Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Romance and Race (Syllabus Addendum)

Two quick thoughts about Romance and Race, neither substantive.

First, does anyone know what happened to Stephanie Burley? She wrote a Ph.D. dissertation in 2003 on "Hearts of Darkness: The Racial Politics of Popular Romance"; her degree is from the University of Maryland at College Park. I haven't read the thesis, but I know her essay "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Book Like This? Homoerotic Reading and Popular Romance," from the Doubled Plots: Romance and History collection, and it's a real treat. My usual Googling hasn't turned her up anywhere, alas.

If you see her, say hello--and then send her our way!

Second, I just ran across the syllabus for an American Studies course called "The Racial Politics of 'Escapist Rot': Women's Popular Fiction and Representations of Race, 1946-2003." The woman who taught it was kind enough to post the full text for download (you can find the link here); briefly, here's the course description and set of primary readings:

“Too often,” Edward Said has admonished, “literature and culture are presumed to be politically and historically innocent.” This is especially evident in common conceptions of popular fiction written by, about, and for women, which is variously dismissed as escapist, essentially unrealistic, silly, and thereby meaningless. This course is designed to contest these constructions by examining the racial ideologies perpetuated by popular genres between 1946 and 2003. The texts we will focus on exemplify various generic forms: the gothic novel, popular melodrama, historical romance or “bodice-rippers,” science fiction, suspense, contemporary romance fiction, comedy, and drama. These readings will be supplemented by theoretical works on race and genre that will allow us to read the race as integral to these texts, which often obliquely represent race. We will move chronologically, locating each text in the specific historical context in which it was produced and consumed, enabling us to understand how and why representations of race have or have not changed over the past sixty years. As we move between genres, we will discuss how generic conventions and the requirements of publishers affect how texts articulate ideas around race. Because these texts were written by women, and many were directed towards a predominantly female audience, we will also consider the relationship between race and gender as understood in these novels and films.

Required Materials:

Suzanne Brockmann, The Unsung Hero (New York: Ivy Books, 2000).

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988).

Daphne Du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel (New York: Random House, 1992).

Richard Dyer, White (London: Routledge, 1997).

Katherine Greyle, Karen Harbaugh, Sabeeha Johnson, and Cathy Yardley, Playing with Matches: Four Tales of Modern Matchmaking (New York: Signet, 1993).

Grace Metalious, Peyton Place (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999).

Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).

Kathleen Woodiwiss, The Flame and the Flower (New York: Avon, 1995).

An interesting collection, no? The Morrison would be particularly useful in getting students to think about African American characters on the margins of white texts, like the ones that show up in the Woodiwiss.

I'm also struck by some of the secondary readings she included in her course packet:

All About Romance, “At the Back Fence,” Issues #97, # 150, and #158 and “Is This Censorship at Wal-Mart?”

Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

Stephanie Burley, “Shadows and Silhouettes: The Racial Politics of Category Romance.” Paradoxa 5 (2000): 324-341.

Ruth Frankenberg, “Whiteness and Americanness: Examining Constructions of Race, Culture, and Nation in White Women’s Life Narratives.” Race. Eds. Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

George Lipsitz, “History, Myth, and Counter-Memory: Narrative and Desire in Popular Novels.” Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

Pamela Perry, “White Means Never Having to Say You’re Ethnic: White Youth and the Construction of ‘Cultureless’ Identities.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 30 (2001): 56-91.

This must have been a wonderful course--one I hope to learn from vicariously as I prepare my own next romance offering.

(In which, I've just learned, a third of the students are male! "Where the boys are...")

Help a Prof Out?

Hello, everyone!

Eric here, with a super-secret romance project in the works. I can't say what it is yet, but if I give you a hint, can you give me some help?

I need a catchy title for a project on Romance Fiction (or maybe Romance and Chick-Lit) and American Culture. I've been kicking around the usual words and phrases that come up in an American Studies context: "Pursuits of Happiness," "Liberty and Union," "Perfect Unions and Others," that sort of thing. None of them has grabbed me yet. They're too far from the genre, somehow.

