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Romance Novels and Attitudes towards Coal and Oil

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 20 August, 2017

The stories that we tell reflect our culture and, whether consciously or not, encode our opinions, thoughts and beliefs. (Grubert and Algee-Hewitt 1)

Emily Grubert and Mark Algee-Hewitt's short article "Villainous or valiant? Depictions of oil and coal in American fiction and nonfiction narratives"

draws on a corpus of 60 narratives, both fictional and nonfictional, published between 2002 and 2016 by US authors. We [...] posit that American narratives often depict oil as new and exciting, with associated dangers seen as tragic but thrilling. Appalachian coal, by contrast, is portrayed nostalgically, depicted as a nearly familial presence that has betrayed its communities and no longer represents security and prosperity.

I was very happy to see that they mentioned having included romances in that corpus of texts. After all, romance novels make up a very significant proprortion of all popular fiction published.

My memories of reading about oil and coal in romances are a bit vague, but I'd agree with them about coal being associated with communities in financial difficulties. I also remember reading some romances in which oil exploration/exploitation is considered risky but potentially very lucrative.

I've tried to pick out the romances in their corpus and I think they're as follows, though it's possible I've missed a few:

  • Avrile, Parker (2016) - Oil - The Runaway Millions: A Male/male Contemporary Romance Novel
  • Camp, Deborah (2012) - Oil - Vein of Gold
  • Lyn, Tommie (2013) - OIl - The Sands of Santa Rosa
  • Thomas, Marin (2008) - Coal - A Coal Miner's Wife

That may not seem like very many, but there were only 30 works of fiction analysed in total. In the article, specific mention is made of two of them:

Parker Avrile opens The Runaway Millions with the dramatic bankruptcy of an extremely wealthy man as a drop in oil price forces him into default:

‘How can you pop up out of nowhere and take everything just because the price of oil dipped below fifty dollars a barrel for a few days? We all know it's going back up.’...

‘We’re stealing nothing. You gambled, and you lost.’

Coal causes death and oil causes loss of a lifestyle. In these and other texts, both resources repeatedly create major conflict. (5)

and

close reading confirms that oil is often associated with gambling, where wins and losses are large, exciting, and ultimately out of an individual's control (see, for example [...] Avrile's The Runaway Millions) (8)

The other novel discussed seems to be an inspirational romantic suspense novel and:

Lyn's The Sands of Santa Rosa [...] sets up the opposition of fossil fuel corporation versus environmental nonprofit, though she inverts a common pattern by deploying a disgruntled environmentalist against an oil company to cause a major spill (ultimately, the spill is disastrous because of steps taken by the oil company, however). (6)

It is also mentioned that

stereotypes about indigenous Americans as possessing a privileged relationship to nature [...] are also relatively common (and visible in this corpus in Lyn's 2013 novel, which includes a part-indigenous protagonist who saves the day with his mystical “Sight”). (7)

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Grubert, Emily and Mark Algee-Hewitt, 2017. "Villainous or valiant? Depictions of oil and coal in American fiction and nonfiction narratives." Energy Research and Social Science. [Abstract]

He's a good dog Godfrey!

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 18 July, 2017

Pop culture collision: my romance reading is (very temporarily) a novelised version of WeRateDogs:

And from Joanna Chambers' A Gathering Storm (2017):

Nick looked down to meet the gaze of the white bulldog sitting at his feet, its unlovely face made uglier by a missing eye.

He smiled at the dog. “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” he asked Snow, bending down to ruffle the silky flaps of the dog’s ears.

“That ugly mutt’s still trailing after you, I see,” Godfrey said disapprovingly. He kept a few hunting dogs, but was not a man to make a pet of an animal and couldn’t understand why Nick would.

“He’s a good dog,” Nick said mildly.

Academics scandalised: romance fiction outperforms "literary fiction"

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 20 June, 2017

I don't have any particular insights into whether or not reading fiction encourages empathy but Charles Duncan, Georgene Bess-Montgomery and Viktor Osinubi believe evidence has been

accumulating for two decades in the form of convergent lines of research anchored respectively in neurobiology and cognitive psychology, which demonstrate how and why reading fiction enhances social intelligence and cognitive empathy by a process which might be called “biomimesis" (245)

