Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Noted with Excitement: Glitterland as a Christian Romance?

When I wrote the current sketch of my monograph on popular romance fiction earlier last summer, I included plans for a chapter that I call "Redeeming Love."  Here's the paragraph description:
Chapter 3:  Redeeming Love.  Popular romance novels draw on the long post-Christian tradition of thought about romantic love as a source of transcendent meaning, purpose, and value in life: an “erotic faith,” in Robert Polhemus’s phrase, that true love unites sacred and secular desires, erotic and matrimonial relationships, and, fundamentally, body and soul.  Some novels engage with this faith tradition in particularly self-conscious and artful ways, whether by questioning the psychological risks that we run as “erotic faith” shades into idolatry or by asserting the power of “erotic faith” to trump social prejudice (for example, against same-sex love) and intellectual prejudice (for example, against redemptive love as a banal or déclassé ideal).  This chapter will look closely at the ways three romance novels think through ideas about love and erotic faith:  Francine Rivers’s conservative Christian inspirational romance, Redeeming Love; Alex Beecroft’s progressive Christian m/m romance, False Colors; and Alexis Hall’s ostensibly secular m/m novel Glitterland, which invokes Roland Barthes as it struggles to redeem love itself as an ideal. 
I called Glitterland "ostensibly secular" because of the novel's many religious, and specifically Christian, overtones, not least of which is the title of a novel by the narrator / protagonist, Ash:  Through a Glass Darkly.  (That's borrowed from 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known," a verse from the long disquisition on faith, hope, and love (or charity, depending on the translation) that gets quoted at so many weddings.)  

I note with excitement, then, two recent posts at Cooking Up Romance:  "Religion and Romance: a Non-Theoretical Perspective" and "Glitterland Cottage Pie." They're not explicitly theorizing Glitterland as a Christian romance, but they hint at the connection, and there's a lot of thoughtful commentary on religion and romance in the posts themselves and in the comments.  A key quote from the former: 
I don't read romance as a political or religious statement. I read it because I like stories with happy endings about people falling in love. I also don't belong to my church for political or religious reasons. I do it because life, especially life in America in the early 21st century is isolating and selfish and acquisitive and I'd rather not be like that. And so I'm a member of a community that encourages me to be otherwise. I'll be talking more specifically about Glitterland next Thursday and the following Monday, but for now, just know that in Ash I recognized myself in my brokenness and desperation and in Darian, I recognized Christ as I know Him. If I'm honest, I'm unable to process that story any other way. I can tone it down. I can use non-Christian, non-theological terms to express what I thought about it and how I felt about it. I've been doing it for a week, in fact: talking about mental illness, intellectual snobbery and class differences. But that was the intellectual taking over. The gut-level reaction was a relieved sigh: that love and redemption is offered to everyone, even the most messed up and selfish of us. 
There's a lot to be said about all of this, and I can't tell you the joy I felt when I saw this post and found my classroom discussion of the text confirmed by an outside evaluation.  When I write about the novel, and when I teach it next, I'll certainly draw on these posts, and I hope that others will, too.

One question this conjunction raises for me, however:  am I reading a secular book as a Christian romance?  Or is it more that both the blogger, a Christian, and I--not at all a Christian--are reading Christianity as a romance plot:  a not-inevitable though certainly plausible interpretation of Christianity?  Plenty to think about here, and if you need a topic for your next romance essay, please have at it!

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