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Keeping an Eye on Love

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 26 April, 2015

At the 2015 International Conference on Enabling Access for Persons with Visual Impairment (ICEAPVI) Shi Qiu, Jun Hu and Matthias Rauterberg observed that "Human communication contains both verbal and nonverbal information, which interplay in our daily lives. Nearly 65% of all human interpersonal communication happen through nonverbal cues" (157) and therefore

Nonverbal communication plays an important role in social interactions. However, most nonverbal communication relies on visual signals such as eye contact, head nods, facial expressions and body gestures. Visual nonverbal signals are inaccessible for the blind and hardly accessible for low vision individuals. (157)

These researchers "interviewed 20 blind and low vision participants over [the] Internet" (157); "Ten were from Yang Zhou Special Education School in Chinese mainland and the other ten were from Hong Kong Blind Union" (158). When asked a question about whether "Eyes were important or not in the communication” (161)

one participant said she understood the importance of eye contacts from romance novels, which highlighted the description of the eye contacts between lovers. (161)

It's true that lovers are known for staring into each others' eyes. For example, in 1970 Zick Rubin

predicted that college dating couples who loved each other a great deal (as categorized by their love-scale scores) would spend more time gazing into one another's eyes than would couples who loved each other to a lesser degree. The prediction was confirmed. (265)

The information about lovers' communication via their eyes which can be gleaned from romance novels may, however, be somewhat misleading to blind and partially-sighted readers:

Most participants in the interview gained the understanding of the eyes based on three primary different resources: 1) sighted people tell them (parents, teachers or other people); 2) read novels and other literary works, especially some romance novels described the eye contacts between lovers in details; 3) understand from their own life experiences, which were mostly based on the problems they met due to a lack of visual nonverbal signals. Partially because of using some metaphor and analogy to describe eye gazes or eye contacts in novels and other literary works, participants tend to exaggerate the function of the eyes. For example, one participant stated looking at a person could clearly know he was kind-hearted or not. In fact, it is rather difficult to determine a person’s inner character at the first sight even for the sighted people. (Shi Qiu and Rauterberg 162, emphasis added)

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Rubin, Zick. "Measurement of Romantic Love." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16.2 (1970): 265-273.

Shi Qiu, Jun Hu and Matthias Rauterberg. "Nonverbal Signals for Face-to-Face Communication between the Blind and the Sighted." Enabling Access for Persons with Visual Impairment: Proceedings of the International Conference ICEAPVI-2015, February 12-14, 2015. Ed. Georgios Kouroupetroglou. Athens, Greece: ICEAPVIA, 2015. 157-165.

[Both the articles cited and the whole conference proceedings are available online, in full, for free, via the links provided.]

Racing to the Happy Ending

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 2 April, 2015

 

Following on from the rancher's view of the happy-ever-after, here's one presented to a racing driver hero by his friend, Jerry:

"The way I see it, [...] marriage is a lot like racing five-hundred miles at top speed. The only sensible way to tackle that big a challenge is a lap at a time. Right?"

"Of course."

"Well, the only sensible way to tackle marriage and forever after is a day at a time." (Varner 166)

It's a metaphor which suggests that marriage, and the happy-ever-after, will continue to throw up challenges, all the way to the finishing line. Dan, the racing-driver hero, adds an extra touch of realism to the metaphor by observing that some cars are more likely to reach the finishing line than others:

Though he tackled his five-hundred-mile races a lap at a time, just as Jerry pointed out, he did it in a dependable car, with good tires and plenty of fuel. If he and Torie tried to tackle marriage, whether a day, an hour or even a second at a time, they would be doing it unprepared - without the two most important prerequisites: love and a willingness to compromise. They would not be able to survive the long haul; they would not win the race. (172)

Shortly after this, of course, they discover that they do indeed have enough love to fuel them all the way to the end of the race, along with an ability to compromise which will make sure the wheels don't fall off their romance before they reach the finishing line.

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Varner, Linda. A House Becomes a Home. New York, NY: Silhouette, 1991.

 

The photo is of "NASCAR driver Scott Gaylord's car, when he ran in the Winston Cup race at Sears Point in 1991" and was made available under a Creative Commons licence by Jay Bonvouloir. I came across it via Wikimedia Commons.