One such piece of research sought to discover whether there was a "possible correlation between the literary quality of a fictional text and its potential to enhance social intelligence" (250). However, Duncan et al. thought the research might well be flawed due to the fact that “literary fiction” had been defined

in terms of its power to “defamiliarize” readers, “unsettle their expectations,” and force them to “search for meanings among a spectrum of possible meanings” (Kidd & Coastano, 377). Not only would such a definition, carried to its logical terminus, confine the greatest rewards of reading fiction to an intellectual elite with a taste for the avant-garde, it also would exclude a vast body of fiction of undeniable merit (or even greatness) which nonetheless positions the reader as a “subject” to be entertained as well as intellectually stimulated. (251)

They note that another study

suggests that rather than interrogate the “literary” quality of the text, we might do better to interrogate the quality of the reader’s engagement with the text, which in turn presumes the author’s craft as a storyteller much more than the status of the text as a work of art. (252)

In this study,

Amazingly enough, the highest RME [Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, a test of "social intelligence"]  scores were manifested by readers whose ART [Author Recognition Test] scores suggested a clear preference for Romance fiction—an outcome which would seem almost scandalous, at least until we remind ourselves that Romance novels succeed or fail to the extent that they involve readers in a deeply vicarious experience, utilizing characters with whom a susceptible reader can easily identify.

So, it seems "almost scandalous" to suggest that romance fiction might be more beneficial in some ways than literary fiction and Charles Duncan, Georgene Bess-Montgomery and Viktor Osinubi therefore scrambled to ascribe this to romance readers being "susceptible." Hmm. Why couldn't they just accept that many romance authors are good storytellers who write engaging works of fiction?

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Duncan, Charles, Georgene Bess-Montgomery and Viktor Osinubi, 2017. "Why Martha Nussbaum is Right: The Empirical Case for the Value of Reading and Teaching Fiction." Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 19.2: 242-259.

Taking romancelandia debates to the Canary Islands

This Wednesday (21 June) I'll be giving a video presentation to a conference in the Canary Islands. My paper takes Meljean Brook's Riveted as a starting point for taking a look at changing attitudes towards "otherness" in popular romance fiction. I've written a little bit about the novel elsewhere on this blog but here's an abstract of what I'll be saying on Wednesday:

Changing Attitudes to Others: Meljean Brook’s Riveted (2012) and its Context

Meljean Brook's Riveted (2012) is dedicated to Monica Jackson, a romance author who drew attention to the marginalisation of African American romance authors and their novels; her successors in this task include K. M. Jackson and Rebekah Weatherspoon. Riveted can be read both as evidence of changing attitudes towards "others" in the early twenty-first-century romance reading and writing community, and as an attempt to encourage readers to think more deeply and sympathetically about those who are marginalised and othered in a variety of ways, including on the basis of their sexuality, disability and ethnicity. Riveted also seems to challenge the gender-based othering which is extremely common in the genre.

Keywords: circunstancia, disability, gender, José Ortega y Gasset, K. M. Jackson, LGBTQ, Meljean Brook, Monica Jackson, othering, race, Rebekah Weatherspoon, romance, Stella Young

While I do discuss some of the ways in which Brook challenges common forms of "othering" which persist in the genre, I've tried to use her book as a springboard to bring together the voices of some of those who've been discussing various forms of "othering" and exclusion. My hope is that my paper will help preserve a flavour of those discussions and help other academics find them if they hadn't been members of the community at the time the discussions took place.

The plan is for the conference proceedings to be published at some point.

Other papers at the conference include:

María del Mar Pérez Gil (ULPGC): “‘Every inch a Spaniard’: Images of Spain in popular romance novels”

Inmaculada Pérez-Casal (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela): “Lisa Kleypas and the ‘outcast’ hero: A diachronic study”

María Jesús Vera Cazorla (ULPGC): “‘And they drive on the wrong side of the road’. An analysis of the Anglo-centric vision of the Canary Islands in three romance novels”

Aline Bazenga (Universidade da Madeira): “Language awareness in four popular romances set in Madeira Island”

María Isabel González Cruz (ULPGC): “English/Spanish codeswitching and borrowing in a sample of romances set in the Canaries”

María del Pilar González de la Rosa (ULPGC): “‘In a flash of perverse temper’: Acknowledging gender and the representation of women in a sample of romance novels set in the Canaries”

Johanna Hoorenman (Utrecht University): “Private treaties: Historical and contemporary Lakota Sioux romances by Kathleen Eagle”

María Henríquez Betancor (ULPGC): “Imagery of lovers in book covers: A gender approach to romantic novels”

