Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Series of Links

Sarah's post about romances in series is up at Romancing the Blog:
To me, “series” romance means “category” romance (Harlequin, Mills & Boon, Loveswept, Silhouette, etc.). There are other series, of course, because the term is very loose, and this “looseness” is precisely what I’m interested in. Because “series” can also mean mainstream novels that are connected in some way. [...]

Then, uniquely, perhaps, there’s J.D. Robb’s Eve and Roarke series, where the narrative focus of the book is the mystery, but the heart of the series is the continuing relationship between the two main characters.

And it is this last one that I’m seeing more of, specifically in gay male romance, but with a twist. While we follow the characters in these stories from their Happy For Now in their first story, through relationship maturation in further stories, both the narrative and emotional focus of the books is the relationship. Unlike mystery series, which we follow for both the continuation of the relationship AND the new mystery in every book, these series focus just on the same relationship, book after book. [...] And does anyone else reading these series find the HFNs slightly unsatisfying and find the trend that a book labeled a romance might not have a strong HEA rather troubling?
Yesterday at Dear Author Jessica took a look at the progression of relationships and how that relates to selfhood:
In some ways, every single romance is about selfhood, since the romantic ideal says that until we meet our counterpart, we cannot truly be our best selves, our complete selves. What’s unique about this, is that the self is defined as fundamentally relational: people are not silos, who choose to enter relationships as they might choose to engage, or not, in hobbies, but rather, people can only be who they are with relations of the right sort with other people. I personally believe that the valorization of this relational way of viewing the self is a key source of the feminist potential of romance, but I also think it gives romance, as a genre, some unique and important things to say about questions of selfhood and personal identity per se. I have been amazed at the number of romances I have read, across all the subgenres, that deal centrally and directly with the metaphysical question of what is self and what is nonself.

What would it take for you to become another, different person? First, consider loss: is there one essential thing, say, your memories, or your physical body, or your career, that defines you? What could you lose and still be you?
That's more than enough to ponder, I think, as 2008 draws to a close, so I'll make this a very short set of links.

The photo is from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Assorted Links

Since the start of the holiday season we've written a lot of to-do lists at my house so I thought it would be appropriate to write another list, this time for the blog. It's a list of links to thought-provoking, controversial, or perhaps simply irritating, items:

  • In the Women's Studies Encyclopedia, in the entry on "Supermarket Romances," written by Karen S. Mitchell, Mitchell states that "The juxtaposition of a multidimensional heroine with a somewhat one-dimensional hero is a characteristic of the romantic historical novels written today." She also writes that,
    While the heroines of historical novels have become increasingly competent in their domains, they are limited by the social constructs of the historical time. In this way they are forced to be subservient and are often subjected to rape, dominance, and violent abuse. Helen Hazen argues that romances include rape fantasies because "rape fantasy is quite healthy" (17).
    It's probably worth noting that Hazen's book was published in 1983. Although Mitchell is clearly aware that the genre has changed since then, her description of historical romances doesn't match the contents of the historical romances I've been reading recently. Does it describe recent historical romances you've read?
  • The next item on my list has been discussed in some detail by Jessica. It's Critelli, Joseph W. and Jenny M. Bivona. "Women's erotic rape fantasies: an evaluation of theory and research." Journal of Sex Research (2008). Hazen is again used as an important source:
    One review of historical romance novels found that 54% included the rape of the lead female character (Thurston, 1987). In particular, Hazen's (1983) analysis of rape in romance novels also functions as a theory of women's erotic rape fantasies.

    In essence, both romance novels and rape fantasies are created works of fiction. Sexual fantasies are self-generated erotic stories often intentionally initiated to provide enjoyment and sexual arousal. Romance novels are structured erotic fantasies that individuals intentionally expose themselves to, typically for emotional satisfaction and sexual arousal. In a rape fantasy women create an imaginary scenario and they participate in the fantasy through the rape experience of their self character. In a romance novel that includes rape, women identify with the lead female character and vicariously experience her rape.

    Hazen (1983) notes that, although the hero in romance novels must be handsome, he may also be cruel. Gorry (1999), in a content analysis of male romance heroes, found that these men are strong, masculine, muscular, sexually bold, and dangerous.1 According to Salmon and Symons (2003), romance heroes are not gentle and sensitive; they are men with the physical and temperamental qualities of warriors.2
    Hazen argues that the romance novel presents the heroine with an exciting challenge. [...] In romance novels, there is often a violent confrontation with a dominant, sexually aggressive adversary who appears to be evil. The challenge for the heroine is to conquer his heart, seduce him into falling in love with her, have him voluntarily make a lifetime commitment to her, and transform his apparent evil and cruelty into something more socially acceptable without diminishing his masculinity. In romance novels, rape is used as an effective means of creating excitement and dramatic tension. Hazen argues that, in the female imagination, shattered purity through violent sex is a primordial danger whose tension creates a powerful story.

    In romance novels the narrative structure allows the fantasy to continue to completion in marriage.
  • Salmon, Catherine and Don Symons, "Slash fiction and human mating psychology," was published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2004 and can be found online:
    Before discussing slash and its fans, however, we first consider the general question of why human beings enjoy fiction at all. Our discussion is animated by the premises that mental phenomena, such as enjoyment, are the products of brain states and that the human brain, like every organ in every species, is the product of evolution by natural selection.
    Written fiction probably contains elements of both engagement of organizing adaptations and of pleasure circuit lock-picking, and different kinds of fiction may contain different proportions. Perhaps "great" works of fiction are those that most fully engage organizing adaptations, which is why they have survived the tests of time and translation, while "lesser" fiction, including genre romance novels, may primarily pick the locks of the brain's pleasure circuits.


    Romance novels have been called, with some justification, "women's pornography." [...] If we can persuade the reader that porn consists almost entirely of lock-picking rather than engagement of organizing adaptations, our subsequent argument that the same is true of genre romances may be more persuasive.
    While I cannot comment on the evolutionary biology underpinning these statements, I would like to challenge the classification of romance as a "lesser" form of fiction. It would appear to be based on an assumption that romance is read solely, or primarily, for different pleasures than those derived from more intellectual fiction. As I hope we've demonstrated on this blog, some (though certainly not all) romances can be extremely intellectually rewarding to a reader who approaches them with a mind which is respectfully open about their literary and intellectual merits. Salmon and Symons might also benefit from a little more thinking about how much intellectual activity can be involved in the writing and reading of porn. Pam Rosenthal, for example, has said that she
    come[s] out of that highfalutin French intellectual porn tradition. Story of O was absolutely formative for me in the 1960s, and so was Sontag's essay The Pornographic Imagination. I read a lot of the Marquis de Sade in my teens, too.

