Issues

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

Posts Tagged ‘class’

Stacy Holden’s “Love in the Desert”: An Author’s Response
by Megan Crane

Do contemporary sheikh romance novels fetishize Arabs and subject them to the unwavering, privileged glare of the Western imagination as Holden asserts? Or is there a way in which all stories of the beloved fetishize and objectify the beloved—both heroine and hero in their turn, regardless of their cultural background or racial make-up, across all subgenres of romantic fiction?

I was an avid and enthusiastic reader of romance novels long before I found myself pursuing my doctorate in English Literature, a habit I continued throughout my graduate studies and on into a career writing them. I’ve written fifty books under various names[1], including six novels written as Caitlin Crews for Harlequin Presents featuring sheikh heroes. As a life-long romance reader, former scholar of literature, and a current author of romances, I feel one could as easily substitute “Scottish highlander” or “Greek tycoon” for “sheikh” and make many of these same arguments.

Just as murder mystery novels rarely focus on protagonists who have no connection to the central murder and no hope of solving it by the close of the book, romance novels rarely spend any time with characters whose conflict cannot be made the critically beating heart around which the rest of the story is erected. It is the rare “Sassenach” (that is: English) heroine in a historical romance novel who, upon finding herself mired in the politics of the Scottish highlands—often after her abduction at the hands of the hero—does not then immerse herself in the (usually) fairly happy culture thereof and, indeed, go on to do such things as broker quiet peace treaties with more high-minded English citizens to whom she may or may not be related, despite the actual and tragic history of English/Scottish relations. [End Page 1]

Is this evidence of a certain triumphing of a fantasy version of “Englishness” over Scottish Highland culture or revisionist history with a large helping of problematic post-colonial blindness to go along with it? I’d argue that it is not; that it is, in fact, merely an example of a device that authors use to isolate their heroine in a setting she can’t control and must, therefore, share in detail with readers as she learns to adapt to it and even to enjoy it.

I’d argue that any fantasies in these stories have more to do with the modern woman’s belief in the power of femininity to solve problems and change lives for the better than in any kind of cultural or historical revision. For example, the popularity of this or that band of warriors (see: the alpha heroes of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, Julie Garwood’s beloved Highlanders, Kristen Ashley’s almost-outlaw biker gang) who are forever altered once the members begin to fall in love.

Further, this kind of setting, be it an impenetrable Scottish castle or a remote desert sheikhdom, puts the hero in a larger-than-life position of dominance over the heroine. There is only one way that a heroine can “win” any battle with such a mighty figure: she must use her love for him, of course, and his for her, to lead them both toward any satisfactory emotional conclusion. And that satisfactory emotional conclusion is, like the solving of a murder in a murder mystery, the point of the romance novel.

I write for the Harlequin Presents category romance line, in which wealth and luxury are the expected trappings of any story. As such, I’ve written five novels featuring Greek tycoons since 2010 and see no conflict whatsoever between each hero’s vast wealth (and occasional personal, private island in the Aegean) and the current economic situation in Greece. Not because the book is “escapist fantasy,” as romances are so often accused of being, but because the point of the book is the power differential between the hero and the heroine and how they address it in their dealings with each other. One of the ways that imbalance is expressed is through the use of incomparable wealth and power to emphasize masculinity, from my Greek heroes to, for example, the proliferation of dukedoms and thus heroes who happen to be dukes of the realm in historical romances set in England. Class and social boundaries (or perhaps supernatural powers vs. their lack in a paranormal romance) are common ways to play with the power gap between hero and heroine in all romance subgenres.

Thus: made-up sheikhdoms where the sheikh-as-hero rules supreme, the better to illustrate that vast difference between the two protagonists. There are as many (I’d argue far more) made-up Mediterranean islands littering the romance landscape; so many, in fact, that one could walk from Gibraltar to the shores of Cyprus on these imaginary land masses without getting the least bit damp. These invented principalities and kingdoms serve the same purpose as the many imaginary sheikhdoms do: they accord the characters near-immeasurable wealth and power, and they thus allow the author infinite possibilities for storytelling involving the manipulation of these elements toward the desired happy ending.