A Very Apologetic Non-Apology

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 28 March, 2015

In 1992 Frances Whitehead, at the time the Editorial Director at Mills & Boon, had an article published about popular romance, in which she traced its history back to "the Greek novels of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD" (62). She goes on to mention Richardson and Austen, then observes that

Throughout the 19th century, romance continued to appear in all guises and those at the top of the literary tree influenced the writers below them. [...] This curious situation, with romance simultaneously occupying the high and the low ground - the literary and the lowbrow - has continued in the present century. (Some romantic passages from D H Lawrence could be said to qualify for inclusion in both categories.) But whereas romantic love is an acceptable theme for a "literary" author, it is often a source of ridicule in more popular, down-market fiction. (63)

This sounded to me like a defence of popular romance novels, so I read on eagerly, and was pleased to see Whitehead comment that "writing romance isn't like painting by numbers" (64). It began to seem as though the main distinction, in her mind, between "literary" and "genre" fiction, was that, in "genre" fiction, the reader can expect the plot to develop in particular ways, according to which genre is involved:

Having followed the fortunes of hero and heroine throughout the book, the reader demands that they are united for all time. To have them decide that they don't want to spend their lives together would be comparable to James Bond admitting defeat or Christie's Hercule Poirot failing to solve a case. Predictability, the cardinal sin in the "literary" novel, is a necessary and reassuring factor for the reader of genre fiction. (64)

I was, therefore, rather dismayed to see the following statement in the closing paragraphs of the article:

Romantic novels are entertainment, not literature, and do not need to apologize for what they are. They serve their purpose and in the process keep countless women amused and happy, off the valium and out of doctors' surgeries. This in itself is justification. (68)

Sometimes, it seems the defenders of romance are indistinguishable from its detractors.

Edited to add: a response on Twitter reminded me of something I'd read before, which makes me think that Whitehead was probably echoing her boss.

Joseph McAleer, in his Passion's Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon, states that:

The Mills & Boon imprint, like any successful commodity in a mass market, stands for a quality product, a kind of guarantee of an easy, thrilling, and satisfying read with an obligatory happy ending. This flavourful confection, wrapped in a brightly coloured paperback cover with a dreamy scene, is to many addictive in its escapist nature. Alan Boon, the acknowledged genius behind the stylized Mills & Boon romance, admitted the restorative quality of the novels which he edited for some forty years: 'It has been said that our books could take the place of valium, so that women who take these drugs would get an equal effect from reading our novels.' (2)

It's possible that Boon was just quoting something others had said, but with which he disagreed. However, the context in which it's reported, and Whitehead's reference to valium, make me fairly sure he shared her views and, probably, shaped them.

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Whitehead, Frances. "Love Makes the World Go Round (?): The Romantic Novel as a Publishing Phenomenon." Logos 3.2 (1992): 62-68. [The article has recently been reprinted elsewhere, and you can read the whole of it here.]

A down home assessment of the HEA

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 14 March, 2015

A Rancher's HEA, from Head to Toe

 

A Rancher's HEA, from Head to Toe

 

Nancy Cook has observed that,

true to its pastoral and bucolic roots, ranch life in romance novels almost always centers on "husbandry" activities. [...] the ranching activities in a romance novel don't build power or empire for power's sake; they don't speak primarily of sound business practice and land management; they speak of husbandry, of sensuality, of "Nature" as procreative force. [...] Most of the novels set on ranches make the link between animal husbandry and human husbandry explicit" (65-66)

"Husbandry" in this context, then, refers to "The care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals" (OED) but, as the existence of the word "husband" demonstrates, can easily be understood to have implications for our understanding of human romantic relationships.

In Robin Wells' Plain Jane Gets Her Man (1997), the hero, Jake Masters, is a rancher who has

only seen examples of what not to do in a marriage. He had no idea how two people were supposed to act behind closed doors in order to have a successful relationship. Could a person exhibit behavior they'd never seen modeled before? He didn't know. He only knew it was a huge emotional risk.

His eyes rested on the shadowed outline of trees across the pasture. He was accustomed to taking other types of risk, of course - that was the nature of ranching. Things like weather and market prices and the health of his herd were all subject to sudden changes, all beyond his control. He'd always accepted the ups and downs of his business, understanding that every drought would eventually end, every bad season would eventually be offset by a good one, every rough spot would sooner or later be replaced by a period of smooth sailing. He'd always taken a long-term view, rationalizing that if he just hung in there, and gave it his best effort, things would all work out in the end.
But marriage was entirely different.

Wasn't it? The question made him stiffen in the saddle.

