Issues

ISSN: 2159-4473

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

Archive for the ‘Volume 8’ Category

Thoroughly Modern Mina: Romance, History, and the Dracula Pastiche
by Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

[End Page 1] Not content to remain in the nineteenth century, Bram Stoker’s Dracula continues to stalk his prey through endless pastiches, parodies, and revisionist sagas. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century alone, the Count has been everything from the villain lurking in the library of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (2005) to the paradoxical hero of Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Undead (2009) to an unlikely Hollywood mogul (via possession) in the finale of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula trilogy, Johnny Alucard (2013). But there has been another, more unexpected, trend: Dracula the would-be romantic hero, ardently chasing Mina Harker. Although the silent film Nosferatu (1922) first imagined a variant on Dracula in love with a stand-in for Mina Harker, such plots have proliferated since the 1970s, from Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape (1975) to Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love (2010). The rationale behind this pairing is not immediately obvious: in Bram Stoker’s original, after all, Mina agonized over her violation by the vampire and enthusiastically participated in his destruction. Yet, when considered as a romance narrative, the relationship looks far more predictable. The eroticized vampire meets his match in the pure but determined Madame Mina, encumbered by a weak and ineffectual mate: the scenario has all the spicy allure of an adultery plot. Novelist Syrie James, author of one such romance, Dracula, My Love (2010), hints at the allure of such tales: “If you ask me,” she sighs, “there was a whole lot more going on in that bedchamber than Mina revealed” (James, “Dracula: The Roots”).

But, as James goes on to argue, this fantasy is bound up in the vampire’s explicitly Victorian milieu, with its atmosphere of sexual repression. Although James’ reference elsewhere to the mythic clothed piano legs—which the British understood to be an example of quintessentially American prudery, not their own feminine modesty—exaggerates the Victorian fear of the erotic, her insistence that there is something Victorian at root about this phenomenon is suggestive. In fact, the Dracula-Mina romances illuminate and critique the more familiar sexual politics of neo-Victorian romance plots, from John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) to Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002). Even though we rarely think about reworkings of Dracula as neo-Victorian, these literally bloody romances engage, like their more respectable cousins, in self-conscious (if not always sophisticated) reflections on the end of Victorian culture and the beginning of what we consider “our own” time—guardedly wondering, as Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn have suggested, if “this search for endings really signifies […] the fact that we have not been able to bring the Victorian narrative to a conclusion yet?” (Heilmann and Llewellyn 27). Although as pastiches, the novels usually seek to emulate Dracula’s key themes rather than its forms—while multiple narrators abound, few try to fully echo Dracula’s patchwork narrative structure, let alone Stoker’s prose style—many of them seize on Dracula’s obsession with “modernization” as the centerpiece of their own plots (E. Butler loc. 484). Set at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth, novels like Dracula the Undead, Newman’s Anno Dracula (1992), or Kate Cary’s WWI-era Bloodline (2006) use the adventures of Dracula and/or his descendants to reference the end of empire and the coming of the Great War; acknowledge new developments in psychiatry and medicine, including blood-typing; and register the impact of feminism and secularization.

In the case of Dracula romances, modernization and feminism are at the forefront. I argue that the primary figure for modernization in these texts is Mina Harker’s newly-awakened body. Vitalized by Dracula’s attentions, Mina’s body becomes shorthand for a “modernity” identified loosely with an emergent liberal feminism. Once fully awakened by [End Page 2] the vampire, Mina’s experiences emphasize erotic pleasure, romantic egalitarianism, and individual liberty in the context of her free choice of motherhood and monogamy, in sharp contradistinction to her Victorian inheritance, which insists on male control of women’s bodies—in bed and out of it. In that sense, Mina’s journeys both engage with larger trends in neo-Victorian narratives that imagine how “modern,” companionate heterosexual couplings come into being, and continue the pattern of Gothic romances in which, as Victoria Nelson dryly puts it, “soft-core pornography is essentially framed within a heterosexual relationship that is monogamous after the first encounter” (108). At the same time, they point to difficulties in imagining how the “historical” in “historical romance” might actually function. What does it mean for a single woman’s romantic entanglements to signify an entire complex of historical transformations?

While the Dracula romances join with their realist counterparts in casting such egalitarian relationships as the precondition for social stability, they rework romance plots in two ways. First, they insist that human agency alone cannot bring modernity into being, suggesting that late-Victorian humanity has hit a moral and perhaps physical dead end. Second, they refuse to recuperate Lucy Westenra, who is sexually problematic in the original Dracula—a woman who “through her excessive emotion and sexual desire […] is positioned outside Victorian normativity and thus draws the vampire to her” (Prescott and Giorgio 500), and remains so in these later reworkings. Lucy’s more playful sexuality, aimed at self-fulfillment instead of motherhood, turns out to be invested in the same Victorian paradigms that animate the men who, heroes in Stoker’s original, become monsters in their own right when reworked. To examine how these dynamics play out, I begin by situating these novels in the context of neo-Victorian romance and marriage plots, in which male heterosexuality frequently becomes a source of deep terror. I then survey how Dracula pastiches from the 1970s on invest the Dracula-Mina romance with supposedly liberatory potential, before unpacking in detail one recent novel, Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love (2010), and its celebrations of women’s choice of monogamous maternity over eternal life with the vampire.

A good undead man is hard to find: romances vampiric and neo-victorian

Dracula-Mina romance plots echo but noticeably deviate from the fad for sexy vampires that began in the 1970s. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1975) sparked the appeal of paranormal or supernatural romance, a genre popular with both adult and young adult readers.[1] Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling Twilight series (2005-08), featuring sparkly vampires and a none-too-subtle emphasis on sexual abstinence, is only the most famous of these texts. Meyer’s work in particular has been critiqued for straightening out the threateningly perverse figure of the vampire“otherness itself,” as Jack Halberstam says of Dracula (88)transforming vampire sexuality’s creative possibilities into a brief for heterosexual monogamy and feminine subjection.[2] In general, the paranormal or supernatural romance plot translates the dark, brooding hero of conventional genre romance into the vampire (or werewolf, or demon) who can be transformed by the love of a (frequently virginal) young woman. Strictly speaking, this literalizes more conventional romance plots in that the innocent young woman really does succeed in the “fantasy conquest of [End Page 3] patriarchy,” redeeming the brutal “alpha male” through the ultimate power of love (Roach n.p.). Such romances may well end, as Twilight does, in the woman joining her lover in his now-rejuvenated monstrous world, finding a happy ending in which eternal happiness is not an illusion.

Perhaps appropriately enough, the marriage plot that is so central to both nineteenth-century realism and romance frequently structures neo-Victorian fiction. But in the latter, the marriage plot is also a sexual liberation plot, and representations of sex become a key method of critiquing, or at least claiming to critique, earlier narrative norms. Crucially, such plots have little to do with the actual strategies of Victorian feminists, which were deeply rooted in arguments for self-control and self-sacrifice now at odds with contemporary beliefs about sexuality and personal fulfillment (Kohlke, “The Lures” 7). By contrast, if “sex and freedom are ontologically linked” (Fletcher 104), then opening up representations of Victorian culture to stories of erotic discovery supposedly reveals both moments of resistance in the nineteenth century and the origins of liberty in our own. Neo-Victorian novels signify their “realism” by filling in the interstices of what was supposedly kept silent in nineteenth-century texts, or translating Victorian code into twentieth- or twenty-first-century plain speech. They engage in a dynamic of exposure that owes much to Steven Marcus’ now-classic The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England, swapping out the staid Victorian of legend for a much raunchier version. In effect, neo-Victorian fiction constantly produces a “repressed” Victorian era in order to advertise its own subversion thereof; the Victorians must be cast as not-us sexually, the better to narrate the historical transformation from sexual imprisonment to sexual liberty. Or, as Marie-Luise Kohlke argues, with some asperity, “[b]y projecting prohibited and unmentionable desires onto the past, we conveniently reassert our own supposedly enlightened stance towards sexual liberation and social progress, indulging in the self-satisfactions of our assumed superiority” (Kohlke, “The Neo-Victorian Sexsation” 58; cf. Botting 7; Fletcher 129).

It is no accident that several recent neo-Victorian novels have featured women as writers or publishers of erotica. Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) ultimately denies its heroine the ability to reappropriate her body in the act of writing, but Belinda Starling’s The Journal of Dora Damage (2006), Faye Booth’s Trades of the Flesh (2010), and (arguably) Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002) all suggest that women’s engagement with erotica appropriates the capitalist trade in female bodies for subversive ends, as the writing and/ or publishing woman takes control of sexual fantasies in the name of her own professional and financial independence.[3] Lydia, the heroine of Trades of the Flesh, proudly announces to her now-married lover that, thanks to her erotica, she has obtained a veritable room of her own in which to write: “this place might not be much […], but it’s mine, or as close to mine as I can get” (Booth 302). These narratives do not subvert the sex trade so much as they argue that women, too, can participate in it as agents, creating texts to consume instead of circulating their own bodies. The system remains, but women join the ranks of the suppliers rather than the products.

This liberal strategy for reclaiming women’s autonomy sits alongside neo-Victorian fiction’s critique of male sexuality, especially heterosexuality, as monstrous—a desire that explicitly understands its targets as objects to be consumed, not subjects for mutual pleasure, and thus destroys in the act of consummation. Kohlke has aptly pointed out that “neo-Victorian fiction panders to a seemingly insatiable desire for imagined perversity” [End Page 4] (“The Neo-Victorian Sexsation” 55). Recent neo-Victorian fiction is populated by an astonishing run of male predators, from the evil (and sadomasochistic) version of Walter Hartright in James Wilson’s Wilkie Collins pastiche, The Dark Clue (2007) to the abusive (and closeted) Somers Ingram in Linda Holeman’s The Linnet Bird (2004) to the violent (and fatally diseased) Kester in Kate Darby’s The Whore’s Asylum (2012). The aristocratic Kester, for example, turns out to be a sadist who participates in orgies and is aroused by the prospect of murdering the heroine; his upper-class male privilege enables him to abduct her by passing her off as a “notorious drunk” prostitute to would-be rescuers who wind up watching her struggles with “mild interest” (Darby 274). As in other neo-Victorian narratives, the heroine finds her very reality rewritten by the male monster, whose cultural centrality enables him to engage in acts of sexual and other violence that remain safely unspoken. The sexual male body thus becomes one of the prime sites of neo-Victorian Gothic, all the more so because this is the privileged body at the heart of nineteenth-century culture; the “façade of the normal,” as Halberstam says, “that tends to become the place of terror within postmodern Gothic” (162). That is, the true horror revealed by neo-Victorian narrative is not that the “other” plots to invade the safe haven of Victorian domesticity, but that the monstrosity of middle-class and aristocratic men goes safely unchallenged; the monsters define the monstrous.

For the brutalized heterosexual women in these novels, then, full autonomy requires the advent of a new masculinity, often represented as exotic or otherwise non-normative. While in some ways these figures resemble the so-called “New Hero” of late twentieth-century romance, a self-assured figure who winds up exploring the possibility of “emotional connection” with the female protagonist (Zidle 26, 27), the relationships, figured as equal partnerships, may or may not involve sexual activity, and often redefine the nature of mental and physical strength. Most conventionally, there is Daoud in The Linnet Bird, a stereotypically mysterious, exotic, and sexy Pashtun chief who swoops in on his white stallion. Less so, there is the partly disabled Shaker from the same novel, with whom the narrator joins as part of an alternative family at the end. Similarly, Belinda Starling concludes The Journal of Dora Damage with the loving marriage of Jack Tapster (a gay man) and Pansy (an infertile woman). More mystically, David Rocklin’s The Luminist (2011) celebrates a spiritual connection between photographer and diplomat’s wife Catherine Colebrook and her adolescent Indian assistant, Eligius. In this narrative strategy, “good” masculinity may or may not be heterosexual, but it always emerges from the margins of a culture that identifies manhood with the ability to possess and consume as many bodies as possible (whether the bodies of men, women, children, people of color, or the poor). Notably, men of color are not, in Judith Wilt’s phrase, “dis-Oriented” (113), as in the case of the revelations about the eponymous hero of The Sheik (1919); for this trope to work, the men must remain resolutely Other to the white heroine. The disadvantaged male Other is himself objectified in the Victorian frame of reference, and thus becomes an appropriate mate to the women who occupy an analogous position. Although Georges Letissier, discussing Sarah Waters’ neo-Victorian fiction, notes how representations of alternative domestic forms have explored both their liberatory quality and the space they open up for “fraud and deceit” (381), treating the “Other” man as a solution to women’s problems poses yet another set of issues. It often exoticizes people of color as updated versions of the Sheik (of which Daoud is a prime example) or turns disabled or otherwise disadvantaged men into premium accessories for demonstrating the heroine’s moral superiority. Moreover, as we shall see later, the monster-[End Page 5] ing of “bad” male heterosexuality carefully limits the critique it purports to offer: the always-awaiting revelation that normative masculinity is somehow warped, as opposed to the positive masculinity embodied by the male Other, produces a conveniently Manichean vision of the social order. Modernization in neo-Victorian fiction is not about transitioning from a repressed to a non-repressed regime, then, but about redefining what constitutes a sexual norm.

Sex and the single vampire

Certainly, sexual norms are at the forefront in Dracula novels, revisionist or otherwise. William Patrick Day has argued that the eroticized, “Byronic” vampire “give[s] structure to our own use of the vampire as a romantic transgressor and a protagonist in the struggle for freedom from repression” (12), and Dracula-Mina romance plots celebrate the link between sexual freedom and the flourishing of female (and male) subjectivity. As several critics have pointed out, although the Byronic vampire has been part of vampire lore since Polidori’s Lord Ruthven stalked the pages of The Vampyre (1819), his potential as a romantic love interest dates back only to the 1970s or so. It requires, Jules Zanger has argued, the vampire’s mutation “from an objectification of metaphysical evil into simply another image of ourselves” (23).[4] The modern vampire is us with fangs. Dracula’s passionate pursuit of Mina is part of this transformation. While Orlok’s interest in the Mina substitute in Nosferatu only goes one way, the Dracula-Mina romance plot posits that the vampire’s interest could be enthusiastically reciprocated. At the same time, the trajectories of these plots escape the vampire romance formula familiar from paranormal or supernatural romance: the characteristic vampire-lover of paranormal romance may be perfect as-is and possess an “inherent moral compass” that keeps good humans bite-free (Bailie 142, 143), but the eroticized Dracula is a far more ambiguous figure who, except in rare cases, is never the appropriate final love interest. His centrality to the plot line thus invokes one conventional romance plot, in which the heroine rejects and then returns to the man she truly loves (e.g. Ebert 41-44), but with a new twist: Mina and Jonathan can only learn to love each other by appropriating the vampire’s erotic and political insights. Mina may find that, like Harlequin romance heroes, the vampire may “recognize her as a subject, or recognize her from her own point of view” (Rabine 166)—but this affirmation of Mina’s selfhood and autonomy almost always falters and collapses. Instead, Dracula’s love for Mina usually ends up reaffirming “primarily heteronormative relationships reinforced by ‘traditional’ family values,” something that Melissa Ames associates with young adult rather than adult paranormal romance (49). As we shall see, Mina’s encounter with Dracula initiates our heroine into a world of alternative sexual experience, only to leave her to choose monogamous heterosexuality with the resolutely “normal” Jonathan at the end. It is this narrative of choice that turns out to be the crux of these novels.

At first glance, it seems strange that many Dracula novels do not recuperate Lucy Westenra, the character most explicitly associated with sexuality in the original Dracula, and whose phallic death by group staking is often interpreted as patriarchal punishment in the form of “corrective penetration” (Craft 117). Fred Saberhagen’s Lucy in The Dracula Tape (1975) comes to Dracula “as smoothly and willingly as any wench that I have ever clasped to [End Page 6] lips or loins” (78); the relationship, Dracula admits, is pure sex, and his choice of “wench” implies that her behavior transgresses class boundaries. Similarly, Syrie James’s Lucy in Dracula, My Love (2010) is a flibbertigibbet thrilled by her own sex appeal. The morning after her first encounter with Dracula, she has “a sparkle in her eye and a little, self-satisfied smile on her face,” and later she responds to the sight of a bat with a “wanton expression” (James, Dracula, My Love 51, 84). Indeed, Dracula tells Mina that far from seducing Lucy, she actively seduced him (James, Dracula, My Love 269). In Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love (2010), Lucy has been having a sultry affair with Morris Quince (that is, Quincey Morris) while engaged to Arthur. In one voyeuristic scene, Mina stumbles upon them having sex (Essex 104). In these and other examples, Lucy Westenra enters the novel already erotically liberated, freely choosing sexual pleasure and rejecting social norms. Unlike Mina, whose discovery of her sexual potential drives the Dracula-Mina romance plot, Lucy appears to model a late-twentieth or twenty-first-century model of women’s sexual autonomy. But if Lucy’s embrace of pleasure seems to be the endpoint of the narrative that Mina is just beginning, why is history bound up with Mina’s sexualization, and not Lucy’s sexual freedom? Or, to put it differently, why is the “initiation story” Mina’s plot and not Lucy’s (Day 27)?

Although the Dracula novels embrace Lucy’s sexual transgression-and-punishment plot from the original novel, it is inadequate for us to read these Lucies as the kind of promiscuous romance character who “makes explicit the threatening implications of an unleashed feminine sexuality capable of satisfying itself outside the structures of patriarchal domination that are still perpetuated most effectively through marriage” (Radway 74). It is not so much that Lucy is having the wrong kind of sex as that she is having it with the wrong kind of men. Or, to put it more paradoxically, the already-liberated Lucy’s sexual relationships, including her purely sexual encounters with Dracula, belong to a matrix of masculine perversity that the novels code as part of the past that must be abandoned. Ken Gelder has observed that in recent critical readings of Dracula, “the vampire is to be redeemed—the problem lies, instead, with the upstanding heroes” (66). By this, Gelder means that the “good” characters have frequently been understood as being in need of further psychoanalytic, political, and/or sexual unpacking. But these novels take Gelder’s point a step further: the morally pure, chivalrous heroes of Stoker’s novel are often boring at best, depraved and/or insane at worst. At the boring end, Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, Essex’s Dracula in Love, and Elaine Bergstrom’s Mina (1994) all cast Jonathan Harker as far more repressed than his wife ever is, although Saberhagen’s Harker is never more than a stopgap before Mina reunites with Dracula. Bergstrom’s Harker, for example, simultaneously yearns for the “passion” Mina displayed for Dracula, yet feels ashamed of himself for his desire (60). Freda Warrington goes one step further and has both Mina and Jonathan agree that sex in wedlock must be “restrained and decorous,” as a “Christian marriage” must rule out all “lasciviousness” (102); in other words, they have consigned themselves to eternal sexual ennui.

At the depraved and/or insane end, Saberhagen’s Arthur and Quincey plot to pick up women while en route to killing the Count (237). Far from being Stoker’s quintessentially chivalrous guardians of female virtue, Saberhagen’s men are would-be sexual predators in their own right. They are, as Nina Auerbach says, “more dangerous than the vampire” on the grounds of sheer “smug stupidity” (loc. 2381). More seriously, Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Harker in Dracula the Un-dead (2009) is a drunk, their Seward a drug addict, their Van Helsing a vampire (!), whereas Dracula turns out to be an exemplar of Christian virtue, a “knight of God” (378). Similarly, Essex’s Von Helsinger, Arthur, and Seward are gold-diggers, [End Page 7] murderers, and would-be rapists, feeding off and consuming the female protagonists. Von Helsinger’s figurative vampirism through blood transfusion, in fact, is intended to produce a “race of supermen” from women “relieved of [their] biological and moral weaknesses” (Essex 227), a materialist obsession with blood and bodies that evokes both the eugenicist theories advocated during the nineteenth century by theorists like Francis Galton and, to a twenty-first century reader, the Nazis. This variety of vampirism proves far more dangerous to Mina and Lucy than Dracula does, rooted as it is in a terror of femininity that Dracula, at first, disclaims. Even the more heroic Morris Quince falls prey to the general corruption; as Mina thinks to herself, if Arthur was underhanded, then so was Morris, “seducing a friend’s fiancée” behind his back (Essex 93).

As these examples suggest, plots turning on Dracula’s romance with Mina posit two competing sites of monstrosity: the middle- and upper-class Victorian man, whose monstrosity turns out to be the cultural norm, and the vampire, whose monstrosity is partly inflected by his more subversive eroticism. Rather than being the sort of vampire who “obeys human laws, respects Western society’s norms, and shares its values” (Tenga and Zimmerman 77), Dracula, at least initially, offers a radical alternative to an utterly degraded culture. In this context, Lucy Westenra’s sexual liberation depends on and partakes of the same corruption that affects her male counterparts. Although she may well represent “modernity,” it is a modernity that itself must be swept away by the vampire’s providential arrival on English soil.[5] If we think about these figures of male inadequacy and degeneracy facing off against Dracula, the international threat and potent male, we can see a counter-history coming into play. Bram Stoker’s Dracula unites men from multiple nations and professions to successfully ward off the threat of reverse colonization by a would-be warrior from the East; his Dracula is a hangover from an age of brute force that stands in implicit contrast to the manly and civilizing powers of British imperialism. In Mary Hallab’s turn of phrase, the “antique patriarchal Dracula” seems not to understand that both he and everything for which he stands are “dead” (39). Here, though, the putative forces of empire, far from being manly, are in thrall to their own basest desires; their resistance to Dracula is no nationalist or imperialist self-defense. Rather, it implies a mass cultural suicide. What sort of men will they reproduce?

By contrast, Mina’s erotic awakening is energized by a force independent of the late-Victorian corruption around her, and often requires the mass immolation (sometimes literally) of those whose sexual morals are not up to the novel’s par. Andrew Smith has argued of the neo-Victorian Gothic that “the past […] appears to re-energise the present and transforms political views and private lives” (71). Similarly, Dracula’s temporal otherness—as remnant of a historical past and potential inhabitant of an as-yet unknown future—turns him into a suitable vehicle for historical critique. Vampire eroticism, which allows both male and female to penetrate and be penetrated, suggests that women may express desire actively as well as succumb to it passively (although the Dracula romances noticeably downplay the violence and exploitation also suggested by feeding on another). Moreover, the close connection between sexuality and feeding suggests that monogamy may not be a requirement for romance—the vampire, after all, needs many sources of food. In that sense, the Dracula-Mina romance plot also puts the adultery plot onto a collision course with the far less familiar polygamy plot. And even though it is Dracula who redirects Mina’s sexual energies, he inadvertently redirects them towards her husband: unlike the wayward Lucy, Mina’s sexuality will reach its full flowering only in her choice of monogamy. [End Page 8]

Mina makes her choice: Dracula in Love

Here, let me slow down and offer a closer analysis of a single novel, Essex’s Dracula in Love, to see how this narrative strategy plays out in practice. Essex’s Mina is associated with the Celtic supernatural: her adult self exists in a disenchanted world, in which spirits do not communicate with humans and animals have no intelligible speech, but her encounter with Dracula restores her awareness of the organic connection between natural and supernatural, body and spirit. In effect, Mina experiences the world through the point of view of what Charles Taylor calls the “buffered self,” grounded in reason, and believing in the possibility “of disengaging from whatever is beyond the boundary, and of giving its own autonomous order to its life”; the novel’s plot, by contrast, promises the utopian return of a “porous self,” in which the “extra-human” shapes human experience “emotionally and spiritually” (38-39, 40).[6] The novel actually begins with an attempted rape (real or imagined), from which Mina is rescued by a mysterious gentleman whom she compares to “the image of the Christ welcoming his flock” (Essex 9). This sacralized Dracula is the savior, the comforter; moreover, Mina’s instinctive response anticipates Dracula’s eventual revelation that his vampirism developed from a “sect of warrior monks,” who argued, in a revisionist reading of the Eucharist, that “drinking blood was the secret to life everlasting” (Essex 273-274). Mina has grasped something of significance: from the get-go the novel associates human male sexuality, especially sexual penetration, with violence, cruelty, and a will to power over women, whereas Dracula’s violence is pure, redemptive (albeit within the context of what turns out to be a very Dan Brown-type vision of Christianity, rooted in esotericism and conspiracy theory). What Mina sees around her confirms her anxieties about sex: after all, a former friend, betrayed by her lover, is now forced to walk the streets, an example of how male sexuality turns women into consumable objects (Essex 23).