    And I've gotten a fair amount of mail from highly intellected porn readers as well
    In fact, Salmon and Symons would appear not to be aware of erotica and porn written by women, because on their list of "erotic genres [which] could exist, but to our knowledge, none of them does" they include
    Narratives with little development of character, plot, or setting in which heroines have brief, impersonal sexual encounters with attractive male strangers, with no obstacles, no falling in love, no strings attached, and no happily-ever-after endings (i.e., narratives that directly mimic male-oriented porn).
    Salmon and Symons seem aware only of women authors of romance novels: "What, then, actually does characterize women's erotic fiction? The genre romance novel has the following features. The goal of the heroine is never sex for its own sake, much less sex with strangers."
  • A more recent, item which has already deeply irritated many romance readers is a study which, as reported by the BBC, found that "Watching romantic comedies can spoil your love life." The study's already been discussed at AAR and at the Smart Bitches'. It's probably worth acknowledging that research can sometimes be reported in the press in ways which lack the nuances present in the original. I'm not sure exactly which study is being referred to, but there are a variety of papers and other items on this and related issues which have been produced by members of Heriot-Watt's Family and Personal Relationship Laboratory. They are:
    • Holmes, B.M., & Johnson, K.R. (In Press). Adult attachment and romantic partner preference: A review. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
    • Johnson, K.R., & Holmes, B.M. (In Press). Contradictory messages: A content analysis of Hollywood-produced romantic comedy feature films. Communication Quarterly.
    • Holmes, B.M. (2007).In search of my "one and only": Romance-oriented media and beliefs in romantic relationships destiny. Electronic Journal of Communication, 17 (3).
    • Holmes, B.M. (2004). Romantic partner ideals and dysfunctional relationship beliefs cultivated through popular media messages: Implications for relationships satisfaction. Ann Arbor, MI: Proquest Information and Learning.

    I haven't had time to read these over (due to a need to get on with some of the items on my other lists). Does anyone else feel like taking on the task over the holidays?
  • And finally some good news, via AAR's new blog,. The original source of the news has subsequently been deleted because, as Paula Guran explains,
    the numbers I was mentioning yesterday were compiled from the only the lists of the top fifty bestselling books for the week (in whatever the category and whatever week) on Bookscan — not ALL the books sold. Evidently, that was not clear — especially when taken out of context elsewhere.

    Second, I evidently was not supposed to put those figures “out into the media” at all. I didn’t put them “out into the media”. The media picked up a public posting. To me, there’s a difference, but evidently there is none to Bookscan and I see their point.
    However, they're still available at Galleycat: "compared to the first 49 weeks of 2007 [...] mass market paperback sales are up 14 percent—and overall romance sales are up 83 percent, with mass market paperbacks alone experiencing a 50 percent boost." I suspect those might be US figures, but romance seems to be doing well in the UK too: "The real winner in our economic meltdown, you see, is the book publisher Mills & Boon" (Black).

And that's the end of my list, and probably my last blog post of 2008. Happy Holidays!

1 April Gorry's Ph.D. thesis, "Leaving Home for Romance: Tourist Women's Adventures Abroad" (from the University of California Santa Barbara), is unpublished and therefore not readily available, but descriptions of her analysis of the heroes of romance novels can be found here and here. It should be noted that the thesis is not primarily about romance novels. The abstract of a conference paper presented by Gorry in 1995 gives an indication of the focus of her research:
the mating behavior of Caucasian tourist women vacationing in tropical locations such as the Caribbean, East Africa, Indonesia and Greece. The widespread occurrence of a phenomenon that cannot easily be explained by evolutionary theory makes female romance tourism worthy of ethnographic attention. An initial three month period of field research conducted in the Caribbean has revealed the following behavioral anomalies: tourist women tend to engage in more promiscuous behavior than they would at home, taking one or more different lovers in the span of a few days, choosing men of lower status than themselves, providing payment for "romantic services," and prioritizing male appearance and reputed love making ability over other mate selection criteria.

2 Salmon and Symons's book, Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality, while it includes statements about romance novels, seems to be only partially about them. The description of the book is as follows:
The stark contrasts between romance novels and pornography underscore how different female and male erotic fantasies are. [...] The authors focus particular attention on slash fiction, an erotic subgenre written by and for women and found on-line and in fan magazines. Slash—so-called for the punctuation mark indicating a romantic pair—depicts sexual relationships between heterosexual male television and film characters such as Starsky and Hutch (S/H) and Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (K/S). Salmon and Symons argue that—despite some differences—slash fiction has much in common with romance novels. The authors examine the essential ingredients of female sexual fantasy and how slash fiction provides them.

The photo of the list is from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sarah on Reviews, Analysis, and Ethics

Reprising the questions of (a) the difference between writing reviews and literary criticism and (b) categorising books as either "good" or "bad," Sarah explains at Dear Author why she's begun to write reviews at that website and how she now has "a number of moral dilemmas that I’m sure all baby reviewers go through as they learn (hopefully) how to be good and ethical reviewers."

A list of all Sarah's posts at Dear Author can be found here.

The photo was taken by Michal Maňas and is of
Lady Justice - allegory of Justice - statue at court building in [...] Svobody Street, Olomouc (Czech Republic). [...T]he statue was made by sculptor J. L. Urban. This image of Lady Justice lacks the typical blindfold and scales, replacing the latter with a book. (Wikipedia)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Come Now and Look at Me

Not so long ago Jessica wrote a post titled "“Come for me, baby”: orgasm on command" in which she asked
Why is this phrase (and its variations) so ubiquitous in romance? You don’t believe me? Well, here’s a list complied ONLY from my bookshelf of maybe 30 titles. I bet you can think of many more.
Of course there's an element of dominance/control involved, and as Jessica asks, "was it the Office of Alpha Hero Protection that issued the dictum (heh) that in order to enhance Alphaness, heroes must control even this aspect of lovemaking?" But I suspect there might also be an element of bonding involved, of becoming, in the words of Matthew 19, and repeated in the marriage ceremony "one flesh."

