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Jonathan A. Allan's Men, Masculinities and Popular Romance

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 28 November, 2019

Cover of Men, Masculinities, and Popular Romance. It shows a shirtless man, staring at the viewer.As Jonathan Allan states, the motivation underlying this book is, "at bottom, a hope to push scholars of men and masculinities to consider the romance novel as a potential area of inquiry" (9). At under 150 pages, it is a relatively short introduction to the popular romance genre, aimed primarily at these scholars, and Allan repeatedly acknowledges its introductory/limited nature and expresses a wish that it will be seen as "a beginning to a much larger discussion" (90).

I've already posted a bit about Allan's comments in his introduction advocating viewing romance as pornography, so I'll just start with Chapter 1. Since I'm not a scholar of men and masculinities, I'm not in the target audience for the book, I'm a lot more likely to zoom in on things I find relevant to scholarship on popular romance novels.

Chapter 1, "Studying the Popular Romance Novel"

In terms of romance scholarship, Allan seems to be setting himself in opposition to Pamela Regis (albeit not the elements of her work which draw on Northrop Frye), and aligning himself with Janice Radway, Tania Modleski, Ann Barr Snitow (comparison to all three of whom he "might take [...] as a compliment" (18)), Jan Cohn, Jayashree Kamblé and Catherine Roach. Allan sets out "to think about method" (16) and begins by critiquing Pamela Regis's "What Do Critics Owe the Romance?" (2011). Allan's key critique is of Regis's critique of earlier scholars' citations (or lack of them) of primary sources. He admits that he is "perhaps sensitive to this argument because I have also been a recipient of this criticism" (18) (in a post by Jackie Horne). He then offers

some thoughts on how to study the popular romance novel. This chapter should not be read as definitive but rather as exploratory and as a critique of the now common critique that one has not read enough, not read widely enough, or, for instance, that one only studies 'contemporary' romances (as Men, Masculinities, and Popular Romance does). Indeed, I am arguing against the idea that 'size matters,' wherein the critic wields the size of their corpus like a phallic object. (19)

Drawing on Northrop Frye, Allan argues that what is important is to focus on archetypes:

In Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, what connects one text to another is the part(s) of the text that are repeated, or what he calls 'archetypes.' [...] The scholar who pays attention to archetypes [...] focuses on the parts of the text that are repeated and repeating. This does not negate the new and innovative ways an archetype might be used, but it does insist upon the repetition of those archetypes, which are, then, essential to the genre. (21)

Allan acknowledges that other methods could be employed to study romance (he mentions Eric Selinger's close reading technique). He also recognises that there are limitations to his approach:

I am assuming that the hero's masculinity does something for readers. What that 'something' is, however, is the work of another project led by another scholar. I am making claims about the genre and about the novels that I study, not about the readers [...] Future work, however, should attend to the matter of readers and authors. (24)

Chapter 2 - Desiring Hegemonic Masculinity

In romance one can find "the very type of masculinity that theorists of masculinity have questioned, critiqued, and worked to reform over the past three decades - namely, hegemonic masculinity" (27). As such, the question "is the romance novel feminist or anti-feminist? [which] in many ways has motivated so much criticism of the popular romance novel [...] is a seductive question to ponder" even while Allan "resist[s] the simplicity of the binary form" (27). Instead, Allan asks "Why is traditional or stereotypical masculinity desirable in romance?" (28) and urges scholars of masculinity to look at romance because "Romance novels, it seems to me, offer an ideal place through which to think about 'hegemonic masculinity' and particularly the question of desire" (28). He also wonders if "scholars of men and masculinities have failed to study the popular romance [...] because it would require us to engage with feminine culture" (32) but also observes that

Popular romance novels embrace the very thing that critical scholars are trying to undo - namely, hegemonic masculinity. What might it mean for critical studies of men and masculinities that these texts, authored by women for women, so often conform to the definitions of masculinity that are so often critically analysed and critiqued by those in the field? As scholars of men and masculinity continually point out the failures of hegemonic and ideal masculinities, how do we then respond to their reification in these novels? These are all big questions, which Men, Masculinities, and Popular Romance sets out to think about, and hopefully answer. (32)

My impression, having finished the book, is that Allan is very good at asking questions but I'm not at all sure he provides detailed answers to all the questions. He seems to be more likely to suggest possible avenues for future research which might confirm his theories/initial findings (e.g. in the final quote in this section, see below).

Allan adds that

I do think we need to recognise that inherent to any commitment to the kinds of masculinity we are seeing in the popular romance is also a kind of institutional homophobia that lurks in the background of the romance novel and is written on the hero's body. In many ways, I agree with [Jayashree] Kamblé's contention [in Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction] that 'during the most visible moments in the history of the gay rights movement [...] the romance strand alters its hero to evince features of the Heterosexual Alphaman'. [...] What I am arguing, thus, is that the romance novel contains an internalised homophobia - as a genre - in which the male body must be constructed by what it is not: feminine, queer, homosexual. (36)

He concludes that

Hegemonic and ideal forms of masculinity are nearly a rule in the popular romance novel of the eighties and early nineties. A larger study is required to make generalisations about the genre as a whole [...] I would caution that a larger study is required to sustain many of these suppositions (the male-male romance novel, for instance, may well become a site in which masculinity is explored in innovative and diverse ways). These masculinities are part of and contribute to heteropatriarchal capitalism. [...] To critique the romance novel for its commitment to hegemonic and ideal masculinity qua white, capitalist, bourgeois, heterosexual, and so on is not to reject the genre, but rather to ask new and important questions about its continuing success. [...] It is hoped that this study will encourage other scholars to develop an interest in popular romance novels and moreover that scholars of popular romance studies will begin to take into consideration the valuable lessons found throughout critical studies of men and masculinities. (39)

Chapter 3 - Reconsidering the Money Shot: Orgasm and Masculinity

Allan opens with a quote from a sex scene and then states that

The orgasm is essential to the popular romance novel, much in the same way that the money shot is seemingly essential to the pornographic text. [...] The money shot, like the orgasm in romance, has a long and storied history, and it has subsequently become a hotly debated aspect within the critical response to pornography. Surprisingly, romance scholars have not spilt nearly as much ink on the orgasm as porn scholars have on the money shot. As such, this chapter works to show how the orgasm is essential to romance and moreover that it functions like the money shot in pornography. (40)

I'm not sure why he's surprised. Explicit sex scenes only became common in romance in the later part of the twentieth century and romance novels existed long before then. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this book is focused on post-1970s romance, and there's reference to a similar time-period with respect to pornography: "For over forty years [...] the money shot has been essential to the structure and content of pornography, at least of the heterosexual mainstream varieties" (41). However, romances with no explicit sex scenes, or no sex scenes at all, continue to be published. As an Executive Editor at Harlequin wrote in July this year

Sex doesn’t matter. There, I said it.

