Sunday, August 25, 2013

Read a Romance Month

A woman called Bobbi Dumas, who writes for Kirkus, has done a remarkable thing this month that I think is of value to scholars. She's created Read a Romance Month. Every day for all of August, she's posted essays from three different romance authors (so, 93 authors in all) with the prompt of "Why does Romance matter?"

So you've basically got 93 romance authors all updating JAK's Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women in one place. It's an incredibly valuable resource for scholars of romance interested in what romance authors think about the genre they write.

I also think it'd be an amazing project for a linguist/critic to evaluate the different tropes of defense of romance. What's MOST fascinating to me, is that most of these posts were written from the prompt before the month started, without reference to any of the other posts. I think that makes it even more valuable, personally, especially if you're examining discourse communities.

Also, not incidentally, it's absolutely fascinating reading--getting these incredibly smart women in one place all discussing the same thing.

Finally, early on, and in some posts scattered throughout the month, Bobbi had the posting authors recommend OTHER debut or early-career authors, who were then supposed to write a RARM post at their personal blog that would get linked to from the RARM post of the author recommending them. I think the logistics of that became unwieldy very quickly, but at least for a time, the project was bigger than the 93 original authors.

Are You Talking to Me? A Critic’s Discourse on the Pleasure of the Romance

I'll never be an evaluator of fiction determining which books are "good" and which are "bad," so this will not be a review, but it will be a series of thoughts, or fragments, on reading Alexis Hall's Glitterland

As I read Glitterland over the weekend, a romance that captures the complexity of mental health, I was struck by the ways in which the narrative explores and expresses anxiety, depression, mania. What was so striking is the seeming impossibility of putting to words the poetics of depression and anxiety. What sorts of words does one use to describe the overwhelming nature of depression, which often leaves quite as impression?

To speak about depression and anxiety is to confront a linguistic register that is at once inexpressible and entirely expressible, as Roland Barthes says about trying to “write love,” which is “to confront the muck of language: that region where language is too much and too little, excessive (by the limitless expansion of ego, by emotive submission) and impoverished (by the codes on which love diminishes and levels it” (A Lover’s Discourse 99).

Little did I know that by the novel’s close, the depressed, anxious hero would indeed call upon Roland Barthes, by name, on a variety of occasions – indeed, more particularly, the author, Alexis Hall, quotes from Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse in the novels close, as we work towards the declaration of love: "Roland Barthes argued" the hero explains, "a phrase as commonly used as the one I think we're discussing is essentially a meaningless signifier." The literary critic might well be ready to declare to the novel, "I love you!"

The novel directs its attention at the literary critic--it might well be that Glitterland is itself A Lover's Discourse between an author and reader. I had imagined a reading of Glitterland informed by Roland Barthes – this in and of itself is not terribly impressive, I’ve long felt that if Popular Romance Studies were to develop a list of “Required Reading” that Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse would be included – but what is interesting, to me, is what we do with an author who almost pre-empts his critics and explicitly tells the critic-reader about Roland Barthes.

The quotations from Roland Barthes, it must be admitted, are well known; a quick search online shows them listed on numerous websites of quotations. Hall, however, does more than merely quote Barthes. Hall provides a biography: “Barthes. French literary critic. Gay. Perhaps overly fond of his mother. Prone to nervous breakdowns.”

All of this, of course, could be found from an encyclopaedia entry on Barthes, or Wayne Koestenbaum’s introduction to A Lover’s Discourse, in which Koestenbaum speaks of Barthes’s “matrophilia.” And in A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes will speak of a wanting “maternity and genitality.” In Mourning Diary, Barthes writes, “You have never known a Woman’s body! I have know the body of my mother, sick and then dying.” 

While I can imagine any number of ways to negate the presence of Barthes, to suggest that the author of the book is not a Barthesian, I cannot help but admit that my own initial reaction was that Barthes was present. Perhaps Alexis Hall and I share a love for Barthes, and while I’ve theorized romance in terms of Barthes, Hall has written romance alongside Barthes (much like The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides).

But what is a literary critic to do when an author openly names a precursor, his protagonists’s “hero” as Roland Barthes? Is Alexis Hall teasing his critic-reader? Am I now to complete a Barthesian reading of the novel? Am I over-reading the novel if I insist upon a Barthesian reading that extends far beyond A Lover’s Discourse? I am quite certain that I see much more than A Lover’s Discourse in the novel. Is there something to be said about the way Barthes speaks of “shimmer” (a word that appears a handful of times in the novel) while Hall speaks of “glitter” (a word Barthes uses in The Preparation of the Novel, “writing as a tendency means the objects of writing appear, glitter, disappear)? What about notions of fragmentation, brokenness, shattering alongside Barthesian jouissance? Or, the juxtaposition between pleasure (used 24 times in the novel) and bliss (seven times)? Or the way the novel tries to teach its reader about punctum rather than studium, or the writerly versus the readerly text (even though the novel won’t use these terms)?

