misc-academic

Part I - Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women's Writing (Sheffield, 11 June 2016)

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 12 June, 2016

 

Yesterday I went to a one-day conference/symposium on Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women’s Writing. There were 5 papers which focussed on romance novels, one on Fifty Shades (I think there have been debates over how to classify that, though it could be considered erotic romance), and various papers which looked at links between romance and other forms of women’s writing.

I’m going to write up my thoughts about each of the papers here but these are very much my thoughts on the papers, rather than an accurate description of each of the papers themselves. That’s mostly because it’s difficult to write fast enough to take accurate, detailed notes which won’t misrepresent the finer points of someone’s argument but also because (a) I’m not sure how much information all the participants want to have shared online about their work and (b) I’m a bit single-mindedly focussed on romance, so even when a paper is primarily about books which are not genre romances my brain will tend to zoom in on the bits of the paper which relate to romance scholarship (as opposed, for example, to scholarship on feminism, capitalism etc).

The first three papers were:

Fran Tomlin, University of Edinburgh - “True Romantic Art”: Love and the Quest in the novels of A. L. Kennedy

Elizabeth Dimmock, University of Lincoln - Fifty Shades of Grey and Late Capitalism

Veera Mäkelä, Independent Researcher (previously studying at the University of Helsinki) - Acting for Herself, by Herself: Learning, Regaining, and Employing Female Agency in Mary Balogh's Dark Angel, Lord Carew's Bride and The Famous Heroine.

In my second post I write about:

Dr. Amy Burge, University of Edinburgh - Beyond the Alpha: Sex, Masculinity and the Exotic in twenty-first century Harlequin Mills & Boon romance.

Val Derbyshire, University of Sheffield - "In these modern times": Reading Harlequin Mills & Boon Romantic Novels as Signs of the Times

Alicia Williams, Independent Researcher - Busting the Mills & Boon Myth: Category Romance as an Instrument for Change

In the final post I attempt to summarise papers by:

Fiona Martinez, Sheffield Hallam University - The Romance Genre & Feminism: Friends or Foes?

Lucy Sheerman, Independent Researcher - Charlotte Brontë and Contemporary Representations of Romance Fiction

Deborah Madden, University of Sheffield - Rewriting Romance in 1930s Spain and Portugal: Rebellious Heroines of Federica Montseny and Maria Lamas

Martina Vitackova, University of Pretoria - The Sexual Turn in Post-Apartheid Women's Writing in Afrikaans

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Fran Tomlin, University of Edinburgh - “True Romantic Art”: Love and the Quest in the novels of A. L. Kennedy

 

Fran is working towards her PhD, on the topic of "A.L. Kennedy and the Quest for Happy Ever After": "Fran’s thesis focuses on the work of contemporary Scottish writer A.L.Kennedy, examining issues of gender, love and sex in her work, and how these issues relate to the notion of Romance as it appears in British Literature as a whole."

Although Kennedy does not identify herself as a romance writer, the paratext of her books does tend to mention their romantic elements and she has said "I believe in God, I believe in love - they probably make very little sense without meaning much the same thing" (Mitchell 123).

Tomlin: The blending of the passionate and the painful sets Kennedy apart from the traditional genre #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Although Kennedy's characterisations seem very realistic, Fran quoted Robert Louis Stevenson's observation that "True romantic art [...] makes a romance of all things. It reaches into the highest abstraction of the ideal; it does not refuse the most pedestrian realism" (Stevenson, qtd. in Norquay, 60). [As I discussed in For Love and Money, there's nothing preventing romance novels from being written in the low mimetic mode so "realism" doesn't disqualify a novel from being considered a romance. It should be noted, though, that when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about romance in 1882, he wasn't thinking about the modern romance genre.]

Fran said that Kennedy's novels are structured in such a way that the reader wants there to be a happy ending but although the possibility of one exists at the close of the novels, they haven't got there. [A lack of an HEA doesn't automatically disqualify a novel from being a romance, though, given that the RWA merely require a romance to have "An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending". It would seem, though, that the endings aren't "emotionally satisfying" to Fran because an optimistic potential isn't enough for her, but that could be a matter of personal taste rather than a clear indication that the books aren't romances.]

