Thursday, March 28, 2013

CFP: Time Travel and Shape Shifting

Time Travel in the Media
We are currently seeking chapter proposals for the first collection of essay to address time travel across different media formats. The collection, to be be published by McFarland, will be edited by Joan Ormrod (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Matthew Jones (UCL).
One of the suggested topics is "The adaptability of the time travel narrative to many genres - science fiction, fantasy, romance, teenpics." The deadline for proposals is the 16th of June 2013. More details here.

1st Global Conference on Shapeshifters: Transformations, Hybridity and Identity

Friday 1st November 2013 – Sunday 3rd November 2013
Athens, Greece
This conference seeks to explore the role of the shapeshifter in popular and literary culture. Chantal Bourgault du Coudray notes that ‘an ever- growing body of scholarship utilizes the concept of hybrid or heterogeneous identity. The hybrid identity is theorized and celebrated as a response to the demands of a fragmented, multi- dimensional, postmodern world, one in which shifting boundaries and a multiplicity of subject positions make it impossible to assume a homogeneous or stable subjectivity.’
The call for papers notes that "Paranormal romance novels feature an abundance of shapeshifitng [sic]" and "300 word abstracts or presentation proposals should be submitted by Friday 14th June 2013." More details here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Love and Romance in American Culture

The Journal of American Culture's special issue on Love and Romance in American Culture, guest edited by Maryan Wherry, is now out. Here's a list of the articles:

Wherry, Maryan. "Introduction: Love and Romance in American Culture." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 1-5. [Excerpt]

Maryan writes that
Perhaps the most recognizable media form of romance is the popular romance novel which exploded on to the scene in the 1970s. The romance novel is so pervasive that it has its own genre with several subgenres and dominates the publishing field. Popular romance writers explore the vagaries of romance, the meaning of love and the intricacies of personal relationships, yet the genre is frequently considered to be subliterary. (2)
Although, as Maryan acknowledges, her "collection of articles is by no means comprehensive or complete. Media notably missing are popular music and love songs, radio, television, and the popular romance novel" (4), I nonetheless, think it could be of interest to romance scholars for comparative purposes.

Møllegaard, Kirsten. "Cold Love: Silence and Otherness on the Northern Frontier." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 6-15. [Excerpt]

Møllegaard contrasts Kathryn Harrison’s novel The Seal Wife with Leslie
Marmon Silko’s short story “Storyteller” and concludes that
the very absence of romantic love in “Storyteller” [...] exposes the Eurocentric fabric upon which The Seal Wife’s romantic representation with the Aleut as silent other is based. Reading these two stories back to back invites a consideration of what Rey Chow refers to as the West’s “fascination with the native, the oppressed, the savage, and all such figures” as “a desire to hold onto an unchanging certainty” about the self-other dichotomy. (13)
Has popular romance demonstrated a similar "fascination with the native," albeit the "native" has tended to be cast as the hero rather than the heroine?

Gardner, Jeanne Emerson. "She Got Her Man, But Could She Keep Him? Love and Marriage in American Romance Comics, 1947–1954." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 16–24. [Excerpt]

Jeanne Emerson Gardner has written a short article about these comics for the Popular Romance Project. Here she goes into more detail. I can see some parallels between the suspicions that exist concerning romance novels, and those expressed about romance comics:
romance comics manifested a fundamentally conservative attitude towards premarital sexual activity. This attitude was necessary in the early 1950s as a generation of adults “worried about propaganda, ‘brainwashing,’ and un-American activities” scrutinized with growing concern the “children’s fare” being marketed by comic publishers with very little regulation or oversight (Gilbert 97). [...] While romance comics’ gory contemporaries, the true crime and horror comics, attracted the most criticism, romances were scrutinized for sexual suggestiveness (Gabilliet 33). As tame as the romance comics may seem to today’s eyes, after Young Romance #1 was released, Simon reported that comic publisher Martin Goodman expressed his fear that “a love comic book for kids” would “do irreparable harm to the field” because it “borders on pornography” (Simon and Simon 125). (19)

Dunak, Karen. " 'Heed Your Creed, Fall in Love and Get Married': New Left Ideology and Romantic Relationships."  Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 25–31. [Excerpt]

There's been quite a lot of discussion this week about romance and feminism. Dunak doesn't look at romance novels, but she explores another area in which the personal can be political, arguing that in the 1960s
While the politics of women’s liberation might have appeared at odds with the celebration of a wedding, and as some activists declared, at odds with marriage altogether, the belief that the personal was political allowed women to shape their relationships and their weddings—personal, but also public events—to express their political views.
As women liberationists identified the private domain as the starting point of women’s political oppression, the reclaiming of the wedding as a political site allowed feminists to celebrate their unions without betraying their political principles. (27)

