Thursday, October 27, 2011

Magazine and Story Paper Romances

There is, it seems to me, a hierarchy in romances: single-titles are often considered superior to category romances and the various magazine formats (including the romance comics to which Sequential Crush is dedicated) are often entirely forgotten. I was provided with a salutary corrective recently when I bought a copy of a 1960s guide to writing romantic fiction which states that
A good serial will always make a good novel and a good romantic novel will often make a serial. The most obvious difference is in length.
Magazines obtain their serials by two methods. Either they are specially written for the market, or, more commonly, they are adapted by the editorial staff from a full-length novel. Most publishers make a point of submitting manuscripts with a feminine appeal to magazines, in order to sell the serial rights well before book publication. Financially, selling to a magazine is by far the better proposition. Serial rights can bring in two or three times as much - sometimes even more than a publisher's advance. (Britton and Collin 108). 1
They probably weren't overstating the importance of the magazine market in that period; Joseph McAleer, who has studied the publishing history of Mills & Boon, writes that
While Mills & Boon had had a close relationship with the magazines since the 1920s, it was in the 1950s that contact intensified, and the magazines themselves become a kind of extension of the editorial department. By 1948, pre-publication serializations of Mills & Boon novels were fixtures in the top three women's magazines, which together were selling over three million copies per week: Woman, Woman's Own, and Woman's Weekly [...]. This association with the weekly magazines served more than an editorial purpose. Mills & Boon reaped extra publicity when a serial 'sold' well, encouraging readers to seek out the complete novel in the libraries, or other titles by the author. Moreover, selling serial rights - for as much as £1,000 - helped Mills & Boon's cash flow. The firm usually retained between 15 and 25 per cent of the serial fee. (97)
Magazines came in various types and Bridget Fowler has studied in detail
a representative sample of weekly family or women's magazines, selecting those of the most economical design, with the lowest prices [...]. Where possible, the period analysed was July 1929 to July 1930 [...]. Not only was this a time of industrial restructuring and financial collapse, but it was also the last era before the birth of the modern, glossy, mass-circulation women's magazine in 1932. Stories had a much more central place in the older type of magazine and were often the sole diet of fiction for their readers. The affectionate niche they acquired in the lives of their reading-public was attested by many of my respondents with working-class roots, who recalled their mothers snatching brief interludes from heavy domestic labour to enjoy the little luxury of Silver Star or the People's Friend. (51)2
Billie Melman has focused in particular on "The Lancashire romance and the love story set in the Empire" (144) in British story papers of the 1920s. The "mill-girl story had emerged in the 1890s. Its heyday overlapped the decade between the end of the First World War and the Wall Street Crash; its decline and fall coincided with the Great Depression" (121). Indeed, "The Great Depression, which finally ruined the Lancashire cotton industry, also gave the Lancashire romance its coup-de-grâce" (133). This sub-genre does
include some stories of romantic rivalry between a mill-hand and a toff, fighting for the heart and hand of a mill girl. Usually it is the honest, industrious Lancastrian who wins. On the whole, the concept of marriage as a bond that benefits economically or socially one or both of the parties is alien to the spirit of the Lancashire romance. Matrimony is not an economic partnership, or a sanctioned sexual relationship, but a lifelong friendship between two adolescents, an extension of the 'matiness' of the mill. (128)
In sharp contrast to the mill-girl stories, yet existing alongside them, was a type of story whose "brand-mark was nationalism. Its symbol was the Empire. Its main characteristic was the blurring of social differences and the effacement of class consciousness" (134). Melman suggests that "The flowering of a genre that celebrated an imaginary society in which females were scarce and males plentiful may be seen as a response to the anxieties caused by the imbalance between the sexes" (136-37) in the aftermath of the First World War. There
are two patterns of romance. In the first, the emigrant story proper, an Englishwoman, newly arrived from the 'Old Country', finds a mate, a home and purposeful life in the unpopulated wilderness of a British dominion or colony. In the second pattern, the heroine, born of British parents in the 'New Country', is pursued and won by an Englishman. In both these patterns the main emphasis is upon the national and racial identity of the protagonists. The characters must be white and Anglo-Saxon. Their affiliation to race replaces other allegiances - to class, to the community, to occupation and even to gender. (137)
The story papers in which these stories appeared
were printed, on the newsprint pulp paper from which they derived their somewhat derogatory epithet, in a two- or four-column layout. The typical story paper was a weekly [...]. Its potential readers were unmarried manual workers, shop assistants, domestic servants and office workers. Married women in their early and mid twenties formed a distinct group for which a host of periodicals more domestic in outlook than the publications for adolescents catered.
The main component of the pulp weekly was fiction. The relation between the role of magazine fiction and the social status of the magazine-reading public has been noticed. The space given to fiction was in inverse proportion to the class of readers. The 'higher' this class, the smaller the story component. (113)
In addition, "The serial story was peculiar to working-class periodicals. [...] Middle-class publications, on the other hand, had a distinct preference for shorter fiction" (114).