If as Susan Sontag suggested, “interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art,” has Alexis Hall managed to get the last laugh?

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.
- - -. Mourning Diary. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.
- - - . The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.
- - - . The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at Collège de France (1978-1979 and 1979-1980). Ed. Nathalie Léger. Trans. Kate Briggs. New York: Columbia UP, 2011.
Hall, Alexis. Glitterland. Hillsborough, NJ: Riptide Publishing, 2013.
Koestenbaum, Wayne. “Foreword: In Defense of Nuance” in A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.
Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Picador, 1966.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bujold Archive

Since Lois McMaster Bujold's novels are loved by a lot of romance readers (and quite often include romantic elements), I thought I'd mention that Northern Illinois University has acquired Bujold's manuscripts:
Her donation includes early drafts, final drafts, proofs, submission copies, foreign editions of books and more.

“The most unique items are certainly my early handwritten first drafts, in pencil on notebook paper,” said Bujold, describing some of the work included in her donation. “I suppose the earliest manuscripts are of the most sentimental value to me, as I was learning to become a writer by doing.”

Her initial gift includes papers for titles such as Cetaganda, Women at War and Falling Free, the 1988 Nebula Award winner. Ultimately, NIU is expected to receive all of Bujold’s manuscripts.
Other academic libraries hold material by authors who are known for writing romance. Bowling Green State University's Browne Popular Culture Library holds
correspondence, fan mail, literary manuscripts, and galley sheets from many prominent romance writers, including Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Cathie Linz, and April Kihlstrom. [...]

The Browne Popular Culture Library also houses the archives of the Romance Writers of America, the world's largest non-profit genre organization
Details of more academic libraries with romance collections (manuscripts and/or printed novels) can be found here.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tenure-Track Position in American Popular Culture

For those who aren't on the Romance Scholar listserv and therefore may not have seen this already:

The Department of American Studies in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track position in the area of American popular culture to begin fall semester 2014 (25 August 2014).

Appointment will be 100% time over the nine-month academic year (late-August to late-May). Appointment will be made at the rank of tenure-track assistant professor, consistent with collegiate and University policy. Salary is competitive.

The successful candidate will demonstrate expertise on the historical trajectories of American popular culture and mass media in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We are particularly interested in scholarship that engages with issues of race, class, disability, gender and sexuality in the United States and that can place this work within transnational, indigenous, and/or global contexts.

Ph.D. in American Studies, or any related field such as Cultural Studies, History, the Humanities, Media, and the Social Sciences, is required by the start date of the appointment, as well as evidence of potential for excellence in teaching and productive, innovative scholarship. Preference will be given to candidates with a minimum of one year of college or university teaching experience.
More details here and here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Queering Popular Romance (CFP)

New Call for Papers:

Queering Popular Romance 
(September 1, 2014 Deadline)
In 1997, Kay Mussell called upon scholars of popular romance “to incorporate analysis of lesbian and gay romances into our mostly heterosexual models.” Today, closing in on two decades later, that challenge has yet to be met.  Although print and digital venues for LGBTQ romance have proliferated, meeting a growing demand for such work among readers (especially for male / male romances), and although there is a burgeoning interest in writing LGBTQ romance on the part of both LGBTQ and straight authors, queer romance fiction remains peripheral to most academic accounts of the genre.  Likewise, with a handful of exceptions, scholarship on popular romance fiction has scarcely begun to engage the theoretical paradigms that have become central to gay and lesbian studies, to queer theory, and to the study of queer love in other media (film, TV, pop music, etc.).  
The Journal of Popular Romance Studies therefore calls for papers on “Queering the Romance,” in the broadest possible sense of the phrase.
Recognizing that there are both similarities and tensions between “queer theory” and “lesbian and gay criticism,” we call not only for papers that consider the importance of identity politics to popular romance fiction—that is, papers on romance novels with LGBTQ protagonists—but also for papers which give “queer” readings of ostensibly heterosexual romances, as well as for those which are theoretically engaged with the fluid concept of “queerness,” no matter the bodies and / or sexualities of the protagonists involved.  We think here of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s famous assertion that “one of the things that ’queer’ can refer to” is “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.”
Topics to be addressed might include:
●          Continuity and Change in LGBT romance (including publishing, circulation, and readership), from gay and lesbian pulps to digital platforms
●          Rereading the Romance, Queerly: queer re-readings of older romance scholarship, of canonical romance texts, and of the text / reader relationship
●          Queering the romance genre across different media (film, television, graphic novels, video games, etc.)
●          Queering subgenres and romance conventions / tropes (virginity, sexuality, attraction, betrothal, the Happily Ever After ending)
●          Questions of Authorship / Authority / Appropriation: who writes, reads, and gets to judge LGBTQ romance, and why?
●          Intersectional texts and readings:  queerness and disability, race, ethnicity, illness, religion, etc.
●          Beyond m/m and f/f:  bringing bisexual, transgender, asexual, and other genderqueer romance into the discourse

