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ISSN: 2159-4473

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

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The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Popular Romance Studies: What is it, and why does it matter?
by Lisa Fletcher

Since joining the editorial team of JPRS as Teaching and Learning Editor in late 2012, I have had numerous conversations with scholars about the scope and purpose of this section that have raised some important (and difficult) questions. The main questions for those who are already active in the research community of popular romance studies are very practical ones: What does an article about teaching and learning look like? My research does inform the work I’ve been doing with my students, but how can I tell if my teaching practice is significant enough to report and analyse in a public academic forum? Why should I put time and energy I would usually devote to my “real” research into writing an article on teaching and learning? For those who are already very familiar with the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education, the questions raised by this section relate to its place in JPRS. They ask: What is popular romance studies? How widely and in what disciplinary and institutional contexts does it inform teaching? What other forums are there for discussion and debate about the teaching and learning of popular romance studies? While I have found some of these questions easier to respond to than others, none of them have simple or single answers. It will, I hope, be the collective and ongoing work of contributors to the section to think through the issues such questions raise and to inspire others to join the conversation. I envision “Teaching and Learning” in JPRS as a “trading zone”[1] for the open exchange of ideas, research findings, and tools for enriching the experience of teachers and, most importantly, students in courses which examine the meaning and significance of romantic love in global popular culture.

There is as yet no readily identifiable body of work that we can call the “scholarship of teaching and learning popular romance studies.” This is not to say that the number of scholars talking and writing about the place of popular romance studies in the university classroom is yet to reach critical mass. To the contrary, JPRS decided to launch this section because of strong evidence that the teaching and learning of popular romance is already a hot topic of discussion and debate, at least for those of us based in literary and cultural studies. Existing forums for trading ideas about popular romance in the English classroom include: RomanceScholar, a listserv for “scholars and teachers of romance fiction”; the blog Teach Me Tonight: Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective; and the [End Page 1] Resources for Teaching Popular Romance Fiction website hosted by DePaul University Professor of English  and JPRS’s Executive Editor, Eric Selinger. As this journal defines it, “popular romance studies” is a cross-disciplinary banner for scholarship about “romantic love in global popular culture, now or in the past.” While there is no question that literary studies has been to date the dominant discipline in this still emerging field, JPRS remains committed to its vision of the journal as a genuinely cross-disciplinary site where scholars with common interests from diverse disciplinary backgrounds can disseminate, build on, and critique research.

Popular romance studies and the scholarship of teaching and learning have, in fact, a lot in common. They are both broad-based areas of scholarship that resonate in different ways in particular disciplines, and whose key players see their greatest potential in cross- and interdisciplinary terms. Further, they are both relatively “new and marginal” (Huber, Balancing Acts 214) scholarly domains where experienced and new participants worry over established cultural and professional hierarchies that threaten to devalue their work. There is an abundance of evidence that scholars who pursue their research interest in love and popular culture have often done so against the prevailing view that their time would be better spent investigating more serious and weightier issues. Similarly, as Mary Taylor Huber demonstrates in her book Balancing Acts: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Academic Careers, academics whose passion for teaching inspires them to invest time and intellectual energy in the scholarship of teaching and learning (especially before achieving tenure) are often intensely aware that they do so in an academe that values research over teaching (see also Linkon; Ramsden).

In Gerald Graff’s words, “teaching has been . . .  notoriously undervalued in universities” (5). How much more intensely is this bias felt by teaching academics who focus on popular culture? Graff offers a fascinating corrective to the short-sighted and elitist orthodoxies he finds in higher education: “In a real sense, the university is itself popular culture—what else should we call an institution that serves millions if not an agent of mass popularization?” ( 21; emphasis is original). Henry Giroux also insists on the relationship between teaching and learning and popular culture:

. . . pedagogy is about the creation of a public sphere, one that brings people together in a variety of spaces to talk, exchange information, listen, feel their desires, and expand their capacities for joy, love, solidarity, and struggle. Though I do not wish to romanticise popular culture, it is precisely in its diverse spaces and spheres that most of the education that matters is taking place on a global scale. (x)

Giroux’s argument that the most active and meaningful pedagogical spaces are not managed by universities will, I am sure, be a compelling one for readers of this journal. Popular romance studies of genre fiction, for instance, have long strived to include the activities of writers, fans and readers which, in Ken Gelder’s words “is in fact academic in its own way, often concentrating on the finer details of the fiction and even working at the level of literary scholarship” (75). But what does all of this mean in practical terms for academics who take popular culture so seriously that they have made it the focus of their teaching? This is exactly the kind of thorny question I would like to see explored here. [End Page 2]

The idea of a designated “scholarship of teaching” is usually credited to Ernest Boyer, who introduced the term in his 1990 book, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (“learning” was added nearly a decade or so later). As Liz Grauerholz and John F. Zipp explain, there are numerous definitions of the scholarship of teaching and learning, but “common to most approaches is that scholars investigate and share publicly the impact that various methods have on student learning” (87). The scholarship of teaching and learning is therefore a “form of practitioner research.” In other words, it is “a practical enterprise, anchored in the concrete realities of teachers, students, and subject matter” (Hutchings and Huber, 229). As I see it, engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning is an opportunity to reflect in a sustained way on one of the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of an academic career—finding ways to help our students learn.

Following Lee S. Shulman, most proponents of the scholarship of teaching and learning argue that it must be based on the three central components “of being public (‘community property’), open to critique and evaluation, and in a form that others can build on”:

A scholarship of teaching is not synonymous with excellent teaching. It requires a kind of ‘going meta,’ in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning—the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth—and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it. (Hutchings and Shulman 13; emphasis is original)

The most common type of journal article in the scholarship of teaching and learning reports and reflects on the development, implementation, and/or outcomes of a novel approach to undergraduate teaching, typically at the individual unit or course level.[2] Such articles offer practical case studies of a particular approach to teaching and learning and employ a range of evidence to support claims about the effectiveness of course design, classroom practice, or assessment (e.g., quantitative and qualitative student evaluation data; class observations and staff reflection; analysis of student assignments; and pre- and post-test results). However, as Hutchings and Shulman suggest, teaching and learning scholarship does more than provide templates that others might adapt for their own purposes, although this is certainly one of its uses. Instead, I hope that potential contributors will use their teaching practice as a launch pad for interrogating more deeply the place of popular romance studies in higher education. Possible topics for contributions include, but are not limited to:

  • Key issues in the teaching and learning of popular romance studies
  • The research/teaching nexus and popular romance
  • Curriculum design for teaching popular romance
  • Assessment models for teaching popular romance
  • Teaching and learning popular romance in the digital age
  • Student responses to studying representations of romantic love
  • Popular romance fans as teachers and students
  • Supervising dissertations in popular romance studies [End Page 3]

Submissions to this section will be peer-reviewed in exactly the same way as those submitted for the main section of the journal. My strong feeling is that, as universities around the world increasingly require staff seeking tenure and promotion to provide high-level evidence of their success against the three categories of research, teaching and service, forums such as this will only become more important. In this regard, “Teaching and Learning” in JPRS will (although it may take some time) have a role to play in the career pathways of up-and-coming scholars.

