Sunday, May 29, 2011

Romantic Savages: Highlanders, Indians and Sheiks

As Colin G. Calloway notes, "In some ways, of course, the histories of Highland Scots and American Indians are so different as to render comparisons superficial" (10) and a further comparison with the history of Arab sheikhs would have to be even more superficial still. Nonetheless, since the romance genre's depictions of Native Americans, Scottish Highlanders and sheikhs are often based on superficial stereotypes, I wondered if Calloway's research might shed some light on why heroes from these groups have been so popular that they are each recognised as having their own romance sub-genre.

Calloway's book is titled White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America and examines the similarities and shared histories of Indians and Highlanders.1 He begins by explaining the source of his title:
In the 1730s the trustees of Georgia colony recruited Highlanders from the north of Scotland to serve as farmer-soldiers on the frontier against the Spaniards and Indians in Florida. When war broke out between Britain and Spain, General James Oglethorpe raised a corps of Highland Rangers to fight alongside his English colonists and his Creek, Yuchee, and Chickasaw allies. The Highlanders spoke Gaelic, wore kilts, and wielded broadswords. Oglethorpe described his force as "White people[,] Indians and highlanders." He offered no explanation for his comment; pairing American Indians and Celtic Highlanders together as nonwhites made sense to eighteenth-century Englishmen, as it did to many Scottish Lowlanders. (xi)
Calloway's book
identifies parallels between the experiences of Highlanders and Indians in their respective homelands; it relates multiple stories of encounter between Scots and Indians when they fought, traded, and married in North America, and it does both within the context of relations with colonial power (whether British or American) and far-reaching social, economic, and cultural changes. (xii-xiii)
Since my interest is in the depictions of Highlanders and Native Americans in romance novels, I will focus here on some of the parallels Calloway identifies. There are plenty of them, as is apparent from the beginning of his introduction:
They were routinely described as wild, savage, barbarous, primitive, lawless, warlike, treacherous, vengeful, lazy, dirty, poor, superstitious, and always in need of instruction and improvement. They were the tribal peoples who inhabited the northern frontiers of Great Britain and the western frontiers of North America. They had more in common than the derogatory terms applied to them.
[...] Some authors identify "a mutual respect and deep affinity" between Highlanders and Indians "based on parallel warrior traditions, a clan-based social structure, and above all a profound independence of spirit." (3)
Like Highlanders, Indian people inhabited landscapes that were etched with the experiences of generations, held memories of the past, and were alive with the spirits of their ancestors. They read the landscape like a historical text. (6)
Despite differences between clan and tribe, many contemporary observers saw Highland and Indian ways of life as fundamentally similar. They lived in tribal societies with a strong warrior tradition, they inhabited rugged homelands, and they were accustomed to deprivation and inured to hardship. (9)
Many of these parallels also exist between them and the romance genre's sheikhs, as can readily be illustrated by a few quotes from E. M. Hull's The Sheik:
  • Independence - As the Sheik declares: "The French Government has no jurisdiction over me. I am not subject to it. I am an independent chief, my own master. I recognise no government. My tribe obey me and only me."

  • Clan - The Sheik's "tribe worship first and foremost their Sheik." And, like the Highlanders and Native Americans described by Calloway, they "are accustomed to deprivation and inured to hardship." In describing their lifestyle Diana also throws in some derogatory adjectives which, as we have seen, have been applied to Native Americans and Highlanders: "The wild tribesmen, with their primitive ways and savagery, had ceased to disgust her, and the free life with its constant exercise and simple routine was becoming indefinitely dear to her."

  • Warriors - "The tradition of reckless courage and organised fighting efficiency that had made the tribe known and feared for generations had been always maintained, and under the leadership of the last two holders of the hereditary name to so high a degree that the respect in which it was held was such that no other tribe had ventured to dispute its supremacy, and for many years its serious fighting capacities had not been tested."

