Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Happily Ever After: A Folklorist's Perspective

The recent PCA/ACA conference led to discussions about the happy ending in romance and Elizabeth Lane, in particular, wondered about the "codification of the HEA" and whether it had been studied from "a folklorist's perspective".

Luckily, the community of romance scholars includes Linda J. Lee, a folklorist at the University of Pennsylvania. In response to Elizabeth's question, she generously wrote a micro-paper about it via Twitter, which I'll collate below. The first tweet in the thread's here.

For context, I'm a folklorist who studies fairy tales and romance - and I'm always happy to wade into definitional discussions about genres. I want to make sure that I'm hitting the central part of the question, though. It sounds like it's - at least in part - about the happily ever after and it's place in fairy tales.

Yes, most European fairy tales do end happily ever after - and most European languages have closing formulae that make this point. In English, it's "happily ever after," but other languages change this up a bit. For instance, in various Italian dialects, the formulaic ending is something more like "they lived happily and here we sit without a cent." Closing formulae of Sicilian fairy tales often draw a contrast between the circumstances of the characters in the taleworld and the storyteller/audience in the real world. The Snake Who Bore Witness for the Maiden ends with (English translation): They lived happily and content, but we have nothing to pay the rent. Here's a selection from Jack Zipes' translation of Laura Gonzenbach's Sicilian Folktales. Zipes translated from German into English (Gonzenbach had translated from Sicilian into German when the collection was published in 1870):

[LV - I was curious so I went off to look for Spanish fairy tale endings and there are lots of different ones, but apparently one of the most common is “fueron felices y comieron perdices” (they were happy and ate partridges)]

But more notably, not all fairy tales end happily. My favorite example of this is a fairy tale included in the first edition of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmarchen but omitted by the 7th edition in 1857 called "The Children Who Played at Slaughtering." Yeah, it ends pretty much the way you expect based on the title.

And many don't end in marriage. Take, for instance, Little Red Riding Hood (ATU 333). In Charles Perreault's 1697 tale, the wolf eats the grandmother and the little girl, and the audience gets a warning about the dangers of sweet-talking wolves who follow you into your bedroom. And the Grimms' version of Little Red Riding Hood from 1812 has a male rescuer figure that releases the grandmother and the girl from the belly of the wolf. (My students often read this restoration as a metaphor for marriage, but there's definitely not one on the page.) An oral version like "The Story of Grandmother" comes closest to a happily ever after because the tricky heroine rescues herself. Plenty of eroticism, but still no marriage. Here's the text:

Even when traditional oral European fairy tales end in marriage, it's usually not terribly romantic. The prince tries to buy comatose Snow White, for instance. Many female protagonists are really just making the best of a terrible situation. Some end up in marriages while running away from incestuous fathers (like Donkeyskin, a story that bears lots of similarities to Cinderella). Some certainly do have some romantic moments, though. But in so many others the female protagonists marry their rapists. Yeah, early versions of Sleeping Beauty didn't awaken with a kiss. In Basile's "The Sun, the Moon, and Talia," she wakes up when one of the twins she gives birth to sucks the piece of flax from her finger while trying to nurse. Yep. No kiss. But she eventually marries her adulterous rapist. So it's all good, right? There's a Sicilian fairy tale called "The Snake Who Bore Witness for a Maiden" in which a prince rapes the heroine and then plans to marry someone else, except for a marvelous snake who wrecks that plan.

There is a relatively recent concept of "anti-tale" that denotes fairy tales with a parodic or inverted structure. But Don Haase rightly criticizes this concept, because fairy tales have always had a variety of structures and endings.

The HEA of fairy tales is, in some ways, a modern invention. Arguably an inevitably of film adaptations that have longer stories with more developed characters. And again - if the choice of marrying your rapist or never marrying at a point in history when women had few choices.... Happily ever after means something quite different.

However, if we look at the literary fairy tales from the French salon writers (mostly women, writing for other women), there are stories with narratives and happily ever afters that much more resembles romances. Probably the best known of these is "Beauty and the Beast," originally published in French in a novella length by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot du Villeneuve, then retold by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont as a shorter story in 1756. (I'm currently revising an essay on consent in monster bridegroom stories, including Beauty and the Beast, so this tale type is top of mind at the moment.) If you've seen or read, oh, just about any version of Beauty and the Beast - be it Cocteau's film or Disney's or whatever - it almost certainly draws on Beaumont's tale (and, by extension, Villeneuve's).

