Saturday, January 28, 2017

Studying 20th-century Cross-class Romance?

If there are any popular romance scholars looking at cross-class romances, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, Stephen Sharot's new book, Love and Marriage Across Social Classes in American Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan), may be of interest for comparative purposes. In fact, his first two chapters may be of wider interest because they provide a summary of the social and literary context of ideas and fiction about romantic love:
An essential precondition for the cross-class romance was the emergence of romantic love as a basis for marriage and Chap. 1 traces the diffusion of this value across the class spectrum in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Chapter 2 traces motifs of the cross-class romance in literature, from Pamela (1740), considered by many to be the first modern novel, through to the popular American literature of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, prior to its surge of popularity in American cinema from about 1915. (xv)

Moving on to the specifics of cross-class romance films, Sharot notes that they
were made prodigiously from the beginnings of the feature film around 1915 until the USA entered World War II at the end of 1941. (xi)
Like romance novels, they were primarily written by, and found a primary audience among, women:
The studios expected that cross-class romance films would appeal principally to women and one relevant fact with respect to the filmmakers it that, although almost all producers and directors were male, a relatively large number of script writers were female.(xiv)
This description of the distinction between the social classes also reminds me of the depictions of the working and upper classes in many romances I've come across:
up until about 1919, class in many American films was a matter of position in the mode of production, but in the 1920s and thereafter, Hollywood understood class almost exclusively in terms of levels of consumerism [...]; it was not just the quantity of the items consumed but their nature that had relevance. Some working-class heroines of cross-class romance had to overcome accusations of vulgarity while others demonstrated that they could acquire the appropriate manners and tastes of the upper-class with ease. Classes were distinguished not only by lifestyles but also by moralities. The upper-class relatives of the wealthy male in cross-class romances were often portrayed as snooty, shallow, egoistic, cold, insincere and hypocritical. The working-class families, particularly the men-folk, of poor heroines were sometimes at fault, but the heroine was frequently an exemplar of working-class morality [...]. Working-class heroines and heroes were straightforward, authentic and sincere, with a strong work ethic, personal integrity and good interpersonal relationships. (xiv-xv)

Are you interested in: a JPRS issue on Beverly Jenkins, a research workshop at BGSU, a pop culture conference?

Eric Selinger is currently teaching Beverly Jenkins’s Forbidden at DePaul University and he's noticed that Jenkins has:
been on a lot of romance syllabi over the last few years, especially here in the United States. It would be great to have a special issue / forum of JPRS about Jenkins, including some pieces about teaching Jenkins (who does a lot of teaching in her work, of course, as well); something about how she reads from outside the US would also be quite interesting, as would pieces about her legacy and influence on other romance authors.

If anyone wants to guest edit that special issue, please be in touch! And if you wouldn’t want to edit it, but could contribute – even something relatively small about what you’ve taught and what you did with it—get in touch with me about that as well. 
Jenkins is one of the authors featured in a small online exhibit about "Pioneering African American Romance Authors" created by Steve Ammidown, Manuscripts & Outreach Archivist at Browne Popular Culture Library. He also sends notification of an
upcoming PCA/ACA Summer Research Institute here at Bowling Green. More information can be found here:

I particularly want to highlight our romance collections, since they got short shrift in the announcement. They include:

-An extensive collection of series romances dating back to the 1960s
-Stand-alone gothic and contemporary romances from the 1960s and 1970s
-A collection of Woman’s Weekly Library (UK) periodicals from the 1950s-1970s
-Promotional postcards for romance novels, mostly 1990s-today
-And probably some more stuff I’m forgetting!

I would be happy to answer any questions about the collections and their potential for research. I’d really love to see these collections get use during the Institute, so please consider applying. The deadline for applying is March 24th, so time is of the essence!
The British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies has announced:
Theorising the Popular Conference 2017
Liverpool Hope University, June 21st-22nd 2017

The Popular Culture Research Group at Liverpool Hope University is delighted to announce its seventh annual international conference, ‘Theorising the Popular’. Building on the success of previous years, the 2017 conference aims to highlight the intellectual originality, depth and breadth of ‘popular’ disciplines, as well as their academic relationship with and within ‘traditional’ subjects. One of its chief goals will be to generate debate that challenges academic hierarchies and cuts across disciplinary barriers.

The conference invites submissions from a broad range of disciplines, and is particularly interested in new ways of researching ‘popular’ forms of communication and culture. In addition to papers from established and early career academics, we encourage proposals from postgraduate taught and research students.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

• Film and Television
• Media and Communication
• Politics and Populism
• Literature (Fiction and Non-Fiction)
• Music
• Drama and Performance
• Fan Cultures and Audience Research
• Sport
• Celebrity
• Social Media
• Gender: Feminism/Femininities/Masculinities/Queering/Sexualities/Representations of the Body
• Language/Linguistics

The conference will be held at Liverpool Hope’s main campus, Hope Park. Situated in a pleasant suburb of Liverpool, just four miles from the city centre, Hope Park offers superb facilities in beautiful surroundings.

Papers should be 20 minutes in length. Please send abstracts of 300 words to Dr Jacqui Miller and Dr Joshua Gulam ( by March 17th 2017. The abstract should include your name, email address, affiliation, as well as the title of your paper.

Successful abstracts will be notified by April 3rd 2017.
Conference fees: £100 for both days, including lunch and all refreshments (£80 for students).
Theorising the Popular 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Can you help? Seeking romance readers, authors, and a list of 50 romances

There are two Australian romance projects looking for participants at the moment.