Tomlin: Is Kennedy producing a more literary romance? How is this distinct from the traditional genre? #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Overall, the paper raised questions about the definition of a "romance novel". Amy Burge, for example, suggested one could think of romance as a strategy and/or a structure (which might fit with Fran's use of the term "quest" in the title of her paper) and I think referred to Gillian Beer's The Romance.

Elizabeth Dimmock, University of Lincoln - Fifty Shades of Grey and Late Capitalism

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

Bakhtin suggested that traditionally the carnival is a one-off (though recurring) way in which the status quo can be temporarily transgressed. It's a safety valve which ultimately functions to support dominant structures and relegitimate it. In modern, neo-liberal capitalist society, the carnivalesque has been individualised and commercialised, to similar effect:

Dimmock: Commercialisation of transgression in contemporary culture prevents it from threatening power structures #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

In the Fifty Shades trilogy, although the BDSM appears transgressive, the series does end with the protagonists in a fairly traditional (married, heteronormative, with children) relationship.

Fifty Shades is set in the US but the author is British and in the UK BDSM has perhaps traditionally been associated with the ruling elite. More recently there was the 2008 court case involving Max Mosley and just this year there were revelations concerning the Conservative minister John Whittingdale MP, though

According to the former editor of the Erotic Review, Rowan Pelling, Britain is "still known abroad as the 'nation of floggers'".

"A lot of it has to do with the way we have historically treated children," says Ms Pelling, "sending them away to boarding school from an early age. (BBC)

It wasn't working-class children who were sent to boarding schools. And the Marquis de Sade was an aristocrat, of course. So perhaps that would suggest that BDSM has traditionally been a carnival for the elites.

It also occurs to me that female submission is actually fairly traditional (and perhaps therefore not so very transgressive) in the romance genre. It's not always been made explicit, and certainly wouldn't have been expressed as BDSM, but dominant heroes who give heroines "punishing kisses" or more were extremely common at one time. It also fits with traditional gender roles within marriage, in which the wife was expected to love, honour and obey. One romance which made me think more about the extent to which female (but definitely not male) submission has been accepted within the genre was Jill Christian's The Tender Bond (1961). It's a vintage romance in which Martin, a man who is ultimately not chosen as the hero, quite clearly has submissive tendencies and the heroine observes that

He did not stir her to tingling excitement as Dominic did. Dominic roused in her the instinct to surrender, to give herself body and soul into the hands of a lord and master. He would dominate her, and there would always be a certain awe in her love, a desire for meek obedience. She would never, never win the upper hand with him.
Martin would never seek to dominate her.

Martin is eventually paired up with a woman who states that she's:

not an ordinary woman. I'll never be a little, adoring wife. [...] At my wedding there'll be no such words as 'obey.' In the old days, I could have been a queen." She smiled as if seeing a picture of herself, a cruelly satisfied expression that reminded Pamela of a fed tiger in a zoo. "I should glory in possessing and ruling Martin, and he'd glory in obeying."
Pamela shuddered. "It's horrible, like the spider and the fly."
"A lot of insects eat their husbands. I don't find that disgusting. I find it interesting. [...]"

[More details about that book can be found in this post I wrote in 2008.] In that context, a female dominant/male submissive romance would presumably have a lot more subversive potential than one like Fifty Shades.

Veera Mäkelä, Independent Researcher (previously studying at the University of Helsinki) - Acting for Herself, by Herself: Learning, Regaining, and Employing Female Agency in Mary Balogh's Dark Angel, Lord Carew's Bride and The Famous Heroine.

Veera's paper is the heroine-focussed counterpart of the paper she gave to the 2015 PCA/ACA conference:

Alpha, Beta, and the Ambiguous Omega: The Diversity of Heroes 

The heroes examined in this paper exemplify how a successful romance hero is a discussion on the pressures society puts on men and breaks reigning stereotypes. The romance genre almost demands that male protagonists show softness in order to be worthy of the heroine, which renders the stereotypical notion of the brutish Alpha antiquated. It is therefore necessary to update the vocabulary used to describe heroes and to examine the issues they represent in today’s romance writing.