But as will come as no surprise to the romance novelists and scholars out there, the female French salon writers have largely been overlooked by folklorists in favor of the male collectors and editors. Go figure. Elizabeth Wanning Harris has an excellent book about this - Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale.

So the French women fairy tale writers were writing longer, more complex stories, rather than the shorter stories that are today's canonical fairy tales. (Harries calls these "complex" and "compact" tales.) And we find stories that start to resemble romances among these stories. Again, Beauty and the Beast is probably the best example of this.

Dr. Sandra Schwab expanded a little on some of these points:

To a large extent, the opening and closing formulae of fairy tales became codified with what in German is called "Buchmärchen" (book fairy tales), like the Grimms' KHM. (Just as a quick aside for non-folklorists: The term "Buchmärchen" was introduced to denote the difference between oral fairy tale tradition & published one. And then there's yet another category, namely, the literary fairy tale. All these different types influence on another)

Because most of the editors of collections of "Buchmärchen" were male, as Linda mentions, they also became infused with a greater emphasis on patriarchal / middle-class values, as becomes nicely evident when you compare different versions of a tale in diff eds of Grimms' KHM. I'd use the term "literary fairy tale" for the tales of those French women writers. I haven't studied them in detail, but from the little I read up on them, I seem to remember that many of them nicely subvert patriarchal values of their time. You can see the same thing happening in the re-tellings of fairy tales written by 19th-century British women writers, e.g., "The Brown Bull of Norrowa" by Maria Louisa Molesworth.

Y colorín, colorado, este cuento se ha acabado.
[Colourin, colour red, this tale's finishèd.]

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Romance Scholarship at the PCA/ACA Conference

The PCA/ACA conference is taking place this week and the  programme for romance is here. I've tried to pick out the papers I think are focussed on romance novels and I've added links to what I think are pages about their authors (however, I can't guarantee the links are/will remain correct).