Popular romance studies—as even the briefest perusal of the literature reveals—is not a clearly defined area of scholarship. This is, in part, because of its still-nascent interdisciplinary identity. As with any emergent field, the classroom is one of most important sites for mapping the parameters of popular romance studies, identifying and defining its key concepts (most importantly “love”), and for determining theoretical frameworks and methodologies. One of the guiding principles of the scholarship of teaching and learning is that the classroom functions as a “site of inquiry” for students and teachers. This resonates in two main ways in this context: 1. reflecting on the teaching of topics relevant to popular romance studies in this journal will add detail to the picture of what this area of study is and of what it might become; and 2. reflecting on the effectiveness of approaches to learning and teaching popular culture will build knowledge about techniques and strategies for improving student learning. “Teaching and Learning” is, to the best of my knowledge, the only academic site devoted to the publication of peer-reviewed studies of the teaching and learning of popular culture. This means, I think, that its success depends on seeing it as a work-in-progress and I welcome any and all suggestions of what the scholarship of teaching and learning popular romance studies might look like.


[1] Mary Taylor Huber and Sherwyn P. Morreale borrow Peter Gallison’s notion of a “trading zone” to describe the intellectual and professional work of SoTL: “It is in this borderland that scholars from different disciplinary cultures come to trade their wares—insights, ideas, and findings—even though the meanings and methods behind them may vary considerably among consumer groups” (“Situating the Scholarship” 2; see also Huber, Balancing Acts 219).

[2] This was the model followed for the first article published in the section under its initial banner “Pedagogy,” which I co-authored with Rosemary Gaby and Jennifer Kloester. [End Page 4]

Works Cited

Boyer, Ernest L. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. New York: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning, 1990. Print.

Gelder, Kenneth. Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of Literary Field. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Giroux, Henry A. Disturbing Pleasures: Learning Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Graff, Gerald. Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print.

Grauerholz, Liz, and John F. Zipp. “How to Do the Scholarship of Learning and Teaching.” Teaching Sociology 36.1 (2008): 87-94. ProQuest. Web. 17 April 2013.

Huber, Mary Taylor. Balancing Acts: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Academic Careers. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching/American Association for Higher Education, 2004. Print.

Huber, Mary Taylor, and Sherwyn P. Morreale. “Situating the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Cross-Disciplinary Conversation.” Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground. Ed. Huber and Morreale. Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education, 2002. Print.

Hutchings, Pat, and Mary Taylor Huber. “Placing Theory in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 7.3 (2008): 229-44. Print.

Hutchings, Pat, and Lee S. Shulman. “The Scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 31.5 (2010): 10-15. Print. Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 18 April 2013.

Linkon, Sherry Lee. Literary Learning: Teaching the English Major. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2011. Kindle.

Ramsden, Paul. Learning to Teach in Higher Education. 1992. London: Routledge, 2003. Kindle. [End Page 5]

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Editor’s Note: Issue 3.2

Change is in the air at the Journal of Popular Romance Studies!

Since our last issue, we have almost doubled the size of our Editorial Board, expanding its range in terms both of geography and of disciplinary expertise. Many of our board members have graciously allowed us to link their names to their professional home pages, and we invite you to visit our masthead, click through, and explore.

At the top of that masthead you will see some other new names joining Team JPRS. We have a new Web Manager, Sarah H. Ficke, and as of this issue, our “Teaching and Learning” area has its own section editor, Lisa Fletcher. Her goals for the section and her vision of its place at the crossroads of two emerging academic fields—Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Popular Romance Studies—are described in a Section Editor’s Note, which also contains detailed submissions guidelines. Please take a look.

Our Book Review section has undergone both expansion and rethinking, and the first fruits of those decisions are on display in JPRS 3.2. In addition to a review of the important new monograph on Orientalism and popular romance, Hsu-Ming Teo’s Desert Passions, our review section features two pieces on older works, dating back to the start of the twenty-first century.  This isn’t a sign that no other new work has been done; rather, it’s our way of acknowledging that the purview of Popular Romance Studies is so broad—“romantic love and its representations in global popular culture,” as my thumbnail sketch usually goes—that the range of relevant scholarship and theory is staggeringly broad.

In the hope of introducing our readers to important work that might be of use, then, we will begin looking back to texts that might have missed your notice, whether or not they specifically address “popular romance” per se. The Editor’s Note for this section, as you will see, invites your suggestions for books to review, both old and new.

Our Book Review section also features, this spring, a series of short essays in honor of the tenth anniversary of Pamela Regis’s monograph, A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Presented at the Spring, 2013 national conference of the Popular Culture Association, these papers address the impact of Regis’s work and the points of departure from it that might mark the next steps in popular romance fiction studies.

Lest you think that all this work on the Teaching and Learning and Book Review sections of the journal takes away from its core scholarly agenda, we are pleased to publish [End Page 1] two fine essays on one of the greatest and most influential twentieth-century romance novelists, Georgette Heyer:  “Who the devil wrote that?” Intertextuality and Authorial Reputation in Georgette Heyer’s Venetia,” by  Elizabeth Barr; and “Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch of Regency Romance,” by Laura Vivanco. These papers came in response to our Call for Papers on Heyer, and I am happy to call your attention to the two other Calls for Papers that remain open:  one on Romance, Love, and Sexuality in World Cinema (due January 1, 2014); the other, brand new, on Romancing the Long British 19th Century (due March 1, 2014). Stay tuned:  more Calls for Papers are in the offing!

Finally, in a first for JPRS, this issue features an invited “Note from the Field” that illuminates some of the disciplinary and methodological issues that make Popular Romance Studies a particularly challenging, as well as rewarding, endeavor. In “Reflecting on Romance Novel Research: Past, Present and Future,” A. Dana Ménard looks back at the controversy stirred up by her previous co-authored publication, “‘Whatever the approach, Tab B still fits into Slot A’: Twenty years of sex scripts in romance novels” (Sexuality & Culture, 2011). We are grateful for Ménard’s thoughtful engagement with the responses that her piece inspired, and for her willingness to rework her invited submission in response to peer review. This will not be the last such “Note” here at JPRS, and we are pleased that our first piece in this new genre sets a high bar for those that will follow. [End Page 2]

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Editor’s Note: Issue 3.1

Just over a year ago, scholars from around the world gathered at the Fales Library and Special Collections of New York University, for the Third Annual International Conference on Popular Romance:  “Can’t Buy Me Love?  Sex, Money, Power, and Romance.”  (The Fourth International conference was held in York, UK, late in September, 2012; the Fifth will be next September, in San Francisco.)  The representation of romantic love in fiction, film, TV, and other media was, of course, our primary topic, with speakers from both the academy and the romance industry, including authors, editors, and publishers.  Several talks at the conference, inspired by our venue, also stepped back to consider the practical exigencies of building and sustaining the study of popular romance at the university level.

This issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies features four essays built from work at the New York conference, along with a fifth by An Goris, keynote speaker from the international conference on “Popular Romance in the New Millennium” (McDaniel College, 2011) and reviews of recent and significant scholarship.

The lively range of voices and topics to be found in our field is on display in issue 3.1:

  • Drawing on their varied expertise as scholars, authors, editors, and publishers, a trio of contributors (Katherine E. Lynch / Nell Stark, Ruth E. Sternglantz, and Len Barot / Radclyffe) collaborate to trace the history of the queer heroine in high-art and popular romance from the Middle Ages to 21st-century lesbian paranormal romance;
  • Novelist Ann Herendeen (author of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander and Pride / Prejudice) reflects on the literary, historical, and erotic underpinnings of her novels’ surprising—yet oddly familiar—heroes, each of them a bisexual “top,” as dominant in the social structure of Regency England as he is in the bedroom;
  • Bringing Young Adult literature into our discussions, Amanda Allen explores the female power struggles and economics of “boy capital” in Mary Stoltz’s novels of adolescent romance in the years after World War Two;
  • In our first essay on TV romance, Spanish scholar Beatriz Oria offers a close reading of the mix of consumerism, postfeminism, and romantic nostalgia in a crucial episode of Sex and the City;
  • An Goris offers a “differential” approach to popular romance fiction, revisiting the broad theoretical claims made by an earlier scholar, Catherine Belsey, about how romance novels represent the mind and body in love and testing them against a selection of novels from across the career of Nora Roberts;
  • In a groundbreaking essay, librarian Crystal Goldman attempts to define what a core collection in Popular Romance Studies would look like, and she considers the likelihood of academic libraries allocating funds to build such a collection.

With the buzz of our 2012 conference fresh in our minds, all of us at JPRS look forward to bringing you the best new scholarship from that gathering—and of course, the best new peer-reviewed work that comes in to us throughout the year.  As you’ll see from our list of upcoming Special Issues, we have a lot of exciting topics to consider in the years to come:  some thematic, some regional, some focused on a particular author or medium.  (Watch out for the new one on “Film Love Matters: Romance, Love, and Sexuality in World Cinema,” which will be coming soon!)

We hope you’ll submit your own work, or send friends and colleagues here.

And, as always, if you find some use for our pieces in the classroom or your research, we hope you’ll let us know!

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Nothing But Good Times Ahead: A Special Forum on Jennifer Crusie (Editor’s Introduction)

“Nothing But Good Times Ahead” marks the first of what will be an ongoing series of Special Features at the Journal of Popular Romance Studies:  a gathering of academic essays focused on a single author, a common topic, a particular region, a single convention, etc., from the vast array of global popular romance culture.[1]  Such focused attention has long been paid to authors, topics, regions, and so forth in other varieties of popular media:  detective and science fiction, the Hollywood romantic comedy, even single texts, like Twilight.  It has, however, been hard to find in the scholarship on popular romance fiction.  Almost sixteen years after Kay Mussell, in a special issue of the journal Paradoxa, called for “more textual readings of individual authors,” and “more single-author or even single-novel studies” (“Where’s Love Gone?” 12), such in-depth, tightly focused investigations have remained, until recently, quite rare.[2]

The twofold nature of Jennifer Crusie’s work makes it—and her—and ideal candidate for such inquiry.  On the one hand, as her industry awards and readers’ poll ratings demonstrate, Crusie ranks among the best-loved authors in American popular romance fiction.[3]  In a genre where most novels have a shelf-life measured in months, most of Crusie’s category romance, single-title, and collaborative novels have either remained in print or been republished, some multiple times, some moving from mass-market paperback into hardcover release.[4]  Romance authors rarely boast that they will “make ‘literature’ out of it,” as Dashiell Hammett pledged to do with the detective story in 1928 (qtd. McGurl,164).  Yet Crusie’s novels defy the common assumption, inside and outside the academy, that popular romance fiction is formulaic, artless, and unable to sustain close critical attention.  Meticulously crafted and richly intertextual, her novels challenge both genre conventions and readers’ expectations about romance heroines, heroes, and plot structures, all the while affirming the core values—love, optimism, emotional resilience—of the romance novel as a form.

Alongside her work as an author, Crusie has also been a significant advocate for, and theorist of, romance fiction as a genre.  Writing by turns for academics, for her fellow authors, and for romance readers, her essays about the genre have extolled its aesthetic potential and its place in readers’ lives, and although some of these pieces were published in ephemeral, throwaway venues—“Inside Borders,” for example, the in-house magazine of the now-defunct chain bookstore—Crusie’s website has kept them available for writers, readers, students, and scholars.  Crusie helped draft the Romance Writers of America’s formal definition of the genre, designed to guide aspiring authors and reshape media accounts of romance.  The definition they arrived at echoed the novelist’s longstanding brief for romance fiction as a genre driven by not only by love, but also by optimism and a sense of “emotional justice.”[5]  When Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel, held a series of “Conversations About Romance” at the Smithsonian Institution in 2005-06, she chose Crusie as closing speaker, reaffirming her importance to the emerging generation of academics interested in romance.  I would not be editor of this journal—in fact, the journal itself might not exist—had I not encountered Crusie’s novels and essays in the early 2000s.  They made me want to be a romance scholar, and since 2006, when I began to teach courses on popular romance, a novel and / or essay by Crusie has appeared on every one of my twenty-plus syllabi.

Born in 1949, Crusie grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio:  a model, perhaps, for the fictional Ohio communities that show up in her later work.  Frog Point (Tell Me Lies), Tibbett (Crazy for You), and Temptation, Ohio (Welcome to Temptation) are all secret-keeping, gossipy small towns—and if, as Truman Capote once quipped, “all fiction is gossip,” Crusie’s romance fiction draws even more self-consciously on this resource.  As Kimberly Baldus points out in her essay for this collection, Crusie sets that line from Capote as the epigraph for Tell Me Lies, her first hardcover romance.  For Baldus, Crusie’s fascination with the Janus-faced power of gossip to put lives on display and to limit women’s choices, but also to build alternative, unorthodox networks of community and power, places her in a tradition of female authors dating back well into the eighteenth century.  Reading Crusie’s novels alongside the “secret histories” of early novelist Delarivier Manley, Baldus explores their shared interest in gossip as a sort of liminal territory, a borderland between the public and the private, and also in the sort of “gossip” that connects authors with readers.  (In this essay and others, Crusie’s connections with her on-line fan group, “The Cherries,” her extensive blogging, and her elegant website become part of the oeuvre to be studied.)

