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ISSN: 2159-4473

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

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Special Issue: Critical Love Studies (Editors’ Introduction)
by Amy Burge and Michael Gratzke

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies started out as an interdisciplinary journal exploring popular romance fiction, mostly in print. It has steadily been expanding its remit to include “the logics, institutions, and social practices of romantic love in global popular culture.” Recent special issues have thrown a light on romantic love in regional contexts such as Latin America (issue 4.1) and Australia (issue 4.2) as well as on questions of library studies and popular romance and on the increasing queer sensibilities of popular romance media. This special issue on the emerging field of Critical Love Studies (CLS) draws together contributions from various disciplines ranging from human geography to cultural studies, and it marks a further development both for JPRS and for popular romance studies more generally.

There are plenty of definitions of love but none of them – we feel – captures the fullness of love, unless we subscribe to a religious view which determines a deity as the sole source of all love. As always, there is wisdom in the way people use language. As guest editor Michael Gratzke, who chairs the international Love Research Network, points out in his contribution which opens this special issue, “The Oxford English Dictionary lists no fewer than seven different uses of the noun, not counting scoring conventions in games including tennis, and four categories for the verb.” This irreducible multiplicity is an indicator for the richness of love as it is experienced and expressed by people. Critical Love Studies, therefore, refrains from offering a single definition of love. As shorthand, we stick with phenomenological descriptors such as parental love, sibling love, romantic (or intimate) love, neighbourly love or the more abstract loves for one’s community, a sports team or country.

The approach of Critical Love Studies is not to reduce any occurrence of love to an instance of something other than love: that is, to sexual desire, or to re-inscriptions of consumer culture, or to exercises in gendered power, etc. Rather, the currency of love is “love acts,” a concept modelled on the “speech acts” of Linguistics. As Gratzke explains, “each occurrence of love should be judged against the backdrop of the socio-historic circumstances in which a set of love acts is performed” (Gratzke 2017). We cannot grasp the fullness of love (its langue); instead we look at the patterns of love acts (the parole of love) in their given context. This robustly contextualized investigation must retain “a good dose of scepticism regarding our ability fully to understand the object of our studies.” In other words, as [End Page 1] scholars of love, we need to be careful, to look closely at our subject(s) and, above all, to be critical, not just of practices and institutions of love, but of our own methodologies and analytical frameworks. Whilst it makes good sense to be critical of love, in particular the inequalities in the division of emotional and reproductive labour, we must at all times retain both confidence in and a critical stance towards our own bias, which is that love is a valuable expression of human relationality.

From one perspective, Popular Romance Studies and Critical Love Studies have much in common. In issue 4.1, Eric Selinger writes that both areas focus on:

the topics of love, desire, and intimate relationships; interests in gender and power, the global and the local; a willingness to look at love in real life as well as in its media representations, neither conflating the two nor ignoring the complex feedback loops that link them.

Indeed, Popular Romance Studies and Critical Love Studies each take a contextualised approach to their objects of study, whether that be a romance novel or the transcript of a conversation between lovers. Scholarship of popular romance novels, for instance, has focused on Marxist readings (e.g. Fowler), and explored the way gender is represented in popular romance. It has been argued that Critical Love Studies has taken a broadly more ‘critical’ approach to its subject; Selinger posits that “Love Studies … boasts a well-honed critical edge, a wariness about the costs of love as such, especially to women. Such wariness was not uncommon in works of Popular Romance Studies from the 1980s and early ‘90s, but the field seems to have mellowed in the past decade.”

Selinger’s assessment of a critical shift in Popular Romance Studies is astute. The feminised nature of popular romance production and consumption has inevitably led critics to take a feminist approach, and this characterised many early studies of the romance novel (e.g. Greer (1970), Modleski (1982), Radway (1984), Mussell (1984), Coward (1984), and Thurston (1987)).[1] Selinger quite rightly observes that scholarship of the popular romance has, as he puts it, ‘mellowed’ in recent years, yet the articles in this special issue indicate a similar ‘mellowing’ in Critical Love Studies. This is not to say that scholars are not attuned to feminist thought and its relationship with romantic love, but that the argument in Critical Love Studies is shifting from questions like ‘is love bad for women?’ towards a more critically-minded approach characterised as ‘how does love work?’ (or, as Clarke-Salt puts it, “what love does”). Two contributions in particular, by Susan Ostrov Weisser and Nagore García, address the tensions between feminist critiques of love and the lived experiences of love feminists experience and encounter. Feminist approaches to Critical Love Studies (often referred to as Feminist Love Studies) rightfully highlight the unequal distribution of domestic and emotional labour in heteronormative relationships and the central role mainstream love narratives play in perpetuating the oppression of women and marginalisation of sexual minorities. Yet, this branch of Critical Love Studies has recently been engaging recently more directly with affirmations of love as romantic love, and love as experienced in relationship anarchy – a line of thought which aims to undo the privilege of coupledom in favour of a multitude of intimate relationship models. This nuancing of the field mirrors the shift that has occurred over the past twenty years in Popular Romance Studies. [End Page 2]

There are disciplinary differences between Popular Romance Studies and Critical Love Studies. Selinger argues that “Love Studies attends to a wider range of loves tha[n] Popular Romance Studies…and also, at least so far, to a rather different set of texts: more ancient and medieval works; more canonical philosophers; more theorists and thinkers from the contemporary academic scene”. It is true that, on the whole, Popular Romance Studies has tended to focus on literature, media, and cultural studies, with important but rarer explorations into sociology (e.g. Radway’s canonical Reading the Romance (1984) or the recent work by Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois (2015)).[2] Critical Love Studies, on the other hand, has tended to draw its framework from sociology, anthropology, psychology, politics, philosophy, language sciences, and history. The difference is also one of perspective – conventionally, Popular Romance Studies has focused on questions of ‘romance’ and the ‘popular’, whereas Critical Love Studies prioritises ‘love’ and the critical’ (although, if ‘love is what people say it is’, then who is more qualified to define it than a bestselling romance author?).

Despite their differences, Popular Romance Studies and Critical Love Studies have much to gain from alignment, and we put forward three proposals for future collaboration between the fields. The first proposal is that combining Critical Love Studies and Popular Romance Studies can bolster arguments in both fields for taking the study of love and romance seriously. Several contributors to this special issue cite the work of the philosopher Margaret E. Toye who argues that “Love…needs to be taken as a serious, valid and crucial subject for study” (41) simultaneously revealing that, at present, it is not always viewed as such.[3] Clarke-Salt similarly rebuts claims that “‘topics that are associated with rationality and reason’ (Morrison et al 2013 p.507) are more widely recognised as suitable for research” , and that “the topic of love suggests a conservatism or even a denial of politics, not to mention an aura of naïveté, sentimentality and religiosity” (Toye, 2010).[4] The lack of seriousness associated with Popular Romance Studies is equally well-established. The result of this is that each field is engaged in a parallel, but separate, discourse of defence and rebuttal, defending the critical study of love or romance against (usually ill-informed) detractors. Surely it would be a better use of time if both fields, related as they are, were to work together to share this labour, rather than duplicating it?