I’d argue further that depictions of these vastly powerful men, whether in contemporary romances or their paranormal cousins which tend to push these concepts even further with depictions of men who become supernatural creatures, are first and foremost powerful ruminations on masculinity and relationships and the ways in which love alone can solve the problems that nothing else can. The reconciliation fantasies that lurk within romance novels are between the heroes and the heroines first and mainly, are [End Page 2] not specific to any particular culture or even in some cases species, and are certainly not restricted to stories featuring sheikhs.

Holden suggests above that these novels operate as “the perfect vehicle to assuage American fears— anxieties found both in readers and in authors—regarding Arabs and their world.”  While there are certainly authors who explicitly address religious and cultural differences in their heroes and heroines and those who ignore these issues entirely, these are choices on the part of the authors that I’d argue are almost exclusively in service to the story itself and certainly not constrained to sheikh romances. Romance novels are not the exclusive province of Americans or, indeed, Western women, and thus, the fears they strive to address lie more within the scope of human frailty and the darkness of the human soul than any purely Western, quasi-colonialist gaze on the shifting geo-political landscape. Love in these books is held to be eternal while politics are instead the stuff of the moment and wholly conquerable should our hero and heroine wish it.

It’s worth noting that Harlequin Mills & Boon are truly a global publisher. Authors hail from all parts of the world and write about whatever destinations they please/can make work in their stories. So too do they write about whatever characters they please, as I know firsthand. I’ve written thirty books for Harlequin Presents thus far and have never had any editorial interference with any of my characters no matter their nationality or race. I’ve written heroes and heroines of color and at no point has the characters’ heritage even been mentioned by my editor (or any other editor, to my knowledge) as either a positive or a negative. We’ve always simply discussed the love story.

In the end, all romances concern themselves with the collapsing of boundaries, whether internal or external, in order to lead the characters—and the reader—toward an often hard-won happily ever after. It should then, perhaps, come as no tremendous surprise that authors of these books see very few limits to the things they can make right with the power of love.

That is, after all, the point.


[1] As of July 1, 2015. [End Page 3]

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Regimes of Affect: Love and Class in Mexican Neoliberal Cinema
by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado

The recent rise in the study of affect and emotions within different paradigms of cultural studies opens many questions relevant to the study of Mexican and Latin American cinema.[1] It has led to the reconsideration of a series of cultural paradigms, most notably melodrama,[2] as part of networks of aesthetic configuration, audience engagement and political agency. However, the enthusiasm that naturally accompanies an emerging critical paradigm has led to a consistently optimistic understanding of affect and emotion either as a category with strong hermeneutic potential or as a practice that in itself functions as a tool of emancipation or, at least, as a way of reading and thus resisting the tyrannies of the political. In this study, I want to use the case of Mexican cinema to suggest a critique of that optimism, one that raises the question of the historicity of emotion and its relationship to the complex social networks of the contemporary. My primary suggestion is that, while emotions may seem a zero-degree approach to culture, insofar as all humans experience and perform them, the unequal access to the structures of representation and consumption of feelings create distinct regimes of affect that replicate rather than question existing ideological, racial, and class separations. This point echoes the warning raised by Gregory Seigworth and Melissa Gregg in their introduction to The Affect Theory Reader, where they state that “this promise of affect and its generative relay into affect theory must also acknowledge, in the not yet of the never-quite-knowing, that there are no ultimate or final guarantees– political, ethical, aesthetic, pedagogic, and otherwise– that capacities to affect and to be affected will yield an actualized next or new that is somehow better than ‘now’” (9-10). I would even push this point further and contend that a considerable part of the cultural infrastructure that manufactures and deploys structures of feeling is bound to ever more globalized and privatized cultural industries. Accordingly, affect and emotion in the contemporary world should be engaged by considering their irrevocable relationship to capitalism in general and neoliberalism in particular.[3]

