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Everything Old is New Again

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Last week I discussed Edith Hull’s 1919 Romance novel The Sheik, which I would offer as a potential nominee for first modern genre Romance novel. Bringing together themes and devices from captivity narratives, sentimental and sensational fiction, and other literary genres, The Sheik also created an iconic image of the romantic desert hero in the actor Rudolph Valentino, an image that has enjoyed popularity for almost a century now.

Before I move on to detailing the further development of this imagery in what we usually think of as popular genre Romance novels, I want to take a small detour (not really) to pick up on a discussion that often happens around Romance, that of so-called Old Skool v. New Skool books. In fact, a recent series on Romance in Amazing Stories references and builds on Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan’s explanation of this distinction from Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels:

Old Skool (their spelling), exemplified by the historical and contemporary romances of the ’70s which could best be generalized as “bodice-rippers” with a problematic popularity of rape (or “forced seduction” as the apologists would have it), and;

New Skool, which really came into its own in the ’90s, with more assertive heroines juxtaposed against less brutal, more sensitive heroes.

Yesterday, The Atlantic published an article by historian and feminist blogger Jessica Luther (in which I’m quoted, among authors and other bloggers), which also depends Sarah and Candy’s handy historical differentiation to discuss the way in which writing Romance and writing about Romance can be a feminist endeavor. And let’s face it: this sense of the genre as divided somehow, with the so-called “bodice-ripper” a phenomenon of the past and a sense of the genre as forward-moving, is so common as to be entrenched within canonical genre discussions.

But is it accurate?

Not as far as I’m concerned.

Let me first say that I have mad respect for what Sarah and Candy have done for the genre and the community, and I think their book is a very valuable resource for anyone interested in Romance and the readers who love it. But I think it’s time to take a second look at this old v. new opposition. As someone whose Romance reading ramped up at about the same time as the 21st century, I was reading titles spanning forty or so years in a non-linear, non-chronological way, and I just didn’t see these same distinctions. For example, take Violet Winspear’s Blue Jasmine, the book I noted last week that’s almost a stereo echo of The Sheik. But where Hull’s Ahmed sexually forces himself on Diana without mercy, Winspear’s Prince Kasim refuses to cross that boundary of physical force on Lorna. That’s right; the sheik in the 1919 book is the “rapey” hero, but the sheik of the 1969 book isn’t. In fact, Harlequin/Mills and Boon is a great place to see the long-term diversity of the genre. In 2009, for example, they held a 60-year cover retrospective, and one of the curators noted that

“Rather than being retardataire [outdated], many of these images are extremely cutting edge,” she said. “There are images of women doctors before women were really embraced by the workplace. There are women who are adventuring around the world before independence is really part of women’s culture.”

This doesn’t mean there aren’t changes and discernible trends; the question for me is how much our desire to simplify and quantify these perceived shifts contradicts the ebb and flow of a genre that is constantly reworking the same tropes and archetypes, as it circles a surprisingly consistent range of conflicts, questions, and issues. Negotiating general issues with the complexity of specific treatments is a difficult balancing act, and one that requires the broadest diversity of voices possible. The temptation to generalize and reduce isn’t necessarily wrong, but it doesn’t always get us to the right place, either. And I think the perception that there is a clean division within the genre in regard to sexual politics exemplifies that particular conundrum.

For example, the rapey hero definitely survived and thrived beyond the 70s. There’s Catherine Coulter’s Rosehaven, published in 2000, in which the hero not only rapes the heroine to claim his ‘marital privilege,’ but his female servants subsequently chastise the heroine for not being ‘too proud’ and not submissive enough. In Christina Dodd’s A Well-Favored Gentleman (1996), the hero takes the heroine’s virginity while she’s drugged and unconscious, completely without consent. In A Well-Pleasured Lady (1997), the hero initiates his plan to marry the heroine by holding her up against a wall and taking her while she cries, tells him no, and physically tries to fight him off. The 2007 release of Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan featured a hero who takes the heroine captive and tries to force sex on her until she falls in love with him. She eventually does fall in love with him, despite his early cruelty to her. Mary Jo Putney’s Dearly Beloved, published in 1990, begins with the hero’s rape of the heroine, followed by hundreds of pages of him treating her like crap because he got caught and had to marry her (I really hate that book). Sara Craven’s 2012 The Innocent’s Surrender, features a hero who takes the virginal heroine captive and tells her he will not release her until she has sex with him. And if you still doubt that these so-called “Old Skool” books aren’t being published today, and you’re convinced 50 Shades is a fluke, I have four words for you: The Lords of Satyr.