Second, we propose that a closer relationship between Critical Love Studies and Popular Romance Studies can support greater diversity in the study of romantic love. While we feature two articles in this special issue that focus on non-Western romantic love and one that addresses the researcher’s own working-class background, it is still the case that most studies of love have taken middle-class Western societies and culture as their subject. Popular Romance Studies is beset by a lack of diversity on two fronts – in its scholarly approach and in a lack of diversity in Western romantic cultural production (non-white protagonists remain rare in mainstream Western romantic fiction, and heterosexual romance between two young, cisgendered protagonists remains the normative media model). The commitment, in Critical Love Studies, to judge “Each occurrence of love … against the backdrop of the socio-historic circumstances in which a set of love acts is performed” (Gratzke, 2017) is one too often ignored in Popular Romance Studies. Both fields can do more to explore the way romantic love works for those who do not live in the Western world, as well as for those who are black, Asian, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, disabled, poor or otherwise marginalised. [End Page 3]

Third, it is our contention that combining Critical Love Studies and Popular Romance Studies is a way to bridge the (critical, intellectual, disciplinary, and prejudicial) gap between the study of romance as genre, and the study of romance as ‘mode’ or strategy (as Frye or Fuchs might put it).[5] Increasingly, scholars are exploring how the tropes of romance function in sources and artefacts that would not usually be classified generically as ‘romance’. In this way, scholars are making use of methods and disciplinary approaches that are closer to those used in Critical Love Studies. Sharing methodological frames and approaches can guard against ‘talking past one another’; in her article in this special issue, Weisser cites Lynne Pearce who points “the extent to which the social sciences, literary studies and philosophy talk past one another when it comes to research on love and romance” (Pearce, cited in Weisser 2017). We argue that by sharing disciplinary approaches and methods the connections between Critical Love Studies and Popular Romance Studies as well as the links between romance as genre and romance as strategy become clearer in our shared aim, as Weisser puts it, of finding “a more complex, nuanced, and yes, more critical (in the most generous sense) view of romantic love.” This statement on feminist engagements with lived experiences of intimate love can be taken as a guiding principle for both Critical Love Studies and Popular Romance Studies in general, and this special issue of JPRS in particular.

In creating this special issue, the guest editors issued an open call for papers conscious not to be prescriptive about the scope, methodology or source material of Critical Love Studies. The understanding was that we were looking at love as a positive force in human relations which is produced by and entangled in various sets of cultural meanings, social inequalities and political conflict. The selection criteria were the overall quality of the submission, its originality, and its broad fit with the other contributions. The outcome is a special issue which addresses practices of intimacy in video calling, feminist engagements with love narratives which reflect real-life experiences, and encounters between Western and non-Western experiences and representations of love. It also contains audio files from an art installation which juxtaposes the personal narratives of six people engaged in three romantic relationships.

The opening contribution, ‘Love is what people say it is: Performativity and Narrativity in Critical Love Studies’, by guest editor Michael Gratzke, focuses on performativity and narrativity in Critical Love Studies. Written in parallel to the editing process of this special issue, it draws upon all the other contributions rather than having informed them, and thus offers a starting point for a conversation on a thematically more integrated, and methodologically more focussed approach to Critical Love Studies. Gratzke offers definitions of some key terms of Critical Love Studies with a particular view on narrative research methodologies in literary studies and social sciences. In so doing he draws upon the terminology of linguistics as a lingua franca of narrative research. He makes three claims about love. “Firstly, that we cannot grasp the full potentiality of love (it is always yet to come); secondly that love is performative (it needs to come into being in individual occurrences of love); thirdly that changes to the ways in which people experience and represent love happen through countless iterations of ‘love acts.’” He likens love acts to speech act theory and argues that they occur in the contexts of normative frameworks which make them intelligible.

Gratzke reflects on the tension between a feminist or anti-capitalist critique of normative love practices and the need to listen to the voices of people who experience love. [End Page 4] The aim of Critical Love Studies, he writes, is to do justice to experiences and representations of love in their normativity as well as in their individuality. The interplay between pattern and deviation or the general and the particular is important to Critical Love Studies because this opposition marks out the theatre of social relations and therefore experiences and representations of love. Change happens in processes of uncountable non-identical repetitions of love acts which follow a discursive drift resulting in some cases in social transformation, as we have seen in the shift in attitudes towards marriage. The experts of the 1990s, such as Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck, predicted the end of marriage as an institution, and saw it supplanted by more fluid relationship models. Since then, the mainstream debate has been characterised by a re-traditionalization and a focus on equal marriage. We don’t seem to ask very often whether marriage is a good model to organise the intimate relationships between non-related adults. We ask why anyone should be excluded from marriage.

The following three articles by Yvonne Clarke-Salt, Susan Ostrov Weisser and Nagore García all use interviews and various forms of transcription and co-production to present powerful real-life narratives of love and intimacy. This approach links with Gratzke’s call to favour close listening and close reading of love, as love is what people say it is and not what researchers state it ought to be.

In ‘Loving over Skype: Tactile Viewing, Emotional Atmospheres and Video Calling’, Yvonne Clarke-Salt clearly articulates a common theme of Critical Love Studies which is the need to address love as love and not as a proxy for anything else. Her article raises questions of embodiment and digital media which are hugely pertinent in current public and academic debates. Through interviews with couples who conduct at least part of their love relationship at a distance, termed ‘love migrants’, Clarke-Salt shows how Skype can nurture intimacy in couples who live apart for longer periods of time. Rather than focusing on objects that seek to recreate the physical presence of the absent partner, such as pillows that play back recorded messages, or robotic lips that simulate the pressure of a partner’s lips, Clarke-Salt focuses on the virtual space of video calling to show how video calling creates visceral connections between the distant partners. In other words, “technology can be a useful medium to open up virtual space and foster emotional exchange and connection.” Clarke-Salt extends our understanding of video calling by introducing the concepts of tactile and haptic viewing to the debate. Viewing is to be understood as more than a cerebral process of reading visual signs. It is instrumental in creating an emotional atmosphere, even if the image quality may be poor at times. For some couples a poorly lit video feed may also enhance the experience of an emotional ‘thickness in the air’ (Ahmed 2004). Embodied emotions are therefore present in a shared virtual space which goes beyond the audio-visual. Ultimately, Clarke-Salt argues that in matters of love, what she calls “embodied knowledge” is not reducible to only sex, but is part of a wider intimacy between the couples she interviewed.

In her contribution ‘Feminist Researcher Wishes to Meet Romantic Subject: The “Case” of Mrs. F.’, Susan Ostrov Weisser takes sides with Shulamith Firestone in looking at love itself not as a “problem” but as an opportunity for personal and interpersonal growth and transformation. Drawing on Stevi Jackson’s assertion that “Feminist critique should focus on what is knowable”, Weisser writes

I hope to follow my own path to a feminist understanding of romantic love as at once an individual transformative emotion and a social phenomenon [End Page 5] situated in a particular time and location.  Rather than argue an ideological position, I would like to look at the “problem of romance” for feminists from the inside out, or bottom up, so to speak, through the lens of “thick description” in personal narrative, rather than top downward from the heady atmospheric heights of abstract ideology.

Weisser asks whether there is a way for feminists “to claim love that goes beyond the sentiment of virtue rewarded, that recognizes both love’s capacity to limit and harm as well as to give joy, that questions the definition of a happy ending, and makes space for more transgressive sorts of romance than those rigid forms that dominated popular culture in the past?” Mrs. F. stands for a ‘case study’ Weisser conducted in the mid-1980s. Decades on, the author revisits the ‘case’ of Mrs. F. and opens herself up to the challenge that is the research subject’s strong belief in romantic love, destined lovers and happy ends. This renewed encounter with research notes and transcripts triggers self-reflection in the researcher who shares elements of her own relationship history with us. In the 1980s, Weisser felt rather distant from Mrs. F although she shared her socio-economic background removed by one generation. Now in the twenty-first century, the similarities are more readily accepted. Weisser triangulates Mrs. F., her own mother and her life story, and comes to the conclusion that they all “inhabit the same romantic universe”. Being a feminist and a middle-class academic marks less of a break with tradition and more of a development of aspirations already present in the generation of Mrs. F. and Weisser’s mother. This extends to an acknowledgement that the traditional romantic trajectory with all its patriarchal trappings encompasses valued elements of female agency.