I better clarify something before we move forward. Ok, ok, sex matters. But if you are thinking of writing for one of Harlequin’s series lines, sex shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind. (I assume some of you just stopped reading. Bye!) The first thing on your mind should be your story. What kind of a story is it? [...] We have a big range of hot to wholesome in our series and there is truly something for everybody, whether you like graphic sex or want to shut the door on sex, or whether you do not want to address a sexual relationship at all.

Allan is obviously aware of romances without explicit sex, since he continues by clarifying that "What is essential, at least within those novels that contain scenes of sexuality, is that the hero plays a central role in the orgasmic potential of the heroine" (43, emphasis added) because "women's orgasms are not autonomous to women in the sexual scene but rather are something for which men are responsible" (44). With regards to masculinity, "In the romance novel, sexual prowess and mastery depend upon being able to give a woman an orgasm" (44). As far as defining the romance genre goes, Allan states that

In many ways, then, the orgasm is as essential as the 'I love you' that closes the novel, and, perhaps, we might even argue that when the orgasm happens before the declaration of love, it is because of the orgasm that love can be achieved and declared. Each and every orgasm, then, in the popular romance novel is important as a structural and formal element of the novel because it speaks to the erotic and sexual success of the couple, in addition to their romantic success. (48)

Chapter 4 - Theorising Male Virginity in Popular Romance Fiction

This chapter is based on "Theorising Male Virginity in Popular Romance Novels" and a forthcoming essay "'And He Absolutely Fascinated Me": Masculinity and Virginity in Sherilee Gray's Breaking Him'. Since they're both in/going to be in the open-access online Journal of Popular Romance Studies, I won't say much about this chapter. Here's a quote that's in both "Theorising" and this chapter and which might feed back in to what Allen speculating about earlier, in Chapter 2, re masculinities scholars' reluctance to analyse romance:

The  male  reader  may thus confront an analytical, even diagnostic representation of masculinity at its patriarchal worst, or he may encounter an idealised representation of some “alternative masculinity” at its post‐ or anti‐ or reformed patriarchal best—or even, most unsettling of all, he may face a male figure who somehow combines or moves between these extremes. (56)

Chapter 5 - Slashing and Queering Popular Romance Fiction

One of the most fascinating developments in the genre of popular romance is the rise of male/male romance novels, which tell the story of two men falling in love. These novels are written, like most romances, 'for women, by women'. (69)

My argument for the male/male romance novel [...] is that we find examples of hybrid masculinities which are nonetheless informed by hegemonic masculinities. We need to remember that hegemonic masculinities are always in flux and that these hybrid forms are, of course, in tune with and responding to the currently accepted definition of hegemonic masculinity. (73)

The chapter has sections on slash fiction and on a film, Y tu mamá también. Allan observes that

The popular romance novel between men extends and expands upon the limited nature of the bromance, which is a quasi-erotic but never quite enacted upon relationship. Unlike slash, wherein the fantasy is for seemingly straight men to become a romantic unit, and unlike the bromance, which cannot include sexuality, the popular romance introduces us to characters who are by and large gay and who are seeking the stability of a monogamous relationship. The popular romance novel, as a form, for the most part, will present a conservative vision of romance for these gay men. (83)

That's "conservative" because

what is central to romance are profoundly bourgeois values that speak to love, marriage, monogamy, and family. In what follows, I work to provide a close reading of Marie Sexton's Never a Hero, which is something of a controversial novel because it challenges the limits of the genre while also actively thinking about masculinity and sexuality. [...] In Never a Hero, the author openly and explicitly engages with the question and matter of HIV/AIDS, a topic which has remained taboo in many popular romance novels. [...] I argue here that what most upsets readers about Never a Hero is that it dared to engage with a question that few wanted to read about. (84)

One thing I found confusing is Allan's brief comment on Sunita's review of the novel (which can be found here). He writes that

In one review of the novel, the reviewer, Sunita, writes: 'Nick is HIV-positive and has been for five years. It's the result of a week-long encounter during a Cancun vacation where the condoms ran out and he and his partner barebacked (apparently Cancun had a condom shortage at that time)' (2013). [...] In this review, readers find an underlying HIV phobia. One imagines, of course, that this perspective is not unique to this review. The parenthetical remark that closes the sentence acts as a kind of 'victim-blaming,' I would argue, wherein a moral judgement is cast upon the characters. This judgement is a kind of 'I told you so' narrative, akin to 'she was asking for it' or 'she should have known better.' (84-85)

Since I recognised the name of the reviewer, I went off to look at the review. Here's the paragraph immediately after the one from which Allan quotes, and it quite explicitly condemns victim-blaming:

I found it somewhat problematic that Nick was so obsessed with his own guilt. Yes, it was a stupid thing to do, but we all take risks that don’t pay off; it doesn’t mean we deserve it if something bad happens to us. Nick beating himself up for contracting HIV is like a woman who gets raped blaming herself for walking down the “wrong” street. Everyone makes mistakes. Saying all the consequences of those mistakes are deserved is blaming the victim and sends a terrible message, in my opinion.

Sunita isn't blaming Nick for contracting HIV: quite the opposite, in fact. However, she does go on to write that

Nick gives Owen a blow job before he tells him about his HIV status. This is absolutely a No Go. The fact that he knows his viral load is low and that the risk of transmission is low is beside the point. It’s Owen’s risk to assess, not Nick’s.