Mina’s not-yet-blooming eroticism is at a standstill between two poles, the voyeuristic and the physical—a position echoed by Jonathan’s own inability to reconcile his moral and desiring selves. The journalist Kate Reed (a character initially conceived by Stoker for Dracula, then deleted) points out that Mina had enjoyed a performance by two drag kings and that, in general, she is very much “the daring sort” (Essex 24; emphasis in original). Mina’s adventurousness, in other words, is confined to the gaze, and stops short at the actual sexual act; moreover, her self-imposed limitations are echoed by her fiancé Jonathan, who considers himself, in Mina’s words, a “thoroughly modern man” (Essex 33), and yet plans to have a stereotypical marriage in which Mina will be his “princess” (Essex 34). This fantasy, which casts the bride as the protected virgin to Jonathan’s manly, knightly protector, fails to survive Jonathan’s adventure in Dracula’s castle and afterwards. Jonathan confesses that he “succumbed to what were the most overt advances,” but that later, under the power of multiple women who “shared me among them,” he “felt as if I had no choice in the matter, that my will was entirely suppressed” (Essex 149, 151). Despite the phrasing, neither Mina nor the novel distinguishes between the self-justification of the first instance (Essex 149-50) and what appears to be rape in the second; instead, Mina, Jonathan, and, indeed, Dracula cast these incidents as equivalent sexual and emotional betrayals. Jonathan’s lack of masculine “will” signals his incapacity as a good husband and foreshadows more frightening betrayals. But simultaneously, Jonathan’s and Mina’s joint possessiveness also marks the boundary line between Victorian past and modern “us”: the two characters must journey beyond this phase [End Page 9] of their emotional existence to enter into a modernized, more egalitarian relationship. First, though, they require Dracula.

The conflict between Dracula and Jonathan plays up the tension between Mina’s desire for liberty and Jonathan’s interest in being a Disney prince. The battleground is Mina’s autoerotic self-discovery: in caressing her own body, she simultaneously becomes aware of literal hidden depths and of the perils of her exploration. “It felt like nothing I had ever felt before,” she muses of her own interior, “soft and smooth, and empty and full at the same time, a moist cushion of a cave” (Essex 46). She becomes aware that she is somehow split, that culture has decreed that her own body must remain a mystery. The Dracula romance plot promises to heal that split, in much the same way that it promises to reenchant Mina’s sense of the world. But first, she must overcome her own fear of independence, which sends her to “Lucy’s exuberant company, where we might share excitement about our destiny as brides” (Essex 47). Marriage, Mina thinks later, is supposed to provide “order” (Essex 157). The marriage plot promises to transform the unruly, disruptive energies of desire into something organized, socially legitimated, and carefully controlled. “Destiny,” too, implies that marriage is a given, a pre-determined rather than a freely chosen state. The irony, however, is that Lucy is feeling no such excitement, as she prefers her secret affair with the artistic Morris over her conventional future with Arthur. In that sense, the novel initially appears to shatter the romance plot altogether. Surely the future lies with Lucy’s unwillingness to adhere to social norms about female sexuality, rather than Mina’s investment in a comic romance plot that banishes chaos?

But that is not the case: Mina’s choice is between two husbands, not a lifetime of sexual libertinism. Nina Auerbach argues that Dracula is, in part, about forcing “the restraints of marriage” (loc. 1354) onto an unwilling young woman, but Essex and her fellow novelists recast the Dracula marriage question in terms of choice and inclination. “The choice is yours,” Dracula says, when Mina warns him that she might refuse to accompany him to Ireland (Essex 263); and again, Jonathan “chose to remain at the castle, just as you chose to stay with me” (Essex 281). Everyone, in other words, is a free agent.[7] Yet “choice” turns out to be in conflict with the romance plot—as well as with Jonathan’s own problematic sexual experiences with the vampire women. Granted, Dracula does bed Mina (or, at least, bite her) on her wedding night, but he does so under the guise of being her “true husband” (Essex 152). This encounter casts vampire sex as “communion” (Essex 154), with all the religious overtones that entails, and posits a perfect union between lover and beloved; it sharply contrasts with both Mina’s aborted wedding night and a later sexual encounter with Jonathan that leaves her “angry and humiliated” (Essex 234). Once again, Dracula the vampire usurps the position of Christ the bridegroom, while he also becomes the idealized eternal beloved. Yet an anxious Mina worries that she, too, has given in to chaotic desires, thinking that “Lucy had seemed possessed by the same passions that had consumed Jonathan and left him howling in the fields of Styria” (Essex 156). Communion, possession, consumption: does erotic desire lead the self to awareness, or is it a form of madness, or even a form of dangerous erasure? If the vampire offers an alternative to the corrupted sexuality of late-Victorian culture, does he merely point the way to another form of self-loss?

In fact, Lucy’s libertinism boomerangs into literal imprisonment in Seward’s asylum; the sexually free woman finds herself entrapped in a loveless marriage that reduces her to a bank account and a body at man’s beck and call. Stripped of direct control over her own finances, unwillingly sedated, Lucy finds that the marriage plot—which had included a [End Page 10] dream of Arthur as a forgiving, self-sacrificial angel—has become more Bluebeard than Cinderella. Part of her “treatment” under Von Helsinger is to be subjected to both Arthur’s and Seward’s sexual caresses, which inspires only “self-disgust” instead of her earlier exhilaration (Essex 179). Lucy’s initial sexual autonomy does not survive marriage. Instead, her plot morphs into a near parody of the neo-Victorian Gothic marriage, defined by male domination, sexual objectification, and commodification. As Mina soon discovers, Seward is aroused by constraining women in straitjackets—an obvious figure for male sexuality’s effects on women’s liberty. But he also proposes an adulterous relationship based on “empty[ing] our minds to each other” (Essex 215)—the mirror image of the perfect communion Mina experiences with the Count, which again raises the question of the latter’s desirability. It becomes difficult to separate communion from self-destruction.

To make matters worse, Seward, Von Helsinger, and even Jonathan turn against Mina by charging her with “sexual hysteria” (Essex 242), pathologizing female sexuality altogether. This nineteenth-century precursor to Freudianism again stands as Victorian “other” to our “now,” insofar as it subjects women’s sexual agency to male rule—literally imposing another one of Seward’s straitjackets on a wayward woman. The rejected Seward diagnoses Mina’s signs of sexuality as “erotomania” (Essex 243), a side effect of female biology that leaves women prey to their own passions. The sexual woman is a woman in thrall to her own body, rather than an autonomous, desiring subject. When Mina insists that she has not brought Dracula’s visitations upon herself, Von Helsinger sneers that “the female always feigns innocence when seducing the male” (241). This marks the end of the fantasy of Lucy’s sexual liberation: Von Helsinger’s contempt signals that men read female “virtue” as an act intended to cover for their libidinous excesses. For the men, the real monster here is the sexually active woman herself, who must be purged and brutalized (the water cure, for example) until she is rendered submissive. Even Jonathan demands that Mina “accommodate my wishes” (Essex 243), identifying proper masculinity with absolute control over women’s agency.

Luckily, before Mina can be raped, Dracula magically appears and whisks her away—a repetition of the Dracula-as-Christ analogy with which the novel began, but also an assertion of the vampire’s more-than-human masculine potency. As Dracula explains, Mina has “entered a magical kingdom” (Essex 266), finally rediscovering her true self in a world that unites the material and the spiritual. “Within you is the ability to fully integrate the body with eternal consciousness, to fuse flesh with spirit” (Essex 283), Dracula promises, in stark contrast to the novel’s more punitive uses of Christianity for sexual and social discipline. (Jonathan, after all, argues that the diagnosis of Mina’s sexual hysteria is divine providence in action [Essex 244].) As in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mina is “eternally united” (Essex 267) to the Count, her soulmate—who, of course, also turns out to be an incredible lover. Where the narrative shunted Lucy from freewheeling sexuality to imprisonment and death, it whirls Mina in the opposite direction; where Lucy’s eroticism was material, Mina’s turns out to be literally on a higher plane of existence. It is not clear if this is supposed to be ancient wisdom or backdated New Age thinking, as Dracula sources part of his enlightenment to a stereotypical variant of Kali worship, complete with heavily sexualized (and, it is hinted, homoerotic) rites (Essex 293).

Vampiric eroticism turns out to be a syncretic version of all purportedly blood-obsessed religions, joined together with the immortality conferred by the blood of the Sidhe (Essex 304); in that sense, it is a global construct incorporating East and West, monotheism [End Page 11] and polytheism, paganism and Christianity, mortal and faerie. A by-product of the Crusades, post-medieval vampirism turns out to be a variant on the imperialism practiced by the late-Victorian British. But this is supposedly a kind of counter-imperialism that rejects territorial conquest. Dracula’s sexual and spiritual enlightenment derives from an anti-materialist worldview ruled out by Mina’s late-Victorian cultural context: the vampire hunters, entranced by biology and hard cash, fixate on the physical (the blood, the body) rather than on the ineffable (the exchange of energies between vampire and prey). As Dracula explains, Von Helsinger is wrong to believe that “the blood draining” is what affects victims; instead, it is “the exposure to our power” that kills them, sometimes accidentally (Essex 282). Von Helsinger’s attempt to breed up a new race thus finds its transcendent match in the vampire’s immortal perfections, which ultimately break down the boundaries between bodies and souls.

While Dracula conjures up visions of a new broad path to salvation, the novel instead leaves us with a rejuvenated understanding of heterosexuality, now appropriately updated to include both love and non-pathologized eroticism. As Gary Waller has pointed out, vampire narratives default to heterosexual marriage in the end, and these novels are no different (loc. 3095; cf. Botting 160).[8] In that sense, the novel is perhaps more Victorian than the author recognizes: Mina’s and Jonathan’s mutual embrace of a new domesticity, founded on egalitarian principles, is precisely the kind of “love which is based on a deep respect” that Victorian feminists like Josephine Butler thought would rejuvenate the institution of marriage (xxxiii). The problem is Mina’s baby, as it also is in Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape and James’ Dracula, My Love. Mina immediately terminates her romantic relationship with Dracula in order to prioritize her child’s needs, opting for the relatively uninteresting Jonathan (the good provider) over the flamboyant vampire (the good lover). Far from being the “generally perfect” lover whose “ability to love and be loved is just another aspect of that perfection” (Mukherjea 13), Dracula turns out to be not just useless as a romantic companion, but also incapable of understanding compromise, self-sacrifice, or even the possibility of development. For Essex, the novel’s key narrative tension plays out explicitly as a matter of a woman’s power to choose, and the vampire reveals his inadequacy as a potential lifemate once Mina chooses something other than sexual freedom. Dracula knows Mina will choose Jonathan and the baby because “you have destroyed our love time and again with your foolish choices” (Essex 333). Their fantastic union of souls across time thus collapses into bathetic failure, as the vampire pursues the beloved he knows he will lose, and whose mind he is eternally doomed not to understand. Fred Botting suggests that Anne Rice’s vampires seek romance as the last available route to “meaning, faith and credibility” (84), but are always doomed to find it inadequate; however, Essex’s Dracula disqualifies himself not because his dreams of romance are too cosmic in their implications, but for the far more mundane reason that they are solely about his own wants. The novel castigates any self-gratifying female sexuality as a potential loss of liberty, yet equally warns that sex without male emotional reciprocity is just as dangerous. Far from celebrating the substitution of “romantic passion” for a lost religious faith (Hallab 121; cf. Williamson 44), the novel constrains such passions in maternal concerns. Dracula may believe that his erotic encounters with Mina are “a way to create a family or create a substitute for a family” (Nakagawa), but his fantasy of an eternal pair-bond cannot accommodate biological reproduction, let alone the demands of child-rearing. Mina’s choice to raise her child with [End Page 12] Jonathan can only strike Dracula as selfish, and the vampire’s inability to comprehend self-sacrifice and self-control indicates the limitations of his allure.

By contrast, when Mina unwillingly reunites with Jonathan, he insists that he will make himself “worthy” to be the child’s father (Essex 354). Mina vanquishes the vampire not by staking him, but by choosing a man who is more other-directed, more aware of himself as a man in need of moral improvement. Jolted into self-consciousness through his encounter with the vampire, Jonathan at least hints at the possibility that male monstrosity can be tamed or sublimated. But Mina’s choice also suggests that the freer world of vampire sexuality is a childlike world—a place “for children who have not yet come to terms with life’s realities” (Crawford 94)—that must be abandoned for a life in which, for both sexes, fulfillment encompasses attending to the needs of others. Dracula’s childishness manifests itself less in his criminality and more in his sexuality, which cannot brook the possibility of restraint on the satisfaction of any and all immediate desires. Jonathan can seek moral redemption; Dracula, forever engaged in the same unsatisfactory quest for his one beloved woman, is not even capable of thinking himself out of his self-imposed romantic imprisonment, a failing that ultimately aligns him with the corrupt human men he professes to despise. Unlike the type of romantic vampire hero whose desire for gore conceals his “true character” (Franiuk and Scherr 19), Dracula is exactly what he appears to be on the surface, and proves himself unable to be anything else.

Conclusion: vampires and the Victorian sexual other

The vampire’s narrative function, then, is less to provide an acceptable life choice than, as an “idealised mirror of human states” (Botting 82), to render Victorian constructions of female sexuality painfully apparent, and in this novel, as in many others, he enables Mina to understand how her needs have been confined within the narrow parameters of nineteenth-century sexual conventions.[9] “I told him [Jonathan] that I loved him,” Elaine Bergstrom’s Mina notes in her journal, “then asked him to decide if he can love me with the passion I need” (Bergstrom 325). Dracula, the “other,” instead others the Victorians, whose sexual repressions become monstrosities that can only be overcome through an energized marriage bed. In Dracula in Love, Mina and Jonathan, having passed through the fires of infidelity, now enjoy a “world of infinite sensuousness” (Essex 367), but they do so safely in the comfort of their own home. Having explored alternatives to monogamy, in other words, the characters choose monogamous married life, while reserving their more outrageous experiments for the privacy of the bedroom. Instead of asking the female protagonist to make a “sacrifice of sexual love” (Weisser 78; cf. Sturgeon-Dodsworth 175-76), for the greater good, Dracula in Love and the other Dracula romances insist that the heroine’s monstrous erotic past is the necessary prologue for her marital future—even if, as in Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, true erotic satisfaction only happens when Mina enters her undead future with the Count. Here, then, is a modern egalitarian marriage, founded solidly on the bedrock of romantic ideals of perfect companionate relationships between men and women—indeed, the novel’s conclusion could come straight out of Jane Eyre, if one ignored the blood. At the same time, despite endorsing women’s sexual pleasure, the novel pathologizes anything that does not look like “normal” human sex—Seward’s sadomasochistic tendencies, for example. [End Page 13] The “new” modern woman ultimately confines herself to celebrating the mutual recognition of complementary male and female desires within otherwise traditional marriage.[10]

Many neo-Victorian novels have no happy ending for their heroines, entrapped in Gothic narratives in which male sexuality is irredeemably monstrous. The Dracula pastiches try to solve the problem by introducing a literally otherworldly mode of male sexual identity. Mina becomes thoroughly modern by defeating Dracula, not by killing him (usually) but, rather, by asserting autonomy through rational choice: she endorses his vision of desire and then transforms it into a new form of marriage that rests on a fully privatized form of sexual egalitarianism. Lucy Westenra, the woman who prioritizes desire over marriage, must be evacuated from the narrative. So, too, must men whose lusts manifest themselves primarily through a desire for absolute control over female bodies. Yet Mina’s choice of monogamy with the “right” man—who usually turns out to not be Dracula—does nothing to challenge the conditions under which late-Victorian men have become monstrous, conditions that seem as magical as the vampire himself. That it takes an interview with the vampire in order to get from “them” to “us” hints at a conceptual blockage about sex, and particularly male sexuality, in neo-Victorian fiction.[11]


[1] Gelder notes that these novels, along with others like those by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, strongly resemble “women’s romance—notably, the tracing out of the vampire’s search for fulfilment, for a ‘complete’ love relationship” (109).

[2] For critiques of Twilight’s sexual politics, see, e.g., Jennings and Wilson; Kane; Platt.

[3] Kohlke argues that Fingersmith’s conclusion is far more ambivalent than it first appears (“Neo-Victorian Female Gothic” 224).

[4] Similar attempts to date this trend have ranged from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first: see, e.g., Clements; Crawford 46-59; Hessels 62; Nakagawa; Poole 211-14. By contrast, Williamson dates the “sympathetic vampire” to the mid-nineteenth century (30-36).

[5] Abbott argues that “[t]he vampire is in a constant state of disintegration and renewal, and it is through this process that it is intrinsically linked to the modern world, which is also perpetually in the throes of massive change” (loc. 140).

[6] Nelson suggestively argues that the allure of vampires is, in part, due to “desiring to experience a reality beyond the material world, even if the need itself is not consciously acknowledged and even if the only vehicles available are the uniformly dark imaginary supernatural characters that pop culture presents outside organized religion” (133).

[7] It is worth noting that Essex’s interest in “choice” does not really follow Karen Sturgeon-Dodsworth’s critique of neo-Victorian fiction, in which such “choice” rests on the assumption that “emancipation has already irrefutably occurred” (174). Both Essex’s novel and the other Dracula pastiches are quite emphatic that without the vampire’s intervention, emancipation is impossible within the constraints of contemporary Victorian culture.

[8] Insofar as the novels reject Dracula as a romantic option, however, they deviate from current trends in vampire romance fiction, in which vampires “really are just like us, and all they really want is to live quietly in a monogamous marriage with the person they love” (Crawford 87).

[9] This narrative outcome complicates Łuksza’s argument that modern vampire romances turn the “damsel in distress” plot into a story about resistance, self-sufficiency, and [End Page 14] personal development (435). In Essex’s novel, Mina tends to remain in distress until Dracula comes to the rescue, and her self-discovery cannot be separated from Jonathan’s.

[10] This trend is even more obvious in both Warrington’s Dracula the Undead and Stoker’s Dracula the Un-Dead: the former has an evil lesbian vampire and two evil gay vampires, the latter an evil lesbian vampire. Cf. Crawford on other vampire romances (78-81; 115).

[11] This article is based on a presentation originally delivered at the Neo-Victorian Cultures conference at Liverpool John Moores University in 2013. I am grateful to Nadine Muller for her comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

[End Page 15]

Works Cited

Abbott, Stacey. Celluloid Vampires: Life after Death in the Modern World. University of Texas Press, 2007. Amazon Digital Services.

Ames, Melissa. “Twilight Follows Tradition: Analyzing ‘Biting’ Critiques of Vampire Narratives for Their Portrayals of Gender and Sexuality.” Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, and the Vampire Franchise, edited by Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, Peter Lang, 2010, pp. 37-54.

Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. 1997. University of Chicago Press, 2012. Amazon Digital Services.

Bailie, Helen T. “Blood Ties: The Vampire Lover in the Popular Romance.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 34, no. 2, June 2011, pp. 141-48.

“Bergstrom, Elaine” [pseud. Marie Kiraly]. Mina. Berkley Books, 1994.

Booth, Faye L. Trades of the Flesh. TOR, 2009.

Botting, Fred. Gothic Romanced: Consumption, Gender, and Technology in Contemporary Fictions. Routledge, 2008.

Butler, Erik. Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732-1933. Camden House, 2010. Amazon Digital Services.

Butler, Josephine E. “Introduction.” Woman’s Work and Woman’s Culture. A Series of Essays, edited by Josephine E. Butler, Macmillan, 1869, vii-lxiv.

Clements, Susannah. The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero. Brazos Press, 2011.

Craft, Christopher. “‘Kiss me with those red lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Representations, vol. 8, Autumn 1984, pp. 107-33.

Crawford, Joseph. The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance. University of Wales Press, 2014.

Darby, Katy. The Whore’s Asylum; or, the Unpierc’d Heart. Fig Tree, 2012.

Day, William Patrick. Vampire Legends in Contemporary Culture: What Becomes a Legend Most. University Press of Kentucky, 2002.

Ebert, Teresa. “The Romance of Patriarchy: Ideology, Subjectivity, and Postmodern Feminist Cultural Theory.” Cultural Critique, vol. 10, 1988: 19-57.

Essex, Karen. Dracula in Love. Anchor, 2010.

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

Franiuk, Renae and Samantha Scherr. “‘The Lion Fell in Love with the Lamb’: Gender, Violence, and Vampires.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, 2013, pp. 14-28.

Gelder, Ken. Reading the Vampire. Routledge, 1994.

Halberstam, [Jack]. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Duke University Press, 1995.

Hallab, Mary Y. Vampire God: The Allure of the Undead in Western Culture. State University of New York Press, 2009.

Heilmann, Ann and Mark Llewellyn. Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999-2009. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Hessels, Sandra. “‘Evil is a Point of View: Anne Rice’s (Post-)Modern Vampire.” Nostalgia or Perversion? Gothic Rewriting from the Eighteenth Century until the Present Day, edited by Isabella van Elferen, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, pp. 60-72.

[End Page 16]

James, Syrie. “Dracula: The Roots of the Vampire Romance.” Huffington Post, 19 July 2010,           http://www.huffingtonpost.com/syrie-james/dracula-the-roots-of-the_b_651013.html. Accessed 7 April 2019.

—. Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker. William Morrow, 2010.

Jennings, Hope and Christine Wilson. “Disciplinary Lessons: Myth, Female Desire, and the Monstrous Maternal in Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight Series.” Images of the Modern Vampire: The Hip and the Atavistic, edited by Barbara Brodman and James E. Doan, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2013, pp. 161-74.

Kane, Kathryn. “A Very Queer Refusal: The Chilling Effect of the Cullens’ Heteronormative Embrace.” Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, and the Vampire Franchise, edited by Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, Peter Lang, 2010, pp. 103-18.

Kohlke, Marie-Luise. “The Neo-Victorian Sexsation: Literary Excursions into the Nineteenth Century Erotic.” Negotiating Sexual Idioms: Image, Text, Performance, edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Luisa Orza, Rodopi, 2008, pp. 53-80.

—. “Neo-Victorian Female Gothic: Fantasies of Self-Abjection.” Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror, Violence, and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century, edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben, Rodopi, 2012, pp. 51-74.

—. “The Lures of Neo-Victorian Presentism (with a Feminist Case Study of Penny Dreadful).” Literature Compass, vol. 15, 2018, 1-14.

Letissier, Georges. “More than Kith and Less than Kin: Queering the Family in Sarah Waters’ Neo-Victorian Fictions.” Neo-Victorian Families: Gender, Sexual and Cultural Politics, edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben, Rodopi, 2011, pp. 365-94.

Łuksza, Agata. “Sleeping with a Vampire: Empowerment, Submission, and Female Desire in Contemporary Vampire Fiction.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 2015, pp. 229-43.

Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Nineteenth-Century England. Basic Books, 1975.

Mukherjea, Ananya. “My Vampire Boyfriend: Postfeminism, ‘Perfect’ Masculinity, and the Contemporary Appeal of Paranormal Romance.” Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 33, no. 2, Spring 2011, pp. 1-20.

Nakagawa, Chiho. “Safe Sex with Defanged Vampires: New Vampire Heroes in Twilight and the Southern Vampire Mysteries.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, October 2011, n.p.

Nelson, Victoria. Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural. Harvard University Press, 2012.

Platt, Carrie Ann. “Cullen Family Values: Gender and Sexual Politics in the Twilight Series.” Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, and the Vampire Franchise, edited by Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, Peter Lang, 2010, pp. 71-86.

