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Image credit: Victor GAD. Marija Dalbello Romance fiction “I still choose to enjoy the fact that, somewhere, a warrior is being tamed by an angel.” Kelly Kimbrough, a romance reader (from Tixier Herald, p. 201). Rutgers School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies

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Image credit: Victor GAD

Marija Dalbello

Romance fiction

“I still choose to enjoy the fact that, somewhere, a warrior is being tamed by an angel.”

Kelly Kimbrough, a romance reader (from Tixier Herald, p. 201)

Rutgers

School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies

dalbello@scils.rutgers.edu

http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~dalbello

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Romance fiction

  • _______________________________________
  • Primary audience are women
      • 70% women under 49 years of age (45% college educated) (Krentz)
      • women often read covertly
      • readers’ age correlates strongly with years of young adulthood and early middle age; 70% mothers with children under age eighteen ( (Radway, 56-57)
  • Writers are women (high cross-over rate from consumer to producer)
  • Romance fantasy (see themes identified in Krentz)
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Romance fiction

  • _______________________________________
  • Female fantasy?
  • “Escapist fantasy in which a heroine gentles a warrior (his battleground can be anywhere from the boardroom to the bedroom to the sites of historic wars) and the two live happily ever after.”
  • “Romance appeals to the heart and celebrates the power of love.”
  • “It is a literature of optimism in which the woman (almost) always wins.”
  • See more in Krentz (interviews with 19 romance authors)
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Romance fiction

  • _______________________________________
  • or… Patriarchal Nightmare?
  • Venue of celebrating and maintaining the patriarchal domination over female desire.
  • Representations that enforce passivity and promote a submissive and externally-controlled view of female desire
  • Coping mechanism (escapist literature)
  • Displacement of a deep need for nurturing that isn’t satisfied in the context of heterosexual marriage - unfulfilled women’s oedipal desire (nurturing man as displacement of desire for an absent nurturing mother)? (Radway 14-15)
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Romance fiction

  • _______________________________________
  • What kind of literacy ? (Source: Genreflecting)
  • Coded language: covers and discourse (purple prose conceals a wealth of information about the characters and situations)
  • Readers are not passive but active constructors of texts (discriminating between the “failed” and the “ideal” romance)
  • Personal kind of reading / “sincerity” of writing
  • Avid readers (“happily ever after” is constitutive element) vs. readers looking for the romantic story (but do not require the “happily ever after”)
  • “Much to the horror of the first type, this reader considers romantic tragedy to be romance” (Danielle Steele-type books, Romeo and Juliet)
  • Reader’s advisory requires tact and diplomacy to determine the kind of fantasy reader responds to (reader looks for a particular era, setting, degree of sexiness, overall tone)
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The Romance Controversy

  • _______________________________________
  • Romance detractors
    • Literary theorists: dismissal of genre as non-literature; elitist)
    • Feminists: romance reading seen as maintaining status quo of the patriarchal marriage and power relations; false consciousness
    • Politicized reading of texts; ideological disagreement with texts
    • Tania Modleski (1982), Kay Mussell (1984)
      • Romances are not helping readers change their life
      • Romances are over-consoling
      • Romances are addictive (repetitive reading)
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The Romance Controversy

  • _______________________________________
  • Romance champions
    • Readers confirm relevance of genre through consumption; individual taste for particular fantasy
    • Romance is fantasy; complexity of appeal
    • Feminist backlash - critique of feminist interpretations (Jayne Ann Krentz 1992)
    • Romances maintain powerful myths
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The Romance Controversy

  • _______________________________________
  • The Realists (controversy moderators)
    • Act of reading as “declaration of independence” (one thing a woman does for herself)
    • Reading as resistance to publisher-imposed formula through selection as a form of critical reading
    • Reading as integrated in everyday life and as intervention in the life of actual social subjects
    • Janice Radway study (1984; 1991) validates romance reading without moralizing it
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Romance Fiction in the (Literary/Information) Marketplace

  • _______________________________________
  • Libraries traditionally do not well accept this genre (considered disdainfully and with contempt for the taste of the readers)
  • Publishing programmed for a mass-market (semi-programmed publishing initiated by Harlequin through market research, branding and product placement (1970s))
  • Romances have a global appeal, phenomenal sales (Harlequin Enterprises reported in 1996? sales of over 190 million books worldwide, published in over 100 international markets and translated into twenty languages) (Source: Genreflecting)
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Romance Fiction History / types

_______________________________________

Writer/publisher/audience relationship: emergence of mass-market production model

William Charvat: “America’s first literary boom” between 1845 and 1857; a continuous channel of communication with the readers through selling and distribution established; exemplified by the story-paper model - book series employed magazine distribution models - American Mercury distribution of mysteries in 1940s; basis for semi-programming / category method publishing;

the paperback revolution (Robert deGraff Pocketbooks in 1939; mysteries primary type of genre publishing but declined in 1950s creating a void in the market)

Gothic romances boom(1960s)

Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca (steady-seller from 1938 to 1960s) - publishers to recognize appeal of this type of novel to female audience; Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn (1955?); Phyllis Whitney’s Thunder Heights (1960); top gothic authors outsold the works in other genres by 1970; peak from 1969-1972: 35 titles / month; dropped off, 1972-1974)

Consolidation of the industry(1970s-1980) modernization of the publishing business

Sweet savage romance (new category defining genre and popularity of romance novels: 1972: Kathleen Woodiwiss, The Flame and the Flower; 1974: Rosemary Rogers, Sweet Savage Love)

Diversityand continuous popularity of the genre (1990s: introduction of varied female characters and new lines; addressing the feminist critiques of the genre and tapping into new audiences and niche markets)

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Taxonomy of Romance Fiction (Genreflecting)

_____________________________________

Contemporary Romance

Womanly romance

Soap opera

Fantasies of Passion

Contemporary Soap Opera

Traditional Womanly Romance

Contemporary Mainstream Womanly Romances

Glitz and Glamour

Contemporary Romance

Historical Romance

Frontier and Western Romance

Native American

Scotland

Regency (England)

Inspirational Historical Romance

Saga

Hot Historicals

Sweet-and-Savage

Spicy

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Taxonomy of Romance Fiction (Genreflecting)

_____________________________________

Romantic-Suspense

Contemporary Romantic Suspense

Historical Romantic Suspense

Fantasy / Science Fiction Romantic-Suspense

Gothic

Fantasy and Science Fiction Romance

Fantasy

Time Travel

Paranormal Beings

Futuristic/Science Fiction

Ethnic Romance

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Romance Fiction _______________________________________

Convention / Invention (Dove 1999, p.75-76)

Constitutive conventions define a genre and are essential to it

Regulative conventions characterize a genre but are not essential to it

Recurrent stereotypes (the Rape Scene, Alpha Male Hero (the tallest man in the book, the one with the darkest hair and the bluest eyes), Plain but Spunky Heroine)