So maybe that explains why Allan writes that

the reviewers and commenters are taking on the diagnostic role of pathologising the barebacker while also policing his behaviour and indeed framing it in almost criminal terms because he failed to disclose the status. On the one hand, all of this is reasonable enough; after all, barebacking continues to be framed as a risky sexual practice. And it certainly may well be a risky sexual practice in terms of health, but so too are many things and yet we do not pathologise and condemn them in the same ways. After all, romance novels have celebrated the 'surprise pregnancy' narrative, which is also the result, often enough, of condomless sex. (85)

I'm still having a problem understanding Allan's critique though, because it wasn't Nick's barebacking in Cancun that was deemed a "No Go": it was his failure to "disclose the status" before having oral sex with Owen. So this seems to be more about (a lack of) informed consent than about specific sexual activities. Allan in fact goes on to say of the scene in which Nick reveals his HIV status that "The most common reading [...] of this scene is that Nick violated Owen's trust - which he did - by not disclosing his HIV status" (88).

All of this rather distracted me from Allan's suggestion that the scene in which Nick starts out by saying he's got AIDS and then corrects himself and says it's HIV could be read as

a 'teachable' moment within the novel, especially for a reader for whom HIV/AIDS may be something of an unknown? We have become less and less anxious about HIV with the rise of PrEP, for instance. What if Sexton was using the characters to educate her readers about HIV/AIDS? In this reading, then, the conflation of HIV with AIDS is necessary so as to explain that they are not the same. (88)

It's an interesting reading of the novel and, as Allan says, one "with a bit of generosity" (89); that last comment makes me wonder if Allan was more generous to the romance author than to the romance reviewer.

Chapter 6 - Towards an Anatomy of Male/Male Popular Romance Novel (sic)

In this chapter Allan focuses "on the anatomy of men's bodies in male/male popular romance novels. Simply put, there are more of them [than] in the average novel, so how does that affect and change the way bodies are described and imagined?" (91). He argues that

the performances may appear 'inclusive' or 'sensitive' but there is an underlying commitment to and belief in hegemonic masculinity that does not disappear once the clothing is removed. In these novels, the sex scenes become sites of hegemonic masculinity. When we look at the bodies in these novels, for instance, the hegemonic reveals itself quite clearly, for in the popular romance novel, readers rarely encounter a small penis. (93)

He gives as an example a quotation from Marie Sexton's Strawberries for Desert in which a thin hero is described, who is soft in places:

This scene provides much to think about with regards to the body. While the hero is generally attracted to 'more masculine men,' this body is 'absolutely perfect.' His body meets an ideal form, and yet there are allusions to seemingly feminine aspects of his body; for instance, the descriptions of both the thinness and the softness. All of this leads towards a conclusion within the paragraph that focuses attention on the penis, which 'was beautiful [and] hard.' [...] If the body could be 'more masculine,' the penis does the necessary work of reclaiming masculinity. (93)

However, "The male/male popular romance works to endow the anus with as much meaning as the phallus" (96) and "Rewriting anal sex as a proof of masculinity does important work with regards to femininity; that is, it works to undercut the possibility of femininity and in doing so perhaps becomes a latent misogyny" (97).

Allan ends with more questions:

What would the romance novel look like without 'spectacular masculinity'? It is almost impossible to conceive of the romance novel without spectacular masculinity. Presumably, we might find this in novels that do not include men, such as the lesbian romance novel, but I would suspect that gender still plays a role in those, too. Does the romance novel depend upon masculinity? These are, I admit, questions that remain unanswered. (98)

Chapter 7 - Vanilla Sex, or Reading Pornography Romantically

This chapter isn't about romance novels because "As I work towards a conclusion, I ask: Could pornography be read as a romance?" (99). Allan asks the question because he wishes "critical studies of men and masculinities [to] reconsider its engagement with pornography, which has to date largely been negative in nature" (99). He engages with a work of pornography which is set in a home, and in which an attractive couple have "vanilla" sex with each other in their bedroom, after flirting in the kitchen.

Epilogue: Are Billionaires Still Sexy?

Allan ponders the impact of Donald Trump becoming president of the US because "In many ways, Donald Trump, or 'The Donald,' is the archetypal hero of the popular romance novel, and one can think here, for instance, of the eroticisation of Trump during the eighties and nineties, and even into the new millennium" (117). [Typing that out made me feel a bit nauseous.] Allan turns to an article by evolutionary psychologists Cox and Fisher (it's available free online here): "In essence [...] Cox and Fisher are arguing that the [...] desire for the CEO is about accruing resources or finding a mate who has accrued enough resources to provide for a future" (118). [I feel I ought to point out here that evolutionary psychology is a lot more controversial than many other fields.] Allan notes that billionaires are a lot more wealthy than other types of wealthy hero so "These billionaires are excessive heroes" (118): "we find excesses of wealth, sex, and greed in the figure of the billionaire hero. He is often not necessarily a violent figure but initially a less than sympathetic figure, who, over the course of the novel, will be redeemed" (119).

Allan observes that

After the election of President Donald J. Trump, billionaire heroes did not and have not disappeared [...]. However, the election of President Trump did cause at least one romance novelist to pause and reflect not only on the wealth of their heroes but also their masculinities - recalling that often these go hand in hand. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Sarah MacLean explained that she rewrote an entire manuscript after the election of Donald Trump. The hero of her novel 'was toxic. Indeed, I suspected he would have voted for Donald Trump. And I wanted nothing to do with him' (2017).

Since billionaire heroes continue to be written, he speculates that they are

an attempt to make sense of the life of the billionaire and to imagine that behind the money is a caring and sympathetic man. [...] the novel works to humanise the extraordinarily wealthy heroes who populate the world of romance while also limiting the value of those billions over the course of the novel - as if the novel declares that love can and will conquer all. [...] the novel, as a form, also imagines that there is something redeemable in seemingly irredeemable characters [...]. Perhaps, then, this novelistic strategy has taken on new meaning in the age of the uber-wealthy, who are no longer found on tropical islands and boardrooms but also in the Oval Office. (123)

---

Since Men, Masculinities, and Popular Romance is "asking that scholars of masculinity think seriously and critically about popular romance novels and especially the construction and representation of maleness, masculinity and male bodies within them" (10) it presumably focuses on aspects of romance which will be of particular interest to these scholars. This perhaps explains why Allan, who states that romance is "a genre largely written by women for women" (9), does not discuss lesbian romances. It would also seem to explain a focus on a particular kind of masculinity within the genre:

For Radway, and certainly other critics, masculinity is in many ways central to the romance novel, and its representation is, simply put, 'spectacular.' Even beyond his body, the hero is not, in the words of romance novelist Jayne Ann Krentz, 'a sensitive, understanding, right-thinking, "modern" man who is part therapist, part best friend,' because, as Krentz suggests, 'you don't get much of a challenge for [the heroine] from a neurotic wimp or a good-natured gentleman-saint who never reveals a core of steel' (1992: p. 109). The hero is a representation of what Raewyn Connell has called hegemonic masculinity, the kind of masculinity that critical studies of men and masculinity have spent decades studying. Radway and Krentz are not alone. For Tania Modleski the hero is 'a handsome, strong, experienced, wealthy man' (2008: p. 28). What is certain, then, is that the hero of popular romance is, at bottom, a spectacular representation of masculinity. (9)

In the context of Allan's aim of encouraging scholars of masculinity to examine romance, a focus on the "kind of masculinity that critical studies of men and masculinity have spent decades studying" makes sense. However, Allan's methodology does appear to invite confirmation bias since

In my textual analyses of popular romance novels, I am not making arguments about complete novels but rather about scenes in these novels. In each of the scenes, we find a description of the male body that conforms to the idealistic treatment of maleness and masculinity that Radway and others have noted in their studies of popular romance. Admittedly, this methodology [...] is open to critique from a variety of perspectives, many of which I might agree with. (15)

I would have appreciated discussion of the "beta" hero because Krentz's statement is quite clearly a response to him. The so-called "beta" hero continued to exist despite her complaints about the lack of challenge he provided, and the recent creation of the label of "cinnamon roll" for heroes who are "supportive, kind & oh-so-sweet" (Olivia Dade) is evidence that "alpha" masculinity is not the sole type of masculinity in romance. Since they're not mentioned in the book, I don't know if Allan would consider these, too, to be archetypes, or just variations on the archetype he's describing. After all, "beta" heroes' personalities may differ from those of "alphas" but to what extent do their bodies differ?

Allan quotes Erving Goffman:

Goffman's American male is 'young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports' [...]. This definition would need to be modified slightly to fit the requirements of the romance novel; for example, the hero of romance is not generally married (though he may be a widower); however, the bulk of this definition is illustrative of the archetypal romance hero. (12)

There is only passing reference made here to race, ethnicity and nationality, and this is also the case when Allan quotes Judith Lorber's summation of "hegemonic masculinity as being about 'men who are economically successful, racially superior, and visibly heterosexual'" (28) and mentions "intersectional identities, critical race theory" (72). The book contains no discussion of masculinity in, for example, African-American romance novels, the implications of the popularity of sheikh romances and Mediterranean/Latin heroes, or potential national differences (e.g. as discussed with reference to Australia by Juliet Flesch). One omission which is deliberate and explained by Allan is a choice to

limit my analysis to romance novels that are 'contemporary' in nature - which means they are largely written about and take place in the present [...] and secondly, those that have been published since the rise of the 'blockbuster' romance, which begins in the early 1970s. While much can be said about a variety of subgenres, ranging from the historical through to the paranormal, there are, of course, limits to analysis and this is where I am choosing to draw a line in the sand. I am not excluding these novels from analysis because they are 'bad' or 'unworthy' of analysis but because I wish to focus on novels that are explicitly engaging in reflecting and thinking through the present. (14)

Another omission which is mentioned is that of "trans* romances for the simple reason that I do not know enough about these texts" (23) and in the conclusion he writes that "I did not [...] take an approach that drew upon or borrowed from critical disability studies [...] The field of popular romance studies, as it grows, will want to account for how disability functions and is represented in the genre, and how masculinity affects and informs such representations of disability" (114). How, too "might scholars think about age and aging in the popular romance novel?" (115)

Allan says that "A larger study is required to make generalisations about the genre as a whole" (39) and I hope I'm not taking that statement too far out of context when I agree that I'd like to see more studies of romance which explore different types of masculinity in (a wider variety of subgenres of) romance, as well as nuances in the presentation of it, which Allan has not had the space to consider. Allan's relatively short book will, I hope, encourage more scholars to study popular romance novels in all their variety.

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Allan, Jonathan A. Men, Masculinities, and Popular Romance. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.

Omissions in the Field?

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 25 November, 2019

I've only just started reading Jonathan Allan's new book, Men, Masculinity and Popular Romance so what follows isn't a discussion of his book. I'm really just using something raised in its first few pages as a starting point for thinking about how we can/should think about omissions. Allan writes that "What this book seeks to consider is whether or not pornography might be a good model through which to theorise and critique representations of gender and sexuality in the popular romance novel" (4) and observes that

Pornography has become a negative rhetorical device that has inhibited - or at least complicated - the study of popular romance and its connections to pornography.

Consider, for example, two recent anthologies on popular romance that barely mention pornography. In New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction (2012), the word 'porn' appears twice and only in a footnote that references Ann Douglas's 'Soft Porn Culture: Punishing the Liberated Woman' (1980). Likewise, in Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? (2016), the word porn does appear [...]. In both volumes, 'pornography' does appear with more frequency; a total of eight times in New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction (nearly all of which are references) and fourteen times in Romance Fiction and American Culture (half of which are references). Thus, porn/pornography is largely ignored or left untouched in these volumes; it is moved to the notes or treated as the antithesis to popular romance novels. While this can hardly be read as an unquestioned truth about popular romance studies, it does speak to a general anxiety surrounding pornography and suggests that the term is certainly not 'neutral'. There are, of course, numerous other examples that could be called upon; for example, Pamela Regis' agenda-setting A Natural History of the Romance Novel only mentions pornography in passing with reference to Germaine Greer and Ann Barr Snitow. (5)

Later, he states that

what is troubling about [...] romance scholars' attempts to distance themselves from pornography, is that it does nothing to undo the pathologisation of viewers of pornography, who are almost always framed as men (as if women do not also consume porn). If romance scholars want to argue that romance novels are not pornography, then they must do the necessary work of engaging with the pathologising impulses of those who critique pornography. That is, the argument as a whole must be dismantled. (7)

What troubles me here is that an absence of discussion seems to be equated with "attempts to distance themselves from" a topic. Could it not be that there are many different approaches to take to romance, as well as many different areas on which scholars might wish to focus, and that this might well explain the absence? After all, how many romance scholars have discussed romance in the context of crime fiction? Of speculative fiction? Of sports? For that matter, given that romance novels have been compared to valium in terms of their effect on readers' mental health, how many scholars have written about this, and engaged with "the pathologising impulses of those who critique" treatments for mental health? Probably not all that many, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there's "a general anxiety" about these topics and that scholars are trying to distance themselves from them.