At least since Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) one narrative element that defines the romance novel has been a “definition of society, always corrupt, that the romance novel will reform” (Regis, 14).  In Crusie’s work this “reform” happens in a variety of ways, both domestic and public, and she keeps a steady eye on the shifting border between these realms.  As Kyra Kramer’s contribution explains, Crusie’s representations of women’s bodies “Getting Laid, Getting Old, and Getting Fed” stand as instances of “cultural resistance,” drawing our attention to the body as a site of intersection between socio-political and private life.  Although her heroes’ bodies get somewhat less detailed attention from the novelist, their careers and lifestyle choices are just as culturally and politically constrained, equally ripe for resistance.  Patricia Zakreski’s essay for this collection details the resistance to twentieth-century American norms for masculinity in Crusie’s category novels, while Kate Moore and I attend to Phineas “Phin” Tucker, the mayor of Temptation, Ohio in her mid-career bestseller, Welcome to Temptation.  A “stuck,” unhappy patriarch, Phin finds himself liberated by the heroine, Sophie Dempsey, and the novel ends with the two about to switch roles:  he will retire, after one last term, to run a bookshop and raise his daughter while she puts her family talent for con-artistry to use in politics.  The town will still be festooned, as it has been for decades, with posters reading “Tucker for Mayor: More of the Same.” But the meaning of the slogan has now changed, as the stasis and sterility of Phin’s life (and of the town more generally) find themselves imbued with sexual and political renewal.

In the late 1950s and 60s, as Crusie attended high school and college, literary scholars like Northrop Frye delighted in spotting seasonal myths and death-to-life cycles in ostensibly realistic plots.[6]  Frye might well have found one in Welcome to Temptation, since Crusie delights in weaving allusive subtexts for her novels, using materials from both popular culture (film noir, pop music) and highbrow literature (the Bible, John Donne, Theodore Roethke).  When Phin snaps at his mother, late in the novel, “My life was a fucking wasteland,” the attentive reader pricks up his or her ears at the nod to T. S. Eliot, as she does to the etymological overtones of the hero’s and heroine’s names (352).  (Depending on the source you consult, “Phineas” can mean either “oracle” or, by derivation, “serpent’s mouth,” while Sophie comes unambiguously from Sophia, or Wisdom.)   The British literary historian jay Dixon insists that “in order to enter the world of the romance, the method of analyzing literature which is taught in schools and higher education must be abandoned,” but this is quite false when it comes to Crusie (10).  Far from offering readers instances of what Dixon calls “instinctive writing,” she will “play games” of many sorts:  games of echo and reference, as in the dozen or more fairy tales that are touched upon by the later novel Bet Me; games with literary allusion, as in the repeated quotations from Theodore Roethke’s poem “I Knew a Woman” that thread through Fast Women; games with genre convention, literary history, symbolism, and the like (Dixon, 10).

This concern with artistry also appears on other levels in Crusie’s novels.  Many of her characters are engaged with the arts, whether they are visual artists, authors, editors, or screenwriters, or simply women who find themselves engaged with fashion, interior décor, and cooking.  In this collection, essays by Laura Vivanco, Patricia Zakreski, and Christine Valeo explore Crusie’s subtle, often metafictional deployment of art forgery, fashions in lingerie, and various forms of “lying”:  telling stories that are “unreal but not untrue,” as Daisy Flattery insists in The Cinderella Deal, or simply conning people, as Sophie and her brother Davy learned from their con-artist father.  Crusie uses her novels to explore, refine, and demonstrate ideas that she lays out in her essays, putting theory into practice—but as Valeo shows, her novels can also be read against the grain, as texts that dialogically challenge, or even subvert, some of the essays’ claims on behalf of the genre.  Valeo, Vivanco, and other scholars in this feature emphasize the fundamental complexity of Crusie’s work, the internal variety that accompanies its enduring themes and aspirations.  A single motif, like lingerie, or a single activity, like lying, can take on radically meanings in Crusie’s work, from novel to novel or even from scene to scene.

To hear Crusie’s characters debate the nature of stories or watch them read the material world around them, from clothing to china to paintings to home decor, is to learn how to read, better and deeper, in the broadest sense of the verb.  Crusie’s own lessons in looking, reading, and teaching began with an undergraduate major in Art Education at Bowling Green State University, not far from her childhood home.  She spent her twenties and thirties teaching first art, and then English to middle- and high-school students.  Although she had not yet read a romance novel, the thesis she wrote for her master’s degree shows that she already had an interest in genre literature; entitled “A Spirit More Capable of Looking Up To Him,” it considered “Women’s Roles in Mystery Fiction 1841-1920.”  Many of her novels mix elements of romance and mystery, as do her first two collaborations with men’s adventure novelist Bob Mayer, Don’t Look Down and Agnes and the Hitman.  Crusie’s early, comic category romance What the Lady Wants and the longer, darker single-title novel Fast Women both revisit Dashiell Hammett’s classics The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, not just in order to explore the moral and aesthetic tensions that divide romance fiction from the popular masculine genres of hard-boiled detective fiction and film noir, but also to explore, in Fast Women, the enduring—and sometimes life-threatening—mystery of heterosexual marriage.  “Marriage was a mystery,” muses heroine Nell near the start (38); at the end, moments before she accepts the hero’s proposal, she thinks to herself that marriage is “a gamble and a snare and an invitation to pain,” a matter of “compromise and sacrifice” whatever its rewards (417).  It’s not unheard of for a romance novel to face the worst about marriage—but for it to do so at such a moment, in such a context, is remarkable.  (We have no essay in this collection devoted to Fast Women, but one is sorely needed, and I hope that this introduction will spur someone to write it.)

Crusie’s unsentimental vision of marriage derives, in part, from the transformations she has lived through as an American baby-boomer.  Shortly before her twenty-second birthday, Crusie got married:  a common pattern for women of her generation, but one that she looks back on with no little frustration.  “Today it seems absurd that marriage would be a life goal for a woman,” she observes in the essay “A Writer Without a Publisher is like a Fish Without a Bicycle,” “but anyone who was around for the pre-Lib days can tell you that the worst thing anyone could say about a woman back then was that she was an Old Maid. It was one step down from Whore because at least whores had men asking to spend time with them. When I got married six weeks before I turned twenty-two, my entire family heaved a sigh of relief. Close call.”  Divorce and single motherhood followed, so perhaps it is fitting that Crusie’s characters so often struggle to discover the qualities they really want in a potential spouse, walk away from bad relationships, recover from divorce, and look for the courage to negotiate new relationships which suit the people they have become.  In Crazy for You, which starts as social comedy and modulates into stalker-driven romantic suspense, marriage seems so risky that the hero and heroine are neither married nor engaged by the end of the book:  a sharp departure from romance conventions, albeit softened by a wink of symbolism.  (We last see Nick and Quinn about to have sex at a drive-in; on screen is the movie Bachelor Party.)