Mexican cinema provides a good vantage point to explore this idea because of the way in which the neoliberal process led the country’s mediascape to transition from hegemonic post-revolutionary national culture– which successfully appealed citizens and consumers across class lines– to a cultural industry clearly demarcated by class lines.[4] Up to the late 1980s, Mexican media consumers in urban areas were exposed to more or less the same cultural offerings. The primary medium was television, which was fundamentally controlled by Televisa. Its telenovelas ruled the ratings in primetime hours to the tune of 50 to 70 percent of the audience, mostly because of their ability to successfully construct narratives that appealed to the national identity and the cultural specificity of spectators across the social board (Mazziotti 47-51). The consumption of cinema was mostly in decay as a result of disastrous interventionist policies from the State in the 1970s (Mora 150-88), but cinema attendance remained considerable thanks to a government-regulated fixed ticket price. One may add other policies, such as the ban on rock concerts established in the wake of the Avándaro festival in the 1970s and the strict control that Televisa and a group of radio stations exercised in the distribution of popular and pop music (exposure in the Televisa show Siempre en domingo was a prerequisite to commercial success). Because of the dominance of Televisa on the one hand, and of the overwhelming presence of the State in the distribution and exhibition of cinema in the other, Mexican media products had secure control of the tastes and consumption of a wide-ranging national spectatorship.

During the 1990s, this longstanding mediascape was subject to wide transformations due to the implementation of neoliberal economic policies in the cultural realm and the expansion in the commercial offerings of television and cinema. On the one hand, the monopoly of the State in the distribution of cinema came to an end with the gradual privatization of COTSA, the government-owned distribution agency, as well as of many of the production funds created in the 1970s (Saavedra Luna). This favored the emergence of three private exhibition companies that dominate the Mexican market to this date –Cinemex, Cinemark and Cinépolis– and the creation of a Mexican private production sector favored by tax credits and subsidies provided by the State. On the other, audiovisual offerings were diversified by the growth of cable and pay television in the 1990s, which, in turn, broke Televisa’s stronghold in the production of content. This allowed for Mexican audiences to access US media products such as situational comedies and serialized dramas, which became very popular with the middle and upper classes. Taken together, these phenomena resulted in the creation of two distinct media audiences separated by a paywall. The middle and upper classes, able to pay cable subscriptions and movie tickets priced at three times the rate of the Mexican minimum wage,[5] developed a cultural taste focused on romantic comedies, sitcoms, alternative music, and other products resulting from the importation of US cultural products, while the working classes unable to afford such products remained tied to telenovelas, popular music genres such as norteño and cumbia, and other genres available to them at no extra cost. Film sociologists like Ana Rosas Mantecón have spoken of “new processes of urban segregation” and of the undermining of cultural diversity to represent the way in which film exhibition reorganized itself in the wake of these processes, highlighting the correlation between cinema consumption and the urban middle and upper classes. In Consumers and Citizens, his well-known analysis of the impact of neoliberalism in Latin American culture, Néstor García Canclini showed that “the most salient feature of the restructure of markets is the segmentation of publics” (119), which, at the time, he identified with the possible “cultural formation of a democratic citizenship” (122).

In hindsight, it seems that Rosas Mantecón’s diagnosis is more accurate than García Canclini’s. The diversification of audiences in Mexico created separate spheres of cultural consumption drastically segregated by class. For the purposes of my argument here, this economic segregation resulted in the formation of differentiated “structures of feelings,” to use Raymond Williams’ celebrated notion. Williams himself warned of “the complex relation of differentiated structures of feeling to differentiated classes,” which could only be read by recognizing the fact that they are not “reducible to ideologies of these groups or to their formal (in fact complex) class relations” (134). Williams resolves this conundrum by suggesting a methodology aimed at “defining forms and conventions in art and literature as inalienable elements of a social material process” (133). Echoing these ideas, the study of affect and emotion in contemporary Mexican cinema needs to account for the way in which certain films embody the transformations of lived experience and social aspirations brought about by neoliberalism. Historically, melodrama was a cultural form, which allowed Mexican audiences the negotiation of social inequality through narratives that tied emotion and love to social redemption. This is the case, for example, of the Pepe el Toro trilogy (1948-1953), which used melodrama (in films entitled Nosotros los pobres and Ustedes los ricos, emphasizing the issue of class) to narrate the way in which its protagonist painfully overcomes poverty and tragedy in the path to a final redemption. Telenovela became in Mexico another vehicle in which affect and emotion allowed audiences the embodied experience of class overcoming. One can remember here another trilogy, the María series (1992-1994), in which actress Thalía performs three different characters (María Mercedes, María la del Barrio and Marimar, with each name being the title of a respective telenovela) from different varieties of the lower class (a homeless girl, a girl from the slums, and a girl from a coastal town in the interior) who end up marrying a man from the upper class and thus attaining a social status that was consistently denied to them by other characters. Narratives like this helped Mexican culture use love stories to negotiate the fundamental tension between a national culture based on the horizontal camaraderie famously theorized by Benedict Anderson and a visible class divide that represented the failure of the promises of Mexican modernization. The wide appeal that both Pedro Infante vehicles and telenovelas such as Thalía’s María series had resulted not only from the lack of diversity in cultural offerings, but also from the way in which narratives of love and affect galvanized social identities in a way that trumped class difference through melodramatic allegories focused on the formation of the couple (for example, love stories between rich and poor characters).

