Friday, December 31, 2010

A Quick Quote

I happened to be reading an article by Umberto Eco which has nothing to do with romance when I came across the following, about old and new types of fiction, which did seem relevant to the study of romance:
the account greatly favored by antiquity was almost always the story of something which had already happened and of which the public was aware. One could recount for the nth time the story of Roland the Paladin, but the public already knew what happened to the hero. New additions and romantic embellishments were not lacking, but neither would they have impaired the substance of the myth being narrated. [...]
The "civilization" of the modern novel offers a story in which the reader's main interest is transferred to the unpredictable nature of what will happen and, therefore, to the plot invention which now holds our attention. The event has not happened before the story; it happens while it is being told, and usually even the author does not know what will take place.
At the time of its origin, the coup de théâtre where Oedipus finds himself guilty as a result of Tiresias' revelation "worked" for the public not because it caught them unaware of the myth, but because the mechanism of the "plot," in accordance with Aristotelian rules, succeeded in making them once more co-participants through pity and terror. The reader is brought to identify both with the situation and with the character. In contrast, there is Julien Sorel shooting Madame de Rênal, or Poe's detective discovering the party guilty of the double crime in Rue de la Morgue, or Javert paying his debt of gratitude to Jean Valjean, where we are spectators to a coup de théâtre whose unpredictable nature is part of the invention, and as such, takes on aesthetic value. (15)
It seems to me that romance novels resemble the older stories inasmuch as their readers know in advance what the ending will be. There may be considerably more room for "additions and romantic embellishments" given that the entirety of a romance's plot is not already known to the readers but I suspect that in very large part romances "work" for their readers "because the mechanism of the 'plot,' [...] succeed[s] in making them once more co-participants" in the emotions experienced by the protagonists.
  • Eco, Umberto. “The Myth of Superman.” Trans. Natalie Chilton. Diacritics 2.1 (1972): 14-22.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Molly Make-Believe: "Unreal but Not Untrue"?

Over the holidays I'm going to be taking a break from blogging so I thought I'd leave you with a suitably wintry story and some reflections on fiction.

Jennifer Crusie wrote in one of her essays that
Folklorist Max Luthi says that fairy tales are “unreal but not untrue” because they deal with the greatest themes in literature and life, and much of genre fiction, grounded in myth, legend, and tale, retells those primal stories for adults.
In Crusie's The Cinderella Deal (1996) the hero, Lincoln Blaise, "need[s] a professional liar" (17) to help him, and he turns to Daisy Flattery, a storyteller whose card reads
Daisy Flattery
Apartment 1B
Stories Told, Ideas Illuminated
Unreal but Not Untrue (1)

Eleanor Hallowell Abbott's Molly Make-Believe (1910) is a love story which is also about fiction and truth.1 Carl Stanton is bedridden due to a serious attack of rheumatism and his fiancée, Cordelia, has gone on holiday for six weeks. She writes to promise him that she'll send him a letter roughly once a week and suggests that he "investigate" a "ridiculous circular" because it "seems to be rather your kind" (6). The circular advertises the services of

Comfort and entertainment Furnished for Invalids, Travelers, and all Lonely People.

Real Letters


Imaginary Persons.

Reliable as your Daily Paper. Fanciful as your Favorite
Story Magazine. Personal as a Message from your Best Friend. Offering all the Satisfaction of receiving Letters with no Possible Obligation or even Opportunity of Answering Them. (11)
I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, so I won't say much more about it, but here's one last quote, in which Stanton describes the letters he's received from the Company:
"[...] they're not lies!" snapped Stanton. "Surely you don't call anything a lie unless not only the fact is false, but the fancy, also, is maliciously distorted! (99)
Again, I'm going to be cautious about how I phrase this, so as to avoid spoilers, but since Stanton doesn't know the real identity of Molly Make-Believe he starts to speculate about what she might be like. Let's just say some of aspects of this speculation are "interesting" to a modern sensibility. But given that the novel has metafictional elements, and given the discussions of "slash" fiction we've had here, it makes me wonder what revisionist versions might be possible, in which Molly's identity turned out to be different.

You can read Molly Make-Believe in full online here, from the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive has copies available in many different formats, scanned directly from an original. I've chosen that edition because it has all the pages (and they're all in the right order) but unfortunately it doesn't have illustrations. They're available in this version and someone has them up at Flickr. The Internet Archive also has an audio version. The Project Gutenberg editions don't include any pictures or the original page layout, but they too are available free in many different text formats and also many different audio formats as well as being available to be read online.

One advantage of reading an original version is that you get to see some of the advertising that would have been seen by the original readers of the book. At the end of this novel we can find an advertisement for romances by Margaret Pedler (some details about her can be found at Wikipedia) and Ethel M. Dell (and some details about her can also be found at Wikipedia). She was born in 1881 and died in 1939. Her
success rests with The Way of an Eagle (1912), which was refused by eight publishers before re-typing and final acceptance by T. Fisher Unwin. By 1915 the book accounted for half Unwin’s turnover! By the end of the First World War, Dell was earning a huge income from her books – one of the wealthiest authors in Britain. Her easy style and clear eroticism made her an illicit favourite with middle-class adolescents and working-class servants and gained her the title of ‘the housemaid’s choice’ for her success in writing what Rebecca West called ‘tosh’. […]

During the 1930s Dell was still one of the most popular women’s authors to be asked for at the ‘tuppenny’ libraries (alongside Elinor Glyn and Marie Corelli). Although ‘spiritual’ and conservative, Dell’s stories also contained the violent passions so enjoyed by women (especially young girls) before World War Two. Her influence on women’s romance is still evident and can be seen clearly in the ‘sexier’ women’s writers of a later age, but also in works like E. M. Hull’s The Sheik (1919). She was also an early influence on Barbara Cartland and Catherine Cookson; she is one of the great progenitors of Mills and Boon. (Bloom 134-35).
  • Bloom, Clive. Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  • Crusie, Jennifer. "Let Us Now Praise Scribbling Women." Originally published in Inside Borders March 1998: 19.
  • Crusie, Jennifer. The Cinderella Deal. New York: Bantam, 1996.
  • Hallowell Abbot, Eleanor. Molly Make-Believe. 1910. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1920.

