Sunday, November 29, 2009

One last call for PCA

The deadline for proposals for the Romance area for the Popular Culture Association national conference is November 30. That's tomorrow, Monday, November 30! So if you want to present a paper on ANY aspect of romance in popular culture (not just romance fiction--we've already got romance and video games, romance and social media, romance and TV shows), please send me and Darcy Martin your proposal.

The conference is in St. Louis, MO, March 31-April 3, 2010 (yes, that's Passover/Easter weekend, but we're done on Saturday night).

Official Call for Proposals/Papers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Romance and Chick Lit Links

Chris Szego on the romance genre and its relationship to fairytales.

Jessica at Read React Review's 'summary of "Reading Romantic Fiction", Chapter 4 of Joanne Hollows’ Feminism Femininity and Popular Culture.'

Chick Lit. Ed. Sarah Gormley and Sara Mills. Working Papers on the Web, 13 (September 2009). This is online and available to be read in full, for free. It contains:
  • 'Introduction'. Sarah Gormley discusses the definition of 'chick lit' and gives a brief history of the genre. She also notes that
    For Harzeswki, the depiction of serial dating in chick lit subverts the primary ‘one woman—one man’ tenet of popular romance identified by Radway (1989); the affording of equal or more attention in chick lit to the quest for self-definition rather than a sole focus on the romance plot shifts emphasis from the centrality of the love story in popular romance; unlike both the novel of manners and the popular romance, chick lit virtually replaces the centrality of the heterosexual hero with the prominence of a gay male best friend; and that narrative closure in the form of an engagement or marriage is not a prerequisite in chick lit reformulates the marriage plot of the novel of manners and the ‘happy ending’ of popular romance fiction.
  • 'Lad lit as mediated intimacy: A postfeminist tale of female power, male vulnerability and toast'. Rosalind Gill suggests that
    Perhaps the most striking feature of lad lit is the difference between the characterisation of masculinity here and in other fictional genres. In traditional romances the heroes are invariably strong, powerful and successful; in spy fiction and military genres they are presented as intelligent, valiant, purposeful; in lad lit, by contrast, readers are offered a distinctly unheroic masculinity—one that is fallible, self-deprecating and liable to fail at any moment.

  • 'When Romantic Heroines Turn Bad: The Rise of the ‘Anti-Chicklit’ Novel.' Sarah Gamble

  • 'Teening Chick Lit?' Imelda Whelehan

  • 'Chick Lit and Marian Keyes: The ideological background of the genre'. Elena Pérez-Serrano

  • 'Chick Lit: A Postfeminist Fairy Tale'. Georgina C. Isbister comments that
    To the extent that Bridget Jones’s Diary and other chick lit novels base their narratives around a love plot, they tend to do so by opposing two types of classic male suitors, the traditional Byronic hero (in Bridget’s case, Daniel Cleaver) and the contemporary nascent feminist hero (Mark Darcy). Here the two heroes together symbolize the protagonist’s negotiations of the traditional gendered romantic fantasy of love versus the contemporary feminist love of equality.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Romance Around the World

George Paizis has written of romantic fiction that
Today the genre originates from two primary sources - North America and the United Kingdom - is written by residents of these countries, acquired and published in these countries, yet translated and sold to tens of millions of readers all over the world. (Love 10)
While I suspect it's probably true that most romances are written, and first published, in English, Paizis seems to have overlooked the Australian and New Zealand romance authors. As far as I know associations for romance authors can be found in the UK (the RNA "started in 1960"), the US (RWA was "chartered in 1981" and has a chapter based in Canada), New Zealand (RWNZ was "founded in 1990"), and Australia (RWA was "formed in 1991"), . So I was very interested when, thanks to Lucy King's blog I came across news of

  • a conference about romantic novels, Jornadas sobre Novela Romántica, held in Sevilla at the beginning of this month. Designed for readers, authors, editors, and booksellers the conference has attracted both authors who write in Spanish and translators who translate romantic fiction into Spanish. There's a pdf introduction to this year's Jornadas here.

  • the launch of the Asociación de Autoras Románticas de España (ADARDE) which aims to support Spanish authors of romantic fiction and raise the profile of the genre in Spain.
The romance genre is popular worldwide and I'm hoping this will be a collaborative post, because I know Teach Me Tonight has an international readership. So, if you know of any other romance writers's organisations, or of websites aimed at romance readers who are based somewhere other than the US and Canada, please leave a comment and I'll try to incorporate the information into the body of the post.


According to
Karin Stoecker, editorial director at Harlequin Mills and Boon, [...] their medical romance programme had a loyal readership.

"Overseas, it's also a very popular programme - it's the best selling in France." (BBC)
Websites for romance readers include: Les Romantiques; Roselia. Onirik has a romance review section.


Websites for romance readers include: Die romantische Bücherecke, Romance Forum and Liebesroman Forum. There is a German magazine dedicated to the genre, LoveLetter (and there's also a LoveLetter blog).

Rike Horstmann of AAR has written an article about the "general disdain with which romances are regarded here [which] is partly dependent on the way they are marketed."

Sandra Schwab observes in the comment below that
German readers have finally started to blog, too, and the number of readers' blogs increases.

Though the German romance market is indeed dominated by English translations, this doesn't mean that there aren't any German romance authors. Most of them (have to) use English pseudonyms, though. Those who don't tend to write romantic comedies or chick lit.

Harlequin Mills & Boon India recently opened its offices there but they already had a strong brand presence. Andrew J Go, the Director of HM&B India says that
"A substantial percentage of Mills & Boon readership in India is male! You don't see that in other markets." Go has speculations on why this is the case. Perhaps it's just the sheer ubiquity of M&B novels: "Their sisters and mothers are reading them and since they are lying around the men read them too." Or perhaps it's because in a culture where information on sex and romance wasn't exactly in large supply, M&B novels were one available source. Perhaps it's just that Indian men appreciate the good read that most M&B novels are. (Doctor, The Economic Times)


Websites for romance readers: Isn't It Romantic?, Juneross Blog, La mia biblioteca romantica, Un mondo rosa and Rosa is for Romance.

Olivia Ardey brought to our attention Mariangela Camocardi (whose many historical novels have been published by Mondadori and Harlequin Mondadori) and the recently published Elisabetta Bricca (published by Harlequin Mondadori). Harlequin Mondadori is
A joint venture, created in 1981 by two large publishing groups - Harlequin Enterprises and Mondadori, Harlequin Mondadori is a specialised publisher of fiction for women and has become a point of reference for a new genre of women's fiction .
Every year Harlequin Mondadori publishes around 650 titles, an average of 50 per month, translated from the originals of around 1,300 Anglo-American writers, and with total sales in 2008 of more than 6 million copies and more than 260 million over twenty years.
The distribution channels used by the company are essentially three: newsstands, retail outlets and direct subscriptions.
Interestingly, despite there being no mention in this summary of the company's activities of romantic fiction written by Italian authors, they clearly are publishing some, in addition to the translations of novels originally written in English.


Websites for romance readers: Ivanhoe Station's blog. According to George Paizis
The taste of Japanese readers is different to that of others. "[They] love stories about Arabian sheiks and Mediterranean heroes but don't like romances set in hospitals or rural American settings." Also, the covers of the books must show less naked skin than those of the US market and use lighter colours. ("Category" 135)

MD comments that
translations from English (mostly US authors) are made very promptly, and sell well both as hardcover and as paperback. The society is dismissive of romance (all the worst stereotypes are magnified many times), but, like in the US, the books do sell. There are Russian authors as well, but even though they are published in Romance series, I would call them women's fiction.