Crusie is equally level-headed about children and family life.  In an advice column for other authors, “Hello, I’m Your New PRO Columnist,” she once stated that “getting married and giving birth does not mean that you have sold your life away to perfectly healthy people who can get their own damn socks,” and this frankness can also be found in her novels. Blissfully happy families may form at the end of many a “secret baby” romance, and sweet and happy offspring may cluster cherubically around heroines in other authors’ epilogues, but not in Crusie’s work.  Here, parents who dote on one another may cut out their children, causing emotional damage that our protagonists must heal, as in Welcome to Temptation; here a philandering husband may be a loving father, whose death remains a bitter loss for his daughter even as the novel’s main plot brings new happiness to her mother, as in Tell Me Lies. Adults try to protect children from emotional harm, but this impulse may drive them, depending on the book, to tragic-comic or violent extremes.  No wonder some of her couples explicitly state that they wish to remain childless:  a break with romance novel expectations that Crusie has made both early (Anyone But You) and later (Bet Me) in her career.

In 1991, Crusie finished her master’s degree and pivoted immediately into a Ph.D. program at the University of Ohio.  Raising a daughter, teaching full-time by day and part-time at night, she struggled with exhaustion, poverty, and depression, and the reading for her classes didn’t help.  “I spent years reading about miserable women,” she recalls with grim humor:

like the one who pursued the life she wanted, had great sex, and then ate arsenic; or the one who pursued the life she wanted, had great sex, and then threw herself under a train; or my personal fave, the one who pursued the life she wanted, had lousy sex with a masochistic dweeb, and spent the rest of her endless life atoning by doing good works in a letter sweater. What a great literary education gets a woman is depressed. Very, very depressed. Not to mention very reluctant to have sex.  (“Glee and Sympathy”)

These jokes at the expense of Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and The Scarlet Letter do to masterpieces of high culture what academics have long done to romance novels:  that is, focus only on the sex lives of characters, the ending of the book, and the effect the text might have on its readers.  With these quips, Crusie playfully reverses this evaluative standard, only to find these Great Books wanting.

As Crusie tells the story, reading romance fiction brought her out of this slough of despond.  She hadn’t expected this to happen.  As she explains in her first major essay on the genre, “Romancing Reality,” “in the midst of this misery I began the research for a dissertation on women’s narrative strategies.  In order to study the most female writing possible, I bought a couple dozen examples of the varied lines of romance fiction, holding my nose as I did so; it was trash, but anything for my dissertation.”  Some of the books she read confirmed her initial prejudice, at least on aesthetic grounds; they were, she writes, “so abysmal I gave up and skimmed for note-taking purposes only.”  Others, however, were “wonderful, so wonderful I didn’t care about the notes.”  After reading the genre non-stop for a month she gave up her plan to contrast these books with an equal sample of men’s adventure fiction.  Story after story of “women who won on their own terms (and those terms were pretty varied)” had left her feeling “more powerful, more optimistic, and more in control of my life than ever before,” and that sense of power brought with it a sense of obligation. “I decided I wanted to write romance fiction,” she explains. “Anything that did that much good for me, was something that I, as a feminist, wanted to do for other women” (“Romancing Reality”).

Crusie is not the first to describe the encouraging, even life-changing effect of reading romance fiction.  In Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance:  Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature—published first in 1984, and reprinted with a new introduction just as Crusie was starting her research—many of the scholar’s interview subjects offer similar testimony.  As Radway reports, they “vehemently maintain that their reading has transformed them in important ways” (101).  The critic is noncommittal.  “I neither asked questions of their husbands nor did I probe very deeply into the issue of whether romance reading actually changes a woman’s behavior in her marriage,” she demurs—this despite the readers’ “happy indignation” at her hesitation, and their laughing invitation to “Ask the men!” (101). In the preface she added seven years later, Radway admits that “romance reading, it would seem, profoundly changes at least some women by moving them to act and speak in a public forum,” with some even “prompted to purchase their own word processor, to convert the former sewing room into a study, and to demand time, not now for pleasure, but for their own work” (17).  Even in this revised introduction, however, Radway cannot quite bring herself to see romance fiction as a feminist genre.  Some romance authors may call themselves feminists, she warns, but there is no way to know whether the changes they bring to their novels evince a true change of heart, or are merely the result of market forces (17).

In retrospect, it’s clear that from the early 1970s well into the 1990s, popular romance fiction engaged in a long, complex negotiation with second- and third-wave feminist ideas about love, desire, and marriage.  Indeed, as Carol Thurston showed as early as 1987—squarely between the first and second editions of Reading the Romance—the feedback loop that links romance readers, publishers, and authors had brought some feminist arguments into the heart of romance fiction as early as 1980.  (Jay Dixon’s The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990s shows a similar process of incorporation at work earlier in the century, in the relationship between popular romance and first-wave feminism.) Thurston’s The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity draws on romance novels, editors’ guidelines, records of consumer feedback, and other historical documents to demonstrate that in the romance fiction that emerged in the 1970s and early ‘80s “the customary happy ending…is possible only through the heroine’s emergence as an autonomous individual, no longer defined solely in terms of her relationship to a man” (86).  By the end of the 1980s, Thurston observes, readers had grown accustomed to “hearing the sentiments of Virginia Woolf [in A Room of One’s Own] on the lips of a romance heroine” (94), while goals of female economic independence, creative satisfaction, sexual knowledge and fulfilment (both before and after marriage), and even political power were increasingly commonplace.

By the time Crusie began to study romance novels, then, at the start of the 1990s, the anger at patriarchy and longings for comfort, communication, and egalitarian relationship that feminist scholars like Radway and Tania Modleski had seen as unconscious subtexts in romance fiction were often freely espoused, not just by the genre’s heroines, but also by their authors.  The conscious artistry of romance authors was also growing more visible, various, and ambitious.  This is not to say that earlier decades had lacked deftly crafted, aesthetically satisfying romance fiction.  Even if we leave out canonical texts that are also romance novels (e.g., Pride and Prejudice or A Room with a View), popular novels by Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, and others will give that idea the lie.  Across the 1980s, however, a new generation of American romance authors had entered the genre, including Nora Roberts, Patricia Gaffney, Laura Kinsale, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and as the essays by romance authors make clear in Jayne Ann Krentz’s anthology Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women, this new generation of authors was more than willing to challenge conventional wisdom, not just about the politics of the genre, but about its form and its effect on readers.  (That “conventional wisdom” included ideas from several prominent academic scholars of the genre—but also assumptions that long antedated academic study of popular romance, such as ideas about the female reader’s identification with the romance heroine.)  When Crusie set aside her dissertation to write romance fiction instead, she entered a genre that was open not only to progressive political ideas, but also to aesthetic experimentation:  variations on, and games played with, the themes and conventions of the form.

In a Writers’ Market article for would-be romance authors, Crusie gives us a glimpse into how she went about her own first ventures into romance authorship.  “Don’t bother trying to analyze [romance novels] for some non-existent formula or to find what works for “the average romance reader,” she advises.

There is no formula and no average romance reader. You’re writing new, original stories for a reader who is exactly like you, only a little bit smarter; always write up to your audience in romance, not down.