William Gleason takes the study of magazine romances back even further in time, and across the Atlantic, in issue 2.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. He states that:
The mass marketing of modern romance fiction in North America began not with the emergence of Harlequin Books in the 1950s but during the dime novel and story paper boom of the 1860s and 1870s. Seeking to capitalize on the longstanding appeal of love stories, which had been appearing alongside other popular genres in the weekly family story papers since the mid-nineteenth century, many of the most influential “cheap” U.S. publishing houses—including Beadle and Adams, Street and Smith, George P. Munro, and Norman Munro—began to experiment with more distinctly marked romance series aimed primarily or exclusively at women readers. Several of these series were quite successful, others wildly so. Beadle and Adams’s Waverley Library, for example, which offered both classic fiction and popular romance novels, produced a total of 353 issues between 1879 and 1886 (Johannsen 304, 314). Street and Smith’s Bertha Clay Library, launched in 1900, ran (along with its successor, the New Bertha M. Clay Library) for more than thirty years (Carr 81). And from the mid-1880s through the 1930s popular publishers fought over exclusive rights to publish and republish the works of prolific American romance novelist Laura Jean Libbey, both as stand-alone volumes in various “library” series and as serialized novels in weekly story papers (Masteller 205). These late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century publishing successes laid the groundwork for the mass marketing of popular romance with which we are familiar today.
As for me, I've been dipping into the digitized, online editions of Australian Women's Weekly from 1933 to 1982. Joan Elman's A New Car and a Lady (18 Feb. 1939) features a heroine who drives cars for a living (she works for a car show-room); the first thing she says is "Oh, but this had been a day of days! Three demonstrations since ten o'clock. Careers for women? Ugh!" (5). The anti-heroine from this story is not totally dissimilar, at least initially, to the heroine of This Frail Flower (21 August 1943) who, before the war, was "lovely and loveable, spoiled, useless" (5). She, however, finds a new purpose in life, and her old love, in a factory doing war-work. In Paul Horgan's National Honeymoon (16 Sept. 1950) the heroine manipulates her new groom into appearing with her on a national radio programme which gives prizes to newly-weds in return for them sharing their love story with the nation. Roberta May reveals that she used to work "as a secretary [...] I wanted to keep on, but Gus wouldn't let me" because, as he says, "I can support both of us" (10). Roberta gave up her job rather than lose Gus, but much as the job would have enabled her to "help with payments on the house" (20), their appearance on the show will allow her to have a room in that house refurbished. After the show, however, Roberta is "sorry with all her heart for what they had given away that day [...] their very own love story" (22). Gus tells her that they can get back "the important part of it" by returning all the prizes; "I'll buy what we need, and if we can't afford it yet we'll wait till we can" (22). Yet again, the implication seems to be (a) a man should "support" the couple on his own, without his wife's assistance, and (b) when a wife puts herself into the public arena (as opposed to staying safely at home) she runs the risk of damaging her marriage. The contrast between these last two stories seems to reflect the changing attitudes towards women's work:
At the end of the war, the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor asked women workers about their future work plans [...] most women wanted to keep their present jobs. Immediately after the war, the percentage of women who worked fell as factories converted to peacetime production and refused to rehire women. In the next few years, the service sector expanded and the number of women in the workforce—especially older married women—increased significantly, despite the dominant ideology of woman as homemaker and mother. The types of jobs available to these women, however, were once again limited to those traditionally deemed “women’s work.”(History Matters)

1The authors of this guide, Anne Britton and Marion Collin, had "both been fiction editors of women's magazines" (dustjacket) so they clearly write from experience when they warn authors of full-length novels that:
If your manuscript is bought as a serial do not be surprised by what happens to it. You may have written about sixty-five thousand words. The fiction staff will have no qualms about cutting it to thirty thousand words if it suits them better that way. You have sold the story and unless you want to kill your market you will be wise not to complain about its new length or its new title, or even to hint that they have cut out your most brilliant passages! The staff who cut are experienced, and it is their job to know what makes a successful serial. (117-18)
I can't help but feel that there are some parallels here with the process of translation and cutting documented by Eva Hemmungs Wirtén, which led her to ask "Is this not a new book? And where is the writer in all of this?" ("They Seek").

2 The romance stories themselves are described by Fowler as featuring "plots in which women are shown to be as capable of achieving production targets and intellectual attainments as men. However, in every case the working woman is reintegrated into the domestic world after marriage" (60).

The covers above, from The Australian Women's Weekly, are for 25 Feb. 1939,19 June 1943 and 14 Oct. 1950. Thumbnails of all the covers can be viewed via a "visual timeline."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Romance Manifesto: Apocalypse and Matricide

Pamela Regis, in one of the keynote speeches at the 2010 conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, while "not proposing that we owe the romance novel our approval, or that our reaction to it requires a positive view of any kind," seemed to set out a manifesto for romance scholars:
  • We owe it to the romance novel to make overt and to defend our conclusion that the romance is simple, if this is, in fact, our assessment.

  • We owe the romance novel a good-faith effort to uncover the complexity that our discipline values so highly.

  • We owe the romance novel great care in choosing our study texts—more care, not less, than we take in choosing study texts from literary fiction.

  • We owe it to the romance novel to recognize that the values of its fans are not identical with the values of our discourse community.

  • We owe it to the romance novel to recognize that our study texts are probably not representative of “the romance” and to stop committing the logical fallacy known as hasty generalization.

  • We owe it to the romance to stay within our evidence when we state conclusions.

  • We owe the romance a just consideration of its happily-ever-after or happy-for-now ending.

  • We owe the popular romance a recognition of the archaeology carried in its name

Some of these points seem uncontroversial; few, I imagine, would argue in favour of hasty generalisations. Others are less so.

What really made Regis's romance manifesto inflammatory, though, was the fact that she referred to Ann Barr Snitow, Tania Modleski, Kay Mussell and Janice A. Radway as "the Four Horsewomen of the Romance Apocalypse." So what had they written which prompted this response from Regis?

