ISSN: 2159-4473

Published in partnership with the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Review: Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi

Review by Javaria Farooqui

Romantic love and the religion of Islam have often been combined in western popular fiction to create the necessary element of the “exotic.” This is most evident in the ubiquity of desert settings and the sheikh protagonists in category romance novels. Popular romance studies has shown a considerable interest in sheikh romances, exploring the myriad themes of oriental culture, political fantasy, and ethnicity (Teo, 2012; Jarmakani, 2015; Burge, 2016). However, no amount of familiarity with category sheikh romances can prepare a reader for the personalized, love narratives of Salaam Love, which are termed as stories of “feelings” in the preface. In Arabic, ‘Salaam’ means ‘peace,’ and acts as a salutation or greeting. Thus, the title suggests that the book is about welcoming love in a peaceful, Islamic way. The word ‘Salaam’ appears to be a careful choice on part of the editors, Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, to indicate the connections between gender, Islamic cultural values and love. This anthology was preceded by Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women (2012), which presents a very positive approach towards sexual and matrimonial issues of Muslim women. Both anthologies communicate a distinct variety of Happily Ever After, which is reliant on Islam as a faith and a powerful source of love. Men in Salaam Love have expressed their quests of finding ‘true love,’ which, for them, coincides with religion and cultural acceptance. Their happiness, love and a sense of fulfilment are irrevocably dependant on their identity as Muslims. Whether it is a question of finding the right partner, showing your mettle in the face of social and personal rejections or weighing the decision of having an IVF baby, all the stories in this book communicate a fascinating belief in the healing powers of religion that ultimately leads to the achievement of a deep sense of inner peace and love.

Importantly, the editors of Salaam Love stress that “this book is not a theological treatise,” but a platform for real Muslim men to open up about the “most intimate aspects of their lives” (viii). This clarification is particularly relevant because the sexual and romantic experiences communicated in these autobiographical narratives connect directly with each protagonist’s identity as a Muslim man in the United States. Nevertheless, Salaam Love [End Page 1] frequently feels like a theological, or at best inspirational, collection of stories. For example, in “In the Unlikeliest of Places,” A. Khan learns to synthesize his religious practices and his queer identity after his one-night stand with a successful gay surgeon. Khan writes, “The cliché that God works in mysterious ways becomes real only when you wake up to these mysterious ways in the small moments, in the unexpected and, yes, dark places” (113). What prevents this anthology from being a subtle work of theology is its unorthodox sense of humour. Recounting his break-up with a beautiful, non-Muslim girlfriend, author-narrator Stephen Leeper writes: “By January, she had left me for her white ex-boyfriend, a blow to the Original Blackman’s ego, a carryover sentiment from my Stephen X days” (179). Salaam Love provides subtle amusement, the kind that makes one smile inwardly for a few moments. An apt illustration would be Haroon Moghul’s delightful description of his first date in “Prom, InshAllah.” When his crush Carla agrees to be his date for the prom, Haroon narrates that he “stood there like a Punjabi Peter Parker, when he first becomes aware of his super spidery powers.” He felt like “a new man—taller, better, braver, and a cooler shade of brown” (154). Various examples of this wry sense of humour are evident throughout the anthology, especially when the author-narrators talk about their race.

Salaam Love is divided into three sections, “Umma,” “Sirat” and “Sabr,” which, read in order, move from lightly comic to emotionally complex. The author-narrators in “Umma” find their happily-ever-afters within the boundaries of their expatriate or immigrant Muslim cultures. Again, there are moments of genuine hilarity when authors contrive acronyms: “Unrestricted hyperbole is a well-documented effect of Terrified Immigrant Syndrome (TIS). Thus my mother links a bit of religious laxity to wholesale cultural downfall—another friend’s mother has been known to link Jolt Cola to eventual cocaine use”(32). In the “Sirat” section, love is connected, metaphorically, with a journey. In stories like “Springtime Love,” “Finding Mercy” and “Prom, InshAllah,” protagonists go through dramatic and poignant phases of life to find love and/or peace at the end. The “Sabr” section has strong echoes of Paulo Coelho’s earlier work, specifically The Alchemist. However, in Salaam Love, symbolism of the journey carries explicit Islamic tones, frequently highlighting the role of religion in the lives of immigrant Muslim men. There is an overarching attempt to present the Muslim as a vulnerable, emotional and delightfully positive human being. This portrayal challenges the masculine, patriarchal and dominating image of Muslim men in western popular culture. The protagonists of Salaam Love— crying over their break-ups, desperately trying to find eligible partners for matrimony—are very different from the violent and passionate hero of E. M. Hull’s The Sheikh. Unlike the wealthy, sexually experienced and overly assertive sheikhs of Anglophonic popular romance, the author-narrators of Salaam Love are shy, hesitant and frequently face intimacy issues. Hsu-Ming Teo, in Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels, has argued that category sheikh romances have helped in the formation of stereotypes for uninformed western readers (99-100). It is evident that the author-narrators and editors of Salaam Love have painstakingly deconstructed the stereotypical image of Muslim men through the various romance narratives presented, which manifest a common belief in the healing power of love and faith.

The multiple narratives in this collection highlight the ethnic and cultural diversity that is present in the United States of America. This book stands at the crossroads between literature and popular romance fiction. There is an autobiographical element, gendered perspective and a culturally nuanced sense of humour in Salaam Love. Still, the way in which these twenty-two narratives link happy endings with Islamic bliss is predominantly [End Page 2] characteristic of romance fiction and paves the path for, perhaps, another subgenre: “Halal Romance.” [End Page 3]

Works Cited

Burge, Amy. Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance. New York: Palgrave, 2016.

Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

Hull, E. M. The Sheik. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. Project MUSE.

Jarmakani, Amira. An Imperialist Love Story: Desert Romances and the War on Terror. New York: New York UP, 2015.

Mattu, Ayesha and Nura Maznavi. Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2012.

Teo, Hsu-Ming. Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels. University of Texas Press, 2012.

[End Page 4]


Review: New Directions in Popular Fiction: Genre, Distribution, Reproduction, edited by Ken Gelder

Review by Claire Parnell

New Directions in Popular Fiction is an omnifocal deep dive into specific histories, genres, locations, and formats within the scope of popular fiction publishing. The collection is divided into two sections. ‘Histories of Popular Genres’ includes case studies of particular genres that, as a whole, comprise an interesting yet fragmented history of popular fiction writers, readers, and publishing from the nineteenth century to the present. The chapters in ‘Authors, Distribution, (Re)Production’ focus on writing, publishing and reading in the broader context of the global entertainment industry. The contributing authors explore new directions in genres, formats, adaptations and transmedia technology and production, and scholarship. Chapters focusing on crime fiction explore colonial Australian detective stories (Gelder & Weaver), textual legacies of the Whitechapel murders (Moore), the British spy thriller (Burrow), and feminist crime fiction (Vanacker). North American genres are explored through re-Indigenizing Western dime novels (Bold) and national identity in Québec (Ransom). Science fiction and fantasy are explored in chapters on medievalism and paratextuality (Wilkins), the new weird (Weinstock), the context of prewar Japan (Jacobwitz), the speculative girl hero (Driscoll & Heatwole), and novelizing Assassin’s Creed. The only extensive chapter on romance explores the history of British imperialism and the romance novel (Teo) but romance is also explored to a lesser extent in relation to fan fiction (Schwabach). Other chapters explore form (Hughes), popular fiction and prestige (MacLeod), adaptation (Groth; Whelehan), transnational industries (Carter), and online reader communities (Driscoll). This collection provides authoritative and important contributions for publishing studies, book history and literary studies.

In its assemblage, Gelder discloses his attempts to move beyond scholarship that focuses on popular genres in Britain and the USA given the ‘spectacular rise of ‘Nordic noir’ crime fiction…global award-winning regional African SF [science fiction] and fantasy…and a marked increase in the visibility of Chinese SF’ (15). A small number of chapters have an explicit focus on popular fiction in countries other than Britain and the USA – Gelder & Weaver’s ‘Colonial Australian Detectives, Character Type and the Colonial Economy’, Seth [End Page 1] Jacobowitz’s ‘Unno Jūza and the Uses of Science in Prewar Japanese Popular Fiction’, Amy J. Ransom’s ‘Popular Fiction in Québec: National Identity and ‘American’ Genres’, and David Carter’s ‘Beyond the Antipodes: Australian Popular Fiction in Transnational Networks’ – and one addresses culturally marginalised groups: Christine Bold’s ‘Did Indians Read Dime Novels?: Re-Indigenising the Western at the Turn of the Twentieth Century’. This ‘gesture towards the global range and recognition of popular fiction’ (15) is itself a signal of another new direction in popular fiction scholarship that requires greater emphasis and attention in the academy; that is, authors, readers, and publishers of culturally marginalised and non-Western texts as well as discourses surrounding their creation, production and reception.

Delineating a select few chapters here will provide a snapshot into the historical, scholarly and generic scope of this book. The first chapter by Joe Hughes investigates the work of Eliza Haywood, an ‘amatory’ novelist working in the eighteenth century who was ‘widely considered to be one of the first bestsellers in the history of the English novel’ (24) in part due to being ‘the first to exploit the full potential of the scenic form’ (25). The repetition of the scene, Hughes points out, ‘is not only the mark of a technical discovery that maximises the productive capacity of the writer, it also governs the process of consumption’ (25) – the former is a characteristic of contemporary popular fiction production and the latter a characteristic of its market. It is with this first chapter that we are thus introduced to the rise of popular fiction as a mass-market product and the structural form that enabled its consistent and rapid production.

Hsu-Ming Teo’s chapter ‘Imperial Affairs: The British Empire and the Romantic Novel, 1890–1939’ investigates women’s imperial romantic fiction, a genre produced between the 1890s and the Second World War and ‘created from the fusion of the masculine imperial adventure romance and the more feminine form of the domestic romantic novel’ (88). The genre worked to disseminate imperial fantasies for women finding a place in the empire. Here Teo provides insight into how new genres and hybrid genres develop, and the ways in which the production of popular fiction texts are responsive to the sociohistorical contexts in which they are published. From a similar socio-literary approach, Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver chronicle crime and detective fiction in colonial Australia in ‘Colonial Australian Detectives, Character Type and the Colonial Economy’, arguing that the first locally published Australian novel was crime fiction and that the genre’s early start in Australia emerged out of the ‘experiences of transportation and the convict system’ (43).

The influence of the internet on popular fiction is explored to varying degrees in the two final chapters: Aaron Schwabach’s ‘Fan Works and the Law’, and Beth Driscoll’s ‘Readers of Popular Fiction and Emotion Online’.[1] Driscoll’s work is one of the most groundbreaking of the collection in its focus and approach. The chapter employs a relatively new method of distant reading to explore one of the biggest changes in the publishing field since the era of the Gutenberg: the digital sphere. Investigating reader responses online is increasingly important as digital technologies and connective media systems evolve alongside their users’ behaviours to allow them greater influence over the field, and is especially relevant for popular fiction as it is ‘more susceptible to the influence of the market’ (427). Gelder describes Driscoll’s contribution as ‘an important early step to take, if we want to examine this field more closely and…productively’ (17); I agree that the incredible value of Driscoll’s work derives from combining seminal theoretical models, applying a sociological approach to fan studies, and testing the use of sentiment analysis to reception studies. [End Page 2]

The collection offers a broad historical overview of popular fiction rather than exploring contemporary genres in depth. Nevertheless, several chapters touch on romance. Teo’s chapter on the relationship between romance novels and the British imperial romantic fiction is the only chapter entirely dedicated to exploring the genre of romance, yet other chapters briefly touch on romance or romantic elements: Schwabach explores fan fiction in relation to the law, drawing on examples of romantic slash fan fiction, and Twilight is used as one of the case studies in Driscoll and Heatwole’s analysis of the girl action hero. Ultimately, New Directions in Popular Fiction is an important contribution to the continued development of popular fiction studies as a significant field of commercial cultural production and area of inquiry in the academy.