Nagore García, in her article ‘Love and its contradictions: feminist women’s resistance strategies in their love narratives’, uses a Narrative Production Methodology to trace “the resistance strategies of feminist women in order to understand how complicity and resistance work in their narratives about love”. Narrative Production is a research method in which “informants” and “researchers” co-produce narratives on the basis of shared interview transcripts. This co-production is described as a “circle of dialogue” which allows all parties to tease out concealed or marginalised ideas and contradictions. It levels the hierarchy between researcher and researched by incorporating layers of close reading and (self-) reflection into the final ‘narrative productions’ which constitute a sophisticated version of source material. This sophistication or complexity is to do justice to the richness of the lived experiences of feminist women residing in Barcelona, Spain.

García identifies in her article five resistance strategies: three work against heteronormative love myths and two of them engage critically with feminist love myths. The three strategies that “respond to specific imperatives of romantic love” are: 1) intentional singleness, which challenges compulsory ‘coupleness’ and redefines “singleness as a possible and acceptable way of being in the world”; 2) lover networks, which challenge “sexual exclusivity and its temporality by recognizing the intimacy shared with punctual lovers as a valuable kind of love”; and 3) falling for the collective, where love is redefined as “an energy that is the basis of mobilization and collective action, rather than as the passionate sexual bond associated with romantic love”. García finds that many of the respondents’ narratives are contradictory, incorporating mainstream love scripts as well as feminist ideas. She notes that respondents both claim ‘romance’ and accept its contradictions, indicating how “it is possible to maintain a critical view on romantic love and its connection to patriarchal relations while still desiring a romantic fantasy and the passion of falling in love.” Ultimately, [End Page 6] García finds that “women are not mere victims of romantic ideology, rather they are located among contradictory discourses and power relationships.”

The following two articles, by Jennifer Leetsch and Ágnes Zsila and Zsolt Demetrovics focus on non-Western romantic love. Jennifer Leetsch’s engagement with Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie in ‘Love, Limb-Loosener’ draws our attention to the complex relationships between race and romance. She argues that the self-shattering force of love can be understood as transformative in the ways in which it facilitates geographical and emotional border crossings, and opens multifaceted liminal spaces. The article takes turns to explore spatiality, corporeality, and textuality in the novel Americanah (2013) with an emphasis on “the different affects and effects of love and what it does, as material practice, embodied experience, and as a discursive and textual construct”. Leetsch argues that Americanah exemplifies the transformative potential of love in the context of postcolonial and transnational writing. The love story contained in this novel produces creative textual strategies and subversive spaces and embodiments of femininity which explore the leeway for non-normative identities, and sidestep conventional attribution. According to Leetsch it is precisely the self-shattering experience of love and, by extension, the creative potentiality of love stories which facilitates this transformative and emancipatory liminal space between the US, UK and Nigeria.

In ‘Crafting Boys’ Love: Social Implications of a Japanese Romantic Genre’, Ágnes Zsila and Zsolt Demetrovics provide an overview of two decades’ worth of research into the Boys’ Love genre, a fascinating yet highly problematic transgressive body of romance fiction. Not only does this genre appropriate the imagery and dynamics of gay male relationships in Japan for a mostly female audience, it also transfers and normalises tropes of sexual violence and emotional abuse into an ‘exotic’ setting where Japanese and Western readers, mostly women, can experience them as emotionally cleansing fantasies. This genre depicts intimacy and romantic love of two men, frequently using sexually explicit imagery. It materialises in anime, manga, video games, fan fiction and fan visual art. It has its roots in shōjo manga from the 1970s which had heterosexual themes but has grown into an all-male fictional universe split into the sub-genres of shōnen-ai (romantic boy love) and yaoi (which focuses on sex between men). In terms of fandom culture and practices, Boys’ Love and Popular Romance are remarkably similar. Faced with a largely dismissive general public, genre enthusiasts build support communities in which the differentiation between authors and readers becomes blurred. This links with Gratzke’s assertion that an affirmative stance towards experiences and voices of love entails an engagement with views and materials which may be challenging to researchers and the general public.

Finally, Angelika Böck’s installation Plots, which rounds off this special issue, allows people to experience the voices of six people on headsets: the right and left channel are dedicated to one voice and one narrative each within the same relationship. Listening to both simultaneously makes it hard to follow either which perfectly demonstrates the complexity of close listening. A simple juxtaposition like this erodes the persuasive powers of personal myths, and forces the listener to work hard at understanding the complexity of relationships. Things become even more complex, when we take into account that the texts in themselves have undergone a transformation from testimony to fiction. Three real-life couples were asked to narrate turning points in their relationships. These narrative were then re-written by professional authors with backgrounds as diverse as children’s literature and crime [End Page 7] fiction. Our knowledge of narrative patterns allows us to start unpacking and to reflect on the complexities encountered.


[1] Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, 1970 (London: Flamingo, 1999); Tania Modleski, Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women (New York: Routledge, 1982); Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984); Kay Mussell, Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women’s Romance Fiction (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1984); Rosalind Coward, Female Desire (London: Paladin, 1984); Carol Thurston, The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).

[2] Jennifer Lois and Joanna Gregson, “Sneers and Leers: Romance Writers and Gendered Sexual Stigma”, Gender & Society 29.4 (2015): 459-483.

[3] Toye, Margaret E, “Towards a poethics of love Poststructuralist feminist ethics and literary creation”, Feminist Theory 11.1 (2010): 39-55.

[4] Carey-Ann Morrison, Lynda Johnston, and Robyn Longhurst, “Critical Geographies of Love as Spatial, Relational and Political”, Progress in Human Geography 37.4 (2013): 505–521.

[5] Barbara Fuchs, Romance (New York: Routledge, 2004).

[End Page 8]

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Editor’s Note: Issue 5.2

Just over a year ago, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies was approached by an academic publisher interested in adding us to their stable of scholarly journals. This inquiry sparked a conflicted discussion here at JPRS. Should we shift to a more traditional publishing format and subscription model? Would this attract more submissions, raise our profile, our ranking, our impact level? Would affiliation with a publisher give more credibility, not just to us, but to the field of popular romance studies more generally? How could we retain our commitment to Open Access publishing and to scholarly outreach across both national and professional boundaries? Would we have the flexibility to float new special issue Calls for Papers whenever a topic seized us—and, when needed, the ability to fold a proposed special issue silently into the regular run of the journal?

Emails flew. Scholars were Skyped. Advisory boards got advisory (and sometime adversarial). A web of debate linked Virginia to Tasmania, New York City to New South Wales, Manitoba to Brunei.  It was heady stuff: a reminder of how far-flung we are, as a field, but also how fragile, how new.

In the end, our collective sense is that scholarship in popular romance studies needs to be more accessible, not less. With budgets cut around the world, especially in the Humanities, new subscriptions can be a hard sell to university libraries, especially on emerging topics like popular romance.  Graduate students, independent scholars, and contingent faculty find it difficult to afford the Open Access fees, often in the hundreds of dollars, that some traditional journals now ask. (A message just landed in my inbox explaining that $400 was a perfectly reasonable “processing charge” for an aspiring scholarly author—or their department—to kick in for an essay.) Likewise, even as more and more dissertations are being written in popular romance studies—the list at the Romance Scholarship Wiki is a good place to keep up to date with these, as with new essays and monographs—much of the most interesting thinking and debate goes on in blogs and review sites and Tumblr and Twitter. What we do as a peer reviewed journal is different in genre from what goes on in these venues, but we want our essays, interviews, book reviews, and pedagogical pieces to be a part of that free-ranging, and free, discussion, not tucked away behind what is, effectively, a paywall. [End Page 1]

With help from the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, we will, therefore, continue to be a self-published journal: available without charge to readers and to our contributors. Your membership in IASPR will help to support us, but so too will your simple act of reading these pieces and talking about them, whether in your own new scholarship, in a classroom setting, or in private conversation. Indeed, after this issue, we will begin publishing on a rolling basis throughout the year, with new material appearing online as it is ready: a shift that takes advantage of our online-only status, and which we hope will keep the study of popular romance media in both the academic and the public eye.  (It will certainly help us avoid the backlogs that bedevil scholars eager to see their work reach an audience!)