Maybe it wasn't so different. Maybe he could apply the same principles to a relationship. (181)

Romance may have been accused of giving its readers unrealistic expectations of romantic relationships but this seems to me to be a fairly realistic assessment of marriage, and one which puts into ranching language the old words about a couple taking each other

"for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part" (Book of Common Prayer).

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Cook, Nancy. “Home on the Range: Montana Romances and Geographies of Hope.” All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature. Ed. Brady Harrison. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 2009. 55-77.

Wells, Robin. Plain Jane Gets Her Man. New York, NY: Silhouette, 1997.

 

The image of "Cowboy Boots and Hat" was created by MaurieF, who made it available under a Creative Commons licence. I found it at Wikimedia Commons.

Romance and the Politics of Health Care

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 7 February, 2015

According to Joseph McAleer,

After the Second World War, the NHS [National Health Service] inspired a new kind of popular novel that was [...] supportive and sympathetic to the emerging health care system. [...] the new 'Doctor-Nurse' novels first published by Mills & Boon in the 1950s [...] reinforced a positive view of the NHS among middle- and working-class readers. [...] the almost fanatical endorsement of the medical profession is striking. The message sent, and met with approval by adoring readers, was this: nurses are heroic and selfless; doctors are larger than life; the delivery system works; and hospitals are places of romance as well as healing. The NHS could not have asked for a better endorsement. (174)

By contrast, here's a short passage from a US-set romance from 1994, whose hero is a recreational therapist:

"Private insurance companies aren't willing to spend money entertaining people, as they call it." Matt's lips curled derisively. "They'll cover physical therapy costs, but most baulk at recreational therapy."

"I find that hard to believe."

"It's true, though. If medical insurance companies subsidized places like mine, there'd be hundreds of them across the country. Unfortunately, there aren't, and only the well-off can afford the few that do exist. I try to take on as many needy cases as I can, but that's not a huge lot," he admitted. "I have to pay my therapists' salaries and feed the animals, and I can't do that without charging."

"What a shame!"

"It certainly is. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but we have no comprehensive national health plan. It's a crime that people have to pay so dearly for medical treatment. To make matters worse, the more medical problems you have, the less likely you'll find an insurance company willing to underwrite you. [...] I'm involved with a group that's been lobbying Congress for a national health care system. So far there's been a lot of talk about legislation, but not much else." (Duquette, 29-30)

I haven't yet seen any comparison between medical romances from the US, UK, Australia, etc but I think one could be very interesting given how different their medical systems are. The descriptions of some of US author Adeline McElfresh's medical romances, for example, are intriguing: in Doctor for Blue Hollow (1971)

The rundown clinic at Blue Hollow was a far cry from big, modern Bayley Memorial Hospital where Ann Tyler once worked. But for the lovely young surgeon, this tiny Kentucky mining town seemed a perfect refuge from the memory of a handsome doctor who betrayed her love.

Waiting for Ann was the challenge of protecting the health of the miners and their families, even though this meant battling the owners over safety in the mines.

It sounds as though the novel deals with inequalities in healthcare provision and also with the ways in which the interests of big business can conflict with the health needs of their workers and their communities. Another of her novels, New Nurse at Dorn Memorial, features a heroine, Celeste Weller, who

had never walked away from a challenge, and her new career at Dorm Memorial Hospital would prove to be the greatest challenge yet. Not only was she the first nurse to break the racial barrier at conservative Dorn, but through the bigotry of one of its influential patients, she was transferred from the Surgery Department, her first love. From there she was thrust into the hectic schedule of double shifts in Emergency and the clinic purposely designed to force her to resign.

Celeste knew a bigger city might give her a better opportunity for acceptance on her own merit, but she was determined that her small hometown would have to make room for her. And she had allies on the staff. But more than that, Celeste was the best nurse Dorn had ever had.

As far as I can recall, the medical staff in the UK-set romances I've met have been pretty much exclusively white, which doesn't seem very accurate given that

Once the NHS was up and running in 1948, demand for health service labour increased rapidly, not only for basic care but also for new techniques and technologies such as radiology and blood labs. At a time of overall labour shortages in the British economy, health service workers from abroad were vital, with recruits from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent especially prominent. [...]

The overall scale of recruitment from abroad is striking. By 1960, between 30 and 40 per cent of all junior doctors in the NHS were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “The Health Service would have collapsed” said eminent doctor Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, if it had not been for this “enormous influx”. [...]