Poole, W. Scott. Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Baylor University Press, 2011.

Prescott, Charles E. and Grace A. Giorgio. “Vampiric Affinities: Mina Harker and the Paradox of Femininity in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 33, no. 2, September 2005, pp. 487-515.

[End Page 17]

Rabine, Leslie. Reading the Romantic Heroine: Text, History, Ideology. University of Michigan Press, 1985.

Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. 1984. University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Roach, Catherine. “Getting a Good Man to Love: Popular Romance Fiction and the Problem of Patriarchy.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, n.p.

Saberhagen, Fred. The Dracula Tape. 1975. Tor, 1990.

Sturgeon-Dodsworth, Karen. “‘Whatever it is that you desire, halve it’: The Compromising of Contemporary Femininities in Neo-Victorian Fictions.” Twenty-First Century Feminism: Forming and Performing Femininity, edited by Claire Nally and Angela Smith, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 164-83.

Smith, Andrew. “The Limits of Neo-Victorian History: Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and The Swan Thieves.” Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror, Violence, and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century, edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben, Rodopi, 2012, pp. 51-74.

Stoker, Dacre and Ian Holt. Dracula the Un-Dead. Dutton, 2009.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

Tenga, Angela and Elizabeth Zimmerman. “Vampire Gentlemen and Zombie Beasts: A Rendering of True Monstrosity.” Gothic Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, May 2013, pp. 76-87.

Waller, Gary. The Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies. 1986. University of Illinois Press, 2010. Amazon Digital Services.

Warrington, Freda. Dracula the Undead. 1997. Severn House, 2009.

Weisser, Susan Ostrov. The Glass Slipper: Women and Love Stories. Rutgers University Press, 2013.

Williamson, Milly. The Lure of the Vampire: Gender, Fiction, and Fandom from Bram Stoker to Buffy. Wallflower Press, 2005.

Wilt, Judith. Women Writers and the Hero of Romance. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Zanger, Jules. “Metaphor into Metonymy: The Vampire Next Door.” Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, pp. 17-26.

Zidle, Abby. “From Bodice-Ripper to Baby-Sitter: The New Hero in Mass-Market Romance.” Romantic Conventions, edited by Anne K. Kaler and Rosemary E. Johnson-Kurek, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999, pp. 23-34.

[End Page 18]

Share

Chamorro WWII Romances: Combating Erasure with Tales of Survival and Vitality
by Carolina Fernández Rodríguez

[End Page 1]

 1. “Representational theft”: The academic erasure of Chamorro/Chamoru literature

Current US literary studies often fail to pay attention to the literatures produced in the US Pacific territories (Guam/Guåhan, Northern Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands and American Samoa),[1] which results in an effective form of “academic erasure” of those literatures, the people who live in said territories, their culture and their strategies of resistance to US colonial policies. Lack of proper coverage of those literatures in university courses, conferences and journals has actually contributed to a “representational theft” (Santos Perez, “Thieves” 160) and to the colonial subjugation of those texts. Borrowing Lujan Bevacqua’s metaphors, one could say that, like the culture they emanate from, those texts are often seen as nothing but “footnotes to the American empire,” “[s]mall islands of text” at the “margins of national importance,” and “excesses” that do not really belong in the grand picture of US literature (120-121).

This paper aims to at least partially palliate that “representational theft” by focusing on two romance novels whose main plots develop during WWII: Conquered by Paula Quinene (2016) and A Mansion on the Moon by Cathy Sablan Gault (2015). Considering that both texts belong to the genre of romance, the most vituperated of all literary genres, and also that their writers are Chamorro, and thus marginal to the mainstream canon of US romance authors, those novels might have been, in principle, condemned to oblivion. However, I will argue that an in-depth analysis of both works is worthwhile for a variety of reasons. First, the study of those two novels shows a number of strategies that undermine common under- or misrepresentations of Chamorro culture. Areas of the supposed “demise” of the latter are, in fact, powerfully revitalized in said novels through means that include, apart from obviously political comments, other much more subtle tactics, such as the inscription of Chamorro myths, the use of indigenous English, the representation of interracial love, and the portrayal of syncretic cultural practices. Second, a careful study of those two novels illustrates an interesting evolution in the genre of the romance, which historically has been mostly written by white writers. The Pacific has often featured as an exotic setting in romantic novels by US and European authors, who have tended to offer stereotypical representations of minority ethnic groups. The two Chamorro romances studied in this paper, however, deviate from those conventional “Pacificist” (Lyons) depictions[2] and thus help reinvigorate the genre, as will be shown. Third, the two novels under consideration offer a departure from predictable representations of islands in popular literature, thus reconfiguring some of the tenets of Island Studies. Last but not least, shedding light upon Chamorro writers can help to combat the entrenched neglect that Guamanian literature has endured in academic circles, and to reinforce so-called “Archipelagic American Studies” (Santos Perez, “Transterritorial” 619), the ultimate goal being to inscribe Guam in the American literary imagination.[3]

2. Guam, “a neocolonial limbo”

The colonial history of Guam is a long and complex one. The first European to land on Guam was Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer who set foot on the island in 1521 and thought the natives were all “inveterate thieves” (Kinzer 101) after they carried away [End Page 2] “anything loose” and a skiff from his ship (Rogers, Destiny’s 7). The Spanish and Portuguese crew interpreted this incident as theft, which is why Magellan christened the Marianas “Islas de los Ladrones,” or “Islands of the Thieves,” and harshly punished some of the indigenous Chamorros, who, for their part, saw it as fair trade for the fresh food and water they were giving to the Spanish (Rogers, Destiny’s 8). For a number of years after this, no other Spaniard was interested in Guam. Then, in 1565, Spain took formal possession of the island, only to neglect it once again and to use it as simply a provisioning stop between New Spain (Mexico) and Manila in the Philippines (Hezel 116). In 1668, Jesuit Diego Luis de Sanvitores was officially sent to the island to start a missionary enterprise. He was accompanied by a small group of Jesuits, some Filipino lay helpers and a small garrison (Hezel 117). The Spanish colonizing mission was not a peaceful one. Sanvitores’s arrival was followed by years of hostility and bloodshed known as the Spanish-Chamorro Wars (1668-1695). In 1695, when the last native opposition to Spanish rule was crushed, Spanish missionaries’ work proceeded “unimpeded in baptizing and instructing the remainder of the population” (Hezel 131), drastically reduced after battlefield losses and epidemics (Kinzer).

The Spanish rule came to an end in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. Guam was peacefully taken by the US in 24 hours, as the Spanish garrison on the island was very poorly defended. President McKinley decreed that the island would be considered “a naval station, ruled by an officer with absolute power” (Kinzer 102). Thus Guam became a “highly valuable strategic base” that Americans have used to protect commercial and military power across the Pacific and East Asia (Kinzer 100). In the years before WWII, Guam was ruled by a succession of navy officers who banned gambling, cockfighting, interracial marriage, male nudity and even the ringing of church bells, which some found a nuisance (Kinzer 103). From the very beginning, Guamanians started to demand that they be given citizenship rights, but a 1901 Supreme Court decision known as “Insular cases” or Downes v. Bidwell rejected a petition to give political rights to people in Guam and Puerto Rico on the basis that those “possessions are inhabited by alien races” and that the administration of government and justice according to Anglo-Saxon principles “may for a time be impossible” (Kinzer 103). This Supreme Court ruling was in accordance with the Navy’s assessment of Chamorro people, recurrently described in the reports of the US Navy and of the island’s governors as “disease-infested,” “isolated,” “haunted by superstition,” “listless, ambitionless, unorganized,” as well as “poor,” “ignorant,” “in dire need of rescue,” and “dirty,” though “gentle and very religious” (Perez Hattori, “Navy” 13-17). All these stereotypes served several purposes. For one, the Navy could present itself as a benevolent entity that primarily acted on behalf of Chamorros, not of the US militaristic purposes. Denying the natives all political rights was not to be seen as an undemocratic practice, but rather as the direct consequence of Chamorros’ backwardness and underdevelopment.[4] “Benevolent assimilation,” in the words of President McKinley, would be the US main goal on the island (Perez Hattori, “Navy” 15).

During WWII, Guam was seized by the Japanese from December 8, 1941 to July 21, 1944. The Japanese vision of the newly occupied area did not differ from that of its former colonizers. Guam, like the other islands of the Marianas, was limited in its resources, had been severely exploited by the US and other European powers, its cultural development was “immensely arrested,” and Chamorros were incapable of political self-determination (Higuchi 21). Under the Japanese occupation, many Chamorros were put in concentration camps and were brutally treated. When the American forces arrived in Guam on “Liberation Day” (July 21, 1944) and after several weeks of heavy bombardment managed to take the [End Page 3] island away from the Japanese, many Chamorros expressed sincere gratefulness to the Americans. Nonetheless, soon after the renewal of US rule, a number of factors stimulated the revival of the citizenship movement. These included the Navy’s setting up of two commissions whose aim was to confiscate land “in the interest of the new Guam” (Maga 68); the governor’s resettlement plans, which uprooted many Guamanians from their lands and redistributed them throughout the island; the so-called off-limits policy, which placed certain villages and farming areas under naval control; and the fact that the land expropriation policies were not necessarily followed by economic compensation. Spurred by the frustration that these policies caused, the leaders of Guam’s citizenship movement started to work towards the achievement of political rights and legislative power for the Guam Congress, which was simply an advisory body since its creation in 1917 (Maga). Their efforts came to a fruitful end in 1950, when the Guam Organic Act finally conferred US citizenship on the island’s residents. Besides granting American citizenship, the Organic Act declared Guam an “unincorporated territory,” extended the Bill of Rights to all Guamanians, gave them territorial government, and determined the relations of the island with the federal government were to be conducted through the Department of the Interior. In the 1970s Guamanians were also allowed to elect their own governors (Maga). Today some residents see US rule as positive to the economy and the protection of the island, but others resent living in “a neocolonial limbo,” as historian Robert Rogers has put it (“Guam’s” 50). This condition is “quite satisfactory for U.S. national security interests, but is increasingly anachronistic,” as while “the other islands of Micronesia have moved toward resolution of their final political identities,” Guam remains a US “unsinkable” military base in the Pacific (Rogers, “Guam’s” 50-51).

That the US has pursued a policy of imperialism in Oceania has been documented by a number of scholars. Charles J. Weeks, for instance, has demonstrated that the US has “helped to increase the level of dependence throughout the area” (124), while Brandy N. McDougall has brought attention to the mechanisms through which the US reinforces its control of the region, namely a complex balance between “strategic invisibility,” which keeps the area out of the popular and the scholarly imaginary (but central in military discourse), and “narrow visibility,” which allows Americans to view the Pacific only as “paradise with hospitable, happy natives” (39). Similarly, Lisa K. Hall has explained America’s imperialism in Oceania as being based on four different types of “erasure”: conceptual, spatial, racial and political (274-276). For twenty-first-century Chamorros, this means, among other things, denial of the right to vote in US presidential elections.

3. Telling tales of demise… and of survival and vitality

The rich multiculturalism that characterizes present-day Guam and the creolized culture that has been brought on by centuries of intercultural mixing is undeniable (Misco and Lee 416). However, so are the conflicts of identity and cultural belonging that Chamorros have experienced and continue to battle with, as well as the “cultural genocide” (Rapadas et al.) caused by centuries of colonialism. In the past, said genocide materialized in a number of ways: the death of the majority of the Chamorro population after the Spanish-Chamorro Wars, the transformation of the Chamorro language, the dismantling of the matrilineal [End Page 4] hierarchy system, and the introduction of Christianity (which displaced the native naturalistic religion). To all those issues that have affected Chamorros in previous times one should add present-day higher rates of health problems, suicides and family violence compared to other residents of Guam (Misco and Lee). The success of Americanization policies in the second half of the twentieth century further aggravated those circumstances. Today, only 22 percent of Guam’s residents speak Chamorro; and the imposition of American education, which showed total disregard for indigenous knowledge and epistemology, has established a segregated educational system. In addition, the island’s main sources of income have been reduced to two, and both are highly damaging for Guam’s ecosystems: tourism and the US military. The importance of the latter cannot be sufficiently stressed. On Guam “almost everyone has a connection to the military” (Misco and Lee 430). The US military continues taking over more land, and it is estimated that some thousands of troops will be moved from the island of Okinawa (Japan) to Guam, a “military buildup” (Letman) “which will result in the Chamorro becoming only 20% of the population” and, it is feared, in the subsequent demise of the decolonization movement (Misco and Lee 429).

Prophecies of doom for the Chamorros of Guam are not new. In his article “Simply Chamorro: Telling Tales of Demise and Survival in Guam,” Vicente Diaz brings into question the sense of foreboding expressed by the American folklorist Mavis Van Peenen in 1945. The wife of an American naval officer stationed on Guam right before the Japanese invasion, Van Peenen had dedicated herself to collecting Chamorro tales from the island in an attempt to halt what she saw as the impending demise of native folklore. Diaz’s article intends to counteract Van Peenen’s catastrophic premonitions by offering stories “not of death but of troubled life and contested identities” (Diaz 58). He does so by deconstructing each of the eight reasons Van Peenen had listed back in 1945 to prove her point that Chamorro culture was headed to its grave: the disappearance of the carabao, which the Chamorros have replaced with the pickup truck; storytelling, relegated by the movies; English, which has displaced the Chamorro language; Catholicism, which has taken over Chamorro spirituality; Chamorro girls, who increasingly marry American military men; Chamorro boys, who join the American armed forces in large numbers; finally, Chamorro youth, who settle far from Guam and gradually forget the stories of their ancestors.

To all these alleged disasters, Diaz offers a counter-story that is based on the idea that Chamorro culture should not be understood as a “neatly contained thing that was once upon a time characterized by essential qualities, pure and untainted” (31). Instead, history and culture should be viewed “as contested sites on which identities and communities are built and destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed, in highly charged ways” (Diaz 31). It is because of this that, as opposed to Van Peenen, he fails to recognize “death” in Guam, but, instead, sees “survival and vitality” (32) and states that “Chamorro history and culture are not about the tragic historical death of a collection of quaint native customs” (52). Rather than lamenting a bygone era, Diaz insists that scholars must “scrutinize the historical processes by which the natives have learned to work within and against the grain of such outsider attempts to colonize the Chamorro” and “look at the ways that the Chamorro have localized nonlocal ideas and practices” (53). Similarly, Lisa Hall has argued that scholars should endeavor to combat “erasure” of indigenous cultures by recognizing their specificity and particular circumstances and emphasizing “the need to bring the past forward into our consciousness” in an attempt to reconstruct tradition and memory, while bearing in mind that in the process of reconstruction “there is nothing simple or one-dimensional” (279). [End Page 5]

Political organizations like Chamoru Nation, the Organization of People for Indigenous Rights, the Republic of Guåhan, Taotao Guam, I Tao Tao Tano or the Chamorro Land Trust Commission have all brought up questions of self-determination, indigenous rights, cultural maintenance, and land issues such as indigenous land rights, government land acquisition, selling of land to capitalist investors, environmental degradation, and so on (Perez). Their activism is obviously a direct way of confronting the impact of colonialism and bringing indigeneity to the forefront. More relevant to my point here, and as noted by Brandy Nālani McDougall, since the 1960s, literature has also played a vital role in the process of reconstruction. For one thing, Pacific Islander authors have often written their texts in what Samoan writer and artist Albert Wendt has called “indigenized Englishes” (McDougall 39), which should not be seen as a case of colonial assimilation, but rather of cultural revitalization. Besides, many works have thematized ways of countering colonial hegemony, the impact and legacy of colonization, the effects of tourism and of living in the diaspora, the return to ancestral knowledge, issues related to nationalism and sovereignty, or the bond with land and ocean, among others (McDougall 39-40). In so doing, Chamorro writers have clearly worked “within and against the grain of such outsider attempts to colonize” them (Diaz 53).

Tragic tales of demise and of erasure should therefore not be taken as proof that Chamorro culture is being depleted of its vitality and strength. In fact, Chamorro writers offer ample evidence that colonialism, war, even massive destruction after WWII heavy bombardment, have been faced with resilience and followed by rebuilding. The works of writers such as Craig Santos Perez, Cecilia “Lee” Perez, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, or Anne Perez Hattori, to cite only a few of those listed by McDougall, testify to the transformation of the topography and cartography of the Chamorro land and culture, and to the latter’s reinvigoration. Their highly charged political literature has contributed to the reconstruction of tradition and memory, which, as pointed out by Hall, constitute essential elements for indigenous survival. For example, Anne Perez Hattori’s poem “Thieves” refers to Magellan’s christening the Marianas “Islands of the Thieves,” but in her text, Perez Hattori argues that Westerners were the real thieves, as they stole everything from Chamorros and now accuse them of not having the appropriate degree of Chamorro-ness, of being “Over-Americanized” and “Under-Chamoricized.” Hence, her poem unmasks Western misrepresentations and strives to inscribe a counter-memory that sets the record straight.

For its part, Lujan Bevacqua’s poem “My Island Is One Big American Footnote” denounces another example of “representational theft” (Santos Perez, “Thieves” 160), one that has attempted to reduce Chamorros to “footnotes” to the American empire that “no one bothers to read or quote,” “[s]mall islands of text” that are found “[o]ff the margins,” “[c]olonial dis-ease” that “cannot be incorporated for insane and inconsistent reasons,” “excesses that don’t really belong in this / ʻgloriousʼ document of democracy and freedom” (Lujan Bevacqua 120-121; emphasis in original). In his poem, denunciations of America’s imperialistic discourse and practices are accompanied by loud demands that Chamorros be allowed to choose their status (“Leave us to determine self-fully!”), so that they can stop being a footnote to the empire and can become, instead, the main body of a text: “A text of our own!” (122).

That Perez Hattori’s and Lujan Bevacqua’s poems play a vital role in debunking Western discourses and in reinvigorating Chamorros’ culture should not obscure the fact that both writers enjoy a high status that is conferred to them thanks to a number of factors: [End Page 6] they both produce overtly political poems, publish them in prestigious journals and work as university professors. One might rightfully question whether or not Chamorro culture can also be successfully revitalized through the work of lesser-known writers and literary genres with little critical approval, such as the romance novel. My point is that, in fact, so-called “lowbrow” literature can enhance Chamorro culture and activism just as much as “highbrow” texts. It is therefore my intention to analyze two romance novels in order to see the extent to which they participate in the telling of tales not of demise, but of survival, resistance and rebuilding on their own terms. As will be shown, those two romances deliberately “integrate the love ethic into a vision of political decolonization” (hooks 245), thus heeding bell hooks’ warning that “[w]ithout love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed” (hooks 243). Indeed, they put sentiment and affect center stage, and fully address the place of love in Chamorro struggles for liberation in the belief that “having love as the ethical foundation for politics […] we are best positioned to transform society in ways that enhance the collective good” (hooks 247). On top of that, the romances under analysis will prove Emily S. Davis’s claim that the romance is “an especially malleable tool for representing fluid political, sexual, and racial identities and coalitions” (2). In fact, as they harness “desires for bodies to desires for social change” (Davis 9), they are challenging their readers “to engage with tensions that cannot be resolved and that demand social change” (Davis 9; emphasis in original), and they  demonstrate that romantic relationships, regardless of their inherent intimate and personal nature, bear the imprint of the global and the traces of a political history that is gendered and transnationally mediated.

4. Chamorro romance as literary activism

Paula Quinene was born and raised on Guam, though she currently lives in North Carolina. In her own words, she was driven to write Conquered, her first novel, out of homesickness for Guam, or “mahålangness” (Conquered 325),[5] but also to “share and preserve Guam’s history in WWII, and to give thanks to the military” (April 3, 2017, personal email), with whom her family has close ties. Conquered is an erotic romance which tells the story of Jesi, a 19-year-old Chamorro woman whom readers meet on July 20, 1944, at the end of the Japanese occupation of Guam. She is hiding in a cave, away from the rest of her family, who have sought refuge in other caves. Four days later, worried that neither her father nor her brother, who often visit her, have come along for some time, she ventures outside the cave and is met by a group of Japanese soldiers who try to rape her. The Americans have already landed on Guam, and one officer in particular, Johan Landon, despite being wounded, manages to rescue her from the heinous Japanese soldiers. Jesi takes him to her cave and, thanks to her knowledge of medicinal herbs, cures his wounds. Soon after this, the Americans effectively liberate the island, Johan returns to his military post and Jesi’s family reunites.

Despite his initial reluctance to lead a happy and fulfilling life, as he is still mourning the death of his first wife, Johan cannot help falling in love with Jesi, so he courts her and eventually manages to secure her family’s approval to marry her. Like many other romance male protagonists, Johan is a “sentimental hero” (Regis, A Natural 113) that needs to be [End Page 7] emotionally healed by the novel’s heroine before he can successfully overcome the main barrier to their relationship, i.e. his pessimistic outlook on life. Added to that, Quinene’s characters face the challenges of belonging to different races and social classes: he is a rich Anglo American; she a Chamorro young woman whose family and island are devastated after years of Japanese occupation. As the genre demands, all these obstacles are properly overcome in due time, as are the various scenes of “ritual death” (Frye 179; Regis, “Complicating”; Regis, A Natural) that preclude the novel’s resolution. Yet, the novel finishes in a way that differs from many other romances, i.e. not with the marriage proposal or the wedding ceremony, but a few months after the marriage and with an unconventional family unit: an American officer married to a Chamorro woman and their two biracial babies.

A Mansion on the Moon, also a first novel, has a more complex storyline, as it actually recounts the lives of three generations of Chamorro women from the last days of the Spanish rule to the aftermath of WWII. Its author, Cathy Sablan Gault, is a Chamorro journalist and public affairs professional. In her words, she wanted to insert pieces of her own life into the novel, stories she had heard while growing up, and different aspects of Chamorro culture: “What’s the sense of writing it if we couldn’t share who we were. And that was part of the point too. I wanted to share titiyas, and Piti, and Tan Chai as we spoke it” (“Cathy Sablan Gault writes first novel”). Her romance begins in 1899 with the story of Amanda de Leon, a 16-year-old Chamorro woman with some Castilian blood. However, the novel’s last and most substantial part focuses on Amanda’s granddaughter, Vivian, born in 1920 to Tino, a Chamorro engineer, and a mother who dies in 1925.

In 1940, when Vivian is 20 years old, she meets 25-year-old Philip Avery, an American US civil engineer and navy officer who rents a room at Tino’s house in Agaña, Guam’s capital city. Philip’s family is a rich one. Unencumbered by money, up until now Philip has conducted himself as a careless playboy: that is, as an “alpha male” (Regis, A Natural 112) who will have to be tamed by the heroine. In fact, on meeting Vivian, he is shocked at discovering a burgeoning feeling of love in his heart, and for a large part of the story he is troubled by the differences of class, education and race between Vivian and himself, as well as by the fact that he aspires to have a successful military career but is certain that marrying Vivian will ruin his prospects of success. This is one of the challenges that this couple need to overcome, but by no means the smallest of their troubles. When Philip finally decides to choose Vivian over his career, he suffers a fatal accident that leaves him in a coma for months. By the time he has fully overcome this “ritual death,”[6] he is on the mainland and the Japanese have occupied Guam, so he cannot get through to Vivian to tell her his desire to marry her. Meanwhile, Vivian and her father hide themselves from the Japanese in the jungle, but are finally caught and taken to a concentration camp where Vivian herself painfully recovers from a brutal beating she received from a Japanese soldier who had tried to rape her. After the US liberation of Guam, Philip returns to the island in search of Vivian, carrying an engagement ring he had been willing to give her since before his car accident. He finds her on one of the makeshift campsites the Americans built for the displaced Chamorros who had lost their homes during the Japanese occupation and the American bombardment, and, after securing her father’s consent, asks her to marry him. She happily accepts, and both hug each other tightly in the novel’s final scene, feeling that love will conquer all the problems they will surely encounter, as Philip intends to leave Guam if his military career so decrees it.

