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.