Monday, October 15, 2012

Questions Arising: JPRS 3.1

Issue 3.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies is now available:
  • Drawing on their varied expertise as scholars, authors, editors, and publishers, a trio of contributors (Katherine E. Lynch / Nell Stark, Ruth E. Sternglantz, and Len Barot / Radclyffe) collaborate to trace the history of the queer heroine in high-art and popular romance from the Middle Ages to 21st-century lesbian paranormal romance;
  • Novelist Ann Herendeen (author of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander and Pride / Prejudice) reflects on the literary, historical, and erotic underpinnings of her novels’ surprising—yet oddly familiar—heroes, each of them a bisexual “top,” as dominant in the social structure of Regency England as he is in the bedroom;
  • Bringing Young Adult literature into our discussions, Amanda Allen explores the female power struggles and economics of “boy capital” in Mary Stoltz’s novels of adolescent romance in the years after World War Two;
  • In our first essay on TV romance, Spanish scholar Beatriz Oria offers a close reading of the mix of consumerism, postfeminism, and romantic nostalgia in a crucial episode of Sex and the City;
  • An Goris offers a “differential” approach to popular romance fiction, revisiting the broad theoretical claims made by an earlier scholar, Catherine Belsey, about how romance novels represent the mind and body in love and testing them against a selection of novels from across the career of Nora Roberts;
  • In a groundbreaking essay, librarian Crystal Goldman attempts to define what a core collection in Popular Romance Studies would look like, and she considers the likelihood of academic libraries allocating funds to build such a collection.
There's also
I've got a few questions.

(1) An Goris writes that there are three stages "in Roberts’ conceptualisation of true love": "The first stage consists of a remarkable discomfort, unease and even fear the protagonists experience over (some of) their physical reactions," "The second phase [...] consists of a rudimentary linguistic acknowledgement of the physically enacted emotional truth," and in the third phase there is "the actual use of the word 'love' in naming the physical and emotional phenomenon the protagonists are experiencing." In her conclusion Goris writes
While it is, for example, clear that this construction of romantic love recurs in Roberts’ romance novels, it remains unclear whether it is specific to Roberts’ work. Comparative analyses of other authorial romance oeuvres are necessary to determine the wider occurrence of this pattern.
Do you think it's "specific to Roberts’ work"? My feeling is that it isn't, because I can recall quite a lot of romances in which, for example, the heroine can't work out why she gets strange electrical charges running through her when she touches the hero. She may put this down to irritation and/or say that she hates him, or realise it's attraction but feel that her body is betraying her. And I would think that most romances have stage three. What do you think?

(2) Given my interest in rings in romance novels, I was quite intrigued by the discussion in Oria's essay of two engagement rings which appear in an episode of Sex and the City which "concerns Aidan’s (John Corbett) marriage proposal to Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker). Carrie says of the first ring
“It was a pear-shaped diamond with a gold band,” which apparently is a bad thing. Carrie justifies her dislike for the ring because “it is not her”—that is, she takes Aidan’s mistaken choice as a sign that he does not really know her and they are not meant for each other: “How can I marry a guy who doesn’t know which ring is me?” she demands. The conversation thus reveals the importance that Carrie bestows on material objects, which points towards her association between (luxury) consumer goods and happiness and romance.
Given that, in my experience with romance novels, I've found that rings can have symbolic meanings which aren't dependent on the "association between (luxury) consumer goods and happiness and romance," I wonder if anyone knows why a "pear-shaped diamond" would not be right for Carrie. Does anyone here know? And when Carrie does accept a second, different, ring, is it more expensive than the one she rejects? If it's of equal or lesser value, then what makes the second one more acceptable? Is it just that its design is more fashionable or is there something else that makes one ring "me" and the other not?

(3) Lynch et al refer to "the historical romance, the most popular form of romance fiction until the late twentieth century." I can just about accept that in the context of US single-titles, but I have a hard time believing that historical romances have been more popular overall if one includes all the contemporary category romances. Mills & Boon didn't even have a historical line until 1977. What do you think?

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