Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sneers and Leers: Sociologists on Attitudes Towards Romance

Sociologists Jennifer Lois and Joanna Gregson, who received funding from RWA, have had an article published in Gender & Society. Here's the abstract:
Drawing on four years of ethnographic research with romance novel writers, we show how their affiliation with romance—a literary genre known for stories containing sexual content—prompted outsiders to sexually stigmatize them. Our work examines both the application and management of this stigma. We describe how outsiders applied the stigma in two ways: by conveying blatant disapproval through “sneering” and inviting writers to display a highly sexualized self through “leering.” Writers interpreted outsiders’ sneering as slut-shaming rhetoric and responded discursively to manage the stigma; leering, however, sent a more complicated message that was harder for writers to manage. In revealing how these interactions threatened to strip writers of their sexual agency, our analysis suggests gender may be a primary mechanism by which stigma is applied and managed, which has theoretical implications for the stigmatization of women’s sexual selves. 
Although there has been research done on romance readers, this is the first research on "how the sexual stigma affects [romance] writers" (3).

Authors spoke of having to overcome
shame about the sexual content of their books. They discussed the work it had taken to reach that emotional state, to “mostly—mostly—kill the selfconscious voice inside,” as one writer explained. [...] Many writers credited the great support they received from others in the romance community who taught them how to contest the sneering shame they felt outsiders unfairly applied to them. (10)

And "As the antithesis of shame, pride [...] was one way to neutralize the slut-shaming discourse" (10). It's not clear to me how much of this pride was derived from authors' assessment of the literary quality of their writing. Lois and Gregson do, however, mention that quite a few of the authors they spoke to
told us they were “laughing all the way to the bank,” a conventional measure of success that offset some of outsiders’ sneering. The more legitimate their writing careers, mostly measured by number of books published and revenue earned, the more power writers had to contest the shame they felt outsiders imposed upon them. (12)
Although showing pride in their writing "was effective, writers’ realization that sexual shame is disproportionately aimed at women significantly strengthened their ability to contest it" (10). In other words, it helped authors when they put the stigma they faced into the wider social context of attitudes towards women's sexuality.

Lois and Gregson didn't speak to many male romance authors but,
Interestingly, the male romance writers in our sample experienced the sexual stigma of romance differently. As a “women’s” topic, romance called their masculinity into question. Unlike female writers, male writers rarely encountered outsiders deriding their shameful sexuality; instead they perceived outsiders to be disparaging their shameful femininity, a deviant emotional orientation that seemingly allowed them to write about love and relationships. (11)
In contrast to the disapproval expressed in "sneering", authors also had to deal with "leering":
leering invited writers to play the part of the sexual deviant by “approving” of their presumed willingness to share their sex lives and fantasies with their readers. In these interactions, it appeared outsiders wanted to be voyeuristically entertained by asking writers to play up the titillating aspects of their sexuality. (13)
"Leering" can include a range of behaviours: while many instances of leering "featured leering male outsiders propositioning female writers" (13),
we noted that leering included a broader set of behaviors in which outsiders seemed to presume writers’ willingness to share their personal sexuality by asking intrusive questions and engaging them in highly sexualized conversations. (14)
This latter type of "leering" could sometimes be difficult to distinguish from the "authentic approval from some outsiders who talked about the sexual content in a way that seemed more genuinely appreciative" (15).

"Leering" seems to affect writers differently:
Writers responded in two ways: granting the request by personalizing their sexuality or denying it by depersonalizing the sexual content of their books. (13)
In the first category were female authors who "personalized their sexuality by playing along with outsiders’ intimations that they were highly sexual women" (16) and male authors who "used outsiders’ leering questions to their advantage, positioning themselves as heterosexual men who celebrated their jobs for the focus on female sexuality" (17).
Though this strategy was not universally accepted, we saw many examples, such as dressing as dominatrices at book signings; singing sexually suggestive karaoke with romance novel cover models at a readers convention; and hosting “post the sexiest shirtless Navy SEAL” contests on Facebook fan pages, often with the explicit goal of growing readership.
Writers also expressed their sexuality because the romance community, with its shame-free orientation toward women’s sexuality, was a safe space to do so. (17)
writers ranged widely in their motivations for personalizing the sexual stigma. Some writers told us it was “fun,” “shocking,” and even “empowering,” while others specifically tied it to neutralizing the sexual stigma. One writer told us that personalizing sexuality was a way to “defang the critics” because “we’re calling ourselves trashy before they can.” (18)
Writers who adopted the other approach towards leering
mainly did so by depersonalizing the sexual content of their books and framing it instead as integral to the craft of storytelling. If writers could emphasize that the story sex was not about them, they could decline the invitation to display their sexuality, negate the assumption that they were documenting their own sex lives, and gain control over the leering interactions.
Embracing either a personalizing or depersonalizing strategy did not create a fixed division among writers, but some writers had strong opinions about how useful and appropriate each strategy was. (18)
Either way,
given the ineffectiveness of both personalizing and depersonalizing the sexual content, our data reveal that leering was much more difficult to manage than sneering. (22)

Lois, Jennifer and Joanna Gregson. "Sneers and Leers: Romance Writers and Gendered Sexual Stigma." Gender & Society (2015): 1-25. [The article has been published "online first" which means that it hasn't yet been assigned to a particular issue. The pagination is therefore provisional. The authors have also made available an unofficial, earlier version of the paper (click to download).]