[1] Disclosure: Beth Driscoll is the reviewer’s PhD supervisor. [End Page 3]


Review: The Popular Culture of Romantic Love in Australia, edited by Hsu-Ming Teo

Review by Claire Parnell

Scholarship into the culture of romantic love has tended to put an emphasis on defining the constitutive elemental concepts (culture and romantic love) and answering specific questions to which their combination gives rise. Hsu-Ming Teo’s edited collection, The Popular Culture of Romantic Love in Australia, taps into these debates strategically; the concept of culture is holistically analysed in relation to both popular practices and its memetic representations, and the book explores how romantic love is operationalised through its understood meanings, representations and practices. Despite the risks of ‘vagueness’ that this approach is susceptible to by its porous nature (that is, the refusal to define romantic love or culture in a specific way and then only study that phenomenon), Teo has turned this into an unquestionable strength of the book. While it does not necessarily lend itself to a straightforward delineation of how Australians constitute or experience romantic love, it enables contributors to explore the expressions of love in multiple Australian cultural contexts, across different times and mediums, by different producers and for different audiences. As is its aim, this collection is an unfettered exploration into ‘how love is produced culturally’ (20, sic), as well as the changing sets of ideas and practices that constitute romantic love in Australian popular culture.

In an epistemological tradition that mirrors the charge against Australians for ‘preferring satire to sentimentality’ (5-6), Teo successfully mixes scholarship with popular culture; a rigorous literature review of the history of romantic love in academic scholarship, from its Platonic roots to its sociological and psychological iterations, is seamlessly incorporated alongside references to Paul Young and TV sitcom The Flight of the Conchords. The intricacy of Teo’s epistemological form is sustained throughout the subsequent twelve chapters. The contributing authors chronicle popular cultural practice in Australia from the nineteenth to twenty-first century, representations of popular culture within particular media industries, and the final two chapters examine the explicit relationship between these two domains. Contributors seem to engage in a constitutive and progressive dialogue despite writing from a variety of disciplines, with the range of research detailing ‘archival collections, [End Page 1] oral histories, letters, advertisements, newspapers and magazines, Valentine’s Day cards, film, television mini-series, romance novels, comics, music, the literature of sexology, and representations and political debates about same-sex marriage’ (26).

Cultural practices of romantic love in early colonial Australia are explored by Penny Russell in ‘Love in a Colonial Climate’ and Matthew Bailey in ‘The Rise and Decline of Valentine’s Day’. The latter argues that cultural practices and products associated with Valentine’s Day, and their rise and decline in popularity over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are, in a very Bourdieusian tradition, ‘used to reinforce cultural constructions of class’ (81) and are reflective of ‘appropriate behaviour, respectability, and taste’ (85). Providing an important intersectional perspective on the enduring history of colonisation in ‘A History of Indigenous Marriageability’, Andrew King outlines how Indigenous Australians have (and have not) been represented as ‘marriageable’ in popular culture.  King examines the controversy surrounding the 1959 public proposal between Mick Daly and Gladys Namagu (a white man and Aboriginal woman) and the recent marriages of Aboriginal celebrities, Ernie Dingo and Cathy Freeman. The importance of representations of who does and does not fall in love in Australian media is emphasised in the following chapter by Catriona Elder (‘Romance and History on Australian Television’) who states that the family, and romantic love by extension, are ‘often imagined as a metonym for the nation’ (129). Scrutiny into who is included in and excluded from this narrative, such as King’s, is thus vitally important.

Jonathan Rayner’s chapter ‘Romantic Love in the Australian Cinema’ builds on this consideration by analysing Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and ‘Red Curtain trilogy’ as contemporary examples of the way Australian filmmakers are portraying romantic love in complex ways. Like Luhrmann’s films, he argues, Australian cinema ‘assumes an instinctively ironic stance’ (175) in its approach to portraying romantic love: mocking while observing conventions, clichés, and outcomes. Jodi McAlister and Hsu-Ming Teo explore ‘cultural changes in the discourse of love’ (194) in twentieth-century mass-market romance novels. In ‘Love in Australian Romance Novels’, McAlister and Teo analyse historical representations of gender, sexuality, and intimacy in Australian romance novels in order to conceive a type of romance that is distinctly Australian. In so doing, they trace the legacy of novels that may be considered Australian in tone, setting and characters across the twentieth century that culminate in the marketable ‘rural romance’ subgenre. In ‘Same-Sex Love in Late Modern Australia: On the Political Straight and Narrow?’ Leigh Boucher and Robert Reynolds offer a strong and poignant resolution as they examine the ways in which political debates about and representations of same-sex love have intersected in Australian media texts.

The inclusive approach of this monograph provides multifaceted insight into the ways various Australian cultural domains have grappled with the concept, feelings and representations of romantic love over the past two hundred years. The contributors have been well selected to cover a range of case studies that work as fascinating standalone snapshots but also culminate to provide a highly nuanced conception of romantic love that is distinctly Australian. [End Page 2]


Review: Making Modern Love: Sexual Narratives and Identities in Interwar Britain, by Lisa Z. Sigel; Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918–1939: The Interwar Period, edited by Catherine Clay, Maria DiCenzo, Barbara Green, and Fiona Hackney

Review by Eliza Murphy

The continued rise of periodical studies has been a rich addition to the research landscape, attracting a range of scholars to this interdisciplinary area. Sean Latham and Robert Scholes, writing in 2006, called for researchers “to invent the tools and institutional structures necessary to engage the diversity, complexity, and coherence of modern periodical culture” (530). More than a decade on, it is safe to say that periodical studies (and more broadly, print culture studies) is flourishing, complemented by the archival turn and recent innovations in digitisation. As the excellent quality of Lisa Z. Sigel’s Making Modern Love: Sexual Narratives and Identities in Interwar Britain and Catherine Clay, Maria DiCenzo, Barbara Green, and Fiona Hackney’s edited collection Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939: The Interwar Period indicate, new work in periodical studies has much to offer us.

Sigel’s Making Modern Love uses three types of sources – correspondence, magazines, and evidence and testimony – to investigate how individuals self-fashioned their own sexual narratives in interwar Britain. Sigel argues that instead of trying to distil a singular truth from these narratives, we should read them as complex and often fantastical projections: they display how “people experienced a chaotic mix of emotions, engaged in myriad relationships, and viewed themselves and each other in multiple and often contradictory ways” (16). The discussion of these sources is framed by the understanding that it was popular culture (as opposed to sexology) that allowed people to write and read about sex and sexuality en masse for the first time. To help establish this claim, the first chapter offers [End Page 1] a broad overview of how writing about sexuality was able to circulate in Britain and the British Empire in the interwar period. Issues surrounding distribution and censorship made some texts easier to obtain or encounter than others. Magazines and other ephemera were the most readily accessible, followed by popular literature and science, then “serious” novels about sexuality (such as the work of Radclyffe Hall and D. H. Lawrence), and sexology. By looking across these various texts, we can see that there was “no single coherent framework” for people to understand sexuality in the interwar period (44).

The following chapters are case studies, each examining the narratives constructed in relation to a specific type of sexual desire: conjugal love, fetishes, cross-dressing, and whipping. Marie Stopes’s bestselling sex manual Married Love (1918) forms the base for the first case study. Sigel uses the correspondence sent to Stopes by Married Love’s readers to argue that the act of writing a letter to Stopes helped these individuals to construct “a coherent sense of the self as having a sexual identity” (47). The correspondence was in response to Stopes’s call for submissions from the public to help strengthen her theory of periodicity in women; but as Sigel details, this was seen by many readers to be a general invitation to contact Stopes about their sexuality more broadly. Through plentiful and detailed close readings of these letters, Sigel argues that the correspondence demonstrates that many viewed “sexuality as a way to remake themselves”; by contacting Stopes, they hoped to be able to figure out the logistics and pragmatics of sexual activity with their partners, whilst also transforming their own lives (72).

Sigel’s argument is strongest in the following case study, which examines the correspondence column of London Life, a glamour fetish magazine. While Married Love and its associated correspondence focused on normative ideas of conjugal love and procreation, the London Life correspondence column was a space to discuss one’s deepest desires. Looking closely at the discourses surrounding three fetishes in the pages of London Life – corsets, amputee women, and boxing girls – Sigel takes a holistic approach, interrogating the correspondence column alongside other sections of the magazine, such as fiction and essays.  The narratives that were created in the correspondence column were produced in response not just to the individual’s everyday life but also to previous correspondents, the editors, the published fiction and essays, and broader social contexts. An issue that is rightly recognised is the potential inauthenticity of these letters – were they actually written by the London Life editorial team? However, Sigel provides a comprehensive explanation to refute this claim. The magazine’s editorial policies, the inclusion of an editorial reply column, the frequency with which letters engaged with the content of the magazine, and the inclusion of images supplied by readers strongly suggest that the correspondence column was legitimate. Under pseudonyms such as “Sporty Wife” and “Forward Minx,” those who wrote to London Life were able to transform themselves: they could put forward narratives where they were someone else, and write about desires they may not otherwise have been able to express (85). Sigel’s readings of the significance of these fetishes are instructive. Corsets acted as an emblem of nostalgia (even for those who didn’t grow up with them), amputee women provided a way to discuss disability without directly confronting the traumas associated with the First World War, and the boxing girls allowed readers to consider the place and role of the new modern woman in society.

The latter half of the book shifts from these broader case studies to examine the sexual narratives of two individuals: a cross-dresser, and a poison-pen letter writer who engaged with discourses surrounding whipping. Due to this focus on the individual (rather [End Page 2] than a number of individuals, as in the previous case studies), these final chapters do not feel quite as persuasive in their arguments; the links made between the case study and broader interwar contexts sometimes feel tenuous. For instance, Chapter 4 examines the case of Mr. Hyde, a cross-dresser and First World War veteran who was arrested for being involved in the trade of obscene books. By analysing his police records – which show “what Hyde read, wrote, wore, and owned and whom Hyde met and knew” – Sigel claims that we can see how materials and ideas about sexuality circulated during the interwar period, and how these in turn shaped sexual narratives (125). While the case of Mr. Hyde is certainly fascinating, its significance is somewhat inflated; not enough evidence is provided to truly link Mr. Hyde’s circumstances to wider claims about the nature of interwar cross-dressing. Arguing that the First World War allowed for experimentation with gender roles, Sigel posits cross-dressing as having multiple meanings in the years between the wars; for some men, it served as an escape from masculinity, for sadomasochists, it functioned as a humiliation, and for others, it eroticised childhood memories (150).

Frederick Holeman, an author of multiple poison-pen letters in the 1930s, is the subject of Sigel’s analysis of whipping in interwar Britain. Holeman – posing as a concerned mother – wrote letters to other mothers accusing their daughters of being involved in lewd sexual activity. The letters promised that no further action would be taken on the proviso that the mother physically chastised her daughter and placed an advertisement in the local newspaper to prove it. While Holeman was socially subversive through the writing of these letters, Sigel argues that he was responding to a large corpus of ideas surrounding the relationship between sexuality and the whip. The letters are read alongside various documents from the Home Office and Colonial Office about the use of the whip on those guilty of sex crimes, as well as the work of reformers who sought to eliminate whipping as a corporal punishment.

Despite these final case studies lacking some of the force of the first half of the book, Making Modern Love is overall an important contribution to scholarship. Its focus on popular texts and culture provides a rich and innovative way to understand interwar sexuality, and Sigel should be applauded for the extensive archival research undertaken to complete this project. While readers of this journal may have liked to have seen Sigel engage more closely with the popular fictional texts of the early twentieth century (romance megasellers E. M. Hull and Ethel M. Dell receive only passing mentions), Making Modern Love provides constructive insights into the ways in which ordinary people conceived their sexual identities during a turbulent and transformative period.