So--what do you think? Any of those strike you as worth pursuing? Any clever plays on words, riffs on titles, and so forth? Something fun about ladies and liberties? I don't have a prize to hand out, or even a title, but I'll be mighty grateful, and make sure you get the credit.

Anyone out there who can Help a Prof Out?

(Lady Liberty print by Alfred Gockel, available for purchase here.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Short, Dark, and Multicultural

This is a follow-up to the earlier discussion about Sarah's syllabus choices. Seressia Glass has posted at Blogging in Black about how "Black romances are hardly mentioned in the mainstream." I'm not sure exactly how "mainstream" is being defined there, but I can say that in all my time online, with a few exceptions, unless I've specifically visited sites by African-American (AA) authors/for AA romance readers I haven't noticed much discussion or reviewing of AA romances.

I also have the impression that due to Monica Jackson raising the issue over the course of so many years, and since it was discussed at AAR in 2005, with a follow-up in 2006, there has been a bit of movement on this, and, to take Seressia Glass herself as an example, I've seen a review of one of her novels at Dear Author and another at AAR. Nevertheless, the mere fact that such discussions and reviews of AA romances on "mainstream" romance sites seem unusual is an indication of how far we still have to go before AA romances are fully integrated into the "mainstream."

As far as analysing literature is concerned, I find it problematic that any work should be placed in a romance sub-genre due to the ethnic origins (or sexual orientation) of either the author or the characters, rather than the subject-matter (e.g. paranormal, romantic suspense) and/or setting of the novel (e.g. historical, contemporary). In practice such classifications probably have a lot more to do with marketing than with theoretical considerations, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't think about their wider implications.

Moving on to Seressia Glass's specific comments about Sarah's syllabus choices, I had planned to comment at Blogging in Black, but as usual my comment grew so long it's now blog-post length, so I thought I'd bring it across here. Here's what she had to say about the syllabus:
Black romances are hardly mentioned in the mainstream. One college professor is teaching a group of students about romantic fiction. She mentioned a range of writers and genres, including a final class choice between an erotic romance (with a gay romance subplot) and an inspirational. Though the class began with Monica Jackson’s novella, “The Choice,” as a discussion on the definition of romance and the eight elements of romance, a full-length novel by a black author was woefully missing from the list.

Not really a problem or surprising, you think. Except the class is majority African-American females and is being taught at a Historically Black College. Yet the idea of including a full-length romance by a black author did not occur to this professor. To be fair, once it was pointed out to her, she did add a Beverly Jenkins title to her list. (Sorry, Loretta Chase.) Still, it’s disheartening that the need to add a multicultural book had to be pointed out at all.
I think that she does have a good point about the "mainstream" (as I've discussed above), but I'm not so sure that university-level courses on romance fiction are yet part of the mainstream, and they may never be (there's a reason academics are sometimes described as inhabiting "ivory towers"). Romance scholars are, however, affected by "mainstream" opinions within the romance community, at least to a certain extent, and I'd like to take a closer look at how that influence might make itself felt.

The idea of teaching romance fiction at universities is really, really new (Eric's been teaching them since 2005, and yes, he did have a Beverly Jenkins romance, Something like Love, on the syllabus), and so there isn’t a pre-existing literary “canon” of modern romance novels which many academics have agreed on will (a) provide good food for discussion/debate and (b) will also reward someone who carries out a detailed literary analysis of them. It’s not as though all romances are interchangeable: they deal with different themes, some of them have more layers (imagery, metaphor, symbolism, social analysis etc.) than others. Sarah made that point very strongly in her last post:
I chose the books I chose for very specific reasons. I wished to cover a broad range of sub-genres (contemporary romantic comedy, historical, suspense, erotica/inspirational) as well as a wide range of themes (fairy tales, theories of love, humor, critique of romance narrative, violence, memory, narrative juxtapositioning of successful and unsuccessful relationships, character maturation, sexuality, redeeming nature of love, etc.) and those themes could not be covered by blithely assigning an alternate text. No other books does what Bet Me does with fairy tales. No other book does what OTE does with memory, violence, and character maturation. No other book does what Fairyville does with sexuality as a way to explore emotions.
Just because a novel is popular with lots of readers (i.e. has "mainstream" appeal) doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a text that stands up well to academic analysis. So choosing which novels to include on a syllabus is difficult, and the professor/lecturer giving the course has to think up her/his own criteria for selection. And the professor/lecturer won’t have had time to read even a tiny fraction of all the romance novels published in the past 30 or so years (longer, really, since Sarah went back to Austen, and Eric included novels by Heyer and E. M. Hull on his syllabus). So what’s he/she to do? Well, she or he might try to pick out a romance from each of the major sub-genres, but the choice can’t just be random. The professor has to teach this text, so she/he has to be sure there’s something in there to be taught which will complement the other texts chosen. And the professor probably wants to choose a novel which represents the “best” in its sub-genre. Given the size of the genre and the number of sub-genres, the professor may not be well-read in a particular sub-genre, so he or she may fall back on what “mainstream” opinion is. And that, I think, is where the problem identified by Seressia plays a part, because the “mainstream” doesn’t tend to pick up on black romance authors and their books. So the hurried professor, trying to put together his or her syllabus in sub-genres which include ones which he/she doesn’t tend to read in, if she’s relying on “mainstream” opinion to help her/him, is less likely to end up including an AA romance.