As you will see from the Table of Contents, issue 5.2 of JPRS is an expansive gathering of new scholarship and commentary on popular romance fiction and the logics, institutions, and social practices of romantic love in global popular culture.  We have a groundbreaking special issue on Queering Popular Romance guest edited by Jonathan A. Allan and Andrea Wood:  five essays that address this crucial topic in fiction, film, and TV, from a variety of theoretical approaches, along with a substantive guest editors’ introduction. We have a study of early 20th-century eugenic love theory (and practice) in the United States, new pieces on Twilight and on Viking romance, and a capacious review section that covers not only books, this time—new monographs and collections on love, masculinity, romance fiction, desert romance, and “bromance” in film, a bumper crop!—but also the award-winning documentary film on popular romance fiction authors, readers, and publishing: Laurie Kahn’s Love Between the Covers. (Disclaimer: I was a scholarly advisor to the film, and curated the resource guide that accompanies it for classroom and community use; other members of the JPRS editorial board were also interviewed for the film. It’s a small world, popular romance studies—hence our turn to an Australian media scholar as a reviewer.)

In the coming weeks and months IASPR / JPRS will announce a number of new initiatives, including an essay prize in memory of our colleague Conseula Francis, whose essay on Zane as a romance novelist appears in the major new anthology Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? and whose interview with Joanna Russ was featured in issue 1.2 of JPRS. To stay up to date on this and other announcements, and to learn about our new pieces as they appear, please follow us on Twitter (@JPRStudies), follow our sponsoring organization (@IASPR), join the IASPR group on Facebook or the RomanceScholar listserv, and keep an eye on the IASPR homepage, where we will soon announce the venue (*cough* Sydney *cough*) and the timing for the Seventh International Conference on Popular Romance. [End Page 2]

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Special Issue: Queering Popular Romance (Editors’ Introduction)
by Andrea Wood and Jonathan A. Allan

In 1997, Kay Mussell called upon scholars of popular romance “to incorporate analysis of lesbian and gay romances into our mostly heterosexual models” (12). Today, closing in on two decades later, that challenge has yet to be met (beyond a few examples here and there). Although print and digital venues for LGBTQ romance have proliferated, meeting a growing demand for such work among readers (especially for male / male romances), and although there is a burgeoning interest in writing LGBTQ romance on the part of both LGBTQ and straight authors, queer romance fiction remains peripheral to most academic accounts of the genre. Likewise, with a handful of exceptions,[1] scholarship on popular romance fiction has scarcely begun to engage the theoretical paradigms that have become central to gay and lesbian studies, to queer theory, and to the study of queer love in other media (film, TV, pop music, marriage equality campaigns, etc.).

Recognizing that there are both similarities and tensions between “queer theory” and “lesbian and gay criticism,” this special issue seeks to address not only the importance of identity politics to popular romance fiction—that is, romance novels with LGBTQ protagonists—but also texts which give “queer” readings of ostensibly heterosexual romances, as well as those which are theoretically engaged with the fluid concept of “queerness,” no matter the bodies and / or sexualities of the protagonists involved. In approaching the concept of “queering popular romance” we construe the term “queer” broadly, aligning ourselves with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s famous assertion that “one of the things that ’queer’ can refer to” is “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (8). This special issue aims to open a dialogue about queer(ing) popular romance that we hope will be the beginning of a longer and ongoing conversation as the genre continues to evolve and expand in new and complex ways to meet the increasingly diverse nature of the readership and its fluid desires.

Lynne Pearce’s “Love’s ‘Schema and Correction’: A Queer Twist on a General Principle,” opens our issue and builds on her previous meditations on the function of repetition in the love-relationships depicted in romance fiction to explore “how, certain love-relationships present themselves as so definitive as to be non-repeatable in the first [End Page 1] place.” Pearce draws on art historian E.H. Gombrich’s modelling of perception and consciousness to analyze cognitive processes of attraction and enduring romantic attachment even after the loss of the love object. Using Annie Proulx’s short-story, “Brokeback Mountain” (2002 [1989]) and Ang Lee’s award-winning film based on the text (2005), Pearce considers the function of “textual plots and subplots from a broad cross-section of literature where bereaved or abandoned lovers refuse recuperation and trouble the text’s happy ending.” In her analysis, Pearce demonstrates how we need to complicate our considerations of affect that seems abnormal or “queer”—such as Ennis’s inability to overcome the emotional loss of his long-time lover Jack—while taking into consideration complex historical and heteronormative contexts that create dissonance between “ideal” and permissible love objects in ways that trouble cognitive processes for matching one’s schema to the actual love object, especially when it is non-normative.

Jodi McAlister’s “You and I are humans, and there is something complicated between us’: Untamed and queering the heterosexual romance” explores Anna Cowan’s Untamed, one of the most discussed and reviewed historical romance releases of 2013. A polarizing and unusual text, particularly due to its hero (a bisexual cross-dressing duke who passes as a woman for more than half the book), it is one that McAlister argues does adhere to the structure and many of the tropes of a typical heterosexual historical romance, yet it is also recognizably queer. To further interrogate the queerness of fluidity in Untamed, McAlister reads it alongside Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders, which also features a cross-dressing hero—something of a rarity in the romance genre, which has more commonly featured cross-dressing female protagonists. Drawing on David Halperin’s understanding of “queer,” McAlister explores how Untamed’s approaches to gender, social roles, and history, contribute to the book’s broader exploration of fluidity.

Jami McFarland’s “Resuscitating the Undead Queer in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga” aims to complicate notions of queerness–both common and uncommon representations of queerness—in the context of an ostensibly popular heterosexual paranormal romance series. McFarland traces a history of queerness within the vampire genre to locate Meyer’s conceptualization of the vampire within this practice. Aligning vampirism with queerness, McFarland explores the often homosocial and homoerotic histories of the vampire figure. Claiming that Meyer’s heteronormative or, perhaps more appropriately, homonormative vampire largely deviates from a tradition of associating the vampire with the Queer (position), McFarland demonstrate how the construction of Edward Cullen still feeds on the popularly imagined construction of queerness. Ultimately, McFarland argues that Meyer’s hetero-romantic Twilight series can be regarded as participating in the century-old tradition of associating the vampire figure with queer identities and ways of being.

Moving from romance fiction and into the realm of television, Sunnie Rothenburger’s “Piratical Pleasures: Female Dominance and Children’s Literature as Romance in ABC’s Once Upon a Time,” considers how the show queers female sexuality. For Rothenburger, Once Upon a Time combines children’s literature with popular romance in a way that opens up some of the problematic and oft critiqued conventions of the latter by depicting sadistic and dominating aspects of female desire rather than masochistic ones. Rothenburger claims that the protagonist, Emma Swan, is in many ways both child and adult; in her sexual attraction to Captain Hook she is subversively “queer” and a “lost girl,” less the inexperienced heroine of conventional romance than an aggressive princess who loves to [End Page 2] tie up and torment her pirate. For Rothenburger, the series invites a re-consideration of childhood narratives’ contributions to discourses of sexuality, and of how gender might be re-conceived when the demarcation between an individual’s childhood and adulthood is troubled.