And let’s not forget some of Linda Howard’s contemporaries, like 1995’s After the Night, where the hero is responsible for having the heroine and her family thrown out of town in the middle of the night, and, years later, decides in a similarly autonomous way that she must be His Forever. Or 1996’s Shades of Twilight, which features an incestuous relationship and a hero who practically force-feeds the heroine when he decides she’s too thin. And Maura Seger’s 1986 Silhouette Dark of the Moon, in which the heroine is an undercover customs investigator looking into possible theft at a Silicon Valley company. When the owner discovers her true identity, he basically places her under house arrest, threatens to rape her in retaliation for breaking into his office, and yet still falls in love with her and doesn’t insist she quit her job for him (it’s really quite a good book – Seger is also known for her Medievals under the name Josie Litton).

On the other side of the hero + violence gamut are all of the Regencies of the 70s and 80s, which didn’t even feature sex, let alone forced sex or rapey heroes. One of my favorite books is LaVyrle Spencer’s 1984 release Spring Fancy, the first Harlequin Temptation, which featured a physical therapist heroine who cheats on her perfectly decent fiancé with another guy who’s a lot less rich and ambitious. Her mother raised her alone, she openly (i.e. on page) takes birth control pills, has an athletic, rather than wispy or voluptuous, figure, and does not want to give up her career for marriage. I think this book is more progressive than a good chunk of what’s being published today in Contemporary Romance.

Even among the epics we often associate with violence, there is often a range of experience. Bertrice Small’s 1981 Skye O’Malley, has everything from expansive historical landscapes to gang rape to multiple partners for the independent, swashbuckling heroine. Mary Jo Putney, who wrote one of the douchiest heroes in the genre, in my opinion, also wrote some much more sensitive historicals. In fact, I’ve read so many Romances that defy and linear evolution of the genre in regard to sexual politics between the hero and heroine (and in the books more generally), that I can only scratch the surface of the surface here. For example, while Maura Seger’s Dark of the Moon and Spencer’s Spring Fancy still feel contemporary today (with some swapping out of specific cultural references, of course), Ruthie Knox’s 2013 How to Misbehave felt put me in mind of Tom and Sharon Curtis’s Lightning that Lingers, published in 1983. Some things have changed, of course. Books that might have been published as epics previously may now be broken up into a series, for example (although anyone who has read Kristen Ashley’s books knows they are loooooooooong). Paranormal and Erotic Romance have become specific subgenres in which more extreme sexual politics are perceived to be more at home. Still, I think we are doing ourselves and the genre a disservice by marginalizing these early books and privileging later ones.

I don’t know how much of this is a product of the way so many genre readers have experienced the genre: older books read by younger readers who continue to read as they get older, experiencing and remembering books differently. I don’t know how much of it is a subconscious defense mechanism in response to the perception that certain genre tropes are “bad” and that we’ve grown out of them, or evolved beyond them, somehow. But if you read some of the comments on Jessica Luther’s Atlantic blog post, and then reflect on some of the responses to the Stuebenville rape trial verdicts, I think the way we see the historical trajectory of genre Romance matters. But I think we tend to simplify the richness of that history, to the detriment of the genre itself.

Still, it matters because we’re still in the midst of dealing with a rape culture that allows mainstream media outlets like CNN to publicly display sympathy for men who rape and suspicious disdain for its victims. It matters because a thoughtful post on Romance and feminism cannot appear in the mainstream blog without being subjected to charges of “female porn” and accusations that women are playing games with men, perpetuating the shroud of shame that’s still looming over female sexual fantasy. It matters because Romance is, as Cecilia Grant pointed out in Luther’s blog post, at once celebrating traditional social institutions and empowering its heroines to challenge them in a variety of ways. It matters because we’re still largely talking about these issues within a white, heterosexual context, and because so much of Romance makes at least superficial use of cultural and class differences to forge romantic bonds and negotiate sexual, social, economic, and romantic power. It matters because when women talk amongst ourselves about love, we’re doing so against a social backdrop of high domestic violence rates, victim-blaming in rape cases, lawmakers who believe that God prevents pregnancy in rape victims, increasingly draconian anti-choice measures, and myriad challenges for women raising children alone, beyond even non-existent and inadequate child support.