Around 30 per cent of doctors and 40 per cent of nurses in today’s NHS were born outside the UK. Those proportions may yet rise as an ageing population limits the potential supply of British-born staff while adding to increased demand for health care. (Bowlby)

I do know that Anne Fraser's The Playboy Doctor's Surprise Proposal features a hero whose "parents are from India originally"; it's set in Australia.

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Bowlby, Chris, 2011. 'How Immigration Saved a British Institution', History Extra, 28 July 2011.

Duquette, Anne Marie, 1994. The Dinosaur Lady (Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin).

Fraser, Anne, 2010. The Playboy Doctor's Surprise Proposal (Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon).

McAleer, Joseph, 2011. ‘Love, Romance, and the National Health Service’, Classes, Cultures, & Politics: Essays on British History for Ross McKibbin, ed. Clare V. J. Griffiths, James J. Nott, & William Whyte (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 173-191.

Legal Minds Taking a Dim View of Romance Novels

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 13 January, 2015

Rebecca Tushnet quotes some exceedingly ignorant and condescending legal views of romance fiction, which I've put in bold. [I've also added links to the articles she cites, where I could find them available for free online.]

Critics, both legal and literary, have often assumed that romance novels are interchangeable consumables, “mass produced” in a way that other books somehow aren’t.  [...] Even fair-use friendly academics can slip into stereotype, treating romances as meaningless commodities, more like chewing gum than literature,9 “wholly lacking in scholarly or research significance.”10 Others see romances, and their readers, as not just meaningless but worthless. 11

There's even legal commentary that blithely writes off romances and fantasies as so trivial and irrelevant to real life that there is no such thing as fair use of them:

The Harry Potter series of books, for example, are works of pure fancy. These books certainly deal with issues of human nature – addressing subjects like the struggle between good and evil, self-awareness, and coming of age – but they are set in a parallel universe. They make no explicit attempt to address important social or political topics, and as such they should be free from subsequent use [for purposes of fair use analysis].

Genre fiction (horror, mystery, romance) is typically about the plot of the story or about the main character’s experience within the setting developed in the story. These works deal with human nature but generally lack social commentary. Romance novels, for example, deal with lust, romance, and human relationships. These works, however, are largely divorced from the issues and problems of the real world.12 (6-9)

9 Glynn Lunney, Copyright, Private Copying, and Discrete Public Goods, 12 Tul J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 1, 19 (2009) (describing romance novels as examples of "read-and-toss" works whose consumers "might not care about which particular work they receive," but "may simply want another unit in a relatively homogenous stream of works").

10 Pamela Samuelson, Google Book Search and the Future of Books in Cyberspace, 94 Minn. L. Rev. 1308 n. 134 (2010) ("Google's license from the settlement class allows it to scan not only many books for GBS that may be wholly lacking in scholarly or research significance (e.g., say, Harlequin romance novels), but also duplicates of books already in the corpus."). But see Ann Bartow, Fair Use and the Fairer Sex: Gender, Feminism, and Copyright Law, 14 Am. U. J. Gender Soc. Pol'y & L. 551, 581 (2006) (arguing against dismissiveness toward romance novels, especially as compared to other popular genres).

11 See, e.g., M. Todd Henderson, The Nanny Corporation, 76 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1517, 1531 (2009) ("Even reading romance novels, after all, may impose costs on others, since presumably the less well-educated are a net drain on society.").

12 Michael Coblenz, Not for Entertainment Only: Fair Use and Fiction as Social Commentary, 16 UCLA Ent. L. Rev. 265, 302 (2009).

I'm not convinced that Ann Bartow is really all that much less dismissive, at least of category romances, but you can judge for yourself:

Romance novels [...] seem to benefit from apparent female authorship, regardless of the author’s actual gender. Pseudonyms appearing on romance novel covers are usually female and, generally, very Anglo and aristocratic sounding , such as Victoria Aldridge, Ellyn Bache, Elizabeth Bailey, Daphne Clair, Jacqueline Diamond, Olivia Gates, Jillian Hart, Tara Taylor Quinn, Roxanne Rustand, Carol Stephenson, Meredith Webber, and Rebecca Winters.