This special issue will be guest edited by Andrea Wood and Jonathan A. Allan.  Please submit scholarly papers no more than 10,000 words, including notes and bibliography, by September 1, 2014, to An Goris, Managing Editor, at Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format; please remove all identifying material (i.e. running heads with the author’s name) so that submissions can easily be sent out for anonymous peer review.  For more information on how to submit a paper, please visit

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gender and Love Conference: Demisexual Protagonists and Feminism

3rd Global Conference

Friday 13th September – Sunday 15th September 2013

Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

The conference puts the draft papers online, so I've included links to some of them below. More details about the conference can be found here. Session 7 includes:

"First Love, Last Love, True Love: Heroines, Heroes, and the Gendered Representation of Love in the Romance Novel" by Jodi McAlister, Macquarie University

Jodi McAlister argues that
the concept of ‘compulsory demisexuality’ [...] permeates the world of the romance. Someone who is demisexual experiences sexual attraction only to those with whom they share an emotional connection. When this intersects with the idea of One True Love, a world is shaped where sex and love are inextricably linked. I will explore how this is differently gendered in the romance novel. Often, the heroine is already demisexual, the linking of sex and love coded as something explicitly feminine. Conversely, heroes become demisexual, unable to desire another woman once he has formed an emotional connection with the heroine. This highlights a sharp gendered divide in the portrayal of true love. For women, there is an emphasis on the importance of first love. For men, this emphasis is on last love.
She notes that
As sex scenes became more prevalent, heroines increasingly found themselves overpowered by their desire, their bodies triumphing over their minds. Their desire creates a kind of slippage in the paradigm of compulsory demisexuality. For true love to prevail – for mind and body to be united – their desire must be recuperated into the paradigm. They must form an emotional bond with the man they have slept with, the hero, proving their desire to be prophetic: a sort of metaphysical sign that the man they desire is their one true love.
The paper focuses on Harlequin Mills & Boons, as does

"A Third Wave Feminist Mills & Boon Love Affair? Gender in Recent Romance Novels" by Eirini Arvanitaki, Department of English, University of Hull

While I welcome Eirini Arvanitaki's positive approach towards recent HM&B romances, I was a bit worried by the lack of mention of differences between HM&B lines because these can have a significant impact on some of the issues under discussion (at least, I found it to be the case, as outlined in my "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Century Harlequin Mills & Boon Romances"). I also wonder how deep her knowledge is of earlier HM&Bs. It's easy enough to write:
In the past, the majority of the novels illustrated the hero as an heir of an influential and wealthy family and the heroine as a woman who belonged to a lower social class. [...] Additionally, in the past the hero’s wealth was a product of family or blood line
However, I think you could go back quite a few decades and find plenty of heroes who are professionals (e.g. doctors, airline pilots, businessmen) who have earned their own money and are not from particularly "influential and wealthy families." I have a feeling that jay Dixon's and Joseph McAleer's books on Mills & Boon would have been of assistance in adding nuance to the argument. In fact, there's a striking lack of romance scholarship in the paper's bibliography. Perhaps the academic bibliography at the Romance Wiki would be of assistance.

[Edited to add: the draft paper has since been altered and I've updated the link so that it takes the reader to the later draft]

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Marginalised Mainstream 2013

Marginalised Mainstream: Fading and Emerging: Tracing the Mainstream in Literature and Popular Culture 

London: 12-13 October 2013

Conference registration is now open and the programme  is available. Among the papers are:

Amy Burns: '(Re)Constructing the Flâneur in Contemporary Chick Lit' [A related article of hers, "The Postfeminist Flâneuse: The Literary Value of Contemporary Chick Lit" was published in the Graduate Journal of Social Science in November 2012 (Vol. 9, Issue 3) and is available for free online.]

Nadine Farghaly: 'Identifying and Defining the Shapeshifting Alpha Male Romance Hero' [She has co-edited a volume of "reflections on personal intimate relationships and how they establish personal identity" and "is currently working on instances of bestiality or zoophilia in popular culture."]

Faye Keegan: 'The Uses of Reading in Nine Coaches Waiting' [She organised a symposium on Mary Stewart earlier in the year which, unfortunately, had to be cancelled.]