But in this case the professor clearly had thought about AA romance since she included Monica Jackson's novella, and she was open to including still more AA romance when reminded that there was a “mainstream” consensus of opinion about Beverly Jenkins’s historicals. And so Jenkins's Something Like Love (which was also on Eric's syllabus) was substituted for Chase's Lord of Scoundrels.

Glass framed the issue in terms of it being "disheartening that the need to add a multicultural book had to be pointed out at all," and that made me think a bit more about what's actually meant by "multicultural." Loretta Chase’s maternal grandmother (and probably her maternal grandfather too, though she didn't specifically mention him) was Albanian, and the hero of Lord of Scoundrels is half Italian, so couldn't one describe the novel as “multicultural”? Certainly the fact that the hero is of a different ethnic background from his peers (in both senses of the word) is important to the novel, because according to the beauty standards of the time and place in which he lives, he’s considered ugly, and he’s internalised that judgement of himself and sees himself as a dark-skinned, over-sexual beast-like individual. Which, of course, could lead on to discussions about the depiction of darker-skinned “others” in the romance genre in general, right back to E. M. Hull’s The Sheik and beyond. Hull's sheik in fact turns out to be not of Arab but of European origin (though half Spanish), and when the movie of the book appeared, he was played by an Italian, Rudolph Valentino. You can still find rather a lot of Greek, Italian, Spanish and sheik heroes in the Harlequin Presents line, but I can’t recall reading about any Asian or black heroes in that line (there are so many novels in that line, though, that it wouldn’t at all surprise me if there were one or two exceptions which proved the rule), but in the past a truly Arab hero (unlike Hull's sheik) would still have been taboo. One could, based on Lord of Scoundrels, have a discussion about the extent to which things have or haven’t changed with regards to racism and mixed marriages, and the extent to which “othering” continues to exist. Certainly a discussion about ethnicity/race and prejudice could easily have arisen from the study of this book.1

Another issue raised by Seressia Glass's post is that of the status of shorter fictional forms. The work by Monica Jackson which was included on the syllabus was a novella, but I think preconceptions about shortness and quality also affect perceptions of category romances.

My impression is that the reaction to the original syllabus possibly indicates that many people would not consider a novella to be equal to a full-length novel, and perhaps some people considered the fact that the AA romance was a short story to be a slight to AA romances as a whole. From the point of view of teaching time, including a shorter text means that more of that short text will get analysed in the time available, whereas when one’s studying a longer text, one tends to focus on only a small part of it, simply because of the time constraints that exist when teaching a short course. So just because the text chosen is shorter doesn’t mean that it’s being given less time than any other text.

As for the quality of the text, Monica’s short story is one that I found really rewarding to read, and it raises a number of very complex issues, as well as having a paranormal element which allows one to read certain parts of the novel symbolically as well as literally. No-one should assume that because it’s short, or because Monica is letting people read it for free on her website, that it’s of lesser quality than the longer novels on the syllabus.