But it also matters because Romance so often reflects the kinds of struggles real life women have in regard to work-home balance, sexual fantasies and shame, communicating needs to partners (and children, and parents, and…), and division of domestic labor in a society where men are still often seen as weak for taking paternity leave or choosing to stay at home with children, among other things. The complexity of the choices we have to make, alone and in concert with partners and children, is immense, and a genre like Romance reflects that in so many ways, some more symbolic (forced seduction that leads to the tamed hero and true love), some more literal (the heroine who has to start over after a bad divorce). To draw these old v. new divisions narrows and flattens a generic fluidity that makes room for so many different tropes, devices, themes, archetypes, stories, and voices. The genre’s strength lies in its hybridity, and its capacity to represent, reflect, and provoke conversation about some of the most intimate and deeply felt issues important to us as women. And, for that matter, the men who are always implicated in women’s lives, whether or not want to be part of the conversation. But it would be great if more of them wanted to be.

And while we’re at it, I have one more small request: can we maybe begin to rethink the idea that the genre really began with The Flame and the Flower?

 

 

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

25 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 07:38:22

    O/T, perhaps, but I’ve been enticed into playing ‘Can I think of a genre romance from before 1919?’ and I’m wondering what qualities a book has to have to qualify as a modern genre romance novel.
    The specific book I’m wondering about is J.J. Abrahams ‘The Night Nurse’ which was published in 1913 (and according to my copy went through 5 editions in 1913, so it must have sold well.) The thing is, while the plot is straightforward hospital romance, the writing about the h/h’s feelings is sentimental – I’m wondering if that disqualifies it?

    (Worth reading, however, for his description of hospital life. And I really enjoyed his autobiography.)

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  2. Donna Thorland
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 08:26:00

    For me, the romance novel in English starts with Richardson’s Pamela. And while Scott, Dumas, Farnol, and Sabatini are usually left out of the discussion, I feel that a lot of our tropes are influenced by the swashbuckler. And so many of those swashbuckling tropes come out of Greek and Roman comedy…but I think the conversation often comes back to the Flame and the Flower because we confuse the economic history of the genre with the larger history of the genre.

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  3. Katie
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 08:44:25

    Excellent article, as always. And so timely in the face of really tired narratives about women’s sexuality in the media of late.

    The writer who I think was writing genre romance whose name almost never comes up in these conversations is Laura Jean Libbey, who started writing in the 1880s. The stereotype is that she wrote stories about virtuous factory girls who resist the icky overseer and end up with factory owner’s son, a sort of industrial age-version of Pamela. She certainly did write some of those, but she also wrote fairy tale-esque romances, often with sensational and/or suspense subplots. She was incredibly popular and managed her career in a really smart manner, adapting her novels for the stage and early movies.

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  4. Surf’s Up: Links on Reading and Feminism | Something More
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 08:54:21

    [...] and physical coercion).” That’s a long way from the opening lines. Update: Robin has a great post on this [...]

  5. DB Cooper
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 09:12:59

    My god, I could ramble on so much about “porn”, both in terms of the material itself and the label. And since I don’t have much to say about this article as a whole… I suppose I will say something about it. A “little”, I hope.

    I think I find the whole “porn for women” thing both problematic and liberating. It’s problematic because it’s incredibly dismissive–not only of “romance reading” as an activity, but also of those women who actually do enjoy pornography (as we generally label it). I also find the term (perversely) liberating in the way modern society co-opted the term “porn” for things like “food porn”, “car porn”, “geek porn.” In everything else, it’s about the unabashed presentation of our interests.

    In many ways, I’ve come to view pornography as one of the most honest “categories” of media, not so much in terms of the industry itself perhaps, but in terms of the relationship of that media and its consumers. You like “x”? You want “x”? Well here is an obscenely huge, overwhelming abundance of “X.” Regardless of whatever else you might learn, enjoy, or be surprised at, I’m going to give you “X”.

    So, if I could do “romance reading” (and women) the momentary disservice of reducing it to a generalization: If women are emotional creatures who are wont to seek out emotional content and emotional fulfillment, is it so horrible to call romance novels “porn for women” if we accept foodies watching the Cooking channel and gearheads drowning in Top Gear marathons?

