disability

Respecting the Prejudices of the Reading Public

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 6 December, 2017

Earlier this year the Disability and Romance Project was launched, with the aim

to start new conversations about disability in the romance community. We’ll be gathering data from romance readers, writers and other industry professionals to explore how readers respond to depictions of disability in romance, what motivates authors to write disabled characters, and if there are any barriers to publishing romance novels featuring disabled characters.

Things have, of course, changed over the decades and perhaps it's helpful to have as reference point the situation in romance writing in the 1960s, when Ann Britton and Marion Collin's guide to writing romantic fiction included disability among the "taboo" subjects:

Deformity is also unpopular. Many of the smaller publications ban it completely and the larger-circulation magazines tend to avoid it unless it appears in an exceptionally good story. Of course, there have been some very moving stories about blind girls, and girls with a slight limp who fear that love is not for them, but this kind of plot is not easy to put over sincerely. It can so easily become mawkish. If it has to be written, at least leave the reader with the hope that the girl may eventually recover, and remember that only one or two markets will even consider the story. But never a heroine with one leg. No one will buy that story. (16)

It's probably worth noting that at the time the heroine was "never 'tipsy'" (15), divorce was a "delicate subject [...] though there have been more in recent years, possibly owing to a slight American trend" (16), "Illegitimate children are out of the question" (16) and there was "a colour bar [...] .To make a mixed marriage the central situation in a story is to invite a definite rejection at the present time" (17).

The reason given for all these taboos was that in order to "appeal to as many readers as possible [...] they must respect the prejudices existing in the minds of large sections of the reading public" (17). The impression I have is that some romance authors have always challenged, or wanted to challenge, the "prejudices existing in the minds of large sections of the reading public," whether in small or large ways. In 1964, for example, Mills & Boon

asked Alex Stuart for major changes to her latest manuscript [...]. In her submission letter, Stuart realized that there might be prolems with this novel. 'Please understand that I want Mills & Boon to publish this one very much but I know your reputation for publishing "pleasant books" is of great value to you and, of course, wouldn't want to damage this' [...]. The problem concerned Stuart's insistence that the heroine's father act as a crusader in race relations in Lehar, a fictional African nation. He publishes a book demanding equal rights for black people, and targets South Africa and its apartheid laws. (McAleer 269)

Stuart, "as Vice-President of the Romantic Novelists Association, often spoke on the future of the genre" and she believed more challenging novels such as this one were "the kind which must come in the future, if the romantic novel is to hold its new, young readers and go forward, rather than backward" (169). Mills & Boon didn't publish the novel, but romances have changed with the times. Whether they've generally led the change, or largely followed in the wake of changes in the prejudices of the reading public, I'm not sure. There's certainly a long tradition of smaller publishers (e.g. of lesbian romance) catering to more niche markets, with stories that did not "respect the prejudices" of a large proportion of "mainstream" readers.

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Britton, Anne and Marion Collin. Romantic Fiction: The New Writers’ Guide. London: T. V. Boardman, 1960.

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

 

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
Keeping an Eye on Love

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.]

laura Sunday, 26 April, 2015

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.

Three Steps to Inclusion

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 31 March, 2014

 

Maybe I'm simplifying things but it seems to me that there are three stages in the depiction of a minority group in fiction:

  • In the first stage, the group is marginalised, villanised, or even both. I'm thinking in particular of the use of racial minorities as villains, the evil sexualised "other woman," and the gay villain (with extra points if he's a sadist or a masochist).
  • In the second stage, there are somewhat sympathetic portrayals of main characters from a minority group but these are nonetheless still stereotypes and/or use the difference as a way to ramp up the angst in the story. With regards to disability, for example, Martha Stoddard Holmes has observed that "The connection between emotion and impairment has become a kind of cultural shorthand: to indicate or produce emotional excess, add disability" (3).
  • In the third stage, portrayals are nuanced, people from minority groups are treated as individuals, and their differences are not used to generate shock, pity, angst or a sense of the exotic.

Here are some of the rules from 1960, when Anne Britton and Marion Collin wrote their guide to writing romantic fiction. With regards to disability, race and sexuality, things seemed to be mostly stuck in stage 1, with a few examples of stage 2 allowed only if the author was particularly talented:

Sexuality:

divorce [...] offends a large number of readers and means that the magazine runs the risk of being banned in Eire, [...] it is only one or two of the top circulation magazines which occasionally run powerful stories about the children of divorced parents and the effect a broken marriage has on them.

Illegitimate children are out of the question. There are probably only two or three publications in England which will touch this subject, and their policy is usually one of shock tactics at any price. (16-17)

Disability:

Deformity is [...] unpopular. Many of the smaller publications ban it completely [...]. Of course, there have been some very moving stories about blind girls, and girls with a slight limp who fear that love is not for them, but this kind of plot is not easy to put over sincerely. It can so easily become mawkish. If it has to be written, at least leave the reader with the hope that the girl may eventually recover, and remember that only one or two markets will even consider the story. But never a heroine with one leg. No one will buy that story. (16)

Race:

There is [...] a colour bar in women's magazines. To make a mixed marriage the central situation in a story is to invite a definite rejection at the present time. (17)

Things have moved on quite a lot since then, of course. In romance novels divorced protagonists  are fairly common and secret illegitimate babies seem to be a positive draw for some readers. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of books stuck on steps one or two.

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Britton, Anne and Marion Collin. The New Writers' Guide: Romantic Fiction. London: Boardman, 1960.

Stoddard Holmes, Martha. Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture. Ann
Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2004.

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The image of a three-step style on a level crossing (complete with a warning of danger and an admonition to Stop, Look and Listen) was taken by David Anstiss, who made it available under a Creative Commons licence. I've cropped it slightly; the original is available here.

