What is the biggest criticism that your students have offered up about the genre?
Eric: Do you mean before or after they've actually read it? I'll leave out the “before–? comments; they're just prejudice. After? The biggest criticism has come from the male students, actually, and it's about the heroes: they say that they're “caricatures–? of masculinity, not enough like real men. This always provokes a great debate with the women in the class, of course! I'm going to teach some of Sarah's favorites next year–Suzanne Brockmann, J. R. Ward–"and see what the guys say then. As for criticism from the women, it's usually criticism of particular novels, subgenres, heroines, or scenes, rather than of the genre as a whole. They're delighted to discover that if they don't like this or that sort of romance, there's another out there for them!
What is the best praise of the genre offered by your students?
Eric: Let's see–"they praise its internal diversity, as I've said: the range of subgenres available. ('Tis new to them, even if it sometimes feels less various than it might be to long-time readers.) They love how it affirms female desire, female sexuality, and although this or that student may raise questions about particular scenes, they often ask me why I don't teach these novels in courses where more men will have to read them! The best praise, though, is of the craft of the novels: they get convinced that these books are not only fun, but artful and interesting. I've gotten letters from students, male and female alike, testifying to how they've gone from despising romance without reading it to respecting it and seeking it out, even hoping to teach it themselves, someday.
Do you think, by the end of a course, you have convinced your students that romance genre has literary value? Why or why not?
Eric: Short answer: Yes. Those who came in as readers are convinced that the books are more subtle, more artful, than they ever appreciated, and those who come in as skeptics have changed their minds, time after time. Why? Because we've seen, time after time, just how well these books respond to close attention and analysis, whether it's from a historical, psychological, philosophical, or aesthetic perspective.