The short answer is that they apparently rode into romance scholarship on horses named "porn," "addiction," "fantasy," and "patriarchy's dupes":
Ann Barr Snitow’s “Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different” has branded romance with the dismissive label of porn. Tania Modleski’s Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women asserted that reading romance is an addiction. Kay Mussell’s Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Fantasies of Women’s Romance Fiction attached the term “fantasy” to romance—“fantasy,” in her view, is a bad alternative to “reality.” Finally, Janice A. Radway in Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature has cemented in the public mind, apparently for all time, the notion that romance is patriarchy’s tool, and its readers patriarchy’s dupes.
In addition, they characterised romance novels as lacking in complexity (an attribute which is valued highly by literary critics:
Literary critics—we—all believe “that literature is complex and that to understand it requires patient unraveling, translating, decoding, interpretation, analyzing” ([Wilder] 105). [...]  Snitow calls romances “easy to read pablum” (309), Modleski calls them “rigid” (32), Mussell labels them “adolescent” (184), and Radway, “superficial” (133). Our most influential early critics, the ones who have proven to have staying power, each viewed the romance novel as simple.
Regis therefore urges current scholars to make
a good-faith effort to uncover the complexity that our discipline values so highly. A skilled literary critic can see the complexity in any apparently simple text. [...] We owe the romance novel great care in choosing our study texts—more care, not less, than we take in choosing study texts from literary fiction. In writing our criticism, we are creating not only the critical context for the study of the romance novel, we are also creating the romance novel’s canon. Surely identifying and studying the strongest romance novels will benefit the entire critical enterprise and help us avoid making claims about simplicity and other qualities that critics assign to the romance novel based on an unrepresentative set of study texts.
If it's really the case that "A skilled literary critic can see the complexity in any apparently simple text," why (if we are skilled literary critics) do we need to choose our study texts carefully? Can't we just select them at random and then use our critical talents to see their complexity?

This passage also makes me wonder whether any objective criteria exist (or could exist) which one could use to select "the strongest romance novels." One recent incident which demonstrates the difficulties inherent in making such selections arose when some romance readers tried to change Rohan Maitzen's negative opinion of romances. They presented her with some of the titles which might well be considered part of "the romance novel's canon." Her assessment of them did not, however, match those of the romance-readers:
I took the bait and borrowed Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, apparently known to some as one of the best romance novels of all time, from the library. Well, that was a setback. I thought the novel was ridiculous! In fact, it was so much like what I had always snidely imagined romance novels to be that I wondered if it was a parody! Egad. Then I tried Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester–not a genre “romance,” exactly, but in the romance tradition. That wasn’t much more successful.
Maitzen's response to these novels caused Liz McC, one of the romance readers, to ponder the nature of the writing in many romances:
Literary fiction today, I think, still tends to the minimalist, and sometimes loses something as a result [...]. Romance readers are sensitive about purple prose, because our genre is often attacked as a leading perpetrator of it [...]. Purple prose is usually defined as too something (too flowery, too descriptive, too melodramatic). But where’s the line between enough and too much? It varies from reader to reader, and from era to era.
Regis's response to the problem of selecting the "strongest" texts is that
We owe it to the romance novel to recognize that the values of its fans are not identical with the values of our discourse community. If we decide to read and study favorites suggested by romance fans then we may find ourselves confronting prose like this passage: “Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet.” That is the first sentence of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, published in 1972. The possible representativeness of this miserable sentence to the rest of Woodiwiss’s work, I leave to students of Woodiwiss. We, however, should not assume that this miserable sentence is representative of popular romance novels. It is not. Confronted with bad writing in a study text, we have two good choices—we can choose another book to work on, or we can acknowledge the bad writing and figure out a way to say something interesting—which is to say, figure out a way to invoke the complexity topos—despite the lamentable prose. Fans love books for many reasons, but their values and ours will often be at odds.
This seems to suggest that literary critics are different from "fans" and it therefore reminds me, somewhat uncomfortably, of Janice Radway's statement about how the academics' "segregation by class, occupation, and race [...] works against us" (18) in providing support for, or learning from, romance readers. There are, though, a fair number of "acafans" in the romance-reading community.

Regis's response to Woodiwiss's metaphor brings us back to Liz McC's discussion of "purple prose." Would the following qualify as purple and "miserable":
Fame, a monster surpassed in speed by none; her nimbleness lends her life, and she gains strength as she goes. At first fear keeps her low; soon she rears herself skyward, and treads on the ground, while her head is hidden among the clouds. Earth, her parent, provoked to anger against the gods, brought her forth, they say, the youngest of the family of Coeus and Enceladus-- swift of foot and untiring of wing, a portent terrible and vast--who, for every feather on her body has an ever-wakeful eye beneath, marvelous to tell, for every eye a loud tongue and mouth, and a pricked-up ear. At night she flies midway between heaven and earth, hissing through the darkness, nor ever yields her eyes to the sweets of sleep. In the daylight she sits sentinel on a high house-top, or on a lofty turret, and makes great cities afraid; as apt to cling to falsehood and wrong as to proclaim the truth.
Trying to translate it from the original Latin may have made me miserable at school but the extended metaphor itself generally wouldn't be described that way; it's a quotation from John Conington's translation of Virgil's Aeneid. Woodiwiss isn't Virgil, but is her Time, with its wings and blistered feet, really much more miserable than his Fame, with its profusion of feathers, eyes, tongues, mouths and preference for nocturnal flight?

Finally, the suggestion that we need to identify "the strongest romance novels" in order to avoid working with an "unrepresentative set of study texts" seems to me to presuppose that "the strongest romance novels" are the most representative. What if they aren't? Theodore Sturgeon's
Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, [...] was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms. (Wikipedia)
If the same is true of romances, should we ensure that our sample texts are representative by only including 10% which are "strong"?

