

Animal breeding experiments seemed to confirm popular belief in the primacy of nature over nurture. Inbreeding (the mating of close blood relatives) was seen to produce the "best" animals i.e. those who reliably demonstrated the expected qualities of their breed. Similarly, among humans, royalty tended to marry royalty, peasants married peasants, and the middle classes also tended to marry among themselves. Marrying outside one's social class was seen as a huge risk. Nowadays we know about the many dangers of inbreeding but the practical improvements in livestock over two centuries of planned breeding at first seemed wholly positive, reinforcing the belief that keeping "to one’s own kind" was a good thing. The Second World War and the horrors of Nazism brought many of these ideas into disrepute but the traditional admiration for "pure" bloodlines still survives among some dog breeders.

Heyer was a dog lover. She knew about canine character types and knew that a dog's personality, as well as its appearance, is affected by its breed. In her works, however, pedigree animals are not necessarily shown to be the best. Lufra, the "Baluchistan hound" in Frederica is a fine dog, despite being a mongrel. Likewise, some of Heyer's middle class characters have admirable qualities, despite their "vulgarity," and many of her aristocrats have thoroughly disreputable traits. It is These Old Shades, an early work, which contains the most overt references to innate class differences, thus favouring nature over nurture.

"Cross-bred" individuals who cross class boundaries were thought (like cross-bred dogs) to resemble one or other of their parents, or be an unpredictable mixture. One of the benefits of cross-breeding was that it could counter the negative effects of in-breeding. In Devil's Cub the offspring of an aristocratic father and a middle-class mother are Mary Challoner, an intelligent and sensible young woman with the manners of a lady, and Sophia, whom Johns described as a "feather-brained little tart" who, even had she received the same educational opportunities that Mary enjoyed, would not have benefited from them because she is not very bright.

Heyer, then, observed, accepted and recorded the class distinctions she saw all around her, but she admired intelligence, education, practical common sense and competence in all individuals, regardless of their social status.

John Cleese: I look down on him (indicates Ronnie Barker) because I am upper class.
Barker: I look up to him (Cleese) because he is upper class. But I look down on him (Ronnie Corbett) because he is lower class. I am middle class.
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But I don’t look up to him (Barker) as much as I look up to him (Cleese), because he has got innate breeding.
Cleese: I have got innate breeding, but I have not got any money. So sometimes I look up (bends knees) to him (Barker).
Barker: I still look up to him (Cleese) because although I have money, I am vulgar. But I am not as vulgar as him (Corbett) so I still look down on him (Corbett).
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But while I am poor, I am industrious, honest, and trustworthy. Had I the inclination, I could look down on them. But I don't.
Barker: We all know our place, but what do we get out of it?
Cleese: I get a feeling of superiority over them.
Barker: I get a feeling of inferiority from him, (Cleese), but a feeling of superiority over him (Corbett).
Corbett: I get a pain in the back of my neck.