  • Rugged Homelands - Romance sheikhs generally have a connection to the desert. In Hull's novel Diana Mayo's attraction to the desert is almost as intense as that which she will come to feel for the Sheik himself:
    they glanced slowly around the camp spread out over the oasis—the clustering palm trees, the desert itself stretching away before her in undulating sweeps, but seemingly level in the evening light, far off to the distant hills lying like a dark smudge against the horizon. She drew a long breath. It was the desert at last, the desert that she felt she had been longing for all her life. She had never known until this moment how intense the longing had been. She felt strangely at home, as if the great, silent emptiness had been waiting for her as she had been waiting for it, and now that she had come it was welcoming her softly with the faint rustle of the whispering sand, the mysterious charm of its billowy, shifting surface that seemed beckoning to her to penetrate further and further into its unknown obscurities.
Other ethnic groups may have been described as "wild, savage, barbarous, primitive, [...] lazy, dirty, poor" but they have not become popular as romantic and noble savages, even though they share certain characteristics with Highlanders, American Indians, and sheikhs.

Isobel Chase, in her The Tartan Touch (1972) explicitly compares Aboriginal Australians to Highlanders, and her Scottish heroine begins by articulating one of the prejudices that exist about the former:
"Do the humpies where they live have to be quite so dreary?" I wondered aloud. "Are they just feckless?"
"No," Andrew said firmly. "They're a lost people, and it's mostly our fault."
I sighed, nodding my head wisely. Hadn't I seen the way the crofters were leaving the land at home? "Ay," I said, "it always is the fault of those who don't live on the land. But dirt poverty is dirt poverty and has to be changed." (126)
The Aboriginal Australians clearly have a rugged homeland, but in this depiction they lack both independence and a warlike nature. African Americans, particularly in a historical American context in which they were slaves, would perhaps be considered to lack all four of the features listed above which are shared by what one might term the "noble savages."

I wonder if independence and aggressive/competitive attributes (either in a warlike or business setting) are felt to be particularly necessary in a male non-White character if he is to qualify for the status of romance hero. These seem to be characteristics which are particularly associated with masculinity and the alpha hero.2

Given that in the world of fiction a single author may spawn an entire genre or subgenre, it would be unwise to ignore the importance of Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper and E. M. Hull in giving us the Scottish, Indian and sheikh romance sub-genres:
What Scott did with Highland Scots, Cooper did with American Indians by portraying noble savages who embodied heroic traditions that were fading away before the relentless advance of a modern civilization. (Calloway 248)
E. M. Hull's The Sheik wasn't the first book to romanticise the desert and its inhabitants but "the publication of the novel and the release of the film starring Rudolph Valentino in the eponymous role unleashed 'sheik fever' in the western world" (Teo).

Calloway suggests another consideration to bear in mind when trying to understand why particular denigrated racial or ethnic groups have been granted "noble savage" status:
Nations with an imperial past need to explain themselves and make palatable the experiences of the peoples they colonized. Even as Britain and the United States worked to destroy tribal ways of life, they created romantic images of the people and distorted their history. Images of Highland Scots and American Indians were constructed and transformed to suit changing needs and tastes; historical experiences were reconstructed and reremembered. When British and American colonizers and beneficiaries of colonialism looked again at the peoples, cultures, and environments they had assaulted, altered, or destroyed, they viewed them with a kind of "imperialist nostalgia." (240)
Maybe the histories of some "peoples, cultures, and environments they had assaulted, altered, or destroyed" are less easily "reconstructed and reremembered" for incorporation into the romance genre?

A final factor affecting the creation of a "noble savage" stereotype may be the extent to which certain non-White groups can be constructed as White, almost White, or at very least less Black than some other group. As Calloway notes, "Highland Scots had to earn the privileges that came with membership in the white race in America" (234) and E. M. Hull's Sheik turns out to be of European, rather than of Arab origin, though
His mother was a Spanish lady; many of the old noble Spanish families have Moorish blood in their veins, the characteristics crop up even after centuries. It is so with Ahmed, and his life in the desert has accentuated it.
According to Stephanie Burley "a certain amount of ethnic otherness is desirable in heroes, but the boundaries of acceptable otherness are clearly drawn along racial lines" (327) and "The fact that 'Native American' is an acceptable romanticized racial category, where African American is not, gestures towards a color-palette of white desire" (334).
  • Burley, Stephanie. "Shadows & Silhouettes: The Racial Politics of Category Romance." Paradoxa 5.13-14 (2000): 324-343.
  • Calloway, Colin G. White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.
  • Chase, Isobel. The Tartan Touch.
  • Hull, E. M. The Sheik. Project Gutenberg.
  • Teo, Hsu-Ming. "Historicizing The Sheik: Comparisons of the British Novel and the American Film." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