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Eric's Erotic Encyclopedia Entry

The new/forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality includes an article on romance fiction by Eric. Here's the abstract:
A love story with a happy ending, the romance novel is as old as the form of the novel itself. The modern romance novel emerged with Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740), and scholars have studied the relationships of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century romance novels with imperialism, Orientalism, and anti-sentimental modernism. The popular romance novel, a mass-market form predominantly written by and for women, is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Critiqued by feminist thinkers, it has responded to changing social and sexual mores, and with the advent of digital publishing, it has proliferated and diversified, with an equal diversity of scholarship beginning to emerge.
Selinger, Eric Murphy. "Erotica: Romance Novels." The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality. 2015. 325–368. [Abstract from here]

Monday, April 27, 2015

CFP: Popular Romance Fiction at the Northeast Popular Culture Association Conference

CFP: Popular Romance Fiction (NEPCA: Oct 30-31, 2015, New London, NH)

The Northeast Popular/American Culture Association (NEPCA) is seeking paper proposals on the topic of Romance/Popular Romance Fiction for its fall conference to be held at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH on October 30-31, 2015. For more information, please visit the NEPCA website:

We welcome a wide variety of papers related to romance and popular romance fiction. Possible approaches can include narrative analysis of the romance genre, issues of representation in romance fiction, production and dissemination of romance fiction, audiences for romance fiction in various media, the public uses of romance fiction/s, and more.

NEPCA Fall Conference information, including the paper proposal form, can be found at Please submit the form, including a brief CV and abstract, located on the site. Both proposals for individual papers and complete panels will be considered. Please direct any questions to either 2015 Program Chair Kraig Larkin ( and/or to Area Chair Wendy Wagner ( The deadline for proposals is June 15, 2015.

NEPCA presentations are generally 15-20 minutes in length and may be delivered either formally or informally. NEPCA prides itself on holding conferences which emphasize sharing ideas in a non-competitive and supportive environment involving graduate students, junior faculty, and senior scholars.

NeMLA and Sherry Thomas

On 2 May, at the 2015 NeMLA conference, in a session on "Neo-Victorianism in the Twenty-First Century," Jayashree Kamble, City University of New York, will be giving a paper on:
"What’s in a Name? Hybridity and Globalization in the Neo-Victorian Romance Novels of Sherry Thomas"
Jayashree's tweeted that she'll be "Talking #China, #NeoVictorianism, cultural #globalization & the popular #romance heroine."

Anyone else going to be at this conference and giving a paper on romance fiction?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Links and Call For Papers

Thanks to Twitter, I've got a lot of links to share:

In "History in Color: A Black American Romance Roundtable"
Kianna Alexander (author of two multicultural historical romance series), Piper Huguley (author of inspirational historical romances), Lena Hart (writer of sensual to steamy interracial romances), and [...] Alyssa Cole [...] discuss our personal experiences as romance writers, the current state of multicultural historical romance, and our thoughts on the future of historicals that feature people of color as the heroes and heroines.
USA Today's Christyna Hunter attended the recent
What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age Symposium. [...] One of the panels that I found interesting was the one discussing the romance canon. If you are anything like me, a definition had to be researched before the full effect of the panel could be appreciated. According to Merriam-Webster, a canon is "a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works." The term is mostly a phrase for academics, and that was largely the case for this panel, which included two authors and three professors. Notably missing: librarians. In fact, there were no librarians on any of that day's panels, though the occasion was held in one of the many buildings of our national library.

So here's my chance to add insight to the conversation from a couple of librarians. I'd like to introduce Wendy Crutcher and Kristin Ramsdell.
She does so in "Love in the Stacks: Which books should be part of the romance canon?" and "Love in the Stacks: Romance canon as librarian tool?"

Jodi McAlister has written up her observations on "Reproductive Futurism and Cruel Optimism: Romance at PCA, Day 1" and "Race, Libraries, and the Academic Heroine: Romance at PCA, Day 2".

Humboldt University of Berlin, July 29th – 31st 2015 Deadline: Monday, April 27th, 2015

Individual paper and panel contributions are welcomed for the fourth annual international conference of the European Popular Culture Association (EPCA), to be held at the Humboldt University of Berlin (Hauptgebäude, Unter den Linden 6, Berlin) from July 29th – 31st 2015.

EUPOP 2015 will explore European popular culture in all its various forms. [More information here.]