Some categories of romance novels have a marked tendency to offer the same basic plot lines over and over to an extent that one might expect copyright law to discourage or prevent. Yet it almost seems as though certain romance novel publishers have chosen to either risk or forgo copyright infringement suits premised upon the doctrine of substantial similarity. If it is true that West Side Story would infringe the copyright of “Romeo and Juliet” if that Shakespearian play was currently protected by a U.S. copyright and if the appropriation of a few notes from a copyrighted song without permission for sampling purposes is widely viewed as actionable, one would think that some of the more repetitive romance novels would be routinely enjoined by copyright-holding competitors. However, copyright suits do not appear to be a significant part of the ostentatiously satin and lace fabric of this sector of the romance novel publishing industry. (579-80)

It's true that she goes on to be really quite positive about some single title romances, but that positive assessment comes at the expense of Harlequin/Mills & Boons (and other category romances) and I can't help but think she's a little confused about their content, because category romances are not "bodice rippers":

There are different types of romance novels, and many romance novels are rich, complicated works of fiction, as intricate, sophisticated, and valuable as any other category of literature. These tend to be single-titled romances, lengthier works which are released individually, and not as part of a numbered series. Though often dismissed as inconsequential or frivolous, it is difficult to understand why they are more or less socially important than westerns, political thrillers, spy sagas, or books about sports figures.

There is, however, a subcategory of pulpy, formulaic romance novels, which illustrates an odd intersection between copyrights and gendered book consumption. Their intended and actual audience is overwhelmingly female. Sometimes referred to as “bodice rippers,” these books, often available through monthly subscriptions, feature stereotypical characters, repetitive plotting, and sexual contacts of borderline consensuality. They are often written under somewhat pretentious-sounding pseudonyms and graced with cover art depicting an attractive, well-dressed, heterosexual couple in some sort of romantic embrace. [...]

The successful monthly pulp romance repeatedly tells its readers the same essential story: regardless of contrary initial impressions, beneath distant and foreboding exteriors, the men who pursue them romantically are decent, caring people who are worthy of being loved by female protagonists and by the readers themselves. Both reinforcement of idealized heterosexual relationships and perceived market imperatives may drive publishers’ content decisions. Serial romance novel consumers can only buy, or refrain from buying, the books that contain the content that distributors choose to provide. Copyright law seems to do a poor job of incentivizing originality in this context, and one consequence may be that a patriarchal status quo is effectively reinforced. (581-83)

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Bartow, Ann. "Fair Use and the Fairer Sex: Gender, Feminism, and Copyright Law." American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 14.3 (2006): 551-584. Available as a pdf.

Tushnet, Rebecca. "The Romantic Author and the Romance Writer: Resisting Gendered Concepts of Creativity" (2015). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1419. http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/1419. Available as a pdf. It is due to be published in Diversity in Intellectual Property Ed. Irene Calboli & Srividhya Ragavan. Cambridge U. P, forthcoming 2015.

Horrible Acronyms?

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 9 January, 2015

In the autum 2014 issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies Heather Schell asked a question I think I can answer:

IASPR and JPRS, organizations whose value more than compensates for their horrible acronyms (sorry, but it’s true. Jeepers, what were you people thinking?)

It was a long time ago and I can't find the emails to check, but as far as I can remember, Eric (Selinger) and Sarah (Frantz) had come up with various possibilities and I either said I preferred these ones, or jiggled around the letters they'd already come up with so that they ended up this way. My reasoning was that they'd be easy to remember and pronounce. IASPR sounds like Jasper, a name I'll always associate with the song which goes like this:

Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch me,

Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch me,

Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch me,

As she lay between the lilly-white sheets with nothing on.

 

[Repeat the verse, each time missing out one more word from the end of the first three lines e.g. the next verse would be]

 

Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch,

Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch,

Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch,

As she lay between the lilly-white sheets with nothing on.

 

The last verse, of course, is therefore just "Oh, oh, oh, As she lay between the lilly-white sheets with nothing on." It seemed not entirely inappropriate to allude to Sir Jasper and this "forced seduction" in the title of an organisation dedicated to the study of popular romance. As for JPRS, well

Sleepless Masculinity

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 23 December, 2014

Wakefulness as a measure of masculinity is a facet of the history of gender in America that has received no attention at all. Recent gender studies have pursued many facets of male experience and identity, often fixing on dramatic expressions such as extreme muscularity and myriad forms of aggression. But mundane manly stamina, as displayed by persevering through long days or nights on the job, has thus far gained little notice. Fulfilling the familiar male breadwinner role entailed a daily dedication to struggle to maintain consciousness as a basic test of strength. For many American men, winning bread meant losing sleep. (Derickson x)