1 My thanks to Robin/Janet from Dear Author whose mention of this book in a tweet alerted me to its existence.

2 As Calloway notes, Europeans deemed "issues of war and trade" to be "areas of male responsibility" (55). As he observes, however,
Depictions of tribal peoples as inherently warlike and living in a state of perpetual violence said more about the agendas of colonial powers than about tribal realities. Highland men spent more time with crops and animals than with claymore and musket (the last clan battle in the Highlands occurred in 1688). [...] And although war was a regular and important event in Indian society, it was not a normal state of affairs [...]. It became endemic only after European contact generated new motives for fighting and new sources of international and intertribal competition. (90)

The images are:
  • a "US Postage stamp, 1922 issue"; image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.
  • "A vintage pack of [Sheik brand] cigarettes that I saw on a shelf in a restaurant in Seaside, Oregon" photographed by Ocean Yamaha and downloaded from Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.
  • Thomas Faed's 1865 painting, "The Last of the Clan"; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The First Time: An all too brief review

I have spent a great deal of timing thinking about “the first time” and what precisely this means for the person about to have their “first time” or reflecting on their “first time.” To these ends, I want to briefly mention – and unabashedly recommend – Kate Monro’s The First Time: True Tales of Virginity Lost & Found (Including My Own) which was published by Icon Books in May 2011. Some people may already know about Monro’s work from her blog The Virginity Project, in which she presents the stories of virginity losses of many ordinary people who share their stories. Let me begin with the glowing recitals: as a scholar of virginity, Monro’s book is clearly one of the best volumes written to date on virginity and how precisely we define virginity (and, of course, its loss). Monro unlike earlier scholars also pays a great deal of attention to male virginity – a concept that seems to have eluded many critics and historians. Monro’s book, by my estimation, is worthy of sitting alongside Anke Bernau’s important Virgins: A Cultural History (2007), Hanne Blank’s Virgin: The Untouched History (2007), and Laura M. Carpenter’s Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences (2005). What Monro’s book does so extraordinarily well is that it polemicises our definitions of virginity and what precisely makes one person a virgin or not. Readers are presented with a narrative written by Monro and interspersed throughout this narrative are the tales of virginity losses of many people that she interviewed (and, of course, her own virginity loss story). The book is incredibly rich in its insights and observations on human sexuality and the recognition of how we become sexual.

Shortly, I will post on how this book will and can influence the ways in which we think about virginity in romance (and how it will affect my current work), but for now, I wanted to briefly acknowledge Monro's masterful, lovely, and absolutely thrilling book.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

CFP: "The Popular Romance Novel and the Ivory Tower"

The study of genre fiction has often had a complicated relationship with the Academy, and no genre has been more warily engaged than the popular romance novel. Recent years, however, have seen renewed and exciting scholarship of the romance novel as a genre that spans high-art and popular literature: books like Pamela Regis’ A Natural History of the Romance Novel, which sets E. M. Forster’s Room With a View alongside E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, or Lynne Pearce’s Romance Writing, which runs from Arthurian legends to Mills & Boon / Harlequin series romance, or Lynn S. Neal’s Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction, which draws on Janice Radway’s ethnographic model of literary study, but focuses on the theology, readership, and specifically evangelical aesthetics of Christian romance fiction. The past three years have witnessed international conferences on popular romance in Australia, Europe, and the United States, sponsored by the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance; the association has also begun to publish the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Romance Studies. In short, although the romance novel is not yet part of mainstream literary studies in the Academy, it is certainly burgeoning field of scholarship. To these ends, this seminar will explore how “first-wave” criticism of popular romance fiction (Janice Radway, Tania Modleski, Ann Snitow, etc.) relates to more recent theorizations of the romance novel, and consider new ways in which the romance novel might be freshly incorporated into academic discussions using Psychoanalysis, Disability Studies, Queer Theory, Critical Race Studies, and other interdisciplinary and comparativist approaches. Moreover, this panel will work to consider how we might begin to incorporate romance novels into our current academic environments.