Taking a more pessimistic view of mainstream television programming’s representation of gay romance, Bridget Kies’s “First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage: (Homo)Normalizing Romance in American Television” examines what has been lost in recent depictions of gay couples in mainstream programming. Although gay romance storylines have become increasingly popular, as seen in contemporary series with gay romance elements like Modern Family and Glee, these depictions has largely reified one representation of acceptable gay identity. Specifically, Kies argues that the success of gay romance on television today is a result of homonormativity, a political position favoring conformity to certain normative social values. Because of romance’s emphasis on betrothal and happy endings, same-sex romance necessarily becomes homonormative; gay couples on television look and sound like their straight counterparts. By favoring marriage and parenthood as ultimate life goals, and by depicting white, middle- and upper-class men, gay romance on mainstream television has succeeded in winning over audiences. However, this mainstream appeal comes at the expense of relative invisibility for other queer identities and lifestyles.

As editors, we hope that this collection of essays begins to respond to Kay Mussell’s exhortation, and we call in turn for scholars working in queer theory, popular romance studies, gender studies, and beyond to begin to consider the proliferation of queer popular romance texts. Although a great deal of work remains to be done on queer/ing popular romance media—too many voices and experiences remain unheard and unread—it is also true that genre has explored and continues to explore the multiplicities of gender and sexuality, to challenge the bonds of love, and to think creatively and limitlessly about the potential of romance. Across multiple media, popular romance texts raise questions about the possibilities of love, sex, desire, gender, and so on. Rich in critical potential, this archive can and should contribute to fields of inquiry where the popular romance has, for too long, remained absent or as a mere stereotype.


[1] At the close of this article, we provide a supplemental bibliography of recent publications that have attended to the popular romance and queer studies. [End Page 3]

Works Cited

Mussell, Kay. “Where’s Love Gone? Transformations in Romance Fiction and Scholarship.” Paradoxa 3, nos. 1-2 (1997): 3-14.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.

Supplemental Bibliography: Queer/ing the Popular Romance

As Editors, we do not intend for this list to be definitive, but rather to provide readers with a series of sources that attend to queer theory and/or LGBT Studies.

* * * * *

Allan, Jonathan A. “Topping from the Bottom: Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy.” Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus. Regina: U of Regina P, 2016: 63-80.

Barot, Len. “Queer Romance in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century America: Snapshots of a Revolution.” Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? Ashgate, 2016: 389-404.

Burley, Stephanie. “What’s a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Book like This? Homoerotic Reading and Popular Romance.” Doubled Plots: Romance and History. Eds. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden. Jackson: UP Mississippi, 2003: 127-146.

Fletcher, Lisa. Historical Romance Fiction: Heterosexuality and Perfomativity. Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

Frantz, Sarah S. G. “‘How we love is our soul: Joey W. Hill’s BDSM Romance Holding the Cards.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Eds. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland P, 2012. 47-59.

Garber, Linda. “Claiming Lesbian History: The Romance Between Fact and Fiction,” in Journal of Lesbian Studies 19 (2015): 129-149.

Herendeen, Ann. “Having it Both Ways; or, Writing From the Third Perspective: The Revolutionary M/M/F Ménage Romance Novel.” Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? Ashgate, 2016: 405-420.

Hermes, Joke. “Sexuality in Lesbian Romance Fiction.” Feminist Review 42 (1992): 49-66.

Illouz, Eva. Hard-Core Romance: Fifty Shades of Grey, Best-Sellers, and Society. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2014.

Juhasz, Suzanne. “Lesbian Romance Fiction and the Plotting of Desire: Narrative Theory, Lesbian Identity, and Reading Practice.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 17.1 (1998): 65-82.

Kamblé, Jayashree. “Heterosexuality: Negotiating Normative Romance Novel Desire.” Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014. 87-130.

Lynch, Katherine E., Ruth E. Sternglantz, and Len Barot. “Queering the Romantic Heroine: Where Her Power Lies.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies 3.1 (2012).

Matelski, Elizabeth. “I’m Not The Only Lesbian Who Wears a Skirt”” Lesbian Romance Fiction and Identity in Post-World War II America.” Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? Ashgate, 2016: 57-70.

[End Page 4]

Therrien, Kathleen. “Straight to the Edges: Gay and Lesbian Characters and Cultural Conflict in Popular Romance Fiction.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Eds. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland P, 2012. 164-77.

Veldman-Genz, Carole. “The More the Merrier? Transformations of the Love Triangle Across the Romance.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Eds. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland P, 2012. 108-20.

Veldman-Genz, Carole. “Selling Gay Sex to Women: The Romance of M/M and M/M/F Romantica.” Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. McFarland, 2015. 133-149.

Wood, Andrea. “Making the Invisible Visible: Lesbian Romance Comics for Women,” Feminist Studies. 41.2 (2015): 293-334.

Wood, Andrea. “Boys’ Love Anime and Queer Desires in Convergence Culture: Transnational Fandom, Censorship, and Resistance,” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. 4.1 (2013): 44-63.

Wood, Andrea. “Choose your own Queer Erotic Adventure: Young Adults, Boys’ Love Computer Games, and the Sexual Politics of Visual Play.” Over the Rainbow: Queer Children’s Literature. Eds. Michelle A. Abate and Kenneth Kidd. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 2011. 354-377.

Wood, Andrea. “‘Straight’ Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 34.1/2 (2006): 394-414.

[End Page 5]

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Editor’s Note: Issue 5.1

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies started publishing almost exactly five years ago: August 4, 2010, by the date-stamp on the Editor’s Note for Issue 1.1. That note announced, a little grandly, that we were going to be a “peer-reviewed on-line journal dedicated to scholarship on the representation of romantic love in popular media, now and in the past, from anywhere in the world,” and that we would “build a community that includes academics, independent scholars, industry professionals, and serious general readers.” To build that broad community we made JPRS an open-access journal, free to read and download, and we invited comments on all of our articles, hoping to stir up the kinds of discussions we admired on listservs and romance review / discussion websites.

The comment feature didn’t last long. Our mission statement, too, has been revised and professionalized, with an added emphasis on making JPRS a home for scholarship on teaching and learning the popular culture of romantic love. (A crisp new “About the Journal” description can be found at our home page.) Yet, as a glance at the table of contents for issue 5.1 suggests, our commitments to internationalism and interdisciplinarity have only deepened over the years, and we remain dedicated to bringing the voices of scholars and creative professionals into productive conversation.

In this issue, Jyoti Raghu’s essay on the “religion of love in American film” sits comfortably beside Helene Ehriander’s analysis of Swedish “chick-lit in corsets” and Karin Heiss’s account of teaching British Regency and desert romance at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Bavaria, Germany. In “Love in the Desert” historian Stacy Holden offers an analysis of the ways that American romance authors talk about writing sheikh romances in a post-9/11 context—an analysis to which Holden invited novelist Megan Crane to offer an “Author’s Response.” (The lines between scholar and creative practitioner are sometimes fuzzy in the romance world; Crane has, we note, a Ph.D. in literature of her own.) The voice of the romance author can also be heard in a lively interview with award-winning American romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a follow-up to Lisa Fletcher’s interview with Anne Gracie in JPRS 4.2 and the Rita Dandridge interview with Beverly Jenkins in our inaugural issue, five years ago.

Two years ago, our Book Review editor announced that we would be taking “a new, more expansive approach to the book review section here at JPRS,” and we are delighted to [End Page 1] offer a particularly robust set of reviews and review-essays in this new issue. Our reviewers discuss books on Indian film, critical love studies, modernist literary history, and feminist / queer theoretical accounts of “the erotic, sexuality, and objectification,” all of which should offer new methodologies and approaches to scholars of popular romance in any medium.