A Short Note on Shorty

The hero of Owen Wister's The Virginian argues that the US Declaration of Independence's statement that "all men are created equal"

is a great big bluff. It's easy called. [...] Wait, and let me say what I mean." He had made an imperious gesture with his hand. "[...] I know a man that works hard and he's gettin' rich, and I know another that works hard and is gettin' poor. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck. I look around and I see folks movin' up or movin' down, winners or losers everywhere. All luck, of course. But since folks can be born that different in their luck, where's your equality? No, seh! call your failure luck, or call it laziness, wander around the words, prospect all yu' mind to, and yu'll come out the same old trail of inequality." (Chapter 12)

The narratorial voice then takes up the theme, explaining that when all men were declared equal, what was truly meant was that all men were to be granted equality of opportunity so that all those who enjoyed economic success could henceforth be assumed to have done so on the basis of their own merit and, consequently, be deemed to be better than those who were unsuccessful:

we decreed that every man should thenceforth have equal liberty to find his own level. By this very decree we acknowledged and gave freedom to true aristocracy, saying, "Let the best man win, whoever he is." Let the best man win! That is America's word. That is true democracy. (The Virginian Chapter 13)

As William R. Handley notes, "Wister omits his belief that only Anglo-Saxon men need sign up for the contest" (68) but it is noticeable that in The Virginian a party of Native Americans and, later, a Hispanic, attempt to kill the Anglo-Saxon hero and fail: he triumphs and they either die or are confined to a reservation.

In Wister's hierarchical vision of humanity, inequality also arises from differences in intellectual abilities; the Virginian is ingenious and able to plan ahead whereas Shorty is easily tricked and resembles "a yellow dog that is lost, and fancies each newcomer in sight is going to turn out his master" (Chapter 14). Whereas the handsome Virginian "succeeds in climbing the ladder of social and economic mobility and winning the hand of the aristocratic but not-so-wealthy schoolmarm" (Stoeltje 249), Shorty is a dupe who loses his most prized possession, turns to crime and is eventually shot dead by someone he trusted.

I would like to suggest that "poor stupid Shorty" whose "honesty had not been proof against frontier temptations" (Chapter 30) is a character with what in those days would have been classified as a "feeble mind" and in ours would be said to have learning difficulties or an intellectual disability. The Virginian describes him as a "Poor fool!" (Chapter 23) and adds that "he will never get wise. It was too late for him to get wise when he was born" (Chapter 23).

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was thought that the feeble minded were prone to being led into criminality, as Shorty is. For instance, in 1886 Catharine Brown wrote that

we have not yet been able to strengthen the will nor develop the moral nature to a degree that can enable the great majority of the feeble-minded as they pass from our schools, to cope single-handed with the evil there is in the world. The man of weak intellect ... will deteriorate till his last state be worse than the first. Because he has been lifted up a little way he has more temptation, is the better fitted to become the tool of the designing, the cat's-paw of the criminal. (Trent 84)

This is exactly what happens to Shorty. He is initially sheltered to some extent by the Virginian: "it's me that has kept Shorty out of harm's way this long. If I had fired Trampas, he'd have worked Shorty into dissatisfaction that much sooner" (Chapter 23). Having been worked on by "the designing" Trampas, Shorty is destined, as the Virginian correctly predicts, to be

"[...] a handy tool some day."

"Not very handy," said Scipio.

"Well, Trampas is aimin' to train him. Yu' see, supposin' yu' were figuring to turn professional thief--yu'd be lookin' around for a nice young trustful accomplice to take all the punishment and let you take the rest." (Chapter 23)

Shorty will, in other words, become a feeble-minded "cat's paw of the criminal" as, indeed, he has been in the past:

when he was eighteen he got to be help to a grocery man. But a girl he ran with kept taking all his pay and teasing him for more, and so one day the grocery man caught Shorty robbing his till, and fired him. There wasn't no one to tell good-by to, for the girl had to go to the country to see her aunt, she said. So Shorty hung around the store and kissed the grocery cat good-by. He'd been used to feeding the cat, and she'd sit in his lap and purr, he told me. He sends money back to that girl now. (Chapter 31)

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Handley, William R. Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Stoeltje, Beverly J. "Making the Frontier Myth: Folklore Process in a Modern Nation." Western Folklore 46.4 (1987): 235-53.

Trent, James W. Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.

Wister, Owen. The Virginian. 1902. University of Virginia. 2000.

laura Friday, 2 August, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 22 June, 2013

Ria Cheyne's "research focuses on representations of disability and illness in fiction, especially popular genres such as science fiction, romance, horror and crime" and she suggests that

science fiction offers a space where alternative conceptions of ‘ability’, ‘disability’ and what constitutes a ‘normal’ human body can be explored. [...] The story might be set on another planet, in an artificial environment like a spaceship, or on an Earth where conditions are radically changed from the way they are now.  What this means is that there’s a lot more potential to depict different environmental conditions than in most other types of fiction – including those in which the ‘normal’ human body is ill-adapted. [...] Alternatively, science fiction may depict environments that are enabling for those with bodily configurations or capabilities outwith the norm.

This resonated with me because I've recently read Lois McMaster Bujold's Falling Free (1988) in which most of the characters have an extra set of arms instead of a pair of legs. This is extremely useful in the zero-gravity conditions in which they live and to which they are much better suited than two-armed and two-legged humans. It also, though, made me think about Geoffrey Trease's Mandeville series, set mostly in England during the reign of Charles I, which I read this week and in which one of the recurring characters, Pietro Zorzi, is

Barely four feet high, he was in all respects quite naturally proportioned, as was the miniature violin on which he played.