While this “structure of feeling” remained central to the cultural experience of the Mexican working classes, as attested by the enduring success of telenovelas in the contemporary media landscape, the cultural products made available by neoliberalism generated an alternative narrative of class, one which provided middle and upper class audiences with the fiction of a central role in a new, modern Mexico and which systematically excludes lower classes from its imagination of the social. As I have described elsewhere,[6] I believe that the emergence of the romantic comedy in Mexico is a central example of the consolidation of this new structure of feeling. The earliest representative of the genre in post-1988 cinema, Alfonso Cuarón’s Sólo con tu pareja (1991), already showed elements that radically departed from the hegemonic structure of feeling that ruled Mexican culture in the 1980s. The film depicts the emergence of a love relationship between Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a jingle writer and serial womanizer, and Clarisa (Claudia Ramírez), a flight attendant in the process of learning about her fiancé’s infidelity. The film’s central conceit is constructed upon a prank played on Tomás by a nurse with whom he slept. The nurse switches his blood tests at the hospital and makes him believe he has AIDS. It is until the very end of the film, when he and Clarisa decide to commit suicide together because of their respective problems (the disease and the fiancé’s infidelities) that the nurse comes clean and Tomás and Clarisa decide to be together. The remarkable aspect of this film for my argument is not so much the plot, but its formal decisions: most of the film takes place in indoor spaces, which, in turn, allows the plot to develop in a decidedly middle-class space that puts under erasure the social diversity of the city. A similar choice is exercised a few years later by the most successful Mexican movie of the late 1990s, Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (Antonio Serrano, 1998), a comedy of errors involving two couples and two characters that destabilize them, fully staged in two apartments of the upscale neighborhood of Polanco.[7] David William Foster has commented, apropos of this setting, that the luxury apartments give “access to a panoramic view of the city, with the effect of ‘owning’ or ‘controlling’ the city as an important correlative to the financial status of the apartment’s residents” (40). Both Sólo con tu pareja and Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, like many Mexican movies that will follow their model through the 2000s, construct their love stories upon the erasure of the social conflict and class diversity that defines contemporary Mexico City.

This type of movie exists and produces a language of affect that pertains exclusively to the middle and upper classes because the class segregation in media consumption practices became formally articulated by the adoption of aesthetic and ideological elements proper to the myth of the middle class in neoliberal Mexico. As MacLaird puts it, “[t]hese films can be as transition films, grounded in PRI-era production practices while also breaking into new thematic territory by looking at sexuality among upper-middle-class couples in the context of Mexico’s changing consumer culture, in contrast to the economic plights of the working class and more traditional representations of Mexican culture” (48). Following this argument, one should note that in the two aforementioned movies, the main characters portray the social ideal that sociologist Richard Florida famously termed the “creative class,” that is, people who attain social status and centrality through “a common creative ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit” (8). Florida’s argument when he defined the notion–he has since redesigned the concept in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis–[8] was that these highly educated professionals were at the center of a new structure of economic development. Reading this notion against the grain, one could argue that, in the middle of the neoliberal process, it represented a social ideal that allowed late capitalism’s turn to immaterial labor to be allegorized as a social virtue and it did the same for late capitalism’s erosion of both labor-based forms of the middle class (i.e. unionized labor) and the old professional-managerial class (doctors, lawyers, and the like). This is why the protagonists of Sólo con tu pareja are a publicist and a flight attendant, while the six characters in Sexo, pudor y lágrimas are a writer, a photographer, an advertising executive, a model, a zoologist, and a “free spirit.” The structure of feeling that they construct is based on the aspirations of the middle and upper classes to achieve the promise of individual success brought forward by neoliberalism. It is the type of cultural product that appeals to people educated in Mexican private universities– where being a major in communications and international relations was in vogue in the 1990s.