This seminar will take place -- March 15-18, 2012 -- during the annual North Eastern Modern Language Association's meeting at Rochester, New York. Please send abstracts of 250 words and a brief biographical statement to jonathan.allan [at] Deadline for abstracts: September 30, 2011.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CFPs: The Erotic; Sentimentalism; Shakespeare

None of these calls for papers are explicitly asking for work on the romance genre, but I thought they might nonetheless be of interest to some romance scholars.

6th Global Conference on The Erotic (November, 2011; Prague, Czech Republic)
This inter- and trans- disciplinary project seeks to explore critical issues in relation to eroticism and the erotic through its history, its emergence in human development, both individual and phylogenetic, as well as its expression in national and cultural histories across the world, including issues of transgression and censorship. The project will also explore erotic imagination and its representation in art, art history, literature, film and music. These explorations inevitably touch on the relationship between sexualities, gender and bodies, along with questions concerning the perverse, fetishism and fantasy, pornography and obscenity.
300-word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 17th June 2011. More details here. Details of previous global conferences on this theme can be found here.

Edited Collection: 20th Century Sentimentalism: From Modernism to Media
This collection will feature essays that examine how authors of the twentieth and twenty-first century continue the use of sentimental forms and tropes of nineteenth-century literature. Current literary and cultural criticism maintains that American culture engaged in a turn-of-the-century refutation of the sentimental mode; however, the analysis of twentieth- and twenty-first-century narratives contained within these essays reveals ongoing use of sentimental expression that draws upon its ability to instruct and influence readers through emotional identification.

This more recent sentimentalism, however, operates in a supposedly “anti-sentimental” age—one that rejects the sentimental as feminized and embraces what may appear to be more masculine modes of naturalism, realism, and modernism.
Abstracts should be submitted by 30 June 2011. More details here.

Shakespearean Echoes
I am seeking chapter abstracts for a proposed volume on Shakespeare in popular culture. The tentative title for this project is Shakespearean Echoes: Shakespeare in Contemporary Culture. [...]
Understandably, the vast majority of work on Shakespeare’s contemporary life has focused on direct adaptations of the playwright’s work. What I propose with this volume, however, is to exclusively study “echoes” of Shakespeare rather than adaptations, the less tangible and precise ways in which Shakespeare has appeared within contemporary culture. Authors might address echoes of Shakespeare in contemporary music, film, literature, television, advertising, new media or any other worthwhile venue.
I am particularly interested in essays exploring relatively untouched interconnections between Shakespeare and contemporary culture. [...] Essays should address texts no older than 1980. [...] Importantly, authors should say something rewarding about both Shakespeare and the contemporary text/context being studied.
Abstracts and CVs should be submitted by 20 July 2011. More details here. Shakespeare may not be the most frequently cited influence on the romance genre, but "echoes" of his work do appear in many romances, as Laurie Osborne has demonstrated in her "Romancing the Bard" (1999), "Sweet, Savage Shakespeare" (2000), "Harlequin Presents: That '70s Shakespeare and Beyond" (2002), and the Romancing the Bard project.

Pascalbovet's image of "3 sheets of yellow, orange and red paper" was made available via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Women of the Romance Genre: In Charge of Love?