1 Molly Make-Believe was number 9 in the 1910 best-selling fiction rankings from Bowker's Annual/Publisher's Weekly.

The image is of Carl Stanton, in his sickbed, chuckling after he's read the advertisement from The Serial-Letter Company.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Romancing Northrop Frye

When I came to study "Romance," it was because of Northrop Frye's The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (1976). Indeed, much of my blogging has been over at The Educated Imagination where I write mostly about Frye and the Academy. As such, to start my blogging here, I present a preliminary Call for Papers, not an official CFP, but rather one which aims to get people thinking about what they might present at this conference.


Educating the Imagination: A Conference in Honour of Northrop Frye on the Centenary of His Birth.

September 27-30, 2012, University of Toronto

Twenty years after his death, Northrop Frye, the author of Fearful Symmetry and Anatomy of Criticism, continues to be one of the most read and the most quoted of literary critics. His attention to form, specifically to genre and mode, and his understanding of literature as a totality have directly influenced two later generations of critics, including Hayden White, Fredric Jameson, and Franco Moretti. In order to celebrate this ongoing legacy, the Department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, Frye’s home throughout his career, have organized a three-day symposium in his honour.

There will be panels devoted to Frye’s specific legacy, which we are now in a better position to appreciate because of the completed publication of theCollected Works in thirty volumes. But we also invite speakers to take inspiration from Frye and to consider literary and cultural topics such as:

1. Educating the Imagination when the Humanities are under threat

Frye and Comparative Literature

2. the place of Western Literature and theory in a global context.

The spread and the provincialization of Europe.

The limits of the Great Code

3. Contemporary manifestations of traditional literary modes:

the popular romance

contemporary tragedy

irony after postmodernism

4. the place of the Bible in an era of fundamentalism and secularism

5. The survival of the literary imagination in a digital age

6. Canadian literature in a postnational age

7. The Great Code and Islam

8. History as Narrative

9. Frye and Ecology

10. Local literature, local forms

Organizers: Alan Bewell, Chair, Department of English (

Neil ten Kortenaar, Director, Centre for Comparative Literature (

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Braving the Scottish Romance

Misconceptions about Scotland and the Scots seem rather common in the romance genre. This recent post, written by one Scottish romance reader about supposedly "Scottish Gaelic Names," might be instructive to some. She grew up in the Highlands and
It was rare to meet a male adult who kept ‘Jamie’. Dropping Jamie in favour of Jim, James, surname or chosen nickname was a rite of passage for most young men in the area. Jamie is heavily associated with youth or childhood, which is I think why most were anxious to stop people using the childish form when they became old enough. (I think this is why in romance genre novels, having heroes named Jamie seems icky or funny, depending on my mood.) ("Random")
In a short essay titled "A Very Interesting Place: Representing Scotland in American Romance Novels" Euan Hague and David Stenhouse
review this unexplored branch of 'Scottish literature' and argue that Scottish-themed American romances are marginalised from 'literature', 'Scottish literature', and 'Scottish writing' in ways which test the boundaries of critical conventions surrounding the study of Scottish writing in the academy. (354)
I think it would take rather more than eight pages to do full justice to the topic, but Hague and Stenhouse make a start. They begin by describing this romance subgenre: "Scottish-themed American romances often draw on unexpected aspects of Scottish history, not just comprising a parade of kilts, castles and lochs, but also bending the laws of history by allowing the hero or heroine to travel through time" (354). Perhaps because of the limited length of the essay, they resort to generalisations, but they're not the only ones to do so when writing about Scottish romances. Jane at Dear Author has a humorous list of them, including:
  • All Scottish men wear kilts, even when they were outlawed and even when they didn’t exist. All clans have an identifying tartan.
  • All Scottish men carry claymores.
  • Everyone is a Highlander because the Highlands start right at the border between England and Scotland.
  • Half the country has red hair and half has black. Not brown, mind you but raven, midnight black. There are no fair haired lassies in Scotland. [...]
  • They all say “didnae, cannae, willnae, wouldnae” with the emphasis on the “ae.”
Hague and Stenhouse's generalisations appear in statements such as:
All the novels have a historical setting, with a clear preference for the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, possibly due to this era's association with William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Bravehart. Another favourite period is the eighteenth century, which enables plots about the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 and the subsequent Jacobite rebellions. (360)
They also describe the cover art:
the covers of Scottish historical romances tend to fall into two broad types, featuring either illustrations or a model positioned against an illustrated backdrop. A number of typical Scottish indicators appear, most commonly a length of tartan cloth, heather, thistles or other purple flowers, a castle with ramparts looming from a grassy, craggy hilltop, a red-haired woman and a bare-chested, long-haired, muscular man, [...] the latter often wearing a kilt and carrying a claymore or other similarly sizeable sword. (355-56)
As is apparent from the covers I've included in this post, and from those featured in Anabel MacKenzie's short "Guide to Scottish Romance and Historical Fiction," there are indeed many covers adorned with tartan, castles, large swords and/or muscular men, though not all the covers in MacKenzie's Guide are of the types described by Hague and Stenhouse.

They found that the hero of a Scottish romance
assumes a quasi-fetishised sexual power. As Karen Kosztolnyik, senior editor of romance titles with Warner Books [...] explained [...] 'part of the appeal of the Highlander is the sense that he is a powerful, dangerously masculine figure, but that he shows through his clan loyalties that he has a caring nurturing side. That way, while readers find the exterior excitingly strange, there is a reassurance that inside there are values they can feel comfortable with.' (356)1
Hague and Stenhouse add that the use of "The time-travel device allows for an explicit comparison of contemporary American masculinity, implicitly depicted as emasculated, with the raw, primordial manliness of pre-modern Scots" (359).2 Further support for this theory is provided by Eloisa James, who has stated that
in the world of historical romance fiction, a man in a skirt with a bagpipe at his side is pure gold. Think of the 1980s film Highlander and the TV show that followed, not to mention the wildly popular film Braveheart: in these imaginative realms, Scotland is a world of swashbuckling, ultra-sexy, bare-kneed men who act like Errol Flynn with a testosterone update.
and in an interview with Shirley English,
Cindy Hwang, an editor at Jove Books, which publishes Heaven and Heather, said that women are attracted to an improbable ideal. “The image of the Highlander is very romanticised,” she said. “They are seen as very rugged and independent — in terms of how Americans see the Scots, anyway. That rebellious side has its appeal.”