Movies like Sólo con tu pareja and Sexo, pudor y lágrimas belong to a heyday period of the global romantic comedy, where love stories provided narratives of isolation that deflected the anxieties of middle classes threatened by the uncertainties of neoliberalism. One can remember here two parallel films produced at more or less the same time in the United States and Great Britain, respectively. The first one is You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1999), where Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), a bookshop owner, falls in love with Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the owner of a corporate bookstore chain that mirrored the rise of Barnes and Noble at the time. The movie functions on the basis of the tension between the old-fashioned romantic coupling embodied by Kathleen and Joe (through which Ryan and Hanks revisit their celebrated screen coupling in Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993)) and the at times astonishing acceptance of the advance of corporate capitalism upon the ways of lives of the middle class. As Aimée Morrison convincingly argues, “[a]cknowledging the seemingly inexorable advance of global brand capitalism at the expense of local enterprise, You’ve Got Mail aims to carve out a new and compelling arena of personal agency, to foster connection, understanding, compromise, and romantic love in times that do not seem to provide for these fundamental pleasures” (55-56). The other film is Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999), where William Thacker (Hugh Grant), the owner of a small travel bookshop, and Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), a movie star, fall in love. We see in this film a similar conundrum to that of You’ve Got Mail: the representative of a pre-neoliberal “authentic” way of life (bookshop ownership in both cases) ultimately accepts the advancement of US-centered global capitalism, respectively embodied in a CEO and a movie star.[9] One could say that the way in which these two movies normalize the advancement of neoliberalism through the love story is parallel to the way in which romantic comedy operates in Mexico (it is not coincidental that both movies were released months after Sexo, pudor y lágrimas). The difference in Mexico, which makes its romantic comedies even more striking, is that the reflexive work on the problematic elements of global capitalism is not even there. In both Cuarón and Serrano’s movies, neoliberalism is not a problem but a given and accepted fact.

The ability of the Mexican romantic comedy to create a structure of feeling adequate to a middle class that isolates itself from the remainder of society lies in one of its central structural elements. In The Secret Life of Romantic Comedy, Celestino Deleyto points out that the genre “proposes an artistic transformation of the everyday reality of human relationships by constructing a special space outside history (but very close to it)” (30). Deleyto’s analysis consists of affirming that this space allows romantic comedy to isolate its ideologies of love and gender from certain immediate social pressures. However, one could go beyond Deleyto’s analysis and suggest that it is this very ability to semi-isolate its characters from the historical that makes the romantic comedy such an apt genre for the expression of creative class ideologies in neoliberal Mexico. We can take as an example Cansada de besar sapos (Jorge Colón, 2006). In this romantic comedy, protagonist Martha (Ana Serradilla) is a graphic designer who decides to “shop” for a new relationship on dating websites after she learns that her boyfriend is a cheater. While this plot is in itself unremarkable, the movie is quite symptomatic of the close relationship between love and neoliberalism due to key formal choices. First, by making the protagonist a graphic designer, it falls squarely in line with Sólo con tu pareja and Sexo, pudor y lágrimas in the elevation of the creative class to the status of object of desire. One can note, for instance, that the “wrong” person for Martha is a businessman, while the man that will ultimately become her object of affection is an actor. But the point is that Martha and her lifestyle are a clear example of Deleyto’s formula of the “space outside history (but very close to it).” The possibility of using a graphic designer as a central character comes from the rise of professions related to flexible and immaterial labor in narratives of social ascendancy and in emerging corners of the neoliberal Mexican economy. The very existence of a publicity industry to accommodate characters like Martha or Sólo con tu pareja’s Tomás, just to mention the ones relevant to the movies discussed here,[10] results from the same expansion of media that allowed the emergence of neoliberal Mexican cinema in the first place. However, it is as important to note how inaccessible that social ideal is, even to people in the traditional middle classes. As economist Enrique Hernández Laos shows, people with degrees in communication sciences and other fields identified with the creative class faced daunting realities of unemployment in the 1990s (and one could safely suspect that it is still the case today), given the fact that the production of professionals in those fields did not match the creation of work opportunities (106). In Deleyto’s language, Martha as a character exists in a place very close to history, insofar as her lifestyle reflects historical transformations of the middle class, but her ability to focus on her love life is made possible by her being in a “space outside of history” that isolates her from the economic insecurity that accompanies the ideal of the creative class in the real world.