Call for Presentations: Gender and Love/The Gender and Love Project
Mansfield College, Oxford, UK, 20th September – 22nd September 2015
Deadline: Friday 1st May 2015

The “Gender and Love” project calls for reflections on the interaction between gender and love and how this nexus of ideas pertains to self-perception, (dis-)ability, ethics, religion, kinship, bonding, nationality, globalization, environment, etc.  The project welcomes elaborations on gender and love in all forms, styles, and media, past or present. [More information here.]

CALL FOR PAPERS: New York Metro American Studies Association
Guttman Community College, NY, Saturday, November 14, 2015
Deadline: June 1, 2015

The New York Metro American Studies Association (NYMASA) has chosen the theme of “Love” for our 2015 annual conference. We invite papers, presentations, performances, and exhibitions that explore the cross-disciplinary, transnational, and trans-historical possibilities embedded in the concept of love. [More information here.]

Monday, April 06, 2015

#PCAROM: Tweets From and About the 2015 PCA Romance Area

--Eric Selinger 

In case you missed the conversation, or want to quote from it for research, here's a captured version of the #pcarom Twitter stream. A very lively and memorable conference, and one which will, I hope, bear fruit in new published scholarship in the months and years to come!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance XIII: The Romance of Work? Books, Sex, Magic, and the Academic Heroine

Romance XIII: The Romance of Work? Books, Sex, Magic, and the Academic Heroine

Heroines in Bookstores: The Romantic Economies of You’ve Got Mail and Three Sisters Island

(Heather Schell, George Washington University)
Around the turn of the millennium, two Noras created popular love stories:  Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail and Nora Roberts’ Three Sisters Island trilogy.  While the plots differ strikingly, the heroines in both stories have strikingly similar work experiences:  Kathleen and Mia both own and manage independent bookstores, stores which are extensions of the heroines themselves and which serve as central meeting places in their communities.  Yet in both cases, Kathleen’s and Mia’s love interests appear to conflict directly with their work interests.  In fact, in both stories, the hero’s economic pursuits threaten to destroy or at least undermine the heroine’s bookstore.  Both the film and the romance novels discussed here pay careful attention to economic issues, and they have their heroines do the same.  However, the resolution of each love story reveals a distinct economic model underlying the plot:  a cynical neoliberalism in Ephron’s story, in which the heroine’s only option is to take a wage job provided by the hero; and, in Roberts’ series, an insistence on regulated economic planning based on community needs, which allows both the heroine and her hero to develop mutually beneficial economic strategies that benefit their island.  In fact, I would argue, the ideal economy in Roberts’ series is modeled on the ideal romantic relationship.

“She would take her fate into her own hands”: Sex work and Happily Ever After in popular romance

(Kathrina Haji Mohd Daud, Universiti Brunei Darussalam)

Popular romance as a genre confronts sex work as an inevitable facet of male-female relationships, particularly in historical romances, tending to condemn the industry and humanize its workers (particularly mistresses and prostitutes). This paper will examine the deployment of romantic heroine as sex worker in four texts: Lisa Kleypas’ “Dreaming of You”, Catherine Anderson’s “Comanche Magic,” Courtney Milan’s “Unclaimed” and Joan Wolf’s “His Lordship’s Mistress”.

A comparison of the central conflicts or “barrier” and the Happily Ever Afters of these four texts will query both the effectiveness of female solidarity and authority within the industry, and whether/how men can be allies to female sex workers. Additionally, this paper will explore the extent to which the texts resist the resolution of the tension between romance and the sex industry, by resisting the use of romantic hero as "saviour", and how this works with popular romance’s generic insistence on a holistic (physical and emotional) approach to romantic love.

Contemporary Supernatural Romance and the Academic Woman

(Jennifer Mitchell, Independent Scholar)

Deborah Harkness’s The All Souls trilogy (2011, 2012, 2014), Juliet Dark’s Fairwick Chronicles trilogy (2011, 2013), and Elizabeth Hunter’s Elemental Mysteries foursome (2012, 2013), all chronicle the supernatural romantic entanglements of young women in academia. Harkness’s Diana Bishop is an historian of alchemy, splitting her time between two prestigious institutions: Yale University and the University of Oxford. Dark’s Callie McFay is a scholar of folklore, mythology, and the Gothic who takes a tenure-track job at the aptly named Fairwick College. Hunter’s Beatrice de Novo is a serious student pursuing degrees in literature and library science. All three women, who are intimately tied to their respective fields of study, become involved with non-human partners: Diana falls for Matthew de Clermont and Beatrice falls for Giovanni Vecchio, both of whom are centuries old vampires while Callie has a tumultuous relationship with her own demon lover.