Regis's response is that:
We owe it to the romance novel to recognize that our study texts are probably not representative of “the romance” and to stop committing the logical fallacy known as hasty generalization. This is not to say that all claims of representativeness are wrong—but they must be proven, they must be substantiated and argued for. It is a failure of critical imagination to assume we have seen it all. A corollary: We owe it to the romance to stay within our evidence when we state conclusions. So, if we have not demonstrated that our study texts are representative, we must qualify our conclusions, and avoid talk about what “the romance novel” writ large is or does.
Also in JPRS, An Goris praises Regis's "strong and much-welcome contribution to the development of a meta-perspective on the practice of popular romance criticism" but nonetheless argues that it could be considered one of a number of instances in romance scholarship of
ritual matricide in which scholars like Radway, Modleski, and Mussel function as the figurative mothers of the field who, in order to create the possibility for the field to grow up, develop, and mature, have to be figuratively “killed”—taken away, put aside, moved beyond. This process is a natural mechanism of evolution and growth and one which on the whole has positive effects.
She seems to suggest that before committing "matricide," Regis should have stopped to recognise that not all romance scholars are literary critics. While
Regis’ approach to the study of popular romance is one which she herself characterises in A Natural History as “a traditional literary historical approach” (112) in which the primary site of interest is the text and the secondary site of interest the broader historical and socio-cultural context in which the text figures [...] Radway, who carries out an ethnographic study of romance readers, is, unlike Regis, not primarily focussed on the romance novel’s textual properties, but in the reader’s use and interpretation of this text.
Goris also criticises Regis's account for "being too ahistorical and undertheorised" before adding that "In this context I must acknowledge that, much as Pamela Regis’ theoretical position influences her meta-critical discussion, my own critique of her paper is shaped by my position as a scholar inspired by post-structuralism."

I'll finish with a link to a post by Jessica at RRR, who is not a literary critic. Did Jessica take "great care in choosing [...] study texts"? Probably not, by Regis's standards: "it took about .0008 seconds to find several Harlequin Presents that fit the bill. I chose The Italian’s Mistress, a 2005 Harlequin Presents by Melanie Milburn[e]." And what were those purposes?: " to Use a Harlequin Presents to Teach Sexual Ethics."

The first image is a cropped version of a photo taken by Frila of a "Relief im Ehrenmal" depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. As Regis mentions in her paper, "the original four horsemen [are] pestilence, war, famine and death." The second image is also cropped and shows part of Bernardino Mei's Orestes slaying Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra was Orestes' mother. It was also downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Love in Translation