Abbott, Traci B. "The Trans/Romance Dilemma in Transamerica and Other Films." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 32–41. [Excerpt]

Rainbow Romance Writers is the chapter of the RWA which "is the home of  professional authors of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender romances" but as far as I'm aware, there are far more m/m and lesbian romances than transgender ones. Perhaps that's because of the strength and nature of existing narratives about transpeople:
As porn stars and prostitutes [...] transwomen are seen as unequivocally sexual deviants who display an easily accessible—and easily dismissible—eroticism as their central defining characteristic.

In contrast to these highly sexualized images, when popular Hollywood films focus on transwomen or male cross-dressers as protagonists, they usually dismiss their eroticism through farce, allowing the mainstream audience to deflect the trans character’s romantic allure with derision and mockery.  [...]
This comedic resolution [...] resolves what some trans activists argue is the most prominent transgender scenario in popular culture: “a straight man tricked by a beautiful woman who turns out to be ‘really’ a man” (Spade and Wahng 247). Anxiety over such sexual or romantic deception appears in a variety of media, from Hollywood films [...] and television shows [...] to legal and journalistic accounts of transphobic violence which cast the usually MTF victim as a willful antagonist who, “used lies and deceptions to trick [her male attackers] into having sex” (Bettcher 44). This theme of romantic deception has been a constant in another popular forum for trans visibility, television talk shows [...]. In our transphobic and homophobic culture, in other words, romantic or sexual attraction to a transperson is, at its most benign, a comic misunderstanding, or, at its worst, an abhorrent deception that can justify murder. (34)

Hobbs, Alex. "Romancing the Crone: Hollywood's Recent Mature Love Stories." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 42–51. [Excerpt]

Romances featuring older protagonists aren't that common either, and here Hollywood would seem to be ahead of popular romance, though even there
the dual romantic lead has been rather unusual until the last decade. Of course, America is an aging society and with scientists reporting that the majority of Americans will live longer, it makes sense that Hollywood should take advantage of what is known as the gray dollar and provide films that reflect an older audience. Equally influential in this decision might be the older actors, writers, and directors working in the industry (42-43)
And yet, there are plenty of older romance readers, authors and editors, so what's holding back popular romance in this area?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Romance at the PCA/ACA Conference

This is some of what's coming up at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's conference (27-30 March). I found the programme a little confusing this year and I'm not sure if I've missed a couple of sessions. Maybe they're numbered differently?

Romance I: Fifty Shades of Scholarship
Romance II: Authors, Characters, Readers:  What’s Changed? What’s Changing? What’s Stuck?   
Romance III: Publishing, Texts, and Authorship
Romance IV: Across the Media: Iconic Moments, Cultural Narratives, and Real-Life Love
Romance V - Special Session: A Natural History of the Romance Novel Tenth Anniversary Roundtable: Pamela Regis and the Rebooting of Popular Romance Studies

Pamela Regis - In this presentation I will reconsider our shared work—to understand the genre itself and the texts that comprise it—from the temporal vantage point provided by the decade that has passed since the publication of my account of the genre in A Natural History of the Romance Novel. My focus will be on the state of our work on the American romance novel, and the challenges that face us.

Romance VI: Paranormal Romance   
Romance VII: Problem Texts and Questions of Ethics   
Romance VIII: Homosociality, Homoeroticism, and Bisexual Desire
Romance IX: African American / Black Romance
Romance X: Romance at the Boundaries: Race, Place and Translation
Romance XI: Romance Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, Critique
Romance XII: Open Forum: Where are We, Now, in Popular
Romance Studies?

Romance XIV: Vampire / Romance Joint Round Table

Romance XVI: After Fifty Shades of Grey: Kink and Romance

Vampire in Literature, Culture, and Film VIII: Paranormal and Romance

Vampire ROUNDTABLE V: Walking the Line Between Paranormal and Romance: A Roundtable Inquiry into the Heart of Paranormal Romance

Fan Culture and Theory: Uneasy Pleasures: Ethics of Studies/Fan Studies Scholarship