Each of these heroines is presented to readers as exceptionally intelligent, fiercely loyal, and, most interestingly, deeply committed to her own scholarly pursuits. Moving beyond the reductive eternal and teenaged romance of the Twilight novels and beyond the reconfigured Cinderella story of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, these works all speak to a particularly telling trend in the relationship between a woman’s academic identity and her romantic desires. As such, this paper analyzes the perhaps unexpected allure of young, sexualized female academics as the ideal protagonists of these erotic supernatural romances.

It's All Academic: Scholar, Scientist, Romance Heroine

(Jayashree Kamble, CUNY LaGuardia Community College)

From time to time, one encounters a romance fiction heroine who is an academic, be it as a field researcher or university professor. In some novels, such as Kresley Cole's Dark Desires After Dusk or Laura Kinsale's Midsummer Moon, the scholar heroine comes across as a familiar stereotype--an absent-minded and unworldly scientist, focused on her work to the extent of it being a near-fatal liability. In others, such as Linda Howard's Son of the Morning, the heroine is intrepid and clever, while in Nora Roberts's Jewels of the Sun, she is an Earth Mother fleeing from the cut-throat nature of academic life. As the genre has had a love-hate relationship with academia since the 70s, these choices provide an intriguing glimpse into how academia may appear to romance fiction writers.

No matter how these representation vary, however, the everyday reality of the researcher--teach, grade, read, write--is seen as problematic, co-terminus with backbiting, boredom, behavioral disorders, or breakdowns. Cole's Holly Ashwin is one academic who uses the staid routine of academic life to keep her anxieties--she has OCD--under control, anxieties resulting from being a closeted Valkyrie. In other words, Ashwin is a professor who has a hidden violent and homicidal side, one she does not comprehend herself. Ashwin's mousy work persona is a veneer that both protects her from her fear of her true self and manages to keep her enemies at bay till she can come into her powers as a warrior woman. In this take on the identity conflict that is central to the journey of romance heroines, Cole rejuvenates the trope of the workaday academic and turns it into an origin story of a superheroine.

Romance XII: Libraries, Classrooms, Communities

Romance XII: Libraries, Classrooms, Communities

The Romance Novel: A Course in History and Creative Entrepreneurship at Duke

(Laura Florand and Katharine Dubois, both of Duke University)

In Spring 2015, Professors Katharine Brophy Dubois and Laura Florand, both established romance authors as well as Duke University faculty members, created “The Romance Novel” course at Duke University. Offered as both a History course and an elective in the Innovations & Entrepreneurship Certificate, the course focuses on the romance novel’s development from the eighteenth century to the present, the romance fiction publishing industry, and student creative entrepreneurship. In conjunction with the course, Dubois and Florand launched the “UNSUITABLE” events series to engage students in a wider community discussion of romance fiction, creativity, and popular perception. In this presentation, Dubois and Florand will discuss the challenges encountered in developing a course of this nature, its role at Duke as well as in the broader community, course objectives, text selection, pedagogy, and preliminary feedback on the classroom experience and student and community engagement.

Creating a Popular Romance Collection in the Academic Library

(Sarah Sheehan, George Mason University)

Academic libraries have long had an uneven record of collecting so-called popular contemporary literature. Academic libraries that do collect it have often done so as part of so-called “leisure reading” collections. Popular genre collecting, especially for popular romance novels, is often viewed as the prevue of the public libraries.  However, most public libraries do not collect for the long term needs of researchers and students, but instead focus on the present reading interests of the populations that they serve.

There are a few academic libraries that do systematically collect popular romance materials, however, these collections are housed in their respective library’s Special Collections, which does limit student and researcher access.  We argue that there is value in systematically collecting popular romance fiction for circulating academic library collections. As no established collection development model presently exists specifically for this type of collection, therefore the authors created a strategy using other genre collections and their skills as established liaison librarians in crafting the collection.  We will cover resources to identify appropriate items for the collection, specific selection criteria, non-traditional sources of obtaining titles, and the creation of an appropriate collection development policy. They will also discuss future plans for a popular romance novel collection.

Imagine a library that collected literary scholarship written about Eugene O’Neill, but not The Ice Man Cometh. Such a situation is currently the case for popular romance at many academic libraries. Circulating popular romance collections can play a vital role in promoting teaching and scholarship.  In effect, it would mean treating popular romance novels like any other literary genre currently in circulating collections.

Fact or Fiction? Are New Adult Romance E-books Emerging in Public Libraries?

(Renee Bennett-Kapusniak and Jennifer Thiele, both of University of Wisconsin Milwaukee)

No abstract provided.

Women's favourite titles in a Portuguese prison: from library use to romance reading

(Paula Sequeiros, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal)

The library prison in Santa Cruz do Bispo, Portugal, constitutes an interesting social location: this library is visited by a large proportion of women from the popular classes. The average age for imprisoned women has been increasing in recent years and with it average literacy skills have been lowering within a population with low education levels. Time allocation being for sure quite different from what used to be in the outside world, with no domestic and parenting tasks consuming their time, reading is expected to have a higher allocation in the imprisonment context.