These summaries of the two romances under study prove that to some extent both follow many of the staple characteristics of the genre: the main characters meet early on in [End Page 8] the story and feel irresistibly and irrationally attracted to each other; soon after their encounter, they are forced to overcome one or several barriers, and just when everything seems to be looking better they are badly hit by destiny and forced to undergo a “ritual death” from which they finally emerge victorious, if scarred, and ready to embrace marriage, the genre’s compulsory happy ending. This being true, it is no less certain that these two novels also show three features that make them stand out from other insular romances: in both of them the island setting fails to appear as an exotic paradise, cultural appropriation and syncretism are crucial elements, and political denunciations of imperialism crop up even in the middle of romantic scenes. Thus, they are a perfect example of how a non-indigenous genre, the romance, can be indigenized; or, in Vicente Diaz’s words, of how their writers “have localized nonlocal ideas and practices” (53).

4.1. De-exoticizing the island setting through the historicizing of Guam

Many romances take place on real or imaginary islands because the latter present themselves as a perfect background for the novels’ main characters, who are often on-the-run, in hiding, or searching for a respite from their daily pressures (Crane and Fletcher). Besides, Island Studies scholars have shown that, in the ever-growing archipelago of romantic islands, there are several representational conventions of the island setting that writers rarely fail to ignore. Crane and Fletcher, in particular, mention all these: first, scenes of arrival in the island typically introduce the protagonist as an avatar for the reader entering the story world; second, the island presents a “sea-locked” geography, thus offering isolation and insulation as an indissoluble pair; third, the island is anthropomorphized and attributed a consciousness that can influence the mindsets and actions of characters; fourth, the novels often include a “literary map” of the island, a map which works as visual paratext that foregrounds the verisimilitude of the story and contributes to the generation of “performative geographies” (Fletcher) by inviting readers to follow the movements of the characters within the island; fifth, islands tend to allow characters to evolve from a strong sense of displacement or exile to feelings of belonging as they fall in love, find their place in the world and share the decision to make the island their home; finally, contemporary insular romances typically center on seasonal tourist islands, perfectly idealized as natural paradises that function as safe havens for the temporary resident who, in the end, will become engaged with a permanent resident.

Neither Conquered nor A Mansion on the Moon fully follow these representational conventions. There are scenes of arrival that show how the US soldiers approach Guam and are “alerted as Mount Sasalaguan came into view” (Quinene, Conquered 5), thus allowing non-Chamorro readers to vicariously descend upon Guam just as the US soldiers do. One might also argue that both novels anthropomorphize Guam to some extent, in so much as the island is peopled with the taotaomona, “spirits of the dead who continue to dwell on the island” (Soker 156). Conquered does indeed offer its readers a literary map of Guam that features the places the characters stay in or travel to. The heroes’ sense of displacement is certainly transformed into feelings of belonging in both novels. Johan, for his part, arrived in Guam in a very pessimistic mood, but his falling in love with Jesi eventually allows him to realize he has found his place in the world, among the Chamorros. Philip, the inveterate playboy, is in his own way an unsatisfied man, as he has no capacity to engage in meaningful sentimental relationships, but the experiences of falling in love with Vivian and progressively [End Page 9] learning more things about her Chamorro culture fully transform him into a sensible man who grows roots in Guamanian land.

However, both Conquered and A Mansion on the Moon refrain from representing Guam as a “sea-locked” geography. In fact, the island appears as a crossroads that, for centuries, has harbored Spanish missionaries and settlers, European whalers and merchant ships,[7] American navy men, Japanese soldiers, Filipino entrepreneurs, and Chamorros from the Northern Mariana Islands, among many other peoples. The Chamorros of Guam, though certain of their cultural identity, speak a variety of languages, have studied abroad, and are racially and culturally mixed. The fact that both novels take place at the time of WWII further contributes to the idea that Guam is not an isolated island, but a central site in the Pacific which is much coveted by the main contenders. Not being isolated, it also fails to be a safe haven, and though it is suggested that it has features of the natural paradise, there abound descriptions that point out the horrors that WWII triggered – the concentration camps, the bombarded villages, the ruinous houses, the destroyed lanchos (ranches), the famished Chamorros, the scattered families, and the dead – all of which highlight that Guam is not a tourist paradise. This, for once, is a historically accurate representation of the island, which did not become a tourist destination until the 1960s, but it can also be interpreted as the authors’ refusal to offer their readers an easily digestible and highly escapist setting, with hardly any history, ready for Westerners’ unquestioning and guilty-free consumption. In fact, Quinene and Sablan Gault inscribe the presence of Japanese and Euro-American colonizers and their abuses, thus portraying a war-torn and colonialism-shaped island that will need to rebuild its geographical and cultural topography for the nth time. Though they justify US participation in WWII and, to a great extent, the presence of US liberating forces on the island, they nonetheless question the imperialist drive of those same forces. Indeed, as Kamblé has put it, their romances highlight the genre’s ambivalence towards the capitalist system (and the military that sustains it) by relying on two conflicting narratives: on the one hand, the belief in “America’s mission to protect democracy, freedom, human rights, and so on” (85), and, on the other, the concern that the enforcement of said mission “means using good men as cannon fodder and punishing innocents” (85). Those two contradictory impulses thus simultaneously justify US intervention in Guam while voicing deep reservations about the very same system that is being endorsed.

4.2 Reconfiguring the romance genre through cultural appropriation and syncretism

There are other ways in which these two romances stand out in the genre they belong to. For starters, both present interracial relationships that are frowned upon in the societies the novels describe and that, even today, are not all that common in mainstream romance. It is true, as Erin Young has noted, that one notable change in recent romances consists in “the gradual increase of romance featuring nonwhite protagonists and interracial relationships” (205). Among the genre’s strategies for success, Olivia Tapper has similarly identified that there exists “a new generation of convention-busting romances” that are “effectively adapting to the conditions of an era in which multiculturalism and difference are facts of everyday life for most people” (255). For their part, William A. Gleason and Eric M. Selinger have examined the ways in which “American romance has been used to resist rather than perpetuate oppression, while also […] interrogating the specific forms and histories such liberation, through love, might take” (4). Both Gleason and Selinger put emphasis on [End Page 10] romances that avoid the American “hegemonic rule of desire” according to which romantic attachment can only be predicated of couples whose members belong to the same race and have different genders. Their specific interest, one may surmise, might derive from the fact that, in the twenty-first century, interracial relationships are still “not common in the romance genre” (Jagodzinski 1), even though they are “exceptional in regard to their portrayal” (Jagodzinski 1), insofar as romance novels that feature interracial relationships present the latter “as triumphs, not tragedies,” and “envision the possibility of a future that promises racial justice through romantic love” (Jagodzinski 1). This is precisely what both Conquered and A Mansion on the Moon manage to do: trouble the dominance of America’s hegemonic rule of desire by inscribing Anglo-Chamorro love as a triumph over imperialist discourses that invariably rely on notions of indigenous people’s inferiority and blatant racism. They show that the affective is “simultaneously constrained by ideology” (Davis 11) – that is, the hero’s ideology of white supremacy – “and resistant to it” (Davis 11), as seen in the heroines’ ability to show themselves worthy of their American lovers and in the latter’s reevaluation of their principles, all of which ultimately points towards alternative plots for Anglo-Chamorro relations, as well as towards new forms of subjectivity and collectivity.

Besides having interracial relationships center stage, the two romances under analysis disassociate themselves from the so-called “F and S stigma” (Cadogan 304) of mainstream romance: that is, the idea that true love can only be proved through gorgeous “fucking” and extravagant “shopping,” two aspects that have made some critics and readers envision contemporary romances as (soft) porn for women (Castleman) and promoters of capitalist fantasies (Darbyshire; Dubino; Illouz). Conquered does feature several highly charged sexual scenes, but A Mansion on the Moon can be accurately described as prudish in sexual terms. As regards consumerism, however, both radically abstain from promoting it. Jesi refuses to buy a wedding dress or shoes, but makes them herself from an old sheet and a sack, respectively (Quinene, Conquered 165-166); Johan, for his part, is in charge of making the wedding rings (Quinene, Conquered 169). In A Mansion on the Moon, Philip does buy a locket for Vivian, with a diamond and all, as well as an engagement ring, but, other than this, there are virtually no references to consumerism. In fact, the Chamorro characters are proud of their self-sufficiency, which they achieve thanks to their lanchos, the land they own and effectively use to grow vegetables and raise some animals, and also to the fact that they recycle all the things the wasteful Americans discard when they are only minimally dented or barely used (Sablan Gault, location 2360-2361).

Mainstream romances are also often characterized, like many fairy tales, by either the absence of positive maternal figures (the mother is dead) or the presence of distant, promiscuous, unstable, unreliable and incompetent mothers; one way or another, the female protagonist is led to deal with “maternal inadequacy” (Juhasz 250). According to a number of psychoanalytic studies (Radway; Juhasz), the point of all this would be to show that the novel’s heroine aspires to have a lover who cares for her and treats her in a maternal way; in other words, she would be trying to establish a connection with her sexual and sentimental partner that emulates the relationship she once had with the pre-oedipal mother. If this were the case, A Mansion on the Moon would then seem to fall into the general trend, as, of the three female protagonists it has, two have lost their mothers. Conquered, on the other hand, radically departs from this specific issue, as both Jesi and Mrs. T, her mother, maintain a loving and caring relationship throughout the novel. Not only that, but Jesi is also strongly influenced by her grandmother, Tan Chai, a medicine woman who has taught her everything [End Page 11] she knows about medicinal herbs, and from whom she has inherited special spiritual powers that will eventually transform her into both a suruhåna (medicine woman) and a le’an (clairvoyant). Thus, this Chamorro romance renounces the convention that presents mothers as powerless, if dead, or, when alive, ostensibly incompetent and a barrier to the heroine’s development. One might see here a trace of the matrilineal system that once characterized ancient Chamorros and that Spanish colonizers tried to uproot, though, as Quinene’s fictional family suggests, unsuccessfully.

At the conclusion of all mainstream romances there exists a compulsory feature, namely the HEA (Happy Ever After) ending, which necessarily implies the presence of a marriage proposal, wedding ceremony or strong commitment between the lovers as the only possible denouement to the story. A Mansion on the Moon finishes after Philip’s marriage proposal to Vivian, but Conquered does not. Once the wedding ceremony is over in the latter novel, readers are allowed to see how the just-married couple deals with separation, as Johan is stationed somewhere in the Pacific and Jesi, pregnant with twins, remains on Guam; later on, readers learn about their reencounter and the further challenges they need to face, namely Johan’s PTSD[8] and Jesi’s complicated pregnancy and labor.

The emphasis on women’s health and reproductive issues in the context of a romance novel might arise from Chamorros’ different attitudes about motherhood: as Laura Souder has pointed out, while a large number of Western feminists have seen motherhood as a source of female subordination, for many Chamorro women it is a traditional source of power and prestige. Not surprisingly, then, conventional Western romances conclude after the marriage proposal, while Quinene’s novel makes a point of incorporating Jesi’s pregnancy and labor. Apart from being a novelty, this also permits the author to subtly introduce a highly charged political issue, i.e. the different ways in which Chamorros and Americans handle women’s health issues, and the Americans’ impositions that Chamorros give up their own ways and hand reproductive issues over to the Navy health installations, which represent the alleged superiority of Western science.

History professor Anne Perez Hattori has challenged the notion that the US naval medical presence on Guam brought steady progress in the health of the island’s people; on the contrary, her studies (US Navy; “Re-membering”) have proved that Navy medicine was an instrument of colonial control which profoundly altered Chamorros’ life. Her analyses of the mistreatment of leprosy are highly revealing of such malpractices, as are those of the Navy’s management of maternity. Naval administrators regulated and monitored the activities of Chamorro women caregivers, namely the pattera (midwife), the suruhåna (female herbal healer), and the si Nana (mother). In its interventions, the Navy assumed the role of “masculine progenitor” and endeavored to increase the fertility of Chamorro women through a variety of health measures supposedly intended for the benefit of mothers, though, in fact, the Navy’s health policies made women suffer “more intrusive forms of control and surveillance” (Perez Hattori, US Navy 93).

Quinene’s novel does not question these measures in an upfront way. It does, however, record the impact of the Navy on Chamorro ways of handling women’s health issues. Jesi, for instance, marries a US sergeant, gets pregnant and successfully bears twins at the Navy hospital. At first sight, this might be interpreted as the author’s way of highlighting Americans’ power to reinvigorate native women’s fertility both through Western science and Anglo sperm. However, things are not so clearly cut, as in the end, and despite her initial reticence to embrace the roles she has inherited from her grandmother, [End Page 12] Jesi does accept to become a suruhåna and a le’an (278), which proves that marrying an American or accepting some American ways does not fully curtail her identity. Jesi’s pattera is another case of contested negotiations between Chamorro and Anglo ways. Even though she has acquired her knowledge through traditional means, she has also been trained in the Navy hospital before the war (270), a fact which is historically grounded, as various governors issued norms that made it compulsory for patteras to get Navy diplomas (Perez Hattori, US Navy 94). When Jesi’s labor becomes dangerous and both her Anglo husband and her pattera order her to seek the help of Navy doctors, what some might see as surrender to US imperialism could perhaps be more adequately analyzed as another example of contested hybridization. In fact, it should be noted that the whole handling of Jesi’s pregnancy and labor is dually carried out by the pattera, during nine months, and, only in the very final phase, by the Navy.

The use of indigenized English in Conquered offers another instance of hybridism. Chamorro words and expressions color both the narrative voice and some of the characters’ speech; they are often translated within the main text, but the book includes a glossary too. Spanish terms, though in smaller numbers, also crop up here and there, as the narrator refers to specific places on the island whose names were imposed by the Spanish colonizers (Plaza de España [60], Puntan Dos Amantes [96]), or to garments (mestisas [70]), food specialties (pan tosta [118]) and Chamorro characters’ names (e.g. Vicente, Rosa, Antonio), all of which still bear the imprint of the years of Spanish rule. The islanders’ religious practices are similarly a blend of cultures: they are intensely marked by the Catholicism brought by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, but not fully detached from Chamorro spirituality, as proved by the constant references to Jesi’s and her grandmother’s spiritual powers (Jesi, for example, can speak to and is addressed by Mames, an island spirit), and by the recurrent mentions, in both novels, of the taotaomona. Conquered offers another telling example of that syncretism: when Johan goes back to the front, Jesi gives him a pin of Saint Joseph and assures him that both the saint and the taotaomona will protect him, which he firmly believes (251).

In both romances, Chamorro ways of indigenizing Western religion and languages are forms of subversive appropriation. For their part, Chamorro retellings of WWII within the frame, if somehow distorted, of the romance genre offer interesting ways of indigenous reconceptualization, as WWII becomes mingled with Anglo-Chamorro love stories and Chamorro legends and creation myths in audacious ways. It is likely that the most outstanding case is presented in Conquered, where the story of Jesi and Johan is set against the creation myth of the goddess Fo’na and the god Pontan (125), who equitably used their powers to create the world and human beings. Like them, at the end of the novel, which coincides with the end of WWII, Jesi and Johan seem about to start a new race and a new world in which diversity is welcomed and respected. It is this task, perhaps, that leads Johan to think that “[t]here will always be those who believe that their way is the only way, that there exists only their God, that their race is the pure race,” and for that reason “there must always be those ready to defend and protect America, and the freedom and opportunities she offers” (277-278). In other words, the America he is advocating and willing to fight for is one that rejects the alleged superiority of racial and cultural purity, a notion which both Quinene’s and Sablan Gault’s heroes have learnt to give up. They admire the heroines’ skills, their knowledge of medicinal herbs and native remedies, their physical strength and determination, their resilience in the face of natural disasters (like typhoons) and human-[End Page 13] caused tragedies, and their religiosity. And that admiration leads them to make an effort to grasp a number of aspects of Chamorro culture, including many words and expressions. Philip, in A Mansion on the Moon, is said to have “gone native” (location 2744-2745); Johan, too, is deeply transformed by his experiences among Guam’s Chamorros.

But on arriving in Guam, like all other Americans, they know virtually nothing about the island’s flora and fauna or about its people’s culture. Their closest idea to the island’s geography is that it is full of coconut trees, thus following in the footsteps of countless of Westerners for whom the palm tree alone works as “the only signifier” of the tropics (Perez Hattori, “Re-membering” 301). Their mental representation of Guam and Chamorros is absolutely stereotyped. When Johan and his mates are first confronted with the carabao, for example, they marvel at what they assume can only be a cow with horns and tremendous strength, but are unable to name it for what it is. They also ignore the importance that lanchos have for Chamorros, and, as shown in A Mansion on the Moon, are initially incapable of seeing them as nothing but derelict places which are full of mosquito larvae and objects discarded by the Americans and ingeniously recuperated by the poverty-stricken Chamorros. Perez Hattori (“Navy” 23) has explained the Navy’s myopic understanding of lanchos, pointing out that, when Americans took control of the island in 1898, they were unable to ascertain the true reasons why there were few Chamorros in dire need: namely, strong family relationships and the fact that most natives obtained the food they needed on their lanchos. In due time, however, Philip, who does make an effort to learn from Chamorros, discovers the wonders of lancho life, overcomes his repulsion for mosquito larvae and adopts Chamorros’ recycling practices.

Further proof of the extent to which both Johan and Philip end up being deeply influenced by Chamorro culture and that, therefore, cultural hybridization is not unidirectional is the fact that they take Chamorros’ belief in the taotaomona very seriously, and follow the natives’ pieces of advice on how to respect the ancient spirits, especially when walking in the jungle. These two heroes actually come to esteem the land they are now living in, and their deference comes in the form of respectful behavior with regard to the natives’ customs and beliefs. For many present-day Chamorros, the taotaomona are “a survival of the ancient Chamorro religious belief in ancestor worship” (Soker 155). For them, the stories of the taotaomona retain “great vitality” (Soker 161) and go on serving a cultural need, especially as there is a tendency now “to combine taotaomona story themes with those of other types of stories and thereby increase their application” (Soker 161). This revitalization of Chamorro culture is precisely what both Quinene and Sablan Gault have achieved by combining ancient Chamorro stories with some of the formulaic features of mainstream romances.

Interestingly, both authors use photography as another arena open for hybridism. Like medicine, photography can play an important role as a colonizing tool. The camera may be misinterpreted as “a bearer of neutrality and objectivity” whose supposed ability is “to convey the truth” (Perez Hattori, “Re-membering” 304-305). But, in fact, in colonial contexts the camera has been often used as “an instrument of surveillance” (Perez Hattori, “Re-membering” 310) that has “enabled the West to objectify and dominate” (Perez Hattori, “Re-membering” 305), or, following Susan Sontag’s thesis, to exercise Western “predatory” instincts onto the colonized Other, as “[t]o photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed” (4). In Conquered, when Johan and Jesi are about to marry, the American bridegroom asks a Navy photographer to take pictures of the wedding. The camera man [End Page 14] readily accepts this job offer, as it will imply “not just extra cash, but an opportunity to record a native wedding” (164). The relish with which the American photographer takes up the role of official recorder matches Western attraction to the unknown and exoticized experience of the colonized Other. As Sontag has put it, “the camera record justifies,” “it is incontrovertible proof” (5). In the case of the Navy photographer, his photographic work could indeed be proof that Chamorros’ wedding ceremonies are quaint, superstitious, weird, exotic, etc. However, in Conquered Chamorros are not so easily robbed of their right to self-representation. Indeed, apart from hiring a photographer, Johan gives Jesi a camera as a wedding present, and she soon starts capturing shots of her reality from her own perspective. She herself determines from then on what she photographs and which of these images she sends to Johan while he is stationed elsewhere in the Pacific, thus offering another example of how Chamorros’ culture is not merely the passive victim of American imperialism, but can reinvent itself in countless ways. In 1945, Van Peenen lamented that young girls would all end up marrying American soldiers, living away from Guam and forgetting their folk stories. In 1995, Diaz contested her apocalyptic vision, arguing that they would find alternative means to transmit their stories. By appropriating a camera, Quinene’s Jesi seems to have been able to do just that. The same is true of Sablan Gault’s Vivian, who at one point surreptitiously changes the photograph of her Philip is carrying in his wallet for another one she likes better. In time, both heroines learn to use photography to the advantage of their own needs.

4.3 Politicizing the romance through Chamorro denunciations

All the previously analyzed examples of how the novels under study allow Chamorro culture to reassert itself in various contested ways may be viewed by some as significant, but not necessarily effective in combating the devastating effects of colonialism. Indeed, many will think that imperial practices call for more determinedly confrontational methods on the part of the colonized. As a matter of fact, both Quinene and Sablan Gault offer numerous excerpts that harshly criticize Spanish, Japanese and American imperialism. Thus, the Spanish imposition of a patriarchal social order comes under criticism in A Mansion on the Moon, though the narrator stresses that “many aspects of the inherent matriarchal/matrilineal order remained” despite Spaniards’ efforts to the contrary (location 195-198). Similarly, that novel’s narrator revels in the Spaniards’ inability to eradicate the Chamorro language (location 169-170), and becomes highly critical of Americans, who forbade Chamorros to speak their own language in government offices (location 2210-2211) and elsewhere thought it impolite if natives spoke their own language in the presence of Americans (location 2256-2259). Japanese concentration camps and general brutality, it goes without saying, are also the target of many critical comments (see, for instance, Quinene, Conquered 221).

But surely the two issues that receive the harshest pieces of criticism are Americans’ racism and land takings. The “segregated school within the government compound” that only allows enrollment of “the children of navy personnel,” with its teachers “imported from the States, as are their books and supplies” (Sablan Gault, location 1658-1659) are a painful source of concern for the narrator of A Mansion on the Moon. Americans’ racism is likewise clear in other Navy and government facilities, where Chamorro employees remind Anglos of “zoo monkeys” (Sablan Gault, location 1804-1806), and are therefore only allowed to have [End Page 15] menial jobs (Sablan Gault, location 2714). Sablan Gault denounces that “racial and cultural prejudices” rage everywhere on Guam (location 2070-2071); Philip himself, like his colleagues, “thought of nonwhites as lesser beings, inferior to themselves” (location 2208-2209), and, shockingly, when he first starts to feel attracted by Vivian, he relates himself to pre-Civil War Southern plantation owners who “took slave girls as lovers” (location 1906-1908). This overt racism – which not even Sablan Gault’s hero can avoid – is responsible for the intermittent banning of interracial marriages on Guam. Even when not banned, they are nonetheless frowned upon and made administratively difficult – see, for instance, all the paperwork that Philip is obliged to do in order to get a license to marry a native woman (location 3360-3363). Only flagrant bigotry explains why the Navy had begun sending its families away when it became clear that there might be a Japanese invasion, but did nothing to protect the natives (Sablan Gault, location 3996-4000; Quinene, Conquered 35).

Land takings, for their part, are even more ostensibly the butt of many of Sablan Gault’s critical comments. Vivian’s father, Tino, like many other Chamorros, finds out soon after American “liberation” that Chamorro “properties throughout the island were being taken and occupied for military use” (location 4483); that the Navy might be trying “to relegate the Chamorros to the southern end of the island in what was tantamount to a reservation” (location 4488-4489); that a “gigantic new Naval Station Guam” is being built (location 4490-4491); that the US military is a “ruthless” entity that “had rescued them from enemy enslavement and taken their lands in payment” (location 4773-4774); that even “Fena Lake, Guam’s only freshwater body,” has been taken by the Americans (location 4496-4497), and compensation for land occupation will take long years to come, never to be satisfactory. Justifiably, Tino’s gratitude soon turns into “apprehension” and this into “resentment”: “You bring your war here. You bomb my city and burn it down. You destroy my house, take my lands and leave me with nothing,” he fumes (location 4716-4718). Tino sees Philip as part of that ruthless entity that has caused all his misfortunes, so when the American comes to ask permission to marry Vivian, it seems to Tino that he is definitely being robbed of everything he ever had and cherished. He nonetheless grants the officer permission, though only as proof of fatherly love.