1 Particular cultural beauty ideals, and the associations between animality and certain types of appearances, would appear to persist even "Despite widespread opposition to racism" (Eberhardt, qtd. in Science Daily). For example, a recent study by Goff, Eberhardt, Williams and Jackson, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that "Historical representations explicitly depicting Blacks as apelike have largely disappeared in the United States, yet a mental association between Blacks and apes remains. [...] this Black-ape association alters visual perception and attention":
Eberhardt noted that science education could be partly responsible for reinforcing the view that blacks are less evolved than whites. An iconic 1970 illustration, "March of Progress," published in the Time-Life book Early Man, depicts evolution beginning with a chimpanzee and ending with a white man. "It's a legacy of our past that the endpoint of evolution is a white man," Eberhardt said. "I don't think it's intentional, but when people learn about human evolution, they walk away with a notion that people of African descent are closer to apes than people of European descent. (Science Daily)

The image of the poster of The Sheik is from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Class Report #1

This semester, I'm teaching ENGL 370: Junior Seminar on the topic of Popular Romance Fiction.

I've assigned Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me, Beverly Jenkins' Something Like Love (at the urging of the Smart Bitch commentors), Suzanne Brockmann's Over the Edge, and a choice between Emma Holly's Fairyville (erotica) or Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love (inspirational).

We've finished our discussion of P+P, which I used as an opportunity to explore Pamela Regis's eight elements of a romance narrative (corruption in society, meeting between hero and heroine, attraction, barrier, point of ritual death, recognition, admission of love, and betrothal). Then we moved on to Bet Me. I spent the last class analyzing the theories of love presented by the characters (Tony's Chaos theory, Liza as a "love nihilist," Cynthie's four steps to mature love, Bonnie's belief in the fairytale). Next week, we'll be discussing the fairytales mentioned in the story (Cinderella, Snow Queen, Little Red Riding Hood, Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, and on and on...). And I'll try to keep you all updated as to the progress of the class.

That is not what I wish to write about today, however. I also spent the past week dealing with a student's personal concerns about the texts I have chosen. I will not betray her confidence by detailing the discussions she and I have had about the issue. Suffice it to say it was at her urging that I added the inspirational Redeeming Love as a choice instead of the erotic Fairyville. She is uncomfortable with various aspects of at least three of the texts I assigned and was asking if she could read something else instead.

Two important realizations came to me as a result of our interactions over the week:

1. I refused to change my assigned readings. I couldn't figure out why I was quite so uncomfortable with her request until I realized that the very nature of the request perpetuated the perception that all romance novels are interchangeable. No one would think to request that a professor change the assignment of Twelfth Night for The Tempest on the grounds that they're both problematic comedies and both written by Shakespeare, because we all know that they're completely different plays, despite their superficial similarities. No one would think to request that a professor assign Austen's Northanger Abbey instead of Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho or Heinlein for Asimov, or Stephen King instead of Dean Koontz, or Tom Clancy for Clive Cussler. The pairs may all reside in the same genre, but even the most cursory of analyses would indicate that the books and authors are completely different.

This does not change for the romance genre. Reading Suzanne Brockmann's Over the Edge is completely different from reading her own Breaking Point (which completes a story arc begun in OTE) or Time Enough for Love (a time travel category), let alone different from reading another author in the same sub-genre (Catherine Mann for the romantic suspense or Diana Gabaldon for the time travel), or another sub-genre altogether.

I chose the books I chose for very specific reasons. I wished to cover a broad range of sub-genres (contemporary romantic comedy, historical, suspense, erotica/inspirational) as well as a wide range of themes (fairy tales, theories of love, humor, critique of romance narrative, violence, memory, narrative juxtapositioning of successful and unsuccessful relationships, character maturation, sexuality, redeeming nature of love, etc.) and those themes could not be covered by blithely assigning an alternate text. No other books does what Bet Me does with fairy tales. No other book does what OTE does with memory, violence, and character maturation. No other book does what Fairyville does with sexuality as a way to explore emotions.

And I would argue that it is only in a class about popular romance fiction that a student would dare to suggest alternate readings because it is only popular romance fiction that has the reputation for being interchangeable--a reputation that I refused to succumb to.