The “space outside history” thesis also explains the way in which these movies create middle-class fictions that effectively render the working classes invisible. In Sólo con tu pareja and Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, this was achieved by locating most of the action in apartment buildings and indoor spaces. Cuarón’s film goes from Tomás’ apartment building to a cantina to the Latin American tower at the end of the film, and the only time when we actually see the city, it is at night, when the population of the city is not present in the streets. Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, as I mentioned before, takes place mostly in an apartment in one of Mexico City’s most expensive neighborhoods. In Cansada de besar sapos, the procedure is developed further. Early in the movie, we can see that Martha’s apartment is located in Mexico City’s historic center, thanks to a shot that points to a colonial church tower. Her building has a colonial façade, but her apartment is a postmodern loft with designer furniture: the type of creative-class arrangement one might expect from an idealized publicist. The point is that the urban space where the movie takes place (old colonial streets, bohemian cafes) does not correspond with the reality of Mexico City, a place ruled by chaos and with considerable class diversity. As Frederick Aldama puts it when pointing to this startling representational choice, the location “is packed near suffocation with folks from all walks of life, as well as street vendors hawking their wares […] Colón’s camera cleans and Europeanizes the place in its fairy tale depiction of Mexican Yuppie life” (91). Rather than just sidelining social diversity, the “space outside history” fully erases it. The aspirational world of the Mexican romantic comedy is not only one that identifies love with the near impossibility of economic success via the access to the creative class, which is allegorized by the ideal couple formed by a publicist and an actor or by a publicist and a flight attendant. It also frames that ideal in a representational economy of Mexico where the lower classes have no significant role.[11]

The three movies mentioned so far are part of a paradigm of filmmaking that structurally incorporates neoliberal ideologies of success and social advancement, where romantic and economic success result from individual achievement and/or pre-existing privilege. These movies had considerable success, too: Sexo, pudor y lágrimas was, at the time, the highest grossing Mexican film in the national box office, and Cansada de besar sapos had a very successful run in the 2006 Christmas season. This success shows that the core audience of Mexican film (those who are wealthy enough to pay for box office prices, and susceptible to the appropriate genres available in pay TV and the like) identifies at least partly with the regime of affect constructed by such movies. This is not to say that the segregation of structures of feeling is neat, or that the audience is unaware of it. In fact, as the neoliberal economic promise eroded from the weak recovery after the 1994 crisis, commercial Mexican cinema began to question the representational economy of its own regime of affect. Thus, Mexican filmmakers gradually questioned this narrative by producing romantic films addressed at the middle classes, but where social inequality is central to the plot. The most iconic example of this type of work is Amar te duele (Fernando Sariñana, 2002), a “class-clash film”[12] to which I will devote the remainder of this article.