Spain and South America

Amelia Castilla, writing in El País about romantic fiction stated that 'En el año 2000, el porcentaje de venta en el mercado español era mínimo y el año pasado llegó al 4%, lo que supone unos ingresos de unos 30 millones de euros' [In 2000, the percentage on sale in the Spanish market was minimal, and last year [2006] it reached 4%, which translates into sales of around 30 million Euros]

Corín Tellado had her first novel was published in 1946 and continued writing throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first until her recent death. Jo Labanyi's "Romancing the Early Franco Regime: the Novelas Románticas of Concha Linares-Becerra and Luisa-María Linares" focuses on two other authors from this early period. Authors who have arrived on the scene more recently include Florencia Bonelli, from Argentina.

As the news at the beginning of this post demonstrates, there are some very active romantic novelists in Spain today. There would also appear to be increasing numbers of websites for Spanish-speaking romance readers, including: Autoras en la Sombra, Cazadoras del Romance, El rincón romántico, E-románticos, Gauchas Románticas, Noche en Almack's, Universo Romance.

I also found an online romance magazine and a blog written by a reader who reads her novels in English, but reviews them in Spanish.

  • Paizis, George. “Category Romance in the Era of Globalization: The Story of Harlequin.” The Global Literary Field. Ed. Anna Guttman, Michel Hockx and George Paizis. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2006. 126-51.
  • Paizis, George. Love and the Novel: The Poetics of Romantic Fiction. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1998.

The photo of the map of the world is from Wikimedia Commons. It shows a "1763 Chinese map of the world, claiming to incorporate information from a 1418 map. Discovered by Lui Gang in 2005."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eric Enters the Twilight Zone

Eric's been quoted at length in an article in the NY Daily News:
there are at the very least two really contrasting ideas of love in western culture right now, and they've been at work for centuries," says Eric Selinger, an associate professor at DePaul University and the executive editor for the Journal of Popular Romance, an online publication that delves into love and desire as represented in romantic fiction.

An idealized, unconsummated romance like Edward and Bella's, he says, falls in the tradition of Eros, which dates back at least to the Greek poet Sappho in the 7th century.

"The highs are so high and the lows are so low, and its all-consuming and everything else falls away," Selinger says.

This type of love "is really about desire, but without the consequences that come with practical concerns of negotiating a life together.

"It's the tradition that conceives of love as something that transforms the self," he says. In the case of "New Moon," Bella's desire to renounce her humanity and follow her beloved into the world of the undead gives this a literal form.

The transformative aspect of this type of love, Selinger continues, may be especially compelling to teens.

"In terms of young readers, the appeal of the Eros tradition can be really powerful because you're changing so much, and any relationship changes you and introduces you to new emotions, new music, new styles of clothing, potentially a whole new self, as part of your longing for person X."

Edward's refusal to change Bella into a bloodsucking creature of the night also creates a potent experience for readers, Selinger says, in that the story prolongs her moment of hovering on the brink of transformation.

"When you see yourself doubly - you see yourself as you are, you see an image of the person that you would be if the transformation took place - the reader holds on to that really emotionally powerful doubleness," he explains.

"You're one person - and then you are that plus something else, but without the consequences of actually having that new life," which in Bella's case would involve learning to drink the blood of animals. [...]

"It's significant that this story takes the form of a series," Selinger says. "It's one thing to end one story on a note of longing. You leave the book in that wonderful state of expectation, and it's kind of bittersweet.

"But then, there is another desire that starts to kick in. We want that heady moment of possibility before anything happens. But we also want comfort and security and trust and safety.

"One thing that romantic fiction and films do is that they take these contradictory things that we want and turn them into a sequence."

In that way, over the course of four books, the "Twilight" saga also fulfills our desires for the other type of love - the happily ever after kind we'd associate with a book like "Pride and Prejudice" rather than "New Moon."

Rather than the Eros tradition, at the core of which is the individual and his or her desire, "This second tradition is about the couple, and the relationship. It's about two people working out a life together," Selinger says, as happens in "Breaking Dawn."

These two strains of Western romantic love "can appeal to the same reader at different times in his or her life," he continues.
You can read the whole article here.

Ironically Good News

If I ever had to keep confidential the details of my attempts to get a particular paper published, then I no longer have to do so. I've received an acceptance letter for a paper I sent off to a highly respected journal in the field of popular culture. It's very gratifying. But in the context of the most recent unfolding drama elsewhere in the romance community concerning Harlequin's venture into vanity publishing, it does seem somewhat ironic to note that before I can see my paper published I will have to: wait for around 2 years; pay to subscribe to the journal; sign away my copyright. Oh, and there will be no royalties of any sort flowing in my direction, and no "advance" either. This is all absolutely normal in academic publishing (well, apart from the delay in publication, which is a little bit longer than usual). I know the publishing model is very, very different than that for popular fiction, so I'm not trying to criticise the journal. In fact, I wanted to pass on what I think is good news. I'm really happy that my essay is going to be in the Journal of Popular Culture. As I said, it's a very respectable peer-reviewed journal, and I hope that my paper will help bring to wider attention the most recent wave of romance scholarship.

All the same, it does seem deeply ironic that the acceptance letter for my paper on "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Harlequin Mills and Boon Romances" should arrive during this particular controversy. I'm not worried about my paper becoming obsolete. In fact, in the paper itself I point out that the romance genre is a fast-changing one. But I do wonder what the situation will be with Harlequin, the RWA, and romance publishing in two years' time when my paper finally appears.

The image was taken from the Journal of Popular Culture's website. I hope they won't mind. The website has four pictures at the top, of an alien, a pair of superheroes, a horrified woman, and a spy. I didn't really feel I could make the others remotely relevant to the present post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heyer 2009: K. Elizabeth Spillman: 'Cross Dressing and Disguise'

K. Elizabeth Spillman is currently working on fairy tales at the University of Pennsylvania, having completed an MA Thesis in Literature at the University of Wales, Bangor in 2007. This thesis, titled "The Morphology of a Love Story: Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic Structures in Romance Fiction," focused on Austen and Heyer. Spillman has also studied the ways in which
Fairy tales have provided a body of imagery adapted by the wedding complex and used to elevate a single day and its rituals to iconic status, at once universalizing the bridal experience by connecting it to familiar narratives, and individualizing it with the promise of the extraordinary. As the mainstream American wedding becomes ever-more extravagant and complex, these intertexts are called upon to provide accessible imagery in the project of constructing meaning for an increasingly commercialized ritual. (abstract of paper presented to the American Folklore Society in 2008)
Whereas modern brides may be choosing to dress themselves as fairytale princesses, a number of Heyer's early heroines choose, or are forced, to disguise themselves as men. In 'Cross Dressing and Disguise in Heyer’s Historical Romances' Spillman observed that disguises may in some ways reveal almost as much as they conceal. If gender is performative, then this is revealed by the act of wearing drag. Spillman raised the question of whether heroines who wear male drag expand or obscure their identities, and she also suggested that drag might be the impersonation of gender.

Disguise in Heyer's novels is certainly not limited to wearers of drag. Spillman noted that the hero of The Black Moth [1921] is an aristocrat in disguise and in Powder and Patch [1923] Philip in a sense disguises himself as a fop. Again this seems to raise issues concerning gender, since Philip believes that being a fop is "unmanly." Eventually, however, his costume becomes his identity, and in performing he has become transformed.