Issue 5.1 also contains our Special Issue on Romancing the Library, guest edited by Crystal Goldman, an Associate Librarian at the University of California-San Diego. As Goldman explains in her Editor’s Note, this gathering of essays builds on and brings to print some of the conversations about library science and popular romance studies—conversations related both to academic library collection development and to the representation of popular romance in public library contexts—which have played out over the last six years at conferences hosted by the Popular Culture Association and by IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. Anyone interested in the reception, representation, and archival preservation of popular romance will find material of interest in these three essays, and we hope they will spur new research and publication on the topic.

Five years ago, JPRS was a shoestring operation—even, at times, a one-man show. Today, the masthead staff of the journal includes rising and established scholars from five countries and three continents, and our latest special issue Call for Papers, on Critical Love Studies, marks an exciting collaboration between our Book Review Editor, Amy Burge, and Michael Gratzke, founder of the Love Research Network and a member of the JPRS Editorial Board. Several books have been published including work that was originally published in JPRS, notably Hsu-Ming Teo’s Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels and Jin Feng’s Romancing the Internet: Producing and Consuming Chinese Web Romance, and another will be coming out next spring, Happily Ever After: the Romance Story in Popular Culture by Catherine M. Roach, an early portion of which was featured in our very first issue. We are delighted to see JPRS mentioned in academic and journalistic discussions of popular romance—and, to be honest, even when we are not mentioned by name, we are happy to see that the topics and approaches featured in JPRS are slowly but surely reshaping the public discussion of popular romance. In turn, we hope that we continue to learn from the sophistication and expertise of discussions that take place in the wider romance community: the many authors, editors, publishers, reviewers, librarians, and scholars who share their knowledge and insight on blogs and through social media. We follow many of these voices on Twitter, where you can follow us, in turn, as @jprstudies. We hope that you will stay in touch, and if you have suggestions for new interview subjects, books to review, or topics for special issues, please let us know. [End Page 2]

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Special Issue: Romancing the Library (Editor’s Introduction)
by Crystal Goldman

Popular romance collections in libraries of all kinds—public, academic, and special—have faced their fair share of controversies. These can be as simple as whether or not a particular title is owned by the library, public or patron reactions to that title, and librarian responses to those reactions. Romance novels in libraries are often in high demand with readers and are therefore highly circulated items; nevertheless, the sexual content in romance can also invoke calls for these same popular items to be banned and removed from shelves. Though librarians are part of professional organizations that subscribe to freedom of information, academic and intellectual freedom and, thus, actively discourage censorship,[1] and many librarians embrace these ideals, at times librarians and libraries can—intentionally or unintentionally—play a role in marginalizing romance novels and their authors.

Scholarship surrounding libraries and popular romance is a small but growing area of interest; however, it has, until recently, been mostly confined to the literature of library and information science. Germinal studies such as those from Denice Adkins, Linda Esser, and Diane Velasquez laid the groundwork for scholarship regarding romance and public libraries,[2] and others have since taken up that banner, but studies of academic and special library collections and practices have lagged behind.

The intersections of libraries and romance have been introduced to popular romance scholars since the very first International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) conference in Brisbane, Australia, with Juliet Flesch’s “Attitudes of Victorian Public Librarians towards Romance Readers.” My 2012 article in Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS) became the first article aimed at romance scholars to address popular romance studies in academic libraries, but my focus was on the collection on popular romance scholarship, not on the primary resources themselves.

In this special issue of JPRS, Sarah E. Sheehan and Jen Stevens begin to close that gap by focusing their article on the idea of acquiring popular romance novels for an academic library collection. Additionally, Renee Bennett-Kapusniak and Adriana McCleer as well as Vassiliki Veros expand on their presentations at the 2014 IASPR conference in Thessaloniki, Greece. Bennett-Kapusniak and McCleer provide an in-depth look at making multicultural romance e-books available in a public library consortium, and Veros offers a [End Page 1] critical discussion of romance novels’ cultural capital, paratext, and metadata (or lack thereof) in library catalog records, and how this serves to marginalize romance authors and their works.

All three of these articles add vital components to the literature that connects library science and popular romance, but there are many other topics within this scholarly intersection yet to be examined. Future librarians/popular romance scholars have an open and exciting field of inquiry to contribute to, and I can only hope they embrace the challenge.


[1] “Intellectual Freedom Statements.” IFLA. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Aug. 2015. http://www.ifla.org/publications/intellectual-freedom-statements-by-others.

[2] Though not a comprehensive list, see: Adkins, Denice, Linda Esser, Diane Velasquez, and Heather L. Hill. “Romance Novels in American Public Libraries: A Study of Collection Development Practices.” Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services 32.2 (2008): 59-67; Adkins, Denice, Linda Esser, and Diane Velasquez. “Relations between Librarians and Romance Readers: A Missouri Study.” Public Libraries 45.4 (2006): 54-64; Adkins, Denice, Linda Esser, and Diane Velasquez. “Promoting Romance Novels in American Public Libraries.” Public Libraries 49.4 (2010): 41-48. [End Page 2]

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Editor’s Note: Issue 4.2

As editor of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, I’m often tempted to point to this or that event as a turning point in scholarship on love in global popular culture. These days, however, the turning points are coming so quickly that I’m getting rather dizzy trying to follow them.

In the past few months we’ve seen the fifth international conference on popular romance studies—the largest one yet—hosted by Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, as well as a day-long interdisciplinary colloquium on love sponsored by the Love Research Network. New monographs on popular romance fiction have appeared by JPRS editorial board member Eva Illouz (Hard-Core Romance: “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Best-Sellers, and Society) and by Jayashree Kamble, vice-president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology). The Wiki bibliography of romance scholarship—which includes special pages on Chick-Lit and Rom-Coms—has recently added entries and links to new work on popular romance culture, from fiction and film to comics and gaming. This work draws on disciplines as diverse as digital humanities, business history, geography, and medicine, studying texts and media from a wide range of countries, including China, India, South Africa, and Spain. Some of these pieces were published by two other interdisciplinary journals, Mosaic and the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, whose latest issues focus on “Romance.”

Issue 4.2 of JPRS contributes in several ways, I hope, to this emerging global conversation. It opens with our Special Issue on the Popular Culture of Romantic Love in Australia, edited by Hsu-Ming Teo: six scholarly essays on fiction, film, and material culture, as well as a substantial interview with the much-honored Australian romance author Anne Gracie conducted by our Teaching and Learning editor, Lisa Fletcher. In the Teaching and Learning section itself, we have two exemplary essays on the theory and pedagogical practice of bringing popular romance fiction into the university classroom: Beth Driscoll’s essay on teaching Nora Roberts’s Spellbound and Julie M. Dugger’s reflections on teaching a romance unit, as she has done for the past five years, in her course on “Women and Literature.” We have five new book reviews, their subjects ranging from cognitive science and popular culture to Disney princesses, happy endings, Twilight, and the history of the [End Page 1] “romance” as a genre. Finally, because 2014 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Janice Radway’s groundbreaking study Reading the Romance, we offer a set of seven brief presentations from the pair of roundtable panel discussions of Radway’s work at the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association national conference last spring. Ranging from senior faculty to graduate students, these voices from English, fan studies, religious studies, and other disciplines reflect on the enduring impact of—and, at times, on the controversies surrounding—one of the books that made possible both this journal and this remarkable moment in global romance scholarship. [End Page 2]

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Special Issue: The Popular Culture of Romantic Love in Australia (Editor’s Introduction)
by Hsu-Ming Teo

A couple of years ago I put out a call for papers for a project on the popular culture of romantic love in Australia. The aim of the project was to understand how Australians’ beliefs, ideals, and practices of romantic love have changed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; how Australians have portrayed being in love, or falling out of love, and how these issues are related to dating, courtship, and long-term commitments such as cohabitation and marriage. In other words: what kinds of popular cultural practices have facilitated or reflected ideas of romantic love to Australians? What is the place of romantic love in the nation, and what is romantic love expected to do within Australian society and culture?