The aim of this research was to understand what are the reading practices, what are their meanings and what is the role of reading in an everyday life of confinement. The results from ethnography and interviews were analysed according to social variables such as class, gender, ethnicity, age, occupation, and education.

Having come to know that most request items were light-literature novels, self-help books, and biographies/misery books, this research took a second step also focusing on favourite genres and titles. A critical analysis of one tittle from each genre was then contrasted with readers' favourite passages in order to better understand what attracted these readers.

A comparison was also made among categories – using Amorós' concept of "novela rosa" and Calinescu's definition of kitsch - in order to understand whether there is some form of "lineage" linking them as to stylistic and narrative devices, and whether their popularity could be, at least partially, explained by the use of these devices.
Concepts of light-literature and kitsch art are then discussed according to theories on taste, taking into account social class, gender and historical perspectives. Feminist approaches to kitsch and light-literature, in particular, were taken into account.

Romance XI: Erotic Romance, Erotica, and the Erotics of Vulnerability

Romance XI: Erotic Romance, Erotica, and the Erotics of Vulnerability

The Erotics of Vulnerability in African American Romance Fiction

(Conseula Francis, College of Charleston)

I will do two things in this presentation. First, I will offer a theory of romance that pays attention to its narrative preoccupations rather than its formal elements. In this presentation I am interested in romance fiction’s narrative preoccupation with the erotics of vulnerability. My theory of the erotics of vulnerability builds on Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic" and Brene Brown's research on vulnerability. The second, and more important, thing I plan to do in this presentation is attempt to re-focus our critical attention on African American romance, which typically gets scant attention in romance scholarship. I will argue that romance fiction’s attention to the erotics of vulnerability sets the stage for the radical possibilities of black romance.

I will offer two brief readings to illustrate my argument. The first will focus on the Beverly Jenkins historical Something Like Love, in which the characters find themselves subject to myriad political, social, and sexual vulnerabilities and must learn the reward (and erotics) of risk. The second will focus on Maureen Smith's contemporary Recipe for Temptation. The characters in this novel are largely free of the kind of vulnerability that plagues the heroine and hero of Jenkins' novel (the racial landscape of 19th century and 21st century American are quite different). Yet these characters still exist in a world that posits black intimacy and sexuality, and the resulting vulnerability, as necessarily sites of profound and persistent degradation, humiliation, and oppression. Like Jenkins, Smith uses genre romance to de-center what I call narratives of despair and re-narrate black pleasure and desire.

Climax and Consent: The Emancipatory Potential of Erotica in Popular Romance Fiction

(Catherine Roach, The University of Alabama)

I have argued elsewhere that female sexual pleasure is central to the broad romance narrative and that the romance genre can be powerfully sex-positive (Roach, forthcoming 2015).  However, the erotic content in romance fiction, as is true of erotica in general, can serve to endlessly reproduce tired old stereotypes and oppressive master narratives.  The new wave of feminist and queer pornography proves that erotica can be a radical imaginative space of exploration and possibility; erotica can be a descriptive and prescriptive narrative for how sexuality can be lived for partners’ mutual pleasure, support, and emancipation.  How can the erotic aspect of romance story-telling reach this full potential for sex-positive, queer-friendly, feminist liberation?  What might such erotic content in the romance genre look like?  In this presentation, I explore these questions by focusing on two aspects of sexual relationship: consent and climax.  In the romance storyline, partners agree to engage in sexual activity (consent) and enjoy such activity (climax)—if not immediately, then by the story’s end; if not explicitly on-page, then implicitly off-page.  (The new asexuality movement represents an interesting counter-argument that I briefly pursue.)  The point about consent can be summarized as “the problem of the bodice ripper.”  Much discussion about romance fiction, both popular and academic/critical, has viewed as problematic “old school” scenes of non-consensual sex between main characters destined for true love.  I suggest that non-consensual sex has not gone away.  Contemporary BDSM romances represent a current form of the earlier bodice-ripper, a more politically correct version wherein partners negotiate consent in advance before engaging in scenes of force and bondage.  More widely, many romances grant such masterful powers of seduction to the hero that sex scenes are rape-like: the heroine’s initial “no” yields to “yes” in the hero’s magical embrace.  I argue the genre stages non-fully-consensual sex scenes to create a collective, woman-oriented imaginative space to work through complicated problems of assault, rape, consent, will, agency, and desire in sex.  The second problem of climax can be summarized, to borrow Wendell and Tan’s terms, as the problem of the hero’s “Wang of Mighty Lovin’” and the heroine’s “Magic Hoo Hoo.”  In short, women (and men) do not climax from intercourse in real life as easily and as often, with such pleasure and life-changing consequences, as in romance fiction. The point isn’t that sex needs to be realistic, but that it could be more varied and more in line with typical patterns of female sexual response.  The erotic in romance, as in wider media, could get beyond master narratives centered around penetrative, genital, orgasmic sexuality in order to realize the full goals of sex-positive culture.

