Pursuing Happiness: Reviews and Excerpt

Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political FictionJessica Avery at BookRiot chose Pursuing Happiness as one of her "top 10 favorite critical texts about romance novels":

This one is soooooooo good. I read it on interlibrary loan when I was still in school and definitely need to buy my own copy. The romance novel is not a uniquely American phenomenon—in fact it didn’t even get its start here. But ever since the romance boom post-1972 (the release year of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss) the romance genre, for better or worse, has been very America-centric. Vivanco examines the politics of the American romance novel, as well as the sources of its political identity. I took an American Realism and Naturalism class during grad school that Pursuing Happiness tied in with beautifully, so if either of those literary are[a]s are in your wheelhouse you should read Vivanco’s book.

Jessica Van Slooten included Pursuing Happiness in a multi-book review for Feminist Collections (39.1, Winter 2018):

Laura Vivanco's Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political Fiction focuses on what close reading of popular romance fiction "reveals about Americans' political 'likes and dislikes'" (p. 13). Vivanco, an independent scholar of romance fiction, explores implicit politics, noting that "at the most basic level, there is bound to be politics in romance fiction because the love lives of the two or more protagonists in a romance will invariably involve 'relations of conflict and power'" (p. 14). She also acknowledges explicitly political messages in popular romance fiction, such as those about slavery and abolitionism in Beverly Jenkins's Belle (2002). Vivanco notes, however, that for the most part, "the politics in romance remains implicit and may not be obvious to readers of mainstream romances who themselves feel part of the mainstream; for them, the politics in the novels may well go unperceived because it reaffirms widely accepted political beliefs" (p. 16). This book is organized around several of these values: the work ethic, the "myth of the frontier" and manifest destiny, community, immigration, and rootedness (p. 74). Each chapter focuses primarily on select romance texts to demonstrate how these themes are embedded and the degree to which the novels support and/or challenge these values. As I read each chapter, I wished for more development of the arguments; for example, Vivanco shows how the genre conventions of westerns and popular romance overlap in a few novels, a topic that deserves a book-length investigation.

[...] Vivanco devotes some time to the HEA. She situates American popular romance's "guarantee of the 'emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending,'" as described by the RWA, as a particularly American phenomenon. In contrast, "The UK's 'romantic fiction'...offers readers a range of outcomes" (p. 18). This is an important and necessary reminder that popular romance fiction reflects and shapes key values about culture and nationality [...].

Vivanco's monograph would be most useful taught in tandem with the fictional works she analyzes and would be a good starting point for exploring these topics, as the short book lacks deep development.


An excerpt in pdf format, including the whole of the introduction and the table of contents, can be found here.

An excerpt can also be found via Google Books.


Where to buy Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political Fiction:

Print (paperback): ISBN 978-1-84760-360-9 from Amazon .com, .de, .es, .fr, .it, .uk, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Lulu and Wordery

Ebook: ISBN 978-1-84760-359-3 PDF from Humanities-Ebooks

Kindle: ISBN 978-1-84760-361-6 from Amazon  .ca, .com, .de, .es, .fr, .it, .uk