While Making Modern Love uses periodicals as a means to understand sexuality, Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain – co-edited by Catherine Clay, Maria DiCenzo, Barbara Green, and Fiona Hackney – presents a broader perspective on the potential of periodicals as a methodological tool. In the general introduction, the editors position the collection’s goal as being “to open up the category of the ‘women’s magazine’ beyond the assumptions and expectations through which it is conventionally understood” (1). Rather than attempting to present a singular narrative, the editors write that the collection is designed to encourage new work in this research area and help to spark further conversations about women’s print media and modern periodical studies. The collection indeed realises these aspirations: furnished with plentiful high quality images and boasting an impressive list of contributors who are well-known and established in the field, Women’s [End Page 3] Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain is a significant contribution to our understanding of women’s lives in the interwar period and to the field of periodical studies.

The collection consists of thirty chapters, split into five thematic parts. When taken together, these sections present a comprehensive overview of the key concerns germane to studying women’s print media of the period: culture, style, domesticity, feminism, and community. Each part is prefaced with its own introduction, which provides a brief overview of the broader contexts and concerns that emerge across its chapters. Part I, “Culture and the Modern Woman,” seeks to push interwar periodical studies beyond the study of modernism, with the chapters in this part exploring a variety of women’s periodicals – from highbrow to lowbrow – in order to examine how magazines “taught readers what to read, what to see, and how to consume a variety of modern aesthetic forms” (11). The essays presented in this section are all strong, but highlights include Claire Battershill’s survey of the representation of bookish culture in interwar women’s periodicals, and Lise Shapiro Sanders’s examination of 1920s romance weeklies, which will be of particular interest to popular romance scholars. Sanders argues that a close inspection of girls’ magazines of the period – such as Girls’ Favourite and Peg’s Paper – reveals changes to “the pattern of heterosexual romance,” aided by new attitudes towards consumption and leisure (87). The romance fiction presented in these magazines “both departed from and reflected the experiences of the modern girl” (88). They presented plots where working or middle-class heroines become involved with the stage and screen, depicting this world as a space of glamour and fantasy, while also presenting its potential moral and sexual dangers. Alongside this depiction, however, is the understanding that this involvement with theatre and cinema can only be temporary, with the heroines relinquishing their involvements after marriage – the happily ever after provided by the narratives.

Part II turns to the question of style, exploring how periodicals instructed their readers to be modern. This section takes a broad approach to understanding representations of modern style, aiming to move beyond existing work that has largely focused on the links between style and fashion. As such, the essays examine not only the popular fashion magazines of the period (such as Vogue and Eve) but also periodicals targeted at more specific audiences, such as cinema magazines and young adult publications. Moreover, these chapters offer useful insights into methodologies in periodical studies. For example, Penny Tinkler’s analysis of the middle-class young women’s magazine Miss Modern offers an overview of how the magazine constructed the ideal of “youthful feminine modernity” in its pages (158). Tinkler takes an “inclusive” approach to reading Miss Modern, considering both how the magazine fits into the wider periodical landscape, and its diverse forms of content, such as editorials, fiction, images, and advertising (154). Tinkler argues that this type of holistic approach to studying magazines – one that “engages with text, image, and design and the relationships between them” – is necessary in order to present a comprehensive reading (154).

The chapters on domesticity and the home provide a complex and highly nuanced view of these concerns as represented in the pages of interwar periodicals. This discussion interrogates the common characterisation of interwar domestic writing as being “a retreat into domestic life,” and recasts domestic discourses as being varied and diverse (209). For instance, Adrian Bingham’s chapter on the emergent women’s page in national daily newspapers argues that there was a shift away from traditional domestic routines. Instead, the women’s pages presented modern domesticity as requiring new and professionalised [End Page 4] techniques (such as approaches to housewifery and childcare informed by science and psychology), and engagement with the consumer economy, along with the recognition that women wanted to balance their domestic duties along with paid work and socialising. There are also political aspects to understanding domesticity, as Karen Hunt’s chapter on the monthly women’s magazine Labour Woman demonstrates. The magazine’s column, “The Housewife,” provided a space to engage working-class housewives with politics through their everyday lives, by providing practical tips and advice for managing a household while on a budget.

The shift to feminism in the latter half of the collection is a welcome addition, although some of the essays in this section feel slightly underdeveloped. Take, for example, Helen Glew’s chapter on Opportunity, a feminist periodical for civil servants. While the essay provides a well-researched overview of the journal’s history during the interwar period, it ultimately feels too brief to be able to develop a strong and sustained argument. However, Laurel Forster’s discussion of feminist debates in Time and Tide is the real stand-out in this section, demonstrating how the magazine promoted debate and discussion over the issue of women’s work. Forster’s analysis focuses primarily on a 1926 essay series titled “Women of the Leisured Classes,” which provided deliberately contentious ideas as a means to provoke debate amongst Time and Tide’s readers. Importantly, this debate about women’s work (or in the case of the leisured class, lack of work) spilled over into other arenas, turning up in other print media and culminating in a face-to-face debate between G. K. Chesterton and the author of the essays, Candida, a pseudonym for Time and Tide’s founder, Lady Margaret Rhondda.

The volume closes strongly with a focus on women’s organisations and communities. Seeking to expand perspectives on women’s movements of the interwar period by moving beyond explicitly feminist groups, the chapters in this section examine a wide-ranging selection of titles, including the periodicals of housewives’ associations, co-operative guilds, religious communities, political parties, and journalism societies. These organisations, as Maria DiCenzo notes in her introduction to the section, were not necessarily explicitly feminist, but did engage with “women’s politics and forms of advocacy […] across the political spectrum” in a broader sense (405).

Perhaps the real benefit that Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain offers to those in popular romance studies is that it opens up a number of new avenues for potential inquiry. Romance fiction and romance novelists are regularly mentioned in passing throughout the collection. Ursula Bloom contributed articles to Woman’s Outlook, a feminist co-operative periodical; the pages of Miss Modern, a young women’s magazine, frequently featured romance fiction. The collection provides us with the methodological approaches and tools necessary for future explorations of the ways in which popular romance studies and periodical studies may intersect. Indeed, the volume’s extensive appendix – which details where every periodical mentioned throughout the collection is archived – is supplied in order to help promote further research on women’s periodicals of the 1920s and 30s.

When taken together, Making Modern Love and Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain illustrate the potential print cultures have to reveal how constructions of sexuality, identity, femininity, and community operated in interwar Britain. Both works will be of value to those studying the early twentieth century and the interwar period, as well as those interested in periodicals and print cultures. [End Page 5]

Works Cited

Latham, Sean, and Robert Scholes. “The Rise of Periodical Studies.” PMLA, vol. 121, no. 2, 2006, pp. 517–31.

[End Page 6]


Review: Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb’s Novels, by Kecia Ali

Review by Jessica Miller

The importance of Nora Roberts to the popular romance genre and, in fact, to the publishing industry, can hardly be overstated. She published her first romance with Harlequin in 1975. She has since has published over 215 books. Her every release in the past nineteen years has hit the New York Times bestseller list. Justifiably famous for her prolificness – she still averages five books a year – Roberts is also recognized as a genre leader in popular romance.

Roberts is widely credited with either pioneering or being at the forefront of many significant changes in the genre over the past four decades including narrative serialization, incorporation of genre elements outside romance (genre hybridization), writing stronger, older, and more sexually experienced heroines who have professional identities, and writing from the male protagonist’s point of view, among many others. In the mid-1990s, Roberts was frustrated with her publisher’s plan to release a trilogy in annual installments to avoid overexposure. Roberts demurred at first when her agent suggested that she publish some books under a pseudonym as a way to capitalize on her fast writing pace without saturating the market. Eventually, accepting that “It’s marketing … I could be two popular brands,” she consented (Charles). That second brand, J. D. Robb, is the subject of Kecia Ali’s 2017 book, Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb’s Novels.

Naked in Death (1995) introduced New York Police and Security Department Lieutenant Eve Dallas, her lover, billionaire entrepreneur Roarke, and their mid-twenty-first century world. A generic fusion that incorporates elements of romance, suspense, and police procedural, with a dash of science fiction, each installment is a self-contained crime story that also explores the relationship between the two central protagonists. The first few books focused on Eve and Roarke’s initial courtship and marriage, and their relationship remains the emotional core of the series, but the romance plot and suspense plots have tended to share the stage in subsequent installments. January 2018 saw the publication of Dark in Death, the 46th book in the series, which remains as popular as ever among readers, even as the publishing space for similar stories is increasingly crowded. [End Page 1]

Roberts has achieved a high level of cultural visibility and appreciation for her work ethic, her ability to sell books, her relationship with her fans, and her support of the popular romance industry. However, her books and her writing have received less attention, even among popular romance scholars. As popular romance studies has developed in the past few decades, it has moved away from a generalizing approach and towards a differential approach, which analyzes not the entire genre, but individual, intentionally selected texts in thematic groups or in isolation (Goris “Matricide in Romance Scholarship?”). Even so, there remain few studies that focus on Roberts (but see works by Regis, and Goris “Mind, Body, Love”) and almost no work on Roberts writing as J.D. Robb (see Mayangasari and Swaminathan for exceptions). While the In Death series is not a romance series (that would require a complete courtship plot in each installment), it is built around a central romantic relationship, and it is written by the most prodigious, best-selling, and most celebrated romance author of the past thirty plus years which makes it worthy of attention. For these reasons, Ali’s book-length study of the In Death series represents an important milestone in popular romance studies.

Observing that all literature grapples with the human condition, Ali explores those aspects of humanity that seem to her most salient in Robb’s work. Since no one book could cover everything interesting about Robb’s writing, the decision to anchor Human in Death in, first, a vision of the human, provides focus and coherence. Taking her cue from the specific literary genres combined in the In Death series, Ali narrows her scope even further to concentrate on justice, law, and retribution (police procedural), class, race, and technology (speculative fiction), and social norms around masculinity, femininity, and relationships (romance). Chapters are organized topically around five themes: intimacy, friendship, vocation, violence, and perfection.

Noting that “Critical engagement, not condemnation, is my task” (Loc. 71), Ali teases out the vision of human good that the In Death series promotes, as well as its omissions and silences. An important theme throughout is the centrality of the romantic relationship between Eve and Roarke, and how this is intertwined with the suspense plot and police procedural. Where more casual readers, or scholars focusing on one or a few books might focus on continuities across books, Ali’s comprehensive study demonstrates how the relationships, characters, and plots have changed and evolved over time, an incredibly valuable perspective on such a long-running series. Human in Death offers a compelling model for analyzing not only long-running series, but the way writers deploy romance genre elements beyond the constraints of the genre itself, and what happens when they do. Ali’s central argument is that Robb’s futuristic New York and the characters within it reflects both the problems and promise of the current social reality. It is at once economically just, egalitarian, tolerant, and multicultural and beset by poverty, violence, political strife, and prejudice.

Ali, Professor of Religion at Boston University and a noted scholar in her home fields of Islamic Jurisprudence and Women in Early and Modern Islam, marries a fan’s enthusiasm for and detailed knowledge of the study texts with a scholar’s ability to reflect conceptually on them, teasing out themes, noticing omissions, and connecting these observations to the relevant scholarly literature. In each chapter, Ali displays a sure command of Robb’s oeuvre, of relevant popular romance scholarship, and of contemporary debates among readers. She avoids both dense academic jargon and fannish minutia, creating an accessible text for educated lay readers and a compelling one for scholars of popular romance fiction who do [End Page 2] not share her encyclopedic knowledge of all 15,000 or so pages of the In Death books. The endnotes more directly address scholarly and theoretical concerns than the main text, and I sometimes wished that material was brought into the main text. That said, Ali’s approach makes for a smoothly readable book.

Ali’s first chapter, “Intimacy in Death” explores Roarke and Eve’s relationship to generate claims about the vision of the good life Robb’s series promotes. Since all of the chapters follow this pattern, I will summarize this one in some detail. Ali relies on copious, but smoothly integrated, textual evidence to illustrate the ways Robb blends and manages diverse genre requirements. She writes:

The commingling of sex and violence echoes the series’ genre blending. In addition to setting the stage for this brave new world, the first novels in the series interweave a courtship plot with the procedural. Both have their own logics and narrative conventions. (Loc. 141-143)

For example, the murder plot brings Eve and Roarke together as cop and suspect, while also throwing up an obvious barrier to their mutual attraction. The traumatic past that closes Eve off emotionally from intimacy also fuels her thirst for justice and her determined pursuit of criminals, often at great personal cost. And Roarke’s underworld connections and unorthodox investigative techniques make him a powerful ally, but dangerous lover.