Then when you’ve discovered those aspects of that subgenre that you want to keep, think about the aspects you wanted that weren’t there, the things that would have made the stories even better, the characters or actions or themes that you want to read but couldn’t find. I loved the wit and romance of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but they weren’t contemporary. I loved the angry internal monologues of Dorothy Parker, but she wrote anti-romance. I loved the contemporary romance of Susan Elizabeth Phillips but her heroines weren’t mean enough. I loved romance, but nobody was writing the edgy, angry feminist love stories I wanted to read. (“Emotionally Speaking,” emphasis mine)

The implied reader of romance fiction, in this account, is an aspirational construct for the author:  “a reader who is exactly like you, only a little bit smarter.”  The sorts of wit, conscious craft, and aesthetic play that we might find in any literature thus belong in romance fiction as well, since readers will engage the text with both hearts and minds.  Finally, popular romance fiction can borrow tones and styles from across the literary spectrum.  It has room for the wit, anger, edginess, even meanness that one might find anywhere, including from authors who stand before (and “above”) the genre, such as Austen and Heyer, and from the genre’s most undeceived debunkers, authors of “anti-romance” like Dorothy Parker, whom Crusie has called her “biggest influence” (“It’s All About You”) .

Throughout her work, Crusie has made a place in romance fiction for “edgy, angry, feminist” elements.  The hero and heroine of her first-written romance, the novella Sizzle, discussed in this gathering by Laura Vivanco, spar professionally as well as in their personal lives, and not simply as foreplay; in Manhunting, Crusie’s first published novel, heroine Kate Svenson debates feminist ideas with her best friend, Jessie Rogers, and moments of slapstick violence directed at male obtuseness and self-importance punctuate the text.  (“The hotel would appreciate it if you’d just throw back the men you don’t like without maiming them,” jokes Jake, the hero, after Kate has accidentally injured a series of pompous suitors, memorably stabbing one in the hand with her fork as he helps himself to her lunch [173].)  Like Dorothy Parker, “who made people laugh while writing the saddest stories I’ve ever read,” Crusie deploys humor “as a weapon and a shield,” arming herself to explore the anger of women betrayed by their husbands and boyfriends, snubbed or scorned by their employers, and surviving the financial and emotional pain of divorce (“It’s All About You”).

Drawn by the “edgy, angry, feminist” potential of popular romance fiction, Crusie has also kept her eyes on the genre’s aesthetic potential, which must play out within a number of conventions and constraints. Such constraints are hardly uncommon in the arts.  In the essay “So, Bill, I Hear You Write Those Little Poems,” Crusie compares category romance to the sonnet, since each is “an elegant, exacting, exciting form” which demands brevity, précising, and the ability to generate fresh, delightful work within recognized formal and thematic parameters.  Crusie’s early category novels take up this challenge, playing with characterization and plot structure in subtle, elegant ways as recognizable to romance readers as a deft metrical variation or surprising rhyme scheme would be to a trained reader of verse.  Kate, in Manhunting, is an ambitious career woman, while Jake has shrugged off his life as a businessman to relax and go fishing, as far from the classic “alpha hero” as one might ask.  Nina, the heroine of Anyone But You, is a decade older than Alex, the hero, and the novel counterpoints her love story with a deft, metatextual narrative about romantic fiction in the form of a secondary character’s memoir-turned-novel, Jane Errs.  Allie and Charlie, in Charlie All Night, have what both plan to be a “one night stand” by the end of chapter two, well before the reader (circa 1996) would expect them to sleep together, and well before they fall in love.  Several of Crusie’s category novels receive extended attention in the essays gathered here, notably in Patricia Zakreski’s “Lying, Storytelling, and the Romance Novel as Feminist Fiction,” which demonstrates the intellectual and metafictional sophistication of Strange Bedpersons, What the Lady Wants, and The Cinderella Deal.  I can testify from my own pedagogical experience that the artistry, appeal, and ongoing availability of Crusie’s category novels in reprint editions make them ideal classroom texts for teaching the category romance as a form.  Students are always delightfully shocked to see that the novel we’ve spent two days discussing in political and philosophical detail was originally published in Harlequin’s Temptation or “Love and Laughter” line, with—in the case of Manhunting—a truly comical cover.

After the publication of Bet Me in 2004, Crusie turned from what she has called “classic romance” to the collaborative and genre-crossing work that she continues to write (“Writer’s Corner”).  Limited by the submissions we received, our forum contains no pieces on these ongoing experiments, nor on Crusie’s ongoing work as a critic and editor.[7]   This recent material has great potential, however, for future scholarship.  What might a narratologist make, for example, of Crusie’s three collaborations with male adventure novelist Bob Mayer:  novels which Crusie’s website claims “put into practice everything she’d studied about the differences in the way men and women write fiction” back in her dissertation research?  How do these collaborations differ in tone, structure, aesthetics, theme, appeal, the constructions of heroine and hero, etc., from the novelist’s single-authored work or from her two paranormal romance collaborations with female novelists, The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes (written with Eileen Drayer and Anne Stuart) and Dogs and Goddesses (written with Stuart and Lani Diane Rich)?  What are we to make of the dialogue with literary history in Maybe This Time, Crusie’s “homage,” as her website has it, to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw—or, for that matter, of the elaborate, deeply reflective, multi-generic construct that is Crusie’s online presence?  (This presence includes not only her official website and her blog, Argh Ink, but also her contributions to the Cherry Forum fan group and to The Popcorn Dialogues, a collaborative podcast on story construction in popular film.)

As Professor Van Helsing urges in Dracula, “there is work, wild work to be done”—just as there is on so many authors, producers, and motifs of popular romance, in whatever medium.  We hope that this forum will be the first of many, and that much of this “wild work” will be published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

Works Cited

Cawelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Crusie, Jennifer and Bob Mayer.  Agnes and the Hitman.  New York:  St. Martin’s, 2007.

—. Anyone But You. Don Mills, Ontario:  Harlequin, 1996.

—. Bet Me. New York: St. Martin’s, 2004.

—.  Charlie All Night.  Don Mills, Ontario:  Harlequin, 1996

—.  The Cinderella Deal.  New York:  Bantam Books, 1996

—. and Leah Wilson, eds.  Coffee at Lukes: an Unauthorized Gilmore Girls Gabfest.  Dallas: Ben Bella Smart Pop, 2007.

—.  Crazy for You. New York, St. Martin’s, 1999.

—. and Anne Stuart, Lani Diane Rich.  Dogs and Goddesses.  New York, St. Martin’s, 2009.

—.  and Bob Mayer.  Don’t Look Down.  New York, St. Martin’s, 2006

—. “Emotionally Speaking: Romance Fiction in the Twenty-First Century.” <http://www.jennycrusie.com/forwriters/essays/emotionallyspeakingromancefictioninthetwentyfirstcentury/>.

—.  Faking It. 2002. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003.