He played excellently. But the applause he won was perfunctory, as though the Duke and his household had little appreciation of music and were merely amused that so small a being could produce it at all. (123-23)

This is historical fiction rather than science fiction but even so it contrives to depict a situation in which there is an environment to which "the 'normal' human body is ill-adapted." The Duke's dwarves are housed in a special set of apartments:

"Follow me," said Zorzi. "Mind your heads."

It was not too difficult, even for Anthony. It meant stooping, and flexing at the knees, and placing one's toes with unusual care on the narrow treads of the stairs. [...] This miniature suite had been built, decorated and furnished with an exquisite attention to detail. [...] If the painters and plasterers and other craftsmen had been of normal size, they must have worked in most cramped positions, squatting like miners. (152)

In the third book of the series a situation arises which is "enabling for those with bodily configurations or capabilities outwith the norm" inasmuch as Zorzi's size enables him to carry out a particular task which is crucial to foiling a plot.

I think it could be said of Trease's depiction of Zorzi, just as much as of the science fiction novels discussed by Cheyne, that the

transformations of impairment status that characters undergo in these novels – from non-impaired to impaired, or vice versa – though the body itself has not changed, demonstrates the extent to which impairment is created by features of the physical environment.  As Rosemarie Garland-Thomson writes, “Stairs disable people who need to use wheelchairs to get around, but ramps let them go places freely” (524).  As a tool for political change, the social model of disability insists that rather than being something inherent to the individual, disability is created by barriers in society which disable a person.  The disability is created by barriers in the environment – which can include attitudinal barriers as well as architectural ones.

Trease was a politically committed author and his novels often address "barriers in society":

As a writer, he started out as a passionate young socialist determined to overthrow the sentimental romanticism of historical fiction at the time. [...] He came to believe it was wrong "to press party politics on readers too immature to argue with him", though of course his books remained permeated with his own liberal values as he wrote [...]. Trease was also innovatory in introducing girls as co-partners in his stories. (Thwaite)

Sir Jeffrey Hudson and Queen Henrietta MariaIn Zorzi's case, the barriers relate primarily to his size but Anthony is restricted by his low social class and Amoret by her gender. Indeed, in the first book in the series Amoret is only able to participate in the adventure as a result of dressing as a boy. Thinking about these differing barriers in the light of the social model of disability reminded me of Aristotle's ideas about women:

To Aristotle, women were imperfect men, the result of something wrong with the conception that created them [...]; a woman was thus "a deformity, but one which occurs in the ordinary course of nature." Aristotle was not sure exactly why imperfect men were required in the natural scheme of things, but decided that it must be because they performed a function necessary for men, [...] he saw their primary function as procreation. (Weisner 18)

That, of course, suggests that bodies which are specially adapted may still be considered inferior, which took me back to the way that the "quaddies" are seen by some of the "normal" humans in Bujold's novel. Nonetheless, in both Bujold and Trease's novels there are scenes which

foreground the ways in which disability can be created by barriers in the environment.  [...] that encounter [...] is valuable because it encourages readers and viewers to reflect upon their own understanding of disability.  I’m not assuming a straightforward influence – read this book and your prejudices will disappear!  Rather, I’m talking about the potentials these works might have in terms of encouraging reflection upon beliefs and values that otherwise might not be questioned. (Cheyne)

In Bujold's novel Leo, one of the two-armed human characters, is shown to reflect and he concludes that

Men adapted to free fall, it was the going back that crippled them.

"I am a quaddie," Leo whispered in wonder. He regarded his hands, clenched and spread his fingers. "Just a quaddie with legs." He wasn't going back. (137)

Trease may not have taken his readers out of this world in order to encourage them to reflect "upon beliefs and values" but I think he nonetheless encouraged reflection on the ways in which the great majority of people might be said to be disabled by "attitudinal barriers" even if not also by "architectural ones."

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Bujold, Lois McMaster. Falling Free. Riverdale, NY: Baen, 1988.

Cheyne, Ria. "Disability in Science Fiction." DaDaFest.

Thwaite, Ann. "Obituary: Geoffrey Trease." The Independent. 30 Jan. 1998.

Trease, Geoffrey. Mandeville. London: Macmillan, 1980.

Weisner, Merry E. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.

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The painting is Anthony Van Dyck's portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson. I found it at Wikimedia Commons. In an author's note Trease wrote that Sir Jeffrey Hudson was "the Queen's dwarf" (189).

Persistent Concerns: Disability, Race, Sex

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 2 February, 2013

Since the concern of commercial media is to exploit as wide an audience as possible, their repertoire of genres in any period tends to be broad and various, covering a wide (though not all-inclusive) range of themes, subjects, and public concerns. Within the structured marketplace of myths, the continuity and persistence of particular genres may be seen as keys to identifying the culture's deepest and most persistent concerns. (Slotkin 8)

Some fictions make their views of these concerns rather more explicit than others. Thomas Dixon Jr.'s The Leopard's Spots (1902) and The Clansman (1904) are extreme examples. In the former

Dixon sought, in part, to correct what he perceived as gross misrepresentations of the South in literary works, primarily in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which even fifty years after its publication was still widely read. In his fictional portrayal of the beginning of the Klan, Dixon argues the group began as a defensive organization—to protect white womanhood from black male sexual aggression and to protect government from corruption. Dixon seamlessly weaves his racist rhetoric into sentimental love plots, priming readers to feel sympathy for white supremacist leaders.  ("Controversial")

One of these is

Dixon's hero, Gaston [...]. Although Gaston's cause is originally southern, [...] Gaston's revenge produces a movement that finally awakens northerners to the Black menace: "You cannot build in a Democracy a nation inside a nation of two antagonistic races. The future American must be an Anglo-Saxon or a Mulatto." (Slotkin 187)

It seems a particularly gratifying context in which to recall the identity of the current president of the US, and to remember that

Children from racial and ethnic minorities now account for more than half the births in the US, according to estimates of the latest US census data.