5. Chamorro romances, footnotes to no one

Sablan Gault’s narrator does not let Tino dwell long on his troubles, but soon allows him to find comfort in the belief that “the people of Guam would triumph over it all, as they always had” (location 4778). Similarly, in Quinene’s novel, one may hear Jesi confidently tell her brother that Chamorros will rise from the ashes: “we will rebuild Peter, just like the Chamorros always have” (60). Thus, both Conquered and A Mansion on the Moon powerfully express the certainty that Chamorros are “culturally resilient and adaptively responsive to adverse social and cultural change in spite of the legacy of colonization and acculturation pressures” (Perez 588). Moreover, these novels present themselves as testimonies to Chamorros’ ability to reinvigorate their culture through countless amalgamations and indigenous appropriations that are carried out “to the advantage of their own culturally nationalist interests” (Perez 588). They likewise show that Chamorros are capable of altering Western perceptions of indigenous cultures, historical accounts of WWII, and literary genres [End Page 16] like the romance. They do so in subtle ways that imply hybridization, and through more confrontational approaches, like direct denunciation. All in all, both novels are proof that Chamorro popular literature, like its “highbrow” counterpart, is a footnote to no Western tradition, and that Chamorro romances, in particular, are no “small islands of text” at the margins of US literature, but effective forms of activism in their own right. Their familiar and popular narrative frameworks, as Davis has put it, “can make questions of global politics meaningful in new ways for readers inside and outside of the West” (21). At a time when the pro-independence movement is gaining momentum on Guam, “romances’ ability to generate affects is too powerful to ignore” (Davis 25). Thoughtful intellectuals and activists alike should engage rigorously with such affects, yoke geopolitical forces to popular modes, individual lives to the trajectories of the collective, and evaluate the power of the intimate in their discussions of the global and the transnational. Literary critics, for their part, should never fail to acknowledge the potential of the romance genre to unsettle all sorts of political ideas.

Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I wish to thank literature professor Paloma Fresno Calleja, from the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain), for inviting me to participate in her project “The politics, aesthetics and marketing of literary formulae in popular women’s fiction: History, Exoticism and Romance,” supported by AEI/FEDER, UE (FFI2016-75130-P), for sharing vital bibliography with me, and, most importantly, for transmitting her passion for the Pacific to me. To her, Muchas gracias.

I likewise want to thank history professor Anne Perez Hattori, from the University of Guam, for recommending me several articles, especially Vicente Diaz’s, which has helped me realize the subversive potential of the two romance novels I study in this paper. I also wish to show my gratitude to Paula Quinene, the author of Conquered, for her long emails explaining aspects of Chamorro culture I was not familiar with, and for sharing with me invaluable information about her intentions as a writer. To both, Si Yu’os Ma’åse.


[1] Lanny Thompson has referred to these islands (and to others like Cuba and Puerto Rico) as “the U.S. imperial archipelago” (1).

[2] Lyons’s term “American Pacificism” refers to “a wide variety of colonial forms of representation over time” (Hanlon 98).

[3] David Hanlon has pointed out the irony that Oceania “so profoundly affected by American colonialism is largely absent from the American literary imagination” (98).

[4] With regards to the US imperial archipelago, Thompson has argued that “representations of inferior alterity were a means to conceive, mobilize, and justify imperial rule” (11). Referring specifically to Guam, he has further asserted that the Navy “largely ignored the inhabitants’ language, culture and history,” and that “Guam was not afforded a narrative, only a static simile: under control of the navy, the island was like a ship under the command of a captain” (253).

[5] In “A Chat with… Paula Quinene,” the author similarly explains that she was driven to write Conquered because she felt “so mahålang, or homesick, that it seemed like the [End Page 17] natural progress in my string of Guam books.” She has further dwelled on this feeling in “Through my eyes: ʻMahålangnessʼ—the fuel that fed my writing fire” (Quinene, “Through”).

[6] These “ritual deaths” that leave Johan and Philip scarred and psychologically wounded have the capacity to rebalance the power asymmetry that existed between them and the Chamorro women they have fallen in love with, just as Rochester’s injuries bring Brontë’s hero closer to Jane Eyre on a symbolic power scale.

[7] In A Mansion on the Moon, for example, there is a female character whose four brothers “sailed away as deckhands on British, German, and American merchant vessels” (location 337).

[8] As previously noted, the romance genre tends to rely on two conflicting narratives. In fact, the endorsement of America’s right to defend “(capitalist) democracy by means of war” (Kamblé 61), which would explain the high number of romance novels that feature a hero wearing the mask of the warrior, contains “an undercurrent of doubt and despair at the seemingly endless conflict that this engenders” (Kamblé 85); in other words, the genre subtly inscribes a humanist critique of war by making the hero as warrior suffer from PTSD (Kamblé 64) and showing that, ultimately, war, regardless of its justification, seriously threatens the romantic bond. [End Page 18]

Works Cited

 “A Chat with… Paula Quinene.” Tales from Pasifika, September 28, 2016, https://talesfrompasifika.com/tag/paula-quinene/. Accessed 17 April 2017.

“Cathy Sablan Gault writes first novel, ʻA Mansion On the Moon.ʼ” Kuam News, January 7, 2016, http://www.kuam.com/story/30912624/2016/01/Thursday/cathy-sablan-gault-writes-first-novel-a-mansion-on-the-moon. Accessed 11 May 2017.

Cadogan, Mary. And Then Their Hearts Stood Still. An Exuberant Look at Romantic Fiction Past and Present. Macmillan, 1994.

Castleman, Michael. “Women’s Rape Fantasies: How Common? What Do They Mean?” Psychology Today, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/201001/womens-rape-fantasies-how-common-what-do-they-mean. Accessed 25 July 2014.

Crane, Ralph and Lisa Fletcher. “The Genre of Islands: Popular Fiction and Performative Geographies.” Island Studies Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 2016, pp. 637-50.

Darbyshire, Peter. “Romancing the World: Harlequin Romances, the Capitalist Dream and the Conquest of Europe and Asia.” Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 23, 2000, pp. 1-10.

Davis, Emily S. Rethinking the Romance Genre. Global Intimacies in Contemporary Literary and Visual Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Diaz, Vicente M. “Simply Chamorro: Telling Tales of Demise and Survival in Guam.” The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 6, no. 1, 1994, pp. 29-58.

Dubino, Jeanne. “The Cinderella Complex: Romance Fiction, Patriarchy and Capitalism.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 27, no. 3, 1993, pp. 103-18.

Fletcher, Lisa. “ʻ… some distance to goʼ: A Critical Survey of Island Studies.” New Literatures Review, vol. 47-48, 2011, pp. 17-34.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Four Essays. Atheneum, 1969.

Hall, Lisa Kahaleole. “Strategies of Erasure: U.S. Colonialism and Native Hawaiian Feminism.” American Quarterly, vol. 60, no. 2, 2008, pp. 273-80.

Hanlon, David. “The ʻSea of Little Landsʼ: Examining Micronesia’s Place in ʻOur Sea of Islands.ʼ” The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 21, no. 1, 2009, pp. 91-110.

Hezel, Francis X. “From Conversion to Conquest: The Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas.” The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 17, no. 3, 1982, pp. 115-37.

Higuchi, Wakako. “The Japanization Policy for the Chamorros of Guam, 1941-1944.” The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 36, no. 1, 2001, pp. 19-35.

hooks, bell. “Love as the Practice of Freedom.” Outlaw Culture. Resisting Representations. 1994. Routledge, 2006, pp. 243-250.

Illouz, Eva. Consuming the Romantic Utopia. Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. University of California Press, 1997.

Jagodzinski, Mallory. Love is (Color) Blind: Historical Romance Fiction and Interracial Relationships in the Twenty-First Century. PhD Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2015.

Juhasz, Suzanne. “Texts to Grow on: Reading Women’s Romance Fiction.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 7, no. 2, 1988, pp. 239-59.

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

[End Page 19]

Kinzer, Stephen. “The American Conquest of Guam.” World Policy Journal, vol. 23, no. 2, 2006, pp. 100-04.

Letman, Jon. “Proposed US military buildup on Guam angers locals who liken it to colonization.” The Guardian, August 1, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/01/guam-us-military-marines-deployment. Accessed 11 May 2017.

Lujan Bevacqua, Michael. “My Island Is One Big American Footnote.” The Space Between: Negotiating Culture, Place, and Identity in the Pacific, edited by A. Marata Tamaira. Occasional Paper Series 44, Center for Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, 2009, pp. 120-122.

Lyons, Paul. American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination. Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures. Routledge, 2006.

Maga, Timothy P. “The Citizenship Movement in Guam, 1946-1950.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 53, no. 1, 1984, pp. 59-77.

McDougall, Brandy Nālani. “American Imperialism and Pacific Literatures.” The Routledge Companion to Native American Literature, edited by Deborah L. Madsen, Routledge, 2016, pp. 39-51.

Misco, Thomas and Lena Lee. “ʻThere is no such thing as being Guamanianʼ: Controversial Issues in the Context of Guam.” Theory & Research in Social Education, vol. 42, no. 3, 2014, pp. 414-439.

Perez Hattori, Anne. “Navy Blues: US Naval Rule on Guam and the Rough Road to Assimilation, 1898-1941.” Pacific Asia Inquiry, vol. 5, no. 1, 2014, pp. 13-30.

—. “Re-membering the Past. Photography, Leprosy and the Chamorros of Guam, 1898-1924.” The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 46, no. 3, 2011, pp. 293-318.

—. “Thieves.” Storyboard: A Journal of Pacific Imagery, vol. 5, 1995, 46.

—. US Navy Health Policies and the Chamorros of Guam, 1898-1941. University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

Perez, Michael P. “Colonialism, Americanization, and Indigenous Identity: A Research Note on Chamorro Identity in Guam.” Sociological Spectrum, vol. 25, 2005, pp. 571-91.

Quinene, Paula. Conquered. A WWII Erotic Historical Romance Set in Guam. Infinity Publishing, 2016.

—. “Through my eyes: ʻMahålangnessʼ—the fuel that fed my writing fire.” Tales from Pasifika, September 14, 2016. https://talesfrompasifika.com/2016/09/14/through-my-eyes-mahalangness-the-fuel-that-fed-my-writing-fire-by-paula-quinene/. Accessed 12 May 2017.

Radway, Janice A. “Women Read the Romance: The Interaction of Text and Context.” Feminist Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, 1983, pp. 53-78.

Rapadas, J. et al. “Guam: Caught Amidst Change and Tradition.” Social Change and Psychosocial Adaptation in the Pacific Islands: Cultures in Transition, edited by A.J. Marsella, A. Austin and B. Grant, Springer Science, 2005, pp. 145-70.

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

—. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Revised ed., University of Hawaii Press, 2011.

—. “Guam’s Quest for Political Identity.” Pacific Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 1988, pp. 49-70.

[End Page 20]

Sablan Gault, Cathy. A Mansion on the Moon. Kindle edition, Xlibris. Self-published, 2015.

Santos Perez, Craig. “Thieves and Footnotes: Anne Perez Hattori and Michael Lujan Bevacqua.” The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, edited by James Howard Cox and Daniel Heath Justice, Oxford UP, 2014, pp. 158-60.

—. “Transterritorial Currents and the Imperial Terripelago.” American Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 3, 2015, pp. 619-24.

Selinger, Eric M. and William A. Gleason. “Introduction: Love as the Practice of Freedom?” Romance Fiction and American Culture. Love as the Practice of Freedom?, edited by William A. Gleason and Eric M. Selinger, Routledge, 2016, pp. 1-21.

Soker, Donald. “The Taotaomona Stories of Guam.” Western Folklore, vol. 31, no. 3, 1972, pp. 153-67.

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. Picador, 1979.

Souder, Laura. “Feminism and Women’s Studies on Guam.” NWSA Journal, vol. 3, no. 3, 1991, pp. 442-46.

Tapper, Olivia. “Romance and Innovation in Twenty-First Century Publishing.” Publishing Research Quarterly, vol. 30, 2014, pp. 249-259.

Thompson, Lanny. Imperial Archipelago: Representation and Rule in the Insular Territories under U.S. Dominion after 1898. University of Hawai’i Press, 2010.

Weeks, Charles J. Jr. “The New Frontier, the Great Society, and American Imperialism in Oceania.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 71, no. 1, 2002, pp. 91-125.

Young, Erin S. “Saving China: The Transformative Power of Whiteness in Elizabeth Lowell’s Jade Island and Katherine Stone’s Pearl Moon.” Romance Fiction and American Culture. Love as the Practice of Freedom?, edited by William A. Gleason and Eric M. Selinger, Routledge, 2016, pp. 205-221.

[End Page 21]

Share

Review: Queer Experimental Literature: The Affective Politics of Bad Reading, by Tyler Bradway

Review by Amy Brown

In Queer Experimental Literature, Tyler Bradway stakes the claim that ‘by eliciting uncritical affective responses in readers, queer experimental literature … strikes at the disembodied model of critical reading and its heteronormative social imaginary’ (p. xxxiv). Experimental literature, for Bradway’s purposes, covers a range of authors from William S. Burroughs to Jeanette Winterson, whose works breach norms of conventional literary aesthetics. In the main, the texts are postmodernist ones, although Bradway disclaims that postmodern literature should not be treated as the truest form of queer literature.

Bradway’s work will be most interesting to scholars of affect theory, as that is where his chief theoretical grounding lies. He draws heavily on Delueze and Guattari, and on Grosz, in defining affect as a component of reading as an ‘event’ rather than a property of the content read (xxxv-xlii). He also draws on Sedgwick and Felski in his theory of reading, particularly in reference to Sedgwick’s turn away from ‘paranoid reading’ (xxix-xxxv). However, Bradway does not reject the discipline of criticism, nor negative criticism in itself, arguing that many attempts to turn away from interpretation toward affect serve to obfuscate relations of power which undergird and shape affective responses. In Queer Experimental Literature, Bradway offers readings of his key texts which are not focused on ‘queering’ the text or reading against its grain, but which examine ways in which the texts themselves invite affective responses which are orthogonal to those of critical reading.  He is primarily concerned with what he calls ‘bad reading’ – reading experiences that foreground potentially excessive sentiment, disgust, erotics, fears, and strong identifications with narrative (v). These responses, he argues, are antithetical to critical reading, even in the field of affect studies, which he defines as prone to prioritising particular models of literature (primarily the novel) and particular functions of affect and emotion (such as the provision of educational and appropriate emotional models). Despite this objection to literary hierarchies, Bradway does not engage in significant depth with genre fiction studies. Queer Experimental Literature offers methodologies and insights that deserve to be more fully explored in relation to genre fiction, although Bradway’s strong investment in postmodern [End Page 1] fiction at times implies that fragmentary and postmodern prose styles are uniquely likely to invite ‘bad’ or radical affects.

A unifying theme across the book is Bradway’s case that academic criticism has underestimated the queer potential of experimental fiction, and of his chosen authors in particular. I am not the first to note that his argument here seems to be stretched a little too far: all of his key authors (Burroughs, Delany, Acker, Winterson, and Sedgwick as memoirist) are well known to academic criticism,[1] and only Sedgwick is not often classified as a ‘queer author’, in that her work is primarily engaged with as criticism and she herself did not identify as queer. However, in each case Bradway addresses a key facet of the author’s work which has been negatively received by some queer critics, and argues for a reconsideration. For instance, he reads William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, alongside the earlier-written but later-published novel Queer (pp. 1-50). Here Bradway argues that Burroughs’ shift from the realist portrait of homosexual loneliness in Queer to the fragmentary narrative and obscene spectacle of Naked Lunch represents a powerful implication of the reader in the homoerotic, scatological and drug-inflected events of the narrative, effectively breaking down the barrier between the reader as voyeur and character as spectacle as he makes the distinction between hallucination and narrative event porous.

Of most interest to readers of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, I believe, will be Bradway’s reading of the works of Jeanette Winterson (pp. 145-182). Bradway finds the wholehearted sentiment of Winterson’s work, and its focus on individual experience, to be at odds with the deconstructive mission of critical queer theory. However, he argues that, rather than enlisting the reader in an assimilationist project of romantic sentiment, Winterson’s work – especially Written on the Body, with its amorphous narrator – invites the reader into strongly emotive encounters which proceed to queer the reading experience itself, by refusing to stabilise categories of gender, embodiment and social function. The reader can enter into the affect and emotion of Winterson’s protagonist, but cannot confidently identify with them on any particular axis of gender or physical embodiment.

However, Bradley’s argument for experimental literatures as queering the affective experience of reading is not solely dependent on that instability; he also argues for a project of affective reading which invites encounter and sense of radical community. He does not make any strong argument for why these radical community-oriented affective experiences should be generated particularly by experimental literatures. The book makes a case for ‘bad reading’, but does not address the long history of queer pulp fictions and genre writing. He includes one ‘genre’ author, Samuel R. Delany (pp. 51-93), but analyses his work primarily in relation to academic literary theory, without taking into account the science fiction genre context with which Delany was also in conversation. Bradway defends Winterson’s work against assumptions that fictions of romance are necessarily conservative, but does so without engaging with the established feminist scholarship on the readership of (heterosexual) romance novels.[2] More contemporary developments, like the burgeoning gay and lesbian romance novel market, or the increasing presence of science fiction and fantasy which challenges and inverts norms of gender, class and sexuality, are not addressed at all. Could Bradley’s arguments about Winterson’s Written on the Body implicating the reader in a queered experience of gender be extended, for instance, to the ways in which Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy both requires the reader to enter into the gender system of its universe and highlights the insufficiency of English grammatical gender and number in expressing that system? Bradway’s case for ‘bad reading’ is potentially generative, but those [End Page 2] wishing to take it further will need to work around or against the limitations of Bradway’s implicit biases against a range of fiction which lies outside of his specified ‘experimental’ scope.


[1] See Michael Trask’s review of Bradway in College Literature.

[2] See Janice Radway and, for a sample of current scholarship and methods building on Radway, Jessica Matthews. [End Page 3]

Works Cited

Matthews, Jessica. “Studying the Romance Reader: Then and Now: Rereading Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 4, no. 2,  2014, http://jprstudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/STRRTAN_Matthews.pdf.

Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Trask, Michael. “Queer Experimental Literature: The Affective Politics of Bad Reading.” College Literature, vol. 45, no. 1, 2018, 186-189.

[End Page 4]

Share

Can She Have It All? Pregnancy Narratives in Contemporary Category Romance
by Annika Rosanowski

Imagine a pregnant woman. Is she overweight? Does she look like she was too tired to care about the clothes she put on? Is she waddling around on swollen feet? The answer to [End Page 1] all of these questions is most likely “no.” Representations of pregnancy in Western cultures currently revolve around pregnancy as a form of success: pregnant celebrities wear the latest trends and look fabulous, active mothers choose their preferred model of jogging strollers, and a whole array of films feature pregnant career women. In fact, the genre of “romcoms” now includes “momcoms,” stories “that promise women romance, love, and sex, all through the transformative power of pregnancy” (Oliver 3). However, while the display of the pregnant body suggests a form of female empowerment, it simultaneously creates new expectations of women.

Pregnancy has become an index for women with which to measure their success, even in genres that are mostly produced by and for women. Writing about chick lit, for example, Cecily Devereux states that “[t]he conclusion, . . . with or without the wedding, is ideologically driven, reaffirming a conviction in the propriety and perhaps necessity of heteronormative union and babies as the conclusion to a woman’s young life” (222). Category romance titles that focus on pregnancy similarly employ pregnancy to reinforce patriarchal ideologies by participating in a particular representation of pregnancy which reinforces traditional family values and demonstrates that “a childless life is worthless, and anyone who doesn’t want kids must be bitter and selfish and morally deficient” (Kushner). In these pregnancy novels, the heroine’s fulfillment —the happy ending that is made possible by having a baby—is dependent on the choices she makes, such as marrying the father or changing her style of dress. This dependency perpetuates stereotypes for distinguishing “good” from “bad” mothers. Robyn Longhurst comes to the conclusion “that bad mothers tend to be (re)presented as lacking in a number of ways,” such as financial means or a husband (118).

That is not to say that category romance as a whole portrays pregnancy as woman’s destiny, as numerous authors envision a happy end without a baby, and some, such as Penny Jordan’s The Reluctant Surrender (2010), even feature a couple actively deciding against having a baby without being any less fulfilled for it.[1] Likewise, depictions of single motherhood exist that do not represent the heroine as a “bad” mother. Again, Jordan would be another good example with The Sicilian’s Baby Bargain (2009).[2] Yet, there is no shortage of novels that do end with a baby, many of which focus on the actual time or discovery of the pregnancy, rather than those set after the birth. This subset of category romance novels is the subject of my analysis, and I will refer to these texts as “pregnancy narratives” from here on.

I focus on category romance because the women in this genre are not desperate for a baby;[3] in fact, most pregnancies are unplanned. Category romance does not presuppose that women want or need babies; yet, it focuses on the heroine’s fulfillment, and in the narratives that revolve around pregnancy—rather than the raising of children or the time after the birth—this fulfillment is only made possible through the heroine’s pregnancy. This type of narrative thereby creates career women who unfailingly learn that only becoming pregnant can lead to true happiness, which is different from chick-lit where most of the protagonists, such as Bridget Jones, actively yearn to leave singlehood behind in favor of domesticity.

My sample of category romance novels is based on publications by Harlequin, due to the publishing company’s long history and its dominating place in the romance market. They have furthermore all been selected at random on various trips to secondhand bookstores. I chose titles that clearly indicate a pregnancy narrative, but the individual texts depended on what was available at the stores at the time of my visit. Within my sample, pregnancy as the [End Page 2] vehicle for the plot—and something clearly identified by the novel’s title as an important part of the narrative—first appeared in 1994, when Emma Goldrick’s Baby Makes Three was published in the “Harlequin Romance” series. The “Presents” series, which Harlequin’s website describes as “the home of the alpha male” with a focus on “sky-rocketing sexual tension” and thus making the sexual affair the center of the story (“Harlequin”), followed in 1997 Emma Darcy’s Jack’s Baby, whose title clearly identified it as a pregnancy story. From then on, pregnancy was a recurring theme among the publications (Figure 1).[4]

A bar chart with years from 1994 to 2015 on the X axis and number of books (from 0 to 30) on the y axis.

Figure 1: Publications of pregnancy titles in the “Romance” and “Presents” imprints by year.

The theme even sparked several mini-series in the new millennium, such as “Bought for Her Baby” (2008) or “Expecting!” (2006-present).

As Figure 1 shows, pregnancy titles in the “Romance” line increased from an average of seven titles per year at the end of the 1990s to about fifteen per year after 2007. The “Presents” imprint took even more enthusiastically to the theme and published more than twenty-five titles in 2009 and 2010. The decrease in titles for the following years, until the number picked up again in 2015, could be related to the “crescendo [of criticism] in 2009” aimed at “Nadya Suleman, the so-called Octo-Mom and her decision . . . to use reproductive technology to give birth to multiples when she was already the mother of six and dependent on welfare” (Rogers 121). Suleman had several media appearances in 2010, and her dependency on welfare, use of rehabilitation facilities, sentence to community service for welfare fraud, and alleged statements about regretting the decision to have children continued to be chronicled for several years afterward (“Natalie”). The negative public opinion formed through this media coverage—while based on Suleman’s use of reproductive technologies and reliance on welfare—might perhaps have resulted in less Harlequin pregnancy narratives, if either the publisher itself or the writers became more hesitant about the reception these texts would receive on the market.