Now that I think about it, I'm fairly sure that one can find sleeplessness as a marker of masculinity in romance novels too because I have a feeling there are quite a lot of heroes who sleep relatively little. I'll certainly be trying to spot examples in the future. What about Edward, in Twilight, who famously spends a lot of time watching Bella sleep? Of course, he's an immortal vampire. For mortals, as Derickson notes,

Although not as self-evident as the link between somnolence and accidents, the role of sleep loss in producing chronic disease has been established by researchers for numerous disorders. These include ulcers and other gastrointestinal ailments, depression and other psychiatric conditions, heart attacks and other forms of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes and other metabolic disturbances. Some evidence links short sleep to elevated rates of cancer. (xii)

Romance novels can reflect concerns about overwork/lack of sleep too: there are heroines who're concerned about heroes who seem tired and overworked.

I can also recall scenes in which a heroine thinks that her hero looks touchingly vulnerable and boyish when he's asleep. Those scenes would seem to affirm the association between sleeplessness and masculinity, but in a way which perhaps suggests that where there is love, there is no need for constant masculine vigilance. I'm reminded of the story of Samson:

One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.”

But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels[a] of silver.”  [...]

she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.

So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. (Judges 16, NIV)

Samson and Delilah

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014.

Image of "Samson and Dalila" by Francesco Morone via Wikimedia Commons.

Nature or Nurture?

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 7 December, 2014

I'm too busy repeating "it was written in 1953" from between gritted teeth to write anything very insightful about Margaret Malcolm's Cherish This Wayward Heart but here's the blurb, from a 1983 Harlequin reprint:

All her life Judith had tried to make up for not being the son her father had wanted. She was determined to be as good as any man.

Now, with her father's death, Windygates Farm was hers. And right from the start she resented the new estate manager, Charles Saxilby.

But, in the ensuing battle of wills between them, Charles taught Judith to be a woman!

Obviously, this heroine is doomed to fail: there is no way she can run a farm as well as a man could because

Men and women were different. Had and ought to have a different outlook on life so that each was not the same as the other but complementary. Right from the beginning it had been been impossible for her to take the place of the son that her father had wanted so fervently, and she should never have been allowed to try. Life had always been frustrating because she had attempted to live it in a way that was foreign to a woman's nature, only she had been too stubborn to see that or admit it if she had.

And that, of all reasons, was the real one why she had hated Charles. He, with the normal man's approach, had taken it for granted that she would rely on him - that she would need to, just because he was a man and she a woman. And he had compelled her to admit it to herself, if no one else. He had always been there when she needed help - and she had needed it. (553-554)

The novel teaches that a woman simply can't do a man's job, because men and women are different and are therefore naturally best suited to different jobs. It's interesting, though, that the blurb says Judith needs to be "taught [...] to be a woman" because Simone de Beauvoir has argued that

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." By this, Beauvoir means to destroy the essentialism which claims that women are born "feminine" (according to whatever the culture and time define it to be) but are rather constructed to be such through social indoctrination. (Mussett)

I doubt that's quite what the blurb writer had in mind, though. Personally, I think Beauvoir was correct, and I'd suggest that Cherish This Wayward Heart provides evidence that romance novels can, on occasion, help with "social indoctrination."

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Malcolm, Margaret. Cherish This Wayward Heart. In The third anthology of 3 Harlequin Romances by Margaret Malcolm. Toronto: Harlequin, 1983. 385-574.

Mussett, Shannon. "Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

An untamed North African Elephant Shrew, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Tip on Writing Romance Heroes

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 30 October, 2014

One of the sections in Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance stresses the importance of

Vulnerability

Perfection isn't totally appealing. It can be scary. It can be unbelievable. It can seem inhuman. It can be just too much. [...]

Why especially for the hero?

So why is that vulnerability so vital - especially in a hero? As I've said, the alpha male is strong, powerful, forceful, dynamic and successful  [...]. But at heart he's just a human being. (109)

One of Sally Wentworth's heroines throws a bit more light on the topic:

she would probably never have fallen in love with him if she hadn't seen his bad leg and realised his vulnerability. Before she had been half afraid of him; he was so different from herself that he might almost have come from another world, not only of class and background, but of confidence and experience; he was a man in every sense of the word [...]. But the fact that he was vulnerable to pain, to frustration, to life, had brought him down to a level where she could fall head over heels in love with him. (146)

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Walker, Kate. Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Abergele: Studymates, 2008.

Wentworth, Sally. Man for Hire. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1982.

The illustration is of Achilles, from The World's Famous Orations, Vol. 1 (via Wikimedia Commons).