Mass Market Pornography: Romance Novels for Men are Different
  • Via Twitter: 'Jonathan Allan talks about vanilla sex and the "fantasy of the ordinary", and links it to Ina Garten saying that you need "really good vanilla" for baking' and 'I asked what it means to call this “ordinary” when its still so far from real sex acts/bodies. Allan’s response touches on this sex as seeming “achievable” which is intriguing me re. the porn/romance connection.
The paratextuality of category romance: the branding of short shelf life fiction
  • Via Twitter: and looked closely at the paratext of 43 category romances published by M&B UK in August 2017 - these are "books that kiss the shelves rather than linger on them".
New Adult Fiction: A feminist Reading of a New Genre
Josefine Smith
  • Via Twitter: Smith defines NA as 'romance about "emerging adults" ages 18-29, focusing on forming identity and transitioning into adulthood' and "
    notes that female protagonist of New Adult romance deals with coming if age in a patriarchal culture dealing with the male gaze, madonna/whore complex. Her ideal male partner is both strong /powerful and woke and emotionally intelligent."
Black-Asian Swirl – Resisting Stereotypes and Promoting Fetish in American BWAM Romance Fiction
  • Via Twitter: "about Black Woman-Asian Men (BWAM or AMBW) romances and how the texts reflect the BWAM movement objectives and resist white supremacy" and "Tension in BWAM fiction between resisting and succumbing to tropes, particularly beauty norms and colorism."
The RITA Retrospective Project
  • Via Twitter: the Project is "trying to ID which tropes are most popular w/romance readers over time" and "The most prevalent plot device found so far in RITA nominees = Previous relationship/second chance romances." There is more about this project on Peterson's website.
Where are all the Fun Books: Holdings of Popular Romance and Science Fiction Novels in Academic Libraries
  • Via Twitter: "she has found that uni libraries in the Oberlin Group hold much more sff than romance" and "Sheehan's larger point is that libraries collect the academic criticism on romance, but not the primary texts academics also need to study the genre. What will be studied in 20 years, esp as public libraries turn over their collections?"
Romance Novels & The Female Gaze: The Evolution of the Romance Genre’s Book Covers
Angela Hart
  • Via Twitter: "presenting her PhD work on romance novel covers. The research is based on LOTS of interview data!" "Some interesting findings in 's interviews: 65% of romance readers preferred digital books and electronic devices; average age of respondents was 38; purchases are mostly online (Amazon dominant) but bookstores (chain, used, and local) still there (33-38%)"
“A recipe for sugary-sweet erotica:” Consumption in Alexa Riley’s Novellas
Evvie Valiou
  • Via Twitter: "Evvie Valiou looks at the clash between body positivity and objectified consumption in Curvy by Alexa Riley. The heroine is presented as a positive fat woman, but is the object of the hero's consumption. Sex is also heavily described in food terms."
“Doubt Creeps In”: Sarah MacLean and the Inverted Orpheus of One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.
Jessica Chadbourne
  • Via Twitter: " on Sarah MacLean’s use of Orpheus myth with hero/subversion of Eurydice role by heroine - interesting implications re: relations to myth, narratives, role-modeling, & identity construction"
Her History, Her Romance: Evangeline Parsons Yazzie’s Naabeeho/Diné historical romance series
Johanna Hoorenman
  • Via Twitter: "Hoorenman, discussing Evangeline Parsons Yazzie's Navajo romance novels, notes that Native authors of genre fiction may depart from conventions because those were often developed by white authors and may be problematic or oppressive. Not genre ignorance."
Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime: Revenge in Sarah MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrels Series
  • Via Twitter: " concludes by identifying progress from liminal role of heroine to liminal role of hero & mythic power shift in ‘s novels: men cannot effectively revenge, but goddesses can."
An Articulation of Modern Indian Values in the Romance of Sandhya Sridhar
Kristen Rudisill
  •  Via Twitter: "Sridhar’s publishing house had a stated goal of breaking away from the Mills and Boon model to an Indian one with its own Indian romance fantasy but perhaps her own books don’t depart as much from the rich hero trope"
Rainbow nation in love. South African popular romance in Afrikaans and the Politics of Representation
Martina Vitackova
  • Via Twitter: Martina Vitackova introduced these books [Sophia Kapp's Malansusters trilogy (2007, 2008)] as the reader favorites among popular romance in Afrikaans.
Mr Worldwide: How global is your alpha?
Amy Burge
  • "This paper presents the results of a case study of the heroes of all ten titles published to date by Ankara Press, “a new imprint bringing African romance fiction into the bedrooms, offices and hearts of women the world over” (“About Us”," More details here and, via Twitter, "Burge notes that Ankara positions its heroes as explicitly opposed to a western toxic masculinity but toxicity in African masculinity is referenced too, so alpha is still present."
Love in the Time of the #MeToo movement Teaching Paranormal Romance in 2018
Maria Ramos-Garcia
  • Via Twitter: " is beautifully demonstrating how cultural and political contexts can change EVERYTHING about how we understand romance"
Happy for Whom? The Contingent Happy Ending in Romance Fiction
Jessica Matthews
  • Via Twitter: ' on 19th C. American romance, [...] asks: "who is supposed to be happy at the end of a romance?" (A: the couple, but also the reader) and what happens if that is no longer true?' and "
    Looking at Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok (1824). Readers differ in experience of ending then (1824) and now (2019)" because it's "an early 19c American novel with a Native American hero who nobly stands aside to allow the white heroine to reintegrate into white society. This novel is a good example of how the definition of a "happy ending" shifts over time." and "happy endings [...] are more complex & contingent (who gets to be happy? what about shifting cultural definitions of happy?) than often assumed."