In Scotland, women greet such descriptions of the local talent with incredulity. “If you find him, let me know,” is a common response.
Indeed. And while it would be unwise to assume that all Scots living in Scotland will feel the same way, it should be noted that
There is evidence (MacGregor 1980, Shepperson 1981, Fry 2003) that members of the Scottish diaspora have a rather unrealistic view of the country. For example, the experiences of Alan Bain, President of the American Scottish Foundation, whose romanticised views of Scotland are not always shared by native born Scots are described in Devine and Logue (2002). (Sim and McIntosh 84)
Scottish "cultural critics" (Hague and Stenhouse 361), for example, are "made queasy by Scottish tartanry, a discourse which Andrew Ross identifies as 'the longest running caricature of national identity in a field of world-class competitors'" (361).

Scotland's "national tourism organisation," however, decided to take advantage of the Scotsman's international appeal and in 2006 "compiled an online list of the country's 20 most eligible bachelors in an attempt to lure visitors to the country" (Gray) and
In a statement released to the media about the unique campaign strategy, marketing director Denise Hill points out that the department simply decided to promote one of Scotland's best-known assets.

"Women across the globe love Scottish men – the kilts, the accents, the sense of humour – it's a fact," Hill says. (Greenwood Davis)
For their part, Hague and Stenhouse point to another fact about the popularity of the Scotsman and argue that "the mere fact that novels reviving tartanry constitute such a thriving subgenre of contemporary American writing ought to give pause to those who categorically dismiss representations of this kind of 'Scottishness' as an artistic dead end" (361).


1 According to an article published in The Sunday Times, she also told Stenhouse that “I think part of the appeal for readers is that the Scottish hero is a sexy one, and it takes a special kind of woman to tame him. But he has a loyal side too, which you can see in the Scottish clans. That kind of extreme loyalty is very appealing to women readers.” Another version of the same quote from Karen Kosztolnyik, appeared in The Scotsman:
"The image - whether true or not - of the be-kilted Scot as wild beast, just waiting to be tamed, was the key attraction.

"The Scottish hero is a sexy one, and it takes a special kind of woman to tame him.

"But he has a loyal side, too, which you can see in the Scottish clans. That kind of extreme loyalty is very appealing to women readers." (McVeigh)

2 In this essay Hague and Stenhouse focus on how a hero being Scottish creates an expectation of virility. Elsewhere Hague has written more about ethnic identity:
In his assessment of the construction of ethnic identities, Eugeen Roosens proposes that "one can make use of any number of signs for differentiation as long as they are credible - that is, as long as they could be in line with a particular cultural tradition." Between 1975 and 1988 a series of scholarly studies "ethnicized" white Southern identity past and present as Celtic. [...] Under such a definition, Celtic Southerners thus became written as ethnically and culturally distinct from other whites in the United States, this latter group being identified as "English" or "Anglo-Saxon." "Southern people," therefore, are supposedly distinguishable from other U.S. whites because they exhibit Celtic culture and behavior. ("Neo-confederacy" 101)
This and the romance genre's vision of Scotland are very far from being the only modern American uses of Scottishness. Hague suggests elsewhere that "Scottish identities are being reclaimed, reconfigured and appropriated in the USA in the 1990s by both individuals and institutions and in often quite different ways" ("The Scottish" 140). He also notes that the "coalescence of Scotland and Scottish people with Celticity began in the eighteenth century [...]. The idea that Highland Scotland was the legacy of an ancient Celtic civilisation was widely promulgated [...]. By the nineteenth century, representations of a 'Celtic' Gaelic-speaking Highland Scotland had come to represent Scotland as a whole" (142). Highland Scotland is, of course, the Scotland which would appear to be most popular in romances, and the Highlander has perhaps "come to represent" Scotsmen as a whole. These other articles by Hague, although not about the romance genre, demonstrate how a particular national or ethnic identity can be appropriated and associated with a particular set of values/qualities. To do this, certain aspects of history may be ignored or underplayed.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Final Calls: PCA 2011 (Dec 15, 2010 deadline) and IASPR NYC 2011 (Jan 1, 2011 deadline)

Final Calls for the Romance Area at PCA 2011 and for IASPR 2011 in New York City (just before RWA's conference).

PCA 2011 is in San Antonio, TX. As always, it's over Easter weekend!!! April 20-23, 2011. So if it's a problem to be away from your family for Easter/Passover, we'll miss you, but we'll understand.

PCA is an amazing conference to go to to experience the joy and sheer intellectual brilliance of the field of Popular Romance Studies. We are truly a community. We hang around together all weekend, eating most of our meals together, talking between panels. It's a VERY inviting conference for new scholars, and for interested non-scholars. We've had undergraduates and brand new graduate students present their papers at PCA and they loved it. We're welcoming, friendly, fun, a little bawdy, and very very interesting.

PCA/ACA 2010 National Conference
San Antonio, TX, April 20-23, 2011
Call For Papers: Romance Area

(Conference info:

Deadline for submission: December 15, 2010.

We are interested in any and all topics about or related to popular romance: all genres, all media, all countries, all kinds, and all eras. All representations of romance in popular culture (fiction, stage, screen—large or small, commercial, advertising, music, song, dance, online, real life, etc.), from anywhere and anywhen, are welcome topics of discussion.

We will consider proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and special panels. Sessions are scheduled in one-hour slots, ideally with four papers or speakers per standard session.

If you are involved in the creative industry of popular romance (romance author/editor, film director/producer, singer/songwriter, etc.) and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in the representations of popular romance, please contact us!

Some possible topics (although we are by no means limited to these):
  • Popular Romance on the World Stage (texts in translation, Western and non-Western media, local and comparative approaches)
  • Romance Across the Media: crossover texts and the relationships between romance fiction and romantic films, music, art, drama, etc.; also the paratexts and contexts of popular romance
  • Romance High and Low: texts that fall between “high” and “low” culture, or that complicate the distinctions between these critical categories
  • Romance Then and Now: representations of Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Modern, Postmodern love
  • Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
  • Queering the Romance: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender romance, and representations of same-sex love within predominantly heterosexual texts
  • BDSM Romance and representations of romantic/erotic power exchange
  • Romance communities
  • New Critical Approaches, such as readings informed by critical race theory, queer theory, postcolonial studies, or empirical science (e.g., the neurobiology of love)
  • The Politics of Romance, and romantic love in political discourse (revolutionary, reactionary, colonial / anti-colonial, etc.)
  • Individual Creative Producers or Texts of Popular Romance (novels, authors, film, directors, writers, songwriters, actors, composers, dancers, etc.)
  • Gender-Bending and Gender-Crossing / Genre-Bending and Genre-Crossing / Media-Bending and Media-Crossing Popular Romance
  • African-American, Latina, Asian, and other Multicultural romance
  • Young Adult Romance
  • History of/in Popular Romance
  • Romance and Region: places, histories, mythologies, traditions
  • Definitions and Theoretical Models of Popular Romance: it’s not all just happily ever after
As we have done for the past three years, the Romance area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field of Popular Romance Studies. Of particular interest this year: the 2011 New York City conference for the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR), planning for the 2012 IASPR conference, and the first volume of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS).