    Now here is where I lose the thread of what I wanted to say :)

    - I want to think then that embracing its “pornographic status” openly is a way out of such a limiting label–if that’s what we really want.
    - I think a measure of “growth” may be if in the future, we see a change to calling romance “relationship porn” or “emotional porn” etc.
    - I think both the growth of romance cross-genres, and the idea of embracing romance for what it delivers (relationship porn) vs. whom it targets (porn for women) is a way further acceptance and growth of the genre–and to get new blood (more men, more “non-whites”, more LGBT authors).
    - I also think, that if we don’t get there, and we remain at a place that is “not where we want to be, but not wrong either” as robin/janet mentioned, that really, we’ll be ok. That for the sake of expediency (and in some ways, positive self-identification), that “porn for women” is a positive way for a woman (or anyone else) to quickly identify a genre set as “containing the sort of content I’m interested in.”

    @janet thank you again for a wonderful, well thought-through, and thought-provoking article. I’ve got so much more I should be focusing on, but I think I’ll read what others have been commenting first. :)

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  6. Lynn Rae
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 10:17:52

    Great article and very timely. It is so strange that I think much more about these issues now that I am writing romance than I ever did as a ‘regular’ person. Or as regular a person as a feminist is these days!

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  7. Kris Bock
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 11:06:18

    ” older books read by younger readers who continue to read as they get older, experiencing and remembering books differently”

    I just reread Wait for What Will Come, by Barbara Michaels. I have very fond memories of the book, which I read for the first time perhaps in my 20s? While I enjoyed it this time, a couple of things annoyed me. In particular, the hero – a dark, brooding type – is rude to her. I didn’t mind their bickering, but several times he essentially told her she was stupid, and she didn’t call him on it.

    So did I not notice these aspects the first time around? I was pretty feminist in my 20s, and I wouldn’t have put up with crap like that in real life. Maybe I noticed, but that wasn’t the part of the book I remembered. Maybe when we’re younger, we’re still exploring our own personas, so it’s easier to slip into a different perspective.

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  8. Carolyn Jewel
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 11:18:36

    There seem to be two competing ideas that aren’t being resolved. One is this linear notion Robin mentions in which Romance is said to evolve in some progressive/enlightened manner. The other is that Romance reflects present day concerns of women.

    Given some of the highly reactionary issues of present-day American politics with respect to the lives of woman, and the polarization we see, is it any wonder there are Romances that fit across the spectrum?

    I find myself more persuaded by the argument that Romances reflect a spectrum of concerns, issues, and, even, ethos. If someone wanted to argue that Romances are rapey, there are plenty of examples of that. Just as there are plenty of examples of Non-rapey romances. Let’s not pick and choose — as Robin points out.

    The comment thread over at the Altantic is cautionary, as it is everywhere the issue of woman and sex arises, and I am grateful that Dahl, Grant and others there are refusing to accept this male-centric notion that we women are all secretly man-haters out to accuse men of crimes when we don’t accept their advances. And that we’re sluts for liking sex and for reading and writing romance.

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  9. willaful
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 13:14:25

    Great post! I remember being totally shocked that the heroine of Spring Fancy wasn’t “gently-used” — i.e. having had no more than two previous partners and never enjoying it. I’ve since come to see that frequently older Harlequins — particularly those from the 1980s — have more progressive ideas about women and relationships than the newer ones. (To say nothing of more variety of plots and characters.)

    I’d like to mention that while I freely use the term Old Skool, I don’t think of it as distinguishing a specific time period but a particular mindset. So I might shelve a book written last week as Old Skool.

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  10. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 13:15:10

    I’ll add another name to the “early romance” pile, courtesy of a conversation with Maili a couple of years ago: Charles Garvice. Here’s his wiki entry. He sold over a million books a year in the 1910s and also wrote under a female penname. The guy churned out bestsellers for 20 years, and I’d never heard of him. He died the year after The Sheik was published, so I bet Hull had heart of him, though.

    I agree that there have been rapey and non-rapey, progressive and retrograde romance novels for as long as authors have been writing HEAs. And what looks retrograde today may not have looked quite the same at the time it was published.

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  11. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 13:19:33

    @Donna Thorland:

    I think the conversation often comes back to the Flame and the Flower because we confuse the economic history of the genre with the larger history of the genre.

    I missed this the first time I read your comment. Thank you for putting it so succinctly! I completely agree; if you read the first chapter of Radway or the romance chapter of John Sutherland’s book, Bestsellers, it’s clear that the popularity introduction and promotion of the big historical romance had as much to do with the industry shifts of the time as with any literary transformation. Huge books were popular and profitable (e.g. James Michener) and women were reading and buying in ever-increasing numbers.