Black, Hispanic, Asian and mixed-race births made up 50.4% of new arrivals in the year ending in July 2011.

It puts non-Hispanic white births in the minority for the first time. (BBC)

I'm certain these facts would not please Dixon. What I want to highlight here, though, is the fact that Dixon used "sentimental love plots" to express his beliefs. This is true not just of The Leopard's Spots but also of The Clansman, in which:

The southern male hero is more virile and attractive than his northern counterparts, and the northern heroine (Elsie Stoneman) is wooed from her infatuation with the unnatural doctrines of racial equality (espoused by her father) by her desire to love and be loved by the manly southerner. Elsie's father, the leader of the Radicals, is physically deformed, with "explains" his hatred of the healthy southern male and his desire to cripple and deform the southern race through miscegenation. (Slotkin 188)

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Meljean Brook's Riveted is a direct response from the romance genre to Dixon, but in her acknowledgments Brook pays tribute to

Monica Jackson, who fought to turn the world around: You flipped some of us. I truly believe that everyone else will follow, someday. I just wish that you were here to see it.

Monica, who died in May 2012, was outspoken about the racism in romance:

I've written many words on why black racial separation is so prevalent in romance. My favorite theory is that it's the nature of the romance genre. Romance is fantasy-based. Readers are notoriously picky about their settings and having sympathetic characters that they can relate to them. Also, majority romance readers have plenty of romance novels to choose. There's no shortage of books, so why should a reader take the trouble to venture outside their comfort zone and spend money on something that may not appeal? No black romance author gets major buzz in the majority romance community compared with the buzz, awards and recognition white authors receive, so where do they start?

These are a few of the reasons, but figuring out how to address the issue of segregation in romance and thinking about how to go about changing it, is a daunting task. Race is an uncomfortable and taboo subject to discuss on nearly any level by almost anybody, black or white. Desegregating any institution in this country has always been a monumental struggle. (All About Romance)

I think Brook's Riveted can be read as her small contribution to that struggle, and one which she extends so that it also challenges discrimination on the basis of gender, disability and sexual orientation. The novel suggests that it is because of prejudice that "it is not usually what we think of ourselves that makes our lives harder or easier; too often, it is what others think of you" (267).

US cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackie C. Horne has argued that the novel "proves not to be a meditation on gender roles, for Brook takes for granted the equality of the sexes that Gilman and feminists in the 1960s and 70s could only imagine." This is largely true, because the heroine of the novel comes from an all-female society and works as an engineer on an airship captained by a woman. However, the "New World" is rife with sexism: in Manhattan City, for example, "exposing a bare ankle or elbow earned a rebuke and a trip in a paddy wagon back to the port's gates, where her salacious behavior was reported to Captain Vashon and the airship threatened with docking sanctions" (4). There:

without a man's name behind hers, a woman had very little. Even many of the female scientists [...] had to secure the approval of their husbands or fathers before pursuing their chosen field, and were sometimes forced to abandon that pursuit when other demands were made of them. There were exceptions, of course - there were always exceptions - but it was a sobering realization. (276)

One could make the case that, to an even greater extent, Riveted "proves not to be a meditation on race." Certainly Annika, the heroine, is "marked [...] by the darkness of her skin" (13) and although she doesn't know who her biological parents were, it's possible that she is "a descendant of the Africans who'd fled across the ocean to escape the Horde" (55). David, the hero, is half "native" (154):

Many of my father's people were among those who converted when the Europeans first came. My name - Kentewess - identifies me as one. When I was a boy living in the east, reclaiming of the old ways had just begun, so I didn't think of it much. But when we moved to the mountain builders' city [...], many of those around us took great pride in never having converted, never having lost history to Europeans. And when I was with the other boys, I would do everything I could to avoid mentioning my name, and gave them instead the name of an ancestor. I'd ask my father for legends, for tales - not even to truly honor them, but because knowing them make it easier to not feel ... European. (155)

Racial differences are noted, then, and do have an impact on how the characters are perceived, but what more often seems to set Annika apart are her colourful clothes and her "lack of proper sensibilities" (61). With David what mostly sets him apart are his prosthetics. He has a prosthetic hand "grafted on so that the steel contraption had become a working part of his body" (11), "mechanical legs" (23) and "Pale scars raked the left side of his face, with several wide, ragged stripes running diagonally from forehead to cheek [...] And [...] some sort of optical contraption [...] had been embedded into his temple, which shielded his left eye with a dark, reflective lens" (12). It sets him apart from others and at eighteen he'd "confused loving [...] with being grateful that someone would touch him without disgust" (121-22), only to discover that "she'd loved him for what he couldn't do, not what he could" (122). Years later, David knows that

There would always be the Emilys who kissed him out of pity, the women who flinched away in disgust. There would always be those with good intentions. It made David more grateful for rare men like Dooley, who took him as he was - and for women like Annika, who seemed to. (122)

Another possible response to disability, and the one expressed by the villain of the novel, is to use the disabled as an inspiration:

"Men like him [i.e. David] have had to fight harder than all of us, every day [...] It should be a lesson to the rest of us, to remember how our lives could be much more difficult. We need to be thankful for what we have [...]."