Jessica's post reminded me of another frequent command issued by heroes, namely that the heroine look at him as she has her orgasm:
The blood was pounding in his head, roaring in his ears, yet his body continued to move slowly with hers. Balanced on the edge, David said her name a last time.
"Aurora, look at me." When her eyes opened, they were dark and aware. "I want to see where I take you." (Roberts 591)
And here's a similar example:
Byron realized suddenly that it was not enough for there to be pleasure given and taken. He wanted Victoria to be aware of him, as aware of him as a man as he was of her as a woman. She was beautiful like that [...] beautiful with her tightness clasping him intimately, as if she would turn them both into one marvelous animal. But he did not want her to plunge into ecstasy alone. He wanted her with him as she went over the edge - he wanted to be a part of that beauty at its climax. [...] "I'm here," he whispered. "Look at me. Remember - I am with you."
She opened her eyes and met his gaze. "For now," she agreed. (Joyce 67)
Again, I think the command is part of an attempt to bond the two more closely. I wonder if there's any lingering literary and emotional significance derived from much earlier medical/scientific ideas about the power of the eyes. In the Renaissance it was thought that eyes could potentially have a powerful effect:
"Love's arrows," held in high esteem by the French poets of the Pleiade, were not, for Ficino, a mere metaphor. They were equipped with invisible pneumatic tips able to inflict severe damage on the person shot. Had not Plato already said that love was a kind of ocular sickness (ophthalmia: Phaedo, 255c-d)? And did not Plutarch ascribe to sight a "miraculous force"?
Regarding the "evil eye," fascination or jettatura, its etiology is the same:
Fascination is a force which, emanating from the spirit of the fascinator, enters the eyes of the fascinated person and penetrates his heart. Spirit is therefore the instrument of fascination. It emits from the eyes rays resembling itself, bearing with them spiritual quality. [...]
So speaks Agrippa of Nettesheim, after Ficino. (Culianu 30)
As mentioned above, this scientific explanation of the function of the gaze influenced literature:
In late medieval literature [...] the arrow does not always proceed directly to the heart, but strikes the lover first in the eyes. This bizarre trajectory becomes more comprehensible when we realize that the poets have associated the arrow of Love with either the glance or the image of the beloved, which enters through the lover's eyes but pierces deep within. (Stewart 13)
Donaldson-Evans clarifies that this imagery has a very long literary history:
when love is born not simply as a result of seeing the Beloved but by the active participation of the Beloved's glance, then we are dealing with a specific tradition which can be traced back to early Greek classical literature. It is, in fact, a topos which, since it has gone unnamed until now, we propose to call the Aggressive Eye Topos. (202)
Its scientific basis, according to Donaldson-Evans, contributed to its longevity:
such imagery is rooted in a theory of vision which extended from classical antiquity up to the seventeenth century. This scientific authority (it is only for us that it is pseudo-scientific) undoubtedly accounts for the popularity and extraordinary longevity of this particular literary tradition. (203)
I'd like to suggest that, even if we would now consider the scientific authority underpinning the Aggressive Eye topos to be merely archaic pseudo-science, the tradition perhaps lives on in literary form in the romance genre. Heroes who ask or command heroines to look deep into their eyes seem to be trying to create an emotional connection (they may not at this point think of it as love) between them. When the hero ensures that they orgasm together while looking into each others eyes, he is perhaps trying to join them both physically and optically (body and soul), and in coming together in this way they are perhaps almost literally made, at least for a short space of time, into "one flesh."

The image of the eye is from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Romance Revised in Teaching American Literature

Since I first posted about the essays on romance authors which had been published in the journal Teaching American Literature there have been some changes made. Most of the essays have been renamed and restored to their original (in some cases significantly longer) lengths:
  • Gillian Mason's "Rosemary Rogers: The Positive Power of Romance and Sexual Fantasy" is now "Rosemary Rogers."
  • Suzanne Milton's "Danielle Steel: Bringing Family Issues to Light" is now "Danielle (Fernande) Steel."
  • Sarah S. G. Frantz's "Suzanne Brockmann: The Military and the Romance" is now "Suzanne Brockmann."
  • Wendy Wagner's "Jennifer Crusie: Romance as Academic Question" is now "Jennifer Crusie."
  • Fahamisha Patricia Brown's "Beverly Jenkins: African American History and the Romance Novel" is now "Beverly Jenkins."
  • Patricia Kennedy Bostian's "Amanda Scott: Bringing History to Life" keeps the same title and url.
  • Leslie Haynesworth's "Janet Evanovich: Comedy and Romance" is now "Janet Evanovich."
These essays have also been joined by:
  • Fahamisha Patricia Brown's "Anita Richmond Bunkley." Brown notes that
    Anita Richmond Bunkley identifies herself as the author of nine book-length novels, two romances, three novellas, and one work of non-fiction. While it is difficult to say which two titles she would characterize as romances, what is certain is that all of her novels contain an element of romance. (1)
    Given that one of her novels, Suite Embrace, (published in 2008) "is a Kimani romance novel (Harlequin’s African American series)," that's possibly one of the two that Bunkley would classify as romances.

  • Lee Anna Maynard's "LaVyrle Spencer." I was particularly interested in Maynard's description of
    themes and motifs in The Fulfillment, most notably in the characters’ connections with the seasonal cycles on the farm. Life on a farm is dictated by the seasons, with they and not the farmer controlling the timeline of planting, cultivating, and harvesting, but Spencer forges a much deeper symbolic connection in her novel. (2)
    and her observation that, in Forsaking All Others,
    With sly self-referentiality, Spencer opens her novel with a breakthrough assignment for Allison – shooting a lusty cover for a romance novel Allison finds herself absorbed in reading, although she bristles at the tidy, happily-ever-after ending and what she imagines will be its surefire appeal to women readers. (4)
    Maynard also discusses the symbolism of "the rejuvenation of a house" in two of Spencer's novels.

  • Diana Stout's "Karen Robards." In the very first paragraph, Stout informs the reader that "Robards claims that she doesn’t write under any formula, and has never sold any of the cookie-cutter romances produced by such publishers as Harlequin and Silhouette" (1). I wonder if this is Stout's paraphrasing of the following exchange between Robards and an interviewer:
    Did you ever write for the big formula-type romance publishers?

    No. I never did.1
    Even if the description of Harlequin/Silhouette romances as "cookie-cutter" is the result of Stout's paraphrasing of Robards's response to the interviewer I'm still rather taken aback by it because it seems extremely dismissive of a great many romance novels and authors, including Nora Roberts (discussed below), who began by writing category romances. It has always seemed very ironic to me that, in a genre whose readers often complain that their novels are unfairly dismissed as "trash" or "fluff," some readers of single title romances often seem to be equally willing to take a negative, broad-brush attitude towards category romances.

  • Wylene Rholetter's "Nora Roberts." One of the many interesting details about Roberts's career which are included in this extremely comprehensive essay is that "Roberts's name has come to be associated with connected stories during her more than twenty-year career, but, according to Isabel Swift, Vice President, Editorial, Silhouette, the concept was new in category fiction when Reflections and Dance of Dreams appeared in 1983" (2).

    Another unusual aspect of Roberts's career is that The Last Honest Woman "was Roberts's fiftieth title for Silhouette, and Roberts herself served as the cover model for Abigail O'Hurley Rockwell, the novel's heroine" (6). I've included a photo of the cover in question, as well as a near-contemporary photo of Roberts, for comparative purposes.2

    For all Roberts's success, the following claim seems overstated: "When Roberts entered the field in 1981, category romance was successful as a genre, but individual works within the category format had a shelf life of about thirty days. Nora Roberts challenged that limitation. She has proved that twenty-year-old category fiction still sells" (26). While it is certainly true that Roberts's novels for Harlequin have been repeatedly republished with impressive frequency and in impressive numbers, the Harlequin Classic Library had already reissued category romances which twenty or more years old. Juliet Shore's Doctor Memsahib, for example, is #4 in the Harlequin Classic Library. The publication details reveal that the novel was first published as a Mills & Boon hardcover edition in 1958, the first Harlequin edition was published in 1960, the "Golden Harlequin Library" edition was published in 1972 and the Harlequin Classic Library edition was published in March 1980. Lucy Agnes Hancock's Community Nurse was first published in hardback in 1944. The first Harlequin edition, in paperback, dates from 1953, and it seems to have been reprinted a couple of times between then and 1982, when it was added to the Harlequin Classic Library.