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  12. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 13:25:08

    Another one to add to the “early romance” pile is Berta Ruck:

    From 1905 she began to contribute short stories and serials to magazines such as Home Chat. One such serial was published as a full-length novel, His Official Fiancée (London, 1914), and its success marked the beginning of Ruck’s career as a popular romantic novelist. She produced up to three books annually, as well as short stories and articles; her last novel, Shopping for a Husband (London, 1967), appeared when she was nearly ninety. (National Library of Wales)

    Caroline Kanerick wrote an academic article about her:

    As a best‐selling writer of popular romances during the first half of the twentieth century, Berta Ruck (1878–1978) has been characterised as a producer of ‘omelettes of frivolity and sweetness’ whose appeal was confined to adolescent girls and the servant classes. Closer attention to some of the early novels and to her own evaluation of her work, however, reveals her attempts to confront and articulate the impact of societal change upon a generation whose world was being irrevocably altered by the Great War and its aftermath. Her almost forensic attention to local detail and her treatment of contemporary questions of gender identity make her a compelling chronicler of the period and lend credibility to her claims of a broader readership than that generally associated with the genre.

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  13. Ros
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 13:33:36

    @willaful: I tend to interpret Old Skool as mindset rather than chronology, too.

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  14. Feminism and Romance Novels: Link Roundup | scATX Reads
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 16:45:02

    [...] “Everything Old Is New Again” by Robin L. at Dear Author [...]

  15. Evangeline
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 16:57:45

    @Laura Vivanco: I love Berta Ruck!

    Would Elinor Glyn count as an early romance novelist? Her most (in)famous work, Three Weeks, ends in true tragically romantic form, but the others I have read have straightforward HEAs. The Career of Katherine Bush, which was published in 1915 or 1916 but set before the war, is pretty frank and open about the heroine’s sexuality.

    Regarding the superficial dichotomy of Old Skool vs New Skool romance, it also forgets how the genre has morphed over the past forty years. Some books published then would not be considered “romance” if published for the first time today because of various elements like long separations, heroine-only POVs, long time spans, multiple love interests & sex partners, deaths, etc.

    And speaking of heroine-only POV, I sometimes tilt my head over how today’s romances are considered more feminist than Old Skool romances when those Old Skool romances mostly kept a firm focus on the heroine, her sexual growth, and her story. A few months ago Angela James tweeted that the number of responses for favorite romance heroes and favorite romance heroines veered heavily towards the former. I wonder if back in the “Old Skool” days, romance readers and writers could name their favorite heroines quicker than their favorite heroes.

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  16. Kaetrin
    Mar 20, 2013 @ 01:31:04

    @Ros: As do I. For me, “old skool” is code for a rapetastic hero.

    Great post Robin.

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  17. Donna Thorland
    Mar 20, 2013 @ 12:21:30

    @Katie:

    I really need to find these Libbey books–aren’t the “Only a Factory Girl” type books spoofed in a Jeeves and Wooster episode?

    @Sunita:

    I tend to think of publishing in parallel terms with film, and I’ve always thought that The Flame and the Flower was the publishing equivalent of Jaws. Both are entertaining, appealed to a wide audience, and changed how their respective products were marketed.

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  18. Janine
    Mar 20, 2013 @ 15:01:55

    @Evangeline:

    I wonder if back in the “Old Skool” days, romance readers and writers could name their favorite heroines quicker than their favorite heroes.

    That’s a great point. Especially when it comes to the 1970s and early 1980s single title historical romances, that is true for me in many instances. I hated Heather from The Flame and the Flower, but I remember Aislinn from Woodiwiss’s followup, The Wolf and the Dove, better than the hero. And with Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love, I liked Ginny better than Steve.

    I think the asshat behavior of the heroes in some of the books from that era made it possible for the heroines to stand up to them and often, give as good as they got. For example the heroine of Johanna Lindsey’s Heart of Thunder (1983), the first romance genre novel I ever read (I wasn’t quite fourteen at the time). When Hank forcibly seduced Samantha (one of those ridiculous blissful rapes), she shot him for taking her virginity and after he got away, put his name on “Wanted” posters.

    That’s not to say there weren’t some memorable heroes, too. At fifteen, I loved the hero of Rebecca Brandewyne’s Love, Cherish Me (not sure how he would hold up for me now), perhaps more than the heroine, though I loved her too. But on average, I’d say the heroines of American single title historicals from that era where more memorable than today’s heroines — maybe because they were allowed to have more flaws?

    I don’t revisit those many books from that era, though. They don’t feel that real to me. For me the 1990s was the best era in my lifetime for historical romance. Characters were still flawed, but not so larger than life as to feel unreal. Heroes were less likely to rape (though there were still some who did), and the books were often thoughtful or innovative. Those are the days I miss the most.