The Lexicon of Love: An Analysis of Sexual Language in Lesbian Romance and Erotica

(Len Barot, Bold Strokes Books)

Until the last few decades, graphic sex scenes were uncommon in lesbian romance. In many instances the consummation of the love relationship occurred off-stage or was couched in euphemistic terms. Explicit depictions of sex between women was most often reserved for erotica, creating a divide in the form of sexual expression between romance and erotica and reinforcing the expectation of readers that “sex,” at least the sweaty, unbridled, wild kind, was not part of “romance” fiction. This parallels observations in non-same-sex romance as noted in a recent blog by Jane Little: “Prior to 2000, references to the penis would often be couched in terms such as “manroot” “stalk” and “pleasure rod”. The clitoris or vagina would be known in equally obscure terms. Now it’s not uncommon to see the use of “cock”, “cunt”, or “pussy” within many mainstream romances whether they be historical, contemporary or paranormal. Today the line between erotic romance and non erotic romance appears blurred, not just for readers but authors and publishers as well.” (1)

In the last decade, a merging of the erotic and romantic has become more common within the expanding field of lesbian romance. Erotic romance is recognized as a subgenre by authors and publishers and sought after by readers. This study looks at variations in sexual language usage in two different populations of contemporary lesbian romance novels: 1) romances written by self-identified erotic romance authors versus “sweet” romance authors, and 2) sex scenes written by authors who write both lesbian erotica and romance (thereby serving as their own controls in terms of language choices). Sex scenes are analyzed and compared by word count/phrase for pre-selected terms commonly associated with genitalia or descriptors of intercourse/sexual intimacy to determine the differences if any in sexual language based on genre dictates.


Love in the Xtreme: Publishing the Erotic Romance Novel

(John Markert, Cumberland University)

The romance novel has become increasingly erotic, but few mainstream publishers stray into the upper stratum of eroticism.  The mid-range, four-to-six level of eroticism, is where the heroines of mainstream romances tend to find love.  Some novels may venture into seven-level eroticism, but few step into the upper eight-to-ten level of the xrotic, where sexual escapades are graphically depicted and often occur outside a committed relationship; it is also, more-often-than-not, with multiple partners over the course of the novel.  It is obvious that mainstream publishers are not meeting the need of romance readers since their failure to depict sexual activity in any detail has given birth to a flourishing cottage industry of small digital xrotic publishers.  This paper explores the growth of these small presses in an attempt to explain their success and why mainstream publishers have failed to respond to the desire for the xrotica. 

Romance X: Love Theory, Romance Practice

Romance X: Love Theory, Romance Practice

This Modern Love: representations of romantic love in historical romance

(Jodi McAlister, Macquarie University)

Historical romance is one of the most popular and recognisable sub-genres of the romance novel. The period setting is key to the construction of the romance: historical heroines often find themselves bound by more restrictive social rules than their contemporary sisters, particularly when it comes to appropriate female sexual behaviour.

This rather Foucauldian notion of a repressive society has an interesting effect on the portrayal of romantic love. While historical heroines often break the rules of their own societies, I contend that they regularly follow recommended contemporary patterns for romance, especially when it comes to the relationship between love and sex. The picture of romantic love offered by the historical romance is distinctly modern, despite the effort authors make to create historically accurate backdrops for their novels. In this paper, I will draw on the history of romantic love and several key texts to discuss the ways in which the historical romance regularly portrays romantic love as transhistorical and universal, as well as how this has changed over the genre’s history. I will explore the scripts for love and sex followed by several historical heroines, and will ultimately attempt to draw some conclusions as to the appeal of modern love in a period setting.

Outsmarting the Universe: Precocious Love in John Green’s Fault in Our Stars

(Susan Leary, University of Miami, English Department )

John Green’s 2012 bestselling young adult novel, Fault in Our Stars, introduces teenage cancer patients, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who fall in love over the shared experience of knowing they are going to die.  There are all the elements of the cloying sweet, love-turned-tragic archetypal romance, yet the intellectual backdrop and smart wit of the characters transforms this love into one that resists such categorization: Hazel and Augustus bond over a deep fascination with Hazel’s favorite book, Imperial Affliction; they correspond sophisticatedly with its sardonic and cerebral author; they speak in metaphor, converse routinely with philosophical language, and kiss passionately in the midst of their touring the Anne Frank House.  Yet, Hazel and Augustus are not standard nerds, nor are they the sympathetically-viewed cancer kids.  Their intelligence in fact protects them from these labels.  The universe, however, is believed to be an ordered system.  As Hazel’s father says: “I believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”  Love, cast as an intellectualized experience, is this consciousness.  I call this precocious love because it is a love ahead of its own image; it only approximates love as it contains no elements of the artificiality we read into the idea and potential of it to organize experience.  In this way, Hazel and Augustus succeed in outsmarting the universe as how they feel about one another is archetype-less, lens-less, unqualified, and unprecedented—unprecedented being Augustus’s most frequent descriptor of Hazel.  The universe’s elegance is therefore an illusion of perfect order; even in his eulogy for Hazel, Augustus equates his love for her to “stars he cannot fathom into constellations.”  It is this intellectuality that makes love a simultaneous maker and unmaker of the universe.