    As Rholetter notes, people often describe "Roberts as a 'publishing phenomenon'" (22) but the statement that "The MacKades with their expletive-rich language, quick tempers, tender hearts, and steady love for family suggest that in the creation of male characters, as in other areas, Roberts has moved far beyond the limits of formulaic romance" (12, emphasis added) seems to me to do more than simply praise Roberts's skill at characterisation. It raises questions about what constitutes "formulaic romance," and how many other authors in the genre have "moved far beyond" its limits. Rholetter's clearly not alone in elevating Roberts by comparing her and her novels to an anonymous mass of other romance writers and their books: "According to Thomas Kellner of Forbes, Putnam's Phyllis Grann believed Roberts's books were 'much more complex and textured' than typical romance fare" (9). This got me thinking about how scholars who appreciate the genre can write about its outstanding proponents without wording that appreciation in ways which might be interpreted by others (particularly those who do not know and love the genre as we do) as a dismissal of much of the genre. I think Rholetter gets the balance right here: "Margo [...] is a familiar type to romance readers, the beautiful woman fully aware of her sexual power and accustomed to using it. What sets Roberts apart from lesser talents is the skill with which she uses the type yet creates a distinctly individual character" (13). Here Rholetter carefully distinguishes between the use of traditional plot types (which are neither denigrated nor praised, but simply mentioned as an integral part of the genre) and the skill of a particular author in bringing something new to their use.

1 Stout included the interview “Karen Robards: The Romance Writer & Her Crystal Ball” in her list of sources. The web address Stout gave no longer seems to be working, so it's possible the version I found may be different.

2 The photo of Nora Roberts came from Claire E. White's 1998 "A Conversation With Nora Roberts" at Writers Write. The image of the cover of The Last Honest Woman is a customer image provided on This is the cover of the "September 1990 reprint of "The Last Honest Woman" by Nora Roberts, Silhouette Special Edition No. 451, April 1988." The original cover features the same picture, but without the inset portrait of the heroine/Roberts.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I've been thinking about marketing romances recently and how various authors go about doing it. Nora Roberts is still actively marketing her novels herself, especially her series books. Suzanne Brockmann does elaborate reader weekends. Most authors do book tours.

How do e-book authors market themselves when they don't have books to sign and sell to their readers if they show up at a bookstore? Here's one way: Angela James' 12 days of Holiday Hell. Should be an interesting twelve days.

And yes, I'm doing this because I want a Kindle and book gift certificates (a very few of the prizes)! Excuse me, I'm off to hunt through 17 author websites, heaven help me. I've got 12 days to do it, right? :) Join me and have some fun, discover new e-book authors, and many win some stuff!

What the Dickens! Lorraine Heath's In Bed with the Devil

What if
  • Oliver Twist's parents had been legally married and then, when Oliver was still a child, had been murdered in front of his very eyes
  • Oliver had joined Fagin's gang immediately afterwards
  • Mr Brownlow had, instead of being an old friend of Oliver's father, been an earl and Oliver's grandfather
  • the evil Monks had been an uncle rather than a half-brother and had been murdered by the child Oliver
  • Oliver had grown up, was now Lucian Langdon, Earl of Claybourne, but wasn't convinced he was truly the old man's grandson because he can't remember his supposed parents?
That's the premise of Lorraine Heath's In Bed with the Devil. It can be read for free online until 23 December 2008 as part of Avon's Love Gives Back promotion. As usual I'm not writing a review (although you can find reviews here, here, here, here, and here), but I've tried to avoid giving spoilers about aspects of the plot which don't relate to Dickens's novel. Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist is also available as a free online read. You can find a synopsis of its plot here, here and here.

I tend to find intertextuality of this sort amusing and interesting because it challenges the reader to find the similarities as well as the differences between the two texts and to identify the references to the original which appear in the newer novel. The fact that Heath is drawing on Oliver Twist wasn't immediately apparent, but it gradually became more so, until eventually inescapable proof of the connection was provided by the novel the heroine (Lady Catherine Mabry) has chosen to read to her dying father: "With a sigh, she sat back and lifted a book from the bedside table. 'Let's see what sort of trouble Oliver and the Artful Dodger are going to get into today, shall we?' " (47). The novel is mentioned again at various points in the novel, including when Catherine also "told her father the tale of the Earl of Claybourne. He'd seemed as entertained by the story as he was by Oliver Twist" (339). Finally, on her wedding day, Catherine learns that Lucian's full name is Lucian Oliver Langdon:
Holding his gaze as he gave her his vows, she wondered how much of his youth was contained in the words of the story that she'd recently read to her father. It seemed improbable, but not impossible. But it was a puzzle for another day. (365-66)
Within her novel Heath thus toys with the concept of reversing the direction of the source of inspiration. She proposes that the story of her own fictional character (based on Dickens's Oliver) may have been the inspiration for Oliver Twist. In fact, it is thought that Dickens may have based his Oliver on the real-life Robert Blincoe.

In addition to borrowing from Dickens to create her hero's backstory, Heath also pays homage to Dickens's work in the choice of names she gives her characters. Fagin is transformed into "Feagan, the kidsman who managed our rather notorious den of child thieves" (2) and Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, becomes Jack Dodger:
"Dodger." In their youth, he'd been Dodger more often than Jack. He'd been skilled at dodging the hands that wanted to grab him when the target realized his pockets were being picked. (91)
As mentioned at Wikipedia,
In the tradition of Restoration Comedy and Henry Fielding, Dickens fits his characters with appropriate names. Oliver himself, although "badged and ticketed" as a lowly orphan and named according to an alphabetical system is, in fact, "all of a twist."[...] Toby Crackit’s is a reference to his chosen profession–housebreaking.
Other children in the gang Lucian belonged to derived their names from their professions: Dr William Graves spent his "youth as a grave robber" (207), Inspector James Swindler is so-called because "When I was young and in search of a name, it seemed appropriate" (182) and Lucian himself was known as "Luke Locke. I was very skilled at picking locks. Most of us were orphans, didn't know our real names anyway. But even for those who did, Feagan always insisted on changing their names. When they came to him, they started life anew" (262). For her part Frannie is "Frannie Darling because that's how Feagan referred to me. 'Frannie, darling, rub my feet.' 'Frannie, darling, fetch me a cuppa gin.' And so when your grandfather asked me my name, I said Frannie Darling" (52-53).