I can see how lack of discussion of pornography could be disappointing to someone who wants to see more people in the field engaging with this topic, but I don't see it as one which needs to be central to all romance scholarship. Does it even need to be central to all romance scholarship dealing with gender and sexuality? I don't think so, because other people may be asking different questions. For example, Amy Burge's Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance (2016) doesn't discuss pornography, but it does discuss ideas about masculinity by comparing modern and medieval romance texts and there's a strong focus on race/ethnicity as part of that.

On the other hand, there may be good reason for concern if a field omits discussion of certain important topics altogether. That's particularly true if it's a well-established field, because then the omissions may implicitly discourage future scholars from addressing the topic and can distort perceptions of the subject-matter. For example,

medieval studies as a field is slowly, haltingly, organizing itself against oppressive ideologies. New collectives of scholars have organized into communities working to transform and destabilize our notion of the Middle Ages and to whom they belong. In recent years, that movement has been led by the group Medievalists of Color, a community of deeply engaged scholars from diverse backgrounds working at all levels of the academy [...]. The scholars in this group challenge the periodization and geographical separateness of a "medieval past" with an urgency fueled by discrimination both inside and outside the academy in an era of rising white supremacy. (Perry)

Romance scholarship, though, is relatively new and there aren't very many people working in the field so omissions may well be due largely to a lack of scholars. Also, I'm not convinced that "one of the longest debates in popular romance studies: Are popular romance novels porn for women?" (Allan 4) is in fact a debate from which romance scholarship as a whole is distancing itself: Jonathan's book is itself proof of that, as is Jodi McAlister's "Breaking the Hard Limits: Romance, Pornography, and the Question of Genre in the Fifty Shades Trilogy" (2015) and Catherine M. Roach's discussion of "romance as porn" in her Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture (2016), in which she argues that "Romance fiction is pornography" (84), and Jonathan says he mostly agrees with her approach (7).

Do you think this is a debate from which romance scholars are attempting to distance themselves? Which areas (if any) do you think are currently being omitted from romance scholarship?

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Allan, Jonathan A. Men, Masculinities, and Popular Romance. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.

Perry, David. "Introduction." Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019.

Love in the Romance Genre: Friendship, Ethical Improvement and Conditionality

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Aristotle "makes friendship, rather than sexual relationships [...] the supreme form of love" (May 56) so initially one might assume that his view of love would be at odds with that of most romance novels. However, what he termed

philia is a form of devotion that is best translated as 'friendship love', but that flourishes not only between what we normally think of as friends, but also in all these other sorts of relationship [to spouses, siblings, children, parents, or sexual partners] at their best. And so sexual intimacy, for example, isn't in principle opposed to friendship-love. (56)

In this type of relationship, the friends identify with each other "as if they were 'a second self'" (56). As Guin K. Guin points out in "An Aristotelian Approach to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park", "If there is any relationship in which we are called on to love our “friend” as a second self, it is marriage. As marriage is also meant to be a permanent relationship, it requires the same stability arising from the virtue of both parties as does complete friendship" (Guin 12-13).

Jane Austen's heroines often express a need to respect and have similar views to their future partners, although admittedly some of her protagonists need to change before they can achieve an Aristotelian type of "complete friendship" in marriage. Here, Erin Stackle argues, Austen actually "supplements Aristotle" (202). He argued that philia "is, in its very essence, ethical. It is possible only between two individuals who are good - and indeed are good in similar ways. What Aristotle means by 'good' is much more than simply agreeing on rules like telling the truth, or not stealing, or keeping promises. He means that they share an entire conception of the best way to live life" (May 57). What we see in Pride and Prejudice is an illustration of

how falling in love can convert to virtuous friendships characters otherwise likely to remain blinded in vice.

In Austen's novel, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are the most virtuous characters presented. There remains, however, a serious disparity, not only between them and complete virtue, but also between the two of them. The scene in which Austen presents Darcy's proposal of marriage to Elizabeth clearly articulates how unlikely is a virtuous friendship between them, and starts the mutual character conversion that leads to their ultimate friendship. (202 Stackle)

I wouldn't say that every romance depicts such a conversion or even that an Aristotelian "virtuous friendship" is present in every romance HEA, but I do think it's present in many. In a way, philia is much more compatible with an obligatory HEA than is pure eros:

Erotic love, like ambition for power, can kill those who get in its way or refuse to submit. A certain possessive violence that cares nothing for morality, or at least for conventional mores, seems to belong to its nature, and, indeed, is often seen as proof of its authenticity and strength. We disapprove but aren't completely amazed when lovers stalk, or turn on, loved ones who fail to reciprocate.

Whereas if a friend started behaving to us like this, consumed with jealousy of our other friends, determined to possess us, and furious if we failed sufficiently to requite his affections, we would be impressed not by the power of his friendly feelings but by their poverty.

This isn't because friendship is an anaemic bond compared to erotic or romantic love. It is a very different sort of love. It is, in its essence, a two-way relationship. [...] Though in perfect philia one experiences one's friend as one's 'other self', and to that extent as continuous or even identical with oneself, one does so in a way that explicitly respects his integrity and agency and distinct life, and is dedicated to finding, nurturing and enjoying the good in him. (May 57-58)

An attraction with a strong ethical component, between people who "share an entire conception of the best way to live life", is also necessary if, as Pamela Regis has argued, one of the essential components of romance is a "society [which] is in some way flawed; it may be incomplete, superannuated, or corrupt" (31) and which the protagonists "must confront in their attempt to court and marry and which, by their union, they symbolically remake" (31).

