Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reading the Romance: The Mainz Syllabus

As I've already announced in an earlier post, next winter I will give a course on British romance fiction at Mainz University. It will be one of our (brandnew) undergrad seminars 1, which are intended to give students a historical overview of one particular genre.

I've chosen a mixture of a chronological and thematic approach for the course, and these are the thematic blocks I've come up with so far:

1 Reading the Romance
This block will probably include a mini-history of the genre, and we will read excerpts from theoretical works on romance fiction (probably Radway, Flesch, Regis).

2 Austen Ever After
Austen's lasting influence on the genre.

Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (I've taught P&P once before, and it was great fun for me to incorporate the research I had done for my novels in the course)
Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck (aka the book I'm currently reading; at the moment I'm thinking about what would be the best way to give the students access to the wealth of historical background in the novel - more presentations, perhaps?)

Presentations on:
Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary
Alexandra Potter, Me and Mr Darcy

3 Gothic Delights
Victoria Holt, Mistress of Mellyn (that will be a nice trip back into my own past: in my teens I read umpteen of Holt's novels)

Presentations on:
the gothic novel as a genre
Jane Eyre
Rebecca (probably)

4 101 Years of Mills & Boon
probably Lucy Gordon, The Italian's Wife by Sunset

Presentation on:
the history of M&B


I'm not yet quite sure what to do with Barbara Cartland. I'll definitely have to mention her somewhere, somehow, especially as her heroines are so very different from Heyer's. I'm also thinking about including Hull's The Sheik on the reading list, but I still have to read it myself before I decide where and how to place it. Of course, I also have to consider the time frame of the course: I've already got four novels I want to discuss, and I need two lessons for each at the very least.

So what do you think?


  1. I think you could really talk about Barbara Cartland as a contrast to Heyer. Maybe you could have the students read an excerpt from one of her books that illustrates those differences.

  2. Thanks for this! I love peeking at other people's syllabi. How many weeks is the course?

    I haven't read Cartland yet, so she's not on my list. Am leaning toward Regency Buck myself--let's both do it, and compare we can share notes!

  3. Maybe you could have the students read an excerpt from one of her books that illustrates those differences.

    Angela, that's what I'll probably do. A Hazard of Hearts might be a good choice since this would allow us to compare the heroine of the novel to the heroine of the film from the 1980s or 90s. In the latter she's much more active -- in regard to gender roles the story has obviously been updated for the film.

    How many weeks is the course?

    I'm not quite sure yet, Eric. We've recently changed our programmes (*cough* to the worse *cough*), and the length of the terms changed with them. I believe we had 15 weeks this winter, but I'll also need one or probably two for "How to write a paper." (I'm ever hopeful this will actually help my students to write better papers. More often than not, I'm sadly wrong, though, and standing on my head, wriggling my toes, would have been just as effective. *sigh*)

  4. Maybe you could consider the German editions of the genre, the translations, cover jackets and different editions, and their reception? There is a German movie version of "Arabella" for example, if I remember correctly with Johanna von Koczian. What do Germans see as British, and how British is it?

  5. rungholt, as this will be a course of the English Department, I won't be able to cover German translations. In addition, this would shift the whole focus of the course, I'm afraid; and I would also need to go into detail about the differences between the German market and the market on the British Isles.

  6. PS: Since it seems you're from Germany, too: Have you heard of the romance magazine LoveLetter? The March issue will be out in the next couple of days.