Lucian, unlike Oliver, never spends any time in the workhouse but Heath does include a reworked version of the famous scene in which Oliver asks for more food. Here it's Lucian, Earl of Claybourne, who's offering food while another little boy asks for more:
"Did you know they have lemonade, pastries, and lollipops over there? Would you like to buy some for you and your mum?" Claybourne asked.
Whit nodded enthusiastically, his weariness suddenly cured.
"Hold out your hand," Claybourne ordered.
Whit did.
"Fold it up." Claybourne demonstrated, closing his hand into a fist. Then he snapped his fingers. "Open your hand."
The boy did, his eyes growing wide at the ha'penny resting on his palm. [...]
He turned back to Whit. "Close your hand around the coin and say 'Please, sir, may I have more?'"
Whit closed his hand around the coin. "Please, sir, may I have more?"
Claybourne snapped his fingers. Whit opened his hand, his eyes wider than before. The ha'penny was gone. A sixpence rested on his palm. (219-220)1
Dodger's life-story is also altered. Catherine says of Dickens's Dodger that: "My heart did go out to the Artful Dodger, though. I was sorry he was transported. I hear it's a very harsh life, although I suspect there are those who deserve it" (340). Heath's heart seems to have gone out to the Artful Dodger too, and so instead of having him transported, she allows him to become a successful businessman who is the hero of Between the Devil and Desire, which is the sequel to In Bed with the Devil.

Some of the social themes of Dickens's work also reappear, in a somewhat modified form, in Heath's. Here are Catherine and Lucian discussing Dickens's work:
"I've been reading Oliver Twist to my father. It's the story -"
"I've read it."
"Did Dickens have the right of it?"
"He painted a very accurate portrait of life in the rookeries, yes." (162)
Heath continues the social critique present in Dickens's novel by having Lucian demonstrate concern about the treatment of young criminals. He's written to The Times: "what I argued in my letter was that children, even if over the age of seven, should not be held accountable for understanding the law and, therefore, shouldn't be punished as though they had the reasoning power of an adult" (163).

Lucian also explains that these children have not been "taught what is right and what is wrong" (163). He then admits that "I knew better. I don't know how I knew, but I did" (164). This is, of course, explicable if he really is the Earl of Claybourne and had been taught right from wrong by his parents before their deaths. Dickens's Oliver also has different moral values from his companions, but the reader was perhaps supposed to ascribe this to some innate genetic qualities:
Oliver [...], who has an air of refinement remarkable for a workhouse boy, proves to be of gentle birth. Although he has been abused and neglected all his life, he recoils, aghast, at the idea of victimizing anyone else.This apparently hereditary gentlemanliness makes Oliver Twist something of a changeling tale, not just an indictment of social injustice. (Wikipedia)
Another issue which is touched on in Dickens's novel is domestic violence. Sikes murders his girlfriend, Nancy. It is this issue rather than that of social justice which provides the driving force of Heath's novel. Interestingly,
The marks of domestic violence were not invisible in one crucial sphere of mid-nineteenth-century discourse. Stories, novels, and essays proliferate that relate incidents of violence against working-class women, prostitutes, and "fallen women," whether publicly in the streets, or domestically in their squalid homes [...]. Locating violence against women in the poor and working classes seems to have been an attempt by bourgeois society to quarantine the pestilence of violence to the "lower orders." (Lawson and Shakinovsky 8)
Descriptions such as "helpless women," and "woefully unwomanly, slatternly, coarse," indicate that the writers expect their bourgeois readers to recognize the victim "type" but not themselves to identify with her misfortune.
This discourse is quite naturally carried over to fictional representations of poor and working-class women's bodies [...]. For instance, Sikes's murder of Nancy in Dickens's Oliver Twist, grotesque and horrific as it is, is true to the "type" bourgeois readers are to expect from such degraded characters. (Lawson and Shakinovsky 9)
Heath, by contrast, locates domestic violence at the heart of a relationship between two people at the very top of the social hierarchy. The Duke of Avendale beats Winnie, his wife and Catherine's friend:
Tears rolled from Winnie's eyes. "Oh, Catherine, sometimes he terrifies me so. They say his first wife was clumsy and fell down the stairs. And his second slipped in the bedchamber and banged her head so hard on the floor that it killed her. I knew these tales, but I didn't doubt the veracity of them, not until after I was wed. He is so charming when he is not angry. Oh, but when he is displeased, he is most frightening." (42-43)
This suggests, correctly, that domestic violence is not solely an issue for the poor and the working classes, but is also one which can affect families from all parts of society. It also ensures that, although London has changed very considerably since Dickens's day, Heath's novel, though set in the same period, highlights an issue which is of relevance today.

1 The original scene is in Chapter 2 of Oliver Twist:
Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

"Please, sir, I want some more."

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.

"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."

The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The photo of the cover of
Oliver Twist is from Wikimedia Commons. The word "dickens", which I capitalised in my title so that it also referred to the author, is "used to express annoyance or surprise when asking questions: what the dickens is going on?" and was originally "a euphemism for 'devil'" (Compact Oxford English Dictionary).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Another Ripped Bodice!

Mark Athitakis gives a concise description of the term "bodice-ripper" which explains why it's so hated by so many romance authors and readers:
Bodice-ripper -- Derogatory term for the historical single-title romance, referring literally to the habit of '70s historical novels of including sex scenes in which the heroine's clothes are torn off, or something similarly abusive. A dead subgenre; when uttered to a romance aficionado, the inspiration for a lengthy, irate lecture.
Poison Ivy offers us a description of just how irate that response can be:
The other evening I was dining with a batch of old friends from the comic book business. As conversations do, the talk turned to what each of us was working on, and thus to my long stint in romances. An otherwise nice fellow made the mistake of asking me about “bodice rippers.” I almost leapt across the table to throttle him. He was taken aback by my impassioned annoyance.

It’s a sore spot with most romance readers (and writers and editors) that most non-romance readers pick up an ignorant, pejorative term for our genre—a pejorative term foisted on us by the hostile and patronizing mass media—and continue to use it decades after that particular appellation could possibly apply.
However, as I was reading Emma Holly's Courting Midnight, I got the distinct impression that this particular romance author was deliberately and playfully transforming the bodice-ripping motif. She includes this scene between two secondary characters:
"You are mine," he said, squeezing it [her breast] possessively. "No other man shall have you."
Caroline had been dreaming of hearing those words all her life. She wanted to match them with an equal claim of her own, some gesture for the bold step she was taking. One glance at his heaving chest told her what it should be. She took hold of his shirt's open neck and tore the sweaty linen straight down the front. [...]
"No other woman," she declared on a gasp of sweet sensation, "shall ever have you."
Aidan had been goggling over her behavior, but at this he broke into a laugh. "I am sure I dare not disagree[."] (286)
It made me "goggle" and "break into a laugh" too, because the reversal in the gender of the person ripping the bodice transforms the motif, rendering it slightly ridiculous by unsettling gender stereotypes. Here we have the virgin ripping the clothing off her hunky lover, taking control of her own sexuality, claiming her man and making it more than clear that she doesn't need to be forced or seduced in order to feel able to express her desires. In the process, the motif loses its undertones of danger and rape, leaving space for laughter.