There hasn't been a lot of work done on the effect of translation on romances, and a fair proportion of what has been done isn't accessible to me, so I was pleased to see Artemis Lamprinou's article in issue 2.1 of the Journal of Romance Studies. Artemis Lamprinou looks at "British bestseller romances translated into Greek during the period 2000-2009, such as Gregson’s East of the Sun, Hislop’s The Island, and De Bernières Captain Corelli’s Mandolin," and shows that translation is not just about the mechanical substitution of words in one language for words with the same meaning in another. Translators have to take into account cultural norms and these differ from one culture to another:
Emotions may appear to be a common experience to all people across the globe but this is a generalization that requires some refining. All people feel and convey emotions but different cultures have their own emotional repertoires and their own norms regulating not only the expression of emotions, but as some scholars argue, even the variety of the emotions experienced. [...] The more modern version of the cultural approach to emotions, and the one that this paper adopts, is that some basic emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger, and fear, are indeed universal. However, culture plays a considerable role in the suppression or heightening of emotions and generates norms governing the when, where, and how these emotions can be expressed (Shaver, Wu, & Schwartz 183). These cultural norms affecting the communication of emotions cannot be ignored in the translation of romances, especially when experiencing the emotions is vital for the identification of the reader with the characters, on which reader satisfaction depends. ("Translated")
Lamprinou's initial findings are that
  • when translating the word "anger," "translators have a tendency to increase its force in the Greek translation"; there was a "tendency to translate 'anger' as rage." Lamprinou suggests that this "could have been the result of the influence of Greek cultural textual norms which slightly differ in this case from the English ones as Greek authors value the production of more ‘dramatic’ passages."
  • similarly, translators may "raise the force of the described emotions [...] by altering the metaphor employed and [...] by introducing [...] personification." This would support the "hypothesis that Greek romance authors prefer more intense emotional passages than their English counterparts."
  • "Greek translators seem to eliminate, or at least ignore, certain strategies that were absent from the Greek romances, such as allusions and alliterations." Lamprinou rather tentatively suggests that "the translators may have eliminated the above-mentioned linguistic strategies in an effort to abide to the Greek textual norms, or, more possibly, they did not manage to recognize the importance of the strategies as they have not been often ‘exposed’ to such linguistic strategies through the Greek original romances."
Lamprinou's article draws attention to the importance of the translator and this is also emphasised in a 1998 article by Eva Hemmungs Wirtén, who interviewed members of Harlequin's Stockholm office, including "Ewa Högberg, the editor with the overall responsibility for translations in-house." Högberg explained that
sometimes I would get a translation of a book that I had felt was a real tenpointer -- and then a translator had taken it and it comes out like nothing. Then you're so disappointed, because I had maybe laughed out loud when I read it or cried. It had made an impact -- not all books do that, but these are the ones you remember and then you expect so much of them. Then there's the opposite situation. Sometimes you have to take books that you don't believe in to 100%, maybe because it's a particular translator, maybe because the book contains certain parts that are supposed to work in contrast to others that month, so you get a good variation in contents. Sure, it's okay, but not that great according to my way of looking at things -- and then it comes back, and it's just -- YES! -- the best story, dynamite language, and you just feel that...sometimes I've gone back to my notes to check -- is this the same book? Can this really be? (Eva Högberg, Förlaget Harlequin AB, Stockholm, personal communication, May 20, 1996)
So the dullness and lifelessness of the first may become the vivaciousness of the next. As she talks about her own reading, the enthusiasm is almost tangible. The book is not just "simply" translated into another cultural context, where it comes out clothed in another language, but essentially "the same." Instead, the process of translation is hazardous territory and what she is suggesting is that translations do matter -- so much so, in fact, that they can "make or break" the book. ("They Seek")
Swedish Harlequins were also reduced in length:
The most important direction given to the translator is that he or she needs to shorten the chapter by 10 to 15% since all Harlequin books are shortened in translation from English to Swedish. Books in the Superromance and Historical series are cut from 304 pages to 272 pages, books in the Romance, Presents, and Desire series are cut from 192 pages to 160 pages. ("They Seek")
 Further changes may occur because the advice given to translators
is hardly rigid: "it is allowed to distance yourself from the English text to a substantial degree" and even though the recommendation is to keep personal names as they are, they are not holy. At one of the editorial meetings, the pros and cons of the names in the miniseries Calloway Corners (where the individual books are named after each of four sisters) were discussed extensively. Mariah was kept, Jo became Chris (due to a possible mix-up with a Swedish orange juice sold under the name of JO), Eden was considered too foreign for Swedish ears and transformed into Ellen, and the hero in Mariah, Ford (a car, not a name, according to the editors), was rechristened Robert. ("They Seek")
In her work Lamprinou mentions that some allusions may not translate well and she gives an example from the Greek translation of Rosamunde Pilcher’s
Winter Solstice, Elfrida, the heroine, is afraid to get out of her car because of a barking dog. The author of the text employs the phrase “a Baskerville hound” to express her fear by alluding to Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Hound of the Baskervilles. The translator’s choice to render this passage into Greek word for word (literally “Baskerville hound,” as the article can sometimes be omitted in Greek) results in a Greek translation whose word order and phrasing remind readers less of the famous Sherlock Holmes book and sound more like the name of some strange breed of dog: a “Baskervillian hound” or simply “A Baskerville.” ("Translated")
The issue of allusions which are lost in translation is also discussed by Wirtén:
Cultural allusions to people or particular phenomena are treated either by exclusion altogether or by substitution. George Burns, George Strait, and Sadie Thompson are examples of characters that are simply deleted, presumably because they will not be recognized as references by Swedish readers; "Kleenex," a brand name synonymous with a product in North America is far better known as "paper napkin" in Sweden; similarly, the expression "Lead on, Macduff" becomes "Lead on, Sherlock" in all likelihood because the translator deems the detective to be better known than the character from Macbeth. References that require some previous knowledge of American culture to be understood at all, like a joke made on the concept of the Fifth Amendment or a pun on the word key (both as keys on a computer and the Florida Keys) are more problematic, either impossible to keep as they are or demanding an extra effort on part of the translator to come up with Swedish equivalents. ("They Seek")
In addition, at least with regards to sex scenes, it would appear that in the Swedish-language editions "the overt physicality of the text is substituted with a more reflective, metaphorical language" ("They Seek"); Lamprinou found that in the Greek-language editions of the novels she studied metaphors were also added (though the examples she gives were not taken from sex scenes).

Cumulatively, the cuts and alterations which are made to these texts leave Wirtén asking: "Is this not a new book? And where is the writer in all of this?" ("They Seek").


The image came from Wikimedia Commons. It was created as an "Icon for translation projects" by Flappiefh.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends, Once More