Spillman discussed three Heyer novels which include cross-dressing. These are
  • These Old Shades [1926] - in which Léonie, the heroine, has lived as a boy for years. The Duke of Avon declares that he knew from the beginning that "Léon" was really a "Léonie." She rejects femininity to start with as she feels it is unnatural. For a long time after she is obliged to reassume her female identity she continues to keep a suit of masculine clothes for recreational purposes. She also learns to fence and attacks her kidnapper. Although she gradually learns to be a lady, she does not give up all aspects of her former masculine identity and she retains some of the agency she had as a boy.

  • The Masqueraders [1928] - in which the reader is introduced to the heroine, Prudence, while she is disguised as a man, and the secondary hero, her brother Robin, is disguised as a woman. The Lacey siblings have not been forced into their masquerade to the same extent as Léonie was. Peter and Kate are truly accomplished drag artists. Prudence/Peter begins to feel more like a man than a woman, but she observes her own performance and assesses how good her disguise is. She is thus constantly aware that she is performing. Sir Anthony is perhaps alerted to her true gender by the "odd liking" he feels for her and he admires the courage of her performance. [LV comment: Some time after he has worked out that Peter is female, Sir Anthony reveals that "I've had suspicions of your secret since the first evening you dined with me."]

    Robin/Kate seems more confident in his disguise. Indeed,
    There could be no fault found [...] in his deportment. [...] Prudence watched him with a critical eye. He had several times before donned this woman's garb, but never for so long a stretch. She had coached him to the best of her ability, but well as she knew him could still fear some slip. She had to admit knowledge of him was deficient yet. Sure, he might have been born to it. [...] He seemed to know by instinct how to flirt his fan, and how to spread his wide skirts for the curtsy.
    Perhaps because of this he is also given the opportunity to spend more time performing his male role, rescuing Miss Grayson and, as a masked stranger, receiving her admiration. He masters both genders and moves fluidly between them. Unlike Prue, his disguise is not guessed at by his beloved.

  • The Corinthian [1940]- in which the hero assists the heroine, Pen Creed, in perfecting her masculine disguise. Her disguise is not hidden from him and although the disguise is not very successful in helping the heroine to get the husband she initially wants, she does escape an unwanted husband. There is more comedy in the disguise/cross-dressing in this novel than in the previous two. For example, the novel ends thus:
    The coach lumbered on down the road; as it reached the next bend, the roof passengers, looking back curiously to see the last of a very odd couple, experienced a shock that made one of them nearly lose his balance. The golden-haired stripling was locked in the Corinthian's arms, being ruthlessly kissed.
    "Lawks a-mussy on us! whatever is the world a-coming to?" gasped the roof passenger, recovering his seat. "I never did in all my born days!"
    "Richard, Richard, they can see us from the coach!" expostulated Pen, between tears and laughter.
    "Let them see!" said the Corinthian.
    The breach of heteronormativity is the punchline. The Corinthian is Heyer's last cross-dressing novel and forms part of a move towards comedy in Heyer's later novels.
There is also a rather brief, comic cross-dressing attempt in The Talisman Ring [1936] when Ludovic disguises himself as a clumsy maid. [LV comment: Another brief instance of cross-dressing can be found in Simon the Coldheart [1925] when Lady Margaret disguises herself as a boy in a futile attempt to escape from Simon.]

In Faro's Daughter [1941] the heroine does not dress as a man, but she does long for male agency: "Oh, if I were a man, to be able to call him out, and run him through, and through, and through!" Her aunt sighs and responds that she "can't think where you get such unladylike notions!" Although she does not dress as a man, she does for a short while adopt a different identity [LV comment: that of a woman of a lower social class].

In Regency Buck [1935] Judith Taverner races her curricle in a way that is not appropriate for a lady. Heyer's later heroines thus show independence within a female gender identity rather than by contravening social norms and dressing as male. Spillman suggests that Heyer used cross-dressing to explore how women could appropriate power, but she later taught herself to empower her heroines without resorting to cross-dressing.

[LV comment: Spillman's paper, about heroines who dress as men and thus gain the ability to act and talk like men, reminded me of the discussions we've had in the romance community about how readers relate to the heroes and heroines of romances. As usual when it comes to my thoughts on how people read, what follows is mostly speculation on my part, as I (a) attempt to work through what other people have written about their process of reading and (b) attempt to draw parallels with Spillman's argument.

I wonder if there's a similarity between some of the cross-dressing heroines of romance and some romance readers who, as Laura Kinsale has suggested, imaginatively become the heroes of the novels they read:
I think that, as she identifies with a hero, a woman can become what she takes joy in, can realize the maleness in herself, can experience the sensation of living inside a body suffused with masculine power and grace [...], can explore anger and ruthlessness and passion and pride and honor and gentleness and vulnerability [...]. In short, she can be a man. (37)
These readers aren't physically cross-dressing but, Kinsale suggests, during the time they spend engrossed in the novel, they are able to dress themselves in a male body in order to appropriate male power. Perhaps, to parallel the development in Heyer's heroines, these readers are thus enabled to integrate into their daily lives as women some of the masculine behaviours and emotions they have learned from their time spent "cross-dressing" as heroes.]


The photo is of a "Robe à la française or open gown with stomacher, 1740s, England," from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heyer 2009: Sarah Annes Brown: ‘Lady of Quality and Homosexual Panic’

Sarah Annes Brown tends to teach Shakespeare, Renaissance literature and Tragedy. Her Devoted Sisters: Representations of the Sister Relationship in Nineteenth-Century British and American Literature, however, "draws on recent psychoanalytical and anthropological research to illuminate nineteenth-century depictions of the sister relationship. Building on the work of Girard and Kosofsky Sedgwick, Brown concludes her study with an exploration of the Deceased Wife's Sister Act and the 'lesbian incest effect'." (Ashgate). Unfortunately for Sarah, she was still recuperating from a bad cold during the colloquium, but this did not prevent her either from introducing the other speakers or from giving her own paper. Ironically, the subject of her paper, Miss Annis Wychwood, was also convalescing at the end of the novel in which she finds herself, though from the flu rather than from a cold. [LV comment: clearly Annis's companion, Miss Farlow's, garrulousness and propensity to digress have affected me! I hope you will all excuse any further instances of "bibble-babble" for I, too, am "desperately anxious to please," although perhaps not quite as desperately anxious as Miss Farlow because as she once said ....]

In ‘Lady of Quality and Homosexual Panic’ Brown was once again drawing on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, this time to explore the idea of "homosexual panic." This was a term used by Sedgwick to describe how men felt in a period when male homosocial contact was encouraged but homosexual activity was illegal and taboo. [LV comment: Ron Becker has written that "homosexual panic," in the sense in which it is used by Kosofsky Sedgwick, occurred when "the line that separated acceptable homosociality from unacceptable homosexuality was unstable" (20) and "bespeaks a wider social anxiety - specifically that stirred up by the unstable boundary between categories of sexual identity" (21). More on Kosofsky Sedgwick's ideas about "homosexual panic" can be found in her "Toward the Gothic: Terrorism and Homosexual Panic," a chapter in her Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, particularly pages 89 (final paragraph)-90 and in Epistemology of the Closet (see pages 19-21) she elaborated on the differences between her usage of the term and the way it has been used as a legal defence in court cases.]

Brown wishes to explore "homosexual panic" in this paper largely with reference to the female characters. In the novel we see women mixing with women, being chaperoned by women, living with a person of their own sex and having female friends. If a woman was not married, it was not socially acceptable for her to live with a man or alone. Brown is not suggesting that Heyer's female characters are depicted as experiencing "homosexual panic," but she would like to raise the possibility that at least some of Heyer's readers might feel (or have felt) it on their behalf.