Jayashree Kamble (LaGuardia Community College CUNY): “From Xinjiang to the British Isles: Examining escapism and the ‘othering’ of romance heroines in Sherry Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy

María Ramos-García (South Dakota State University): “Representations of the Other in paranormal romance and urban fantasy”

laura Saturday, 17 June, 2017

Broadening the history of the category romance

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 27 May, 2017

Hutchison and Hurst & Blackett Paperback RomancesHutchison and Hurst & Blackett Paperback Romances

Although Harlequin and Mills & Boon tend to be the names we think of in relation to short paperback romances, for a long time Mills & Boon specialised in hardbacks, for the library market. Competing with them, in the paperback format, were romances by other publishers:

a number of British firms were following the trail blazed by Allen Lane and Penguin Books in 1935. Pan, Corgi, Panther, Sphere, Cherry Tree, and Fontana paperback imprints, featuring romance, crime, and war stories, appeared after the war. [...] Mills & Boon did negotiate paperback editions of some novels before Harlequin's offer in 1957, but these were limited and infrequent. [...] Corgi Books picked up Mills & Boon's Doctor-Nurse titles for its 2s. 'Corgi Romance' series [...]. (McAleer 116)

It wasn't until 1964 that "Mills & Boon started printing paperback novels in Britain (as opposed to importing a limited number of novels printed in Canada)" (114).

Not mentioned by McAleer in the quotes above are Hurst & Blackett and Hutchison, but they too clearly had an interest in this market and, as is evident from the photo above, Hurst & Blackett were clearly labelling their category-length romances as "Romance". I recently bought the paperback romances in that photo from Ebay; they caught my attention because they were paperbacks published in the late 1940s or early 1950s. No publication dates are given in the copies I have, which are not first editions, but according to one library catalogue Sonia Deane's There is a Destiny dates from 1948 and Guy Trent's Strange Destiny from 1949.

I haven't seen much written about early romance paperbacks like these, which reminds me that although we do have some broad histories of popular romances, such as Rachel Anderson's The Purple Heart Throbs (1974) and more specialised histories such as those of Harlequin (e.g. Paul Grescoe's The Merchants of Venus (1996)), there are still a lot of gaps to be filled and, even today, some aspects of the history of the romance-reading community remain ephemeral (such as the digital discussion groups documented in this 2009 post by Jane of Dear Author).

In "Postbellum, Pre-Harlequin: American Romance Publishing in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century" Bill Gleason fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge of much earlier romance publishing and his findings challenge a number of preconceptions which exist about the history of romance fiction. These preconceptions exist, largely, because the history of this type of fiction is so incomplete and works which were hugely popular in the past have fallen into obscurity. Gleason

suggest[s] that many of the elements of American romance publishing we currently take for granted as late-twentieth century innovations, including multiple points of view, proliferating subgenres, and diverse publishing venues, were already distinctive features of the buzzing, blooming, romance market [of the late 19th century]. (57)

According to Gleason, by the 1880s and 1890s there were increasing numbers of "dime novel libraries that catered predominantly, and often specifically, to romance readers" (64) and

"From around the mid-1880s the dime novel libraries became not only more numerous but also more specialized, separating works out not only broadly by genre ... but also narrowly by sub-genre," notes media historian Graham Law. "'Clover', 'Heart', 'Primrose', 'Sweetheart', and 'Violet', were among the epithets used to denote romance libraries aimed at female readers." [...] The writer in whose work the specialized romance series [...] invested most heavily was [...] Charlotte M. Brame [...]. Like other English authors before the passage of the International Copyright Act of 1891, Brame, who wrote "somewhere in the region of 130 novels during her lifetime," had her work routinely pirated in the United States. (65)

Those sound rather like the titles of modern category romance "lines."

A short biography of Brame, along with a bibliography of her works, by Graham Law, Gregory Drozdz and Debby McNally can be found online. Gleason focuses on Wedded and Parted, which

tells the story of 18-year-old Lady Ianthe Carr, whose father, an English Earl, has gambled away their fortune speculating on a mine. To save the family from ruin, Ianthe's father implores her to marry the young man whose father now owns the title to their family estate. Although the young man, Herman Culross, is honest, hard-working and handsome [...] Ianthe treats Herman with contempt. [...] Only when he is gone does Ianthe recognise his true nobility. (66)

If you want to find out what happens next, the whole novel can be found online here. I haven't read it all, but it's category-length and ends with a grovel and an HEA.