On the other hand, the RWA's definition of the HEA states that "the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love" and Simon May argues that philia is incompatible with unconditional love:

Aristotle's insistence that philia depends on - even essentially is - an ethical relation means that he is dead set against [...] two myths about ideal love [...]: that it is unconditional (it loves the other regardless of her qualities or of changes in her qualities); and that it totally affirms the beloved, her 'bad' as well as her 'good'. [...] But if love is so conditional, then - contrary to another myth about ideal love - it isn't necessarily constant, let alone eternal. [...] It isn't just that philia cannot be expected to be constant if the other person becomes irreversibly bad. Aristotle seems to go further: one should drop a friend under these circumstances. (58-59)

With regard to the protagonists' future, I think that, as Stackle observed in Austen, the emphasis is on depicting love improving protagonists and creating a bond which supports the continuation of that virtue into the HEA. This minimises the possibility that either will become "irreversibly bad". As for unconditionality, my suspicion is that when the RWA decided to use the term "unconditional" they did not mean it in the sense that the love between the protagonists is entirely unrelated to their qualities. I think they meant that the love would develop into the kind which, once fully established, does not continually set new conditions for it to continue. This sort of unconditionality, as well as constancy, can be considered almost certain given that

Normally, of course, we would expect philia to survive because it is based on something as robust as the friends' excellences of character ('their friendship lasts as long as they are good - and excellence is an enduring thing'). These qualities are so fundamental to who someone is that to love him in this way is to love him 'for his sake'. It is to love him for the person he is, and not merely because he is useful or pleasurable to us. (May 59)

These are issues I'm going to be thinking through a bit further in my current project. I'd be interested in others' thoughts!

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Guin, Katherine A. "An Aristotelian Approach to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park". Ph.D thesis, Florida State University, 2015.

May, Simon. Love: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Stackle, Erin. "Jane Austen's Aristotelian Proposal: Sometimes Falling in Love Is Better Than a Beating." Philosophy and Literature 41.1 (2017): 195-212.

Taking a Sip from a Corpus

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 14 September, 2019

Phraseology and Style in Subgenres of the Novel: A Synthesis of Corpus and Literary Perspectives, edited by Iva Novakova and Dirk Siepmann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), is the result of

a four-year collaborative research project PhraseoRom on the phraseology of contemporary novels, co-funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). It is one of the few international projects to truly bring together researchers from both literary studies and linguistics. The book, whose ten chapters report on selected results of this project, revolves around a detailed analysis and classification of recurrent fiction-specific patterns found in fictional genres and their general functions, as revealed by sophisticated corpus-driven enquiry. It focuses both on patterns found in the novel generally and genre-specific patterns shared by various literary genres. (v)

This isn't an approach I've ever used, and I can't say I understand the methodology, but it clearly can throw up some intriguing patterns:

the expression take a sip [... is] much more common [...] in romance novels [...] than in the other genres. It suggests an affinity between take a sip and the “romantic universe” typically created in this genre. A closer look at the examples, however, reveals that alcoholic beverages are not necessarily what is consumed by the characters in this genre. In fact, we find roughly the same statistical distribution for the expression take a sip used with all kinds of beverages (including coffee, tea, water, etc.) before sorting and after sorting for the same expression when used with terms denoting alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, whisky, vodka, etc.). These findings suggest that it is the manner of drinking expressed by the motif take a sip rather than any particular type of drink that is characteristic of English romance novels—which empirically supports the assumption that certain demeanours on the part of the characters may be deemed typical of a particular literary genre. In French, siroter (to sip) when followed by a noun referring to alcohol plays a similar role and is in fact well represented in romances. (143-144)

 

Romance: The Truly Modern Genre?

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 10 August, 2019

I'm currently reading Natalia Marandiuc's The Goodness of Home: Human and Divine Love and the Making of the Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) and came across a passage which interested me with regards to how popular romance is evaluated (relative to other popular genres):

“The notion that the life of production and reproduction, of work and the family, is the main locus of the good life flies in the face of what were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization,” according to which the lower forms of life were viewed in marked contrast from higher activities, be they political leadership, war heroism, contemplation, or extraordinary asceticism.

 

Modernity has moved the contrast somewhere else. Its new locus is in the different ways in which one can lead the ordinary life of work and close relationships—from kinship and friendship to romance and all manner of partnerships and attachments.

Romance, then, is modern because it identifies the good life in terms of human relationships. Other genres, though, perhaps cling to what "were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization": they emphasise more abstract values (e.g. justice) or former "higher" modes of behaviour such as "political leadership, war heroism". What's interesting is that despite this, romance and the relationships it values have led to it being considered a "lower form" of writing.

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Marandiuc is quoting from page 23 of Charles Taylor's The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).

 

De-gendering and De-genreing some of Radway's Conclusions about Romance Reading

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 3 July, 2019

Shelley Trower, Amy Tooth Murphy and Graham Smith revisited some archived interviews dating from the 1980s and carried out in the UK. The interviews were conducted for an oral history project in which 'the central focus was consistently family life: the daily, the domestic, the routine' (555) and 'Within this broad spectrum interviewers asked questions specifically relating to reading. They asked interviewees if they themselves read, if other family members read, whether there were books in the house they grew up in as well as their current home, and whether they attended a library in the past or the present' (555).

Janice Radway, who carried out interviews with women romance readers in the US slightly earlier, had an 'approach [which] led her to think about reading not only as interpretation of books’ contents but also as an activity. The women explained their reading as "a way of temporarily refusing the demands associated with their social role as wives and mothers"' (556). What Trower, Murphy and Smith discovered was that their 'archive supports Janice Radway’s findings in Reading the Romance (first published in 1984) that women read for escape and as a form of resistance to domestic roles, but it also shows that such findings may be applied more broadly than romance to other kinds of readers and reading material' (554).