2. This realization is much more general than specific to popular romance fiction, but it was very important to my self-perception and to the reasons I spent so many years of my life training as a literary critic. Because the discussion with my student was one that began because of religious beliefs, my metaphors and imagery here are religious, but I don't think that invalidates them. I imagine novels as the distillation of a collective soul or consciousness, in which we find what the accumulation of thousands of people believe and think and hope for. The very act, therefore, of excavating the layers of a novel through analysis represents a kind of ministering to the soul of society.

I will post more about the progress of the class as warranted.

The picture is titled "Girl Reading," from a fascinating artist, Oliver Ray.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Eric and Reading Groups

Eric's at Romancing the Blog today and he's got an idea he'd like to discuss:
what if someone, or a group of someones, put together lists of romance novels, grouped by theme or genre or some such way, and wrote up introductory essays and discussion questions for each? It wouldn’t be easy to choose the texts, and Lord knows there would be dust-ups over who’s in, who’s out, and the rest. But last month a group of librarians published a well-received guide to “core authors” in romance. It’s aimed at colleagues who want to build a collection, and also at curious readers. Maybe that could be a place to start?

I know there have been some wonderful individual programs at libraries around the country. Kelly Watson posted a great column on them a week or so ago, with links to the finalists and winners of the RWA’s “Libraries Love Romance” contest. Those have been developed locally, though–and what makes the Nextbook program so successful, simply as a promotion, seems to be its “off-the-shelf” structure. All any library has to do is find someone to lead the conversation.
In the light of the long comments thread which resulted from Sarah's attempt to provide an even shorter selection of romance novels for her classes, and in which the relative absence of romances by African-American authors was raised as an issue, I feel I should observe that the RUSQ Core Collections list is rather lacking in AA authors and AA romances. I may have missed some names, but as far as I can tell, there aren't any on the main list. There is a mention of AA romances, and one AA author, in the introduction to the section on contemporary romances:
Contemporary romances also reflect the society in which they are written. [...] Today, many contemporary romances focus on families, well-rounded lives, and deeply connected circles of friends (which often extend into series). African-American writers and characters also have an adaptive home in contemporary romance today, as do inspirational romance writers and their fans. And no consideration of contemporary romance would be complete without a nod to the importance and influence of category romances, such as the Harlequin Presents line. Writers such as Brenda Jackson, Kathleen Eagle, Carly Phillips, Penny Jordan, Lynne Graham, and Helen Bianchin all write contemporary romances that cover a range of approaches and represent the varying styles of writers in this subgenre.
The librarians who put together the list were limited in space, so they obviously had to leave out a huge number of books and sub-genres. The inspirational romance sub-genre is only touched on in passing, as mentioned in the above quotation, which also contains one of the few references to category romances (one category romance is included in the more detailed list, in the paranormal section). As Eric says, "It wouldn’t be easy to choose the texts, and Lord knows there would be dust-ups over who’s in, who’s out, and the rest" but how would you feel about a structured programme for library-based romance discussion groups? Does your library already do something like this? If you've got any ideas, please let Eric know what you think.

On the topic of selectivity versus recognition of diversity, I was gratified to see that the latest article in The Telegraph about Mills & Boon, written by Glenda Cooper, draws on the work of jay Dixon and discusses the way the novels have changed throughout the decades:
The earliest heroes tend to be imperialist adventurers who, towards the end of the Edwardian era, still represented an ideal. The heroines are equally intrepid, with Dorothy Gale, in Louise Gerard's A Tropical Tangle (1911), going off to be a nurse in darkest Africa.

In the shattering aftermath of the First World War, a different type of hero emerges. The golden youths who died in the trenches were the brothers and fiancés of M&B authors, so vulnerable boy heroes populate the 1920s romances, while it is women themselves who are presented as sexually assertive.

In Denise Robins's Women Who Seek (1928), the heroine Eve pursues an adulterous relationship with her lover. M&B had no problem with extramarital sex until the more prudish 1950s.

As the Depression years take hold, heroes are father-figure types; passion comes a poor second to hunger. The heroines tend to have jobs - even after they get married, which was not common at the time.