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  19. JaneL
    Mar 20, 2013 @ 22:02:35

    Thank you for mentioning Tom and Sharon Curtis’s Lightning that Lingers! I lost my copy years ago, and while I forgot the book and authors’ names, I never forgot the story.

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  20. Linkspam, 3/22/13 Edition — Radish Reviews
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 07:31:36

    [...] Janet at Dear Author declares that everything old is new again–and brings up a lot of important points about the history of this genre that so many people [...]

  21. Pam Rosenthal (@PamRosenthal)
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 11:52:08

    I’m so impressed, Robin, by how you’re able to employ your awesome span of reading to help up try to look at the genre whole, and not to be satisfied with easy conclusions that don’t serve its immense proportions and complexities. Because a genre that so many women read for so many reasons deserves no less.

    I, of course, see these issues through the lens of my erotic writing, which is what brought me to romance. And I see them, moreover, as someone schooled by the pro-sex feminism of the eighties, to understand how I could have my progressive politics and my kinky fantasies too, if I were willing to invest a little intelligence, sacrifice a few certainties and not a little amour-propre, be willing to surprised, instructed, and even amused by what I might discover. The points of intersection between two sets of impulses – the reality-based commitments of a progressive and the fantasy-driven intuitions of a romantic –; the resonance set off by the meeting of these two critical aspects of my consciousness was what finally described the space where I could be a writer.

    And as a writer, I discovered what you seem to understand so well as a reader, that the space is a discursive, inclusive one.

    Discursive in the sense of disavowing a straight line of evolving political correctness from “was blind” to “now I see.” Inclusive not so much to embrace the more violent fantasies, but to understand that their initial form might be a necessarily crude way to allow certain images onto the stage of the genre in the first place. And inclusive so as not to need to distance ourselves from them – as though we were never anything but horrified by them –; in a kind of panicked rush to pretend we’ve always known what we’ve learned yesterday and are only fully coming to understand today.

    I love your discussion of “the ebb and flow of a genre that is constantly reworking the same tropes and archetypes, as it circles a surprisingly consistent range of conflicts, questions, and issues.” The italics are mine; the geometry is yours: the message is that we don’t learn in a straight line; we visit and revisit the most intense sites of conflict within a changing, intensifying discussion. I’m particularly taken by your example of The Sheik as 1919 rape fantasy, the 1969 Harlequin retake Blue Jasmine as rape critique. It helped me understand how the reworking of tropes and archetypes serves as discussion, as dialectic. And it added not a little pleasure to my current reading of Tessa Dare’s charmingly knowing and understated Three Nights with a Scoundrel, in which the heroine, Lily, rips her own bodice.

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  22. Merrian
    Mar 25, 2013 @ 00:01:25

    I have been thinking about my gateways into reading and loving to read the romance genre. Like a lot of people I walked in through a door opened by Georgette Heyer but was also lead on by the western stories of Louis L’Amour and the swashbuckling tales of Rafael Sabatini. In those stories (to my mind) while the hero solved and saved and vanquished, these were the ways in which the hero showed who he was and that he was worthy of the heroine. The hero was always well matched by his true love at the end of the story. So these books carried forward the idea of a romantic relationship being of equal importance to any other endeavour the hero undertakes and like in romance genre books the HEA is not about the hero being alone but being partnered. If I compare these books which were aimed at male readers with modern books aimed at the same audience I don’t think I see the same commitment to relationship being expressed. I think the romance genre as we know it today has a wider root system than we acknowledge and it is also more ghettoised as the world of books and reading has changed around us.

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  23. Merrian
    Mar 25, 2013 @ 00:20:46

    @Katie: I didn’t know about Laura Jean Libbey until I read your comment then this lovely photo of Libbey from 1898 popped up in my Facebook stream https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/5544_503860686338677_1550303679_n.jpg

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  24. Feminism and Romance Novels: Link Roundup | Steel & Velvet
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 22:27:10

    [...] “Everything Old Is New Again” by Robin L. at Dear Author [...]

  25. Sex and Violence: How much has really changed in Romance?
    Oct 22, 2013 @ 06:53:06

    […] As I’ve argued before, I think the genre tends to ebb and flow, and that when a book catches fire among readers, it does so because it is adapting well-used tropes and devices in a way that feels fresh or innovative or boundary breaking to those readers who enjoy it. […]

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