—.  Fast Women.  New York:  St. Martin’s, 2001.

—, ed.  Flirting with Pride and Prejudice:  Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece.  Dallas:  Ben Bella Smart Pop, 2005.

—.  “Glee and Sympathy.” <http://www.jennycrusie.com/forwriters/essays/gleeandsympathy/>.

—.  “Hello, I’m Your New PRO Columnist: Reflections on the Columns I’m Not Going To Be Writing.” http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/hello-im-your-new-pro-columnist-reflections-on-the-columns-im-not-going-to-be-writing/

—.  “It’s All About You:  The First Step to Finding an Agent.”  http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/its-all-about-you-the-first-step-in-finding-an-agent/

—.  Manhunting. Don Mills, Ontario:  1993.

—.  Maybe This Time.  New York:  St. Martin’s, 2010.

Crusie Smith, Jennifer. “Romancing Reality: The Power of Romance Fiction to Reinforce and Re-Vision the Real.” Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997): 81-93. Rpt. at <http://www.jennycrusie.com/forwriters/essays/romancingrealitythepowerofromancefictiontoreinforceandrevisionthereal/>.

Crusie, Jennifer. Sizzle. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1994.

—.  “So, Bill, I Hear You Write Those Little Poems:  a Plea for Category Romance.”  http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/so-bill-i-hear-you-write-those-little-poems-a-plea-for-category-romance/

—.  Strange Bedpersons.  Don Mills, Ontario:  Harlequin 1994.

—.  Tell Me Lies. 1998. New York: St Martin’s, 1999.

—, ed.  Totally Charmed:  Demons, Whitelighters, and the Power of Three.  Dallas:  Ben Bella Smart Pop, 2005.

—.  Trust Me on This. New York: Bantam, 1997.

—.  The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes.  New York:  St. Martin’s, 2007.

—.  Welcome to Temptation. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

—.  What the Lady Wants.  Don Mills, Ontario:  Harlequin, 1995

Crusie, Jennifer.  “A Writer Without a Publisher is like a Fish Without a Bicycle:  Writer’s Liberation and You.”  http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/a-writer-without-a-publisher-is-like-a-fish-without-a-bicycle-writers-liberation-and-you/

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

Frantz, Sarah S. G. and Eric Murphy Selinger, eds.  New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction:  Critical Essays.  McFarland, 2012.

Frye, Northrop.  Anatomy of Criticism.  Princeton UP, 1957.

Goris, An.  From Roberts to Romance and Back Again:  Genre, Authorship, and Textual Identity. Diss.  Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.  2011.

Kloester, Jennifer.  Georgette Heyer:  Biography of a Bestseller.  Heinemann, 2011.

Krentz, Jayne Ann, ed. Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women.  Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

McGurl, Mark. The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James. Princeton University Press, 2001.

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

Radway, Janice A.  Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, 2nd Ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Stoker, Bram.  Dracula.  Project Gutenberg Edition.  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/345/345-h/345-h.htm

Thurston, Carol. The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Vivanco, Laura.  For Love and Money:  The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance. Tirril, Penrith: Humanities Ebooks, 2011.

Wendell, Sarah.  Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels.  Naperville, IL:  Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2011.

“Writer’s Corner for October, 2004 [interview with Jennifer Crusie].”  http://www.likesbooks.com/crusie.html


[1] This feature was first imagined, many years ago, as a book of critical essays, to be edited by Laura Vivanco and myself.  I am very grateful to Laura for her work as an editor of the original set of submissions, and for her contributions to an earlier version of this introduction.

[2]The first section of Frantz and Selinger’s anthology New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, entitled “Close Reading the Romance,” contains essays devoted to individual novels:  The Kadin by Bertrice Small, Flowers from the Storm, by Laura Kinsale, Holding All the Cards by Joey Hill, and Dark Lover by J. R. Ward.  Two welcome, recent book-length studies of individual romance authors are Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller (Heinemann, 2011) and From Roberts to Romance and Back Again: Genre, Authorship, and Textual Identity, a dissertation on Nora Roberts by An Goris.

[3]In a 2002 poll on the well-established All About Romance website, for example, Crusie received the highest rating possible from nearly 60% of those who have read her. The poll itself can be found here:  http://www.likesbooks.com/143.html.  Two of Crusie’s heroes, Phin Tucker and Davy Dempsey, took the sixth and seventh slots, respectively, in Sarah Wendell’s unscientific summary, “culled from discussions on Twitter and on varying websites,” of the “Top Nine Romance Heroes” (49).

[4]Crusie’s first novel, the 1993 Harlequin Temptation Manhunting, was among Amazon.com’s top twenty-five romance bestsellers when it was reissued in 2001, and it subsequently returned to print yet again in hardcover.  Most of her early category romances have now been re-released at least once in paperback, and many are available in hardcover and digital editions as well.

[5]The idea of “emotional justice” may derive from the pioneering academic theorist of genre fiction, John Cawelti, who discusses various types of genre fiction in terms of the “moral fantasy” that each embodies. Crusie’s concern with optimism may stem from her own first transformative encounter with romance fiction in her forties; scholarship is needed on the means by which her novels attempt to impart an optimistic or emotionally resilient attitude to their readers.  For the RWA definition, see “About the Romance Genre,” http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre

[6] In romance, Frye writes, we see a “tendency to suggest implicit mythic patterns in a world more closely associated with human experience,” while in what we call “realism” the tendency is to “throw the emphasis on content and representation rather than on the shape of the story,” although if we step far enough back from the text, we can often see the “mythopoeic designs” that structure the material (139-40).  For a brilliant application of Frye’s ideas to the reading of popular romance fiction, see the chapter on “Mythoi” in Laura Vivanco’s For Love and Money: the Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance (2012).

[7] In addition to an early “critical companion” volume on Anne Rice, published as Jennifer Smith, Crusie has more recently edited collections of essays on Pride and Prejudice and the TV shows Gilmore Girls and Charmed, all for BenBella Books’ Smart Pop series.

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Editor’s Note: Issue 2.2

Five years ago, at a hotel bar in Boston, Sarah S. G. Frantz and I sat down with a half-dozen scholars from the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere to plan a new era in popular romance studies.  We needed a professional organization, we decided, and an international conference, to get new conversations started among those who study love in popular fiction, film, and other media.  Most of all, we needed a journal, rigorously peer-reviewed and easily accessed on line, to make the best new work on popular romance available to our colleagues and our students.

Five years on, each goal has been met beyond our wildest expectations.  The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance has over 200 members worldwide; the fourth IASPR conference is coming up next September at York University, UK (the call for papers runs through May 30, 2012); and this fourth issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies features a groundbreaking essay on rape in popular romance, an interview with Agnès Caubet, publisher of the French webzine Les Romantiques, two substantial book reviews, and a “Special Forum” of six essays on the American romance novelist, Jennifer Crusie.