So, is there anxiety about being or becoming lesbian in the background of Lady of Quality? Annis, the heroine, is 29 and an "old maid" who lives with Miss Farlow, a poor relation of hers. It would have been more conventional for Annis to have continued to live with her brother. There is nothing sexual between Annis and Miss Farlow but Amabel, Annis's sister-in-law, and Annis once had the following conversation about Annis's living arrangements and her relationship with her brother, Geoffrey:
'[...] The only time when we have been in perfect agreement was when he assured me that I should love his wife!
'Oh, Annis!' protested Lady Wychwood, blushing, and turning away her head. 'You shouldn't say such things! Besides, I can't believe you mean it, when you won't continue living with me!'
'What a rapper!' commented Annis, the laughter still dancing in her eyes. 'I could live happily with you for the rest of my days, as well you know! It's my very worthy, starched-up, and consequential brother with whom I can't and won't live. Yes, isn't it unnatural of me?'
The discussion between the pair moves on to a review of Annis's suitors:
'Stop, stop!' begged Annis laughingly. 'I found nothing to dislike in any of them, but I couldn't discover in myself the smallest wish to marry any of them either. Indeed, I haven't any wish to marry anyone at all.'
'But, Annis, every woman must wish to be married!' cried Lady Wychwood, quite shocked.
'Now that provides the answer to what people will think when they see me living in my own house instead of at Twynham!' exclaimed Annis. 'They will think me an Eccentric! Ten to one, I shall become one of the Sights of Bath [...] I shall be pointed out as -'
Amabel interrupts her at this point, so we do not discover precisely what Annis thinks she will be "pointed out as." The thought is left hanging, with readers left to fill in the blank. Under the influence of "homosexual panic" what could be thought of an "unnatural," "Eccentric" and shocking woman who feels no desire to marry a man but admits to loving her sister-in-law and who states that she "could live happily with" that sister-in-law "for the rest of my days"?

The reader learns all of this via a flashback and the main action of the novel begins when, en route to Bath, Annis encounters Lucilla Carleton, a very young, and a very pretty girl" who hopes to become a lady's companion [LV comment: Lucilla, like Annis, is avoiding marriage]. Annis suggests that if she is "set on being a companion, come and be a companion to me!" Miss Farlow's feelings are "wounded by the imputation that her own companionship did not suffice Miss Wychwood." Having arrived in Bath, Annis changes out of her travelling clothes and checks up on Lucilla:
she went to tap on the door of the Pink bedchamber, and upon being bidden to come in, found her protégée charmingly attired in sprig muslin [...] and with her dusky curls brushed free of tangles. They clustered about her head, in the artless style known as the Sappho
This reference to Sappho, the famous lesbian poet, in the context of a visit by one women to another's bedchamber, can hardly serve to calm any existing "homosexual panic" and we soon learn that Lucilla's father had a close personal relationship with another man:
Papa [...] was killed at Corunna, and Lord Iverley - well, he wasn't Lord Iverley then, but Mr William Elmore [...] has never been the same same man since Papa died. They were bosom-bows, you see, from the time when they were both at Harrow, and even joined the same regiment, and were never parted until Papa was killed!
Lucilla's paternal uncle, Oliver Carleton, comments on his brother's relationship with William Elmore that
At Harrow, he formed a close, and, to my mind, a pretty mawkish friendship with young Elmore. They were both army-mad, and joined the same regiment when they left Harrow. [...] I knew, of course, when he bought Chartley Manor [close to Elmore's home] that the bosom-bow friendship between him and Elmore was as strong as ever, and I suppose I should have guessed that such a pair of air-dreamers would have hatched a scheme to achieve a closer relationship by marrying Elmore's heir to Charles's daughter.
Brown commented that Sedgwick would no doubt have pounced on this plan to marry Lucilla Carleton to Ninian Elmore because she wrote about the various ways in which women were used as conduits to strengthen bonds between men. [LV comment: For example, in Devoted Sisters Brown mentioned
the male pairs described by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Between Men. Here she argues that men who woo the same woman use her as a conduit to strengthen their own relationship. Such a process might appear specifically patriarchal, dependent upon a society characterised by 'the use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men,' (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1985, 25-6). (Brown 147)]
Annis and Oliver Carleton do consider the possibility that the marriage between Lucilla to Ninian was proposed, or at least continued to be promoted, for mercenary motives:
'Well, that is what I suspect,' nodded Miss Wychwood, 'but it is only right that I should tell you that Ninian says it is no such thing. He says his father has never had a mercenary thought in his head.'
'On the whole,' said Mr Carleton, with considerable acerbity, 'I should think the better of him if his motive had been mercenary! This mawkish reason for trying to marry Lucilla to his son merely because he and my brother were as thick as inkle-weavers fairly turns my stomach!
Clearly Oliver Carleton has a strong dislike of what he's choosing to term "mawkish" behaviour.

Strong suspicions might also be raised by Annis's own behaviour, for as her brother points out, "To all intents and purposes you [Annis] have kidnapped the girl [Lucilla]!" and when Oliver Carleton appears in Bath to investigate the situation he reveals that Lord Iverley had informed him
'[...] that if I wished to rescue my ward from the clutches of what he feared was a designing female, calling herself Miss Wychwood, I must leave for Bath immediately.'
'Well, if that is not the outside of enough!' she said wrathfully. 'Calling myself Miss Wychwood, indeed! And in what way am I supposed to have designs on Lucilla, pray?'
'That he didn't disclose.'
The possible designs remain undisclosed, which again leaves hanging a possibility which could be supplied by the brain of a reader suffering from 'homosexual panic.'

Interestingly, after this meeting between Annis and Oliver, any panic in the text is firmly focused on their relationship because of Oliver's dubious reputation. From this point onwards, references which could be interpreted as implying lesbian activity or desires vanish from the novel. It makes sense that "lesbian panic" should vanish precisely at the moment that Annis begins a heterosexual relationship.

[LV comment: Jennifer Kloester mentioned in her presentation that it is possible Heyer suppressed The Great Roxhythe (1922), which she described as "this immature, ill-fated work," at least in part because it might be deemed to have a homosexual slant. She also noted that there are lesbian characters in Penhallow. Lisa Fletcher has observed in her “‘Mere Costumery’? Georgette Heyer’s Cross-Dressing Novels,” in Masquerades: Disguise in English Literature from the Middle Ages to the Present, Eds. Pilar Sánchez Calle and Jesús López-Paláez Casellas, (Gdansk: University of Gdansk Press, 2004). 196-212, that in The Masqueraders
Sir Anthony does not guess Peter's secret immediately. Instead, it is precisely his growing "interest" in a young man which rouses his suspicions: "I believe [...] I have an odd liking for you, little man. One of these strange twists in one's affections for which there is no accounting" (99-100). The romantic hero will always see through false costume. If, like Sir Anthony, the hero does not expressly guess the cross-dressed heroine's secret immediately, when he does finally realise or learn the truth, he also realises that he has in fact known inarticulately or subconsciously all along. (208)
Fletcher concludes that in such novels "Homosexual desire is both abnormal ("strange," "odd") and always already heterosexual (the boy is really a girl)" (209).]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heyer 2009: Catherine Johns: ‘Class and Breeding’

Catherine Johns is an archaeologist and retired museum curator who has published both academic and popular books on Roman art and archaeology, on Graeco-Roman erotic imagery, and two books on animals in human culture, Horses: History, Myth, Art and Dogs: History, Myth, Art. These latter works have some bearing on the paper she presented at the colloquium, Class and Breeding.’

Johns began by pointing out that Heyer had ways of thinking which would have seemed self-evident to people of her generation. Heyer was born in 1902, lived through the First World War and was middle-aged by the end of the Second World War. Although great social changes came into effect after the Second World War, Heyer's attitudes had already been formed. Nowadays some of these attitudes seem quaint or even shocking. We read Heyer through the filters of (1) Heyer's historical settings (2) Heyer's early twentieth-century perceptions and (3) our own attitudes.