[...] David didn't want to be a hero, or a lesson. Just a goddamn man. People treating him like less or more than one made his life more difficult than losing his legs ever had. (145)

David's mother came from Hannasvick, a secret Islandic village populated only by women but since a

community couldn't continue without children, [...] some women left to lie with men, and returned with a girl - or empty-handed, if the baby had been a boy that they left with his father. Some of the women remained away, choosing to stay with their sons. Others, like Annika's mother, took in a child stolen from Horde territories or the New World. (97)

This, however, is not the reason why Annika believes that the village must remain a secret, even from David:

Annika had seen what would happen to her people if the New World descended on them. She'd seen men hanged for less than what the women had done for years. She would never expose them to the ugliest part of the New World, the part that transformed love into sickness and sin.

Not everyone in the New World believed the same; perhaps David Kentewess wouldn't, either. If she told him about the love shared between her mother and his aunt, about so many of the others who'd made their lives together in her village, maybe he wouldn't show the same disgust. But Annika couldn't know how he would react. (101-102)

It is, however, someone else who states that "Something is wrong in them, Annika, and what you see isn't love. It's just lust" (175). Annika argues with this individual but since Annika herself has never found "a woman who stirred her passion [...] - and she hadn't met any men to do it, either. Until David" (163), in our world she would probably be classified as an "ally" of lesbian, gay and bisexual people rather than as someone who was herself lesbian or bisexual. Annika herself wonders about the extent to which she is committed to being an "ally" for although she believes she would be willing to defend her lesbian or bisexual friends and relatives if their lives were at risk, she is less sure she would risk her own life

"[...] For something [...] I think it's harder to die for something you believe in. To stand up and to say that something else is wrong. I said it to my friend, but would I shout it aboard this ship? I don't know. I'd be too afraid of what would happen to me, because so many think as she does. I hate myself for this."

"When you're surrounded by stupidity, self-preservation isn't a sin."

"Refusing to challenge that stupidity and letting it continue might end up hurting someone you love, later. I'd die to protect them, but not to tell people that I've kissed a woman, too?"

Alarmed, David shook his head. Though he agreed with her in principle, he'd be the first to knock her off the pulpit if she intended to shout it from the deck. If she intended to risk herself, to stand for her people, he'd be there with her - but there had to be better ways of going about it. (180-81)

The question of how to "go about it" is raised again, this time in the context of poverty, and David argues that

"If you broke every stupid rule in the New World simply because it was stupid, you'd never have time for anything else."

"I should choose one or two that matter, then." Though she wore a faint smile, her gaze remained serious. "If I had been caught [giving money to the starving so that they could buy some food], died for it - perhaps someone would realize how stupid it is to die for a few coins. If enough people recognized it, they could make a change. But I didn't risk anything. And when I was stopped by the port officer, I thought, Who would come help me? I wouldn't even risk giving money to the hungry. [...]" (182)

Later in the novel Annika does take a risk to free others, and it does indeed "make a change." Her question, "Who would come help me?" reminds me of pastor Martin Niemöller's statement which exists in various versions: he "may have thought first of the Communists, then the disabled, then Jews, and finally countries conquered by Germany" (Marcuse) but the version which, according to Wikipedia, is most commonly cited in the US, is:

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me. (Wikipedia)

Riveted may speak out more loudly on some issues than on others, but it seems to imply that all of us need to speak out against prejudice. Firstly, because it's the right thing to do, but also because all of us may one day face prejudice: as Annika suggests, "I suppose there is always something to make us different. I wonder if anyone at all ever feels at home" (314). As Annika and her mother acknowledge:

"It won't be easy, rabbit."

"No. It will take a long time, I think. But we can start small, here. And never back down." (388)

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BBC. "Non-Hispanic US White Births Now the Minority in US." 17 May 2012.

Brook, Meljean. Riveted. London: Penguin, 2012.

"Controversial History: Thomas Dixon and the Klan Trilogy." Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2004.

Horne, Jackie C. "Lesbiian Allies, Heterosexual Romance: Meljean Brook's Riveted." Romance Novels for Feminists. 20 Nov. 2012.

Jackson, Monica. "What It's Like." Section of "Racism in Romance?" ed. Laurie Gold. All About Romance. 15 Oct. 2005.

Marcuse, Harold. "Martin Niemöller's famous quotation: 'First they came for the Communists ...' What did Niemoeller himself say? Which groups did he name? In what order?" Webpage created 12 Sept. 2000 and last updated 24 Feb 2012.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. 1992. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

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The cover image on the left (showing David as well as Annika) is the US version. The one on the right is of the UK cover. Brook has written that:

Cover art matching the contents is always iffy, unfortunately. And I think the girl on the cover [of the US edition] is darker, but the lighting/ice ends up washing her out. I saw some of the original stills from the photo shoot, and she was more obviously not-white, which was pretty awesomely thrilling. So I think the model was good. Then desaturation and lighting was added to make it look like they were on location, and then end result was all-over lighter. The UK cover ends up being closer in that respect.

Cinderella, Goose-Girls and Rapunzel

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 3 October, 2012

GeeseI've been reading Anne Cranny-Francis's Feminist Fiction: Feminist Uses of Generic Fiction (1990). In it she defends genre fiction, whose

audience commonly attracts a negative reception from critics who, in accordance with the high/low culture division institutionalized by a now outmoded, but still powerful, modernist aesthetic, regard the mass audience of popular fiction as degraded consumers of formula art. This judgement contains an assumption that modernist writing (and possibly its realist predecessor) is non-formulaic, which is highly questionable. Genre fiction, it might be argue, foregrounds its conventions, rather than stitching them seamlessly into the fabric of the text and so its ideological framework may be, or may appear to be, self-evident; modernist and realist fiction, on the other hand, uses less mannered conventions and so achieves an apparent 'naturalization' which has the effect of obscuring its encoded ideological statements. Both genre fiction and its 'high brow' counterparts (realism, modernism, postmodernism) utilize a variety of textual conventions, some of which are more visible than others. (3)