Submit a one-page (200-300 words) proposal or abstract (via regular mail or e-mail) by December 15, 2010, to the Area Chairs in Romance:

Sarah S. G. Frantz
Department of English and Foreign Languages
Fayetteville State University
1200 Murchison Road
Fayetteville, NC 28301
(910) 672-1438
sarahfrantz AT gmail DOT com

Darcy Martin
Adjunct Faculty, Women's Studies
East Tennessee State University
12 Wataugua Court
Bluffton, SC 29909
martindj AT etsu DOT edu

If you have any questions as all, please contact one or both of the area chairs. Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.

IASPR 2011:

A Call For Proposals
The Third Annual International Conference on Popular Romance

Can’t Buy Me Love?
Sex, Money, Power, and Romance

New York City June 26-28, 2011

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 global popular media. We welcome analyses of individual books, films, television series, websites, songs, etc., as well as broader inquiries into the reception of popular romance and into the creative industries that produce and market it worldwide.

This conference has four main goals:
  1. To explore the relationships between the conference’s key thematic terms (sex, money, power, and romantic love) in the texts and contexts of popular romance, in all forms and media, from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives
  2. To foster comparative and intercultural analyses of these recurring themes, by documenting and/or theorizing the ways that different nations, cultures, and communities think about love and sex, love and money, love and power, and so on, in the various media of popular romance
  3. To explore how ideas and images of romantic love—especially love as shaped by issues of sex, money, or power—circulate between elite and popular culture, between different media (e.g., from novel to film), and between cultural representations and the lived experience of readers, viewers, listeners, and lovers
  4. To explore the popular romance industry–publishing, marketing, film, television, music, gaming, etc.—and the roles played by sex, money, power, and love in the discourse of (and about) the business side of romance
After the conference, proceedings will be subjected to peer-review and published.

Please submit proposals by January 1, 2011 and direct questions to

Thursday, December 02, 2010

CFPs: Romance and Culture

Lynne Hapgood, in her Margins of Desire: The Suburbs in Fiction and Culture 1880-1925, writes that
Popular fiction and in particular romance, were seen as the locus of suburban culture and as indicative of a range of social ills. As with so many controversial topics at the turn of the twentieth century, social anxieties about popular fiction can be traced to questions of scale and gender. Popular fiction in magazines and books seemed to indicate the failure of universal education to deliver discrimination as well as skills. It signalled the commodification of culture, and was proof of women's intellectual weakness. (115)
the consensus among the literary classes was that romance fiction was the 'froth of the moment', 'day-dreaming fiction', a morbid 'feeding of the imagination' liable to take workers from their duties and turn women into 'fiction-vampires'. (117)
"Romance" in this period didn't, of course, refer solely to works with "a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending" (RWA) but it's clearly a very important period in the formation of the modern romance genre and attitudes towards it.

The next Middlebrow Network conference, which will also be the
13th annual Space Between Society conference, focuses on
The Battle of the Brows: Cultural Distinctions in the Space Between, 1914-1945

With the massive growth in the production and consumption of literature, music and art in the period 1914-1945 came powerful anxieties about cultural authority and transmission. As audiences and artists increasingly came from middle or lower classes, critics tried to distinguish between the “serious” and the “popular.” Cultural distinctions that relied, directly or indirectly, on attitudes toward hierarchies of gender, class, and race came under increasing scrutiny. It was a time of debate and radical change: new media and materials (radio, film, jazz, paperback novels) gained ground over traditional forms and venues (classical music, poetry, theatre); many arts became professionalized, rather than relying on inherited incomes; institutions such as the Book of the Month Club and the BBC formed new communities of cultural consumption.

The conference is being held at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, June 16-18, 2011. Among the many topics listed in the call for papers is "Genres and modes: melodrama, social realism, adventure fiction, spy thrillers, romances." The deadline is 15 January 2011 and more details can be found here.

In other news, An Goris reports that
A few months ago the journal Mosaic launched a CFP for a special issue they are planning on Romance. The deadline for submission, which originally was October 30 2010, has been pushed back to May 2011. The issue focuses on romance in the broad sense, but Mosaic has indicated to me they are interested in including articles on popular romance.
Here's the text of the
Call for Submissions
Special Issue: Romance

The OED has to give some three pages to defining the word ROMANCE that, with all of its rich history, is at the center of this Mosaic Call for Papers. We invite innovative interdisciplinary literary and critical submissions for a special issue we are planning on this theme. For this issue, our interests include, but are not limited to, the following: ‘the Romantics,’ who have undergone a renascence of late; the French novel, the roman; romantic fiction; Romanticism; the state of the love story in literature and/or film; and the figure of the “romantic.”
More details can be found here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

CFPs: Key Themes and Kindred Genres

I've seen a number of calls for papers recently which, while not directly about the romance genre, may be of interest to readers of this blog.
2nd Global Conference: Revenge - Probing the Boundaries (July, 2011: Oxford, United Kingdom)

Revenge, so we are told, is a dish best served cold: a ‘sweet’ wreaking of vengeance on those who have – either in reality or in our minds – slighted, wronged or in some way ‘injured’ us and who are now ‘enjoying’ their just deserts by an avenging angel (or angels) on the great day of reckoning.