She was a contemporary of Patricia Wentworth, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Mary Renault, a generation that has now, itself, passed into history. It is easier to perceive Heyer's own attitudes if one reads her contemporary novels. Her detective fiction, published between 1932 and 1953, remains readily available and provides insights into her perception of her own times, such as her loathing of the increasingly heavy taxation of the rich, and her acceptance of national stereotypes.

It must also be borne in mind that Heyer was writing comedy so stereotypes about class are used for comic effect. Sometimes her humour is broad and boisterous, even reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse. The end of The Grand Sophy is pure farce and Heyer's use of language and dialect, including the use of 'cant' often produces deliberately humorous effects. On occasion she also included characters' words, spoken in French, in English but with French word order, again for comic effect. These linguistic techniques, standard in earlier twentieth-century comedy, are paralleled by her exaggeration of class markers.

Heyer was not snobbish in the sense of believing that some classes were intrinsically superior to others. She specifically mocks assumptions of that kind in The Unknown Ajax. However, her observations of class, and her consciousness of it, result in the use of class signifiers to "mark" the characters.

In the period when Heyer was growing to adulthood, the relative influence of nature vs. nurture was much discussed (and it is, in fact, still open to debate). By the early twentieth century popular ideas about the issue had been partially influenced by the ideas of scientists such as Lamarck (1744-1829), Darwin (1809-1882) and Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton (1822-1911), who has now fallen into disrepute because of his beliefs about eugenics. Ideas about human "types" and "breeds" were also affected by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments in the breeding of livestock. A Shire horse is clearly different from a Thoroughbred because each had been bred to perpetuate and emphasise particular qualities. While this does not mean that one is better than the other, they are different, and suited to different types of work. Similarly, an earl might not be considered "better" than a man of the working class, but he would have been thought to be suited for a different role in life. It would have seemed easy to provide evidence for such allegedly innate class differences because there was so little opportunity for class mobility: children usually remained in the same social class as their parents.

Social rigidity really only began to break down drastically after the Second World War and it not until after 1945 that higher education was opened up to people from a wider range of social backgrounds. Social stratification was thus far more visible during the period in which Heyer began writing but Johns used a still image from a sketch from The Frost Report (1966-67) to illustrate the types of ideas about class and breeding which survived at the time the sketch was first broadcast (though, obviously, at this point they were being brought into question and parodied). Here's the video version:

There's a transcript below. Note that it includes a reference to "innate breeding."

Animal breeding experiments seemed to confirm popular belief in the primacy of nature over nurture. Inbreeding (the mating of close blood relatives) was seen to produce the "best" animals i.e. those who reliably demonstrated the expected qualities of their breed. Similarly, among humans, royalty tended to marry royalty, peasants married peasants, and the middle classes also tended to marry among themselves. Marrying outside one's social class was seen as a huge risk. Nowadays we know about the many dangers of inbreeding but the practical improvements in livestock over two centuries of planned breeding at first seemed wholly positive, reinforcing the belief that keeping "to one’s own kind" was a good thing. The Second World War and the horrors of Nazism brought many of these ideas into disrepute but the traditional admiration for "pure" bloodlines still survives among some dog breeders.

Heyer was a dog lover. She knew about canine character types and knew that a dog's personality, as well as its appearance, is affected by its breed. In her works, however, pedigree animals are not necessarily shown to be the best. Lufra, the "Baluchistan hound" in Frederica is a fine dog, despite being a mongrel. Likewise, some of Heyer's middle class characters have admirable qualities, despite their "vulgarity," and many of her aristocrats have thoroughly disreputable traits. It is These Old Shades, an early work, which contains the most overt references to innate class differences, thus favouring nature over nurture.

"Cross-bred" individuals who cross class boundaries were thought (like cross-bred dogs) to resemble one or other of their parents, or be an unpredictable mixture. One of the benefits of cross-breeding was that it could counter the negative effects of in-breeding. In Devil's Cub the offspring of an aristocratic father and a middle-class mother are Mary Challoner, an intelligent and sensible young woman with the manners of a lady, and Sophia, whom Johns described as a "feather-brained little tart" who, even had she received the same educational opportunities that Mary enjoyed, would not have benefited from them because she is not very bright.

Heyer, then, observed, accepted and recorded the class distinctions she saw all around her, but she admired intelligence, education, practical common sense and competence in all individuals, regardless of their social status.

John Cleese: I look down on him (indicates Ronnie Barker) because I am upper class.
Barker: I look up to him (Cleese) because he is upper class. But I look down on him (Ronnie Corbett) because he is lower class. I am middle class.
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But I don’t look up to him (Barker) as much as I look up to him (Cleese), because he has got innate breeding.
Cleese: I have got innate breeding, but I have not got any money. So sometimes I look up (bends knees) to him (Barker).
Barker: I still look up to him (Cleese) because although I have money, I am vulgar. But I am not as vulgar as him (Corbett) so I still look down on him (Corbett).
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But while I am poor, I am industrious, honest, and trustworthy. Had I the inclination, I could look down on them. But I don't.
Barker: We all know our place, but what do we get out of it?
Cleese: I get a feeling of superiority over them.
Barker: I get a feeling of inferiority from him, (Cleese), but a feeling of superiority over him (Corbett).
Corbett: I get a pain in the back of my neck.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Heyer 2009: Kerstin Frank: ‘The Thermodynamics of Georgette Heyer'

Kerstin Frank works at the University of Heidelberg. She is the author of Die Erneuerung des Romans im Zeichen postmoderner Realitätsauffassung: Sinnstiftung und Sinnzerstörung in Christine Brooke-Roses Werk but has now moved on from studying postmodern British novels to working on the eighteenth-century fantastic and gothic genres. As a result, this year she is teaching a course on "Werewolf and Vampire: Manifestations of Otherness and the Transgression of Boundaries."

In "The Thermodynamics of Georgette Heyer: Variations on the Quest for Revitalisation" Frank drew on thermodynamics, a branch of physics which deals with the conversion of energy. [LV comment: at this point it might (or might not!) help to turn to Flanders and Swann's "First and Second Laws"

The lyrics to this can be found here or here]

So, thermodynamics explains that heat passes from a hot object, whose particles move around more, to a cold body, which has relatively little kinetic energy. Historical romances also depict the interactions between hot and cold bodies. Coolness tends to be used metaphorically to describe a lack of emotion (e.g. "as cold as a fish"). In Heyer's novels upper-class life is critiqued and described humorously. It can be thought of as "cold" because it is relatively static, with the boundaries of upper-class behaviour clearly defined. Members of the ton tend to have high social status, but they must demonstrate indifference to the details of money and fashion. "Warm" or emotionally exuberant behaviour is frowned on, as when Lady Bridlington is displeased by Arabella's rescue of a chimney sweep in Arabella. The ton is, however, fascinated by those who transgress the limits of polite, "cold" behaviour.