As the Second World War begins to dominate storylines, there is a focus on women in uniform who display a markedly pragmatic attitude. [...]

Ironically, it was only when M&B ditched its other genres and focused on romance that female characters became less assertive. Alan Boon, son of founder Charles, who took over after the war, was an advocate of the alpha [m]ale concept [...]

It was in the 1960s and 1970s - as the women's movement gained impetus - that M&B developed its anti-feminist reputation. This was largely due to its star author, Violet Winspear [...]

In the 1980s and 1990s, when many of the battles of the women's movement had been won, M&B authors ushered in more sympatico New Men as heroes, and increasing numbers of career women - lawyers, journalists, petroleum engineers - as heroines.
This being both Mills & Boon's centenary year and very close to Valentine's Day, there have been a lot of articles in the press recently about romance novels. There's a list of many of them at Dear Author.

The illustration is by Carl Spitzweg, "the master of small-scale genre painting" (Milwaukee Art Museum) and depicts "Der Bücherwurm" (the Bookworm), who looks as though he's trying to make a selection from among all the books in his library. I found it at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Science of Love: Good News/Bad News

The Bad News - The Truth About Prairie Voles

Prairie voles might once have been thought suitable mascots for the romance genre, because, although "Fewer than 5% of mammals are habitually monogamous. Prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) are among the select few. After mating, the males "fall in love": they stick close to their chosen one, guard her jealously and help her raise their young." (BBC). Or so everyone thought. Now it turns out that
"monogamous" prairie voles are really just a bunch of randy rodents. A study published in Animal Behaviour found the prairie vole, Microtus ochrogaster, displayed considerable sexual promiscuity. Almost a quarter of litters were found not to have been fathered by the live-in partner of the mother prairie vole.

"There is a difference between social monogamy and sexual fidelity," said the study's main researcher, Professor Alex Ophir, of Florida University, Gainesville. "You can pair with a partner for life and still have sex with others - and that is what prairie voles do. There is a lesson there for humans."

The discovery of prairie vole promiscuity is crucial because these animals are favourite subjects among researchers, selected because they had displayed life-long monogamy. These previous studies also showed that dopamine, a brain chemical released during sex, played a key role in determining vole sexual behaviour.

Dopamine - the vole's love drug - causes males to lose interest in other females and acts on the nucleus accumbens, a region in the forebrain of many animals, including humans. Previous studies claimed dopamine locked the vole into monogamy and, by inference, played a similar role in humans - an idea that promised new ways of understanding, and possibly treating, serial promiscuity. (McKie, in The Observer)

The Good News - Romance Authors are Right to Mention the Hero's Smell

I've been noticing that the hero's smell is often mentioned in romances. The description often goes something like this: "he smelled slightly of horse, soap and a scent that was uniquely his." And it seems that smell, particularly the one that's "uniquely his," is important in mate choice:
Among the constellation of genes that control the immune system are those known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which influence tissue rejection. Conceive a child with a person whose MHC is too similar to your own, and the risk increases that the womb will expel the fetus. Find a partner with sufficiently different MHC, and you're likelier to carry a baby to term.

[...] At the University of Bern in Switzerland, human females were asked to smell T shirts worn by anonymous males and then pick which ones appealed to them. Time and again, they chose the ones worn by men with a safely different MHC. (Kluger, in Time)
And in addition, to paraphrase the lyrics of Betty Everett's "It's In His Kiss" just a little, "if you wanna know, if his MHC is different from yours, it's in his kiss, that's where it is":
if the smell of MHC isn't a deal maker or breaker, the taste is. Saliva also contains the compound, a fact that Haselton believes may partly explain the custom of kissing, particularly those protracted sessions that stop short of intercourse. "Kissing," she says simply, "might be a taste test." (Kluger, in Time)

There's even a scientific basis for all those couples in romantic suspense who fall in love really quickly:
Meeting a stranger when physiologically aroused increases the chance of having romantic feelings towards them ... It's all because of a strong connection between anxiety, arousal and attraction. In the "shaky bridge study" carried out by psychologists Arthur Aron and Don Dutton in the 1970s, men who met a woman on a high, rickety bridge found the encounter sexier and more romantic than those who met her on a low, stable one. (Case, in New Scientist)