Many of the conventions foregrounded by popular romance seem to be drawn from, or related to those to be found in, fairy tales, for although romances are not (with a few exceptions) actually fairy tales and "The vast majority of romance novels do not consciously invoke specific fairy tales [...] many still implicitly draw on the tradition, its conflicts and quests, and occasionally its motifs" (Lee 57).1

According to Cranny-Francis, "the fairy tale  as popularized by the translation of folk-tales collected by the brothers Grimm"  (104) is "encoded with dominant ideological discourses - such as patriarchal gender ideology" (104). For example,

In his study of folk and fairy-tales, Breaking the Magic Spell, Jack Zipes raises a series of questions about the Cinderella story which leave little doubt about its contemporary ideological function:

Though it is difficult to speculate how an individual child might react to Cinderella, certainly the adult reader and interpreter must ask the following questions: Why is the stepmother shown to be wicked and not the father? Why is Cinderella essentially passive? ... Why do girls have to quarrel over a man? How do children react to a Cinderella who is industrious, dutiful, virginal and passive? Are all men handsome? Is marriage the end goal of life? Is it important to marry rich men? This small list of questions suggests that the ideological and psychological pattern and message of Cinderella do nothing more than reinforce sexist values and a Puritan ethos that serves a society which fosters competition and achievement. (Zipes [...] 173 qtd. in Cranny-Francis 87)

Quite a lot of romances explicitly allude to Cinderella but often this is a shorthand "means of indicating that the novel includes a woman who is poor, perhaps working in a menial job, and who then meets a rich and handsome man" (Vivanco 91-92). Strictly speaking, though

Cinderella's status as a gentleman's daughter makes her more acceptable as a future king's consort. It also places her above the status of peasant. Cinderella is not usually a rags-to-riches tale, but a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale. (SurLaLune)

So when Cranny-Francis comes to discuss popular romance fiction, she turns to another fairy tale:

As Carolyn Steedman observed in Landscape for a Good Woman, one of the principal fairy-tales of our society is that 'goose-girls can marry kings'. [...] Inequality of class is as much a mechanism of the romance as the gender relationships and this may be both an essential feature of the romance and a key to its operation. The desire these texts encode is not sexual, but economic; the desire for solid middle- or upper-class status, for money and power. Since we live in a society in which men hold economic power and in which a woman's status is identified with that of her husband, then finding an appropriate husband is the problem. To make this search more palatable, less seemingly acquisitive, it is displaced into gender terms. The woman's search becomes a sexual and emotional one, a matter of fulfilling her natural, heterosexual needs for sexual and emotional fulfilment - and eventually for children. (186)

This view of romance is very similar to that of Jan Cohn who, a couple of years earlier than Cranny-Francis, observed that

It is a commonplace of romance that the heroine will marry well, a given that the hero will be rich. The heroine's accomplishment, moreover, her success in marrying well, must seem almost an accident; it is never her purpose. The idea of a romance heroine setting out to marry successfully is doubly denied. She never seeks marriage in any form, and when she finds her hero, she is never drawn to him by the signs of his economic power [...] she is a negation of the purposeful, self-interested, mercenary woman. (127)

This isn't to say that there are absolutely no romance heroines who set out to marry a rich man, or that there are no romance heroes who are poorer than their heroines, but as Blythe Barnhill at AAR recently wrote, in romance

Wealthy Regency Dukes are a dime a dozen, and the Harlequin Presents line is based on wealthy, exotic magnate heroes. All of it got me thinking, is this what we want in a book? Is it our real fantasy? Is it not enough to be in love and comfortably middle class? Does our drop dead handsome, ripped hero also need to be able to whisk us off for a luxury cruise, buy us dresses from the best London modistes, or buy the company we work for if our boss is a sexist jerk? Obviously, it’s a popular fantasy, often with Cinderella roots. But is it too popular…or anti-feminist?

The relationship between fairytales and the depiction of disability in romance hasn't been commented on as often but Sandra Schwab has noted that

The ability to see clearly and the loss of sight play an important role in the historical romances The Bride and the Beast (2001) and Yours Until Dawn (2004) by the American author Teresa Medeiros. While Yours Until Dawn features a blind hero, large parts of The Bride and the Beast are set during the night, and the darkness makes the heroine unable to see the face of the male protagonist. In both books the physical inability to see clearly is not only connected to a lack of recognition, but is also indicative of a lack of psychological insight.

Given its title, I can't help but wonder if The Bride and the Beast draws on the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

At the recent 2012 conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, Ria Cheyne discussed romances depicting disability and remarked on the frequency with which disabilities are cured by love. I wonder if there's something here of Rapunzel:

The Prince was beside himself with grief, and in his despair he jumped right down from the tower, and, though he escaped with his life, the thorns among which he fell pierced his eyes out. Then he wandered, blind and miserable, through the wood, eating nothing but roots and berries, and weeping and lamenting the loss of his lovely bride. So he wandered about for some years, as wretched and unhappy as he could well be, and at last he came to the desert place where Rapunzel was living. Of a sudden he heard a voice which seemed strangely familiar to him. He walked eagerly in the direction of the sound, and when he was quite close, Rapunzel recognised him and fell on his neck and wept. But two of her tears touched his eyes, and in a moment they became quite clear again, and he saw as well as he had ever done. Then he led her to his kingdom, where they were received and welcomed with great joy, and they lived happily ever after. (SurLaLune)

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Barnhill,Blythe. "Is This Our Collective Fantasy?" All About Romance. 24 Sept. 2012.

Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham: Duke UP, 1988.