This inter- and multi-disciplinary research and publications project seeks to explore the multi-layered ideas and actions of vengeance or revenge. The project aims to explore the nature of revenge, its relationship with issues of justice, and its manifestation in the actions of individuals, groups, communities and nations. The project will also consider the history of revenge, its ‘legitimacy’, the ‘scale’ of vengeful actions and whether revenge has (or should have) ‘limits’. Representations of revenge in film, literature, tv, theatre and radio will be analysed; cultural ‘traditions’ of retaliation and revenge will be considered. And the role of mercy, forgiveness and pardon will be assessed.
For more information, click here and here.
"Virgin Envy: Contemporary Approaches to Virginity in Literature and Arts": Canadian Comparative Literature Association Congress 2011 (Fredericton from 28 May to 4 June)

Virginity has long been a trope found in literary and cultural texts, however, how do we understand virginity and why does it matter become two questions worthy of consideration. This joint-panel between the Canadian Comparative Literature Association and the Canadian Association of Hispanists aims to work through the poetics and politics of virginity in narrative, poetry, cinema, graphic novels, and popular culture. In many regards, though virginity has been studied, particularly in Medieval Literature, and aspects of Renaissance and Classical Literature, we have yet to see much consideration of virginity as a theoretical problem in modern texts. As such, we welcome papers that move beyond the Virgin Mary and the Virgin of Guadalupe and aim to consider virginity as an interdisciplinary matter that must be considered from the widest-possible range of perspectives. Papers presented in these panels may be considered for inclusion in an upcoming book of essays on the topic of virginity.
More details here.
Frothy, Frivolous, or Feminist?: Expanding the Critical Discourse on Chick Lit and Women's Fiction (2011 American Literature Association Conference, May 26-29 in Boston)

In the introduction to their essay collection Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young state that, “[o]n one hand chick lit attracts the unquestioning adoration of fans; on the other it attracts the unmitigated disdain of critics” (1). Indeed, chick lit is enormously popular, and its commercial success extends well beyond the literary world—the genre continues to influence the television and film industry. Chick lit is, as Ferris and Young point out, “big business” (2). However, the popularity and commercial success of chick lit all but ensure it is dismissed critically. In fact, respected novelists like Beryl Bainbridge and Doris Lessing have dubbed authors who write chick lit as the “chickerati,” and Bainbridge describes the genre as “froth” and a waste of time (1). The critical discourse on chick lit is largely negative, condemning the genre as “trivial” and dismissing the fans who claim it depicts the realities of contemporary single women’s lives (2). In fact, the critical treatment of chick lit—or, the lack thereof—seemingly dismisses the genre purely because of its popularity, and most critics’ unwillingness to take chick lit seriously is remarkably similar to the critical treatment of women writers of the late-18th and 19th-centuries. Writers such as Susan Warner, Sarah Josepha Hale, and E.D.E.N. Southworth, all of whom were enormously popular when originally published in the 19th century, have been largely ignored by the contemporary academy because their works are seen as didactic, sentimental, and unrealistic—all terms that have been applied to various works of chick lit.
They've been applied to the romance genre too, of course. More details here.
Call for Essay Submissions on Love in Film and Television Westerns

Call for submissions for an edited collection requested by Palgrave Macmillan Submissions for a collection of essays tentatively titled Cowboy Love: Lonely Hearts and Happy Trails in Western Film and Television.

Long before the release of Brokeback Mountain (2005), Cowboy Love was a complicated, and often conflicted, subject in Western film. Cowboys who would never run from a fight often run from love, and for good reason. Transgressive and titillating, love is one of the most hazardous of all frontier activities in the West. Its presence and absence establish and destabilize gender norms, raising social, political, moral and ethical questions. Simultaneously affirming archetypes of manliness and womanhood and challenging notions of American machismo, the narrative of frontier romance has contributed to the lasting popularity of the cowboy and the endurance of the Western as a genre.
More details here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Growth Matters

Jessica at Read, React, Review has been
asking why romance heroes are so well endowed. If some aspect of romance is sexual fantasy, it may seem obvious. But real women don’t seem to care too much about this sort of thing.
so then Jessica asked
But what about the heroine’s reaction to The Big Reveal? It’s often fear, nervousness, shock, or awe. Perhaps a lot of that reaction can be attributed to the fact that so many romance heroines are virgins. But think about it: why does it make sense that a penis — even a big one — should be terrifying to anyone, ever? And, besides, even experienced often heroines have the same reaction.
While I was still pondering those questions, I happened to read a post about:
the relentless pursuit of growth, measured in monetary terms, which takes no account of finite natural capital or people’s well-being. To illustrate the fundamental points: we would need three planets to allow all nations to grow equally, and despite massive GDP growth we appear to be no happier than we were thirty years ago.
I spot a some common themes here: worries about growth in the context of finite natural resources, and a threat to the happily-ever-after of the protagonists.

Before you all decide that this is a case of a poor, innocent metaphor being stretched to breaking point, I'd like to observe that a very high proportion of romance heroes are well endowed both physically and financially. Indeed, Jan Cohn has observed that
It is a commonplace of romance that the heroine will marry well, a given that the hero will be rich. [...] Romance fiction offers a fantasy of female success, specifically economic success, the aggressive nature of which it thoroughly masks under the heroine's extreme economic innocence. [...] This strategy, basic to the romance formula, attempts to disguise both the heroine's real goal and the profound association between sexual and economic power that lies at the heart of romance, as realized in the figure of the romance hero. Economic success becomes a condition of the hero of romance. It is not simply a matter of the hero's wealth as an added-on value; his wealth, his property and economic power, are basic attributes of his masculinity, a principal source of his virile attractiveness. (127)
It is, after all "a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (Austen 51). And if a man's "good fortune" is a "basic attribute of his masculinity," isn't it equally possible that the most obvious "basic attribute of his masculinity" might symbolise his "good fortune"? And, given the ruthless nature of both rakes and unregulated capitalism, is it really surprising that the heroine should have some concerns when she realises just how very large his "good fortune" is?

It seems something worth pondering, although (a) I'm sure there is a strong element of purely sexual fantasy in such scenes and (b) I would be extremely surprised if any of the authors of this type of scene had intended there to be any economic symbolism.

Having now lived up (or down) to the expectations of those who "believe all college professors are radical Marxists," I'll leave you with a video about the value of a PhD in English:

  • Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Tony Tanner. London: Penguin, 1985.
  • Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham: Duke UP, 1988.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Medieval Romances

As reported at Dear Author, a medievalist who has worked on Middle English romances has recently turned her attention to modern romances set in the Middle Ages. On the 20th of October, Nicola McDonald of the University of York gave a lecture at the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham: “What’s Your Pleasure? Mass-Market Medieval Romance.”

McDonald is the editor of Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Medieval Romance (2004). It's a volume of essays about Middle English romances. These are texts which Jonathan A. Glenn has described as follows:
The basic material of medieval romance is knightly activity and adventure; we might best define medieval romance as a story of adventure--fictitious, frequently marvelous or supernatural--in verse or prose. Earlier romances in English are in verse; those in prose (Malory, for example) are generally late.

Perhaps surprisingly, any "love interest" is likely to be incidental to the story of a medieval romance. An exception to this rule may be found in the breton lai: the term refers both to the relatively brief form of medieval French romances, professed to have been sung by Breton minstrels on Celtic themes, and to the English medieval poems written in imitation of such works. These romances often wove their stories around a famous legendary figure (Arthur, for example, or Tristram) and took as their immediate subject matter a love story of some kind.