While it was the case that in the UK interviews 'mothers’ reading is often portrayed as being escapist, broad and indiscriminate, whereas fathers’ reading is more commonly depicted as directed, often with a functional basis, rather than being solely a leisure activity' (555), Trower, Murphy and Smith propose 'that men similarly engaged in escapist reading in using it to erect a barrier between themselves and their families' (557):

In many of the interviews, the image of men reading newspapers becomes a central scene in daily family life. Specifically, that image is often of a solitary reader, the man and the newspaper a single unit, closed off from the rest of the family. If the novel delays mothers’ engagement with domestic work and her family, [...] it is the TV news or the newspaper that delays the father’s arrival at the dinner table and his interaction with the family. (570-71)

and

Male newspaper reading, then, may be comparable to female novel reading in providing a way of making time for oneself or for resisting engagement with the demands of a family. A difference is that while the women read before carrying out domestic work – such as preparing meals – the men here read before, during, and after their consumption of meals. It is also notable that men’s reading is often framed in narratives of consistency and temporal regularity, while women’s reading times are snatched moments or conducted in stolen time. Men’s reading is also very much on show, like a Do Not Disturb sign, whereas women’s reading is often furtive, involving strategies for keeping it undiscovered like running around doing the housework after a day of reading. The men in these interviews seem to use newspaper reading as a communication barrier, while women seem primarily to be putting off domestic labour. Radway’s observations that women’s reading often gives them time out from their families’ needs, ‘a task that is solely and peculiarly theirs’, cannot precisely be mapped on to men’s reading. For many women whose work is entirely or at least largely within the home, reading may be crucial for establishing opportunities to escape or ‘switch off’ in that same environment, whereas men’s work is more usually outside the home. [...]

 

Bearing in mind the differences between gender roles, reasons for reading (to avoid housework and/or to avoid family communication), reading material and value judgements of that material (women’s novel-reading being denigrated more usually than men’s non-fiction reading), the activity of reading may nevertheless be comparable in some respects. The ‘100 Families’ archive indicates how men’s reading can be as escapist as women’s reading. [...] Although it is only women who are said to get ‘lost’ in fiction, and whose reading is regularly disparaged or defended against pervasive stereotypes of romance novels as frivolous, further investigation into men’s reading could reveal the different but comparable ways in which it provides a way of demarcating time and space away from domestic reality. (572)

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Trower, Shelley, Amy Tooth Murphy and Graham Smith, 2019. '"Me mum likes a book, me dad's a newspaper man": Reading, gender and domestic life in "100 Families"', Participations 16.1: 554-581.

Why Popular Romance is Un-American (Allegedly)

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 1 June, 2019

In 1983, writing about the "drug store novel" (what we'd now think of as modern gothic romances), Beth Timson concluded that:

while they are written and sold largely in America (though not entirely, of course), their roots are firmly in the traditional British novel; they do not have the characteristics that critics like Marius Bewley in The Eccentric Design or Richard Chase in The American Novel and Its Traditions or Leslie Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel have so carefully pinned down as "American." (89)

This is because

The heroine [...] does not create a new world of her own building but sets out to rediscover her past. During the period in which she lives at the ancestral mansion, she looks over the possibilities of action and finds that she must make a choice between the appearance of goodness in the attractive potential usurper of the estate and the reality of goodness in the outwardly surly heir. Sometimes there is an initial wavering, because she thinks that she distrusts inherited wealth and position. In the end, however, she becomes one of the preservers of the estate - rejecting the usurper and the other young woman who is her psychological alter ego, clearing up family mysteries, and marrying the heir. To find a mainstream novel with this structure of reconciliation, we must look away from American fiction to the British novel, since the pattern of inheriting a house rather than building it is obviously more dominant there. And indeed, a close resemblance is very easy to find. Jane Austen's splendid Mansfield Park has a structure practically identical to that I have outlined for the drug store novel. (91)

In fact,

one can say that what [Austen] does and what the drug store novel is doing are the same thing: showing a pattern of the former outcast integrated into a restabilized family structure. No significant American novel that I can think of does that; no significant British novel that I can think of does not do it. To express the idea in the terms of critic Richard Chase, the classic American novel concerns itself with the Fall of man and his expulsion from Eden, while the British novel writes of man's redemption. Presumably the romance novelists have sensed this deep distinction, because they choose to set most of their novels in England. (92)

To conclude:

ultimately all the data would lead to several conclusions about the drug store novel and mainstream fiction. First, in the British novel the structure of reconciliation has been a dominant one and one used successfully by both significant male and female authors, while in the American novel the structure of reconciliation has been perverted and forced underground. Reconciliation with the stable past and the family has been turned into a vaguely erotic union with the father or his representative. The classic American novel is male-dominated and concerns rejection, independence, and isolation; while the popular romance is female-dominated and concerns re-integration of past and present. [...] the Feminine, in its deepest mythic sense of union and community, has found its voice in American fiction only outside the mainstream. (94-95)

It's interesting to see here how particular assumptions and ways of interpreting "all the data" are shaping outcomes. Certainly if you only choose particular novels (by men) as the basis for determining what constitutes "the American novel" it's not surprising that you can end up concluding that "the American novel" is "male-dominated". It's worth noting that "significant" would appear to exclude popular fiction. So, by definition, romance novels written by US women are both un-American and insignificant perversions of a foreign tradition. Hmm. Well, it's another way of discrediting women's writing, I suppose, particularly where it intersects with popular culture.

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Timson, Beth S., 1983. ‘The Drug Store Novel: Popular Romantic Fiction and the Mainstream Tradition’, Studies in Popular Culture, 6: 88-96.

Tragedy, Literary Value, and Theology

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 29 May, 2019

In an important paper analysing the attitudes underlying critical contempt for popular romance fiction, Pamela Regis drew on the work of Laura Wilder, who stated that

“the critic exhibits an assumption of despair over the condition of society” (85). Moreover “the critic tends to value works that describe despair, alienation, seediness, anxiety, decay, declining values, and difficulty in living and loving in our society” (85)

I was therefore intrigued to read that

Many critics have argued that there cannot be a Christian tragedy. [...] George Orwell claimed [...] that 'It is doubtful whether the sense of tragedy is compatible with belief in God...'; for, he said, tragedy is incompatible with the kind of moral demand which feels cheated when virtue fails to triumph: 'A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.' (Sherry 88-89)

That sense of being "cheated" is one which romance readers express very loudly when they encounter a novel labelled a romance but which ends unhappily. And there is a moral demand inherent in this: as Jennifer Porter has observed, "ultimately the reason many of us read romance is because we have hope in the real world. We believe in the power of the HEA/FN".