Cranny-Francis, Anne. Feminist Fiction: Feminist Uses of Generic Fiction. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990.

Lee, Linda J. “Guilty Pleasures: Reading Romance Novels as Reworked Fairy Tales.” Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies 22.1 (2008): 52–66.

SurLaLune. "Annotations for Cinderella."

SurLaLune. "The Annotated Rapunzel."

Vivanco, Laura. For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance. Tirril, Penrith: Humanities Ebooks, 2011.

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1 I've explored the relationships between Harlequin Mills & Boon romances and fairytales in chapters 1 and 2 of For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance.

The image of the geese came from Wikimedia Commons and was created by LadyofHats, who dedicated it to the public domain.

Im-PAIR-ment

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 20 September, 2012

Mary observes of Tim, “It was almost as if he lived within her mind as an entity quite distinct from his real being” (73). When Danny kisses Amanda, “It was as though a missing piece of the puzzle was put back in place. He was a part of her” (71). Jesse remarks of Althea, “Truly, it was like she was inside him” (149), while Daniel lauds Jenny, “She was more than beside him: She was in him, the best part of his heart” (41). Ian Mackenzie likewise “dissolves” into Beth (217); when they kiss, his inner monologue expresses the desire “to pull her inside him, or himself inside her. If he could be part of her, everything would be all right. He would be well” (214). (133)

According to Emily M. Baldys these quotes are instances of an

oddly consistent metaphoric trope in which able-bodied characters are represented as incorporating disabled characters, literally and metaphorically taking disabled characters inside themselves. I contend that the trope of romantic incorporation is motivated by the threatening potential of disabled sexuality and used [...] to enact the bodily containment of threat. (133)

I'm not so sure. As Baldys admits, in the third example "Morsi’s phrasing places the able-bodied character inside the disabled character instead of the other way around" (133). More significantly, the "trope of romantic incorporation" is one I've seen frequently in novels in which both characters are able-bodied. Here's an example from Carol Arens' Renegade Most Wanted (2012):

If it had been possible for a woman's soul to flow out of her body and into a man, that's the way it would happen. If not for the constraints of the flesh, she would be right there, inside Matt's heart. (317)

A very short while later the "romantic incorporation" is reversed and made literal as "He slipped inside her" (318) and

he rocked against her womb. A wave crashed inside her. It washed pleasure from the point of their joining to her clenching fingers, then tumbled to the tips of her toes.

Maybe flesh was no barrier to souls after all.

Hadn't her wedding vows declared that the two shall become one flesh? (318-19)

I think passages describing "romantic incorporation" can perhaps be explained by extrapolating a little from some of the ideas Baldys outlined earlier in her essay.

Compulsory heterosexuality—the ideology that positions heterosexuality as a default, biologically derived identity and enforces its normalcy through pervasive cultural mechanisms—has been a common idiom in queer and feminist studies since 1980, when Adrienne Rich published her influential essay coining the term. More recently, scholars writing within disability studies have proposed an analogous conception to Rich’s formative idea. “Compulsory able-bodiedness” is an ideology that positions able-bodiedness as the default position and bolsters itself through cultural forms that represent ability as original, authentic, and normal. This concept, as theorized by Alison Kafer and Robert McRuer, posits a complex interrelationship between heterosexuality and able-bodiedness. Kafer explains that heterosexuality is threatened by disability’s associations with deviance, while able-bodiedness is threatened by the relationship of queerness to illness and medicalization (81–82). Thus, the two ideologies are “entwined” (in McRuer’s terminology) and “imbricated” (in Kafer’s) such that each is contingent on the other: the default heterosexual subject is necessarily able-bodied, and the default able-bodied subject is necessarily heterosexual. (127)

The "trope of romantic incorporation" seems to suggest that there is a third ideology entwined with the other two. Catherine Roach has observed that

To the ancient and perennial question of how to define and live the good life, how to achieve happiness and fulfillment, American pop culture’s resounding answer is through the narrative of romance, sex, and love. The happily-in-love, pair-bonded (generally, although increasingly not exclusively, heterosexual) couple is made into a near-mandatory norm by the media and popular culture, as this romance story is endlessly taught and replayed in a multiplicity of cultural sites.

Given that these narratives are "increasingly not exclusively [...] heterosexual," I think they cannot simply be described as a part of "compulsory heterosexuality." Rather, they perhaps indicate the existence of what one might term "compulsory coupledom" which often, but not always, complements "compulsory heterosexuality" and "compulsory able-bodiedness" and which should at times be analysed separately from them.

According to Bella M. DePaulo and Wendy L. Morris

A widespread form of bias has slipped under our cultural and academic radar. People who are single are targets of singlism: negative stereotypes and discrimination. Compared to married or coupled people, who are often described in very positive terms, singles are assumed to be immature, maladjusted, and self-centered. (251)

Given that romances always feature "individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work" who "are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love" (RWA), it would seem likely that romances could be seen as a "cultural mechanism" which helps to enforce "compulsory coupledom." Certainly Kyra Kramer and I observed a pattern in many romances in which becoming part of a couple completes/perfects the "Phallus" of the romance hero:

“Phallus” refers to the socio-political body which expresses aspects of masculinity associated with the Father, such as authority, the capacity to administer punishment, and the ability to love and care for those under his protection. If a full range of Phallic traits is evinced by a hero then his socio-political body is a Completed Phallus.

At the beginning of a romance novel, however, most heroes have Incomplete Phalluses. Such heroes tend to demonstrate authoritarian or aggressive aspects of Phallic masculinity, including “the threat of violence, the law-giving nature, the ownership of the world, a power vested in physical presence” (Cook 154), and few of the softer qualities, such as care-giving. In a romance in which the Incomplete Phallus displays many of the negative characteristics of men in patriarchal culture, the hero of the romance can also be “its villain, a potent symbol of all the obstacles life presents to women” (Phillips 57). [...]