Over at Summer of Romance
a team of researchers from the University of Tasmania are working on a project tracking novels by Harlequin Mills & Boon. Specifically, we want to find out what happens to them after they’re published. We’ve got a list of fifty books by Australian authors that we’re tracking between December 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017. If you see one of these books, take a photo of it where you found it and then post it to one of our social media accounts, along with a quick description of where it was.
Meanwhile, Donna Maree Hanson continues her search for romance readers and (especially) romance authors who'd be willing to fill in a questionnaire for her as part of her Ph.D. research. Donna's a romance reader and author
surveying writers of popular romance fiction and readers of popular romance fiction. [...] The response is so good that we could go for statistically significant for reader response so yes I’m still looking for readers of romance fiction. Please spread the word. Do the survey if you are a reader of romance!

The irony is that I’m sadly lacking in romance fiction authors responding to the survey, particularly in comparison to the reader response. I know there are thousands of romance authors out there. I am having trouble reaching them. Romance Writers of Australia has nearly a 1000 members, Romance Writers of America has over 10,000 members. You think it would be easy. But it’s not. I’m not a member of the Romance Writers of America for example and it’s not easy for me to wave the flag and say lookie here.
Can you help? Links to her surveys can be found here.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

New to the Wiki: Virginity, the Hymen, Desire, Bodies, Blackness and Disability

Burge, Amy, 2016. 
"‘I Will Cut Myself and Smear Blood on the Sheet’: Testing
Virginity in Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance." Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen. Ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. London: Zed. 17-44.
Amy Burge's " 'I Will Cut Myself and Smear Blood on the Sheet': Testing Virginity in Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance," focuses on representations of the virginity test. Burge explores six sheikh popular romance novels, all featuring virgin heroines. She positions these texts alongside two popular English medieval romances, Bevis of Hampton (c. 1300) and Floris and Blancheflur (c. 1250). She analyzes the persistent reference in all of these texts to the virginity test used to prove women's virginity. Pointing out that these tests are easily manipulated, thereby highlighting their unreliability, Burge reminds us that the sole purpose of testing female virginity is to secure male ownership of women in a heteronormatively gendered society. (6)
Hirdman, Anja, 2016. 
"Speaking through the flesh: Affective encounters, gazes and desire in Harlequin romances," MedieKultur: Journal of media and communication research 32.61: 42-57. [PDF available for free]
Drawing from the cross-disciplinary field of affect theory, the article examines the writing of desire in Harlequin romances through the delineation of gendered encounters. Against the backdrop of earlier feminist critiques of romance fiction, it argues that Harlequin’s intense focus on corporeal sensations and gazes encompasses a looking relationship that differs significantly from the visual mediation of gender and desire. With its use of an extended literary transvestism, a double narrator perspective, and the appropriation of a female gaze, Harlequin offers readers an affective imaginary space in which the significance of the gendered body is re-made, re-versed, and the male body is stripped of its unique position.

McAlister, Jodi, 2016. 
"Between Pleasure and Pain: The Textual Politics of the Hymen." Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen. Ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. London: Zed. 45-64.
In [...] "Between Pleasure and Pain: The Textual Politics of the Hymen," Jodi McAlister explores the history of the representation of the hymen in Western literature romances. Her analysis ranges from the thirteenth century, with Le roman de la rose; to the seventeenth century, with the ballad A Remedy for Green Sickness (1682) and A Dialogue between a Married Woman and a Maid (1655); through to experts from "Sub-Umbra, or Sport among the She-Noodles" and "Lady Pokingham, or They All Do It" from Pearl (a magazine published in 1879-80); and up to examples taken from the twentieth century and twenty-first century, using Beyond Heaving Bosoms and recent autobiographical stories of virginity loss. By examining blood, pain, and (im)perforability - common motifs associated with the hymen - in all of these texts across such a vast array of periods, McAlister reveals the discourse over the female body across time. In doing so, she discovers that the perception of virginity loss (the rupture of the hymen) brings about a profound transformative change in women; it is the journey toward adulthood, sexual maturity, and pleasure. More so, from the earliest to the latest of these romances, McAlister argues that the role of women has greatly improved: the transformative change moves from being that imposed externally by the man to that becoming internal to the woman. Finally, and tellingly, McAlister's analysis, by moving from early literary texts to current autobiographical stories (a point of friction in her chapter between literary texts and real lives), shows that in the latter texts the hymen is less concrete: the broken hymen does not and cannot fulfill the expectation of the transformative changes long promised by our cultural imaginary. (6-7)
Schalk, Sami, 2016. 
"Happily Ever After for Whom? Blackness and Disability in Romance Narratives." Journal of Popular Culture 49.6: 1241–1260. Excerpt
In the United States, people with disabilities are often represented as nonsexual, having either no desire or capacity for sexual interactions. This stereotype is supported by the lack of mainstream representation and by the historical denial and punishment of the sexualities of people with disabilities through eugenics, forced sterilization, institutionalization, exclusion from sex education, and more [...]. In contrast, the sexuality of black people has been abundantly represented as a problem that needs to be controlled. Black feminists argue that sexuality and gender are always already racialized, and sexual-racial stereotypes, like the Jezebel, dominate contemporary cultural representations of black women. While the sexualities of black people have been more often represented than the sexualities of disabled people, these representations have typically been oppressive nonetheless.
Positive, perhaps even liberatory, scripts of black and disabled people's sexualities are largely nonexistent, especially in mainstream culture. As a result, writers of popular fiction have sought to depict black and disabled people's experiences in the popular romance genre. (1241)