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Gleason, William A. 'Postbellum, "Pre-Harlequin: American Romance Publishing in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century," Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom?'' Ed. William A. Gleason and Eric Murphy Selinger (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2016), pp. 57-70.

McAleer, Joseph. Passion's Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

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Edited to add:

Over on Twitter, Elizabeth Lane's shared some covers of more early paperback romances. I wasn't able to find any mention of their authors in Twentieth Century Romance and Gothic Writers (which doesn't have Guy Trent or Sonia Deane either).

Graduate Nurse by Ann RushGraduate Nurse by Ann Rush

Elizabeth notes that this edition was published in 1956 by Avon but there must have been an earlier edition as the cover mentions that it was originally titled Florida Nurse.

Tomorrow is Forever by Gwen BristowTomorrow is Forever by Gwen Bristow

Elizabeth says 'this one is Pocket from 1971, but it says "Thomas Y. Crowell edition published 1943".'

Kecia Ali's "Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb's Novels"

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 26 February, 2017

There is a moment in J. D. Robb's Celebrity in Death in which, Kecia Ali observes, Robb seems to "address the place of fiction - her own work - in the world" (152) through the words of an actor who states that:

"I'm good at my work. I'm damn good at it and I feel strongly what I do is important [...] without art, stories, and the people who bring those stories to life, the world would be a sadder, smaller place." (46)

Robb's work may make the world a happier place by entertaining her readers, but perhaps she also expands their world by touching on a range of quite serious topics.

Kecia Ali's Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb's Novels argues that the novels in Robb's In Death series

explore vital questions about human flourishing.  

Through close readings of more than fifty novels and novellas published over two decades, Ali analyzes the ethical world of Robb’s New York circa 2060. Robb compellingly depicts egalitarian relationships, satisfying work, friendships built on trust, and an array of models of femininity and family. At the same time, the series’ imagined future replicates some of the least admirable aspects of contemporary society. Sexual violence, police brutality, structural poverty and racism, and government surveillance persist in Robb’s fictional universe, raising urgent moral challenges. So do ordinary ethical quandaries around trust, intimacy, and interdependence in marriage, family, and friendship.  

Ali celebrates the series’ ethical successes, while questioning its critical moral omissions. She probes the limits of Robb’s imagined world and tests its possibilities for fostering identity, meaning, and mattering of human relationships across social difference. Ali capitalizes on Robb’s futuristic fiction to reveal how careful and critical reading is an ethical act.

For example, although Robb's protagonist, Eve Dallas, "frequently uses violence in appropriate and measured ways to stop criminals or protect herself, colleagues, or civilians," Ali highlights the need to read carefully and critically given that at other times Dallas

abuses her power, or threatens to. Readers - like Dallas' colleagues - become complicit in these casual brutalities. Readers identify with Dallas and root for her. She has suffered traumatic violence herself and commands what P.D. James terms "reader identification and loyalty." [...] Reader loyalty means that when she hurts people, especially but not only when they hurt her first, readers tend to be on her side.

This is the case even when she is in the wrong. (89)

In such circumstances, the novels may prompt the reader to adopt positions which Ali regards as unethical. However, Ali looks more favourably (albeit still with a critical lens) at other aspects of the novels, such as Dallas's rejection of "the claim that some people simply deserve better lives than others" (96).

Death, too, is portrayed as egalitarian:

In December 2060, Dallas' detectives hang a sign over the squad's break-room door, joining a jumble of holiday decorations [...]:

NO MATTER YOUR RACE, CREED, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR POLITICAL AFFILIATION, WE PROTECT AND SERVE, BECAUSE YOU COULD GET DEAD.

Erected as a joke, the sign strikes Dallas' fancy. She decrees that it will remain after the sad Christmas tree and other seasonal debris are gone. It expresses a core truth: death equalizes [...] Not only is death universal, so is vulnerability. (95)

Naturally (given my academic background) this reminds me of medieval and early modern depictions of death.

In the illustrations and texts of the Dance of Death, individuals from both lay and clergy, of high to low estate, of a variety of creeds (at least in the Spanish version), young and old, male and female, are forced to join the dance.