The interest in the pregnancy theme, despite the temporary decrease in titles, is ongoing. It emerged as a trend in the mid-1990s, mirroring a development in Hollywood films as well as in women’s magazines (Boswell; Hine; Sha and Kirkman), and is related to [End Page 3] the achievements of Second Wave feminism. The women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s advocated a re-evaluation of pregnancy, as writers like Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva “attempted to articulate a positive account of pregnancy and of the maternal body” (Oliver 21). Popular culture joined this debate in 1991 when Vanity Fair’s cover featured a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore. Just how problematic the publicly displayed, uncovered pregnant body was at that time can be inferred from the shocked reaction that the image caused. Gabrielle Hine states that “the issue was widely criticized as offensive and numerous stores refused to sell it,” whereas Moore’s post-partum body on the cover in 1992—equally naked despite the body paint used to give the impression that she is wearing a male suit—“provoked less debate” (581). Moore’s picture broke a taboo, and others—most notably Beyoncé’s recent photoshoot, in which she presented her heavily pregnant belly in underwear—followed. By now, entire blogs are dedicated to images of pregnant celebrities in various states of dress or undress, a phenomenon to which I will return in my discussion of the novels’ covers.

Category romance likewise reacted to social changes in the course of its publication history. In 1980, Tania Modleski argued that Harlequin novels “are always about a poor girl marrying a wealthy man” (443) and that the “genuine heroine must not even understand sexual desire” (444), but as jay Dixon shows in her work on Mills and Boon fiction between 1909-1995, these claims are not accurate when it comes to category romances from the early twentieth century, and the books “have changed over the past decades” even more dramatically (5). Nowadays, the heroine can be a CEO (Jessica Gilmore’s The Heiress’s Secret Baby, 2015), or own a company (Kandy Shepherd’s From Paradise…to Pregnant, 2015), and a sexually assertive heroine can be found across several imprints, some of which even feature sex as a fundamental part of their storyline, such as “Dare” (2018-present), “Desire” (2011-present), “Blaze” (2001-2017) or “Presents” (1973-present). The incorporation of “some aspects of feminist values—much greater emphasis on women’s sexual desire and much less on the requirement to be a virgin bride, more career women and greater independence for the romantic heroine, for example” even led to a pushback from feminist critics against the initial negative evaluation of the genre (Weisser 132-33). The feminist movement affected popular culture, and pregnancy was taken up as a theme in category romance with the same enthusiasm as it was in Hollywood or in women’s magazines.

Before I address the representation and function of pregnancy at the level of the narrative to show that the heroine’s fulfillment in pregnancy narratives is always dependent on having a baby, let me offer a short analysis of the covers, which also participate in shaping the image of the “good” mother by attaching this value to certain dress and lifestyle choices. In their studies on the representation of pregnancy in Australian and New Zealand women’s magazines respectively, Hine and Sha and Kirkman observe that the monitoring of pregnant celebrities is used to create stereotypes of “good” and “bad” mothers. With regard to Australia’s magazine culture, Sha and Kirkman state that the “magazines tended to feature ‘good’ women (who dressed with restraint) and ‘bad’ women (who did not)” (363). Hine comes to a similar conclusion for her New Zealand selection with regard to discipline, arguing that “[m]agazines . . . associated the ‘success’ of a pregnancy with the size and appearance of the pregnant and post-partum body. Across the sample, pregnant celebrities were represented as graced with willpower, luck, and a fast metabolism” (585). Both magazine samples featured largely U.S. celebrities, which makes their findings relevant for [End Page 4] the North American Harlequin covers. About half of the covers for both imprints feature visibly pregnant bodies.[5]

 

Three Harlequin Presents covers, each featuring a visibly pregnant woman in an evening gown being embraced by a man.

Figure 2: Sample of “Harlequin Presents” covers. The Marakaios Baby Cover Art Copyright ©2015; His Royal Love-Child Cover Art Copyright ©2006; One Night…Nine-Month Scandal Cover Art Copyright ©2009; all owned by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.

The covers in my sample from “Harlequin Presents” bear the most resemblance to pictures taken of pregnant celebrities, with the women on the covers in Figure 2 all wearing fancy dresses, jewelry (in some), and high heels, when their feet are shown. None of them has put on any weight during their pregnancies, and they all look styled for a night out. This presents women as able to maintain a slim body throughout their pregnancies, while still dressing with style. Hines’s conclusion that current “images of pregnancy encourage the display of the pregnant body, but also endorse the discipline of the pregnant form through an investment in feminine consumer culture” (587) is supported by these covers.

If we compare these covers to pictures taken of pregnant actresses at the Oscars, as seen in Figure 3, we notice striking similarities both in dress and in the angle at which the photo was taken, which often highlights the pregnant belly. [End Page 5]

Embed from Getty Images

Full-length image of a woman in a floor-length purple dress with a deep v neck and short sleeves.

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

Embed from Getty Images

Figure 3: Jenna Dewan Tatum (2013), Natalie Portman (2011), and Jessica Alba (2008). Images InStyle: http://www.instyle.com/awards-events/red-carpet/oscars/pregnant-celebs-oscars-gallery

Further pictures can also be found on US Weekly’s blog “Bump Watch,” which is dedicated to the collection of pictures of pregnant celebrities. Aligning the cover models with the media’s representations of famous pregnant women might also suggest that the heroines of the novels will experience a life of glamor, riches, and success despite—or because of—their pregnancy.

Other Harlequin covers focus on the more private setting of the bedroom, with the heroine dressed in modest—but still sensuous—nightgowns that heighten her femininity and vulnerability, as can be seen in Figure 4:

Harlequin novel covers with circular images showing close-up views of men holding visibly pregnant women wearing elegant nightgowns.

Figure 4: Sample of “Harlequin Presents” covers with modestly dressed, vulnerable heroines. The Italian Prince’s Pregnant Bride Cover Art Copyright ©2007; Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby Cover Art Copyright ©2009; Carrying the Sheikh’s Heir Cover Art Copyright ©2014; all owned by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.

[End Page 6] The pregnant bodies on “Harlequin Romance” covers are not clad in evening dresses or decked out in jewelry, favoring instead modestly dressed mothers-to-be, but the slimness and femininity of the expectant mothers is highlighted by their attire (Figure 5). These covers contribute to an ideal—slim, stylish, well-groomed—that is unattainable for most pregnant women who, in contrast to famous celebrities, cannot rely on nannies, personal assistants, or expensive grooming treatments. This representation of the successful mother puts additional pressure on women to conform to certain expectations, in addition to negotiating (single) motherhood and their jobs.

Close-up images from the waist up of men standing behind women with their arms around their visibly pregnant waists.

Figure 5: Sample of “Harlequin Romance” covers. Nine Months to Change His Life Cover Art Copyright ©2014; The Heiress’s Secret Baby Cover Art Copyright ©2015; Reunited by a Baby Secret Cover Art Copyright ©2015; all owned by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.

The scope of this article cannot include a more in-depth examination of the covers, even though further exploration of the history of the relationship between modeling Harlequin covers on celebrities would certainly prove insightful; however, I find this short introduction useful in that the covers already indicate certain patterns when it comes to the representation of pregnancy in category romance. On the level of the narrative, these patterns emerge through choices that the heroine makes, be it by contacting the father or by giving up her job. By the end of the novel, the reader is implicitly aware that the female protagonist’s fulfillment and her choices are mutually constitutive.

I will first focus on pregnancy narratives in Harlequin’s “Presents” line. My sample consists of fifteen texts that range from 2002-2015 that are clearly identified by their title as a pregnancy narrative. The selection here, too, is based merely on the availability of these [End Page 7] texts at the secondhand bookstores that I visited. The imprint, as the following analysis will show, portrays traditional gender roles. This portrayal stems from the imprint’s requirement to have an alpha male hero who is so influential and wealthy that “there’s nothing in the world his powerful authority and money can’t buy” (“Harlequin”); his exaggerated status causes a socioeconomic divide between him and the heroine that makes her powerless against him in the public sphere and “explains” his dominant behavior in the domestic sphere. True to the imprint’s specifications, the men in these stories are usually billionaires or royals and often presidents or CEOs of international companies, something that is almost always reflected by the title. In that category we have Emma Darcy’s Ruthless Billionaire (2009) or Lynn Raye Harris’s Carrying the Sheikh’s Heir (2014), to name just a few: both titles clearly indicate how powerful the male protagonist is. There are others in which the focus is on conception out of wedlock, such as Lucy Monroe’s One Night Heir (2013) and Pregnancy of Passion (2006) or Miranda Lee’s The Secret Love-Child (2002). “Harlequin Presents” also favors exotic locations and it is therefore not surprising that several titles highlight the European origins of the male protagonist, such as, for example, Maggie Cox’s The Italian’s Pregnancy Proposal (2008) or Sandra Marton’s The Italian Prince’s Pregnant Bride (2007).

In my sample, in “Harlequin Presents” narratives that are clearly identified as a pregnancy narrative and whose focus is on the time of the pregnancy, the pregnancy is never planned. It is often even devastating for the heroine because the pregnancy is frequently discovered just after the heroine and the hero break up. Characteristic of Harlequin romances, the separation is often caused by a misunderstanding or personal fears, as in Lucy Monroe’s His Royal Love-Child (2006), in which Danette agrees to have a secret affair with the prince of an Italian island. Six months later, however, Danette does not want the affair to be secret anymore, which is more than what her lover wants to offer, so she ends the relationship. In another scenario, the characters meet for the first time and end up having a one-night stand, often leading to a longer affair before the pregnancy is discovered. Both the Princess of Surhaadi in Carol Marinelli’s Princess’s Secret Baby (2015) and perfume-maker Leila in Abby Green’s An Heir Fit for a King (2015) end up in bed with a man they only met hours or at most a day earlier.

A small portion of pregnancy novels—three out of fifteen in the sample—evolve from a desire for revenge. In those cases, the hero has a dark secret which drives him to pursue the heroine and tie her to him through marriage and pregnancy, with the plan to destroy her. However, while carrying out his plan, he realizes that she is a different person than he had previously thought and he falls in love with her. Conflicts then arise because the heroine discovers his secret plan, and he has to convince her that his love is now real.

In all cases, the narrative jumps from the conflict to the discovery of the pregnancy, which can be as early as the first month post-conception or as late as the third month. In ten out of fifteen novels, the couple then agrees to enter a marriage of convenience for the sake of the baby. The remaining five novels include two in which the couple are already married because it was part of his plot, and three which conclude with marriage at the end. Marriage, so it is explained, is necessary to provide the child with a stable home. Pregnancy narratives in “Harlequin Presents” are filled with protagonists who grew up as illegitimate and unacknowledged children, or unloved and from a dysfunctional family. In Janette Kenny’s Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby (2009), Keira has suffered her whole life from being kept a secret by her father and abandoned by her mother, and Margo, Kate Hewitt’s protagonist in [End Page 8] The Marakaios Baby (2015), grew up with a mother addicted to crystal meth and no father; both vow to provide their baby with a full set of parents.

At the point that the heroine proposes or agrees to a marriage of convenience, she is convinced that it will be a business-like arrangement without love. The heroes have similar family backstories: Talos in Lucas’s novel Bought: The Greek’s Baby (2010) grew up fatherless and then had to find out that the man he looked up to as a substitute father was corrupt; Monroe’s hero in His Royal Love-Child, Marcello, could never compete with his brother for his father’s affection and was kept out of the family business for years after the father died; and Alex in Tina Duncan’s Her Secret, His Love-Child (2010) was the victim of an abusive father. This observation supports Laura Vivanco’s assessment in her article “Feminism and Early Twenty-First Century Harlequin Mills & Boon Romances” that category romance depicts patriarchy not as detrimental exclusively for women, but as damaging for men as well (1077).

The decision to marry the father—even without love—always proves to have been the “right” one by the end of the novel, as it leads to the heroine’s fulfillment. By retrospectively affirming the heroine’s decision, the pregnancy narratives in both imprints that I examine here contribute to notions of what constitutes a “good” or a “bad” mother. The ideal of the “good” mother includes socioeconomic factors, as Dorothy Rogers, chair of the department of Philosophy and Religion at Montclair State University, pointed out in 2013:

Even in our relatively enlightened age, just about the worst thing a woman can do . . . is bring a child into this world when she [the mother] is unattached, uneducated/undereducated, unemployed/underemployed, without the social sanction of marriage, and with no economic backing—in short, to become the much-maligned welfare mother who is assumed unable to be a ‘good mother.’ (121)

“The perception was,” as Rogers states, that if the birthmother’s pregnancy was unplanned, her “main task was to ‘make things right’” (122). In the pregnancy narratives of the “Presents” imprint, all heroines do indeed inform the father of his new status and agree to a marriage of convenience for the sake of the child.

In order to be a good mother, the heroines have to do everything within their power to provide their child with two parents—married, preferably—financial security, and a home. It might mean giving up career opportunities, moving closer to social support networks, and/or marrying the father. In the course of these narratives, the heroine proves that her child will always come first, that she will protect it, and raise it with love. This need for proof appears as part of the plot as well, because the “Presents” heroes consider themselves the owner of the child, while the mother—if not a “good” one—can be removed from the picture. The heroine therefore needs to demonstrate her worth if she wants to keep her child.

The feelings of the father toward the baby are almost never questioned, despite the unintentional pregnancy. Only one out of fifteen heroines, Morgan’s heroine in One Night…Nine Month Scandal (2010), worries that the hero does not want the child. While some fathers question their paternity in the beginning, it is never in doubt that they want the child as long as it is theirs. The heroes, however, are not emotional about the prospect of fatherhood. Rather, it is about the fact that it is “his” child and ensuring that “his” child will [End Page 9] receive “his” name, as well as everything he himself had lacked growing up. In one of the revenge narratives, Bought: The Greek’s Baby (2010), in which the father is convinced that the heroine is a shallow, cold, and selfish person, he threatens her with taking full custody of the child when he learns of the pregnancy. This is a common scenario across the texts, and several fathers use the same threat to ensure that the heroine agrees to their conditions.

The battle for custody as the right of ownership suggests that the family model in category romance is based on “the property model of parenthood” (Rogers 128). This model, as Janet Farrell Smith argues, has its origin in the patriarchal household of Roman times, when “parental rights and responsibility have explicitly overlapped with property rights” (113), giving the male head of the household the right to treat his child as he would anything else he owns, meaning he could destroy it, let it live, or sell it to someone else.

The modern “Harlequin Presents” pregnancy narrative reflects the idea that patriarchal control is also connected to economic power: the threat of being able to buy the child with the means of a lawyer and the resulting fear in the female protagonist stresses the economic divide between the hero and the heroine. The hero not only wields significant power in the business world, but his financial means far exceed those of the heroine. While the difference in wealth between men and women is realistic—since women in most nations earn less than men[6]—these texts fictionally perpetuate this divide and present marriage as a form of prostitution to which the woman has to agree if she wants access to her child. Several heroes, such as Duncan’s Alex Webber or Hewitt’s Leo Marakaios, even explicitly state that they expect their sexual relationship to resume within their marriage agreement.

The representation of the pregnancy itself is limited to a few stereotypes, while the fetus itself is almost completely absent from the texts;[7] this is also true of medical technology with the exception of ultrasound. All women in these fifteen novels suffer from morning sickness which alerts them to their condition—the heroine’s weakness due to her nausea, as well as back pain or swollen feet, excuse her vulnerability, to which the hero responds by taking care of her. She is carried over hot sand, put into cars, put to rest, or escorted away from crowded gatherings. Her mobility, so the novels suggest, is limited and dependent on masculine strength and chivalry. She is not necessarily confined to a bed, but several heroes ensure that the heroine is kept in one location, usually without access to modern technology, and not one of the heroines keeps working once the hero discovers the pregnancy.[8] For that reason, the treatment of the heroine with its focus on rest rather than on exercise or mental stimulation is reminiscent of the rest cure, a nineteenth-century practice that was believed to alleviate depression, particularly that of women after giving birth.[9]

While the rest cure was criticized in popular fiction as early as 1892 in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, and even though it is medically recognized as ineffective or even counterproductive, it is revived in the “Harlequin Presents” pregnancy novel as an act of care. It is used to present the men as attentive to the heroine’s emotional and physical needs and enables her to be taken care of instead of fulfilling the role of nurturer herself. Only a small number of novels cover the entirety of the pregnancy from discovery to birth. The majority confines itself to a timeframe of a few months, often ending before the event of the birth. It is therefore not possible to draw any conclusions from my samples about the hero’s role as care-giver with regard to the baby, a question that presents a trajectory for further research. [End Page 10]

The pregnant body is almost never described explicitly. The size of the stomach is never mentioned once it outgrows a small bump, despite the fact that couples in the novels still have sex in the sixth month of pregnancy or later. The narration instead focuses on the transformation of the heroine’s body into a more feminine one; pregnancy softens her and makes her more attractive. Her withdrawal from the public sphere can then be read as being rewarded with beauty, constituted by traditional models of femininity. Attention is, however, paid to her breasts and how pregnancy has enlarged them, which again makes her more desirable, and perpetuates stereotypical views on what makes women attractive. While chick-lit protagonists are explicit about their desire to conform to the norms of the fashion and beauty industries—which can be considered replacements of patriarchal discourse (Jerković)—the heroine’s conformity in category romance is implicit; every step toward feminine beauty ideals takes her closer to her happy ending. One example is Bought: The Greek’s Baby, in which the heroine was never seen without lipstick before the pregnancy (22-23), and the hero is sure that “[j]ust the thought of losing her figure and not fitting into all her designer clothes must have made her crazy” (26). But losing her memory after an accident allows her “true” self to surface, which changes her provocative wardrobe into “pink cotton dress[es]” (153), and rewards her with the love of the hero.

More than anything else, though, it is what the pregnancy signifies that is attractive to the male hero. This is made the most explicit in Monroe’s His Royal Love-Child, in which Marcello experiences “pride in his accomplishment” (131) and the woman’s role in a pregnancy is described as entirely passive. Danette says, “I didn’t get myself pregnant” (135), despite the fact that she was aware that they were having unprotected sex and assumed that he was the one not conscious of it, and he agrees, “No, amante. I did that” (135, emphasis in original). Her pregnancy puts him into a “territorial mood” (142) and he makes it clear to her that she carries his child in her body (120). This conflation of the baby and property is a repeat of the hero’s earlier desire to ensure custody of the child because he considers himself the owner while the mother is merely the vessel and is, if not a good candidate for the mother-role, expendable. This is made explicit at an earlier point in the same novel when the heroine realizes that “the man really, desperately, wanted the baby in her womb, but it had nothing to do with her being the mother” (emphasis in the original, 99).

Other scholars who examined the ways in which pregnancy is treated in the public sphere have noted that pregnant women are now “more susceptible to public surveillance” (Hefferman et al. 322). Drawing on studies by Robyn Longhurst, Jane M. Ussher, Susan Markens, and C.H. Browner, Kristin Hefferman et al. conclude that—because the pregnant body is considered “a ‘container’ for the foetus”—everything the mother does or decides has to be considerate of the baby, in order “to avoid being labeled as a ‘bad’ mother” (322). This split between the pregnant woman and her fetus is particularly noteworthy, as it explains why the Harlequin heroine is so often forced to prove that she is a good mother if she wants to remain a part of her child’s life, particularly in the pregnancy revenge narratives discussed earlier. Marriage without love is a legality in which the baby receives the hero’s name, thereby allowing him to claim ownership of the child. For the mother, marriage is a means to give the baby financial security and the stability that, it is explained through the heroine’s own unhappy upbringing, only a traditional family model can provide.

The hero’s agreement to or proposal of a marriage of convenience, however, does not mean that she is recognized as a good mother, merely that she consents to his control in exchange for his function as father. She first has to prove her worth before the economic [End Page 11] agreement can be transformed into a marriage of love. A similar use of pregnancy as a device for transformation has been noticed in Hollywood films by Oliver, who explains that “pregnancy has become a metaphor for other types of transformations” (8). In romantic comedies, it “is the means through which both the male and female characters grow and mature as individuals, and thereby become suitable partners and parents” (9-10). The Harlequin heroine does not always have to prove her worth as a mother; yet, she ultimately always proves that she is worthy of the hero’s love and that the marriage of convenience is more than a mere business arrangement. The hero is likewise transformed through her pregnancy and has, by the end, “been forced to acknowledge his own sexism and has resolved to change his behavior,” a conclusion that Vivanco argues is representative of the “Presents” line in general (1068).

Although the pregnancy appears to be the main focus in these Harlequin narratives, it is a mere plot device, with the baby functioning as the connecting point that keeps the two characters together despite their conflicts and misperceptions. For the sake of the baby, the heroine marries the hero. Sometimes that means having to fit into her husband’s household as well, most likely if her husband is of royal blood. Having to do so enables the heroine to realize that what she had been afraid of all along was her feelings of love for the hero. Along similar lines, Parley Ann Boswell notes that pregnancies are often “used as plot devices, tropes, and deus ex machina” (9), because “our recognition of pregnancy allows it, once introduced into a plot, to morph nimbly and become almost anything from a whispered word, to an abstract idea, to a visual image, to a consumable good” (10). That said, the nature or character of a good marriage is often discussed in these texts, as the characters ponder the often-loveless relationship of their own parents and the detrimental effect it had on themselves as children. Likewise, the heroine realizes that an economically stable but dispassionate marriage is not enough for her own wellbeing; for instance, Green’s protagonist acknowledges that she might wither and die in this loveless environment (170), and the majority follow the example of Duncan’s heroine and decide to leave the hero after all. The hero’s reaction to her decision falls into one of two categories: he has either fallen in love with her in the course of their short marriage and now has to convince her of his feelings, or the threat of losing her makes him realize that what he has been feeling for her is indeed love.

This brings me to the question: What happens to the heroine’s job? Only a few novels discuss her career aspirations. In Kate Hewitt’s The Marakaios Baby (2015), Margo gives her career as a reason for not marrying Leo, explaining that she does not want to be a housewife for fear of being bored, and Keira in Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby is indignant when told that being pregnant is her new job. In all cases, the plot drives the transition from working woman to mother. The marriage because of her pregnancy nullifies all previous conversations about the incompatibility of marriage and the heroine’s independence, because it is now not merely herself she has to care for. In the case of a royal wedding, the heroine has no choice but to take up wifely duties as she will become the new queen—the press also often makes it impossible for the heroine to return to her job, as Leila has to find out when her perfume shop is overrun by the media. Leo and King Alix Saint Croix give their wives an opportunity to work, Leo by providing her with a job in his office and King Alix by presenting his perfume-maker wife with a factory in which she can produce new scents. In both cases, it is only with his help that she can resume work, and in neither is it treated as a potential career. [End Page 12]

Without fail, the transformation into a housewife ultimately makes the heroine of the pregnancy narrative happy. The Princess of Surhaadi finds fulfillment in her family and Eve, the heiress and society girl from Bought: The Greek’s Baby, excels in her role as mother of three while juggling social affairs. The heroines do not need a career to find happiness. The hero exists, so Talos tells his wife in Lucas’s novel, “to satisfy [her] every desire” (146). Along similar lines, Leo argues that he is “not expecting [her] to have duties” around the house; she can do as much or as little as she wants, and being his wife offers her “freedom, not a burden” (Hewitt 95). In all cases, the heroine finds fulfillment through a pregnancy that was unplanned. Becoming a mother had not been part of her plan to lead a happy life, and as such, the pregnancy narrative presents the reader with the “insight” that babies will make her happy, even if she had not considered having one at all or at this stage in her life. The heroine “has it all” in the end: love, wealth, social status, a family, and the option to work.[10] However, the narrative of the novels suggests that none of this would have been possible without the baby.