Australia has not been known for its particularly notable or enthusiastic celebrants of love. Quite the contrary. One of our most famous and grumpy expatriates, Germaine Greer, excoriated love in the following terms:

Love, love, love – all the wretched cant of it, masking egotism, lust, masochism, fantasy under a mythology of sentimental postures, a welter of self-induced miseries and joys, blinding and masking the essential personalities in the frozen gestures of courtship, in the kissing and the dating and the desire, the compliments and the quarrels which vivify its barrenness. (The Female Eunuch, 1970)

Given her scorn for love, Greer might have been pleased to know that her fellow Australian scholars feared that Australians were in fact lacking a well-developed culture of romantic love. In 1982 a literary conference held at the University of Sydney on “Love in Australian Writing” came to the conclusion that, on the whole, Australian literature “is not rich in the prose or poetry of love in its self-transcendent sense” (Clark et al., 45). One scholar suggested: it is “not that Australians are incapable of love, that they do not feel it, but that its flow is soon diverted into channels of pessimism and despair” (Clark et al., 3). Participants went on to question: “Why is love not convincingly revealed in our literature? [End Page 1] Is it that we have no language for the feelings? Or are the feelings themselves absent?” (Clark et al., 31).

Any reader or scholar of popular romance fiction would immediately realize that the reason why Australian literature seemed so bereft of love to these academics was because they had failed to consider romance novels. Since then, of course, Juliet Flesch’s From Australia With Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels (2004) has appeared and increasing numbers of Australian scholars and postgraduate students are studying popular romance novels, whether Australian or not.

For the purposes of this special issue of JPRS, however, I wanted to see what my colleagues made of romantic love in Australian popular culture as a whole, not just in romance novels, and whether they thought Australians were indeed optimistic or pessimistic about the possibilities of love. The papers in this issue reflect the attempt to reflect on how love is represented in material culture, and in songs, poems, novels, printed images and films. The articles are arranged in roughly chronological order (by topic, not by composition) to give the reader some sense of how ideas about romantic love, and the treatment of love, have changed over time.

The issue opens with Annita Boyd’s history of the “Nellie Stewart bangle”, a solid gold bangle given as a symbol of love and commitment to Nellie Stewart, one of Australia’s first stage celebrities, by her married lover, George Musgrove, in 1885. Boyd’s consideration of the material culture of love shows how Stewart’s celebrity status ignited a passion for this item of jewelry among young women, but its meaning changed over time from being a special item given by a lover as a romantic engagement or wedding gift, to a commonplace gift from family members by the early twentieth century.

Covering the same late nineteenth/early twentieth century period as Boyd’s essay, Hsu-Ming Teo’s article explores Australian romance fiction from 1880s to 1930s to consider how Australian women writers conceptualized romantic love, gender relations, marriage, and the role of the romantic couple within the nation and British Empire. She argues that prior to Australian Federation (1901), short stories about love and romance novels tended to be more pessimistic about the outcome of romantic love in the colonies. After Federation, however, many of the obstacles to love that had developed in the colonial romance persisted, but in the post-Federation romance novel women writers began to imagine that Australian character, culture and environment were sufficient to overcome such obstacles and end happily. In the post-1901 romances, a successful marriage between an Australian and a Briton also served the higher purpose of either nation- or empire-building.

Where Teo focuses on the more traditional study of women producing romantic narratives, Melissa Bellanta’s article focuses on masculine expressions of sentimentality and romance by exploring the multi-media phenomenon of The Sentimental Bloke: a book of poems by C.J. Dennis that was popularized through radio and concert hall recitals, films and further related works of verse by Dennis. Bellanta argues that a consideration of this love story, which expresses heterosexual romantic feelings from a self-consciously masculine point of view, shows that Australian men took an active interest in producing and consuming romantic culture during the mid-twentieth century – a topic which has hitherto been neglected.

The theme of male-centered meditations about heterosexual romantic love continues with Mark Nicholls’s study of the popular Australian film of 1997 starring [End Page 2] Richard Roxburgh and Cate Blanchett, Thank God He Met Lizzie. Where Bellanta focuses on sentimental feelings of love among men, an analysis of this romantic comedy/drama leads Nicholls to think about male melancholia, loss of intimacy, and stasis in marital relationships. The 1990s opened with an exuberant celebration of Australian multicultural love in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992) but, increasingly, this was a decade when Australian culture seemed to exhibit a loss of confidence in narratives of romantic love, dominated as it was by two other internationally popular Australian films where friendship was more enduring than romantic love: Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Perhaps Thank God He Met Lizzie fits into this cultural melancholia about love. In exploring postmodern Bluebeard Tales – both film and fiction – from Australia and New Zealand, Lucy Butler shows how the very narrative forms of romantic love and intimacy are destabilized, marked by violence and repetition. These tales structurally undermine the quest for love and truth, sometimes substituting self-realization as a more appropriate goal instead.

This issue concludes on a more optimistic note with two pieces about love in the twenty-first century. Lauren O’Mahony introduces us to ‘chook lit’ – the Australian rural romance. Through an astute consideration of Jillaroo (2002) by Rachel Treasure, Australia’s most popular rural romance novelist, O’Mahony compares how men and women relate to and treat each other with how they relate to and treat animals, particularly dogs. She thus demonstrates the concerns of the subgenre with contemporary gender, environmental and animal rights issues in rural Australia. The last piece in this issue is a transcript of Lisa Fletcher’s interview with Anne Gracie, one of Australia’s most awarded popular historical romance writers and a past president of the Romance Writers of Australia (2006 – 2008). Their conversation ranges over such topics as Gracie’s thoughts on the distinctions and connections between popular romance and literary fiction, Gracie’s latest novel The Autumn Bride (2013), and the happy ending in romance fiction. [End Page 3]

Works Cited

Clark, Axel, Fletcher, John and Marsden, Robin. 1982. The Theme of Love in Australian Writing: Colloquium Papers. Sydney: Christopher Brennan Society and the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

Greer, Germaine. 1970. The Female Eunuch. London: McGibbon & Kee. Print. [End Page 4]

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Special Issue: Love in Latin American Popular Culture (Editor’s Introduction)
by David William Foster

By one of those quirks that make language so fascinating, in Spanish the word romance, although in common use to refer to a love story, is derived from the same word with an older meaning: romancero, which means something like “popular [song] ballad.” The connection lies in the way that these ballads “in the colloquial [Roman] manner” (thus the etymology of the word, as opposed to “in the formal Latinate manner”) circulated among the people, sung by professional balladeers, in opposition to learned literary works. One of the major categories of the ballads, and perhaps its most popular, was that of the love stories, and especially those that had unhappy endings. After all, lives lived in misery are intrinsically more interesting that lives lived in carefree happiness….

Because of their origins in oral rather than written literature (beginning in the late Middle Ages, the ballads were eventually gathered into collections), these “romance stories” are intrinsically marginal to the more elevated high culture canon. While Romanticism did much to make the medieval ballads important, most popular-language love stories did not make it into the canon. And in Latin America, where we do find popular love stories, now written in prose or presented on screen, rather than circulating as poetry, they are customarily read as allegories of larger sociopolitical issues. Whether in written novelistic form or as television drama, popular romance in Latin America has hardly been studied at all in its own right, and certainly not as expansively as English-language materials have been studied in recent years.