Monday, March 18, 2013

Scottish Romance: Comments Wanted

Professor Euan Hague, whose work on Scottish historical romance novels I quoted in a post about Scottish romances here at Teach Me Tonight, is interviewed today by one of the Word Wenches, Susan Fraser King, who writes that
A few months ago, Professor Hague contacted me to talk about fiction set in Scotland--and Scottish romance--as part of his research for his essay in an anthology for Edinburgh University Press regarding the Scottish cultural dispersion. Originally from Edinburgh, he left home to pursue an academic career and is now Associate Professor of Geography at DePaul University.
You might like to head over there and leave a comment because according to Euan Hague
The one piece missing from my puzzle is more reader input into the discussion. Some of the writers I interviewed shared a few reader comments with me, which were fascinating, and I look forward to gathering more reader opinion today at Word Wenches.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book News--and Questions

--Eric Selinger

Last December I spent several weeks writing an internal grant proposal, here at DePaul.  I was asking for a quarter's leave from teaching to begin work on my long-overdue monograph about popular romance fiction, whose working title I've already used for an essay in the New Approaches collection:  How to Read a Romance Novel (and Fall in Love with Popular Romance).  The title is supposed to play off the titles of all those introduction-to-poetry volumes on my office shelves, many of which are called something like "How to Read a Poem," and I do, as a rule, romances the same way one reads, say, love sonnets:  closely and compositionally, in search of what poet Baron Wormser would call their “deep individuality.” I'm not sure the joke comes through, and I'm not wedded to the title, but I'm pretty well committed to taking a text-specific, differential approach to the genre, writing a book that demonstrates the vitality and intellectual excitement of close-reading, not “the romance,” but this romance, then that one, shifting our approach as needed to make each particular text come to life.

I'd like the book to introduce its readers to a bunch of late-20th and early 21st century British and American romance novels that I quite like, from a range of subgenres, from Christian inspirational novels to paranormal, erotic, and LGBTQ romance, with the focus of each chapter being one to three novels that I read in depth, attending both to internal complexity and to a novel’s dialogue with literary or cultural contexts.  Like each unit in my romance courses, each chapter in this book will have two overlapping goals:  to make the novel or novels seem as interesting as possible, and to model a particular reading practice, from allusion sleuthing to biographical criticism to the application of contemporary cultural theory.  The question that's bedeviled me for years, of course, is what novels to choose, and although I had to come up with a proposed table of contents when I applied for the grant, I keep looking at it skeptically, painfully aware of the gaps in it.  (There are two or three authors I hope to glom over the summer, for example.)

Still, one must start somewhere--and I'm the sort of scholar who can't start a big project without a vision of the whole in mind, even if I know that the final version may differ substantially from that initial model.  In the hope that I'll get some useful feedback and suggestions, and maybe even some encouragement, here's the outline I gave the committee.

They seemed to buy it:  they gave me the quarter off.  (Yay!)  What do you think?

How to Read a Romance Novel (and Fall in Love with Popular Romance)
Annotated Table of Contents

Introduction:  What is a “Romance” and How do You Read One?  (Suzanne Brockmann’s The Unsung Hero).  This is my standard opening gambit in ENG 232 and graduate romance classes, and has been for several years.  The chapter on the history, aesthetics, and reception of “romance,” the “romance novel,” and the “popular romance novel” will be drafted on leave.

Chapter 1:  Sofa Paintings Don’t Make Good Art:  Gender, Art History, and the Defense of Romance in Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Natural Born Charmer.  Based on my Winter Quarter senior seminar on this metatextual novel, which couches its defense of the romance genre in debates over the visual arts (its heroine, Blue Bailey, is a painter, and ends the novel quite successful at selling her work), this chapter will bring in the work of sociologist Eva Illouz (on romance and capitalism) and possibly Lauren Berlant (on sentimentalism and American culture, if I can get a good handle on her work).

Chapter 2:  My Titillations Have No Footnotes:  Love and Allusion in Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love and Ann Herendeen’s Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander.  Based on my class notes on each of these novels, which I teach in ENG 232 and other romance courses, this is one of the chapters I hope to draft on leave--maybe.  I say "maybe" because there's a second pairing that really appeals to me:  to consider Redeeming Love and Alex Beecroft's False Colors side by side as Christian novels.  I spent a lot of time with the Beecroft this winter, and find the novel deeply moving and quite fascinating--she's one of the authors I want to read more of this summer.  For now, she's in chapter 4, below.