Structurally, the medieval romance often follows the loose pattern of the quest, tending thus to be merely episodic.
While these texts are, clearly, rather different from modern romance novels there are certainly some similarities between the two genres. Here's some of what McDonald has had to say about medieval romance:
Despite its status as medieval England's most popular secular genre [...], Middle English popular romance remains, with rare exceptions, under read and under studied. Popular romance is the pulp fiction of medieval England, the 'principal secular literature of entertainment' for an enormously diverse audience that endures for over two hundred and fifty years. It is fast-paced and formulaic; it markets itself unabashedly as genre fiction; it is comparatively cheap and, in performance, ephemeral; it has a sensationalist taste for sex and violence; and it seems content to reproduce the easy certainties of sexist, racist and other bigoted ideologies. But this is not a reason to dismiss it. On the contrary, popular romance provides us with a unique opportunity to explore the complex workings of the medieval imaginary and the world outside the text that feeds and supports it. (1)
Given this assessment of medieval romances, it's perhaps not entirely surprising that McDonald should have decided it might be worth examining some modern romances. So far her research in this area appears to have been based on a small sample of texts: "the Medieval Lords and Ladies Collection (Harlequin Mills and Boon, 2007), a set of six, two-volume anthologies." 1

Joseph McLaughlin provides a summary of Nicola McDonald's recent lecture:
Aspects of modern medieval romances uncovered by her inquiry include:

• self-conscious historicizing with a flagrant disregard for historical facts;

• descriptions of time that serve to wrench the reader back into the present; and

• depictions of violent sexual encounters, which are seldom found in non-medieval Harlequin romances.

[...] McDonald admitted that she enjoyed spotting historical blunders in the books’ pages and in the artwork on their covers.

She pointed out references to a two-pronged dinner fork, when that table utensil was invented after the medieval period; Caxton’s printed books classified as “new,” when Caxton had been dead for over a decade; and a cone-shaped hennin, a headpiece that was fashionable in the 15th century, on the cover of a romance set in the 11th century.

“What is especially pleasing to the snobbish scholar about these references is their very purposefulness, the way in which they are so intimately bound up in the self-evidently lowbrow work of historicizing for readers who, it seems, don’t know any better,” McDonald said.

She also noted how the Medieval Lords and Ladies novels portray time as pre-modern—something that is marked by hours of prayer or notches on a candle, despite the fact that clock was invented in the Middle Ages—while medieval sex acts are distinctly outside of time. [...]

As to how modern novels speak to Middle English romances, McDonald said she has no simple answer.

“As I ‘fall through time and space’ into the middle of my own research, I know that I can no longer be secure in the distance between my Middle Ages and the [romanticized] one I once so confidently disparaged.”


1 Since Nicola McDonald is currently supervising a number of PhD students at the University of York, I don't think it's any coincidence that Amy Burge, also from the University of York, has completed a research poster on the same set of HM&B texts, although the paper she presented to this year's IASPR conference "discussed sheikh romances," and mentioned that "the hero and his country are often described as being 'medieval': 'medieval customs,' a 'medieval-style palace,' a 'medieval mindset,' etc." (my translation of an article by Agnès Caubet).

The image is a non-medieval version of the White Rose of York, taken from Wikipedia.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Miscellany

Today I was reading a romance from 1964 in which nothing goes further than kisses between the hero and heroine, but when she's abducted by the hero's brother overnight she discounts the threat of rape on the grounds that "I may be young and inexperienced, but I'm not ignorant. I've always understood that rape is virtually impossible unless the victim is partially willing" (Seale 174). Since nothing is said or done to prove her wrong, this totally incorrect statement about rape goes unchallenged in the novel.

Another rape myth I came across recently was expressed in a comment left in response to a recent review at the Smart Bitches': "what puzzles me, regardless of societal context, is the notion that a woman being forced to have sex would have an orgasm. Orgasms are not just physical" (Laurel). This incorrect statement didn't go unchallenged. However, as Orangehands concluded,
society has so enforced rape culture that rape in its more subtle shades can show up and slip by without any acknowledgment for what it is. Sometimes because the characters themselves don't see it that way, sometimes because we read the scene from the [point of view of the] pursued instead of the pursuer (and so we can read his/her desire while she's saying no), and sometimes because it's just that subtle and we don't know to call it rape, and sometimes because we have been taught not to think about it as rape.
The way that Cooks Source acquired some of its content came in for considerable scrutiny and criticism recently in the romance community. Well, it's a new week, and there are more allegations of plagiarism, this time directed at George Bush:
it appears that Decision Points is not so much the former president's memoirs as other people's cut and pasted memories.

Bush's account is littered with anecdotes seemingly ripped off from other books and articles, even borrowing without attribution – some might say plagiarising – from critical accounts the White House had previously denounced as inaccurate.

The Huffington Post noted a remarkable similarity between previously published writings and Bush's colourful anecdotes from events at which he had not been present. (McGreal)
American politicians expressed their interest in the pursuit of happiness a long time ago, but in the UK the
government is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness.

Despite "nervousness" in Downing Street at the prospect of testing the national mood amid deep cuts and last week's riot in Westminster, the Office of National Statistics will shortly be asked to produce measures to implement David Cameron's long-stated ambition of gauging "general wellbeing".

Countries such as France and Canada are looking at similar initiatives as governments around the world come under pressure to put less store on conventional economic measures of prosperity such as gross domestic product. (Stratton)
I suppose I can tangentially relate this one to romance too, since according to the Beatles "money can't buy me love" and "all you need is love."

I've come to expect that Harlequin Mills & Boon Greek tycoons, however, will invariably get both money and love. I was rather amused, though, to discover that one of them also ensures there's a lavish supply of suitably symbolic bath toys for his secret baby:
Maribel watched Leonidas roll out a convoy of boats for his son's bath-time entertainment. For a Greek tycoon, whose fortune was based on a vast shipping empire, she supposed an entire fleet was a natural choice. (Graham 117)
With thanks to Tumperkin, who gave me a copy of Lynne Graham's The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Romancing Herself?

Here's a definition I found of "women's fiction":
Women’s fiction is a term that refers to stories where the female protagonist deals with situations and relationships that challenge her and affect her emotional growth.

The subjects and themes of these books can cover a wide range of issues that women face. Relationships with other people are important, and are an integral part of the story. Though there is often a love interest, it isn’t the central focus.

