Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Romance Dissertations

I was really pleased to get a notification via ProQuest of a couple of new PhD theses about the romance genre. Congratulations Dr Kamble and Dr White!

The first is Ann Yvonne White's, from The University of Iowa: Genesis Press: Cultural Representation and the Production of African American Romance Novels. (2008, AAT 3340278). Here are some more details:
In my dissertation I look at the production of African American romance novels under the umbrella of cultural representation. The genre, which is popular among African American women of all economic and social levels, is important, because products created by and for African Americans may have the ability to reshape images and ideas of African Americans. I conducted a case study of one small, family-owned publishing company to look at how the culture and environment in which the books are produced might reshape and redefine negative images of African Americans often found in the media. I also interviewed an author of African American romances to understand how the writing process may be influenced by the views and experiences of a writer.

I also attended a conference of African American readers, writers, and industry personnel to look at how readers influence the stories, themes, and characters found in the novels. More than 350 people attended the conference including representatives from African American book clubs all over the country. Readers were specific about the kinds of stories they wanted to read, and how they thought the characters should be portrayed in the novels.

Because the books produced by Genesis Press are romances, the editors and publishers adhere to a standard romance formula. But as producers of cultural products that strive to enhance negative images of African Americans, they also rely on the culture, environment, and life experiences of the writers and readers. And as executives who are culturally sensitive, they seek to bring a shared history of cultural awareness and activism to the industry.

The second is by Jayashree Kamble, from the University of Minnesota: Uncovering and Recovering the Popular Romance Novel. (2008, AAT 3338954). Here are some more details:
Popular romance novels are a twentieth- and twenty-first century literary form defined by a material association with pulp publishing, a conceptual one with courtship narrative, and a brand association with particular author-publisher combinations. The theme of romantic love in romance novels forms the basis of a drama involving the extra-private worlds of the protagonists (financial, civic, and familial). The framework of the romantic relationship allows the genre to study the challenges these spheres face over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A comprehensive look at the genre's history and diversity, as well as its reception in different readership communities, undergirds this analysis of three tropes involving the romance hero--capitalist, soldier, and heterosexual. The analysis proves the genre's struggle with an economic, political, and social ideology that has gathered force over the last hundred years. Though popular as well as academic critiques of the genre disparage its formulaic sexual content or its attachment to the ideology of middle class morality, its very nature as "commodity literature" helps challenge conservative thought on capitalism, national defense strategies, and sexual orientation.

The dissertation also considers the impact of the dust jackets and paperback covers of romance novels on non-romance readers. A survey of this material history suggests that it has contributed to derogatory opinions on the genre; in particular, the genre has been indicted because of the "bodice-ripper" covers that adorn many romance novels rather than the actual content. A look at reader and author discussions on the genre, alongside textual analysis of selected works, proves that romance fiction is not fixated on a clichéd plot and descriptions of sexual intercourse; it involves complex themes that are disguised as stereotypical genre elements. Readers' online debates demonstrate how this romance "formula," albeit a function of its commodification, engages them in addressing quandaries related to societal preoccupations. The concluding study of romance reading in India further supports the possibility of multiple, even liberating, readings that can empower romance readers.
And I'm happy to say that you can download a pdf of the whole of Jayashree's thesis, which is stored at the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy database.

The image is from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. The second one in particular interests me, especially the "implied?) claim that the literary aspects of romance have to be disguised as stereotypical genre conventions.

  2. "romance fiction is not fixated on a clichéd plot and descriptions of sexual intercourse; it involves complex themes that are disguised as stereotypical genre elements."

    Jessica, I think the way Jayashree Kamble phrased that leaves it unclear who or what is active in creating the disguise, as well as leaving open the question of whether or not there are groups of people who see through the disguise.

    It may be, given that the previous sentences discuss the covers and dust-jacket copy, that she thinks these elements disguise the contents, or perhaps more specifically, that they disguise the contents for non-romance readers, even though they don't do that for the romance readers, who find that the genre "engages them in addressing quandaries related to societal preoccupations."

    I also have the impression that the focus of the thesis is on analysing how the genre addresses "quandaries related to societal preoccupations" rather than looking at "the literary aspects of romance."

    I've downloaded it and have started reading it, but I haven't wanted to rush through it, so I've not got very far through it yet.

  3. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to look at my work.
    Laura, you're closer to the mark about my interest in "quandaries related to societal preoccupations." I would have loved to get into the poetics (or prosaics, as Bakhtin might say) of romance fiction. But I figured that's for another day.

  4. Thanks very much for the clarification, Jayashree. Are you carrying on with your work on the genre? And if so, would you be going in the direction of the poetics?

  5. Romance fiction is my primary theoretical preoccupation and I plan of working on it in some form or another for the foreseeable future. I'll be presenting on race and romance at ACLA in a week or so, and at PCA, of course. I'm slowly inching my way into the poetics but it's taking me time to adapt my Cultural studies training (and my bent for Marxist theory) to it.

  6. I see you're presenting a paper on “The Romance Carnival: Sexual and Racial Diversity in Paranormal Romance Novels.” Would you like to write a blog post for TMT about that and any other papers at ACLA which are about the modern romance genre? Not many of these ones give the impression that they are, but nonetheless I suppose quite a few might bring up things which are also relevant to thinking about the modern genre.

    my bent for Marxist theory

    That's probably quite a useful background to have, given the number of millionaires/billionaires in contemporaries and aristocrats in historicals, not to mention the fact that romance publishing is an industry and, moreover, one that seems to carry on making a profit even during times when other areas of publishing aren't doing so well.

  7. I'd love to blog about what comes up at ACLA once I get back. Stay tuned...

  8. Great! I'm looking forward to hearing about it. You should have got an email from Eric about blogging, but if you haven't, you can email either of us. I've got a contact form on my website.