Death and the Duchess: Holbein d. J.; Danse Macabre. XXXVI. The DuchessDeath and the Duchess: Holbein d. J.; Danse Macabre. XXXVI. The Duchess

The illustration above, by Hans Holbein, dates from the first half of the sixteenth century and depicts two skeletal representatives of Death arriving to take a Duchess from her bed. Other illustrations in the series show the moment at which Death approaches individuals from different social classes. The modern novels of the In Death series use words, rather than images, to portray variations in social class and how they affect the contexts of individuals' deaths:

the form of difference to which the series attends most clearly is class. Juxtapositions between rich and poor victims pepper the series. Its first installment juxtaposes the deaths of a wealthy woman from a prominent family working as a licensed companion and an older LC struggling to get by. Another opens by contrasting two murders: in his lavish home, a rich man's "death had come to him on the luxurious sheets of his massive, silk-canopied bed." A poor young woman's death the night before had occurred "on the stained mattress tossed on the floor of a junkie's flop." The surroundings diverge, but the end result is the same: hence the protecting and serving that the squad sign proclaims. (95-96)

That "squad sign" with its warning that "YOU COULD GET DEAD" also recalls for me the warning issued by three corpses (who are, however, a little more emphatic about the issue), in the tale of The Three Living and the Three Dead: they tend to state some variation of "What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be" (as at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini).

Three Living and Three Dead: Detail of a miniature of the Three Living and the Three Dead, from the De Lisle Psalter, England (East Anglia), c. 1308 – c. 1340, Arundel MS 83, f. 127vThree Living and Three Dead: Detail of a miniature of the Three Living and the Three Dead, from the De Lisle Psalter, England (East Anglia), c. 1308 – c. 1340, Arundel MS 83, f. 127v (see the British Library blog for more details)

The connection between these medieval/early modern works and the futuristic In Death series may seem tenuous but, as Ali observes "Robb often plays with literary analogues and antecedents [...] e.g. Witness in Death pays homage to Agatha Christie) [...] "Chaos in Death" engages The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" (176) and, in addition, Ali points out ways in which the novels contain more than one "blast from the past" which "connects the future with the past":

Robb's retrograde jargon of "mental defectives" and "violent tendencies" suggests biological determinism [...] the panhandler licenses that beggars must display recall the poor badges of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century England. (106)

It seems not inappropriate, therefore, for an academic response to her work similarly to make connections between her novels and older works of literature and art.

It might be a little bit too fanciful, however, to think of Eve Dallas, who "seeks justice for the innocent and beloved as well as the guilty and the jerks" (114) as a handmaiden of the goddess Poena (from whose name the word "penal" is derived) and of whom Anthony Trollope wrote in Framley Parsonage that:

Poena, that just but Rhadamanthine goddess, whom moderns ordinarily call Punishment, or Nemesis when we wish to speak of her goddess-ship, very seldom fails to catch a wicked man though [...] the wicked man may possibly get a start of her. (Chapter 47)

Even so, it's intriguing how closely and explicitly entwined Dallas' role is with death and, moreover, that it has a spiritual element: "For her, being a cop is a calling. A priest compares Dallas' vocation to his own" (46) and "In a dream conversation with a murder victim who had been posing as a priest, Dallas rejects sin as out of her "jurisdiction," telling him, "Murder is my religion" (151). And it is also mentioned that Dallas was "a 'mythical figure' while [Peabody] was at the [police] academy" (48).

Poena/Poine: Atreus, king of Mycenae, sprawls mortally wounded on his throne. [...] To the right of the throne [...] P

Here "Atreus, king of Mycenae, sprawls mortally wounded on his throne. [...] To the right of the throne [is] Poine, the winged goddess of retribution" who was known as Poena by the Romans. In other words, she's on the scene of a murder to investigate and arrives quickly due to her wings; Dallas has to make do with a flying car. The image is taken from a scene depicted on a "Two-handled jar (amphora) depicting the murder of Atreus. Greek, South Italian, Late Classical Period about 340–330 B.C." Appropriately given Ali's academic affiliation, this is also from Boston, albeit the Museum of Fine Arts. "Images of artworks the Museum believes to be in the public domain are available for download" under terms of use which permit "limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use."

 

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Ali, Kecia. Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb's Novels. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2017.

Vanity Fair

Melania Trump, eating diamonds, on the cover of Vanity Fair (Mexico)Melania Trump, eating diamonds, on the cover of Vanity Fair (Mexico)

 

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"Sometimes I think fashion magazines are run by revolutionaries just to make the aristocracy look stupid."

He suppressed a grin. From Sarah's mouth this comment was not praise. She was a staunch monarchist and a firm believer in the social hierarchy. Jack, however, had no such faith in social order; the idea of La Belle Assemblée being run by a cabal of anarchists gave him fond feelings for that periodical.