The “Harlequin Romance” line, in contrast, focuses more on “relatable women” and does not require alpha male heroes (“Harlequin”). Possibly for that reason, the intersection of career and family is more explicitly discussed in the “Romance” than in the “Presents” imprint. Novels in the “Presents” line that focus on pregnancy usually begin with the demand that the heroine will not work during her pregnancy or the first few years of the child’s life, examples of which would be The Marakaois Baby or Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby. The pregnancy titles in the “Harlequin Romance” imprint, such as Jacki Braun’s Boardroom Baby Surprise (2009), Barbara McMahon’s The Boss’s Little Miracle (2007), or Jessica Hart’s Promoted to Wife and Mother (2008), all indicate that their focus is on parenthood as well as on the workplace. The reason that this imprint is more flexible in its representation of the negotiating of a woman’s career and her ability to be a mother is partially due to the fact that “Harlequin Romance” offers a more equal footing for the relationship that can, as Vivanco observes, often be described with the terms “friends” or “partners” (1078). The following analysis of eight pregnancy-focused titles from 2007-2015 will show, however, that even the pregnancy narratives in this imprint suggest that a woman needs a baby to find fulfillment.[11]

The men in the “Harlequin Romance” pregnancy narrative are often at the center of the story. The heroines do not need to prove to the father that they are good mothers; instead, they need to teach the hero to be in touch with his emotions, to accept support and care, or to realize that a career is not a life, such as in Rebecca Winters’s The Greek’s Tiny Miracle (2014) and Michelle Douglas’s The Secretary’s Secret (2011), as well as her Reunited by a Baby Secret (2015). Yet, as my analysis will show, this imprint offers more flexibility than the “Presents” one, enabling more variety in the scenarios. It can therefore also be the hero who has to show the heroine that there is more to life than a career, as in Gilmore’s The Heiress’s Secret Baby; or that he is a permanent addition to her life and is willing to earn her trust, an example of which would be McMahon’s The Pregnancy Promise (2008).

In contrast to pregnancy narratives in the “Presents” line, the novels do not have to begin with a conflict or a break-up. In several instances, such as in Shepherd’s From Paradise…to Pregnant or McMahon’s The Pregnancy Promise, the characters spend more than a hundred pages—that is, almost half of the book—getting to know each other prior either to having sex or at least to discovering the pregnancy. Once the pregnancy is discovered, the decision to keep the baby is as immediate as it is in the “Presents” imprint and likewise never [End Page 13] doubted, even though some texts mention “alternatives like abortion or adoption” and Marianna, Douglas’s heroine, admits that she had thought about it (Reunited 17).

If abortion as an option is raised, it is done by men, and the heroine makes it clear that it is her choice to have the baby: “He wanted her to get rid of their beautiful baby? Oh, that so wasn’t going to happen!” (Douglas, Secretary 50). Shepherd’s heroine, Zoe, is similarly passionate when the doctor tells her that she has “options”: “‘No.’ Zoe was stunned by the immediacy of her reply. ‘No options. I’m keeping it’” (184). Only “bad” women would truly consider an abortion, as McMahon’s The Pregnancy Promise makes clear via the hero’s traumatized state after his ex-girlfriend, a beautiful but cold supermodel, “aborted the[ir] child because she didn’t want stretch marks marring her skin” (84). Oliver states that Hollywood films employ “the language of choice used by the pro-choice movement” in order to justify “a woman’s ‘right to choose her baby,’ in spite of what others may think” (10). Harlequin avails itself of the same sentiment for its “Romance” pregnancy narratives. Some heroines call it a choice, but even without expressing it as such, the romance heroine is depicted as “choosing” the baby when offered alternatives. Category romance titles that follow this representation thereby promote traditional values by presenting the “choice” to have the baby as the way to happiness and fulfillment, a way the women had not even considered.

While abortion remains a taboo topic, infertility is a recurring theme in “Harlequin Romance” pregnancy narratives. It is often the hero who is unable to have (more) children; the male protagonist in The Heiress’s Secret Baby is infertile due to cancer treatment in his youth and becomes the adoptive father of the heroine’s baby, and Winters’s hero was injured in a bomb attack after his affair with the heroine and she is now carrying the only child he will ever have. Only The Pregnancy Promise features a female protagonist, Lianne, who might not be able to reproduce in the future, as the doctor urges her to have a hysterectomy to save her own health. Despite the fact that Lianne’s time is running out if she wants to have a baby, she opts for finding a man in order to become pregnant rather than turning to reproductive technologies. Except for Lianne, whose timeframe to have a baby is reduced to a few months, the Harlequin heroines do not express any form of “baby hunger” that might drive women to employ medical technologies in order to become pregnant. Lianne, however, represents the threat that a woman’s chance of having a child might slip from her grasp if she waits too long. The reliance on heterosexual sex that produces the baby in all texts, despite the shadow of infertility, reassures the readers that sex and love,[12] not technology, produces children. And most importantly, the shadow of male infertility emphasizes women’s function as producer of future generations; the heroine’s decision to keep the baby secures the future because without her child there would be no babies at all.

As I stated before, the “Romance” imprint is more flexible when it comes to negotiating motherhood and careers. Most pregnancy texts discuss the compatibility of both, as well as women’s options, while ultimately concluding with happiness in the form of a family. However, the family model that is reflected is more modern than the traditional patriarchal type in which the mother’s job is at home. Depending on the narrative—and on the author, as it seems that particular writers favor certain family models—the heroine can keep her company or position as CEO after the birth, as Gilmore’s and Shepherd’s do. In others—Winters’s The Greek’s Tiny Miracle, for example—the heroine gives up her job and does not resume it by the end of the novel. Douglas’s secretary likewise decides to resign from her job and to move back to her hometown, although she has plans to “get a job;” [End Page 14] whether she does so after the conclusion of the novel is up to the reader to decide (Secretary 44). Regardless of the decision the soon-to-be-mother makes, the question of whether a woman can have both a career and a job is always answered with a “yes,” and it is either the hero who assures the heroine that women can have both (Gilmore 99), or she herself explicitly states that she “will organize [her] own life–[her] own house and furniture, not to mention [her] work,” despite being pregnant (Douglas, Reunited 49).

The affirmation that a woman “can have it all” comes, however, with a caveat. The women in these texts all love their jobs; yet, they are often willing to resign in order to raise the child close to their family (Kit in The Secretary’s Secret or Stephanie in The Greek’s Tiny Miracle); they give up a promotion that would mean relocating in order to stay close to the father (Anna in The Boss’s Little Miracle); or they realize that expanding the company will not be possible if they want to be mothers at the same time (Zoe in From Paradise…to Pregnant). Not all women have to make adjustments in their jobs, but if they have a career, they inevitably have to give up something. Polly, the heroine in The Heiress’s Secret Baby, is the CEO of a large department store. This position, however, means that she “was prickly and bossy. She didn’t know the names of half her staff and was rude to and demanding of the ones she did know” (Gilmore 151). Being a CEO requires her to “adjust” after she returns from a month-long vacation and the “cloaks of respectability and responsibility settling back onto her shoulders . . . were a little heavy” (10, 7). The corporate world has no place for human weakness: “So what if she felt as if a steamroller had run her over physically and emotionally before reversing and finishing the job? She wasn’t paid to have feelings or problems or illnesses” (104). It also requires a particular appearance, so that Polly keeps referring to her makeup as “armour” (159).

When Polly learns of her pregnancy she reacts with shock and, while she ties that response to her “need to be a CEO, not a mother” (99), it is motivated by fears about her inability to be a mother because she “can’t bake” (95) and “can’t sew either” (95). The two, motherhood and a career, are not as compatible as it first seemed after all. In order to be a good mother, Polly needs to realize that a career is not a life (170), and to acknowledge that “valuing her independence, her ability to walk away . . . didn’t seem such an achievement anymore” (213). The conclusions across my sample suggest that a woman can have a career, but she needs a baby if she wants to be happy. The necessity of a baby for fulfillment is not the same as being able to “have it all,” seeing that the baby now becomes mandatory for happiness. Furthermore, the fetus always has to come first if one wants to avoid the label “bad” mother: and that includes giving up career opportunities.

Pregnant women in “Harlequin Romance” are financially secure even if they are not CEOs or owners of a company; they do not seek out the father of their child in order to discuss payments. Douglas’s secretary tells the father: “I don’t want anything from you. I assure you I have everything that I need” (Secretary 51). Marion Lennox’s nurse likewise tells the hero, “I can afford [the baby] [and] I didn’t come here for the money” (134), and Marianna in Reunited by a Baby Secret works as a viticulturist and stresses this point: “I work hard and I draw a good salary. It may not be in the same league as what you earn, Ryan, but it’s more than sufficient for both my and the baby’s needs” (Douglas 64). The heroines are also not interested in a marriage of convenience and some are very outspoken in voicing their opinion when the hero mentions marriage for the sake of the child: Marianna asks, “What kind of antiquated notions do you think I harbor?” (Douglas, Reunited 44). Yet, while several texts explicitly state that single women “get pregnant all the time” and that “[n]o one expects [End Page 15] them to get married any more” because “[n]o one thinks it’s shameful or a scandal” (44), all but one of the women contact the father.[13] That is not to say that there are no Harlequin titles in which the heroine decides against contacting or involving the father and instead raises the child alone, as Julia James’s The Greek and the Single Mom from 2010 or Jordan’s A Secret Disgrace from 2012 in the “Presents” imprint demonstrate. However, under consideration here are only narratives that have the pregnancy at the center and James’s, as well as Jordan’s and other single-mom titles, focus on the events after the birth with an actual child present in the storyline.

The majority of the heroines—seven out of eight in my sample—do not expect the father to get involved after they contact him: “I’ll not raise him expecting anything from you. You can walk away” (Lennox 142). However, letting the father know of his new status is portrayed as “the right thing to do” (146), and ultimately always leads to a conventional family by the end of the novel because the hero wants to be a part of his child’s life. Despite the pregnancy novels’ assurance that there is no shame in single motherhood, the happy ending in this particular strand of “Harlequin Romance” publication suggests that the father is a necessary part of finding fulfillment and that forming a family is what good mothers achieve. Some narratives, such as Winters’s The Greek’s Tiny Miracle, explicitly articulate the importance of a child having a father in its life: “[Y]ou’ve known nothing about your own father—not even his name. I can see how devastating that has been for you, which makes it more vital than ever that the baby growing inside you has my name so it can take its rightful place in the world” (107).

As in the “Presents” line, pregnancy in the “Harlequin Romance” functions as a plot device that transforms the two protagonists into suitable partners or good parents. Four novels concentrate on the relationship between the heroine and the hero. The other half feature a hero who needs to learn that being a father and having a family enables him to overcome his own trauma. In these texts, her pregnancy provides a mere vehicle for his transformation from “lone wolf” to father (Douglas, Reunited 47). This is reminiscent of the pregnancy movies of the 1980s and 1990s in which the man was domesticated “at the expense of the pregnant woman, who is used primarily as a backdrop against which the men ‘find’ themselves and learn the true meaning of love and family” (Oliver 41). The fact that male domestication is still a main theme in category romance well after 2000 speaks to the persistent anxiety—and reality—that an unwanted pregnancy will result in single parenthood. Pregnancy in category romance provides a fantasy in which men would rather sue the mothers for custody than abandon their child, and where they turn from cold corporate professionals into caring fathers.

I have shown that Harlequin’s “Presents” and “Romance” imprints both feature a strand of pregnancy narratives that contribute to a particular representation of pregnancy in popular culture. In Hollywood as well as in women’s magazines, pregnancy is represented as women’s “biological destiny” (Sha and Kirkman 365), which is perpetuated by this type of category romance where a woman can have a career, but only a child leads to happiness and fulfillment. Popular culture also strongly polices what makes a “good” mother by heralding certain choices, while punishing those who transgress. In the examined pregnancy narratives, “good” mothers are expected to do everything in their power to give the child a father; their success is then rewarded with love and a family instead of single motherhood. Category romance reflects current discourses on pregnancy and while the narratives examined here allow the articulation of some feminist values (depending on the imprint), it [End Page 16] does so within a patriarchal framework that is ultimately reinforced by the conclusion of the narratives.


[1] I want to thank my anonymous reviewer for bringing Penny Jordan and the titles mentioned here to my attention. I also want to express my gratitude to Eric Selinger for his keen eye for detail and the thoughtful observations he made when reading the draft of this article.

[2] The “Harlequin Romance” series “The Single Mom Diaries,” including texts such as Raye Morgan’s A Daddy for Her Sons (2013), is specifically dedicated to the exploration of single motherhood. “Harlequin Presents” likewise features single mothers, for example in Cathy William’s A Reluctant Wife (2013).

[3] My sample only yielded one narrative that starts out with the female protagonist wanting to have a baby, Barbara McMahon’s The Pregnancy Promise (2008).

[4] Only novels with a title that clearly identify it as a story focusing on pregnancy were counted for this statistic, i.e., titles including the words “pregnancy” or “pregnant,” “baby,” “heir,” “nine months,” “expecting,” or similar. Titles were collected using www.romancewiki.com for publications up to 2012 and www.fictiondb.com for the years 2012-2016.

[5] Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Books S.A. or its affiliated companies, used under license.

[6] cf. “The Global Gender Gap Report 2015” by The World Economic Forum or, specifically for North America, “The Gender Wage Pay Gap: 2014” by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research as well as “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap: Spring Edition 2016” done by The American Association of University Women.

[7] The only notable exception in my sample is The Marakaios Baby, in which fear for the fetus’ survival dominates the pregnancy. Even in this novel, though, the focus remains on the bleeding and the potential miscarriage rather than on concrete discussions of or interactions with the baby growing in her.

[8] Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby has the heroine confined to his islands without access to the internet or a phone, and working is prohibited. In His Royal Love-Child, Danette is taken to Marcello’s island so that she cannot see the tabloids, and Talos, the hero of Bought: The Greek’s Baby, likewise takes his heroine to his island; this time to prevent her from regaining her memory.

[9] Silas Weir Mitchel invented the rest cure in the late nineteenth century as a treatment of hysteria and other nervous illnesses. Mostly used on women, this cure confined the patients to their home and bed and prohibited them from any form of mentally engaging activity, such as writing or reading. Famous patients that suffered this treatment were Charlotte Gilman Perkins, who was put to rest to cure her of postnatal depression, and Virginia Woolf.

[10] Most novels do not tell the reader if the heroine will work again. However, they do not state the opposite either. Presumably, it is up to the imagination of the reader to envision if she will remain a fulltime housewife or return to work.

[11] As before, the selection of Harlequin Romance novels is based on their availability in secondhand bookstores at the time of my research.

[12] In category romance, love and sex are co-dependent. Even if the series focuses on sexual encounters, as “Presents” does, the happy ending retroactively turns the one-night- [End Page 17] stand or sex-focused affair into a fated encounter that ends with marriage, thereby ensuring that women’s sexual liberty is tied to state-sanctioned monogamy after all.

[13] The one woman who does not tell the father is Kit, the heroine in The Secretary’s Secret. She does not inform him because he breaks up with her at the beginning of the novel and pre-empts her hope of becoming a family when he tells her that he does not “do long-term, . . . marriage and babies, and [he] certainly [doesn’t] do happy families” (Douglas, Secretary 15). [End Page 18]

Works Cited

Primary Sources:

Braun, Jackie. Boardroom Baby Surprise. Harlequin, 2009. Harlequin Romance.

Cox, Maggie. The Italian’s Pregnancy Proposal. Harlequin, 2008. Harlequin Presents.

Darcy, Emma. Jack’s Baby. Harlequin, 1997. Harlequin Presents.

—. Ruthless Billionaire, Forbidden Baby. Harlequin, 2009. Harlequin Presents.

Duncan, Tina. Her Secret, His Love-Child. Harlequin, 2010. Harlequin Presents.

Douglas, Michelle. Reunited by a Baby Secret. Harlequin, 2015. Harlequin Romance.

—. The Secretary’s Secret. Harlequin, 2011. Harlequin Romance.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper & Other Stories. 1892. Dover, 1997.

Gilmore, Jessica. The Heiress’s Secret Baby. Harlequin, 2015. Harlequin Romance.

Goldrick, Emma. Baby Makes Three. Harlequin, 1994. Harlequin Romance.

Green, Abby. An Heir Fit for a King. Harlequin, 2015. Harlequin Presents.

Harris, Lynn Raye. Carrying the Sheikh’s Heir. Harlequin, 2014. Harlequin Presents.

Hart, Jessica. Promoted to Wife and Mother. Harlequin, 2008. Harlequin Romance.

Hewitt, Kate. The Marakaios Baby. Harlequin, 2015. Harlequin Presents.

James, Julia, and Carole Mortimer. An Heir for the Millionaire: The Greek and the Single Mom and The Millionaire’s Contract Bride. Harlequin, 2010. Harlequin Presents.

Jordan, Penny. The Reluctant Surrender. Harlequin, 2010. Harlequin Presents.

—. A Secret Disgrace. Harlequin, 2012. Harlequin Presents.

—. The Sicilian’s Baby Bargain. Harlequin, 2009. Harlequin Presents.

Kenny, Janette. Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby. Harlequin, 2009. Harlequin Presents.

Lee, Miranda. The Secret Love-Child. Harlequin, 2002. Harlequin Presents.

Lennox, Marion. Nine Months to Change His Life. Harlequin, 2014. Harlequin Romance.

Lucas, Jenny. Bought: The Greek’s Baby. Harlequin, 2010. Harlequin Presents.

Marinelli, Carol. Princess’s Secret Baby. Harlequin, 2015. Harlequin Presents.

Marton, Sandra. The Italian Prince’s Pregnant Bride. Harlequin, 2007. Harlequin Presents.

McMahon, Barbara. The Boss’s Little Miracle. Harlequin, 2007. Harlequin Romance.

—. The Pregnancy Promise. Harlequin, 2008. Harlequin Romance.

Monroe, Lucy. His Royal Love-Child. Harlequin, 2006. Harlequin Presents.

—. One Night Heir. Harlequin, 2013. Harlequin Presents.

—. Pregnancy of Passion. Harlequin, 2006. Harlequin Presents.

Morgan, Raye. A Daddy for Her Sons. Harlequin, 2013. Harlequin Romance.

Morgan, Sarah. One Night…Nine Month Scandal. Harlequin, 2010. Harlequin Presents.

Shepherd, Kandy. From Paradise…to Pregnant. Harlequin, 2015. Harlequin Romance.

Williams, Cathy. A Reluctant Wife. Harlequin, 2013. Harlequin Presents.

Winters, Rebecca. The Greek’s Tiny Miracle. Harlequin, 2014. Harlequin Romance.

Secondary Sources:

Boswell, Parley Ann. Pregnancy in Literature and Film. McFarland, 2014.

“Bump Watch.” US Weekly, 28 Feb. 2016, www.usmagazine.com/tag/bump-watch/. Accessed 13 April 2016.

[End Page 19]

Devereux, Cecily. “‘Chosen Representatives in the Field of Shagging’: Bridget Jones, Britishness, and Reproductive Futurism.” Genre, vol. 46, no. 3, 2013, pp. 213-237.

Dixon, jay. The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1995. 1999. Routledge, 2016.

“Harlequin Submission Manager.” Harlequin, n.d., harlequin.submittable.com/submit/29561. Accessed 18 March 2016.

Hefferman, Kristin, Paula Nicolson, and Rebekah Fox. “The Next Generation of Pregnant Women: More Freedom in the Public Sphere or just an Illusion?” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 20, no. 4, 2011, pp. 321-332, doi:10.1080/09589236.2011.617602.

Hine, Gabrielle. “The Changing Shape of Pregnancy in New Zealand Women’s Magazines: 1970-2008.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 13, no. 4, 2013, pp. 575-592, doi:10.1080/14680777.2012.655757.

Jerković, Selma Veseljević. “‘Because I Deserve It!’ Fashion and Beauty Industries in the Service of Patriarchy: The Tale of Chick-Lit.” Facing the Crises: Anglophone Literature in the Postmodern World, edited by Ljubica Matek and Jasna Poljak Rehlicki, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, pp. 147-163.

Kushner, Eve. “Go Forth and Multiply: Pronatalist Imperatives on Film.” Bitch Media, 1 January 2000, bitchmedia.org/article/go-forth-and-multiply. Accessed 9 April 2016.

Longhurst, Robyn. Maternities: Gender, Bodies and Space. Routledge, 2008.

Modleski, Tania. “The Disappearing Act: A Study of Harlequin Romances.” Signs, vol. 5, no. 3, 1980, pp. 435-448. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3173584.

“Natalie Suleman.” Wikipedia, n.d., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natalie_Suleman. Accessed 9 April 2016.

Oliver, Kelly. Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films. Columbia University Press, 2012.

Rogers, Dorothy. “Birthmothers and Maternal Identity: The Terms of Relinquishment.” Coming to Life: Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering, edited by Sarah LaChance Adams and Caroline R. Lundquist, Fordham University Press, 2013, pp. 120-138.

Sha, Joy, and Maggie Kirkman. “Shaping Pregnancy: Representations of Pregnant Women in Australian Women’s Magazines.” Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 24, no. 61, 2009, pp. 359-371.

Smith, Janet Farrell. “A Child of One’s Own: A Moral Assessment of Property Concepts of Adoption.” Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt, Cornell University Press, 2005, pp. 112-135.

“The Gender Wage Gap: 2014.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, iwpr.org/publications/the-gender-wage-gap-2014/. Accessed 16 April 2016.

“The Global Gender Gap Report 2015.” The World Economic Forum, reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/. Accessed 16 April 2016.

“The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap: Spring Edition 2016.” American Association of University Women, www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/. Accessed 16 April 2016.

Vivanco, Laura. “Feminism and Early Twenty-First Century Harlequin Mills & Boon Romances.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 45, no. 5, 2012, pp. 1060-1089.

Weisser, Susan Ostrov. The Glass Slipper: Women and Love Stories. Rutgers University Press, 2013.

[End Page 20]

Share

Review: Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari, with Eric Klinenberg; Is Monogamy Dead?, by Rosie Wilby; How to Go Steady, by Jacque Nodell

Review by Amy Burge

The literary fields of sociology, self-help, history, and popular culture have, for a long period, produced books about love and romance. The three titles above offer a more humorous, informal look at modern practices of love, dating, and relationships. Two are written by comedians—Ansari and Wilby—and Nodell’s book draws on historical content from American romance comics, itself an emergent heritage genre. All three books share a common theme—the search for a successful romantic relationship—which they explore from different perspectives. Ansari’s focus is on technological development and its effect on love and dating in the digital era; Wilby tackles the concept of monogamy and its function in Western society; and Nodell presents relationship advice for young women from mid-twentieth-century US romance comics. Following allegations of sexual misconduct made against Ansari in January 2018, Modern Romance is also now unavoidably read in light of #MeToo (more on that later).[1]

The problems and the challenges of romantic love are themes shared by all three works. Ansari states about Modern Romance: “I wrote this book because I wanted to better understand all the conundrums that come up in modern romance” (236). Wilby invites her readers to “hold each other’s hands and work out how to go about relationships in this scary, busy, digital twenty-first century” (8). Nodell’s approach is rooted in historical issues and advice, but her frequent indication of the relevance of advice from the 1960s and 1970s for romance today is a reminder of the overarching, longer structures of behaviour, manner, and advice that are persistent over time.[2] [End Page 1]

Modern Love is driven by a hypothesis that technology has led to changes in the way we ‘do’ love in the modern world, citing the statistic that in 2014 “the average American spent 444 minutes per day—nearly 7.5 hours—in front of a screen, be it a smartphone, tablet, television, or personal computer” (29). He goes so far as to argue that “our romantic lives now inhabit two worlds: the real world and our phone world” (177). Ansari acknowledges that “in books like this it’s easy to get negative about technology and its impact” (242). For example, Chapter 6 “Old Issues: New Forms: Sexting, Cheating, Snooping, and Breaking Up” focuses on technology as a “new format” in “age-old issues like jealousy, infidelity, and sexual intimacy” (177). Ansari observes that “The advantages of technology that facilitate regular dating (such as the ease of access and the absence of the pressure found in an in-person interaction) also transfer over to cheating” (188). But he’s careful not to come down on either side of the argument (which he explicitly acknowledges in the epilogue). He notes that there are some positive romantic experiences that technology facilitates, for example the expansion of online dating means it becomes easier to find a partner one can get “really excited about” (236). The most overt celebration of technology comes towards the end of the book, where Ansari shares two examples (one drawn from his own romantic life) of how emails and text messages facilitated a record of romantic encounters that one can look back on with fondness. Ultimately, “no matter the obstacle, we keep finding love and romance” (251).