Pam Rosenthal's also played with the motif:
For me, genre form is like the melody of an old standard; I like to riff on it, work against it, improvise. So I wrote a ripped bodice into my first romance novel. It's a tiny little rip, to fool someone. I thought it was funny. I enjoyed having my hero apologize to my heroine that he'd wanted evidence of carnality that was "absolutely convincing." As though everybody, even in pre-Revolutionary France, would know what a ripped bodice signified.
Bodice-ripping has also evoked some rather more prosaic responses. Over at the eHarlequin forums Shewolf0316 once commented that
As is often found in romance and erotica alike, there is the one scene where the characters are so incensed with lust that they can't wait and they guy rips the woman's blouse right down the middle.

If it were me in the middle of a sexy encounter like that and a guy tore my clothing from my body, destroying it, I'd be ticked off! I can actually visualize it in my mind, the guy tears my shirt apart, I stop smack in the middle of his seduction and rant "what the h*ll are you doing? I paid $50 bucks for that shirt and you just ruined it!"
It's a very valid point and in another scene in Holly's novel, the hero takes such financial considerations into account
A flurry of motion brushed her skin, like giant wings beating up and down. She gasped into his mouth when she realized what he had done. He was indeed in a rush. She was naked, and in no more time than it took to blink half a dozen times. Her clothes lay in a shredded heap around her ankles.
Still fastened to her at the mouth, he chuckled at her surprise. "I promise to replace them," he said. (263)
Not only does the hero promise to replace the damaged clothing, but the context in which the actions take place pre-empts a second prosaic concern about bodice-ripping. As noted by another commenter on the eHarlequin thread, Lady Amalthea,
I feel like fabric is tougher than the authors realize...wouldn't it be somewhat uncomfortable having someone pull on your clothes hard enough that they rip? I'm thinking particularly about elastic-waist panties...that elastic snapping back on you...ouch!
This isn't a problem for Lucius because he's a super-powerful upyr and as the novel's a historical as well as a paranormal romance, the heroine's not wearing any elastic.

I haven't read Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, but in it "Jong coined the term 'zipless fuck,' which soon entered the popular lexicon" (Wikipedia). The phrase came to mind when I read the scene in which Lucius shreds clothing in seconds. Here's how it's described in Jong's novel: "The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff" (qtd. in Berger 140). Shana Abé's drákon protagonists manage this kind of thing with even greater ease than Lucius does. All they need to do is change into smoke and then back into human form: "She [...] Turned to smoke and back, so she could lay atop her gown and the blankets and feel his hands upon her bare skin" (332). It's probably worth noting that Jong also wrote that "For the true, ultimate zipless A-1 fuck, it was necessary that you never get to know the man very well" (qtd. in Berger 140). Romance authors would not seem to believe that's a necessary or desirable pre-condition to enjoyment of a "zipless fuck", but in general they do tend to end their novels before some of the more mundane details of life can intrude on their characters' passion.

Finally, since I'm discussing the topic of romance and bodices and have mentioned ways that it's been humorously transformed, I feel I must report RfP's latest theory:
Romance novels have a long tradition of lurid covers; the older novels in the genre often featured a bare-chested man ripping open the bodice of a stunned-looking woman. Or should I say, apparently ripping open. If the bodice ripper is really a bodice lacer, that puts a new complexion on the matter.

The painting is "The Rape of Proserpine (about 1650), by Simone Pignoni" (Wikimedia Commons).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jessica on Heroes and Uncontrollable Urges

Jessica's written a post, "Runaway Train: Uncontrollable Hero Lust in Romance," in which she provides a lot of textual evidence which suggests that in romances the sexually aroused hero is often described in ways which bring to mind a runaway train. Such depictions suggest that once the hero gets a certain way down the tracks, there's no way to brake in time to stop him going all the way to his destination.

Jessica goes on to explore possible interpretations of, and consequences which may result from, these depictions of what might be termed the "male sexual drive discourse". Here's a quotation which describes this discourse (I also quoted it in an earlier post about rakes):
Foucault (1978), Tiefer (1995), and others have argued that sexuality is constructed within particular sociocultural contexts and discourses. The male sexual drive discourse was identified by Hollway (1984) as a principle discourse in the production of meanings concerning contemporary sexuality. This discourse has its origin in sociobiological views of men's role to pursue and procreate, and hence in the primacy and importance of the male sexual drive.

Themes associated with the male sexual drive discourse are well documented in the social psychological literature. Zilbergeld (1978) identified the following themes: sex is a male performance; the man is responsible for orchestrating sex; a man always wants and is always ready to have sex; for a man, all physical contact must lead to sex; and birth control is the woman's responsibility. Similarly, Reinholtz et al. (1995) included the following in their list of common themes in communication about sexuality: male sexuality as uncontrollable, female responsibility for male sexuality, sex as a force of nature, and men as dominant and women as submissive. These researchers also identified a theme they labeled, "romance," the cultural notion that when two people "fall in love," sex automatically follows and cannot be controlled by rational consideration. (Gilbert, Walker, McKinney, and Snell 755-56)
I'd encourage you to read Jessica's post and join in the discussion at her blog.

[Edited to add: In a follow-up to Jessica's post, Robin explores the "runaway train" as it relates to rape in the genre. I'll give a long quote from Robin's post to give a flavour of her arguments:
1) there is a relationship between the real lives of women and Romance, but I do not believe it is a one-to-one reader-to-book cause-and-effect link. I see Romance more as a representational space in which various issues, anxieties, ideals, moral prohibitions, social boundaries, cultural values, and the like are in negotiation and in play as alternate realities. 2) we can talk about rape in Romance, but it is inevitable that readers will vary widely on how they define it, in large part based on the extent to which the reader consents on behalf of the heroine. 3) because male sexual aggression has so many permutations in Romance, there is no way to conduct a unified analysis under the term “rape” or “rape fantasy” or “forced seduction” or the like, although perhaps we can come up with some general categories and go from there. For example, perhaps we can distinguish rape as a sexual fantasy for the character from rape as a sexual fantasy for the reader, and then further distinguish the reader fantasy by focusing on a continuum of force and consent. 4) in spite of the complicated relationship between real life sexual assault and male sexual aggression in Romance, I do believe that the trope can be read as subversive of real life rape and liberating in ways that relate to the romantic idealism of Romance. That said, I think that there are also some troubling aspects to the trope of male sexual aggression in Romance, and we need to be more willing to investigate them without falling back into the polarized “rape apologist” v. “it’s only fiction” argument that so often emerges around this trope.
Robin's post also examines the law on rape in a variety of different US states: "how those statutes vary reflects not only different views of rape in different legal jurisdictions, but also who wrote the statutes, when they were written, and how the underlying perceptions of rape and female sexuality play into the drafting and enforcement of those statutes." Again, it's a complex post and one I'd encourage people to go and read in full.]