Romance heroes have developed rapidly with the genre. The rapist Alpha is seen to a far lesser extent than it previously was, and the Beta hero’s soft personality is viewed as distinctly positive. However, although the surface division between Alpha and Beta types remain, any closer scrutiny reveals that the modern hero is in fact more a blend of the hard and soft traits than weighed in favour of one or the other.

This paper discusses the diversity and ambiguity this blending causes in romance heroes, using as examples the heroes of Mary Balogh’s novels Dark Angel, Lord Carew’s Bride and The Famous Heroine. The discussion takes into account the criticism of the romance hero, both past and present, and shows the change in basic terminology used to describe these male protagonists, which on close reading of Balogh’s novels proves to be useful as a basic tool regarding reader preferences and the hero’s function in the novel but inadequate in truly describing the wide range of male personalities found in the genre.

Returning to the same three (linked) novels by Mary Balogh, Veera turned her attention to their heroines.

Mäkelä: 'The Honourable Miss Jennifer Winwood' learns agency in Dark Angel #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

The heroine of Dark Angel initially conforms to gender norms and attempts to please the men in her life but eventually she gains agency in her relationship with the hero.

Mäkelä: Miss Samantha Newman regains agency in Lord Carew's Bride (note the different arc of agency to Jennifer's) #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

The heroine of Lord Carew's Bride has internalised oppression by men and so cannot act without reference to the man who left her disillusioned. Eventually she does succeed in throwing off her victim status and physically fights back against her oppressor.

Mäkelä: Miss Cora Downes 'takes charge' (notably sexually) in The Famous Heroine. Wishes to please society, not men #CWWRomance16

— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) 11 June 2016

The heroine of The Famous Heroine is of a lower social class than the other two heroines so her concern is with pleasing society rather than individual men. It seems she attempts to fill the traditional womanly roles of mother, wife and homemaker (I think Veera was referring here to the romance heroine as described in Kay Mussell's Fantasy and Reconciliation) but does so in ways which burst out of the traditional limits.

Veera's analysis raised a number of questions: to what extent does the series shows a progressive change in heroines? If it does, does this reflect changes in the genre as a whole? Is it better to want to please individual men or patriarchal society? To what extent is "society" depicted as patriarchal in these novels given the power of the patronesses of Almack's? And to what extent are romance authors like those patronesses as they decide what constitutes appropriate behaviour in a heroine?

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Mitchell, Kaye. A. L. Kennedy. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. "A Gossip on Romance". R. L. Stevenson on Fiction: An Anthology of Literary and Critical Essays. Ed. Glenda Norquay. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. 51-64.

A New Year's Plan: Speaking and Listening

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 4 January, 2016

Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political FictionMy book on reading American romance as political fiction is back with the publisher after another round of edits and I think it should be finished soon.

Coming to the end of a project like this, which has taken several years to finish, is always a bit daunting: there's pressure to decide what the next project will be and yet, writing can be very difficult at times and leave one wanting to take a break.

So I was heartened when I read the following, though I'm taking these sentences rather out of context:

The right to speak is a call to the duty of listening. Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other.

This year, I'll be "speaking" via my book and I hope others will find it worth listening to. So, before I prepare any more speeches, I think it's time for me to do a lot more "listening" myself. I owe it to my colleagues to spend time reading what they've written. Of course, I haven't been ignoring all their articles and texts, but I do have a large to-be-read pile and there are things I'd like to re-read, too.

As far as a "silent heart" and "welcoming acceptance" are concerned, if I blog about what I read, I'll try to let the texts "speak" for themselves as much as possible.