What’s most important is the woman’s emotional development as she pursues her dreams, fights her fears, or overcomes obstacles life throws her way. These stories touch the emotions, and don’t necessarily have a happy ending. Like any book, though, women’s fiction does need an ending that satisfies readers. (Benedict)
And here's the Romance Writers of America's definition of a romance: "Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending." I know they also state that "The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work" but there are now romances in which there are more than two individuals in the central relationship.

Today I read a news item which made me wonder if there could also be fewer than two people in the "central love story":
Chen Wei-Yi has had one of the most unusual weddings in history by marrying herself in a ceremony in Taiwan.

Chen - whose English name is Only - carried out the ceremony as a protest against the pressures on women in Taiwanese society to get married.
As she says in the radio interview below:
I feel that marrying myself represents a promise to really love myself. With this wedding I want to have a ceremony to prove that I really love myself [...] in the past many women sacrificed themselves or endured injustice. Now, finally, there are many choices open to women and one of these choices is to love ourselves more. So I feel that this is a really good opportunity for women to change society's expectations of them.

So would it be possible to think of a work of "women's fiction" which ends optimistically and in which the protagonist does not end up in a romantic relationship with another person, but does end up in love with herself, as a sort of romance?

I'm not thinking about the definitions in terms of their function as marketing labels: obviously many readers like to know what they're getting and novels which tell the story of a woman's evolving relationship with herself are bound to be considered significantly different from novels which tell the story of the growth of a romantic relationship between two or more people. Also, not all "women's fiction" ends happily, and it may not end with the female protagonist loving herself. All I'm doing here is looking at the definitions and wondering if there are more structural or thematic similarities between modern romance novels and some "women's fiction" than I'd previously thought there were.

Pamela Regis has stated that "A romance novel - a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines - requires certain narrative events" (27). The eight narrative events are as follows:
Society Defined Near the beginning of the novel, the society that the heroine and hero will confront in their courtship is defined for the reader. This society is in some way flawed. (31)
The Meeting Usually near the beginning of the novel, but also sometimes presented in flashback, the heroine and hero meet for the first time. (31)
The Barrier A series of scenes often scattered throughout the novel establishes for the reader the reasons that this heroine and hero cannot marry. (32)
The Attraction A scene or series of scenes scattered throughout the novel establishes for the reader the reason that this couple must marry. (33)
The Declaration The scene or scenes in which the hero declares his love for the heroine, and the heroine her love for the hero. (34)
Point of Ritual Death The point of ritual death marks the moment in the narrative when the union between heroine and hero, the hoped-for resolution, seems absolutely impossible, when it seems that the barrier will remain, more substantial than ever. (35)
The Recognition In a scene or scenes the author represents the new information that will overcome the barrier. (36)
The Betrothal In a scene or scenes the hero asks the heroine to marry him and she accepts; or the heroine asks the hero, and he accepts. In romance novels from the last quarter of the twentieth century marriage is not necessary as long as it is clear that heroine and hero will end up together. (38)
I suspect that many, if not all, of these "narrative events" would be present in works of optimistically-ending women's fiction centered around a woman's journey towards loving herself. Obviously one would need to reword some of the descriptions slightly: in most cases, for example, their protagonists, unlike Chen Wei-Yi, do not literally become betrothed to, or marry themselves. What do you think?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Cameras, Action, Romance Novels!

According to Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan,
everyone has a very firm idea of what the average romance reader is like. We bet you already know her. She's rather dim and kind of tubby - undereducated and undersexed - and she displays a distressing affinity for mom jeans and sweaters covered in puffy paint and appliquéd kittens. (4)
If you'd like to see a picture of this typical romance reader, created by Joanne Renaud for the Smart Bitches' book, you can click across here. Wendell and Tan didn't mention the cause of the tubbyness, but it may be due to those bonbons that we romance readers apparently can't resist:
We still persist in the stereotypical belief that women who read romances can't get a date on Friday night. Instead, they lounge around all day eating bon-bons while they read their little books. This is simply untrue. (Bouricius 32)
According to Rachel Anderson, the genre "is usually condescendingly dismissed by those with highbrow pretensions as being harmless wish-fulfilment for ageing spinsters, or relatively harmless escapism for the ill-educated masses" (12-13). I suspect the stereotype varies a bit, perhaps from one country or time-period to another: Anderson was writing in the UK in the 1970s, whereas Wendell, Tan, and Bouricius were published in the US in the 2000s.

I'm not sure where these stereotypes of the romance reader come from, or how they're perpetuated, but since I'm interested in societal perceptions of romances and romance readers I was intrigued by Kirsten Valentine Cadieux's post about the recently released RED. She
was delighted to discover that a central narrative device of the film's setup is a somewhat elaborate, if simple, pattern in which the male romantic lead inquires about the current habits of the female romantic lead [...]; he then proceeds to read along with her trashy romance novels.
In the movie Mary-Louise Parker plays the part of Sarah, "a sweet, mild-mannered government HR rep and lover of romance novels who is inadvertently drawn into the film's dangerous world of intrigue" (CBR):
"She's a small town, Midwestern girl, and I think she's really positive and there's not a whole lot of dark in there," Parker said of Sarah during the press junket for "RED" in New York City. "She's a really bright, positive person, she reads romance novels and she kind of imagines herself "in" one of them. So when all of this happens, I think to her it's a dream come true. Even the horrible parts of it, like getting her mouth duct taped, there's some element to that that's thrilling and wonderful." (CBR)
Unfortunately, since I try to avoid depictions of violence, I won't be able to see for myself how the two romance readers (Sarah and Frank) challenge and/or reinforce particular stereotypes about romance readers.

When I looked to see if there were other movies with characters who read romance, I came across the following description, written by Dyanne, at The Romance Reader:
AMERICAN DREAMER - Stars JoBeth Williams and Tom Conti. Very funny - I love this movie! JoBeth Williams' character is a housewife who loves to read romantic thrillers by Rebecca Ryan and so she enters a Rebecca Ryan writing contest. She wins a trip to Paris and on her way to the awards luncheon gets knocked on the head -- when she awakens, she believes she is Rebecca Ryan.
I haven't seen that one either.