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Porter, Jennifer. Tweet from 4 January 2019.

Regis, Pamela. “What Do Critics Owe the Romance? Keynote Address at the Second Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance”. Journal of Popular Romance Studies 2.1 (2011).

Sherry, Patrick. Images of Redemption: Art, Literature and Salvation. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

Romance and "Zombie Coupledom"

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 5 May, 2019

This morning I came across an article by Sarah Brouillette about romance. It's mainly about the economics of romance reading/publishing, as you can see from the abstract:

This article studies the relative success of the mass-market romance industry. It argues that, in conditions of general economic downturn, supports for the cultivation of literary reading have declined, while inducements to romance reading have strengthened. It considers the centrality of self-publishing to romance reading, and the styles of work available to romance writers, most of whom are women and are usually poorly remunerated. It considers, finally, the contemporary romance heroine, treating her as a figure of fantastical symbolic reconciliation: between a liberal ideal of independent empowerment and the reality of persistent compulsion toward coupledom and subservience.

It's in the discussion of this last point that I detect an assumption with which I cannot agree. According to Sarah Brouillette, the romance "industry is propping up both zombie coupledom and empowerment discourse. It offers stories that reconcile the ideal of women’s “ownership” of their sexuality with the compulsion—material and social—to enter into coupledom" (462). As such,

the romance genre is a cultural niche that supports the zombie persistence of the couple form. Melinda Cooper has argued that part of why coupledom persists is simply as a bulwark against economic instability and harried life. It remains a powerful form of risk management—what Mark McGurl calls, in his own work on romance, the “little welfare state.” McGurl points out that coupledom is also supposed to offer passionate erotic satisfaction to self-possessed individuals. This is a hard row to hoe, however, given how harried and beleaguered people are. (461)

Call me brainless if you like, but I'm going to carry on thinking there's something more (like love and emotional support and connection) underpinning good romantic relationships.

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Brouillette, Sarah, 2019. "Romance Work." Theory & Event 22.2, pp. 451-464.

Romance vs. Crime: Snippets of Fact vs. Pure Speculation

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 25 April, 2019

I recently came across a foreword to a critical work about crime fiction which digressed into some pure speculation about romance readers. This foreword, by Professor Frances Washburn, asked

What is specific [...] about crime fiction that appeals to readers? Berthold Brecht, German dramatist and poet, wrote, "The crime novel is about logical thought and demands such logical thought from the reader. It is close to the crossword puzzle in that respect." And further, why is it that romance fiction still surpasses crime fiction in popularity, if only marginally?
I would contend that these two genres appeal to readers with differing psychological profiles, and while I have no evidence to support this assertion, it seems to me that romance readers seek fiction that is comforting, that allows them to believe familiar and timeless philosophies: that true love exists, that finding the perfect mate is possible, and that there is a happily ever after ending, if only between the covers of romance novels. Likely, these readers also believe, or want to believe, that everyone has a personal protective angel and that fairies could be real. Crime novel readers may be drawn to puzzle solving, which every murder mystery certainly is, unafraid to view the ultimate crime in gory detail, even if only between the pages of crime novels. Neither reader is superior or inferior, merely reading with different needs and different perspectives. (x, emphasis added)

There's so much to quibble with, question and dispute here: it ignores the fact that there are many readers who move between the two genres, that "cosy" mysteries may be comforting and may be chosen because they don't depict gore and that the philosophies listed are not "timeless". If romance readers believe in fairies, what about readers of fantasy? Does the juxtaposition of fairies and angels have implications for certain religious beliefs?

Tweet from the Crime Writers' Association saying they're "pleased to announce that all Romantic Novelists' Association members are now welcome at our chapter meetings, in the spirit of cross-pollination!" (22 April 2019)

[Tweet from the Crime Writers' Association saying they're "pleased to announce that all Romantic Novelists' Association members are now welcome at our chapter meetings, in the spirit of cross-pollination!" (22 April 2019)]

I wouldn't deny, though, that there are certain core beliefs present in these two genres, that they appear to differ from each other, and that they probably evoke (or aim to evoke) different responses in their readers. Jennifer Crusie has argued that

the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world.

David Carter and Millicent Weber also touch briefly on romance and compare it to crime fiction, but in their case the analysis is very firmly founded on facts:

For genre fiction, romance - by far the largest of the generic categories, with 1766 titles published in 2013-2017 - is dominated unsurprisingly by HarperCollins's Harlequin and related imprints, responsible on their own for forty-eight per cent of romance titles in the period surveyed (for further analysis of genre publishing see Driscoll et al. 2018). In terms of market share, this figure is in fact a decline from the sixty-four per cent recorded for the period 2010-2013, indicating the recent commitment of other major players to the expanding romance market, not least through digital imprints such as PRH's Destiny Romance. HarperCollins, PRH [Penguin Random House], Pan Macmillan and Hachette between them cover sixty-one percent of new romance titles, and the vast majority of the remainder are self-published. By contrast, a much larger number of independents figure in crime publishing, which overall recorded 574 titles for the period. The prominence of these independents testifies to crime's higher cultural standing among genre forms and its generic investment in local settings. The multinationals, including Simon & Schuster, produced only seventeen per cent of crime titles in the period surveyed, while a group of local independents produced 22 per cent.
In sum, local independents are comparatively far more visible in literary and crime fiction publishing than in romance, thriller/adventure and fantasy. Medium-sized firms are substantially represented, but the multinationals dominate in both literary and genre fiction, that is, in both the more profitable and the more prestigious forms of publishing. (351)

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Carter, David and Millicent Weber. "Fiction Publishing in Australia, 2013-2017". Publishing and Culture, ed. Dallas John Baker, Donna Lee Brien and Jen Webb. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2019. 341-58.

Crusie, Jennifer. "I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre".

Driscoll, Beth, Lisa Fletcher, Kim Wilkins and David Carter, 2018. "The Publishing Ecosystems of Contemporary Australian Genre Fiction". Creative Industries Journal 11.2: 203-21.

Washburn, Frances. "Foreword". Native American Mystery Writing: Indigenous Investigations, Mary Stoecklein.  Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2019. ix-xi.

With thanks to Vassilikí Véros for drawing my attention to the timely Crime Writers' Association tweet.