Wilby’s book is modeled on Modern Romance—she cites from the work—and replicates Ansari’s mix of academic investigation and personal story to explore her central question: is monogamy dead? Wilby draws on her own romantic experiences and those of her London-based lesbian community to explore a wide range of modern relationship styles and approaches. She covers demisexuality (110), relationship anarchy (213), conscious uncoupling (224), ghosting, icing and bread-crumbing (223), and interrogates concepts of masculinity (15) and the language for different types of love (329). One of the key challenges Wilby identifies for romance in the twenty-first century is “our lack of language”; “If we don’t have words for a particular type of loving relationship, we can’t talk about it and it remains invisible” (329). In service of this aim, Wilby provides a glossary for “help and support as to how to understand twenty-first-century relationships” (329). Wilby’s book is more overtly feminist and inclusive than Ansari’s Modern Romance and goes further into modern varieties of relationship.

Jacque Nodell’s How to Go Steady (2017) is the latest in a recent stream of publications celebrating the twentieth-century romance comic.[3] Reflecting on advice columns in romance comics published by DC, Marvel, and Charlton, Nodell asks “Might we today take the lessons of the past and see the wisdom in them?” (Loc 1786). In her preface, Nodell argues that “as outdated as vintage romance comics may sometimes seem, believe it or not, they are full of practical dating advice” (Loc 70)— “as timeless as any Jane Austen novel” (Loc 70)—and draws similarities with “positive thinking self-help that is given today” (Loc 1360). Nodell’s take on romance comics, despite their traditional tone, and “mid-century message that young women would ultimately find themselves drawn into ‘feminine interests’” (Loc 431) is positive—she never criticises the advice or offers significant analysis of its messages (although she does allude to its heteronormativity and whiteness).

Nodell’s aim is to both draw connections between past and present, but also to interrogate the particular historical context of the comics, including the postwar emphasis on youth marriage. She posits that “the advice columns of romance comics give a sense of the [End Page 2] issues that were on the minds of young people, and the societal norms that motivated the answers” (Loc 275). For example, “in an era when young marriage was the norm and ideal, it is unsurprising that readers viewed not being in a relationship as a serious problem needing a remedy from an advice columnist” (Loc 392). For Nodell, romance comics are “an incredibly rich source for discerning not only how dating was done in the 1960s and ’70s but also, how it was recommended people date” (Loc 90). Ultimately, “this outpouring of courtship advice in the comic books was just another cog in the expertise machine that propelled the nation in the postwar years” (Loc 249). She concludes that “The advice columns will be remembered for their contribution to popular culture, and how they informed the psyche of the mid-century teen” (Loc 1776).

The advice is organised into nine chapters, covering the stages of a heterosexual, western courtship, from “Meeting the One,” to “going steady,” to marriage (a structure that echoes Modern Love). An introduction offers an overview of “who was dishing out this advice,” naming a string of pseudonymic older women who dispensed advice in titles including Girls’ Romance, Girls’ Love Stories, Heart Throbs, Secret Hearts, Young Love, Falling in Love, and some male columnists, including “twins Marc and Paul” who wrote for DC (Loc 142) and Dr Harold Gluck for Charlton (Loc 168). Nodell notes that the authorship of romance comics and advice was overwhelmingly male and middle-aged (Loc 70). As for “Who was reading this advice?” (Loc 222), Nodell admits that the intended audience was undoubtedly “a white female teenager” (Loc 222) but that there is evident variation in age, race, and geography from letter-writers. Although, in the afterword Suzan Loeb, who wrote advice columns for Marvel in the 1970s, admits that she made up her letters to address universal problems which somewhat undercuts Nodell’s argument about reader representation.

Methodology and approach

While rooted in the personal and in popular culture, Modern Romance and, to a lesser extent, Is Monogamy Dead? are clearly aiming for a research- and data-driven approach influenced by psychology, sociology and anthropology. Modern Romance is based on an ethnographic study (conducted with sociologist Eric Klinenberg) of groups and individuals around the world in 2013 and 2014. Ansari and Klinenberg conducted focus groups, monitored dating interactions through people’s phones, and hosted an online forum on the website Reddit.com. They also drew on quantitative data from dating websites, interviews with academics, and additional survey data. Ansari cites liberally from the study’s interview data, offering a rich picture of respondents and illustrating the variety of voices. The effect of this is that some chapters read not unlike How to Go Steady—chapter 2 of Modern Romance, for instance, offers guidelines on how to craft a successful text message to ask someone out as well as a list of basic rules such as “Don’t text back right away […] The amount of text you write should be of a similar length to what the other person has written to you” (57).

Is Monogamy Dead? draws on a mixture of scientific study, celebrity anecdote, and personal experience to explore its theme. We are presented with statistics from the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) on divorce and dissolution rates for marriage and civil [End Page 3] partnership (134-5), the results of surveys conducted on Dutch executives (59) and a survey by Helen Fisher for Match.com (104, 139). Wilby refers freely to documentaries, radio shows, books, newspaper and magazine articles, and even consults with experts, notably academic Qazi Rahman. Wilby conducted her own anonymous online survey, receiving 100 responses to probing questions about fidelity. Studies and articles are mentioned by name in almost every chapter lending the book substantial academic weight (although it would have been helpful if these citations had been gathered into a bibliography of some kind).

All three authors draw on their personal romantic lives to frame their works and explain the rationale for writing their books. Nodell begins by sharing the story of a failed relationship and how an ongoing interest in romance comics helped her through the heartbreak. Ansari opens by relating the story of a hook-up with a woman named Tanya and shares personal anecdotes throughout the book. Wilby’s book in particular is disarmingly open about the author’s personal romantic life and its inspiration for Is Monogamy Dead? This is an advantage of the book and, rather than detracting from the serious message, serves to contextualise it. Wilby’s approach is less overtly comic, but it is more tender and thoughtful than Ansari’s book; as Wilby herself says about a developing show: “I wanted to be authentic and mix up the comedy with some poignancy and pathos” (306). It is the tales of Wilby’s own relationships that flesh out the book, richly illustrating precisely the points that the science seeks to prove. Wilby is careful to include other voices too—she devotes a chapter to the story of her neighbours, Jac and Angie, and gives a chapter—“Jen, in her own words”—to her ex-partner: a nice touch, as I found myself wondering about the ‘other side’ to Wilby’s own stories.

Limitations

All three books have their limitations. The first is their national and cultural specificity. Nodell focuses exclusively on the USA and Wilby sticks to her native Britain. Modern Romance is the most international of these three books; Ansari conducted focus groups in Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Paris and Doha in addition to four cities in the USA. Ansari argues that these places demonstrate different cultural approaches to the USA in terms of dating (150). This allows Ansari to draw out some interesting comparisons. For example, in chapter 3, Ansari notes that while the rising use of technology in dating is seen by some in North America as challenging, in Qatar digital technology can lead to freedom, given the country’s restrictive rules on socialising and dating. In chapter 5, “International Investigations of Love,” Ansari considers the population crisis in Japan and the government’s concern that young people are no longer interested in dating. He notes that 60% of Japanese male singles identify as herbivores: “Japanese men who are very shy and passive and show no interest in sex and romantic relationships” (157). Ansari ascribes this to changing gender roles in modern Japan, as women become more independent and prominent in the workplace. Ansari contrasts Japanese dating culture with Argentina, where street harassment of women is prevalent. As Ansari puts it, “Argentine men have a global reputation for their hot-blooded, romantic passion, which often bleeds over into something pathological and scary” (170). [End Page 4]

A limitation of Modern Love and How to Go Steady is their heteronormativity. Ansari admits that his research focuses on middle-class heterosexuals and a similar audience can be imagined for the readers of advice in romance comics, as Nodell notes. Wilby is the only one of the three authors who explicitly addresses the heteronormativity of romantic discourse and seeks to do something different. She is quick to point to Modern Romance’s disclaimer that it focuses on heterosexual relationships. Wilby does not “mean to single him [Ansari] out specifically” (4), but she makes the valid point that “everything about love and sex in our world is viewed through a prism of assumed heterosexuality” (5). Indeed, Wilby’s book is all the more valuable for being a rare study of women’s same-sex relationships, although it also has much to say about heterosexual relationships and gay male partnerships.

Finally, while Wilby and Nodell’s books are explicitly oriented to women’s experience, Modern Love is less invested in gendered approaches to romance. Ansari does acknowledge some of the ways gender inequality shapes modern love. He admits that while modern love might be more complex, due to technology, women have far more choice than a few decades ago (238). When considering attitudes to infidelity in France, Modern Love notes (ventriloquized through a dog’s voice) that “men are taking advantage of the women’s goodwill and they are resigned to this demeaning situation” (208). But overall, the tone of Modern Romance remains light and inoffensive; Ansari would rather go for the joke than probe at the deeper message he is beginning to uncover. This was perhaps consistent with the societal tone of 2015, but in a post #MeToo world this levity feels, at times, inappropriate, especially when it signposts away from sexism and anti-women behaviour. Reading Modern Love in 2018, especially some of its content about sexual aggression, is not an entirely comfortable experience given subsequent discussion about its author. It’s difficult to discount or ignore Modern Romance as it is such a touchstone for similar studies (as Wilby’s book indicates), yet shifting cultural narratives around gender, sex, and consent mean that we are no longer consuming this work in the same way. Equally, there’s an important point to be made (which Wilby makes in terms of visibility of non-heterosexual relationships) about who has the opportunity to write these kinds of books and whose perspectives on ‘modern romance’ get to be heard. Ansari’s voice, as a heterosexual American man, is undoubtedly one of the most mainstream—perhaps it is time to make room for others who have historically not enjoyed such a platform (this is partly what #MeToo is about).[4]

There are, of course, limits as to what a popular audience book can do in terms of scholarly endeavour. All three authors do make an effort to provide scholarly resources and references: both Ansari and Wilby include bibliographies for further reading; Wilby includes a helpful glossary; Modern Romance provides full references for scientific citations and has an index. Nodell’s book is not an academic text, but it does contain full references for comics cited and a small further reading section which will be of interest to the academic reader. Nodell’s accompanying website, Sequential Crush, is also a useful resource for teaching and research purposes. However, the power of these books to disseminate certain ideas about romance, love, and modern culture make them relevant for those of us working at the academic end of the spectrum. In a sense, these are the kinds of works through which our research reaches a wider audience and, as such, are worthy of our consideration.


[1] The accusation and subsequent response from Ansari were published online: Katie Way, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life,” babe.net, accessed 13 December 2018. [End Page 5]

[2] I have argued likewise in my own research comparing late medieval advice for young people and contemporary British romance advice (Burge, 2018).

[3] See, for example, Michelle Nolan, Love on the Racks: A history of American Romance Comics (2008); Michael Barson, Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Love Comics (2011); Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics (2012).

[4] I recognise that Ansari is a person of colour, but he does not explicitly talk about race in Modern Romance meaning that identifiers of gender are foregrounded. [End Page 6]

References

Barson, Michael. Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Love Comics. New York: Harper Design, 2011.

Burge, Amy. “The Rough Guide to Love: Romance, History and Sexualization in Gendered Relationship Advice,” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 27, no. 6, 2018, pp. 649-660.

Kirby, Jack and Joe Simon. Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2012.

Nolan, Michelle. Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

Way, Katie. “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” babe.net, 13 Jan. 2018, https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355. Accessed 13 December 2018.

[End Page 7]

Share

Review: Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance, by Tom Digby

Review by Jayashree Kamblé

In this compilation of a series of his talks, feminist philosopher Tom Digby seeks to demonstrate that war-reliant societies are steeped in “cultural militarism,” one result of which is that they venerate heterosexuality but cast men and women as “opposite sexes” engaged in a battle. Such societies build their military might through structuring interpersonal relations as occurring between only two genders and then eroticizing the alleged differences between them for “procreative efficiency” (18). These actions stem from their belief that antagonistic relationships between groups are standard, which permeates all levels of discourse and practice even in civilian life. Digby concludes that such societies’ reliance on using force in a perceived zero-sum game of winner/loser or dominant/submissive poisons the possibility of equality between people, including those in love relationships. As he puts it: “the gendered domination-submission model of heterosexual love has its roots in the faith in masculine force and the presumption of adversariality that I … described as lying at the heart of cultural militarism” (28).

Real love is doomed in such culturally militaristic societies since it is shot through with antagonistic emotions that weaken it. Digby therefore claims that the heterosexual love model in militaristic society is “intrinsically weak and even tragic” (30). He finds it foundational to the spectrum of misogyny in that society and notes that it also extracts an economic cost. But he points out that militarism is not the norm in all societies, and that the amount of effort that war-reliant ones put into training people in enacting these values show that they are not natural; ergo, we can deprogram ourselves and establish more equitable communities and erotic bonds.

Digby reiterates this argument over the course of eight chapters, often repeating his central claims at various lengths. This, along with his use of popular texts such as polls in news articles and statistics from TV magazines—he rarely uses traditional scholarly sources—is an enactment of his stated belief that academic writing must reach wider audiences in order to facilitate real change. The style and the repetition of his thesis certainly makes for easier reading, and would be useful in undergraduate classes, especially when attempting to explain the intersection of sexual violence, mass-shootings, and Othering [End Page 1] rhetoric that accompanies war and genocide. It is also a timely book in light of the #MeToo movement, providing a useful perspective on the rhizomatic nature of misogyny, but a reader will have to work out their own practices for how to implement his (understandably) philosophical theory on undoing the problem. The book may also resonate with scholars and readers of popular romance texts, since it is attempting to diagnose and detoxify erotic relationships (though largely between straight pair bonds). Moreover, its reading of how women’s changing economic situation has now made traditional love (with its patriarchal constraints) merely a thing of fantasy or play for them, even as men have become more invested in that story, might provide an interesting lens through which to examine mass-market romance narratives.

In a chapter entitled “Battle of the Sexes,” Digby points out that heterosexual love is represented in our culture as desirable and yet loaded with danger and misery. He traces connections between this and the establishment of a gender binary as a norm, with each gender being trained to enact certain behaviors and self-presentation and to find these attractive in each other in order to result in procreation. Proscriptions against masturbation and homosexuality in militaristic societies are to him another version of this policing and tied to the goal of “procreative efficiency” (18-19). He provides examples of religion and history of such programming (and its punishment of violators). Even outside actual combat, men are programmed (such as through media) to think of themselves as naturally inclined to using force while women are programmed to please them. His attribution of this dynamic to a nineteenth-century shift to companionate marriage (where the idea of love becomes integral to heterosexual relationships), as well to female suffrage and rejection of male authority, feels somewhat clunky. To explain this seeming paradox, he turns to Nietzsche, who claimed that men and women are given different cultural programming about what love means, leading to men being deemed weak if they love devotedly—i.e., like women, rather than like men (for whom love means being worshipped) (26-7). Digby seems to agree with Nietzsche placing blame on this “male domination and female subordination” model for the ““antagonism” in heterosexual relationships” (28).

In “Let’s Make a Deal,” Digby says that “transactionality” is the chief reason for the antagonism in heterosexual love in war-reliant societies, noting seven causal elements (including het- and cis-normativity) in that model of love. He argues that in the resultant culture, people are encouraged to seek a profit from their partner in the context of heterosexual relationships. To him, societies that treat women like chattel with different exchange values is an extension of this transactional attitude. As women gain economic independence and find the traditional transaction less necessary, men who refuse to accept the change turn: 1) to prostitutes, who are still lacking power; and 2) to porn. But their sense of entitlement and the fact that substitutes for women can’t provide emotional support makes them angrier, leading to tragic heterosexuality. Digby suggests escaping the heterosexual economy and seeking egalitarian relationships as a way to reduce the antagonism and strengthen het- love, but it’s not clear how one can do so because while he shows what such love looks like, he doesn’t quite explain how a couple achieves that state (49). The section instead resorts to maxims about sharing, respect, caring, etc., and then pivots to the claim that this antagonistic heterosexuality (along with expectations of coupling across genders and rigid gender roles) goes hand in hand with homophobia. The chapter ends with the claim that this antagonism marks domains like parenting and politics and we need to escape this programming. [End Page 2]

In “How to Make a Warrior,” and “Keeping the Battle of the Sexes Alive,” Digby suggests that understanding “warrior masculinity” can help us escape the “zero sum gender game,” where men and women are made to see each other as enemies (52-3). He describes how boys are trained to “toughen up,” i.e., emotionally conditioned for potential warrior status (57-8). He links this unnatural conditioning to rates of PTSD and veteran suicides. He then suggests that this training is also linked to misogyny because it is predicated on a gender binary, and boys are made to believe that if they want to be “real men,” they must limit their ability to be caring. He includes disturbing examples of hard core porn, especially watched at “gonzo porn” parties where men display their masculinity to each other by voicing approval of images of women being humiliated and dehumanized, an element that he sees as common to military torture. He links this to militaristic societies’ faith in masculine force as an effective solution to problems. He also examines the faith that people place in love in these cultures and returns to his previous recounting of Nietzschean ideas about gendered cultural programming. He adds that there is a connection between the unequal dynamic between couples in a heteronormative militaristic culture and Christianity’s exhortation that one must surrender to Jesus and be taken. He reiterates that men are taught to seek women’s devotion and women to worship them, and links this to examples of domestic violence. He says that when the legality of treating women as chattel was challenged by feminism, it turned into “heterosexuality by faith—specifically the faith of the woman, both in a particular man and in a particular idea of heterosexual love” (85). He notes Nietzsche’s idea that this woman’s faith “is inseparable from romantic passion” and says that women start to equate heterosexual love with being taken/owned by a man, who gives nothing and aggrandizes himself through his acquisition (85). He then attempts to show that the old “cultural programming directed at women” is not so different from current popular culture by citing an interview with romance novelist Christina Dodd where she says alpha males are attractive because they have power and quotes a review of her 2011 novel as having “scenes of aggressive seduction” (86-7).

His subsequent exploration of Nietzsche’s claim that men want to be loved/worshipped is weakened by an odd choice to cite the lyrics of George Michael’s song “Faith” as evidence that heterosexual strong men want devotion from women, even torturing them to get this submission/love (87). He says that while he understands that such men are afraid of the impact to their erotic entitlement caused by women’s changing lives, he is unsure why women were devoted to this notion of love and a “soul mate” (89). But he finds it unsurprising that more men are turning to it, and points to popular media articles that report that “men are more likely to have beliefs about love that reflect traditional romanticism” (90). He calls this buy-in “masculine romanticism,” and mentions other responses in these articles that suggested men want long-term commitment and contrasts it to less romantic beliefs among women (and even says that novels like Dodd’s only have fantasy appeal for some). He then cites another Dodd interview as evidence that as women gain financial independence, they are less interested in traditional ideas of love that allow men to control them. The following claim would be welcomed by romance fiction readers tired of the assumption that they cherish patriarchal structures:

Today there are many women who understand that the traditional male dominant/female subordinate model of romantic love is a fantasy. They may [End Page 3] see it as an arena for play, which they prefer to enjoy only when they want a break from the more important things in their lives, such as careers (94).

In “Can Men Rescue Heterosexual Love,” Digby cautions that reversals in old economic imbalances between men and women as well as technological changes in militaries has meant that men can no longer frame themselves through the Protector, Procreator, and Provider elements that made up traditional masculinity in war-reliant societies; subsequently, even as they look for romantic love to give them some assurances of their status, women’s detachment from it is leading to a “dangerous masculinity cocktail” (115). In presenting a hypothetical situation where a man invested in “masculine romanticism” could persuade women to this fantasy—though he takes an illogical swipe at romance fiction fans as likely candidates (who he has already argued are a demographic unlikely to want this fantasy to come to life)—he demonstrates why the situation is unlikely to prosper. He uses an interview from a BBC show to explain Nietzsche and Simone De Beauvoir’s argument that men have limited ability to be lovers and if this man who is “disabled as a loving partner” wants the happy ever after myth, it can be a drawn out tragedy (106). He then lists examples of virtual violence against women in video games, offers more details on parties where men bond by watching “gonzo” or “bangbus” porn, and describes responses from interviews of male college students as evidence of men’s anger about the loss of women’s devotion and bodies, which they have been trained to think as their right. While he adds that greater consciousness of misogyny means women may turn away from het-love as a desirable route to fulfillment, he thinks it is possible to reverse this misogyny.

He expands on a solution in “Gender Terrorism, Gender Sacrifice” by first explaining that a society that holds to a gender binary creates conditions that harm both men and women. Through subjecting boys to “gender terrorism” from a young age so they don’t cry and learn to not be like the “opposite sex,” we create a “sacrificial masculinity,” which he says is visible in violent sports such as football, in which men are programmed to risk serious bodily harm (137, 130). This military masculinity goes hand in hand with misogyny, and he lists various examples of its negative impact on everyone. “Misogyny terrorism,” he believes, is directed at women as a natural extension of military masculinity. But he cautions against only blaming the immediate perpetrators since it is the culture that creates an endless supply of such men. To him, the broader approach should be toward changing boy parenting to protect both men and women. He ends with what he hopes is an optimistic note—the presence of male allies who support women against misogyny. He says more men haven’t joined them because they misunderstand feminism and he offers what he thinks is a less divisive definition of feminism as “a preference that girls and women not be subjected (by society or individuals) to disadvantage just because they are girls or women” (150). He thinks this definition will help men break away from a culture that harms them and that eventually we can abandon the gender binary itself.

In “The Degendering of Militarism” and “The Demilitarizing of Gender,” Digby says that the U.S. military is becoming degendered and performs a close reading of a speech at West Point by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as evidence of the move away from a tough guy stance to one about empathy and caring for the troops. He also reads the impending threats that Gates lists (e.g. cyber attacks) as not requiring direct confrontation/combat in the traditional warrior masculinity mode but ‘nerd’ and diplomatic skills. Where terrorism is concerned, instead of armed retaliation through the military, the [End Page 4] response needs to be expanded economic opportunity to shrink the pool of potential terrorists, as well as improving health and education (especially for girls and women). In other words, he says, implementing the key ideas of feminism is the way to lower threats against the U.S. He lastly points to the “counterinsurgency doctrine” of David Petraeus—which encouraged empathy, listening, understanding civilian and enemy combatants—as evidence that the degendering of combat is a better way to tackle new threats. (170). He posits that this is a turn from coercive force-style masculinity to what has been associated with femininity in war cultures—“listening and empathy” (173).

In “The Demilitarizing of Gender,” Digby sums up his major claims about the way warrior masculinity in war-reliant societies (based on masculine hegemony) suffuses the culture. Both men and women are expected to lead in this way, and everyone is expected to apply the same masculinity (of not caring) for each other (especially for disadvantaged fellow citizens) as they would to enemies. But as war changes and direct combat and loss of life declines, the need for that military masculinity will change and this will affect inter-personal relations, with less pressure on women to procreate. He envisions this situation as reducing opposition to birth control and reducing homophobia as well as the oppositional and dom/sub nature of current heterosexuality. He thinks this “truce in the battle of the sexes” could ripple outward from individual relationships, reducing the misogyny and sexism in all aspects of society (178). He cites a speech by an Australian General condemning misogynistic emails against female soldiers as evidence that the military is changing and valuing its female members’ contributions. But he says that the General’s rebuke of those who want to humiliate others implies that militaries themselves have to change profoundly since they are built on a masculinity that is nurtured by making men humiliate those who don’t seem tough, i.e., are like the other gender. The uneasiness about the answer to what masculinity can be if not humiliation and violence, he suggests, is why conservatives express moral panic about the changing dynamic between men and women, but he is optimistic that society is slowly reducing its faith in training men (and boys) to be violent. [End Page 5]

Share