Review/Summary (9 - Anne Kustritz): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Although less well known than romance novels or feminist porn, slash fan fiction [...] has frequently become embroiled in similar debates over the social meaning of romantic fiction and women's sexual imagination. The pendulum has swung back and forth and back again in the academic consensus on slash's political value over the 40 years since its inception in its current form. Thus, mirroring analysis of romance novels, erotica, and pornography, slash has been at times called anti-female and stridently feminist, radically liberatory and conservative, both queer and heteronormative. This incoherence partly results from a homogenizing impulse to make a single political judgment of the entire practice. In addition, such dueling political pronouncements indicate an inability to navigate cultural objects that simultaneously resist some forms of political domination while ideologically shoring up and reinforcing others, including not only sex/gender hierarchies, but also race, class and geopolitics. Thus, what the field currently needs is an analytical lens of smaller and more specific scope to cope with the ideological complexities across slash genres and even within individual narratives. (169)

Kustritz then proceeds to give an example of this by demonstrating how, while some slash fictions about Captain Jack Sparrow and Commodore James Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean:

approach the pairing as a madcap affair between a laced-up goody-goody and a free-spirit, others use the relationship to engage directly with the films' suppressed political stakes and to explore the political and philosophical positions that the characters represent. (176)

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Kustritz, Anne. "The Politics of Slash on the High Seas: Colonial Romance and Revolutionary Solidarity in Pirates Fan Fiction". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 169-186.

Review/Summary (6 - Tanya Serisier): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

a simple search of the "Factiva" news database of English-language news outlets [...] reveals that in the year following publication of the Fifty Shades trilogy [...] there were 11,297 articles which mentioned the books. As a point of comparison, the figure for the two years after publication of Dan Brown's (2003) literary blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, shows just over half as many mentions, in 6,632 articles.

It is this cultural response, rather than the books themselves, that is the subject of this chapter [...] in it I attempt to think through some of the key tropes that I observed arising again and again. (117)

Serisier finds that almost all the reviewers were very critical of the books but

What the reviewers are interested in most of all is what the popularity of the books tells us about the many women who have not only read the books but recommended them to others, given the early lack of marketing efforts and reliance on word-of-mouth sales. To put it another way, the depiction of all that is wrong with the books easily slides into a quest to ascertain what precisely is wrong with their readers. (119)

Serisier analyses the reasons why the critics responded this way and in the final section of the essay Serisier summarises

what responses to Fifty Shades tell us about feminist readings of popular culture, arguing that we need feminist reading practices that are critical, but also engaged with and sympathetic to the complexities of gender and sexuality in contemporary culture. (129)

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Serisier, Tanya. "On Not Reading Fifty Shades: Feminism and the Fantasy of Romantic Immunity". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 117-132.

A scholarly romance/academic article

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 31 October, 2015

I came across this quote in an article and I thought I'd share it:

Cultural critiques of romantic narratives in popular culture are anything but romantic, explaining the consumption of romantic popular culture as “heteronormative, relationship-seeking identity” established in a “capitalist structure” that “continues to limit the possibilities feminism affords” women (Stern 430). I would like to see scholars embrace the romance – the love and desire with which we live our lives, extending that same love and desire to our dearest held popular narratives. Despite their common limitations as heteronormative, gendered, raced and classed, these narratives influence and shape the way romance appears in our lives – from our expectations of the romance, to its articulation, and in some cases, its dissolution. (Meyer 261-62)

The article from which it's taken blends romantic autobiography with analysis. I'll let you read it yourself to find out how the author's own story develops. It's available free online here.

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Meyer, Michaela D. E., 2015. "Living the Romance through Castle: Exploring Autoethnography, Popular Culture and Romantic Television Narratives". The Popular Culture Studies Journal 3.1&2: 245-269.

Book Banning: A Romance Heroine's Response

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 28 August, 2015

Today it was reported that:

The British Library has declined to store a large collection of Taliban-related documents over concerns regarding terrorism laws. [...]

Alex Strick van Linschoten, an author and researcher who helped spearhead the project said it was "surprising and disappointing".

"There's no recipes for making bombs or anything like that," he said.

"These are documents that would help people understand history, whether it's Afghans trying to learn about their recent past, or outsiders wanting to understand the movement.