Cat Sebastian, The Soldier's Scoundrel, Avon: 2016, page 29.

laura Tuesday, 31 January, 2017

"Alternative Facts": Some Thoughts After Quaker Meeting

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 29 January, 2017

The Quaker Advices and Queries states that "Taking oaths implies a double standard of truth" because, as explained elsewhere,

An oath is like a formal version of a promise – in saying certain words, you guarantee that you are speaking the truth. Quakers claimed always to speak the truth, so they took issue with swearing oaths, seeing them as creating a double standard of truthfulness. If you need to swear an oath to guarantee you are telling the truth, then you can’t really feel that you must tell the truth the rest of the time.

I couldn't help but think of someone who recently swore an oath and who certainly would not be able to answer in the affirmative these questions, posed in the Advices and Queries:

Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility?

Sadly that may mean that, for many of the rest of us, the next paragraph of the Advices and Queries will become increasingly pertinent:

If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standard of integrity, are you prepared to resist it? Our responsibilities to God and our neighbour may involve us in taking unpopular stands. Do not let the desire to be sociable, or the fear of seeming peculiar, determine your decisions.

New Page on this Site: Politics and the Past in Historical Romance Fiction

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 27 January, 2017

In case anyone's following this blog via a feedreader, I thought I'd mention here that I've just put up a new page elsewhere on this site (the topic was a bit long to be just a blog post) about politics and history in historical romance fiction.

In it I refer to Beverly Jenkins, who's one of the authors included in Bowling Green State University Library's new small online display about pioneering African-American romance authors.

Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen (ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr)

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 7 January, 2017

 

I was sent a copy of Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen (ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr) around Christmas but I waited till after New Year to take a closer look at it. It's not about envying the Virgin Mary, although her presence does make itself felt particularly in the final chapter.

The editors suggest that "our ideas about virginity - the hymen in particular - and the phallus are 'cultural fantasies' that continue to inspire, provoke, and unsettle us" (2): the first and second essays in the volume show the continuities across the centuries of some of these "cultural fantasies". And yet:

As we began to discuss virginity, however, we realized that many of these common virginal narratives are not true. Virginity extends well beyond the girl who protects herself and her hymen until marriage. [...] Indeed, insistence on the hymen erases all kinds of bodies save the most normative, cisgendered body of the female. Therefore, it is imperative that we go beyond the hymen and think about virginity without it. Truth be told, boys are virgins, queers are virgins, some people reclaim their virginities, and others reject virginity from the get go. (4-5)

The editors have tried to ensure that the collection of essays in the volume have a wide range but "as editors regret that this collection does not contain much about lesbian or trans virginities - important areas of research that need to be attended to [...]. It is surprising that, though virginity studies is a field dominated by the idea that virginity is female, lesbian experiences of virginity are unaccounted for in the scholarship" (11). There is a discussion of Catalina de Erauso, though, in the last chapter.

I've copied out the abstracts of the two chapters on romance in this post so here I'll just highlight a few other quotes/elements which piqued my interest, mainly relating to depictions of race/ethnicity/geography and religion in texts/contexts related to popular romance fiction.

Chapter 1: "I Will Cut Myself and Smear Blood on the Sheet": Testing Virginity in Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance [by Amy Burge, pages 17-44.]

Amy Burge's

focus throughout is on the [virginity] test as it applies to women, echoing the deeply gendered discourses that surround virginity testing: there are no virgin sheikhs. (18)

I'm kind of tempted to look for one now, just in case he exists out there somewhere. Almost certainly not published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, though, as I know Amy researched those very, very carefully.

Given the popularity of virgin heroines in romance fiction, it's really interesting to note that her

large-scale analysis of Mills & Boon Modern Romance [i.e. the line known as Harlequin Presents in the North American market] novels reveals that female virginity is particularly pronounced in romance novels with "foreign heroes": the ubiquitous Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, Brazilians, Argentines, and, of course, sheikhs. Of the 931 Modern Romance novels published in the United Kingdom from 2000 to 2009, 458 feature virgin heroines, and 281 of them (approximately 61 percent) have foreign heroes. This simultaneously reveals Western preoccupation with virginity and its situating of it "elsewhere." (21)

This does begin to make me wonder if, among English-speaking writers and readers, Greece, Italy and Spain are in some way not considered part of the "West," and in turn reminds me of Hsu-Ming Teo's essay about Rudolph Valentino playing the part of the "sheik." Teo mentions that

the period of mass European immigration from the 1840s to 1924 [in the US] “witnessed a fracturing of whiteness into a hierarchy of plural and scientifically determined white races,” dominated by Anglo-Saxons. [...] To southern Americans, the Mediterranean, Eastern European, Jewish, and Levantine immigrants were “in-betweens,” occupying a status between true whites and blacks."