Amar te duele tells the story of Renata (Martha Higareda), a wealthy high-school student, and Ulises (Luis Fernando Peña), an urban popular-class youth with aspirations to become a visual artist, as they fall in love and face the social challenges produced by class divisions in Mexico City. As expected, Renata’s friends and parents strongly oppose the relationship, while Ulises faces his social group’s increasing resentment, as well as accusations of forgetting who he “really” is. The movie’s tension builds around the insurmountable obstacle of social class, leading to a final scene where Renata’s wealthy ex-boyfriend (Alfonso Herrera) accidentally kills her when she tries to leave Mexico City with Ulises. The movie takes place in the neighborhood of Santa Fe, on the western edge of Mexico City, a prime example of the social dynamics of neoliberalism in Mexico. Santa Fe is currently the location of Mexico’s corporate expansion, an area that headquarters the offices of a large array of national and transnational businesses. But it is not only a place of economic expansion: the neighborhoods surrounding Santa Fe constitute some of the poorest zones in Mexico City, which were built there because parts of these areas were in fact landfills. This contrast is an essential part of life in this area of Mexico City: to reach the corporate areas of Santa Fe, one must drive through some of the poor ones, while the sudden emergence of such a concentration of wealth is, for the inhabitants of the old neighborhoods, a stark reminder of their marginalization. Furthermore, Renata and Ulises meet in Santa Fe’s mall, Mexico City’s largest, where working-class youths sometimes spend time regardless of the harassment of private security officers. Framed by this social contrast, Amar te duele is unique within Mexican commercial cinema, a film that successfully appeals to the logic and aesthetics of the romantic comedy while attempting a commentary on the social inequalities brought about by neoliberalism.

The movie’s success follows the blueprint established by Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, right down to its soundtrack in which Natalia Lafourcade, a successful singer-songwriter, performs the title song.[13] The twist here is that, rather than looking for the young professional audience summoned by singer Aleks Syntek in the soundtrack of Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, Amar te duele makes use of Lafourcade’s success with high school and college students by populating the movie with all her hit singles, including Busca un problema and En el 2000 from her 2000 eponymous debut album. In this, Amar te duele is one of the first major manifestations of middle-class youth as a clear marketing target for Mexican cinema.[14] This audience was, in 2001-2002, a clear target for many media enterprises: besides musical acts like Lafourcade, young middle-class people were the subject of telenovelas such as Clase 406, a high school soap running at the time of Amar te duele’s release. The emergence of a high school and college-aged audience is not surprising, given that multiplexes, particularly those located in malls, are a significant component of young people’s social geographies. Timothy Shary has shown that Hollywood’s interest in teenagers is related to the “disposable incomes that they enjoy spending on entertainment” and to the fact that “today’s children become the consumptive parents of tomorrow” (1). Perhaps more importantly, Shary argues that the multiplex was directly responsible for the emergence of landmark youth films, including Grease (1977) and Sixteen Candles (1984), allowing teenagers to become a sought-after demographic insofar as they are important denizens of the social spaces that include multiplexes.

This social phenomenon is equally true in Mexico, where high school students vastly populate malls on weekday afternoons and college students do the same on the weekends. However, it took nearly a decade to translate this social phenomenon into film production, perhaps owing to the filmmakers’ unwillingness to compete with Hollywood action movies. Mexican romantic comedies did not quite appeal to these audiences, given that, from Sólo con tu pareja onwards, their subjects were largely urban professionals in their late twenties and thirties. Amar te duele is amongst the first major attempts to lure this audience, whose profitability had already been demonstrated by Televisa productions like Clase 406 and El juego de la vida, a 2001 soap opera based on the soccer team of a private high school.[15] Interestingly, both of these telenovelas are centered on the life of private school kids, not unlike Renata and her friends, helping them resonate with audiences located in parts of the social scale higher than their core audience, which replicates the segregational logic of structures of feeling outlined above. By luring audiences through Lafourcade’s music and its protagonists’ youthful looks, Amar te duele clearly sought a segment of an audience made visible by those Televisa productions and previously unexploited by film. The main indication of this technique’s success came a few months later, when the movie was selected as “audience favorite” in Mexico’s MTV Movie Awards, a show that grants awards, mostly, through high school and college-age viewers’ votes.