"an ever-fixed mark"?
Issue 2.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies was released last week and among the essays is Lynne Pearce's “Romance and Repetition: Testing the Limits of Love” in which she argues that "the question of whether love is, or is not, repeatable is at the very centre of attempts to both define and understand it." Pearce suggests that "Western culture still clings to the notion that 'true love' is both durable and non-repeatable: it is, by definition, an emotion that stands the test of time." She then outlines some of the implications this has had for romantic fiction, a term which, it should be noted, refers to a group of texts including, but not limited to, romance novels:
How romantic fiction has, in practice, dealt with the spectre of repetition is surely a question worthy of investigation, and—although I have not had the opportunity to conduct such a survey as yet—I offer below some hypothetical models predicated upon the canon of classic romance:
  1. Happy Marriage: The most popular solution to the problem is to avoid repetition completely by focusing on only one relationship for the duration of the story and then bring the romance in question to a clean and definitive ending in marriage (“the white wedding”). If previous relationships did feature for one or both of the parties, they are very manifestly not “the real thing” and explained away (see 2 and 3 following). Even though common-sense tells us that it is impossible for any relationship to come to a fixed point, the illusion of closure remains one of the most singular pleasures that romance fiction trades in.
  2. Discredited Former Relationship 1: As in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet wherein Romeo is enamoured of a girl called Rosalind before he meets with Juliet. Although this “repetition” of behaviour has the potential to debase “genuine love,” Romeo’s devotion to Rosalind is treated comically, with the Nurse roundly sending up his heart-sick lament. Discrediting previous relationships through the implication that they were (for example) predicated upon lust, or convenience, rather than love is clearly a neat way of solving the repetition problem. In other words, the characters (and especially the male characters) can be permitted more than one relationship, providing that only the current one is “the real thing.”
  3. Discredited Former Relationship 2: As in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, there is also the possibility of a character having been “in love” more than once through a plot device which ensures that that the previous love-object is retrospectively discredited. This scenario was perfected in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca , a text in which it is possible to accept that Maxim loved both Rebecca and the narrator but only because his first wife is subsequently exposed as “not quite all that she seemed.”
  4. Definitive Death: Here the notional finitude of marriage is replaced by the absolute finitude of death. The fact that there is no possibility of death-bound lovers repeating, and hence discrediting, their UR-passion explains why tragedy remains the most cast-iron means of supporting the view that love is exclusive, non-repeatable, and forever. The fact that so many tragic lovers actively seek death as a means of protecting their love from compromise underlines the principle that “true love” eschews repetition.
  5. Duplicitous Afterlife: Although clearly a variant of “Death,” the solution offered by Gothic Romance is remarkable inasmuch as it simultaneously eschews and embraces repetition. While it is true that the star-crossed lovers at the centre of a Gothic Romance must never be seen to recover from their (one and only) love or its loss, this need not prevent them attempting a re-union with the lost loved-object (or, on occasion, his/her “double”) beyond the grave. Further, the crimes and mishaps that have caused the lovers to be doomed are subsequently seen to repeat those of their forbears and/or to generate a repetition in future generations (Pearce 86). In this respect, then, Gothic Romance must be seen as an instance of a genre both having its cake and eating it: “Genuine Love” is, of course, unique and forever—but so is the (doomed) will-to-repetition.
Taken together, then, what these models suggest is that, throughout history, romance has been consummately successful in side-stepping the problem that repetition poses for the integrity of love, through plot devices that either draw the curtain on previous/subsequent relationships or, alternatively, find some means of discrediting former love-affairs after the event.
The image is a Cupid weathervane from Pentlow, Essex, photographed by Keith Evans (via Wikimedia Commons).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Laura very kindly posted the summary of our edited anthology. And here's the Table of Contents!

New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, edited by Sarah S.G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger:
Despite the prejudices of critics, popular romance fiction remains a complex, dynamic genre. It consistently maintains the largest market share in the American publishing industry, even as it welcomes new subgenres like queer and BDSM romance. Digital publishing originated in erotic romance, and savvy on-line communities have exploded myths about the genre’s readership. Romance scholarship now reflects this diversity, transformed by interdisciplinary scrutiny, new critical approaches, and an unprecedented international dialogue between authors, scholars, and fans. These eighteen essays investigate individual romance novels, authors, and websites, rethink the genre’s history, and explore its interplay of convention and originality. By offering new twists in enduring debates, this collection inspires further inquiry into the emerging field of popular romance studies.

Eric Murphy Selinger and Sarah S. G. Frantz: Introduction: New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction

Part One: Close Reading the Romance
1. Hsu-Ming Teo: "Bertrice Teaches You About History, and You Don’t Even Mind!": History and Revisionist Historiography in Bertrice Small’s The Kadin
2. Eric Murphy Selinger: How to Read a Romance Novel (and Fall in Love with Popular Romance)
3. Sarah S. G. Frantz: "How We Love is Our Soul": Joey Hill’s BDSM Romance Holding the Cards
4. Mary Bly: On Popular Romance, J. R. Ward, and the Limits of Genre Study

Part Two: Convention and Originality
5. An Goris: Loving by the Book: Voice and Romance Authorship
6. K. Elizabeth Spillman: The “Managing Female” in the Novels of Georgette Heyer
7. Laura Vivanco: One Ring to Bind Them: Ring Symbolism in Popular Romance Fiction
8. Carole Veldman-Genz: The More the Merrier? Transformations of the Love Triangle across the Romance
9. Deborah Kaplan: “Why Would Any Woman Want to Read Such Stories?”: The Distinctions Between Genre Romances and Slash Fiction

Part Three: Love and Strife
10. Robin Harders: Borderlands of Desire: Captivity, Romance, and the Revolutionary Power of Love
11. Jayashree Kamble: Patriotism, Passion, and PTSD: The Critique of War in Popular Romance Fiction
12. Kathleen Therrian: Straight to the Edges: Gay & Lesbian Characters and Cultural Conflict in Popular Romance Fiction
13. Sarah Wendell: You Call Me a Bitch Like That’s a Bad Thing: Romance Criticism and Redefining the Word "Bitch"

Part Four: Readers, Authors, Communities
14. Miriam Greenfeld Benovitz: The Interactive Romance Community: The Case of "Covers Gone Wild"
15. Glen Thomas: Happy Readers or Sad Ones? Romance Fiction and the Problems of the Media Effects Model
16. Tamara Whyte: "A Consummation Devoutly to be Wished": Shakespeare in Popular Historical Romance Fiction
17. Christina A. Valeo: Nora Roberts and Serial Magic

About the Contributors

The book will be released in paperback and in electronic edition (although the electronic edition will not have the wonderful Picasso on the cover).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Male Virgins: A Small Note