Chapter 3:  Instruction and Delight:  The Didactic Poetics of Beverly Jenkins and Katie Fforde.
It is widely (if not universally) acknowledged that many romance novels set about teaching their readers something that the author considers worth knowing, whether this is about an occluded historical moment (as in the case of African American romance novelist Beverly Jenkins) or about such qualities as optimism, emotional resilience, and happiness (as in the case of British romance novelist Katie Fforde).  The poetics of this teaching practice, however—how particular novels balance instruction and delight, or turn instruction to delight—have yet to be explored; that will be the subject of this chapter, although I'm not entirely sure that these will be the authors I choose, in the end.  Ideas from Thomas Roberts (Aesthetics of Junk Fiction) will be important here, and possibly the intersection between popular romance and "positive psychology," although I think that's a topic that Jennifer Crusie addresses more directly than either Jenkins or Fforde.

Chapter 4:  Beyond Edutainment: the Romance Novel as Problem Text (Jennifer Crusie’s Fast Women; False Colors, by Alex Beecroft).  These are books I know well, and love; I've proposed a talk that deals with both (among other books) for the "Radicalism of Romantic Love" conference in Canberra next November. The first explores the problem of marriage; the second, in an m/m context, is a profoundly religious novel, as focused on questions about the relationships between love, spirit, and flesh as John Donne's "The Ecstasy" (which I sometimes teach alongside it).  Good stuff, both of them.

Chapter 5:  Isn’t it Just ‘Porn for Women’?  (Victoria Dahl, Start Me Up; Pam Rosenthal, The Slightest Provocation, Cara McKenna, Curio and The Curio Vignettes).  This chapter springs from the final unit in some of my recent romance courses, and centers on two topics:  the issue of Eros in popular romance fiction, which is sometimes handled with remarkable complexity; and the playful, self-conscious way that the texts I have chosen address the critical commonplace that popular romance fiction is, fundamentally, “pornography for women.”  The Dahl will certainly be there; the Rosenthal and McKenna, I'm not so sure.  Need to reread them, and explore some other possibilities, although I didn't specifically ask my (Cathoic) university to fund that part of my research. :)

Chapter 6:  After the Deaths of Love and Poetry:  The Unlikely Art of Eloisa James.  This coming summer, before my leave begins, I have a research grant to write an essay / draft chapter on the deployments of poetry, poems, and poet-characters in the romance novels of Eloisa James.  As most of us probably know, “Eloisa James” is the pen name of Mary Bly, a Fordham professor of Renaissance literature and the daughter of poet Robert Bly; she is a uniquely situated author and theorist of the popular romance genre, and her theoretical discussions of the genre focus, not unsurprisingly, on the need for scholars to attend to authorial “unlikeness.”  Bly begins writing and publishing romance at a time when the “death of poetry” and the “death of eros” were being discussed in mainstream intellectual journals and newspapers, including The Atlantic and the New York Times; this chapter will explores the relationships between my major fields of research, poetry and popular romance, in a textually- and contextually-specific way.

Epilogue:  He Knew a Miracle When He Saw One:  Paradise Lost, Non-Euclidean Geometry, and Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm.  Based on my essay about Flowers from the Storm in the New Approaches volume, this will close the book out with a tribute to what I still consider to be the most moving and most intellectually intriguing American romance novel, but I'd really love to situate the novel this time in something broader about Kinsale as an author.  We'll see.

Would love any thoughts or suggestions!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mills & Boon Research Opportunity

The University of Reading (UK) is looking for someone who'd like to spend the next few years in their Mills & Boon archive doing research for a PhD.

If you're at all interested in the history of Mills & Boon, this video is well worth watching. The University of Reading evidently have a very impressive collection of published M&Bs which, from what I can tell, have mostly been preserved with their covers intact. Furthermore, they have "particularly rich holdings of editorial correspondence in the postwar period."

The studentship would be on the topic of The Limits of Desire: the Mills & Boon romance market, 1946-73 and
The project will examine the nature of the market for women’s romance fiction after 1945 up to the period when Mills & Boon switched to predominantly paperback publishing. The student will be expected to pursue individual interests but it is anticipated that the project will follow an author-based approach, selecting strategically-chosen samples from the archive to build up a representative picture of the nexus between author, publisher and the market. The student will begin by surveying the archive, identifying the different types of material available for investigation and determining suitable case-studies. At the same time he/she will familiarise him/herself with current literature on fiction publishing in the postwar period, exploiting the University Library’s outstanding primary and secondary sources on the subject, and develop existing knowledge of theoretical debates in the areas of feminism, gender and sexuality studies, and popular culture. The case-studies are likely to reflect key topics such as the relevance of libraries and different institutions of reading, the importance of the magazine market, the role of male authors, and instances of censorship and self-censorship.
Time's running out for applications, and not everyone will be eligible:
  • Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject.
  • Due to restrictions on the funding this fees only studentship is only open to candidates from the UK/EU.
  • Start date: October 2013
  • Duration: 3 years; part-time applicants are also invited
  • Value of award: a fees only studentship is available, in addition to a backing grant of £1000 per annum for equipment/placement/outreach support (or part-time equivalent)
  • Application Deadline: 31st March 2013
It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for someone.  The above details came from here:

The studentship forms one pilot project for a new PhD Programme in Collections-Based Research. Details about the Programme can be found here:

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Winners: RWA Academic Research Grant 2013

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2013 Romance Writers of America Academic Research Grant, who are:

An Goris, Ph.D., University of Leuven
Is There an Author in this Genre?