Heyer's heroes often show their "cold" indifference by stifling yawns or fiddling with their neckties. Many of them are affluent and have perfected an attitude of coldness and indifference. They despise society but nonetheless epitomise its rules in their exaggerated boredom and adherence to the rules of dress. Such heroes may have cynically bored eyes, sleepy eyes, sleepy gazes or may cast lazy glances. This indifference, arrogance and coldness are to be found in the hero of The Corinthian, who is called an "iceberg" and whose
air proclaimed his unutterable boredom, but no tailoring, no amount of studied nonchalance, could conceal the muscle in his thighs, or the strength of his shoulders. Above the starched points of his shirt-collar, a weary, handsome face showed its owner's disillusionment. Heavy lids drooped over grey eyes which were intelligent enough, but only to observe the vanities of the world; the smile which just touched that resolute mouth seemed to mock the follies of Sir Richard's fellow men.
Such heroes use their coldness to intimidate others. Even Freddy Standen, in Cotillion, uses a prop to coolly intimidate another by viewing him slowly through his quizzing glass:
Upon Mrs Scorton's reappearance, she found herself confronted, not by the fool of his family, but by the Honourable Frederick Standen, a Pink of the Pinks, who knew to a nicety how to blend courtesy with hauteur, and who informed her, with exquisite politeness, that he rather fancied his cousin was tired, and would like to be taken home. One of the uninvited guests, entering the box in Eliza's wake, ventured on a warm sally, found himself being inspected from head to foot through a quizzing-glass, and stammered an apology.
The eye, hideously magnified by the glass, continued to stare at him for an unnerving moment. 'Ah, just so!' said Mr Standen, letting the glass fall at last. 'Come, Kit! Your very obedient, ma'am!'
These heroes' coldness is challenged by the arrival of their heroines. Particles start to clash and warmth is generated:
It was not the practice of young ladies to put up their chins in just that style if Mr Beaumaris levelled his glass at them: they were more in the habit of simpering, or of trying to appear unconscious of his regard. But Mr Beaumaris saw that there was a decidedly militant sparkle in this lady's eye, and his interest, at first tickled, was now fairly caught.
The heroes are forced to abandon their coolness and become engaged in the messy events of the plot. The tension between hot and cold is never resolved [LV comment: in the words of Flanders and Swann, they do not reach a state of "perfect peace"] because the heroes continue to possess enough coolness to sort out the tangles of the plot, as Freddy does in Cotillion or as Mr Beaumaris does in Arabella, while the liveliness and warmth of the heroines continue to provide a contrast.

Karin E. Westman, in "A Story of Her Weaving: The Self-Authoring Heroines of Georgette Heyer's Regency Romances," Doubled Plots: Romance and History, ed. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden (Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2003), pp. 165-184, proposes three categories of Heyer heroines, each with differing degrees of maturity and control. The younger heroines who are less knowledgeable about society provide more of a contrast with their heroes. Older and more experienced heroines who know the ways of the world may satirise the hero's detachment. In Sylvester Phoebe may be relatively young but she is knowledgeable and she fights Sylvester verbally with the weapons of honesty and parody. She is not awed by his cool demeanour and he is eventually forced to reassess his emotional detachment. Sometimes, as in Venetia, heroines become an ally for the hero, sharing with him the fun of ridiculing society.

Heyer's heroines tend to be unconventional, possibly adopting certain aspects of masculine behaviour and language. This can unbalance the heroes and allow them to distance themselves from the social rules. With their heroines they can find a separate, private space where warmth is allowed. This private space remains very limited, however: the rules must still be adhered to in public.

Frank concluded by acknowledging that in her paper she had been forced into generalisations due to time constraints and she acknowledged that there is scope in Heyer's work for plenty of variations on the contrast between cold and hot.

She also stated that it is Heyer's humour, her awareness of clichés and patterns and her metafictional streak which set her apart from many other romance authors.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heyer 2009: Mary Joannou: ‘Heyer and Austen’

Mary Joannou is Professor of Literary History and Women's Writing at Anglia Ruskin University and she's listed in the database of researchers at "The Middlebrow Network [which] is an AHRC-funded project that provides a focus for research on the loaded and disreputable term 'middlebrow' and the areas of cultural production it purports to represent."

In Heyer and Austen Mary Joannou noted that Jane Austen has been a very important figure for twentieth-century women authors and their debt to her was perhaps particularly intense in the 1940s. In Leavis's The Great Tradition he wrote that Austen's place in the "great tradition" of English novelists had been secured by her "marked moral intensity" but Joannou observed that he both put a premium on difficulty (and Austen is not a particularly difficult author to read) and failed to take account of her humour and use of irony.

In the 1950s postmodernism was in the ascendant but so too was Regency-set fiction. Joannou suggests that one could perhaps see Heyer's irony and humour as a signal that she was a "postmodernist avant la lettre."

Austen took comic delight in absurdity and self-delusion, and playfulness is Elizabeth Bennet's most noted characteristic. It is a similar use of humour which readers also love in Heyer. She is "fun" and her heroines are quick-witted. Heyer was writing through the Depression and the Second World War and her humour perhaps provided an antidote to the bleakness of these decades. Although there are differences between Heyer and Austen, their use of humour leapfrogs over the seriousness of the Victorian period and Joannou believes that in order for Heyer to be taken seriously, we have to see that both she and Austen were writing intellectual comedies.

Both also draw on the work of previous women writers. Austen took her cue from Maria Edgeworth and Frances Burney (Joannou sees borrowings from Burney in Pride and Prejudice), but she also parodies the gothic in Northanger Abbey. Similarly, Heyer's debt to Austen only goes so far. In The Grand Sophy, for example, the scene in Goldhanger's rooms evokes the outrageous. Austen's heroines would never have pulled out a gun the way Sophy does. Nor does Sophy's matchmaking interference much resemble Emma Woodhouse's. Emma may interfere, but she wouldn't have shot Charlbury. Austen's is only a very "partial, ironic tutelage."

So are Heyer's references to history more than "costumery"? [LV comment: this is a reference to Georg Lukács. As Lisa Fletcher has written:
Georg Lukács begins his famous study of the historical novel by discounting from his consideration those "historical novels" in which "history is ... treated as mere costumery: where it is only the curiosities and oddities of the milieu that matter, not an artistically faithful image of a concrete historical epoch" (19). (Fletcher 49) ]
The Regency was characterised by profligacy, philandering, excess. These traits find their way obliquely into Austen in the persons of Wickham and Willoughby. In Heyer sexuality is obliquely present: Barbara Childe in An Infamous Army is a femme fatale. The clergymen in Austen reveal her moral values, although not all of them are impressive. In Heyer the clergymen are different. Austen and Heyer also differ in their depiction of the gradations of society, for whereas Austen has Fanny Price and her family, Heyer concentrates on the ton and brilliant matches.

The Regency was also a period of political radicalism but neither Austen nor Heyer particularly deal with this. They pay more attention to matters of style, fashion, manners, breeding. It seems as though despite (or perhaps because of) the wartime austerity which surrounded her, Heyer was delighting in excess, and public events of the Regency era assume prominence. Austen, however, tended to avoid public events and "real solemn history" (to quote Catherine Morland) was not to her taste. She deals with the ordinary, with women's strategies for coping.

This difference illustrates the slippage that is inevitable because Heyer, in writing historical romantic fiction, was mixing romance, which tends to depict an ideal world, with history, which depicts a verifiable world. She weaves fact into her fiction and we are thus reading an artefact.

Austen's novels, however, are set in the present, so there is no need for explanations of familiar fashions. Heyer, by contrast, had to make the past seem vivid by describing such details. [LV comment: this is a point I brought up prior to the colloquium in my brief post inspired by the title of Joannou's paper]. Austen tends to draw attention to fashion when she wishes to show which people are morally worthless (e.g. Lydia). Heyer's emphasis on fashion, which has been disparaged, can be read as mocking the mainstream. It takes delight in the performative possibilities of dress which allows for game-playing. A new wardrobe of clothes is transformative, e.g. in Friday's Child. An ingenue can be transformed into a glamorous woman in this playful utopia, and fashion is bound up with dreams and yearnings. Even the word "cotillion" which Heyer used as the title for one of her novels, is the name of a dance derived from the French for "petticoats." It is not only women who are interested in Heyer's Regency world: her men can and do take an interest in fashion too, in a way which was not possible for men in the period in which Heyer was writing. This allows for some fluidity in gender, but also offers up the male body for display (and consumption by female readers).