Some time ago I read Lynne Pearce's contribution to A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary, ed. Corinne Saunders, Blackwell, 2004. Pearce begins by stating that
In her original proposal for this Companion, Corinne Saunders observed that: "Romance exists in degenerate form in works of the Mills and Boon type" (my italics). As the author given the responsibility for dealing with this end of the romance spectrum, some manner of defense was clearly called for, and my initial response - "yes, but what is most degenerate is also most defining" - has stood up well to the way this chapter has developed. Like it or not, it is the template originating in these mass-produced romances that has become the twenty-first-century's base-line definition of romance. (521)
Hardly the most ringing endorsement of the genre, it is perhaps on a par with Ann Barr Snitow's conclusion that
In spite of all the audience manipulations inherent in the Harlequin formula, the connection between writer and reader is tonally seamless; Harlequins are respectful, tactful, friendly toward their audience. The letters that pour in to their publishers speak above all of involvement, warmth, human values. The world that can make Harlequin romances appear warm is indeed a cold, cold place. (262)
I was reminded of Pearce and Snitow's backhanded compliments when, thanks to a tweet from RedRobinReader, I came across an article about a forthcoming issue of Granta
dedicated to reflections on gender, power and feminism, in which Lydia Davis, Rachel Cusk, Jeanette Winterson, AS Byatt, Helen Simpson and Téa Obreht, among others, write wide-ranging pieces on women's places in the world, the place of feminism within storytelling and shortfalls of the Women's Movement of the 1970s.
Nothing there about the romance genre, but I was nonetheless reminded of Lynne Pearce's chapter, in which she had written that
Jeanette Winterson's highly popular novels may easily be thought of under the heading of "popular romance" notwithstanding the fact that they are also classified as "literary," "postmodern," and - rather more controversially - "gay" or "queer." What distinguishes them, and similar titles, from the "Mills and Boon" class is that small, but crucial, twist of "knowingness" with which the romantic/sexual adventures are described and analyzed. What is striking about a text like Powerbook, however, is that - in terms of its key "ingredients," and the way in which they have been marketed - this product is not very far removed from romance in its more "degenerate" form.
Putting to one side, then, the postmodern knowingness and irony in which Winterson's text is enfolded, a quick survey of what this text has in common with a classic Mills and Boon novel reveals why the depth of the structures/conventions linking them can also be used to explain the erosion of their generic boundaries, especially in terms of their readership. Apart from the fact that the core narrative tells the familiar story of a chance/fateful meeting between two lovers, a series of obstacles (husband/geographical separation), and reunion, what links this text with the common pleasures of popular romance are: its exotic locations [...]; its focus on the physical appearance of the heroine (in particular her "simple" but "expensive" clothing, 2000: 34); its sensual depiction of gourmet food [...]. (523-24)
Apparently in the forthcoming issue of Granta Winterson, "reflecting on the love affair between Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, bemoans the loss of romance in our post-feminist age" and she states that
Women still have little power in the decision-making processes of government and industry. And the culture is punishing women as never before. We have to be smart, pretty, sexy, good in the kitchen, good at the office, good with the kids. Good in bed. Good at handling men. It is impossible. Older women are written off and teenagers feel they have to be sexually available all of the time. Hence the line in my story: Fucking is the new frigid. There is so little in the culture that helps us to love well, either ourselves or our partners. Love is a casualty of the upgrade culture but women just don't have time anymore to be in charge of love and that is everybody's loss.
I suppose it could be argued, though, that in the most "degenerate" form of romance women are, largely, "in charge of love." Whether that means the romance genre should be celebrated because it "helps us to love well," or taken as an indication that the world is a "cold, cold place," I leave it to each reader to decide. As for me, I'm wondering what light Smart Bitch Sarah's forthcoming Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels will shed on the question.

  • Akbar, Arifa. "Is feminism relevant to 21st-century fiction?" The Independent, Friday, 13 May 2011.
  • Pearce, Lynne. "Popular Romance and its Readers." A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary. Ed. Corinne Saunders. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. 521-538.
  • Snitow, Ann Barr. "Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different." Radical History Review 20 (1979): 141-61. Rpt. in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. Ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell and Sharon Thompson. New York: Monthly Review, 1983. 245-263.

The image, which is available for use under a Creative Commons license, was adapted by Phil Bradley. He altered the text from a World War 1 poster in order to support public libraries.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Update: CFP for Popular Romance in the New Millennium

I've already posted the call for papers for this conference but I've received an update with some new information

McDaniel College


The Nora Roberts Foundation

are proud to sponsor

Popular Romance in the New Millennium

An International Conference

November 10-11, 2011
Westminster, Maryland

As previously mentioned, proposals need to be submitted to pregis (at) mcdaniel (dot) edu by June 1, 2011. More details can be found at the original CFP. Please note that
Complementary hotel accommodation for presenters and free transportation to Westminster for all conferees from the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and the BWI Thurgood Marshall Amtrak station will be provided.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Evaluating Books