In the latter part of this chapter, Ali teases out the many factors that support egalitarianism and gender role reversals in Eve and Roarke’s relationship. Roarke is more caring and open, while Eve is more guarded, so their characters generate a switch of stereotypical caretaking roles. The police procedural plot, with Eve as the cop, influences the series’ focus on her career as opposed to Roarke’s. The suspense aspects, and the constant danger they present to Eve and Roarke, make a child-free lifestyle a fitting one for them, which contributes to a more egalitarian domestic life. Ali also notes the way the earlier books hew more closely certain romance genre conventions, with Roarke as the pursuer in the relationship sometimes acting in ways that invade her privacy and her boundaries. Robb does stick to other romance conventions throughout the series: Roarke is taller and more physically assertive than Eve, and so wealthy that her refusal to conform to stereotypical conceptions of wifely duties is smoothed over by human and droid servants. Finally, Ali explores the wider circle of intimates orbiting around the main characters. The series, in sum, “shows the value of interdependence, the crucial importance of caring work, and the inevitability of vulnerability” (Loc. 432). Ali concludes by observing that Roarke and Eve’s interdependence and working partnership create a solid foundation for intimacy in other relationships, which provides a smooth segue into the next chapter, “Friendship in Death.”

While building a picture of the good life for humans that emerges from a close reading of the entire In Death series, Ali notices, in a fascinating chapter called “Perfectionism in Death”, problematic assumptions and gaps, including ableism, a view of the good life in which disabled individuals are marginalized Similarly, Ali notes that while Robb often mentions race, the author fails to integrate structural racism into her near-future New York City, which is presented as “free of anti-black racism” without explanation (Loc. 674; 1978). Ali points out, for example, that Robb tends to mention race when the character is non-white, with the result that “whiteness goes mostly unspoken” (Loc. 667).  Ali also critiques the “unrelieved whiteness” of Dallas’s close friends (Loc. 692). In an especially compelling section, she [End Page 3] explores the sole recurring black character, Crack, as a window into the series’ relationship to race. A club owner, Crack is “relentlessly embodied” (Loc. 743), and while his name is meant to refer to his physical strength, the “allusion to crack cocaine, scourge of the inner cities, is unmistakable” (Loc. 758).[1]

At times, Ali’s critique doesn’t go far enough for this reviewer, for example when she quotes without comment Dallas’s assertion that “all deaths matter” (Loc. 2022) and that “Murder…harbored no bigotry, no bias” (Loc. 2007). These echo a little too closely the slogan “all lives matter,” a rhetorical move that diverts discussion of police brutality away from the lived experience of black people and away from systematic racism. This is surprising given that in the preface Ali shares that the exoneration of Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown led directly to the addition of a chapter on violence in the book (Loc. 69). While police violence is a relatively rare occurrence in the In Death series, Dallas’s way of describing murder serves to deflect from the disproportionate and unjust burden of violence borne by people of color in the United States. The issues of race and police brutality are treated by Ali in separate chapters, but connecting them more explicitly might have generated some additional interesting insights.

While all scholarly work reveals something about the scholar, being a fan implies voluntary engagement with and enjoyment of the study texts. Far from rendering her analysis suspect, Ali’s status as a fan opens an additional avenue of inquiry and insight. She questions how to read the books in an ethical way, which, she asserts, requires thoughtful consideration of not only problematic aspects of Robb’s books, but also of gaps in the reader’s (including her own) patterns of attention. While the series may paint a picture of a kind of life worth living – one that includes loving intimacy, friendships, and a vocation – uptake requires reader responsiveness. Readers’ critical engagement can allow them to take transferable lessons from Robb’s work: “If imagination is part of the writer’s toolkit for social transformation, the reader’s more modest but also powerful tool is thoughtfulness” (Loc. 2511-2512). On the other hand, while vigorously defending the claim that, “critical reflection need not oppose appreciation; it can enhance enjoyment,” (Loc. 111) Ali does not explore the possibility that for some readers, problematic aspects unearthed by critical reflection can not only dampen enthusiasm, but create an internal conflict that forces a choice between a reader’s pleasure and her moral integrity.

Human in Death should appeal to fans of the series, popular romance scholars, and philosophers interested in ethical criticism. It works best as a generous, intelligent, and occasionally tough-minded exploration for series readers, much more ambitious, and demanding, than typical companion books full of trivia, interviews, and pop quizzes. It should also be easily accessible for undergraduates, and at about $30 for the hardcover edition (a bit less for the digital version), the cost is very reasonable. It could be used in a course that includes critique of contemporary literature generally, or popular romance fiction, police procedurals, or suspense specifically. It is not necessary to have read any of Robb’s books to appreciate Ali’s insights, although that would obviously enhance a student’s ability to engage with them. Any chapter of Human in Death could be chosen, or indeed the whole book could be used for a course on fiction and philosophy that includes a unit on morality. Specific chapters could be studied in a criminology and literature course, a sociology of violence course, or a professionalism or professional ethics course.

Ali is modest about her aims in Human In Death, which she describes as a form of “thoughtful engagement with fictive worlds,” a prelude to the “essential work” of cultivating [End Page 4] a more just world (Loc. 2517). In the preface, Ali indicates that the project began as “a relatively lighthearted little book,” and, while current events led her to delve into darker themes, with only 100 pages of text, it remains short for a monograph (Loc. 69). Ali encourages readers to explore sources cited in her 100 pages of endnotes, and hopes Human in Death will help stimulate work on aspects of Robb’s oeuvre that she doesn’t cover at all: parenting, technology, and the global political order.

With respect to ethical criticism, Ali remains at the level of assumed shared understandings of common morality, leaving room for a study of the In Death series like The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us about Moral Choices. In that book, Edmund M. Kern probes the moral universe of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series via an explicit articulation of Stoicism. Books such as The Politics of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Philosophy provide insights into source texts in the service of teaching key concepts in political science and philosophy, respectively, and a volume on Robb’s work in this vein would not go amiss. Her comments about reader responsibility are confined to the introduction and conclusion, inviting more detailed consideration, especially since such discussions still tend to frame the reader as passively affected rather than actively engaged. And, in terms of popular romance studies, I think some of Ali’s observations suggest fruitful dialogues between the In Death series and An Goris’s work on serialization (“Happily Ever After…and After”; see also Valeo), Roach’s work on the aca-fan-subject position, work in disability studies and romance (for example, Mills, Baldys, Cheyne, and Schalk), and, of course, work in race, gender and ethnicity in romance (such as Taylor, Teo, Kamblé, and Burge). In short, Human in Death raises more questions than it aims to answer, providing an excellent methodological model and example for pursuing them.

[1] It’s worth noting in this context that the phrase “inner city”, while it continues to be used in the scholarly literature, is considered by some to be problematic. See Axel-Lute for an accessible explanation. [End Page 5]

Works Cited

Ali, Kecia. Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb’s Novels. Baylor University Press, 2017.

Axel-Lute, Miriam “4 Reasons to Retire the Phrase ‘Inner City’” ShelterForce, 23 May 2017,

Baldys, Emily M. “Disabled Sexuality, Incorporated: The Compulsions of Popular Romance.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, 2012, pp. 125-41.

Barratt, Bethany. The Politics of Harry Potter. Springer, 2012.

Burge, Amy. Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance. Palgrave, 2016.

Charles, Ron. A. “Nora Roberts at The Washington Post.” YouTube, 14 July 2009,

Cheyne, Ria. “Disability studies reads the romance.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, 2013, pp. 37-52.

Goris, An. “Mind, Body, Love: Nora Roberts and the Evolution of Popular Romance Studies.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 2012.

Goris, An. “Happily Ever After…and After: Serialization and the Popular Romance Novel.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present, vol. 12, no. 1, 2013.

Goris, An. “Matricide in Romance Scholarship? Response to Pamela Regis’ Keynote Address at the Second Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 2011.

Irwin, William. The Hunger Games and philosophy: A critique of pure treason. Vol. 59. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Kamblé, Jayashree. Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Kern, Edmund M. The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What our Favorite Hero Teaches Us about Moral Choices. Prometheus Books, 2003.

Ledford-Miller, Linda. “Gender and Genre Bending: The Futuristic Detective Fiction of J. D. Robb.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, vol. 11, no. 3, 2011, pp. 35.

Mayangsari, Putri. “An Analysis of Personality Disorder and Abnormal Sexual Behavior that Lead to Crime in Seduction in Death Novel by JD Robb.” LANTERN (Journal on English Language, Culture and Literature), vol. 6, no. 3, 2017.

Miller, Kathleen. “‘A Little Extra Bite’: Dis/Ability and Romance in Tanya Huff and Charlaine Harris’s Vampire Fiction.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010.

Regis, Pamela. “Complicating Romances and their Readers: Barrier and Point of Ritual Death in Nora Roberts’s Category Fiction.” Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres, vol. 3, no. 1-2, 1997, pp. 145-54.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.

Roach, Catherine. Happily Ever After. The Romance Story in Popular Culture. Indiana UP, 2016.

Robb, J. D. Naked in Death. Vol. 1. Penguin, 1995.

Robb, J. D. Dark in Death. Vol. 46 St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

[End Page 6]

Schalk, Sami. “Happily Ever After for Whom? Blackness and Disability in Romance Narratives.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 49, no. 6, 2016, pp. 1241-1260.

Sears, John. Stephen King’s Gothic. U of Wales P, 2011.

Swaminathan, Srividhya. “JD Robb’s Police Procedurals and the Critique of Modernity.” New Perspectives on Detective Fiction: Mystery Magnified, vol. 55, 2015, pp. 141.

Taylor, Jessica. “And you can be my Sheikh: Gender, race, and Orientalism in contemporary romance novels.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 40, no. 6, 2007, pp. 1032-1051.

Teo, Hsu-Ming. Desert passions: Orientalism and romance novels. U of Texas P, 2012.

Valeo, Christina. “The Power of Three: Nora Roberts and Serial Magic.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, edited by Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger, McFarland & Company, 2012, pp. 229-240.

[End Page 7]


Review: Cupcakes, Pinterest and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century, edited by Elana Levine

Review by Pauline Suwanban

Scholarship on feminized popular culture in this century must evolve with shifting definitions of the term “woman” as well as the influence of post-feminism, which adds a complex layer to conventional expectations of femininity. This is one of the issues with which Cupcakes, Pinterest and Ladyporn engages, set out in Elana Levine’s comprehensive introduction. Levine defines feminized popular culture as spaces, products, modes of expression, as well as now growing digital realms, marketed to and defined by a predominantly female audience. These spaces also allow an audience to identify, take pleasure in or challenge certain meanings of femininity. Feminized popular culture belongs to a long-standing concept that developed from mass-targeted products and limited perceptions of gender roles. On top of this, “whether by dismissive naming – chick flicks, mommy blogs, ladyporn – or by [the] general derision with which they are treated, feminized popular culture is often constructed as lightweight, frivolous, and excessively emotional” (Levine, p. 1); or perhaps these traits are deemed disparaging because they are associated with an assumed femininity. As Levine incisively points out, “many sites of masculinized popular culture (such as professional football, or ‘quality’ TV dramas) escape gendered labeling” (Levine 7).

With essays on erotica, nail polish blogs and cupcakes, this collection is a fascinating analysis of American culture and how notions of gender, class, sexuality and race intersect. What do cupcakes have to do with feminism? A lot, it seems. Levine directs our attention towards how feminized popular culture, particularly in the twenty-first century, is heavily focused on labor. The postfeminist ideal foregrounds successful careers as well as sexual agency, creating certain pressures for women to “have it all”; lucrative jobs, relationships, family and conventional beauty. Areas of popular culture have emerged in response to tackle, encourage or critique this phenomenon.