I have written previously here and at The Educated Imagination about male virgins in romance. When I set out to write about male virgins, I was interested mostly in the nineteenth century, and truthfully, it was more of a theoretical exercise than anything else. Northrop Frye writes, "the prudery [about virginity in romance] is structural, not moral", and yet nearly every observation that appears about virginity in his writing on romance is about female virgins. So my question became: could the structure of romance hold if it were the male that was a virgin and not the female?
When I presented initial findings at the IASPR meeting in Belgium, my work focused on the Twilight Saga and perhaps the most famous of all 107-year-old virgins, Edward Cullen.
Now, however, I have new ideas and new concerns with male virgins in popular romance. For instance, though male virgins are not everywhere in romance, they are present enough. Many major writers of popular romance have included heroes who also happen to be virgins. The earliest male virgin in popular romance seems to be found in the 1970s and a few others appear in the 1980s. In the 1990s we see a rising interest in male virgins, and in 2000s the male virgin can be called a niche commodity.
In the 1990s, for instance, the male virgin is presented as more of a surprise for the reader. The author, in these instances, was playing with a trope, the hero, and seeing what would happen if the heroine were confronted by the fact the hero is a virgin. Of course, the virginal hero was also a surprise for the reader.
In Secret Admirer (1992) by Susan Napier, we read (toward the completion of the novel):
“Why, that it was my first time, of course.” And, as she continued to stare at him uncomprehendingly over the top of the cup, his smile gentled into a tender warmth.
“You were my initiation, Grace. I gave you my virginity; you gave me my manhood.”
It is only after the first time that Grace and by extension the reader learns that this was Scott's first time.
Later in Eloisa James’ When the Duke Returns (2009), the opening words of the novel are:
“He’s a virgin.”
“He’s a virgin—”
“Your husband is a virgin?”
“And he won’t bed me.”
In James’ novel, the hero’s virginity is almost unbelievable. The opening of the narrative is a shocking one for both the reader and the heroine.
Today, nearly twenty years after Scott’s surprise virginity in Secret Admirer, virginity is not nearly the narrative surprise it used to be. In Cheryl Brook’s Virgin (2011), the hero’s virginity is announced in the first chapter (as are his thoughts on what the first time will be like). In Courtney Milan’s Unclaimed (2011), we read: “Sir Mark Turner did not look like any virgin that Jessica had ever seen before.” Indeed, even the marketing (which I noticed at Dear Author) for the novel reads: “In which a male virgin meets a courtesan.” And on her webpage, Courtney Milan explains: “All of my books get code names as I write them. The code-name I used for Unclaimed was Blasphemy. Because, you know, there’s a certain sense of blasphemy in seducing an upright moralist who also happens to be a virgin.”
I am now beginning to think historically – mostly thanks to Sarah Frantz and her very exciting work on the Alpha Male – about the male virgin in popular romance. I have ideas as to why the male virgin has appeared, but his place in the history of popular romance seems important given the fact there hasn’t been a year since the 90s in popular romance in which a male virgin has not appeared (and often enough we see as many as ten male virgins in a given year).
The question that continues to fascinate me is about the interest in male virgins. My interest was purely theoretical, at least initially, but what is the reader’s interest?

New Approaches approaches

New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, edited by Sarah S.G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger will be published by Mcfarland in 2012:
Despite the prejudices of critics, popular romance fiction remains a complex, dynamic genre. It consistently maintains the largest market share in the American publishing industry, even as it welcomes new subgenres like queer and BDSM romance. Digital publishing originated in erotic romance, and savvy on-line communities have exploded myths about the genre’s readership. Romance scholarship now reflects this diversity, transformed by interdisciplinary scrutiny, new critical approaches, and an unprecedented international dialogue between authors, scholars, and fans. These eighteen essays investigate individual romance novels, authors, and websites, rethink the genre’s history, and explore its interplay of convention and originality. By offering new twists in enduring debates, this collection inspires further inquiry into the emerging field of popular romance studies.
One of those eighteen essays is by me. It's "One Ring to Bind Them: Ring Symbolism in the Modern Romance Genre." I'm looking forward to finding out what else is in there.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The "Special Relationship" Allegorised and Other Links

Gregory Casparian's The Anglo-American Alliance. A Serio-Comic Romance and Forecast of the Future (1906), [is] the first lesbian science fiction novel [...]. An Anglo-American Alliance would have been better (and extraordinarily progressive) had Aurora and Margaret lived happily ever after as women, it must be admitted. Nonetheless, An Anglo-American Alliance is the first science fiction novel with a pair of lesbian lovers as heroines, one of whom becomes science fiction's first transgender hero.
It would also have been more "progressive" had it not been the case that after her transformation "all the accomplishments, knowledge and mental attributes possessed by Margaret, prior to her re-incarnation, had been intensified a hundred-fold in their entity into those of aggressive, daring and strenuous masculinity" (115). This emphasis on the differences between men and women is perhaps not surprising given that earlier in the novel the reader was informed that in 1918 "The Women's Clubs" had decided to abandon any idea of women entering politics and instead "confine all their energies to civic, educational and humanitarian channels and things pertaining to Home" (51). In addition, prior to the success of Margaret's operation, one of the "fears and misgivings" of the doctor carrying it out is "What, if she should prove to be a man with effeminate mind and manners?" (113).

The novel also contains statements such as "the Jews are not a pioneer race" (58), "the [...] inhabitants of the isolated islands of the Shetlands and Orkneys [...] led an indolent life" (72), and
the discovery, by an American, of a germicide for indolence was announced [...], by which lethargic persons were regenerated into acute activity. [...]
The negroes of the Southern States, the natives of tropical countries and also officials in the police departments of large cities, were the ones benefitted by this "golden medical discovery!" (77-78) 
Casparian presents the novel as a "frivolously allegorical narrative" (ix) inspired by the idea of a union "between two of the foremost and best forms of Government - America and Britain" (viii-ix), which makes it an interesting take on the "special relationship." If it is "the first lesbian science fiction novel," then it's presumably also the first lesbian science fiction romance.