The feminine equivalent of the Phallus is the socio-political body we shall term the Prism [...]. Even though a romance heroine’s Prism is initially incomplete, it nonetheless focuses her hero’s powers, enabling his Incomplete Phallus to fulfil its potential in a socially acceptable manner and become a Completed Phallus.

Becoming part of a couple also completes/perfects the heroine's Prism.

There are, of course, romances which do not follow this pattern and in any case I would not wish to suggest that all romances imply that the unpartnered are incomplete: the protagonists of romance are sometimes depicted in contexts which include happily-single secondary characters. Nonetheless, the extent to which such contexts can mitigate the focus on the achievement of a romantic relationship is limited because, by definition, a romance has to prioritise the depiction of the central couple (or occasionally threesome or more).

Baldys states that the "demands of compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory able-bodiedness" are "intertwined" (127); it appears they may also be intertwined with compulsory coupledom:

never-married men do run the risk of being labelled 'queers', 'fairies' or 'queens'.

In an analysis of Australian attitudes, Penman and Stolk (1983) found that single women were described as unfulfilled, incomplete, unattractive, and less happy than married women" (Callan and Noller 97, emphasis added)

The idea that single people are "incomplete" evidently has a long history, for Plato's Symposium contains a tale in which it is explained that "the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love" and that it came about because

the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.

These early humans attacked the gods and as a punishment Zeus declared that he would "cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers." According to this myth, all humans are incomplete, and when we fall in love it is because we seek to become whole once more. Obviously the story is not one which can be taken at all seriously but there is nonetheless a

tendency to refer to marriage as a union of two persons into oneness [which] often prompts married people to refer to their spouse as their "other half" or "better half". Unfortunately, it gives rise to the idea that an unmarried person must be fractured, being only half of a whole.

Therefore, the implication is that we must go about looking for another person to provide completion to our being. In other words, a person who is unmarried is incomplete as a person and has less than a full existence than a married person has. (Yeo 11-12)

In romance novels, the formation of a couple sometimes accompanies the curing of disabilities. Baldys notes that

One strain of ableist fantasy suggests that cognitive disability can be “overcome” in one way or another through the extraordinary power of heterosexual relationships. Simi Linton identifies such an “overcoming rhetoric” as one of the clichés that structure dominant meanings and response patterns assigned to disability. “The idea that someone can overcome a disability,” she writes, implies “personal triumph over a personal condition.” Linton argues that this idea is not a concept native to the disability community, but rather “a wish fulfillment generated from the outside” (165). This wish-fulfilling fantasy, in romance novels, finds expression in a process of narrative rehabilitation through which the effects of disability are represented as mitigated or overcome by the characters’ blossoming love. (Baldys 134)

Although I've not read the novel Baldys gives as an example of "the most extreme (and credulity-straining) measures to rehabilitate disability" (134), I've come across a number of romances in which blind protagonists regain their sight as well as novels in which previously infertile protagonists become pregnant or father children. Deborah Chappel has observed the transformations which occur in LaVyrle Spencer's novels and argues that

the changes in Spencer's protagonists (regularization of speech, dimming of freckles, development of healthy-looking bodies) are sometimes so pronounced that it seems inner, emotional reality has the power to improve the material world. Love, and the hope love engenders, operate as forces in the world. [...] Thus, in The Gamble Agatha's limp becomes less and less pronounced and she is able to achieve the three seemingly impossible wishes she expressed in the opening chapters: she can dance, swim, and ride a horse. (110)

Baldys believes that the depictions of disability in romances differ "from depictions in canonical literature, where disability has traditionally functioned as a 'cipher of metaphysical or divine significance' (Quayson 17)" (138) but I'm not so sure that this is the case. As Catherine Roach has observed, "The story of romance is the most powerful narrative in Western art and culture, sharing roots with Christianity and functioning as a mythic story about the meaning and purpose of life, particularly in regards to the HEA ending of redemption and wholeness."

Perhaps in romances the curing of protagonists' disabilities, which takes to a new and literal level the metaphorical use of words suggesting that love makes a person whole/completes them, serves as a kind of secular miracle bearing witness to the power of love (and compulsory coupledom, compulsory heterosexuality and compusory able-bodiedness)  by implying that when a man is united to his wife, not only are they "no more twain, but one flesh" (Matthew 19; 6) but that sometimes, in addition, "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk" (Matthew 11:5).

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Arens, Carol. Renegade Most Wanted. Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon, 2012.

Baldys, Emily M. "Disabled Sexuality, Incorporated: The Compulsions of Popular Romance." Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 6.2 (2012), 125–141.

Callan, Victor J. and Patricia Noller. Marriage and the Family. North Ryde, NSW: Methuen, 1987.

Chappel, Deborah K. "LaVyrle Spencer and the Anti-Essentialist Argument." Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997), 107-120.

DePaulo, Bella M. and Wendy L. Morris. "The Unrecognized Stereotyping and Discrimination against Singles." Current Directions in Psychological Science 15.5 (2006), 251-254.

Plato. Symposium. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive.

Roach, Catherine. "Getting a Good Man to Love: Popular Romance Fiction and the Problem of Patriarchy." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

RWA. "About the Romance Genre."

Vivanco, Laura, and Kyra Kramer. “There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre”, Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

Yeo, Anthony. Partners in Life: Your Guide to Lasting Marriage. Singapore: Armour, 1999.

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The image of a dovetail joint comes via Flickr where it was made available under a Creative Commons licence by Jordanhill School D&T Dept.