The tracks shown in this post, by the way are from Wikipedia and are sleeper-less, which seemed particularly appropriate because romance heroes often have tremendous stamina. The photo is also rather apt, I thought, because at the point in the narrative Jessica's discussing, heroes tend to have one track minds.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

IASPR on Facebook

Dear all,
The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance is yet to be officially launched, but it already has a facebook group. I have created this group to easily gather all information related to the study of popular romance novels and create a certain sense of overview. It's a place to publish CFPs, create events, announce research news, get in touch with fellow romance scholars, participate in discussions on romance, etc. Come join us and share in the fun!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eric's Autumnal Thoughts

Eric's pet lizard has, one might euphemistically say, gone to live in the happy lizard land in the sky. Or, to paraphrase Wordsworth
A lizard by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
--Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Shemp had ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
So since it's autumn and Eric is in a pensive frame of mind, he'd like to read romances featuring more "mellow fruitfulness":
No wonder, in this autumnal mood, I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for slightly older romance heroes and heroines. [...] I’m sure by spring I’ll be ready for young lovers again. But for the long, cold days ahead here in Chicago, heroes and heroines of “a certain age” would sure be mighty comforting. Any authors or books to recommend?
You can make your recommendations over at Romancing the Blog, where there are more details about the causes of Eric's thoughtful mood.

The picture is actually of Bill the Lizard, drawn by Sir John Tenniel, and I got the illustration from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Introduction and revised deadline for PCA conference

Dear all,

My name is An Goris and it has appeared in the right-hand column of this blog for over a year now, but aside from some brief comments I haven't posted anything and I presume most of you don't know me. Let me therefore begin by briefly introducing myself. I'm a young (24) graduate student from Belgium, where I have been pursuing a PhD at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven since October 2007. My research focusses on the interaction between genre and authorship in popular culture. I do this by analysing a wide selection of novels from Nora Roberts, one of the most prolific and popular romance authors today. To my surprise, there is relativelty little serious academic work on Roberts' oeuvre out there; it's my intention to change that in the years to come. While I work on Roberts' novels primarily in English, I'm also pursuing a project on romance novels in translation (Dutch and French for the time being) together with my fellow Belgian romance scholar Séverine Olivier.

I would love to get in touch with anybody else who is working on Nora Roberts, romance in translation, authorship and genre or other related topics, so feel free to leave comments or email me. Or meet up with me at the PCA conference in New Orleans next Spring - which brings me to the second part of my post today:

The deadline for submitting a proposal for the romance area of the 2009 PCA/ACA conference is November 30 2008 (and not November 15 as the original CFP states). Eric and Darcy have received relatively few submissions, so we want to actively encourage people to send something in. The conference has been an absolute delight in the past; it's a blast to meet up with fellow romance scholars. As a young graduate student myself I can testify that the romance area is very welcoming of both beginning and experienced scholars, so do feel encouraged to send something in and join us in the Big Easy next Spring!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Romance in Teaching American Literature

It's the morning, I wanted to post about some journal articles, and those seemed like good enough reasons to include this picture. However, the journal I'd really like to bring to your attention is not the Morning Journal but Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice. As explained in an introduction by guest editor Suzanne Milton,
This special issue of Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice, devoted to essays written about selected contemporary American romance fiction writers, is intended to provide instructors with bio-bibliographical information about several novelists, highlighting primary themes and motifs, with some analysis of the author’s contribution to the genre. Each entry provides a comprehensive list of the author’s fiction works that can be further explored in the classroom. This issue may also be of interest to researchers, librarians and readers who wish to learn more about a particular novelist.
Unfortunately the articles are liberally sprinkled with editing errors (Sarah Frantz's surname was misspelled, for example).

There's lots of food for thought and discussion, though. For example, Milton writes that
contemporary romance can be traced back to the 1980’s when historical romance was still popular, but a variety of sociological trends created a socio-psychological shift and romance writers responded to these changes by creating more assertive heroines who played an increasingly significant role in shaping their own destiny.
There seems to be an implication in there that historical romance is no longer popular, which seems a rather odd idea to me. In addition, although I'm aware that significant changes took place in the genre in the 1980s, I wonder why Milton didn't decide to trace the modern romance genre back rather further than that. I don't think any history of the genre would be complete without some mention of Mills & Boon (now part of Harlequin), which came into existence in 1908 and published contemporary romances long before the 1980s. One might also wish to mention Mary Stewart, who
is considered by many to be the mother of the modern romantic suspense novel. She was among the first to integrate mystery and love story, seamlessly blending the two elements in such a way that each strengthens the other. Pamela Regis writes, "Stewart's influence extends to every writer of romantic suspense, for Stewart understood and perfected this hybrid of romance and mystery and used it as a structure for books so beautifully written that they have endured to become part of the canon of the twentieth-century romance novel." Popular authors continue to list her books among their favorites and cite her as influential to their own work. And even thirty years after publication, her books continue to be reprinted again and again. (
The essays in this volume of Teaching American Literature, which are all in pdf format, are as follows:

  • Suzanne Milton's "Danielle Steel: Bringing Family Issues to Light." Milton writes that "Danielle Steel is one of the most widely-read romance fiction writers of this century. [...] Sixty-five of her writings fall into the category of romance fiction." Although I haven't read any of Danielle Steel's novels, I got the distinct impression from this essay that, unlike romances, which focus on a central couple, Steel's novels tend to be more akin to sagas since they cover a long span of the heroine's life, or even tell the story of more than one generation of a family.
  • Sarah S. G. Franz's [sic] "Suzanne Brockmann: The Military and the Romance." Sarah's a persuasive advocate for Brockmann, but at first I wondered if this claim went a little too far: "Suzanne Brockmann, New York Times best-selling and RITA-award-winning author, pioneered and popularized military romances." Heyer's An Infamous Army, for example, is a military romance and her The Spanish Bride is historical fiction/military romance. I suppose, though, that one can have many pioneers and there certainly seems to be a consensus that, in the words of AAR's Blythe Barnhill, Brockmann's Tall, Dark, and Dangerous mini-series started the Navy SEALS trend."
  • Wendy Wagner's "Jennifer Crusie: Romance as Academic Question." I'd be really, really interested to know what evidence (other than the subject matter of the novel) Wagner has for this:
    One of the subplots of Trust Me On This involves Crusie's subtle mockery of academic life. [...] Trust Me On This reflects Crusie's disenchantment with academic life; at around this time, Crusie put her dissertation writing on hold in order to complete the MFA program at Ohio State. (4-5)
    Wagner goes on to add that
    In an essay she wrote for Paradoxa in 1997, Crusie argues that romance fiction is not fantasy but instead is centered on women's reality [...] This essay has a fitting placement at the end of her academic career and basically asserts her divergence from academic feminism and the academic literary canon. (5)
    Yet, as Wagner notes (7-8) Crusie edited a collection of essays and short stories (published in 2005) about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which I'd tend to think of as forming part of "the academic literary canon." And what of Crusie's "This Is Not Your Mother's Cinderella: The Romance Novel As Feminist Fairy Tale," an essay published in Romantic Conventions, a 1999 collection of essays published by Bowling Green State University Popular Press and written by academics about the romance genre? I'd also have to conclude that when Wagner wrote this she hadn't read the blog post Crusie wrote in July 2007 in which Crusie revealed that
    Last week, out of the blue, I had the inexplicable urge to finish my PhD. It’s been hanging fire for over ten years, but suddenly the need was there. And because I am impulsive, I e-mailed good people at OSU and said, “Can I come back and finish?” and by the end of the day, I had half of my committee and a welcome back from the head of the English Department.
  • Fahamisha Patricia Brown's "Beverly Jenkins: African American History and the Romance Novel." Although this is the shortest of all the essays, it goes a long way towards explaining why Jenkins is "the first African American writer since Frank Yerby (1916-1991) to establish a reputation as an author of American historical romance, Beverly Jenkins today stands alone" (3).
  • Patricia Kennedy Bostian's "Amanda Scott: Bringing History to Life." Bostian states that "the successful heroine of the Regency is one whose values are firmly planted in the 20th century, while the setting is meticulously 18th century" (1). I suspect some readers of this blog might disagree with that.

I found Louis Rhead's poster for the Morning Journal at Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Busy Times

Sarah's been very busy recently, and she explains why in her latest post at Romancing the Blog. She can see parallels between the romance genre and recent political events:
maybe this lesson that Obama has taught America is the lesson that romance can teach its readers and which its readers can then teach the world. “We are the change that we’ve been looking for,” Obama has told us, “We are the ones that we seek.”
And when I said that Sarah had been busy, I was also referring to the fact that she's been posting more at Dear Author. Her latest post there is about the sexual content in erotic romances.

Also making connections between the current economic/political climate and romance reading is The Scotsman's Claire Black who suggests that
as the news gets worse, the need for some kind of escape gets all the more pressing and where there are losers there are always, always, winners.

Talk of this kind may be perceived as a little unseemly when three million of us are in danger of sliding into negative equity [...] but hey, economics aren't personal – it's the law of the market and the fact is when things are heading down the dumper for some, they're looking peachy keen for others.

So, who's a winner in the current meltdown? [...] The victor in this case is romance. There, doesn't it make you feel better just reading that? Or perhaps it would if I'd written it more breathily, full of sensual glances, smouldering eyes and unbridled passion. The real winner in our economic meltdown, you see, is the book publisher Mills & Boon.
In the UK we haven't had an election, but we did get some TV programmes about romance. Sam Wollaston describes them both:
Consuming Passion: 100 Years of Mills & Boon (BBC4, Sunday). This is a lovely drama. Dead clever too: three stories - from the 1900s, the 1970s and now - artfully plaited together. All that ties the disparate strands is this strange publishing house that for a century has been churning out the same story, millions and millions of times. [...]

How To Write a Mills & Boon (BBC4, Sunday). Trying is Stella Duffy, a serious, literary novelist. M&B is way, way out of Stella's comfort zone; her thing is more along the lines of lesbian-noir-realism. Or something.

It would have been very easy for her to be sniffy and condescending about Mills & Boon, but to her credit she's the opposite. She has a real go at it - listens to people, goes on a writing course in Tuscany (prime M&B territory), stifles her attempts to write what she wants to write. And she succeeds, in that the editor likes what she's done and would have taken it on had Stella wanted to continue with it.

The programme is a success too.

There's already been some discussion about How to Write a Mills & Boon at the Smart Bitches' site. During the programme Stella goes on a course to learn how to write Mills & Boon. As reported on the I Heart Presents blog, this was Sharon Kendrick’s writing workshop and, also on the I Heart Presents blog, Jennie Lucas , who's featured on the programme, wrote about her time at this workshop (parts 1, 2, and 3).

Monday, November 03, 2008

That Looks A Bit Like ...

I was quite amused when I realised I was fairly sure what the inspiration was for the cover of Carol Townend's An Honourable Rogue. Take a look at Edmund Blair Leighton's God Speed!

The change to the direction of the horse and rider is extremely appropriate, since Benedict Silvester is not leaving, but rather is making an unexpected reappearance in, Rozenn's life. It's also interesting to see how Blair Leighton's knight has been replaced by a much less warlike traveller, and again that's very appropriate given that Rose wants to marry a knight but finds herself increasingly attracted to Benedict, who's a minstrel (albeit one who carries and knows how to use a sword).1

It may also be worth noting that although there isn't a scene in the novel like the one depicted on the cover, there is a scene in which Benedict holds Rose's hand. Rose's memory of that is described in the excerpt that Townend has on her website:
A memory of the previous night flashed in on her, when she and Ben had been talking to each other with only her table between them. He had held her hand and his fingers had moved gently over hers. So gently. She could almost feel the warmth of his fingertips as she would feel them if he were to lift her hand to his lips.

  • Townend, Carol. An Honourable Rogue. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2008.

1 "As a minstrel, Ben had not earned the right to bear full knightly arms, but when on the Duke's business he never travelled without his shortsword" (116).

There's another, longer, excerpt from the novel and a larger picture of the front cover available here. I found the Blair Leighton at Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Australian Romance Readers Convention 2009

The Australian Romance Readers Convention is going to be held in Melbourne from the 20th to the 22nd of February 2009 and as the title suggests, it's for romance readers. There will be an academic presence at the convention because on the programme there's the following:
Saturday 21 February (10.00 am - 10.30am) - Panel discussion: What academics really think about romance fiction— Glen Thomas, Toni Johnson-Woods, Jenny Brassel

Sunday 22 February - Concurrent session 3 (11.00am -12.00 pm) — Future of romance: Where to from here? Bronwyn Parry, Glen Thomas, Avon Romance representative, Other publisher reps tbc

Friday, October 24, 2008

Political Clarity

Sarah's over at Romancing the Blog today, discussing politics and politicians in romance (and also urging Americans to vote in the forthcoming elections).

The photo, of what I think is a rather elegant ballot-box, is from Wikipedia. It was taken in 2007 during voting in the second round of the French presidential election.