The collection is divided into three thematic sections: “Passions,” “Bodies,” and “Labors.” “Passions” focuses on the connection between feminized interests and excessive emotion, especially in entertainment and media. Melissa A. Click begins the discussion with [End Page 1] a contextual reading of Fifty Shades of Grey and the appeal of an “unequal sexual relationship,” given the erotica’s graphic description of BDSM. Drawing on previous scholarship of romance readers by Janice Radway and Carol Thurston, Click conducts her own interviews with 36 readers (white, female and heterosexual). She persuasively argues that their enjoyment of the series is in part informed by the increasingly sexualized environment of a post-feminist culture, one that connects sexuality with power.

Kirsten J. Warner, in her insightful essay on ABC’s drama Scandal and black women fandom, demonstrates that more is yet to be discovered concerning women of color in online fan communities. As these platforms thrive in relation to the increased visibility of non-white representation, previously invisible and marginalized voices are emerging to speak passionately about specific cultural experiences. The complex and contradictory nature of feminized popular culture becomes apparent in Jillian Baez’s chapter on Devious Maids, a drama about Latina women which attempts to deconstruct stereotypes but still relies on them for success. Likewise, in Erin A. Meyers’ research on gossip magazines and blogs, expanding outlets allow women to challenge norms of femininity previously dominated by print media while at the same time reasserting them.

“Bodies” addresses the physical appearance, health and spirituality of female bodies as sites of labor and pleasure. What is valued and what attempts to push the boundaries? Barbara L. Ley examines pregnancy apps as a mechanism giving women control over their bodies and family welfare. However, these apps are designed with a presumed heteronormative context that isolates same-sex and single parents and places fathers in the backseat. Fashion and nail polish blogs are appreciated as spaces that allow self-expression and creativity of the body. Interestingly, nails are treated as a separate entity, a blank canvas, which escapes the objectification that other body parts are subjected to.

The final section, “Labors,” tackles the pressures of feminized productivity and work. Suzanne Ferris begins by looking at heroines in “chick lit” as young white college-educated women in precarious financial situations. Chapters on Bethenny Frankel and the Kardashians address the obsession with self-branding and entrepreneurship as not just a mark of financial success, but of being a successful woman. The Kardashian empire, writes Alice Leppert, is entirely dependent on a sisterhood which involves the audience and promotes the importance of female bonding and traditional family values.

Cupcakes…will hopefully unleash continuing discussions on the topic of feminized labor. Recently there has been a surge of female celebrities encouraging women to become a “boss.” This initiative aims to attack or take possession of the term “bossy,” which has a derogative association with outspoken girls and women. Tyra Banks, in her hit reality competition America’s Next Top Model, requires her contestants to become their own boss and brand. The “female boss” is endorsed as a movement in Sophie Amoruso’s autobiography, #GirlBoss which has been made into a Netflix series about the retail founder’s rise to financial success.

The final chapter on cupcakes, from Elizabeth Nathanson, is the highlight of the study, where the intricate layers of this unassuming item are unraveled. Cupcakes are full of contradictions. They are partly treats that celebrate girlhood and promiscuity, as well as key for lucrative female-dominated businesses. They are also criticized for engaging women in a “retrofemininity” (252), that evokes the traditional “housewife-bake sale” image (253). A striking case is made about the sitcom 2 Broke Girls which, perhaps unknowingly, uses [End Page 2] cupcakes as a symbol of restoring white middle-class femininity, as well as an escape from poverty and racial integration.

This volume has much to engage with romance scholars who are interested in critical discussions of how current cultural industries cater to and inform female pleasure; not just in the chapters about erotica and chick lit, but the specific feminine world in which they are perceived to be situated. The femininity of American popular culture unfortunately remains tied to a white cis-gendered and heteronormative set of traits, a fact that Levine acknowledges. What is left unremarked is popular culture’s concentration on youth, as if the main consumers are in their 20s-30s, post-college or new mothers. This study begins to tap into a vast landscape, where there is much still to explore in terms of spaces for women of color, women of different ages, and expanded to keep up with more social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. [End Page 3]


Review: Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness, by Helen Young

Review by Kecia Ali

That popular romance has a racism problem will not be news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Big publishers fail hard at inclusion. The Romance Writers Association (RWA) has a history of marginalizing writers of color, as do many review sites. Some of the genre’s bestsellers include offensive stereotypes while others imagine implausibly lily-white worlds. There is momentum toward change; numerous romance authors, librarians, booksellers, and reviewers have been working to increase diversity in the field, especially the proportion of what Corinne Duyvis has termed #OwnVoices books, written by authors who share a protagonist’s minoritized identity. RWA has taken steps towards acknowledging exclusions in its past and fostering more inclusion going forward. A few white authors have proved willing to hear criticism of hurtful elements in their books and behavior, though others remain stubbornly attached to ideas of their own blamelessness. The time seems ripe, then, for scholarly examination of how whiteness pervades popular romance. Jayashree Kamblé’s treatment (2014) of whiteness and reproductivity is a notable contribution to this endeavor, but there is plenty of work to be done. Helen Young’s new wide-ranging interdisciplinary study, Race in Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness, offers findings relevant to popular romance scholars.

Young’s book includes an introduction which explores the relevance of fantasy in popular culture, seven chapters that move across the twentieth century and into the twenty first, and a short afterword. Her focus is mostly on fiction but she also addresses movies, television shows, and game adaptations as well as online fan communities. The first chapter sets the stage for the rest of the study by exploring the genre’s racialized “founding fantasy” in the works of two of its best known and most influential writers, J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. She

argues that race-based ideologies which privileged them as White men very strongly influenced the shape of the worlds they imagined, worlds which were decidedly Eurocentric and reproduced White race-thinking that had justified [End Page 1] both British imperialism and slavery in the US since at least the eighteenth century. (16)

Particularly influential elements of the worlds they constructed are racial logics – linking biological type or appearance to other characteristics; (imagined) medievalism; and eurocentrism. As Young puts it with regard to Tolkien: “Racialized taxonomies shape the cultures of Middle Earth, and although these leave space for multicultural and cosmopolitan readings, they are also very problematic” (23). Moreover, their worlds “are Europe-like and medievalist: they create geographical and social landscapes which support the white ethnoscapes of their people” (28). Young repeatedly notes that her aim is not to adjudicate whether these authors were personally racist but rather to analyze “the ways their writings serve to channel centuries-old constructs into contemporary popular culture” (17). Her focus remains on the ways their writings have shaped the genre as it developed.

Chapter 2, “Forming Habits: Derivation, Imitation, and Adaptation” argues that although Tolkien (high fantasy) and Howard (sword and sorcery) were influential in their subgenres, “[t]he Whiteness so central to both their worlds only became a habit – convention – through repetition … first through imitation and then adaptation” (41). It took the collective work of generations of authors repeating their “tropes, structures, and form” (41) to shape the genre. Setting and characters are key: “The vast majority of Fantasy protagonists … have physical characteristics associated with Whiteness” (44) while authors draw both on real-world geographies and ideas about “foreign” places to represent Others. Dominant, conventional representations within the genre in the mid- to late twentieth century offer white savior protagonists intervening in exoticized foreign places. As similar patterns obtain in romance novels—sheikh romances are only the most obvious portion of that iceberg—romance scholars should take heed. At the same time, work by African American authors Charles Saunders and Samuel Delany illustrate that this was not the only possible path; these writers do not “merely ‘flip’ the somatic markers of their protagonists, but rather create worlds in which the racial logics that structure so many Fantasy worlds do not exist” (47).

Young’s treatment of “The Real Middle Ages” (Chapter 3) focuses on “Gritty Fantasy.” Despite its seeming rejection of certain forms of glossy world-building, this subgenre “draw[s] directly on the habits of Whiteness established largely through the kinds of Fantasy it claims to have rejected” (64). In other words, whiteness is persistent. One element of Young’s study worth emulation is her continual attention to audiences as well as authors as makers of meaning. She explores “tension between real and imagined worlds” – and in the case of the medieval era, “the cultural power of a period that is considered simultaneously past and ahistorical” (65). For scholars of historical romance, the ways authors manage genre conventions/audience expectations and historical realities is worthy of additional scrutiny—as are reader responses to “the convention of reading Whiteness as normative” (79).

“Orcs and Otherness” (Chapter 4), at first glance the chapter least relevant to scholars of romance, focuses on literary, filmic, and game orcs, attending carefully to the ways they are racialized. It will be of particular interest to scholars of paranormal romance. Here, as elsewhere, Young gestures toward but does not fully analyze the parallels as well as disjunctions between fantasized “Oriental” Otherness and depictions of Africa/Africans as Other—something also relevant to various subgenres of romance, including sheikh romance. Chapter 5, “Popular Culture Postcolonialism,” attends to counter-narratives through the [End Page 2] work of authors including Nalo Hopkinson and Daniel Heath Justice, while observing that “Multicultural literature is almost always thought of, and approached, as matter for minorities and thus as irrelevant to a presumed-white majority” (116). Through her exploration of founding authors and genre formation, Young has shown how “Fantasy’s habits of Whiteness tend to re-inscribe colonialist ideologies, perspectives, and narratives”; here, analyzing the work of authors of color and indigenous authors, she shows that “those habits can be broken by telling different stories in different ways” (120). Given that publishers continue to marginalize and exclude work by authors of color, especially work that pushes genre boundaries, romance scholars can be attentive to how an insistence on the “popular” in popular romance can reproduce those exclusions. Notably, to the extent that 2018 conference programs at IASPR, PCA, and PopCAANZ are representative, romance scholars already do better than publishers in attending to work produced outside the Anglophone world, and by #OwnVoices authors, though work on Native/Indigenous romance has barely scratched the surface.

Her treatment of urban fantasy (Chapter 6, “Relocating Roots”) also offers useful ways of thinking about paranormal and dystopian romance, as well as small town romances which imagine ethnically homogenous communities as an antidote for white anxieties (typically unacknowledged or disavowed) about identity and difference. Romance scholars have shown how modern notions about female autonomy and companionate marriage pervade romance, especially in historical subgenres; they have been less attuned to how racial logics—and indeed the whiteness of ideal(ized) family structures—operate in tandem with gendered ideals to construct romantic fantasies. If there is a gap in Young’s book, it is her relative silence on how gender structures both the racialized fantasy worlds she analyzes and the ongoing debates about the authority of creators and their worlds. Nonetheless, popular romance scholars can learn a great deal from Young’s study, including the importance of asking how habits of whiteness have come to be inscribed in the genre—and how those habits might be unlearned. To this last point, Young’s final chapter, on “RaceFail 09” (Chapter 7, “Breaking Habits and Digital Communication”) focuses on three months of online debate, ranging from acrimonious to thoughtful, among fans and authors about “race and representation” (171) in the Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) genre community. The contours and discursive moves of the hundreds of blog posts and comments from that period are in numerous respects specific to SFF but will resonate with those who have observed similar kerfuffles in Romancelandia. A decade later, Young’s take-away from her brief afterword is spot on: “the idea of greater inclusiveness is more appealing than the process of change itself” (190). [End Page 3]

Works Cited

Kamblé, Jayashree. Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology. New York: Palgrave, 2014.

[End Page 4]


Review: Island Genres, Genre Islands: Conceptualisation and Representation in Popular Fiction, by Ralph Crane and Lisa Fletcher

Review by Laura Vivanco

Like a cruise liner, Crane and Fletcher’s Island Genres, Genre Islands takes its readers on a journey around various genre islands, making brief stops at selected ports. While the cruise experience would be enriched by disembarking from the ship and spending more time onshore at crime atoll, thriller island, the isle of popular romance, and the archipelago of fantasy, or by having visited them previously, the on-board lecture programme ensures that all travellers will return home feeling more knowledgeable about the differences between them and convinced that “[p]opular fiction offers […] a potent site for identifying and unpacking habits of thinking about distinctive natural environments” (xi).

The book’s series of on-board lectures is divided into four sections of roughly 40 pages, including notes, for each of the genres visited. Each section comprises a broad, introductory “opening survey chapter that addresses how islands signify and function in a particular genre, and two further chapters that offer detailed case studies of the conceptualisation and representation of islands in seminal or otherwise significant texts” (xvi-xvii).