So is there anyone here who has seen either of these movies? If so, what did you think of their depiction of romance readers? And do any of you know of any other movies with romance-reading characters? Finally, is Jayashree Kamble overstating the case when she writes that
stereotypes about romance fiction are so deeply inscribed in popular discourse that they are regularly referenced by the entertainment media, such as television shows and movies, for comic effect. In every case, romance novels are portrayed as titillating fantasies written and read by oversexed or undersexed women. Romance readers often also come across in these electronic media as possessing little intelligence and discernment and as being incapable of separating themselves from the text. In most cases, these media are popular texts themselves and ridicule the romance genre as a way to elevate their own status by contrast and detract from their own formulae. (27-28)

  • Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-Literature of Love. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974.
  • Bouricius, Ann. The Romance Readers' Advisory: The Librarian's Guide to Love in the Stacks. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.
  • Kamble, Jayashree. Uncovering and Recovering the Popular Romance Novel. University of Minnesota, Ph.D. dissertation. December 2008. [Details here and available for download as a pdf here.]
  • Wendell, Sarah, and Candy Tan. Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

RWA Research Grant Opportunity!

The Romance Writers of America have announced their seventh annual Research Grant competition, with a December 1, 2010 deadline for proposals. You can apply for up to $5,000 USD in support--that's a major grant, in my book: more than equal to what I'd make in a summer of teaching at DePaul.

This grant had a transformational effect on my own work, and on the current wave of contemporary romance scholarship. Sarah S. G. Frantz, founder of IASPR, was a previous recipient; Catherine Roach and Pam Regis, both of whom appear in the first issue of JPRS, have also received support. So did Jayashree Kamble, whose dissertation on popular romance is a tremendously useful resource--when my students ask about romance covers, I send them to her chapter!

You can find a full list of previous recipients on the RWA site, if you want a sense of just how varied the projects have been. If you're reading this, your work would probably fit. If you've applied in the past, and haven't received the award, go for it again. The mix of applicants is different every year, and there's no way to know how your project will look a second time around.

Here's an excerpt of the description at the RWA site:
Romance Writers of America announces the seventh annual Research Grant competition. The grant program seeks to develop and support academic research devoted to genre romance novels, writers, and readers. Appropriate fields of specialization include but are not limited to: anthropology, communications, cultural studies, education, English language and literature, gender studies, linguistics, literacy studies, psychology, rhetoric, and sociology. Proposals in interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies are welcome. The ultimate goal of proposals should be significant publication in major journals or as a monograph from an academic press. RWA does not fund creative work (such as novels or films).

RWA's review committee, which includes academics with doctorates, makes grant recipient recommendations to the RWA Board of Directors. RWA will fund one or more grants up to a total amount of $5,000. Funds will be calculated/awarded in U.S. dollars. Individual applicants may request up to the total amount. The research grant(s) are intended to support direct research costs associated with the project, including travel, but not equipment.

RWA retains the right to award less than a proposal’s budget, or less than the total amount designated for the competition, should the review committee so recommend.


The objectives of the program are:
  1. To support theoretical and substantive academic research about genre romance texts and literacy practices.
  2. To encourage a well-informed public discourse about genre romance texts and literacy practices.

The RWA Research Grant Program is open to faculty at accredited colleges and universities, independent scholars with significant publication records, and dissertation candidates who have completed all course work and qualifying exams. No candidate need be a member of the RWA.

Criteria for Selection:

Preference will be given to scholars with a distinguished record of research and publication. In addition, criteria for evaluation are:
  1. The significance of the proposed research
  2. The definition, organization, clarity, and scope of the research proposal.
  3. The quality or promise of the candidate.
  4. Likelihood of timely completion of the proposed research
If you have any questions, you can ask the RWA or get in touch with us previous winners. We're a friendly bunch, as a rule.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Teaching the Romance Genre: Eric Selinger

Issue 35 of the French-language romance webzine Les Romantiques is now out (in a Flip/Flash version and as a pdf) and it includes an article on various men who read romance novels. One of them is Teach Me Tonight's Eric Selinger. If you want to find out more about how Eric became a romance reader, or the various categories into which he places critics of the genre, you'll have to read the original article. But for those who prefer to read in English, here's an English version of what Eric told them about the courses on the romance genre which he's taught at DePaul University.

As of this fall, I’ve taught about twenty courses on the genre, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels—everything from historical surveys (usually starting with E. M. Hull’s The Sheik) to courses on romance since the 1990s to single-author seminars. (I’m teaching a 10-week interdisciplinary seminar right now on Laura Kinsale’s brilliant novel Flowers from the Storm.) Every one of these courses has gotten a wonderful reception both from students (who fill them up whenever they’re offered) and from my colleagues, who seem interested and spread the word to their own students as well. I’m sure there are schools out there where a course like mine would be resisted by faculty or by the administration, but DePaul has been very supportive.

Now, it may well be that I get this response because I’m a man teaching the course, or because I already had a good track record teaching more traditional courses (modern poetry, etc.). But I don’t think so. I know that romance novelist Lauren Willig recently taught an undergraduate seminar on historical romance at Yale, and it was very well received. My hunch is that the times have changed, and the impact of cultural studies on the American academy has opened this door quite wide—it’s just a matter now of having faculty walk through it.

Most of the students in my courses have been women. At first I’d have no men at all, or only one or two. Slowly, though, that’s begun to change. Last spring I had eleven men in my senior seminar on romance, which was almost 1/3 of the class. None of them had read romance before, but a few really came to enjoy it, and would shoot me emails during the term to ask for recommendations. (I had one gay student who wanted me to suggest some m/m paranormal romances, which I found very amusing—he was delighted to discover how many subgenres there were, and to realize that if he wanted to read something, it was probably out there!)

As a rule, my students love the course, and have very positive reactions to it. Many go on to be regular romance readers, and many find this course an opportunity to connect with female relatives—mothers, aunts, grandmothers—who are already readers. Even the ones who don’t go on to be readers have a newfound respect for the genre, and they begin to notice how often it’s made fun of in the media or by other professors. (I have one colleague who’s had to change his usual pitch about how much better literary fiction is than genre fiction, because my students started objecting and telling him, “That’s not what Prof. Selinger says.”)

The authors I teach will vary from course to course, and a lot of authors I’ve only taught one or two times, but the most frequent ones recently would be:

E. M. Hull (The Sheik)
Georgette Heyer
Victoria Holt
Kathleen Woodiwiss
Nora Roberts
Laura Kinsale
Loretta Chase
Jennifer Crusie
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Beverly Jenkins
Suzanne Brockmann
J. R. Ward
Alex Beecroft (author of the wonderful m/m romance False Colors)
Ann Herendeen (Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander)
Victoria Dahl