Some "lesser works" deemed not worth study

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 5 September, 2020

I'm working through The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction and felt I had to comment on something in Pamela Regis's article on "The evolution of the American romance novel." She's so scathing about two novels, I feel they must be of interest to someone:

I found two little-known novels by none other than Charles Brockden Brown: Clara Howard and Jane Talbot (both 1801). Alerted by their titles - they sound like romance novels named after their heroines - I located copies. These novels were hidden in plain sight, in the fifth volume of the MLA-sanctioned collected works of one of the most studied American authors. They are both courtship tales, and like Richardson's [...] Pamela, they are both epistolary, i.e., told in letters. Brockden Brown, then, at least formally, was a Richardsonian. I found that both Clara Howard and Jane Talbot hinge, in part, on weak, coincidental plot devices: misplaced or forged letters. In addition, although the novels are named after their heroines, they focus on their heroes. Confronted by this sort of evidence, the literary historian must decide between including these novels in a history of the American romance novel or devoting time and effort to other, more worthy titles. Because analysis of these novels would displace in a developing history of the romance the time and effort that could be devoted to analysis of a novel that focuses on the heroine, one of the romance's important contributions to fiction, a novel that, moreover, is a stronger novel, I moved on. With tens of thousands of romance novels undiscovered, spending time on lesser works, however canonical their authors, perpetuates the idea that there are no other, worthier works to include. (59-60)

The irony, of course, is that by including this paragraph, I feel a contrary reader may well be intrigued and wonder if they are really so unworthy after all. In particular, a focus on the hero may actually be of interest to some scholars.

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Regis, Pamela, 2021. "The evolution of the American romance novel." The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction. Ed. Hsu-Ming Teo, Eric Murphy Selinger and Jayashree Kamblé. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 51-71.

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