The opening lecture is similar to that of a Destination Speaker or cruise ship’s on-board lecturer, giving a broad overview of the many different novels within a genre which are set on islands and demonstrating how these islands are “genre-inflected: for example, a romance island is at once similar to and different from an island in a crime or fantasy novel” (xv). A crime island, for instance, could be considered the equivalent of the “device of the locked room that proved so enduring in the golden age” (9) since,

as in earlier clue-puzzle mysteries, there is the sense that the murderer is in one’s midst, and the fear is thus heightened for characters and readers alike. The island, frequently regarded prior to the crime as a stable, hospitable environment, is transformed during the period of the investigation into an unstable, inhospitable one – a sinister environment under threat from a murderer, who, of course, is more often than not a local. (9) [End Page 1]

Thrillers, in which islands often “represent a confined territory in which, or over which, two rivals (nations, agencies, individuals) compete, like boxers in a ring, repeatedly coming out of and retreating into their respective corners as the novel progresses” (52), are also often “equally invested in the mobilities that connect islands: to each other and to continental landmasses” (53). The “literary cartography” of the fantasy archipelago insists that “no island is ‘entire of itself’” while the island of romance is a “home, sanctuary, refuge, and paradise – ideal […] for the happy-ever-after ending” (xvii).

The subsequent chapters in a section are more akin to the lectures given by a Port and Shopping Lecturer inasmuch as they focus on a particular port and highlight issues and attractions specific to it. The first such chapter concentrates on “Agatha Christie’s Islands” (19) while the next deals with G. W. Kent’s Solomon Islands series and draws attention to the fact that in them “the combination of […] native policeman and white sidekick […] invites questions about the nature of colonialism and the position of the expatriate community in a group of islands moving inexorably towards independence” (33). The thriller islands on the itinerary are Ian Fleming’s “Bond Islands” (57), in which “the islands of the West Indies consistently function […] as ‘contact zones’ where the battles for global supremacy take place against the backdrop of a fading Empire” (60) and the islands in three of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels. The book concludes with chapters on Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea and Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy, “which invites consideration as an eco-fantasy” (169) and “asks us to appreciate islands in the context of a water world” (173).

The romance islands are the imaginary Three Sisters Island in a series by Nora Roberts and the Isle of Man in Margaret Evan Porter’s The Islanders series. Evan Porter’s

series, first published as mass market paperbacks by Avon Books (1998-2000), was re-released by the author in significantly revised e-book editions in 2012. The new covers are the first indication that Porter’s revisions amplify the import of the Isle of Man. […] While close comparison of the first and revised editions is not our objective […] it is nevertheless worth noting that some of the textual changes enhance the focus on Manx geography, history, and folklore, and intensify the use of island metaphors for characterisation and plot development. (104-5)

This use of island metaphors, as in The Seducer in which each of the protagonists “imagine[s] the other as the Isle of Man personified” (112), points to the way in which, “[i]n contrast to crime fiction (except in the hybrid genre of romantic suspense) and the thriller, the romance island is almost always a device for at least one key character to achieve a sense of identity, typically by discovering an affinity with the geography and/or the community of the island” (110). For the protagonists of Nora Roberts’ Three Sisters Island trilogy, which is the subject of the third and final chapter on romance,

the island space affords them the outer perimeter of their social space. […] The paranormal plot augments this sense of the containment by a band or barrier as the witches are able to feel when one of their number arrives on or leaves the island. […] The utopian promise of Three Sisters Island, both within the narrative and in its address to readers, is based on a presumption of insularity as the basis for enhanced sociality. (121-22) [End Page 2]

This is, therefore, an example of a set of texts in which “‘island’ is a synonym for ‘home,’ an idealised locale where one feels both safe and free” (123).

The advantage of a cruise of the kind offered by Island Genres, Genre Islands is that it ensures the reader is carried safely from one genre to another, facilitating comparisons between them. Readers are not assumed to have detailed knowledge of every novel mentioned and short plot outlines are therefore often offered. The disadvantage of such a cruise is that the traveller has a rather limited amount of time to spend on each genre and even less at each of the highlighted attractions. The claims made about the differing functions of islands were thought-provoking; unfortunately since they were numerous, each one could not be explored in depth. In romance, for instance, it is suggested that:

  • islands often make visible a sense of “emotional isolation” (88);
  • since “[t]he many subgenres of romance are unified by their commitment to the romantic ‘journey’ and its felicitous destination” (90), “a close correspondence” may be anticipated between a protagonist’s “geographical and emotional destinations” (90);
  • the restricted space on an island enhances “opportunities for intimacy and opposition” (91);
  • “next to ‘love,’ ‘home’ is the key concept of island romance” (93);
  • “Island geographies are routinely deployed in romance as ciphers for both the characters’ desire to escape the mundaneness of everyday life and their yearning for the safety and comfort of home” (93);
  • and the “relative ‘unreality’ of island geographies enables the truncated courtships of many island romances as readers are invited to accept the guiding assumption that life proceeds differently on an island or, in simpler terms, that fantasies which are impossible in the ‘real world’ can come true there.” (96)

In addition, the “cluster of meanings attached to islands” (98) in novels which might be termed “romantic mysteries” (97) merges “the genre conventions of crime, horror, and romance” (98).

Even in the chapters devoted to a group of texts by a single author I had the sensation of being rushed through the arguments. For example, in the chapter about Nora Roberts’s Three Sisters Island series, it is asserted that one heroine’s wish to belong on the island

casts her as a surrogate romance reader within the text: her wish to join the island’s community mirrors the genre expectations of experienced romance readers that are heightened by this opening chapter. The alignment of Nell […] with the novel’s implied readers is strengthened later in the chapter when she finds a warm welcome and her dream job at the local bookstore. (125)

Other than by placing her in close proximity to books, it is not made clear how Nell’s job (which involves cooking for the shop’s café) aligns her with readers of the novel and, other than a quote from one reader, who stated on Goodreads that she wished the island “was a [End Page 3] real place and I could go there” (119), there is no evidence provided about the expectations or wishes of romance readers (experienced or otherwise).

In the context of island studies, Island Genres, Genre Islands’ “aim is not to deny or discount the meanings produced through direct engagement with islands but rather to show that the conceptualisations and representations of islands do not need to be restricted to ‘real islands’” (106-7). For those studying or teaching popular culture, the book provides an unusual entry-point from which to think about the differences and similarities between different genres. In crime fiction, for example, the “device of using a violent storm to isolate the island” may be used to ensure that suspects cannot escape, but that same device is likely to perform a rather different function in another genre: it is “employed frequently, for example, in romance fiction where the island storm forces the principal characters to stay together, and in fantasy fiction where island storms frequently signify the presence of magic” (24).

Among those of us with a particular interest in romance, the book should prompt increased interest in the places in which romance novels are set. Crane and Fletcher observe that “[s]cholars of popular romance fiction have largely ignored the significance of setting” (114) and state that “setting matters more than romance scholars have hitherto realised” (129). It is true that research in this area of romance scholarship more closely resembles a still-emergent, volcanically-produced archipelago, than a continent. Crane and Fletcher draw on some of the texts which have already emerged from beneath the waves: Lynne Pearce’s work on the locations of popular romance fiction, an article by William Gleason on “Jennifer Crusie and the Architecture of Love” (in a volume edited by Fletcher), and Britta Hartmann’s thesis, which Fletcher and Crane supervised.

There are, however, other works which discuss the settings of romance, albeit in passing or in a single chapter, including Rachel Anderson’s early study of romantic fiction which included a chapter on “The Lure of the Desert”; Amy Burge has recently followed in her footsteps by analysing the locations of both medieval and modern romances set in the East. George Paizis’s Love and the Novel: The Poetics and Politics of Romantic Fiction includes a section on localisation, jay Dixon’s The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990s very briefly draws attention to the connotations of town and country settings, and Juliet Flesch’s From Australia with Love notes the importance of outback and beach settings in creating a sense of ‘Australianness’. Articles focused on the locations in which romances are set include Nancy Cook’s exploration of “Montana Romances and Geographies of Hope,” Flesch’s “The Wide Brown Land and the Big Smoke: The Setting of Australian Popular Romance,” Euan Hague’s article about the “Representation of Scotland in the United States,” “Deborah Philips’ “The Empire of Romance: Love in a Postcolonial Climate” and my own “‘A Place We All Dream About’: Greece in Mills & Boon Romances.” Further work in this area seems imminent from at least some of the academics working on a project titled “Discourse, Gender and Identity in a Corpus of Popular Romance Fiction Novels on the Canaries and Other Atlantic Islands.” In addition, the Seventh International Conference on Popular Romance Studies, to be held in 2018 and titled “Think Globally, Love Locally?”, will also no doubt lead to the publication of works on the settings of romance novels given that the organisers have sought papers which “address the relationship between love and locality in popular culture.”

Island Genres, Genre Islands thus both draws attention to the archipelago of research on settings in popular romance fiction and heralds the emergence of more research in the future. [End Page 4]

Works Cited

Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.

Burge, Amy. Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Cook, Nancy. “Home on the Range: Montana Romances and Geographies of Hope.” All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 55-77.

Dixon, jay. The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990s. London: UCL Press, 1999.

Flesch, Juliet. From Australia With Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels. Fremantle, W.A.: Curtin University Books, 2004.

Flesch, Juliet. “The Wide Brown Land and the Big Smoke: The Setting of Australian Popular Romance.” Sold by the Millions: Australia’s Bestsellers. Ed. Toni Johnson-Woods and Amit Sarwal. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012. 82-95.

Gleason, William. “The Inside Story: Jennifer Crusie and the Architecture of Love.” Genre Settings: Spatiality and Popular Fiction. Ed. Lisa Fletcher. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 79-93.

Hague, Euan. “Mass Market Romance Fiction and the Representation of Scotland in the United States.” The Modern Scottish Diaspora: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives. Ed. Murray Stewart Leith and Duncan Sim. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. 171-190.

Hartmann, Britta. Island Fictions: Castaways and Imperialism. PhD dissertation. University of Tasmania, 2014.

Paizis, George. Love and the Novel: The Poetics and Politics of Romantic Fiction. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1998.

Pearce, Lynne. “Another Time, Another Place: The Chronotope of Romantic Love in Contemporary Feminist Fiction.” Fatal Attractions: Re-Scripting Romance in Contemporary Literature and Film. Ed. Lynne Pearce and Gina Wisker. London: Pluto, 1998. 98-111.

Pearce, Lynne. “Popular Romance and Its Readers.” A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary. Ed. Corinne Saunders. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 521-38.

Pearce, Lynne. Romance Writing. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.

Philips, Deborah. “The Empire of Romance: Love in a Postcolonial Climate.” End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945. Ed. Rachael Gilmour and Bill Schwarz. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012. 114-33.

Vivanco, Laura. “‘A Place We All Dream About’: Greece in Mills & Boon Romances.” Greece in British Women’s Literary Imagination, 1913-2013. Ed. Eleni Papargyriou, Semele Assinder and David Holton. New York: Peter Lang, 2017. 81-98.

[End Page 5]


Review: Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire, by Carol Dyhouse

Review by Jonathan A. Allan

Carol Dyhouse opens Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire with the canonical Freudian question: “What did women want?” (1) The question itself is recorded in Ernest Jones’ biography of Freud. It is reported that Freud told Marie Bonaparte: “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’” (2:421). Freud’s question was governed by a genuine curiosity and a belief that “the psychology of women [is] more enigmatic than that of men” (Jones, 2:421). In many ways, I would think, this question motivates a significant portion of scholarship in popular romance studies – as if scholars imagine that if they can understand the popular romance they can understand women. The question animates so much of what scholars do with popular romance, whether it be to praise or to reject it. As such, it is no surprise that this is where Dyhouse begins her book, Heartthrobs.