Over a year ago Janet at Dear Author argued that
Reading is an experience, and it is shaped by how one reads just as much as by what one reads. And that experience begins even before the reader has the book in hand. Clearly price is associated with value in a somewhat delicate balance. If people are asked to pay too much for books, we will buy fewer books and less content will be sustainable in the marketplace. If we pay too little for books, content can be perceived as de-valued, either because the creator gets little or no financial benefit for writing or because there is simply so much content available that consumers cannot or do not make discriminating choices.
According to Jennifer Crusie "There is a real correlation between how much somebody pays for something and how much they value it." Hence, I suppose the cachet of being published in an expensive hardback format. But is it just price that affects perceptions of the literary value of a novel? It would seem not. Crusie and Barbara also mention the importance of cover art and Crusie adds that:
you could often associate poor writing with poor production values, the self-published book was kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But not on the net. I think the production values are going to be where the stigma is.
Some aspects of the ebook/paper book debate remind me of an earlier period in publishing history. When Penguin was
Founded by Allen Lane in 1935, the imprint, at first operating under the aegis of Bodley Head, reprinted recently published successful books in stiff paper covers and clear type at the price of sixpence each, at a time when hard back editions of the same novels would sell for an average of 7s.6d. (Humble 56)
The result was that
Penguin made once highbrow texts available at a price and in a form – compact, pocket-sized, virtually disposable – that effectively transmuted them into the middlebrow, as they became widely available, widely read and commodified. Or rather – the very project of Penguins began to dissolve the highbrow/middlebrow divide. The strength of its series identity worked to dissolve the status differences between various forms of literature. (Humble 56-57)
It's worth noting that the covers of the Penguins "were consciously different from the gaudy, lurid paperbacks that preceded them" (Humble 56); they may have begun "to dissolve the highbrow/middlebrow divide" but it would appear that they left the divide between highbrow and lowbrow intact.

Nicola Humble suggests another way in which the literary value of what we read may be "shaped by how one reads just as much as by what one reads":
I want to suggest that it is the different ways in which the body is configured in the act of reading that provides one of the most powerful, if unconscious, contemporary modellings of the distinction between the high and the middlebrow [...]: books are ‘highbrow’ if read at a desk, pencil in hand, and middlebrow if read while ‘lolling in a chair or lying on the sofa, or in the train’. The battle of the brows can, on one level, be seen simply as a matter of sitting forward or sitting back. (47)
The position of the reader, she argues, is an indication of the reader's attitude towards what is being read. A different posture is adopted for the reading of serious, valuable texts because these are texts which, supposedly, call for a different type of reading:
The acquisition of new and distinctive reading skills was the initial point of entry into the literary academy for many, and I would argue that it is these skills and practices, above all else, that constitute the divide between the high and the middlebrow – both in the interwar years and ever since. Middlebrow and highbrow books are distinguishable, fundamentally, not by any stable intrinsic differences, but by how they are read. (46)
Humble states that
Upright, rigid, physically unable to relax, the scholar engages with his reading from a bodily position of alertness, hostility, separateness from the text. In marked contrast, the leisured reader lolls, relaxing into his book and chair, spine curled, virtually foetal, fleeing into the body with the comfort of sleep or womb rather than in monastic disavowal of its needs. (48)
I'm not entirely convinced that all scholars read their primary texts in a rigid, upright position but there does seem to be a perception that uncomfortable, difficult to read books are better and more valuable. For example, in "The Practice of Reading Good Books" Corey Anton states that
Many good books [...] offer natural resistances, not problems that could have been solved by simpler writing. [...] We should recognize this as one of their strengths. They gain part of their value because they can be so difficult, because they require patience and devotion. (71)
Humble believes
It is no coincidence that it is exactly as universities began to recognise English Literature as a subject distinct from the history of the English language, that there emerges a group of voices committed to establishing the notion of a distinct highbrow modern literary culture. If English Literature was to be recognised as a serious subject, one capable of rigorous examination, then it needed to have boundaries, definitions, and –most importantly of all – it needed to establish and privilege a very particular way of reading. The various forms of close reading pioneered by the ‘Scrutiny’ group and their followers all have in common an insistence on the need to study a text rather than simply consume it. The writing they championed was distinguished particularly by the need for close study. (45)
Many of us are aware, however, that it is entirely possible for romance readers to curl up in a comfortable position to enjoy reading Austen, the Brontës, and other "classic" authors rather than sit austerely upright in order to study them. Lillian S. Robinson, having bought, quickly read, and almost as quickly forgotten, a "novel called something like Bath Cotillion by one of the Heyer epigones" (221) asks
Does the reader who relished Bath Cotillion find that the issues and problems Jane Austen raises stand in the way of her story? Does the more elegant style interfere as well? Or do the superfluous elements of superior character, incident, and analysis simply go unnoticed? If this last is the case, as it must be for one segment of Jane Austen's modern readers, then it becomes somewhat more challenging to examine both the Regency romance itself and the sources of its appeal. (221)
While there may well be intrinsic differences between lowbrow novels and books which, unlike Austen's, are "distinguished particularly by the need for close study," I would argue that there are, nonetheless, a great many high, middle and lowbrow texts which can be read in both an upright and a recumbent position: we can read them for both pleasure and for study. Perhaps we should value them all the more for it?
The photographs came from Wikimedia Commons. The "Chest with inlaid interior. About 1500 Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Walnut, with iron mounts over textile, and inlay of various woods"
combines security and elegance. It is made of walnut boards fixed with meticulous dovetail joints. It uses both internal and external hinges, as well as a steel lock. Inside are three banks of drawers and compartments to hold smaller objects, and space for a false bottom, under which particular treasures could be concealed.
It was photographed by David Jackson. The recycling bins are Brazilian and were photographed in 2005 by Patrick.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