The Bad News - HEA may turn to Increasing Irritation

The initial glow of falling in love tends to wear off, as described in detail in Kate Nash's "Foundations" (lyrics here, and video and song here), and:
If your spouse already bugs you now, the future is bleak. New research suggests couples view one another as even more irritating and demanding the longer they are together. [...] [Kira] Birditt and U-M colleagues Lisa Jackey and Toni Antonucci looked at how negative views of spouses, friends and children changed over time [...] In all age groups, individuals reported viewing their spouse as the most negative compared with children and friends. The negative view of spouses tended to increase over time. (MSNBC)
Psychologists studying relationships confirm the steady decline of romantic love. Each year, according to surveys, the average couple loses a little spark. One sociological study of marital satisfaction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Penn State University kept track of more than 2,000 married people over 17 years. Average marital happiness fell sharply in the first 10 years, then entered a slow decline. (Schechner, in the Wall Street Journal)

The Good News - True Love Can Last

For some people, however, that initial glow never fades: there are
men and women who say they live in the thrall of early love despite years of marriage, busy jobs and other daily demands that normally chip away at passion. Most couples find that the dizzying, almost-narcotic feeling of early love gives way to a calmer bond. Now, researchers are using laboratory science to investigate [...those] who live fairy-tale romances. (Schechner, in the Wall Street Journal)
Aron has conducted fMRI studies of some of those stubbornly loving pairs, and initial results show that their brains indeed look very much like those of people newly in love, with all the right regions lighting up in all the right ways. "We wondered if they were really feeling these things," Aron says. "But it looks like this is really happening." (Kluger, in Time)
For more on the science of love, RfP's got an index of Time's annual Mind/Body special issue on the theme of "The Science of Romance".

Other News

Harlequin's Valentine's site is now up and there are free short online reads available: an inspirational romance, Family Ever After, by Linda Goodnight, and a vampire paranormal, Desire Calls, by Caridad Piñeiro.

The RNA 2008 Romance Prize for category romances was won by Kate Hardy's Breakfast at Giovanni's. It'll be out in the US in April, with the title In Bed with her Italian Boss.

AAR's Annual Reader Poll closes on the 17th of February 2008. Only novels with a "first US publication date (copyright date) of 2007" are eligible. Laurie Gold has clarified that readers who don't usually visit AAR are eligible to vote: "we want more than simply AAR’s readership involved; we want to draw from the entire community of online romance readers."

The first illustration, from Wikipedia, is of the "theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy in refined mosaic" originally from Hadrian's Villa and now at the Capitoline Museums, Rome.

The second illustration is of Harlequin, from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Voyage of Discovery

Sarah's taken off on a voyage of discovery with her students (but not without first giving them some guidance about what to expect from their brand new genre). She's at Romancing the Blog today, letting us know how her students have responded to their first few classes.

The books on the syllabus are:
Pride and Prejudice, Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Suzanne Brockmann’s Over the Edge, and then the students have a choice of Emma Holly’s Fairyville (erotica) or Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love (inspirational). We’ve just worked our way through that most perfect of romances, Pride and Prejudice, but I started the semester with Monica Jackson’s free, online short story, “The Choice” (PDF link). We used it to examine the RWA’s definition of romance and Pamela Regis’s eight elements of a romance from The Natural History of the Romance
The students' response to Monica Jackson's "The Choice" which was the "first introduction to popular romance fiction for most of my students", was overwhelmingly positive:
they loved it. They loved the feel of it. They loved its focus on the relationship and the emotional growth of the characters. They loved the paranormal element. They loved that it was about African Americans. They loved that it as about a woman who is not perfectly beautiful. They loved its optimism and the way it made them feel. In fact, they loved it specifically for everything that makes it a romance novel. And yet they’d never read anything like it before. And that was a great feeling
Sarah promises to keep us updated, but in the meantime please go over to Romancing the Blog to find out more about what she'll be teaching.

The illustration is a 1946 advert for the Ercoupe, taken from Wikimedia Commons.