Dyhouse’s Heartthrobs is a cultural history that seeks to “look at what women have found irresistibly attractive in men” (1). Certainly, this is a welcome addition to a growing body of scholarship in popular romance studies that has sought to answer this question, most notably, Women Constructing Men: Female Novelists and Their Male Characters, edited by Sarah S. G. Frantz and Katharina Rennhak. In Heartthrobs, Dyhouse considers representations of men in popular culture, largely in the twentieth century, so as to explain women’s desires. Dyhouse explains,

The icons of romantic literature—Mr Darcy, Mr Rochester, Heathcliff, or Rhett Butler—were mostly, in the first instance, products of the female imagination. Movie stars and rock musicians acquire and cultivate images that in many cases have little to do with their ‘real’ selves. Many of the most successful ‘romantic leads’ in the past—Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Dirk Bogarde, Richard Chamberlain, for instance—have been gay. Their performances nevertheless conjured visions of maleness which had women weak at the knees: how do we make sense of this? (1) [End Page 1]

Dyhouse’s question, like Freud’s, is about understanding women’s desires. What do women want? And, secondly, how do we account for and explain what women want? The challenge with asking questions such as these is that one runs the risk of rendering all women the same, as if all women have the same desires. This critique becomes all the more prescient when one imagines an intersectional theory of women, which this book does not provide. For instance, most of the men who are desired in this book are white (save for a brief, but insightful, analysis in the fifth chapter). So, is it that black men or Asian men aren’t desirable? Undoubtedly, this is not the case. But there is something striking about the ease with which we have become comfortable with white men as paragons of “irresistibility”. The exception to this “rule,” perhaps is the idea of the Latin Lover who becomes “racially fluid,” for instance, Rudolph Valentino playing the role of Ahmed Ben Hassan in the film adaptation of The Sheik.

Methodologically, this book seeks to rewrite John Berger’s oft-cited remark that “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (qtd. in Dyhouse 10). Dyhouse explains:

One of the primary aims in writing this book is to turn things round a little, and to look at the emergence of women as desiring subjects, linking this with their growing independence in a wage-earning, consumer society. I set out to explore the ways in which patterns of romance and fantasy have changed over the last century, reshaping women’s ideas about what they find desirable in men. It is a cultural history of desire from a particular perspective: the book will mainly look at men through the eyes of women. (10)

The goals of this book depend upon a very specific woman, a woman that some of us might know, and yet a woman who might be totally unrecognizable to others. We are dealing with the “ideal reader” (DeMaria, 1978). The challenge here is that Dyhouse’s woman is essentially heterosexual, middle-class and upwardly mobile, and more than likely white. So, questions arise about readers who do not embrace these “heartthrobs” or who read them very differently.

The first chapter, “Her Heart’s Desire: What Did Women Want?” introduces readers to  fictions aimed at the woman reader at the turn of the twentieth century. We begin with Katherine Mansfield’s The Tiredness of Rosabel, which “offered a glimpse into the daydreams of a young girl working in a hat shop” (11). Very quickly we are told that “in the 1900s, femininity spelled frustration” (12), which will be something of a recurring theme over the twentieth century, reaching its climax with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963). In this chapter, Dyhouse also reminds readers of the importance of Charles Garvice, who is “almost completely forgotten today” and yet “whose books sold in phenomenal quantities in the 1900s” (18). As is often the case in popular romance studies, the archive is deep. In Garvice’s work, we find an author who “wanted his readers to root for [the heroines]. They had to be girlish and modest but not like the impossible heroines of goody goody novels” (19). In her analysis, Dyhouse notes that “Garvice’s heroes may have given women much of what they wanted at a fantasy level but he was always careful to avoid direct references to sex or to sexual problems” (19). These novels, thus, at least to some degree, reflected a desire for realism on the part of readers, insofar as the heroine had to be believable. This chapter closes with The Sheik by E. M. Hull (1919) and the film adaptation, as well as the first image of Rudolph Valentino, who plays a significant role throughout Heartthrobs. For Dyhouse, [End Page 2]The Sheik was the perfect escape fantasy; book and film between them offered a multifaceted vision of desirable masculinity, both masterful and tender: just about all that the heart could desire” (29).

The next chapter, “Unbridled Passions” explores the idea of “los[ing] control” (37), especially in an historical sense, drawing on sources as varied as Franz Liszt (Lisztomania) through to Rudolph Valentino, Rhett Butler, and ultimately fans of the Beatles. This chapter thus provides a cultural overview of the rise of desire. For example, Dyhouse quotes Barbara Ehrenreich who argued that “‘Beatlemania’ constituted ‘a huge outpouring of teenage female libido’ which we might see as having represented an opening salvo in the sexual revolution” (51). This is an interesting perspective because it works to reframe some of the historical discussions of the sexual revolution and squarely places teenagers at the center of it, rather than say, the sexologists who exposed the kinds of sex unfolding in bedrooms across the nation.

The following chapter focusses on the packaging of the male body, which reminds us, that “many of the iconic romantic heroes in literature were dreamt up by women” (52). In many ways this claim, and this chapter in particular, lies at the heart of Heartthrobs. Put another way, why is Mr. Darcy so iconic? Why does Mr. Darcy “loom large as an archetype, one of the most powerfully attractive fantasy males in literature, who has inspired countless imitations” (52)? In this chapter, Dyhouse covers everyone from Mr. Darcy to Fabio, and along the way we are reacquainted with Valentino, and introduced to Elvis Presley, David Essex, Paul Anka, and so many others. In this chapter, then, the image of the man, the iconic male, becomes increasingly interesting to Dyhouse. How are we to think through masculinity as represented upon and through the body? But, even though “perfumes, bodies, clothes and imagined lifestyles carry complex cultural meanings,” it must be admitted that “for many women, these on their own haven’t been enough to fuel fantasies, dreams, and desires: they have needed to imagine a story” (71).

The fourth chapter, “Once upon a dream: Prince Charming, Cavaliers, Regency Beaux,” turns our attention to the fairy-tale hero, Prince Charming, who “in a young girl’s imagination […] represented looks, class, and valour” (73). In this chapter, we learn that “hero worship was part of the [Victorian] culture, and thought to be improving, because it might inspire emulation. Girls couldn’t aspire to be great men, of course, but heroes could still be venerated as masculine ideals, and potential husbands measured against their stature” (73). In this rendering, who could ever achieve the ideal? Included in this chapter is discussion of Georgette Heyer’s heroes, all of whom

follow a formula. She herself referred to them as falling into one of two categories; they were either ‘Mark I’ or ‘Mark II’ heroes. The first she defined as the ‘brusque, savage sort with a foul temper’; the second tended to be suave, well-dressed, and rich. (81)

One of the most fascinating aspects of this chapter is its consideration of Liberace, a figure who has received renewed scholarly interest; for instance, he is a key figure in Harry Thomas’s Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture. Dyhouse’s chapter considers  Liberace alongside Barbara Cartland, who was seemingly as flamboyant as Liberace: “Liberace, in his performance, and Cartland, in her romance, busied themselves [End Page 3] in highly gendered representations that were oddly devoid of sexuality” (93). This aspect of the chapter is highly interesting and worthy of further consideration.

The following chapter, “Dark Princes, Foreign Powers: Desert Lovers, Outsiders, and Vampires,” continues our exploration of the princely figure, the iconic male hero, but in this chapter, we move beyond the persistent whiteness of the romantic hero. However, the author notes,

Fantasies around dark-skinned exotic lovers on the cinema screen or in romance fiction had their limits, not least because they were generally imagined as appealing mainly to white women; in Western culture, black or non-white women as sexual subjects rarely got a look in[… ;] Harlequin Enterprises set up Kimani Press in 2005, to feature ‘sophisticated, soulful and sensual African American and multicultural heroes and heroines,’ with a first launch of Kimani romances in 2006. (111)

Over the course of the chapter, readers learn of the “threatening” (112) nature of race. This chapter reminds us of the complicated history of the popular romance when it comes to dealing with diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. The chapter closes, oddly perhaps, with a brief analysis of the rise of the vampire romance, which, perhaps more than any other, reaffirms whiteness, but now, in the case of Twilight, it sparkles.

The next chapter, “Soulmates: Intimacy, Integrity, and Trust” returns us to the seemingly romantic ideals of chivalry. In this chapter, we find discussions of medical and hospital romances that are quite helpful for scholars of popular romance. Dyhouse  notes: “Doctors came to occupy a prominent place in twentieth-century romance” (130). For Dyhouse these romances mark a shift towards the intimate. She explains:

For a woman writer of romance, a hero is someone much more ordinary, who, once committed to the heroine, gives shape to her life and makes it meaningful. Her quest is to find a man whom she can marry, and who will make her life imaginable. (143-144)

In this rendering, we see a shift towards the idea of the “soulmate,” which embodies, perhaps, the most romantic of ideals.

The penultimate chapter, “Power: Protection, Transformative Magic, and Patriarchy” thinks through the challenge of power and patriarchy. If we return to Freud’s question that opened this book, “What did women want?” (1), one is tempted to ask if it was patriarchy after all, or at least, “the lure of patriarchy” (149). Dyhouse provides at least one explanation for this, noting, “Attachment to a rich and powerful man could offer protection to women. It might seem to offer the promise of life transformed: comfort, luxury, new horizons, and a new social order. The dominating importance of marriage in romance fiction is bound up with the promise of transformation. The heroine’s life is brightened and settled by it—at least in her dreams” (149). One can almost imagine Germaine Greer’s oft-cited remark about “cherishing the chains of her bondage” (202). In the novels of Heyer, for instance, readers find [End Page 4]

an affectionate picture of both masculinity and patriarchy: brothers are good-hearted fun to be with, uncles are kind, and heroes, of course, are paragons or enlightened despots. You do get the odd villain, like the Compte de Saint-Vire, but the decent fellows make short work of them. The injuries of patriarchy—girl children unable to inherit, sexual double standards, and the constraints of femininity—are brushed aside, ignored, or quickly forgotten. (151)

Patriarchy and power remain interesting and important in the romance.

In this chapter, we also see “a new trend from the 1960s onwards towards explicitness in writing about sexuality” (153). Dyhouse ties this to the landmark text, Our Bodies, Ourselves, published in 1971, as well as Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex, published in 1972. On this point, it seems that there is much to be gleaned for romance scholars: what was/is the role of the sex manual in the study of popular romance? After all, Comfort’s The Joy of Sex was a best-seller. To be certain, Dyhouse rightly critiques The Joy of Sex for some of its less savory elements, noting, “the book contained quite a lot that made women uneasy. The vagina, for instance, is described as looking scary to men” (153). In the words of Ariel Levy, The Joy of Sex was “a penis propaganda pamphlet” (qtd. in Dyhouse 153). Even so, in these years we see a specific and explicit interest in sexuality as more than a theoretical interest, but as a quotidian practice of women: “the lid had come off Pandora’s box” (154).

Finally, Dyhouse explores the anxieties of feminists surrounding the popular romance novel in this chapter. Dyhouse explains that “since the 1970s, fantasy scenarios where heroes ‘overcome’ women’s resistance have raised anxieties about ‘rape’ for feminists” (159) and further explains, “to understand ‘rape fantasies’ in novels for and by women in the 1960s and 1970s the cultural historian needs to look closely at the writing. Books by women tended to invest the male hero with dominance and represent women as relatively passive because this accorded with the gendered expectations of the time” (159). We are told that by the 1990s, “The image of girls as powerless and hopelessly frail had been eroded by popular cultural representations such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (162). In many ways, this chapter is the densest and most theoretically interesting, however, it moves quickly, perhaps too quickly. An entire book could be written on the three themes that appear throughout this chapter alone.

The final chapter, “Sighing for the Moon?” asks, “what does it mean to dream of a lover?” (167). Such a question shifts away from the contents of the dream and more towards the action of dreaming; we are reminded that “Victorian girls were regularly upbraided for daydreaming, for being fanciful, for losing themselves in the world of their imaginations. This was nothing new” (167). One cannot help but think of yet another Freudian intervention here—Freud’s essay, “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming”: maybe it’s just me, but Freud lurks in the shadows of so much of Heartthrobs. Perhaps Freud is a heartthrob in that he has captured our attention and his questions have continued and will continue to provoke discussion for decades to come.