"Any scholar would realise it's essential to read primary documents related to your subject if you want to understand militant groups, but there is a climate of fear among academics who study this kind of material because UK law is very loose." [...]

The Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006 make it an offence to "collect material which could be used by a person committing or preparing for an act of terrorism" and criminalise the "circulation of terrorist publications". (BBC)

In Rebecca Flanders' Second Sight (1984) the librarian heroine argues against restricting library collections and wins because the book-banners are forced to recognise that their definitions of offensive materials are too loose:

"the problem with this library system is that we have no written guidelines for the librarian to follow. It's a small system, and I suppose we always felt that there was no need for written rules, that the librarian's judgment was sufficient. However" - her smile was self-deprecating - "obviously it is not enough. I assure you that I would have been quite willing to abide by such regulations had they ever been presented to me in an official manner, so allow me to suggest, for my sake - or that of my successor - that we erase the ambiguity right now and vote on a standard of criteria by which books should be judged so that this unfortunate situation never recurs [...]

[...] First, [...] I believe you made reference to 'offensive language and sexual themes.' Shall we agree that this should be number one on the list of unacceptable material to appear in a library book?"

There was unified agreement.

Jennifer made a check on her note pad and reached to take a book from the stack she had collected and placed upon the chair next to her. "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ladies and gentlemen," she said, and tossed it onto the pile of previously rejected books. [...]

Then, matter-of-factly, before anyone could say anything, she went on, "Graphic violence, evil intent, works reflecting the influence of drugs or alcohol or advocating their usage?" [...] Jennifer made another check on her pad and reached for another book. "The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe," she said [...]

She said, "Then, shall we agree that in the future no book containing explicit sex, offensive language, references to improper relationships or perversion, graphic displays of violence, or themes that condone immoral behavior be admitted to the shelves, and that all such books as now occupy space on the shelves of our public library be immediately removed?" [...]

Jennifer stood slowly and placed a copy of the Bible on top of the stack of banned books. (241-5)

In response to the librarian's logical defence, the library committee, recognising that their criteria were far too broadly worded, back down entirely; in the context of the British Library's refusal to give shelf space to a potentially controversial collection, the "Home Office declined to comment saying it was a matter for [the] library" and the loose definitions remain in force.

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BBC. "British Library declines Taliban archive over terror law fears". 28 August 2015.

Flanders, Rebecca. Second Sight. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1984.

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

Hot Off the Press: Fast-Moving, Innovative Romance vs. Slow Academic Publishing

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 13 May, 2014

Academic publishing tends to be slow. In part that's unavoidable: research is time-consuming and so is peer review. But it can have unfortunate consequences when the piece is about a fast-moving topic.

Olivia Tapper's "Romance and Innovation in Twenty-First Century Publishing" was published this month in Publishing Research Quarterly and as Tapper's title suggests, discusses the innovative nature of romance publishing; unfortunately, there have been some significant "innovations" in romance publishing since the article was submitted. This is not to say that the article is now irrelevant: it's not. Tapper's

paper makes the argument that contrary to the stereotype of romantic fiction as conventional and change resistant, contemporary romance publishers have proven themselves to be consistently forward thinking and progressive, utilising industry innovations in content, technology, branding and business practice to cement their genre’s status as an exemplary model for twenty-first century book publishing.

With regards to their content, Tapper highlights the proliferation of romance novels "which combine romance with another genre or genres" and

In addition to embracing new genres and genre hybrids, the romance sector has also striven to meet the needs of an increasingly global readership that encompasses an ever-growing multiplicity of cultures and contexts. Although publishers generally remain averse to explicit political content within the novels themselves, romance publishers are nonetheless making progressive political statements when it comes to the kinds of books they choose to commission.

She gives as examples an increasing number of novels "designed to appeal to 20- and 30-somethings," to "emergent Afro-Caribbean readers" and to "the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community." In addition, "Through strategies such as diversification of content, cultivation of reader feedback, early adoption of ebook technology and consistently strong branding, publishers of romantic fiction have shown a marked willingness to work within, not against, the changing times."