Redeeming (M/M) Love: Christian Romance and Erotic Faith in Alex Beecroft's False Colors and Alexis Hall's Glitterland

(Eric Selinger, DePaul University)

As Catherine Roach, Simon May, and other scholars have argued, popular romance culture draws on a long post-Christian tradition of thought about romantic love as a source of transcendent meaning, purpose, and value in life: an “erotic faith,” in Robert Polhemus’s phrase, that true love unites sacred and secular desires, erotic and matrimonial relationships, and, fundamentally, body and soul.  Some queer romance novels engage with this faith tradition in particularly self-conscious and artful ways, whether by asserting the power of “erotic faith” to trump social and Biblical injunctions against same-sex romantic love or by reasserting the value of "erotic faith" in the face of the postmodern intellectual turn that characterises romantic love--especially with a happy ending--as a banal or déclassé ideal.  This presentation will look closely at the ways two m/m romance novels think through ideas about love and erotic faith, often in explicitly theological terms:  Alex Beecroft’s progressive Christian m/m romance, False Colors; and Alexis Hall’s ostensibly secular m/m novel Glitterland, whose self-conscious, self-doubting narrator invokes both Christian tropes and the critical work of Roland Barthes as he struggles to accept his own romantic redemption, at once redeemed by and redeeming love.

The Matter of Romantic Love Matters

(Morgan Klarich, Texas Woman's University)

Romance novels are made up of matter and can become an actant in the reader’s own narrative as they navigate their own fantasy and inter/intra-action with matter. Western philosophies (like materialism) tend to ignore romantic love as an ontologically relevant philosophical space. Romantic love is considered an emotion, and not relevant to the philosophical discourse of classical materialism. However, using new materialism I wish to challenge that and critically interrogate the validity of romantic love’s exclusion in this discourse. Using romance novels as a crucial point in my interrogation, my paper explores the possibility that romantic love is matter, an independent complicated product of physical matters intra-action. Among others, I utilize discourse from new materialists and romance novel scholars. I conclude that the old opinions towards matter cannot apply to the modern way of thinking. There is little room for absolutes when so much is clearly unknown about what matter actually is. Romantic love is that unknown, unseen, and uncharted territory of philosophical discourse that can and will be considered, not only a product of matter, but matter itself.

Romance IX: Kismet! Turkish Soap Operas and the Global Culture of Popular Romance (Special Session)

Romance IX: Kismet! Turkish Soap Operas and the Global Culture of Popular Romance (Special Session)

The popularity of contemporary Turkish soap operas in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, and Asia has sparked avid discussions of issues related to sexuality, women's rights, and the politics of popular culture.  This special session will feature a rare American showing of KISMET, an award-winning short documentary film (58 minutes long) about these TV shows, their makers, and their global fandom, followed by a discussion of the film led by romance scholar Heather Schell, who has studied popular romance in Turkey, romance Area Chair Eric Selinger, and Katherine Larsen of the PCA Fan Studies area.  As these discussion leaders will demonstrate, the content of these discussions bears striking similiarities to debates over the value and effect of popular romance fiction in Anglophone cultures; however, the context of the discussions is often radically different, depending on the viewing locale.  Comparisons to the content and reception of other international TV dramas--e.g., Korean dramas of the Hallyu [Korean wave] will also be addressed.

Romance VIII: Imperialism, Transnationalism, and the Politics of Genre

Romance VIII: Imperialism, Transnationalism, and the Politics of Genre

Imperial Affairs: Colonialism, race and the early twentieth-century romance novel

(Hsu-Ming Teo, Macquarie University)

The romance novel became a distinct genre during the zenith of the British Empire and, unsurprisingly, women writers used Britain’s colonies as exotic backdrops for their love stories. At a time when many men insisted that the empire was ‘no place for a white woman’, romance novels from the 1890s to the Second World War spread imperial fantasies of women who travelled to the colonies, hunted, worked as governesses, nurses and secretaries, managed households, ran viable plantations, fended off attacks by ‘the natives’, fell in love, married and made a place for themselves in the empire.   This paper explores how dreams of love and empire building bloomed in the Kenyan novels of Florence Riddell and Nora K. Strange; the Rhodesian and South African romances of Gertrude Page; the New Guinean romances of Beatrice Grimshaw; and the Raj romances of Maud Diver, Ethel M. Dell, Bertha Croker, Alice Eustace and many more. Martin Green has argued that ‘the adventure tales that formed the light reading of Englishmen for two hundred years … were, in fact, the energizing myth of English imperialism … they charged England’s will with the energy to go out into the world and explore, conquer, and rule’. Romance novels may not have created such determinedly colonizing drives among women, but they were important nonetheless because they purportedly disseminated ‘knowledge’ about Britain’s colonies and naturalized colonial possessions and racial hierarchies among women readers. At the same time, they unintentionally foregrounded the fragility of love relationships between British men and women by portraying the strains colonizing activities placed on interpersonal relations and the racial anxieties caused by the sexual attractiveness of ‘native’ men.  