In this final chapter, we are also treated to a review of the state of scholarship on the popular romance, which points towards its future.

By the end of the century, the world of the romantic novel had been completely transformed by the internet and growth of the World Wide Web. A growing number of websites now allow women to share views on the writing and [End Page 5] reading of romance. Examples include:, ‘Musings on romance fiction from an academic perspective’;,, and several more. There are also specialist journals such as the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. (179)

A welcome recognition, to be certain, of the growing field of popular romance studies, that recognizes that the field is active not just in the hallowed halls of the academy, but also the internet. By the close of Heartthrobs, we are presented with a hopeful vision of the future of popular romance fiction:

Maybe we can look forward now to a future in which men and women see each other less as gendered objects onto which they project their own desires and longings, and instead, strive to relate to each other respectfully, as individuals and human beings. (191)

A hopeful vision to be certain, but one that speaks to its own absences. How do scholars account for the rise of the queer heartthrob in popular romance fiction? Dyhouse began by noting that many of the early heartthrobs, it turned out, were gay. But what then of the rise of the male/male popular romance novel? Perhaps nowhere is masculinity more on display than in the male/male popular romance novel. Secondly, I am surprised at how little scholarship on masculinity was consulted or engaged with over the course of Heartthrobs. Dyhouse, in the last paragraph, mentions “hegemonic masculinities—or femininities—may be harder to sustain than in the past” (191), but we are provided no “proof” of this, nor are we treated to any lengthy discussion of Connell’s theoretically rich concept.

Heartthrobs is a useful addition to a growing body of scholarship on the popular romance novel, and more particularly the hero of the popular romance novel. Hopefully, this book will spur future discussions of the popular romance novel and its hero. Still remaining to be written is a history of the alpha male hero. Nonetheless, Heartthrobs will be valuable to students of the popular romance novel in particular.

Works Cited

DeMaria, Robert. “The Ideal Reader: A Critical Fiction.” PMLA 93.3 (1978): 463-474.

Frantz, Sarah S. G., and Katharina Rennhak, eds. Women Constructing Men: Female Novelists and Their Male Characters. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2009.

Freud, Sigmund. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming.” The Standard Edition of the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press. Volume 9:141-153.

Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Jones, Ernest. Sigmund Freud: His Life and Work. London: Hogarth Press, 1953.

Thomas, Harry. Sissy! The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017. [End Page 6]


Review: Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom?, edited by William A. Gleason and Eric Murphy Selinger

Review by Victoria Kennedy

William A. Gleason and Eric Murphy Selinger’s collection Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? came out of a 2009 conference at Princeton. The title of the collection (and of the conference) comes from bell hooks’ “Love as the Practice of Freedom” (1994). In her essay, hooks argues that “the moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others” (298). Romance Fiction and American Culture takes up this argument to interrogate whether and how this freedom through love can be seen in the creation and consumption of romance narratives in American culture. The collection consists of twenty essays and is divided into four parts: (i) Popular Romance and American History, (ii) Romance and Race, (iii) Art and Commerce, and (iv) Happy Endings. The book promises to consider romance narratives in a specifically American cultural context from the late eighteenth century to the early twenty-first century. While I question the extent to which the collection achieves its goal of situating romance criticism in an American context, the essays Gleason and Selinger have selected are diverse in a way that is both refreshing and invigorating in romance studies. Topics explored include: transatlantic romance reading; lesbian romance fiction; black romances; romance in the context of HIV/AIDS; erotica; Orientalism; romance cover art; Christian and Evangelical romance; BDSM; queer romance; and polyamory. The editors stake the originality of the collection on three areas: its national focus on romance and American cultural history, its consideration “at length” (3) of race and romance in six out of the twenty essays, and its exploration of the often overlooked topic of “business” in romance—both as a theme of romance novels and as the business of selling romance novels.

Noting the ways in which critics like Pamela Regis and Catherine Roach have defined the genre in terms of essential components—the foremost of which is the happy ending–Gleason and Selinger open their collection by observing that “there is nothing eternal, universal, or inevitable about the idea that the ‘romance novel’ is or should be a distinct, readily definable genre” (8). While Regis’ Natural History of the Romance (2003) proposes defining the romance novel so rigidly that Rebecca (du Maurier, 1938) and Gone with the [End Page 1] Wind (Mitchell, 1936) could not be called romance novels (Regis 48), Gleason and Selinger point to the fact that the British Romantic Novelists Association takes a wider view of the romance novel, considering Mills & Boon novels alongside Russian classics like Anna Karenina (Gleason and Selinger 8)—which, notably, does not adhere to the Happily Ever After (HEA) rule that Regis argues is essential to the definition of the romance novel. Gleason and Selinger’s ruminations on how to define the romance novel, however, are anything but pedantic. By challenging existing critical frameworks for classifying and defining romance fiction, they pave the way to consider romance narratives that have previously not been given much attention within the critical discourse surrounding the romance novel. By adhering to strict definitions of the genre—literally checking off whether the “essential” components are present—critics like Regis and Roach have, perhaps unwittingly, excluded many queer and all polyamorous romance narratives from their considerations of the romance genre. By opening up their definition of romance, Gleason and Selinger thus make space for previously excluded texts. Romance Fiction and American Culture is also acutely aware that genres evolve and that consequently “the romance novel” cannot always be defined and classified according to rigid criteria because of the way genres change and blend with one another (think, for instance, of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (1991), which blends romance with historical drama and time-travel fantasy—and breaks many of the “rules” of the traditional romance novel).

The collection is positioned as spearheading a “third wave of romance criticism” (10). Gleason and Selinger characterize the previous waves as being concerned first with “texts, readers, and publishing trends with little attention to romance novelists as theorists of, or deliberate artists within, their chosen genre” (11) and secondly as novelists “writing back” (13). The third wave that Romance Fiction and American Culture works towards is characterized by a blurring of roles, bringing together critics, authors, editors, professors, and publishers—many of whom occupy several positions within literary culture, like contributor Len Barot: novelist, editor, reviewer, publisher, and theorist. By recognizing the fluidity of positions writers take up with regard to romance narratives, Gleason and Selinger propose to propel the discourse forward into new territory. One area not thoroughly covered by the collection but signalled in the introduction as a topic for future investigation is the romance blog/review site where academic and non-academic discourses surrounding romance novels often intermingle.

The essays that make up this collection are welcome not only for their thematic range but also for their self-reflexive considerations of romance publishing and romance scholarship. In “Postbellum, Pre-Harlequin: American Romance Publishing in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century,” William Gleason discusses the way digital archives have a crucial role in making available sources that allow us a fuller picture of late nineteenth-century literary culture in America. He calls for such digital archives to include sources often discounted, such as dime novels and romance weeklies. Near the end of the collection, Len Barot’s “Queer Romance in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century America: Snapshots of a Revolution” points out the importance of queer publishers to the availability of queer texts, demonstrating that queer visibility in literature first requires social visibility and freedom for queer people. The Internet, in particular, is considered as key to the availability of queer texts, since online book retailers have “made it possible for readers worldwide to access queer titles” (398). Moreover, in the collection’s final chapter, Ann Herendeen, the author of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, discusses the context in [End Page 2] which she wrote the ‘bisexual Regency romance’ in 2004, her desire to create “a revolutionary work of (genre) fiction, and the reactions to the novel. In addition to extending Barot’s emphasis on the difficulty getting queer texts published by traditional, mainstream presses, Herendeen’s essay invites consideration of the divide between books that are shelved as “literature” and books that are shelved as “romance” within bookstores.

The consideration of romance in the context of racial social politics is a highlight of the collection, even if the racial contexts examined are somewhat limited. Several essays consider how romance narratives about African Americans have to contend with “the stereotype of the oversexed black woman” (178). For instance, Consuela Francis’s “Flipping the Script: Romancing Zane’s Urban Erotica” argues that mononymous author Zane’s Addicted (1998) contains a plot “rarely seen before in contemporary African American literary fiction”—“the story of a black woman’s successful search for an emotionally satisfying sexual relationship” (169; emphasis mine). Similarly, Julie E. Moody-Freeman’s “Scripting Black Love in the 1990s: Pleasure, Respectability, and Responsibility in an Era of HIV/AIDS” reads Brenda Jackson’s Tonight and Forever (1995) as a didactic project, teaching safe sex to her readers and offering a counter-image to the “stereotypes of blacks as hypersexual, irresponsible, and deviant” (112). Perhaps the most striking consideration of race in American romance is Catherine Roach’s analysis of Beverly Jenkins’ Indigo (1996) in her essay “Love as the Practice of Bondage.” Here, Roach puts romance, African American history, and the question of freedom centre stage, since Indigo is the story of a man “literally giving himself into slavery in order to be with the woman he loves” (370). In a different racial context, Hsu-Ming Teo, who has published extensively about Orientalism, contributes a chapter in which she argues that Orientalist romance narratives of the 1980s and 1990s contributed to the discourse of America’s “War on Terror.”

Still, despite many strengths, the collection also features some essays that fall somewhat short of the promises made by the collection’s introduction. For instance, Sarah Frantz Lyons and Eric Murphy Selinger’s “Strange Stirrings, Strange Yearnings: The Flame and the Flower, Sweet Savage Love, and the Lost Diversities of Blockbuster Historical Romance” aims to exemplify the collection’s “third wave” critical stance, blurring the distinctions between author, critic, and theorist. Opening with a reading of The Flame and the Flower that notes linguistic echoes of The Feminine Mystique, the authors argue that “it is long past time for scholars of popular romance fiction, and of American culture more generally, to take seriously the work of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers and the other original “Avon Ladies” … and to read their novels as situated within and responding to the same historical moment as foundational feminist thinkers” like Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and others. Yet, this methodology is not carried throughout the chapter. The bulk of the chapter considers the way The Flame and the Flower and Sweet Savage Love represent rape, but with little reference to the “foundational feminist thinkers” previously mentioned. It would have been interesting to put the consideration of rape in these female-authored romances against, say, Kate Millett’s analysis of coitus and sexual violence in male-authored novels in the opening section of Sexual Politics. There are also a few essays that seem out of place in a collection almost exclusively focused on romance fiction, such as Rebecca Peabody’s “Kara Walker: American Romance in Black and White,” which considers Walker’s silhouette art installation, and Amelia Serafine’s “‘He Filled My Heart with Doubt’: The Southern Belle’s Love and Duty in the Civil War” which examines the diaries, journals, and letters of Southern women who lived during the Civil War. [End Page 3]

If there is a flaw in the collection, it is that America and American culture seem to be afterthoughts in at least a quarter of the essays. Instead, they present reflections that could just as easily be about romance narratives in any national context. Most curiously, some of the essays are explicitly about other nations’ publishing industries. Jayashree Kamblé’s “Branding a Genre: A Brief Transatlantic History of Romance Novel Cover Art” focuses on the merger of Mills & Boon (a British company) and Harlequin (a Canadian company). The essay is positioned as being about American romances because Harlequin “sold its reprints across the United States in increasing volume, and its influence on American romance fiction is immense, which even now leads to the impression that Harlequin is an American company” (251). I find this claim that Harlequin may as well be American to be strangely superficial, ignoring socio-political and ideological differences that exist between the United States and Canada when it comes to the subjects of romance and sexuality. In a similar vein to Kamblé’s essay, Jessica Taylor’s “Love the Market: Discourses of Passion and Professionalism in Romance Writing Communities” features a section titled “Romance Writing in Canada” where she draws on “a larger project on the romance writing and publishing community in a major Canadian city” (277). One wonders at the inclusion of such essays in a collection that aims to rectify the absence of “detailed coverage of the American tradition” (3). Thus, as a collection of essays on romance narratives and social politics in general, this collection is a most welcome addition. However, in terms of considering romance narratives in the national context of the Land of the Free, much more theoretical and critical work is still needed.

Works Cited

hooks, bell. “Love as the Practice of Freedom.” Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994. 289-98.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. [End Page 4]