CFPs: Forgotten Female Sensationalists & Middlebrow and Modernism

Here are two calls for papers which may be of interest even though they aren't explicitly about the romance genre.

The past thirty years have witnessed a transformation in our perception of the mid-Victorian literary field, due in large part to the extensive recovery of sensation fiction and a corresponding recognition of that genre’s importance in the literary debates, trends, and wider cultural practices of the period. As Andrew Maunder has recently suggested, “[i]t is now acknowledged that if sensation fiction is cut out of the picture it is impossible to gain an accurate sense of nineteenth-century literary historiography”. While scholarly work on sensation fiction has expanded greatly in the past few years, this work, until very recently, has focused on a narrow range of authors and works, with Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Ellen Wood retaining the preponderance of critical attention.

This special issue of Women’s Writing aims to contribute to our current understanding of sensationalism by turning the spotlight on the many forgotten female novelists and dramatists who contributed to the Victorian understanding of literary sensation. By moving beyond the women sensation novelists who have come to represent the genre (especially Braddon and Wood) our objective is to gain a fuller, more nuanced, understanding of the spectrum of writing that collectively worked to construct the concept of ‘sensationalism’ for Victorian readers and critics. We also hope to shed light on the specific concerns of female sensationalists, as the role of the ‘proper’ woman writer frequently conflicted with that of the supposedly immoral sensation author.

Articles might address whether there existed distinct forms of female sensationalism and whether such categorisations remain useful or limiting to current critics. We welcome essays on authors who have begun to receive renewed attention, such as Rhoda Broughton, Florence Marryat, and Ouida, as well as those who remain largely forgotten. Writers we would particularly like to consider in the issue include, but are by no means limited to:

• Rhoda Broughton
• Annie Edwardes
• Amelia B. Edwards
• Mary Cecil Hay
• Catherine Hill
• Mrs. Mackenzie Daniels
• Florence Marryat
• Mrs. J. C. Newby
• Ouida
• Dora Russell
• Felicia Skene
• Mrs Gordon Smythies
• Annie Thomas
• Melinda Young

Please submit articles for consideration between 4,000-7000 words to Anne-Marie Beller, Loughborough University ( and Tara MacDonald, University of Amsterdam ( by 31 October 2011.

Contributors should follow the journal’s house style, details of which are to be found on the Women’s Writing web site. This is the new MLA. Do note that instead of footnotes, we use endnotes with NO bibliography. All bibliographical information is included in the endnotes. For example, we require place of publication, publisher and date of publication in brackets after a book is cited for the first time.

The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914-1945
Special Topics Issue 2013

The editors of The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914-1945 would like to announce a call for papers for the next special topics issue on Middlebrow and Modernism (volume 8), which will be guest edited by Genevieve Brassard, Phyllis Lassner, and Ann Rea.