Something of that hierarchy perhaps continues to haunt romance fiction; as a result of my own research on Greece in popular romance (forthcoming) I came across the suggestion that in England the Mediterrean has been particularly associated with passion since at least the early modern period.

It isn't entirely clear why cultures assumed to be more passionate should also be assumed to value virginity more highly but it is certainly stressed in romance novels set in the "romance East" that "female virginity is of great cultural importance. Sheikh romances repeatedly highlight the importance placed on virginity in Eastern culture [...]. Such a cultural valuing is connected to ideas of tradition often glossed as 'medieval.'" (Burge 23). As Burge concludes:

For contemporary popular romance fiction to construct the "romance East" as a space in which "medieval" virginity can be celebrated echoes the similar practice of situating practices or attitudes inappropriate today - such as sexual violence - in a distant space, such as the historical past or, indeed, the East. Relegating the valuing and testing of virginity to the East might be in line with current popular ideas about the East, but it also reveals some of the romance genre's motivations for situating this valuing in the fictional romance East. In other words, for the romance genre to celebrate the unequal traditions of heteronormativity, the virginity testing that upholds these traditions must be situated "elsewhere." As much as many Western readers [...] might condemn "foreign" cultures for continuing to conduct virginity tests, the gender hegemony that these tests uphold is clearly evident and even celebrated in our own romantic cultural imagination, as revealed in the pages of some of the most popular contemporary Western fiction. (34-35)

Chapter 2: Between Pleasure and Pain: The Textual Politics of the Hymen [by Jodi McAlister, pages 45-64.

Given the way in which the valuing of virginity is located "elsewhere" in the popular romances examined by Burge, it's intriguing that McAlister observes that

in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries [..] Some virgins were said to be affected by chlorosis or "green-sickness," for which marriage was recommended as the cure [...]. We can see this represented in [...] the 1682 ballad "A Remedy for the Green Sickness" [...] We can see represented here not only the cure for green-sickness but also the pathologization of maintained virginity that existed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hanne Blank notes that it is an interesting coincidence that green-sickness was so often diagnosed during the period in which Protestantism, with its emphasis on marriage as the ideal state, became popular in Europe. (47-48)

Is it also a coincidence that the countries/places onto which romance novels seem to project the idealisation of virginity are not Protestant? Possibly it is, but at the same time I can't help but remember that in the seventeenth century:

European writers associated Islam with, and criticized it for, excessive and depraved sexual practices. The sexual excesses of Muslims were believed to derive from their religion, which permitted polygamy. (Teo, Desert 40-41)

A couple of centuries later, Gothic fiction linked Catholicism and "depraved" sexuality. For example:

When in The Monk (1796), Matthew G. Lewis uses the details of conventual life to suggest lurid forms of sexual excess such as necromancy, incest, matricide, and same-sex love, he does not need to explain his choice of a Catholic setting, a Mediterranean country (Spain, not Italy in this case), or religious life itself. All these things, to the English imagination at least, make such easy, rational sense that Lewis could assume a general understanding of (and even assent to) his extravagant posturing. And while reviewers criticized Lewis’s excess, they never suggested that his portrayal of Catholic monastic life was inappropriate. If the novel can be considered sensational, that is not because anyone objected to the portrayal of the characters themselves: oversexed and violent Catholic priests, victimizing and vindictive nuns, devil worship and self-abuse. These and other lurid sexual possibilities were common popular perceptions of conventual life in Mediterranean countries. (Haggerty)

Is it yet another coincidence that all this sexual excess is taking place in settings which are supposed to be filled with virgins?

Chapter 3 - The Politics of Virginity and Abstinence in the Twilight Saga [by Jonathan A. Allan and Cristina Santos, pages 67-96.