  • Given the scarcity of military heroes in contemporary Mills & Boon romances edited in the UK, I was surprised to see that Mills & Boon have re-released three of them in a volume raising money for Help for Heroes.
  • Rachel Cooke at the Guardian has read the new Heyer biography and asks
What, I wonder, is the point of this book? Who is it for? According to its jacket, Jennifer Kloester is "the foremost expert on Heyer" (as if the world's universities were crammed with her competitors, all of them writing PhDs on The Grand Sophy and Regency Buck). What this means in practice is that she tells you everything – I mean everything – about a woman whose life was simply not very interesting. This is a biography in which the pregnancy of a daughter-in-law is giant news. Yes, Kloester has had, courtesy of Heyer's late son, Sir Richard Rougier (the high court judge who once claimed never to have heard of bouncy castles), unbridled access to Heyer's papers, but since these include no exciting love letters, and nothing in the way of literary gossip, one wishes she had not felt obliged to quote from them so extensively. (One letter, in which Heyer complains to her agent about her publisher, Heinemann, is reprinted over three pages.)
My impression (I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive) is that the book was written for those who have already read Jane Aiken Hodge's biography of Heyer and think that Heyer's "angry letters to her literary agent, Leonard Parker Moore, refusing to see why she should permit Cartland to steal her ideas and research" (Alberge) constitute "literary gossip." We may not all be "writing PhDs on The Grand Sophy and Regency Buck" but we're probably the kind of people who'd be interested in reading those PhDs.
  • If you're that kind of person, you might also be interested in attending
Popular Romance in the New Millennium, a gathering of romance scholars to be held November 10 and 11 at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD.  Register at the conference website:
[...] Highlights include a keynote by Professor Mary Bly/NY Times Bestselling Eloisa James on the state of romance criticism, a plenary address by An Goris of KULeuven on the work of Nora Roberts, and a Q&A with Smart Bitches Sarah Wendell on the future of romance.
The illustration came from Wikimedia Commons and depicts a
poster [...] used for the promotion of the United States and Great Britain Industrial Exposition in the late 19th century (1899-1900).
Shows Columbia and Britannia in the background holding flags, and Uncle Sam and John Bull in the foreground shaking hands.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Is Popular Romance Homophobic?

I recently came across the following passage in a Mills & Boon 'Modern Romance' sheikh title I'm researching. The passage struck me as odd, gratuitous and distinctly homophobic.

The heroine, Tally, is arguing with the hero, Sheikh Tair, trying to convince him that he is not as monolithically violent as he appears to be. The conversation goes as follows:
Tally: "You might say you're a brutal, vengeful man, but I don't see it. Your men adore you-"
Tair: "Please don't say my men and adore in the same sentence. It makes me extremely uncomfortable."
Tally: "The point is, you know your men care about you."
Tair: "You're confusing affection and respect. My men don't care about me. They fear me. Two significantly different things."
(Jane Porter, The Sheikh's Disobedient Wife, p. 105)
The line which gave me pause was Tair's comment 'It makes me extremely uncomfortable'. No explanation is offered for this statement, and the conversation swiftly moves on. But this jarring, homophobic comment stayed with me, as I began to think about how gay male sexuality is figured in heterosexual popular romance. How does this hero get away with being so homophobic?

Clearly, the context of the desert culture of the sheikh romance cannot be ignored here. As parts of the contemporary Middle East and Africa continue to criminalise homosexuality, it could be representational accuracy that leads this hero to espouse homophobic views. Yet given that these romances deliberately distance themselves, both geographically and in political terms from the reality of their Middle Eastern and North African settings (for example in the creation of fictional nation states over which the hero rules), it seems unlikely that this statement is simply a reflection of contemporary social politics.

Perhaps this homophobia is part of the hero's overtly constructed masculinity. Sheikh heroes are amongst the most deliberately masculinised Harlequin Mills & Boon hero; the traditional dress he wears, usually a keffiyeh or dishdasha and a long robe, seems to carry the danger of making the hero appear effeminate. This is frequently addressed and vociferously denied in sheikh romances:
Like her, he wore a long, loose robe. But, far from making him look effeminate, the outfit somehow accentuated the width of his shoulders, the whipcord strength of his body, his innate masculinity.
(Annie West, For the Sheikh's Pleasure, p. 109).
Is it possible that this homophobic comment serves to further masculinise (in the sense of heterosexualise) the sheikh hero (whose masculinity already treads the borderline between effeminacy and masculinity)?

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of critical work on male homosexuality within heterosexual romances (perhaps because of its usual lack of mention), although a Teach Me Tonight post from 2006 discusses homophobia in romance. There has, however, been considerable work on lesbian romances and Stephanie Burley has considered the homoerotic potential of the romance, although this article focuses on women as the primary readers and authors of romance ('What's a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Book like This?: Homoerotic Reading and Popular Romance').

My reading expertise does not stretch far beyond modern sheikh romances, and homophobic references such as this do seem to be rare. But I would be very interested to hear about any other references to homosexuality (both positive and negative) within heterosexual popular romance. I wonder:
  • Is gay sexuality always undesired/rejected in heterosexual popular romance?

  • Is there room for the homoerotic in these romances?

  • And how do these compare with representations of female homosexuality (of which, in heterosexual romance, I have encountered none)?
These are certainly questions I will be considering in my future romance reading.


  • Stephanie Burley, 'What's a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Book like This?: Homoerotic Reading and Popular Romance', Doubled Plots: Romance and History, ed. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003)

  • Jane Porter, The Sheikh's Disobedient Bride (Richmond: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2006)

  • Annie West, For the Sheikh's Pleasure (Richmond: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2007)