The problem is that from early on Tapper chooses to focus on Harlequin Mills & Boon and its CEO, Donna Hayes, because "HMB under Hayes has carved out a niche within the digital sphere that has been critical to its continuing success."

It was bad luck that Tapper's article was published on the 9th of May and, on 2 May 2014, "News Corp announced [...] that it has agreed to acquire Harlequin Enterprises from Torstar Corporation. Harlequin will become a division of HarperCollins Publishers, a News Corp subsidiary." As Jane at Dear Author observed, this acquisition raises a number of questions because

Harlequin has very reader friendly policies and HC not so much. [...] Harlequin has made a concerted effort to provide diverse content, offering Asian and African American protagonists. [...]

Harlequin is also in a unique position in that it is one publisher that has sold direct to consumer successfully and because of that has a better understanding of readers. They were one of the first to digitize its backlist (2011) and make the frontlist available digitally (2007).  They believe in putting their content where the readers are including at nearly every retailer including small ones like All Romance and in libraries. While it is still a publisher, it’s a fairly reader connected one.

We don’t know how this acquisition will change for readers. It may not have any effect.  [...] But I admit to being worried and I hope that my worries are irrational and that this acquisition will mean continued pro reader policies.

Many of these "pro reader policies" were established during the tenure of Donna Hayes, whom Tapper identifies as an important source of Harlequin's "aggressive and forward-thinking business practice." However,

Harlequin announced Wednesday [4 December 2013] that Craig Swinwood, its chief operating officer, will be the new president and CEO as Donna Hayes, the first woman to lead the company, moves into retirement. (Scrivener)

This announcement was made about five months before the publication of Tapper's article and I can't read her analysis of the state of romance publishing without wondering whether she would change it in any way in the light of recent developments.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's interesting to see that Tapper observed the way in which

the romance sector’s movement across markets has created a global audience for their publications, so that authors writing in and for one particular region can expand their audience by marketing their works across national boundaries; using this strategy, Australian and New Zealand authors such as Sarah Mayberry and Karina Bliss have achieved considerable sales success in North America. Following Harlequin’s example, other major publishers like Kensington, Random House and HarperCollins have also capitalised on the potential for expansion via international marketing, and the romance sector as a whole has shown a laudable willingness to enter into nascent but as yet untested market regions.

When News Corp commented on their acquisition of Harlequin, they too focused on the benefits of "marketing [...] works across national boundaries":

“Harlequin is a perfect fit for the new News Corp, vastly expanding our digital platform, extending our reach across borders and languages, and is expected to provide an immediate lift to earnings,” said Robert Thomson, Chief Executive of News Corp. “Harlequin has a devoted audience around the globe and an empathetic insight into contemporary cultures, which is itself a remarkable resource. This acquisition will broaden the boundaries of both HarperCollins and Harlequin, and is a significant step in our strategy to establish a network of digital properties in the growth regions of the world.”

Brian Murray, President and CEO of HarperCollins, struck a similar note: "Harlequin’s business has grown internationally, and will give HarperCollins an immediate foothold in 11 new countries from which we can expand into dozens of foreign languages for authors who choose to work with us globally."

It'll be interesting to see if and how romance publishing changes as a result of the acquisition. And it's probably also worth noting that Tapper's article, already a bit behind the times when it was published on the 9th of May 2014, was in fact released "Online First"; it may have to wait a few months longer before it's given a slot in the print edition.

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Jane. "HarperCollins Acquisition of Harlequin and what it means for readers." Dear Author. 4 May 2014.

News Corp. "News Corp to Acquire Harlequin." 2 May 2014.

Scrivener, Leslie. "Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes retires, Craig Swinwood takes over." The Star. 4 Dec. 2013.

Tapper, Olivia. "Romance and Innovation in Twenty-First Century Publishing." Publishing Research Quarterly. 9 May 2014. [Abstract]

 

The image of "Richard March Hoe's printing press—six cylinder design" came from N. Orr's History of the Processes of Manufacture (1864) via Wikimedia Commons.