Edward, the virgin hero of the Twilight saga is "foreign" in a different way from Mediterranean romance heroes: he is a vampire. Again, there is a link to religion:

Silver argues that his values are "uncommon in popular, mainstream secular discourse about young adult sexuality today." [...] there is an entire industry dedicated to ensuring sexual purity, which though having a religious affiliation, is also very much a part of secular culture. (72)

The issue of virginity in US culture is also mentioned in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 - Lady of Perpetual Virginity: Jessica's Presence in True Blood [Janice Zehentbauer and Cristina Santos, pages 97-123.]

Certainly, in the past two decades in America, evangelical church groups and the American government have united to encourage youth in general, and young women in particular, to choose abstinence [...]. Historian and independent scholar Hanne Blank points out that, "of all the developed world, the United States is the only one that has to date created a federal agenda having specifically to do with the virginity of its citizens." (97)

Zehentbauer and Santos suggest that

Twenty-first-century America's obsession with virginity also emerges in many artifacts of popular culture, especially those of the gothic or supernatural genres. In her influential Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach argues that vampires, in the Anglo-American cultural imaginary, embody and signify the sociopolitical concerns of the era that produces them. (98)

If the US policies around virginity have been at all divisive, and it would seem that they have, given that "repealing abstinence-only programs, much less authorizing the full scope of reproductive health care services, runs into deep moral divides" (Morone and Ehlke 318), and if Edward's values "are 'uncommon in [...] secular discourse," could it be that those values have to be translated into a "foreign" (in this case vampiric) context to make them palatable to a mass audience which is, nonetheless, still fascinated by virginity and what it represents?

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The other chapters in the volume are:

McGuiness, Kevin. "The Queer Saint: Male Virginity in Derek Jarman's Sebastiane." (127-143.)

Ncube, Gibson. "Troping Boyishness, Effeminacy, and Masculine Queer Virginity: Abdellah Taïa and Eyet-Chékib Djaziri." (145-169.)

Sayed, Asma. "Bollywood Virgins: Diachronic Flirtations with Indian Womanhood." (173-190.)

Crowe Morey, Tracy and Adriana Spahr. "The Policing of Viragos and other "Fuckable" Bodies: Virginity as Performance in Latin America." (191-231.)

That last chapter introduced me to Catalina de Erauso whose life

reads like a picaresque novel. Born, probably in 1592, to a noble Basque family in San Sebastián, Spain, she bolted from a convent before taking her vows, assumed masculine clothing, gave herself a new identity as "Francisco de Loyola," and, early in the seventeenth century , made her way to the New World, where she led the rough-and-ready life of a soldier in the Spanish colonies.

On the battlefield she was a formidable warrior; in her other exploits she gambled, engaged in dalliances with women, brawled, and faced death sentences for murder. Once her true sex was revealed, she became a celebrity in Spain. [...]

In her memoir Erauso stressed her chief virtues as a man--physical courage--and as a woman--virginity . While she did not stint at recounting transgressive acts of "manly" bravery such as fights resulting in murder, she was more oblique when referring to acts that were sexually transgressive.

At no point does Erauso speak of physical attraction to a man. She did, however, include several incidents that show her affection for women. (Rapp)

As the authors note, she fared much better than either Joan of Arc or more modern women whose soldiering/other forms of political engagement was responded to with state-sponsored violence that included rape and execution.

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Allan, Jonathan A. and Cristina Santos, 2016. 
"The Politics of Virginity and Abstinence in the Twilight Saga." Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen. Ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. London: Zed. 67-96.
Burge, Amy, 2016. 
"‘I Will Cut Myself and Smear Blood on the Sheet’: Testing Virginity in Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance." Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen. Ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. London: Zed. 17-44.
Haggerty, George. 2004-2005. 
"The Horrors of Catholicism: Religion and Sexuality in Gothic Fiction." Romanticism on the Net 36-37.
McAlister, Jodi, 2016. 
"Between Pleasure and Pain: The Textual Politics of the Hymen." Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen. Ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. London: Zed. 45-64.
 
Morone, James A. and Daniel C. Ehlke, 2013. 
Health Politics and Policy. Fifth Edition. Cengage.
Rapp. Linda. 2003. 
"Erauso, Catalina de (ca 1592- ca 1650)." glbtq Encyclopedia.
Teo, Hsu-Ming, 2010. 
'Historicizing The Sheik: Comparisons of the British Novel and the American Film', Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1.
Teo, Hsu-Ming. 2012. 
Desert passions: Orientalism and romance novels. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Zehentbauer, Janice and Cristina Santos, 2016. 
"Lady of Perpetual Virginity: Jessica's Presence in True Blood." Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen. Ed. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. London: Zed. 97-123.