Joannou concluded by noting that Austen's novels depict youthful heroines who enter into equal marriages in which the wife does not show deference to her husband. This is also to be found in Heyer, but her historical accuracy does not extend to the sensibility of the period or to women's feelings at the time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Romance Webinar from ALA and Booklist

Wondering if I can live blog "Sweet Talk: Romance Fiction in the Library," a webinar by the American Library Association and Booklist.

It's a online seminar, in which the participants can listen in to the panelists' presentations but are in "listen only" mode. We'll get a PDF of the slides used in the webinar later and a recording will be posted within two weeks.

John Charles: Reference librarian at Scottsdale Public Library, AZ. 2002 RWA Librarian of the Year. (Oops, technical difficulties. Technology makes our life easier.) "Romance Statistics: Or, What's in it for Libraries." Why should libraries care about romances? 13.5% of ALL books sold are romance. Romance can transfer into circulation statistics for libraries. Not all romances are the same. Uses RWA definition of What is Romance and then discusses subgenres. Talks about Historical Romance: reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. In fact, Charles argues that we're in a Historical Romance renaissance. Shows Eloisa James, Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, and Amanda Quick as examples of historical romance (also uses Boyle, Kleypas, Jeffries). Three authors who practically defined romance are doing comebacks: [someone], Jude Deveraux, Laura Kinsale. Kathleen Korbell/Eileen Dryer is coming to historical romance. New authors: Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Meredith Duran, Alissa Johnson. Trends in romance: (1). Books in series: Kathryn Kaskie as one of most unique (never heard of her). (2). HR moving into Victorian romance as well. (3). Return of the Western: Jo Goodman and others.

Kayleigh George, Library Marketing Coordinator at HarperCollins: Shout-out to A list of Avon's new books. Really a marketing opportunity for HCP/Avon. Joss Ware--back to back releases--more zombies. Rachel Gibson has another hockey book in April. Crafting has become a huge trend in romances: Lori Wilde and Rachael Herron.

Shelley Mosley, 2001 RWA Librarian of the Year award. Also won Veritas Award (twice) and is also an author. o_0 "The Myth of the Fairy Tale Princess in Romance Novels." If you're looking for "spunky" heroines, romance is the right place. (I've got such a dirty mind.) Slam on a hunkalicious cover. "The only people who say romance novels are anti-feminist are those who haven't read one." Really? A bit too expansive for me. Just listing some of her favorite romances (mostly historicals but she covers most series).

Cheryl Herman Library marketing for Books on Tape: Romances exceeding all expectations in today's difficult economy. Compares romance to "comfort food"--yuck. Audio books promote sense of intimacy and take you back to earlier time in human and personal history with oral traditions. Women's fiction/romance imprints are completely outpacing all the other genres BOT puts out. Again, another opportunity for the speaker just to market their products.

I had to duck out before Madeline Hunter finished her presentation on RWA, but I saw the beginning, and she's talking about connection between libraries and RWA, including grant opportunities and RWA website.

I didn't realize that the Webinar was basically a marketing opportunity. I didn't know what I THOUGHT it was going to be, but it's really just marketing for the presenters (HarperCollins and Books On Tape). The librarians, on the other hand, just list a bunch of books they really like. Which is great. But I was hoping for something with a little more meat to it. I think John Charles had the most substance, in that he followed through on some romance trends.

I loved the format, though, and it's certainly something for IASPR to think about. Online "webinars" on romance scholarship every now and then, maybe in conjunction with the release of JPRS issues? Hmmm....

Heyer 2009: Sam Rayner: 'Publishing Heyer'

Sam Rayner has published work on Ricardian poetry and she lectures on publishing. In her paper, Publishing Heyer: Representing the Regency in Historical Romance,’ she explored the ways in which Heyer's novels have been marketed in the UK via their cover art and copy. As Rayner observed, Heyer herself "was never too busy to care about this aspect of her work" (Aiken Hodge 176). The paper was illustrated by a great many slides which, unfortunately, I cannot reproduce in full in this summary but I've included pictures of, and links to, some of the covers mentioned by Rayner.

Rayner began by looking at the recent reissues by Arrow Books, which is part of Random House. The cover of Cousin Kate shows part of Charles Haigh Wood's Love Will Triumph. [LV comment - as far as I can tell, Haigh Wood was born in 1856 and died in 1927, so his paintings look back to the Regency period, rather than being contemporaneous with it.] These new paperback editions are in the larger "B" size.

Heyer herself was fond of the covers designed by Barbosa [LV comment: many of these can be seen at the website.] His style is clean, unfussy, and elegant, with the romantic elements not stressed. This perhaps reflects the fact that at this time Heyer's novels were not targeted particularly at a female readership. Heyer had many male readers, including many of her husband's legal colleagues. Rayner pointed out that on the Barbosa cover of False Colours the female element is reduced to a stone sphinx.

When Pan acquired the paperback rights, however, their covers were very different. In fact, Rayner describes their colour choices as "lurid" and they had some rather sensational pictures. The early Pan cover of Regency Buck, for example, depicts a fight scene and puts Judith Taverner into an extremely low-cut gown. Heyer had provided the backcover blurbs for many of the hardback editions of her novels but these were not adopted on the paperbacks. Instead the new blurbs focused on the aspects of "Adventure! Excitement! Romance!" which are promised on the front cover of Regency Buck. It appears that these technicolor covers were drawing inspiration from the movies and movie posters of the period. Pan's house style was competing with Penguin in the paperback market, and with film which was an important leisure alternative to reading. Heyer herself objected to what she saw as marketing to the lowest common denominator of reader.

Pan later moved to a new template which featured a cameo of a scene from the novel. Strong fonts were used but the blurbs were reworked to make them less rumbustious. Later, curlicues were added around the cameos. In many of the cameos one can detect the influence of contemporary fashion, as in the hair and dress of the heroine on this cover of The Reluctant Widow.

Penguin also published some paperback editions of Heyer's novels. Rayner showed us the cover of their 1966 edition of False Colours, which is illustrated with a photo of a lady and gentleman. They also published a Peacock edition of Devil's Cub in 1963, which rather surprised the audience since this was an imprint for children. Penguin would appear not to have been entirely satisfied with the 1966 cover of False Colours because a new edition appeared in 1967 with a geometric design. Rayner quoted again from Aiken Hodge's biography of Heyer:
Penguin let her see the proposed new jacket for False Colours when they reprinted it in 1967 and she approved its abstract design without enthusiasm: 'I did suggest that it was a trifle dim, and would hardly strike people as being an advertisement for any book of mine. I was told that the firm was now adopting a policy of Quiet Elegance -! Also (rather loftily) that all my previous jackets had been on the vulgar side. You know, Max, I was lost in admiration of myself! I did NOT say, "Well, yours certainly was!"' (176)
In 1971 Penguin redesigned the cover once again.

Pan also overhauled its covers in the 1970s. Their new look featured pictures which Rayner describes as "inspid," "chocolate box" and "romantic" and she chose as an example their new version of the cover of False Colours. [LV comment: they can all be found on this page, where they have been collected by someone who considers John Rose's pictures "to be some of the most aesthetically pleasing and artistically satisfying covers ever to grace the covers of Heyer paperbacks."]