Thus, the opportunity to bring these essays together in this special issue is a particularly satisfying scholarly task. Authors were charged both with discovering pertinent examples of popular love stories and examining them within the context of contemporary theoretical models. Of particular interest would be that critical work that approaches popular romance from a feminist, queer, and masculine studies perspective: work which emphasizes the prevailing Hispanic critical practice of viewing cultural production in historical and ideological terms. It is for this reason that these studies all, in one way or another, challenge hegemonic patriarchal and heteronormative parameters, with a secure commitment to Alexander Doty’s premise in Making Things Perfectly Queer (1993) that popular culture, far from simply repeating fossilized social models, allows, in [End Page 1] its loosely structured and often irreverently comical mode, for various degrees and forms of queering the social text.

The six texts brought together here are, if not predominately queer in focus, clearly positioned to go against the grain of heterosexist prerogatives, official narratives, and unreflective reinforcements of the amorous status quo. As with any special issue, they represent only a sample of the work that has been and might be done on the topic.  Still, by ranging over straight and queer, masculine and feminine, and various national traditions in Latin America, these essays will, it is hoped, serve to stimulate a broader and more inclusive research agenda on Latin American popular romance than we have had to date. [End Page 2]

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Editor’s Note: Issue 4.1

Last November, the Humanities Research Centre at Australian National University held a two-day conference on “The Radicalism of Romantic Love: Critical Perspectives.”  The conference conveners, Renata Grossi and David West, come to the subject of love from backgrounds in law and political philosophy; Ann Ferguson, who spoke with me on the opening panel, is an American feminist philosopher whose latest book, Love: a Question for Feminism in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2013), is co-edited with Anna G. Jónasdóttir, the Icelandic political scientist and gender studies scholar known for her work on the “political conditions of sexual love.”  Next September, Mansfield College at Oxford will host a global conference on “Gender and Love”:  the fourth such gathering in as many years, featuring themes such as “Love as a Disciplinary Force: Productions of Gender” (papers on narrative, law, religion), “Norms, Normativity, Intimacy” (papers on “rituals and rites” and “transgressions and taboos”), “Gendered Yearnings,” “Global Perspectives,” and, last but not least, “Representations of Gender and Love,” this last the home for papers on media, aesthetics, gendered love narrations, and so on.

It may not be spring, but academia’s fancy seems to be turning to thoughts of love, from a dizzying variety of perspectives.  But what is the relationship between this emerging interdisciplinary field—is it too soon to call it “Love Studies”?—and our own bailiwick, the study of Popular Romance?

We have a great deal in common:  the topics of love, desire, and intimate relationships; interests in gender and power, the global and the local; a willingness to look at love in real life as well as in its media representations, neither conflating the two nor ignoring the complex feedback loops that link them.  Love Studies attends to a wider range of loves that Popular Romance Studies—not just romantic love, but also filial love, parental love, and the political bonding that Ferguson calls “solidarity love”—and also, at least so far, to a rather different set of texts:  more ancient and medieval works; more canonical philosophers; more theorists and thinkers from the contemporary academic scene.  As I have encountered it so far, Love Studies also boasts a well-honed critical edge, a wariness about the costs of love as such, especially to women. Such wariness was not uncommon in works of Popular Romance Studies from the 1980s and early ‘90s, but the field seems to have mellowed in the past decade. [End Page 1]

We have, I think, a great deal to learn from the new field of Love Studies—and also a great deal to contribute.  Consider the range of essays and reviews in JPRS 4.1.  In the main body of the issue, we have three essays on the subgenre of erotic romance:  two on the most famous recent contribution to that subgenre, E. L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy, engaging it via the sharply different perspectives of fan-fiction / fandom studies and the history of white masculinity; one on the groundbreaking collection Macho Sluts (1988) by Patrick Califia, which situates this volume of lesbian BDSM fiction at the crossroads of public history (the feminist anti-pornography movement of the 1980s), queer activism, and romance genre conventions.  We look forward to publishing more papers on queer romance, and on queer readings of heterosexual texts, as part of our Special Issue on Queering Popular Romance, edited by Andrea Wood and Jonathan A. Allan, for which the Call for Papers has recently been posted.  Please submit your work, and spread the word.

Speaking of Special Issues, JPRS 4.1 proudly features the first of our guest-edited Special Issues:  a gathering of pieces on Romantic Love in Latin American Popular Culture edited by David William Foster, Regents Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University.  The six essays here focus primarily on film and visual culture, with a particular interest, as Foster writes in his Introduction, in approaching these texts “from a feminist, queer, and masculine studies perspective”; the Special Issue also contains an interview with the acclaimed Mexican novelist and short-story author Enrique Serna by the editor, translator, and scholar Michael K. Schuessler (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana).  Future issues of JPRS will include Special Issues on Love in Australian Popular Culture, guest edited by Hsu-Ming Teo, and Romancing the Long British 19th Century, guest edited by Jayashree Kamble and Pamela Regis.  (The Call for Papers for the latter is still open, and will be until March 1, 2014.)  On a less regional / national note, we have upcoming Special Issues on Romancing the Library, edited by Crystal Goldman, and on the widely-popular, rapidly-evolving subgenre of Paranormal Romance, edited by Kristina Deffenbacher and Erin S. Young.  Submissions guidelines for these, and for all of our issues, can be found on our Submissions page.

Finally, we are pleased to offer four book reviews: a piece on Cathy L. Jrade’s study of the Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustini, which highlights the discourses of love, gender, eroticism and Latin American identity in this major modernist’s work; a review of Victoria Nelson’s Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural, a monograph of interest to any scholar of paranormal romance; an assessment of the new anthology Trauma and Romance in Contemporary British Literature, which includes (among many other pieces) an essay by our Editorial Board member, Lynne Pearce; and, finally, foundational romance scholar Kay Mussell’s evaluation of New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction, the collection edited by Sarah S. G. Frantz and, well, me.  If you know of a book we should review—new work, or a classic text that’s worth revisiting—please get in touch with our Book Review editor at bookreviews@jprstudies.org. [End Page 2]

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Note from the Book Review Editor

Popular Romance Studies is a new enough field that the canon of relevant scholarship has yet to be established. The expansive, interdisciplinary nature of the field, which takes as its purview “romantic love and its representations in global popular culture, now and in the past,” makes it even more urgent for popular romance scholars to read both widely and comparatively.

To help popular romance scholars broaden their intellectual horizons, we have begun taking a new, more expansive approach to the book review section here at JPRS.  In our last issue, with a piece on Lynn S. Neal’s Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction (2006), we began what will be an ongoing effort to look back at works in scholarship that might have missed readers’ attention, yet which remain of signal use to this emerging field. We are pleased this time to include reviews of two other important books from the early 2000s:  Women and Romance: A Reader, edited by Susan Ostrov Weisser, and Barbara Fuchs’s analysis of the literary genre (or “strategy,” as she has it) of Romance. We invite our readers to suggest other older works on love, romance, and popular culture that might be worth revisiting, and if you have an interest in writing such a piece yourself, please feel free to get in touch.

In addition to these individual retrospective pieces, we are very pleased to present a larger, tenth-anniversary exploration of Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Including papers by Pamela Regis, Eric Murphy Selinger, An Goris, Jayashree Kamble, Sarah S. G. Frantz, and Jonathan A. Allan (myself), this forum considers the importance and continuing impact of Regis’s past work, both inside and outside the academy, along with some thoughts on where she and romance novel studies might be headed next.

Needless to say, we are also still interested in current research in the field! We are, therefore, excited to include a review of Hsu-Ming Teo’s groundbreaking new book Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels—a book with an historical sweep even longer than Regis’s study whose impact will be fascinating to trace in the years ahead.

If you are interested in reviewing for JPRS, or if you have published a book on love, romance culture, or other relevant topics, or if you simply know of a book that should be reviewed, older or brand new, please send us an email at bookreviews@jprstudies.org. [End Page 1]

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