The “Grandly and Inhospitably Strange World” of Heroines on the Autism Spectrum in Romance Fiction
Wendy Wagner
  • Via Twitter: 'Wagner looking at Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series and Hoang's The Kissing Quotient. Thinking about ways neurodivergent characters read as “diversity” to some readers and reductive tokenism to others' and 'Wagner tracing ways that Kissing Quotient frames Stella’s discomfort with touch not as a need to adapt to some neurotypical norm, but as a conversation about consent' and 'Wagner unsure if Thomas means for us to read Charlotte Holmes as neurodivergent, but finds key indicators in the series. Tracing ways the series emphasizes world's need to adapt to Charlotte, not Charlotte’s need to adapt/acclimatize.'
“Cockygate”:  Trademark Bullying, Romance Novels and Intellectual Property
Devon Fitzgerald Ralston
  • Via Twitter: " on which, alongside is one of the [burning] topics in the Anglophone romance world right now", "
    's point is that Hopkins ( author) is using trademark in a way that it is not meant to be used" and "In Hopkins uses legal rhetoric of cease and desist letters to silence other authors, loops them into the automated reporting structures implemented by platforms to protect corporate IP."
“Welfare Reform, Romance, and a Black Love Ethic for the 1990’s”
Julie Moody-Freeman
  • Via Twitter: 'The first panel asks: what's race got to do with it? (Spoiler: A LOT). First speaker is Julie Moody Freeman who is talking about "lift as we climb" (Angela Davis) in Felicia Mason's romantic fiction.'
(Re)imagined Romance: intersections of cultural memory, media representation and the perpetuation of repressive ideologies
Tania de Sostoa-McCue
  • Via Twitter: 'Sostoa-McCue interested in disconnect between romance community, industry, and public which leads to the erasure of marginalized peoples' because 'Representations of romance claiming to “help” romance or reframe it often do this in ways that reify what they claim to be working against. Tracing problem through media coverage of romance (publics) and certain reader responses (counter publics)'. Specifically: 'Sostoa-McCue turning to romance scholarship. Thinking of ways pop-rom studies, in working to value romance lit, maybe falling into similar trap where they ignore romance counterpublics and privilege mainstream romance' and 're. pop-romance scholarship "I know we’re all trying to do our best but I felt really erased by my own research"'
“Love is (Color) Blind: Citizenship and Belonging in 21st Century Historical Romance Fiction”
Mallory Diane Jagodzinski
  • Via Twitter: " interested in anxieties about citizenship in age of neoliberalism via Duran’s Duke of Shadows and Romain’s Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress" and "Citizenship under neoliberalism = proving yourself effective/successful within capitalism" and "The state is prominent throughout 2 books, until conclusions where it disappears. One book seems to question if state is possible, other replaces with capitalism. Seem to suggest citizenship is precarious/unobtainable."
Love to Teach You: Pedagogical Reflections on Alisha Rai (Hate to Love You) and Alyssa Cole (An Extraordinary Union)
Eric Murphy Selinger
Explaining the Appeal of Popular Romance Novels in Aesthetic Terms
Jessica Miller
  • Via Twitter: "Jessica Miller [...] is taking us into aesthetic experience, asking: what makes good romance novels good?" and "Miller outlines common objections to romance and points out how they're over-simplifying and not helpful: it's just porn; it's formulaic; it's badly written; it's conservative."
Idyllic Escapes and Ideal Theory: What Romance Novel Settings Can Tell Us About What’s Wrong With The Real World
Matthew Hoffman and Sara Kolmes
  • Via Twitter: "Matthew Hoffman and Sara Kolmes [...] are focusing on the idyllic settings of romance, arguing that these highlight things that make the HEA harder in real life" because "idealized escapist settings in romance (isolated castles, islands, etc) create the conditions for HEA by shutting out systematic problems and creating space, which then can prompt a critique of those systematic problems" and "Unrealistic or escapist romance can prompt readers to ask what is being excluded or escaped from: financial worries? Societal oppression? Something else?"
Engaged, but Not Enfranchised: Political Women in the novels of Rose Lerner
Sarah Ficke
  • Via Twitter: " Learner’s novels reflect contemporary understandings re. the ways women and girls interact with politics outside of the voting process" and "center community/networks in their political discourse, balancing this with individual identity/priorities."
Swooning Maidens, Heroic Saviors: How Fictional Romantic Archetypes Engage with Popular Notions of Love
Ashley Gwen Hay and Hannah Shows
  • Via Twitter: "Interested in invisible work, influence, agency present in women’s lives."
In transports – the negotiation of pleasure and the construction of authority in Jane Eyre fan fiction
  • Via Twitter: " is making an argument about the spaces of cars as contested in gender terms in Jane Eyre fan fiction by Betty Neels, Penny Jordan, and others" but "to clarify, isn’t applying fic to texts that would necessarily consider themselves fic. These are published romance novels that she links to Eyre and reads as fanfic."
The Agon-y and the Ecstasy: Heroic Confrontation in Romance Novels
Jayashree Kamble
  • Via Twitter: " [...] is reading agon (from classical Greek meaning a struggle or conflict) in romance novels" and " is interested in ways romance novels use agón to play out conflict and desire, wants to track the lexicon and changes over time" and suggests "More recent novels reduce hero’s attacks on heroines, but also expand the agon backwards into characters’ history."