In the 1990s Arrow reissued the novels with small cameos featuring a portrait, set against an architectural background. These perhaps pick up on the earlier Pan use of cameos and Barbosa's use of Georgian architecture and they give the books a more literary feel.

The latest Arrow reissues [LV comment: which can be seen here] are in the rather larger "B" size and the artwork extends over the whole of the cover. They are perhaps more romantic in tone, and (as in this example), there may be a focus on the feminine.

This style has inspired other publishers, including Sourcebooks, which are reprinting Heyer with covers that they describe as having a "Marie Antoinette" look [LV comment: they can be seen here. I think it's perhaps also worth noting that Mills & Boon having been using a similar kind of artwork for the covers of their Regency Lords and Ladies Collection and in fact, the Sourcebooks cover of Regency Buck uses exactly the same painting, Hearts are Trumps by George Goodwin Kilburne, as appears on the cover of volume 4 of Mills & Boon's Regency Lords and Ladies collection. The Arrow cover of Simon the Coldheart features God Speed by Edmund Blair Leighton which, as I mentioned a while ago, seems to have provided the inspiration for the Mills & Boon cover of Carol Townend's An Honourable Rogue. In addition, the Sourcebooks cover of False Colours features Two Strings to her Bow by John Pettie and so does Ann Herendeen's Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, published by HarperCollins.

For those interested in seeing more of the early Heyer covers, many of them can be found here and here.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heyer 2009: Laura Vivanco: 'The Nonesuch as Didactic Love Fiction'

My academic work is currently focused on the romance genre but I began as a hispanomedievalist, writing about death in fifteenth-century Castile as well as texts such as Celestina and the Spanish sentimental romances which are about love, but which definitely don't conclude with a Harlequin Mills & Boon happy ending.

In ‘So educational!” she said. “And quite unexceptionable!”: The Nonesuch as Didactic Love Fiction’ I began by suggesting that one could compare The Nonesuch itself to the presents, described in The Nonesuch as “a book, or some trifle,” which Sir Waldo brings to “amuse” Charlotte Underhill during her convalescence. When Mrs Mickleby, learning of these presents, launches a brief attack on “romances,” Ancilla Trent defends some of them as being “well-written” and I believe that Heyer would have been very happy to accept this as a description of her own novels.

Ancilla continues by noting that a puzzle Sir Waldo brought Charlotte is “So educational! [...] And quite unexceptionable!” Again, this is a description which can also be applied to The Nonesuch itself. It may be deemed “quite unexceptionable!” because it is a "sweet" romance that avoids any description of sexual activity beyond a kiss, and its "educational" nature is suggested by the fact that it is a novel in which both the hero and heroine educate others.

The heroine, Ancilla Trent, is a governess and the hero, Sir Waldo, is a role model to the many young men who aspire to emulate his sporting prowess and fashionable mode of dress. Laurie and Tiffany are secondary characters who serve as demonstrations of the negative consequences of a lack of suitable education. Their bad habits and traits were learned easily, but effecting changes in their behaviour is rather more difficult and requires both knowledge and cunning on the part of their teachers. Miss Trent, for example, is described as using “unorthodox” methods, including lies, in order to guide Tiffany. Sir Waldo also uses his cunning to teach the besotted Julian about Tiffany's faults: he subtly provokes her into “betray[ing] the least amiable side of her disposition” with such skill that “His trusting young cousin” remains unaware “that Waldo’s lazy complaisance masked a grim determination to thrust a spoke into the wheel of his courtship.”1

Heyer herself can perhaps also be thought of as having employed subtle educational methods since she concealed the didactic elements of her novels beneath a highly entertaining outer layer. The authorial approval for the modest yet brave Patience Chartley, and the disapproval of the vain and selfish Tiffany, for example, serve as examples of both the right and the wrong way for a young woman “to go on in society.”

The Nonesuch can thus be classified as what Deborah Lutz terms “didactic love fiction - romance that has a didactic project, is future-directed, and attempts to represent a moral way of living ” rather than as “amatory fiction” which “cannot be, generally speaking, recuperated morally.” Sometimes “the enemy lover” of amatory fiction, “Contrary to all expectation […] appears in […] didactic fiction” (3), but when he is the hero of a work of didactic love fiction he is “set up as dangerous only to then be reformed in the end” (3). This type of hero does appear in some of Heyer's novels:
my youthful fans [...] seem (from their letters) to be convinced that my Ideal Man is the prototype of what I call the Heyer Hero, No. I pattern – a horrid type, whom no woman in the possession of her senses could endure for more than half a day (Aiken Hodge 197)
He does not, however, appear in The Nonesuch, which is therefore more completely didactic in nature.

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of Heyer's didacticism is to be found in her use of historical detail. As is apparent from the size of Jennifer Kloester's Georgette Heyer's Regency World, Heyer did include a lot of details about the Regency period in her novels. The accuracy of these details allow us to date the chronological setting of the novel very precisely to June 1816, a “couple of years” after the death of “Lady Spencer – the one that [...] was mad after educating the poor.” Heyer's attention to accuracy is also suggested by the presence in John Bigland’s Yorkshire volume of The Beauties of England and Wales (1812) of an engraving of what he calls the “Dropping Well” at Knaresborough, which may have formed the inspiration for the one spotted by Heyer’s Lord Lindeth in Leeds. Heyer also recognises the less pleasant aspects of Regency life via her mention of Leeds' charitable organisations and the presence in the novel of a “ragged urchin” who has to be reassured by Patience Chartley that he will not be handed over to “the beadle (an official of whom he seemed to stand in terror.” Again, Heyer seems to have been drawing on contemporary sources, since John Ryley in his Leeds Guide (1806) describes the beadle, along with the Chief Constable, as “personages who are, to vulgar thieves, as terrific as the Chief Justice himself” (89).2

The Nonesuch is a Regency romance populated by fictional characters but Heyer also wrote some works of biographical historical fiction, including The Conqueror (1931) and The Spanish Bride (1940). Heyer seems to have wanted to write more works of biographical historical fiction but after her death her husband revealed that “The penal burden of British taxation, coupled with the clamour of her readers for a new book, made her break off to write another Regency story.” Jennifer Kloester suggested in her presentation that there were other reasons why Heyer eventually concentrated her talents on Regency romances, and she promises that all will be revealed in her forthcoming biography of Heyer. Whatever the precise reasons, I concluded that most of us of who are fans of Heyer's work are probably very glad that circumstances pushed her to write more of these only somewhat “educational” yet “quite unexceptionable” novels.


1 I didn't mention this in my presentation, but I thought I'd note here that it's interesting that Heyer uses this particular metaphor to describe Sir Waldo's actions. Sir Waldo has a reputation as a nonpareil, a "nonesuch" at driving and it was he who taught Julian to drive. Now he takes a metaphorical spoke and pushes it into the "wheel" of Julian's courtship so as to prevent Julian from hitting a dangerous obstacle and driving off the straight and narrow path towards a respectable and happy marriage. Julian, of course, currently believes that the obstacle is his destination, and he would therefore consider the spoke-poking to be sabotage. For this reason, Sir Waldo has to use all his skill to prevent Julian from realising that his carriage is quite deliberately being redirected.

2 In my presentation I didn't have time to give more details about Heyer's description of Leeds. I hope that if/when the paper is published in full I'll be able to include more about this. I'd also like to acknowledge the assistance I received from Greta Meredith, Assistant Librarian, Thoresby Society, who kindly pointed me in the direction of useful primary and secondary sources about Leeds, and from Louise-Ann Hand, Information Librarian: Local and Family History Library, Leeds City Council, who was a fount of useful information about the streets and inns of early nineteenth-century Leeds.