Articles on non-canonical figures or understudied issues are especially appreciated, as are articles that address responses to art or arts culture within the contexts of the First or Second World Wars or interwar period. Articles might also consider issues related to the collective cultural memories of the wars. We are very interested in multidisciplinary interests and approaches such as film, radio, photography and the visual arts, journalism propaganda architecture, and music, and in particular work that directly engages with the points of contact between modernism and the middlebrow. Why was literary worth judged according to these distinctions at this point in history?

Deadline for submissions to this special topics issue is April 15, 2012.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Jonathan A. Allan

I have been thinking about time recently, more specifically, as a virginity scholar, the first time. This post is very much about an idea that is growing slowly, too slowly. Throughout my doctoral studies, I have had the great fortune of studying under the supervision of some really engaging academics, namely, my supervisor who has been writing about some of the ideas that are floating around in my mind. My supervisor is also a fan of “experimental teaching” methods and thus when we, as a class, read Proust, none of us had read Proust. What would happen if a group of students and the professor had never read the text being considered?

To these ends, I have been thinking about the question of slowness and reading, writing, living, etc. Carl Honoré in his book In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed observes that:

These days, the whole world is time-sick. We all belong to the same cult of speed. Standing in that lineup for my flight home to London, I begin with the questions that lie at the heart of this book: Why are we always in such a rush? What is the cure for time-sickness? Is it possible, or even desirable, to slow down?” (3)

These questions strike me as provocative and worthy of consideration. Why does time have such an influence over quotidian life and how does one overcome the cult of time/speed? One of the most striking examples from his book, or perhaps only striking because of the space from which I write, is when he writes:

In 2000, David Cottrell and Mark Layton published 175 Way to Get More Done in Less Time. Written in breathless, get-on-with-it prose, the book is a manual for maximizing efficiency, for acceleration. Tip number 141 is simply: “Do Everything Faster!”

And in those three words, the authors neatly sum up what is wrong with the modern world. Think about it for a minute: Do Everything Faster. Does it really make sense to speed-read Proust, make love in half the time or cook every meal in the microwave? Surely not, but the fact that someone could write the words “Do Everything Faster” underlines just how far we have gone off the rails, and how urgently we need to rethink our whole way of life. (36)

I find his challenge interesting precisely because, like the author, I have this compulsion to do things quickly – read the book quickly, write the lecture quickly. But aren't there things that we want to slow down so as to prolong our enjoyment of them, our experience of them?

Romance novels, however, at least those that I have been reading lately about a virgin’s first time, seem to thrive on this slowness. We are slowly led through the development of the relationship between the protagonists. If one looks at a novel like Last Virgin in California by Maureen Child or The 39-Year-Old Virgin by Marie Ferrarella or The Last Male Virgin by Katherine Deauxville, things often move slowly, glacially so, in the novel. The hero or the heroine will realise that, as Anke Bernau writes in Virgins: A Cultural History, "virginity is not so much a fixed state or condition, as a journey one must undertake" (67). The whole point of the novel is the very long journey involved in losing one’s virginity, indeed, a very slow process. The paradox of romance reading, however, is that most readers read quickly (as Janice Radway noted in Reading the Romance). Regardless, I am interested in the idea of slowness whether it be in the act of reading (reading slowly) or in the act of narration (slowing down narrative). The paradox noted above seems like an interesting place to begin when we think about speed, slowness, and romance reading (of course, there is also something to be said about romance writing and slowness, but that is perhaps best left for another time).

Honoré's book covers many areas of concern ranging from food to medicine, work, leisure, sex, cities, and mind body. Perhaps, however, I can take comfort when Honoré writes:

Fast Thinking is rational, analytical, linear, logical. It is what we do under pressure, when the clock is ticking; it is the way computers think and the way the modern workplace operates; it delivers clear solutions to well-defined problems. Slow Thinking is intuitive, woolly and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and we have the time to let ideas simmer at their own pace on the back burner. It yields rich and subtle insights. (120)

To these ends, I continue to think -- too slowly for my liking -- about the very notion of speed, reading, and, in particular, slowness and romance.