An Goris was awarded the academic research grant to support her book project, "Is There an Author in this Genre?" This book will examine the complete works of five contemporary romance authors and explore how the romance novelist contributes "to the institutional and paratextual evolutions of the romance genre" and in this process "takes on the characteristics of the individual 'author' . . . more traditionally associated with high literature and art."


Dr. Jayashree Kamble, La Guardia Community College
Making Meaning in Romance: an Epistemology of Popular Romance Fiction

RWA awarded partial funding to Jayashree Kamble's "Making Meaning in Romance: an Epistemology of Popular Romance Fiction." Kamble's work has the potential to advance and expand the study of the romance novel significantly by taking a cross-disciplinary approach and bringing "popular romance scholarship into dialogue with the broader field of cultural studies." This work promises an "interpretation of both canonical romance authors . . . as well as a powerful approach to the interpretation of any romance novel."

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Conferences Concluded

At the 2012 SWTX ACA/PCA conference Erin Bailey argued that
the application of modern ideals within historical romance novels can be interpreted as a way of amends, or vengeance, for the standards placed on real life women of the British Georgian and Regency periods. Modern historical romance has taken on a crusade for reparations. Readers of the popular historical romance tend to hold dear the belief of equality and individualism (most authors begin as avid readers, so they may fall into the category as reader as well). Unconsciously or consciously, readers and authors alike have propelled this crusade by insinuating those beliefs into the genre. 
Unfortunately I wasn't at the conference so I don't know what evidence Erin advanced in support of her theory (though there is more detail given in the full abstract). On the basis of what she wrote here, though, I think this is an interesting way of thinking about (some?) historical romances because I'm aware that, on occasion, authors are inspired to re-work stories/plots which they feel have the "wrong" ending. A romance might, for instance, feature two star-crossed lovers from feuding families who don't end up like Romeo and Juliet. That's a fictional example, of course, but I imagine it's possible that an author could be inspired by historical accounts of women's lives and wish to give a heroine the happy ending that certain real women were never able to receive.

On the other hand, there's a risk that this "crusade" could erase the history of real women's suffering, and their struggles for equality, in favour of a fictional "reparation." I think that could be a particular problem in "wallpaper" historicals which didn't actually acknowledge the existence of the barriers to women's happiness which they supposedly set out to avenge, or which made those barriers seem easy to overcome.

I don't think there were any presentations on popular romance novels at the "Romantically Inclined" conference held at St. Stephen's College, Delhi, from 23-25 February. Nonetheless, there were some papers on popular culture which I thought might be of interest to readers of TMT, including:

Coming out of the Shoebox: The Remus/Sirius ship in Harry Potter fan fiction
Achala Upendran

(Homo-) Erotically Inclined: Reconfigurations of the Holmes-Watson Relationship in Popular Culture
Sameer Chopra / M.Phil. English / Delhi University

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi? SRK and the cult of Romance
Anubhav Pradhan/ M.Phil English / Jamia Milia Islamia

"We Are All Stories in the End": The Romance of Space and Time Travel in a Blue Box
Urna Mukherjee, III B.A. (Hons) English, St. Stephen's College

Do Trash-Collectors Dream of (dis)Interested EVEs?: Wall-E, Robot Love, and the Dialectics of Redemption
Arnab Chakraborty & Sujaan Mukherjee/ PG II/ Department of English/ Jadavpur University

"The Love that dare not speak its name": Forbidden Love and Tragic Romances in Fantasy Fiction
Parvathy Rajendra/ Dept. of English/ University of Hyderabad

Romancing the Disabled Body: Re-Thinking Corporeality in the Televised Articulation of Desire and Pleasure in India
Vinita Singh/ M.Phil, Department of English, Delhi University

A Re-reading of African American Slave Narratives as a Discourse of the Romantic Ideal
Shimi M Doley/ Asst. Professor/ Dept. of English/ Jamia Millia Islamia

The full list of papers can be found here.