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Why do women today continue to author and consume the same types of novels that women adored over a hundred years ago? Why do contemporary, independent women continue to turn to stories that center on love and the couple? To respond, Holmes engages the ideas of such feminist theorists as Dorothy Dinnerstein, Nancy Chodorow and Jessica Benjamin, the psychoanalytical arguments of Freud, and the sociological explanations of Pierre Bourdieu among many others.
In her first chapter, she mobilizes a psychoanalytical perspective to look at the impact of early childhood fantasies and experiences the oedipal drama, infantile bisexuality, separation from the mother on adult desires. In the end, this brief survey of the theories that justify why romance continues to attract women raises interesting questions about gender, identity, and literature, but later chapters in which Holmes displays her strengths in literary analysis are more persuasive.
Holmes defines the romance genre as one in which the love plot is central to the narration, which consists of a meeting, a series of obstacles both internal and external to the characters, and a denouement that can be happy resulting in marriage or unhappy resulting in separation. Yet with these consistent elements that define the genre comes great flexibility, and popular romance has been used in France to express a range of disparate political views, social classes, and historical circumstances.
Rather than question the social order, these novels reassured woman of the rightness of their own subordination in order to reinforce a traditional society.
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But the Delly novels, while extremely popular, were not the only voice for women during this turbulent time. Writers like Max de Veuzit and Magali offered women more nuanced novels that reflected their changing world. Their brand of romance, Holmes observes, tended to emphasize the importance of mutual love and marriage between equal partners: a sharply contrasting ideology embodied in the same popular form. Nevertheless, these novels remained within largely heterosexual romance structures that depicted the conflict between feminine desire and exterior social demands.
Holmes focuses her study as much on readership as on authorship. She analyzes how changing laws and social practices at the beginning of the century—increased mobility, expansion in publishing, and state education of women, among others—contributed to the development of a body of women readers.
Both the content of the romance and the act of reading itself engage the body and the mind of the reader in a sensuous experience that attracts a wide variety of women writers and consumers. Holmes confronts the criticism that romance promotes the limited and inescapable destiny of becoming a wife, and argues that while this may be true of some romances, many others offer the opportunity for women to explore a utopian, fantasized version of the real situations in which they find themselves.
Whether they are avid romance fans or skeptical critics, readers will get a comprehensive picture of a genre that Holmes moves from the margins to the center of recent French literary history. In the landmark Paradoxa special issue on popular romance, Pamela Regis and Kay Mussell both noted that the study of individual romance authors was needed for the further development and consolidation of Popular Romance Studies as a critical field. Thirteen years later, alas, scholarly work on individual romance authors remains quite rare. Did You Know?
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Instead, it is a somewhat hastily put together book directed at what seem to be book club readers and, perhaps, interested high school students or entering undergraduates. As a book for a wide but avidly interested audience, Reading Nora Roberts aims both to introduce the author and to facilitate discussion of her vast oeuvre. Snodgrass does not account for her differing approach. Even taking the book on its own terms, as a publication for the general public, the book is ultimately disappointing.
Such sloppiness on the part of both the author and her editors shows a curious lack of respect for Roberts, her readers, and the project of the book itself. A brief online search indicates that Mary Ellen Snodgrass is not primarily a romance scholar, but has published dozens of guides and textbooks on a dizzying myriad of topics ranging from Greek Classics to nursing to relations between the US and Japan.
Transformations in Romance Fiction and Scholarship. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Reading Nora Roberts. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, The African American historical romance developed in nineteenth-century America but did not gain popularity as a genre until the twentieth century. Set in a specific historic time—usually during slavery, Reconstruction, or post-Reconstruction—the African American historical romance emphasizes tensions between two opposing forces, as it employs romantic elements of adventure and love.
Because slavery and racism denied Blacks full political and social inclusion in American society, conflict in African American historical romances is often presented as opposition between Blacks who strive for sociopolitical freedom and the national majority who denies them full participation rights. For this purpose, their protagonists possess attributes that middle and upper-class Caucasians deemed worthy.
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Well-educated, temperate, frugal, and virtuous, they contribute to community uplift and marry respectably. As professionals, they represent the rising middle class, a rank above the Black masses. Properly armed, they possess the necessary weapons to battle the war against racism in order to assimilate into American society. A respectable family background, education, marriage, and community service were hallmarks to aspire to in attempting to dismantle racial injustice. Nevertheless, the romance paradigm is present—man and woman meet, fall in love, marry, and live the rest of their lives together.
First, Jenkins manifests a fuller view of history. Approximately a century removed from the historical periods of slavery, Reconstruction, and post-Reconstruction that she writes about, Jenkins carefully dramatizes that history and documents it, appending a bibliography to each of her novels. In Vivid, for instance, Jenkins revisits the post-Reconstruction era and details the difficulties that confronted Black female physicians, as illuminated in the life of Dr. As a result, Black physicians were limited to medical practice in the Black community. Another difficulty facing young Black physicians was the shift in the medical profession from bleeding patients in order to rid them of diseases to using antiseptics in order to prevent disease.
This medical change is represented in the violent confrontation between Dr. Lancaster, who applies the more modern cleansing methods of Dr. Joseph Lister and fights to remove Dr. Hayes from his patient. Other details in the history reveal Dr. She buries the dead, locates relatives of the ill, and performs household chores of her female patients; for her services, she often receives pay in the form of vegetables and farm animals.
Jenkins depicts Black women in cohesive plots rather than in the digressive and episodic intrigues of her literary foremothers, offering a more comprehensive and sustained view of the Black woman engaged in racial uplift efforts. Third, Jenkins revises the image of the mulatta heroine found in first-wave novels and depicts the darker-hued heroine who triumphs in public spaces.
The darker-hued beauty in second-wave novels possesses masculine vigor and often dons pants. Fourth, unlike first-wave novels, second-wave novels present Black women fighting for self-determination in romantic liaisons with Black men. These men were often unwilling to concede public space to black women. Fifth, unlike first-wave novels that avoid sex in romantic relationships, Jenkins incorporates the more explicit treatment of sexuality found in the works of white European and American women writers. My interview with Beverly Jenkins came in stages over the past eighteen months.
I first sent a written copy of my questions to her in August She responded weeks later with a telephone call; we continued the interview by telephone and email in December and January of RBD Why did you choose to begin your writing career with the historical rather than the contemporary romance? The first manuscript I sent out was a contemporary that was rejected, but the historical Night Song sold.
Ironically, that rejected contemporary was published many years later as Edge of Night. BJ It took me fifteen years to publish my first novel, which has since gone through six printings. The start was rough.
I did the revisions. The draft went from the editor to a freelancer. Scenes were changed. I called Vivian Stephens, my agent, and told her that she should return the advance on the book. I did not want the book published like that. The editor called.
She cried and apologized. For four and a half hours, the editor and I were on the telephone going over the revisions. There should be trust between editor and author. RBD There are so many more contemporary romances published than there are historical romances. Why is that? BJ Money drives the publishing business just like every other business. Back in the seventies and eighties, historical romances held the biggest share of the market, so publishers pushed that genre.
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But over time, the tastes of the readers changed, the times changed, and contemporaries began to be embraced. Now contemporaries rule. Romance can be very cyclical, though, so, who knows where the genre will be ten years from now. RBD You are more than a century removed from the nineteenth century that you write about. How do your historical romance novels bring this era alive for your twenty-first-century readers? BJ I bring the nineteenth century alive—I think—by placing my historical characters in the context of their everyday lives.