Tears and Desires: Qiong Yao’s Romantic Melodrama in a Transnational Frame

(Danju Yu, Stony Brook University)

Qiong Yao, the renowned Taiwanese female novelist, is known for her sensational novels that depict pathos, overwrought emotions and the ostensibly suffering female protagonists. The visual adaptation of one of her most popularly-received novel, You Can’t Tell Him (Tingyuan Shenshen, 1972), tells the story of a female schoolteacher’s rendezvous with a student’s blind father, who eventually discovers that this mysterious school teacher happens to be his beloved ex-wife who has been reported dead for years. The novel as well as its film adaptation mimic Jane Austen’s 1847 bildungsroman novel, Jane Eyre, while the narrative is relocated to Taiwan in the 1970s with the backdrop of problematic Cold War geopolitics and Taiwan’s rapid economic boom. Embedded in the romantic love affair are the film’s detailed depiction of Taiwan’s budding tea farm business and the growing community of working class women. This paper examines the gothic elements, melodramatic narrative, elaborate mise en scène to tease out the underlying neoliberal desires expressed through the tears and desires of female protagonists. In addition, this paper intervenes in the derogatory reading of Wenyi Aiqing melodrama (romance melodrama) films by shifting the attention to excessive emotions that provide ruptures in dominant ideologies. By tracing the transnational trajectory of You Can’t Tell Him, I explore romance melodrama and its role in opening up new spaces for female discourse.

“I’m Just Telling You a Story, That’s All”: The Reading and Misreading of Gendered, Raced, and (Dis)Abled Bodies in Courtney Milan’s The Heiress Effect

(Mallory Jagodzinski, Bowling Green State University)
Courtney Milan is quite well-known in the romance industry for walking away from a “very nice deal” at Harlequin to successfully self-publish her subsequent novels and for writing characters one doesn’t often see in the genre (such as virgin heroes, suffragette heroines, and heroines whose characters are defined by the work they do). In interviews, she alludes to the fact that this is because she has more freedom to write these characters due to the fact that there is no publisher asking her to make her characters more generic and typical. In her 2013 novel The Heiress Effect, which is set in 1867, Milan writes a “B” romance featuring an epileptic heroine, Emily, and an Indian student studying at Cambridge, Anjan.

In this paper, I show how Milan builds the romantic relationship between the heroine and hero through the reading and misreading of bodies in regards to gender, disability, and race. I argue that Milan uses the constraints placed on Emily and Anjan’s bodies by systems of power and privilege to illustrate the ways our society has and continues to allow bodies to speak for individuals rather than trusting their stories. It is only after Emily and Anjan begin telling stories to one another about their possible courtship that the two are able to achieve the genre’s requisite happily ever after, which I assert to be Milan’s insistence on importance of diverse representation in the stories American culture tells itself about who is worthy of love.

Brothers Under Covers: Race and the Paranormal Romance Novel

(Amanda Hobson, Ohio University)

From sparkling teen-angst-filled “vegetarians” to crime fighting warriors, the vampire hero has become a mainstay in novels, films, and television. Vampires have held the imaginations of readers since the time of the “penny dreadful” and Dracula.  In contemporary American culture, the vampire has shifted beyond the borders of the horror and science fiction genres to become a featured icon in the romance genre. The subgenre of paranormal romance has inundated the publishing market over the last decade for both adult and young adult romance readers.  One of the most glaring and intriguing aspects of these vampire romance novels is their consistent whitewashing.  Just where are all the undead heartthrobs of colour, and why are they seemingly absent? Though this piece will focus on Black vampire heroes specifically, where are the women of colour as female leads?  While these vampire romance novels may have periphery characters that are people of colour, they remain almost entirely populated by whites, mainly Americans descended from European heritages.  I explore the representations of race and ethnicity within the paranormal subgenre, focusing on two popular series as guideposts: Kerrelyn Sparks’s Love at Stake series and J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. How can a reader understand issues of race and ethnicity within these vampire romances?  The vampire, who has long-stood as the iconic symbol for the Other, reconstructs oppression within the narratives of these paranormal romance novels first by eliminating race and ethnicity from the vast majority of the texts and then by reinforcing the cultural stereotypes of Black masculinity.  The genre in which the vampire fiction is written matters a great deal for the representation and inclusion of Black vampires.  Using genre theory and critical race theory, this paper examines the lacuna of race and ethnicity present within vampire romance fictions.