As you will see from the Editor’s Introduction that accompanies that Forum, there are many reasons why Crusie warrants this sort of extended attention.  One, though, deserves particular mention here at the start of the issue overall.  At the Popular Culture Association conference where IASPR and JPRS were planned, Crusie herself not only spoke, but organized and hosted an authors’ panel, bringing her fellow American authors Suzanne Brockmann and Mary Bly, who writes as Eloisa James, to speak to us aspiring romance scholars.

This was not, let me note, the first time that a group of popular romance authors had addressed academics on an equal footing.  As far back as 1997 and 2000, for example, Bowling Green State University hosted conferences featuring Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Anne Krentz, and Crusie, among others.  It was, however, a transformative experience for those of us gathered in Boston, most of whom (including myself) were still quite new to the field.

Whatever our scholarly organization and annual conferences looked like, we decided that night at the bar, it should have room for the creators and editors and non-academic scholars of popular romance, in whatever medium, to join the conversation—just as, for example, the creators, editors, and aficionados of poetry have long done.  We are pleased to note, then, that expanded version of Bly’s Boston talk was recently published in the book that Sarah and I edited, New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, and this issue of JPRS includes a contribution co-authored by Kate Moore, author of eleven popular romance novels—among them finalists for the American RITA award.

As Walt Whitman says, then, this issue is dedicated to “You, Whoever You Are.” We look forward to your comments on our essays, reviews, and interviews, and if they prove useful in your own teaching or research, we hope you’ll let us know, or submit the work that they inspire.

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Editor’s Note: Issue 2.1

In August, 2010, thirty-one scholars from four continents gathered in Brussels for the second annual International Conference on Popular Romance Studies sponsored by the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. (The third was held in New York City June, 2011; a call for papers is out for the fourth, to be held in York University, UK, in September 2012.)

These annual gatherings do more than simply provide a venue for the best new work on romantic love in global popular media. They also challenge scholars of film, fiction, TV, marketing, and other media to learn from one another across the great divides of historical period, national tradition, and academic discipline—borrowing terms and conceptual models, refining distinctions, discovering what new ground has been broken, and how much still remains to be done.

In addition to two new full-length essays (by Roger Nicholson, on the New Zealand film River Queen, and Federica Balducci, on Italian chick lit and romanzo rosa) and four new book reviews, this issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies presents our first gathering of IASPR Conference Proceedings: six selectively chosen and peer-reviewed presentations, along with keynote addresses by the Spanish film professor Celestino Deleyto, the British literary scholar and theorist Lynne Pearce, and the American literary historian Pamela Regis, this last with a response from our Belgian conference chair, An Goris.

The talks selected by our guest editors, IASPR president Sarah S. G. Frantz and conference chair An Goris, reflect the diversity of the conference—and of our emerging field. They trace, for example, the earliest, awkward attempts to mass-market romance fiction to American women in late nineteenth-century “story papers”; they explore the sexual politics of twenty-first century Greek romantic comedies, which put a national spin on Hollywood conventions; they anatomize male virginity in heterosexual romance novels, distinguishing it from the representation of male virginity in other media, and more.

Our keynote addresses theorize the vexed motif of repetition in romantic love, reverse-engineer the construction of a “comic space” at the heart of the romcom, and analyze the shifting critical rhetoric surrounding popular romance fiction from the early 1980s to the present.

This special forum of Conference Proceedings is the first of several special gatherings of essays we will feature in JPRS. Calls for Papers are currently available on “Animals in / and Romance” (submissions due Dec. 1, 2011), “Georgette Heyer” (due May 4, 2012, forum guest edited by Phyllis M. Betz), and “Love and Religion in Global Popular Culture” (due June 1, 2012, forum edited by Lynn S. Neal). Details for each can be found on our Submissions page.

As always, we look forward to your comments on all our essays, and if they prove helpful to you in your own research or teaching, please let us know!

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Editor’s Note: Issue 1.2

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies is dedicated to publishing scholarship on romantic love in global popular media, now and in the past, along with interviews, pedagogical discussions, and other material of use to both scholars and teachers. With this second issue, we make good on that mission in several new and exciting ways. We expand internationally, and into cyberspace, with essays on web-based Chinese romantic fiction, on single women in British middlebrow novels of the interwar years, and on debates at the popular Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website about “plus-size” heroines in popular romance fiction.

Alongside these, we have our second author interview, this time with groundbreaking science fiction author Joanna Russ, reflecting on her decades-old engagement with slash fiction and fandom. And this issue inaugurates what we hope will be an on-going series of “Pedagogy Reports,” this one focused on the challenges and rewards of “embedding” Georgette Heyer’s romance novel Sylvester in a University of Tasmania course on historical fiction, teaching it alongside canonical literary texts.

With their overt and implicit connections to queer theory, fat studies, and middlebrow studies—as well as to the established disciplines of communications and comparative literature—these pieces hint at the range and excitement of our emerging field. We welcome comments on all of these contributions, and we hope that you will find ways to put them to use in your own research and teaching. If you do, please let us know!

Our next issue (2.1) will include conference proceedings from the second annual International Conference on Popular Romance Studies, “Theorizing Popular Romance,” held in Brussels last August. The third annual International Conference, hosted by the Fales Library and Special Collection of New York University, is coming up this June 26-28 in New York City, and features as its keynote speaker Laura Kipnis of Northwestern University, author of Against Love: A Polemic. Things could get lively—we hope to see you there.

Eric Murphy Selinger, Executive Editor, JPRS

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Editor’s Note: Issue 1.1

Is there an academic field of Popular Romance Studies?

Certainly scholars from many disciplines have studied the ways that love is represented in—and has been reshaped by—global popular culture.  Serious, peer-reviewed work has been published on the politics, aesthetics, and appeal of romance in romance novels, romantic comedies, manga, telenovelas, and digital media.  The on-line bibliography of English-language research in romance fiction alone includes nearly five hundred entries: some of this work focuses on the novels themselves, some of it on authors, readers, and the multinational publishing industry that produces and markets these books from Toronto to Mumbai.

Popular romance scholarship, then, does not simply exist, it abounds.  Yet popular romance scholars continue to work, for the most part, in isolation, divided by both national and disciplinary boundaries.

To bridge those divides, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) proudly introduces the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 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.  We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions from any relevant discipline, as well as interdisciplinary work.  In addition, we will publish book reviews, interviews, and articles on the pedagogy of popular romance in any or all of its forms.

Like the annual international conferences on popular romance sponsored by IASPR (Brisbane 2009, Belgium 2010, New York City 2011), the Journal of Popular Romance Studies aims not simply to foster the study of romantic love in global popular media, but also to build a community that includes academics, independent scholars, industry professionals, and serious general readers.  To that end, we have made JPRS a free, open-access journal, and we allow moderated comments on all of our articles.  We look forward to the discussion that each may prompt, and to the new scholarship that will grow out of these exchanges.

Eric Murphy Selinger, Executive Editor, JPRS
Sarah S. G. Frantz, President, IASPR

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