The languages developed by the Mexican romantic comedy clearly frame the film’s aim for the youth market. Ulises’ artistic aspirations are one of the significant elements of Amar te duele in light of my discussion, given that his class location is underscored by his incapacity to become part of the creative class. The film presents Ulises as a talented graffiti artist, an activity that, in Mexico City, is usually criminalized and identified with gang activity. In one of the scenes in which Renata becomes attracted to him, we see Ulises narrating a comic book story he conceived, set in a world where “all men are equal.” In another scene, Ulises and Renata tour an art school where he shadows the instructors. Here, Ulises tells Renata that he has tried to enroll in the school, but cannot afford it. At first sight, this is one of the film’s most important social commentaries: the absolute lack of mobility of a popular class whose labor situation is precarious, as illustrated by the fact that Ulises’ family income comes from a street market stand with unpredictable sales. However, it is also quite telling that Ulises shares the same ideals presented in the romantic comedy’s portrayal of the Mexican middle class. While Ulises wants to go to art school, his ultimate goal is to write comic books, a trade as closely related to the culture of the creative class as advertising (we can remember here that Alicia, the main character of Ladies’ Night, a film mentioned in a prior note, is a comic book artist). He does not lack the technical talent: the graffiti work the film attributes to him is first-class. As Ana León-Távora and Itza Zavala Garrett underscore, one of the tensions in the movie, represented through the trope of adolescence, is the one established between belonging to a social group versus individuality (85). The ultimate failure of the couple’s formation in this film is directly connected to the failure of both of them to assert their individual values vis-á-vis their social class. What is telling is that Ulises’ redemption is considered impossible because he has no access to a realm in which he can use those talents in the context of a profitable economic activity. His incapacity to access art school is as much a sign of the exclusionary nature of the creative class as of its portrayal as a desirable social space.

Ulises and Renata’s relationship works insofar as they are exceptional representatives of their respective social classes. Everybody else in their social worlds expresses a clear conformity with the existing social divisions. Renata’s sister Mariana (Ximena Sariñana) consistently asserts her class position by speaking in English in front of servants so that they don’t understand what she is saying, or by dismissively rejecting Renata’s love for Ulises. Interestingly, Renata’s driver echoes this view: after he picks her up from her first date with Ulises, he tells her that the “young man is not good for her.” Ulises’ social circle is hardly better. The film presents his best friend Genaro (Armando Hernández) as having criminal tendencies, ranging from his dealings with a shady group of people in the neighborhood to his organizing an attack on Renata’s school to get back at her former boyfriend, who had attacked Ulises in a previous scene. In the only encounter between the two groups, Ulises’ friends organize an excursion to Renata’s school to beat up her former boyfriend and her friends in retaliation for their previous attack on Ulises. The fact that this excursion is disproportionally vicious shows that interclass dialogue is not possible in contemporary Mexico:  the scene validates stereotypes of poor people as violent, which are held both by the wealthy characters and by members of the intended audience. By constantly asserting the insurmountable nature of class in Mexico, Amar te duele operates both as social commentary (by allegorizing the social inequality brought about by the social order behind Santa Fe) and as contradiction to the traditional narratives of melodrama and telenovela, in which people from different classes are allowed a happy ending, both romantically and economically. Sariñana’s film allows no space for a redemptive narrative based on the idea of romance overcoming social odds. Even though Renata’s death is dissonant in terms of genre convention, it is quite consistent with the film’s critique of the new social structure. The point to highlight is the way in which Sariñana translates the aims of his social cinema as represented, for instance, in his preceding movies, Hasta morir (1994) and Ciudades oscuras (2002),[16] into a language more attuned to the new commercial realities of cinema. Still, in doing so, a problematic concession becomes apparent: while the film presents Ulises in a sympathetic light, it shows other urban popular youths in a less favorable way. The movie consistently criminalizes Genaro and, in contrast with Ulises’ soft-spoken, sensitive personality, his demeanor is strident. Similarly, the story presents La China (Daniela Torres), Ulises’ former girlfriend, as violent and intolerant to Ulises’ middle-class friends, a mirror of the attitudes shown by Renata’s former boyfriend. Perhaps more tellingly, Ulises’ brother, Borrego (who, like La China, is only identified by a nickname), has Down Syndrome, a plot element that showcases Ulises’ good heart when he takes care of him, while questionably using a genetic disorder as part of the representation of the lower class (a false notion, of course, because Down Syndrome manifests itself across economic and ethnic lines). By framing his drama within the conventions of the neoliberal romantic comedy, Sariñana’s social commentary must reconfigure itself in representations of the working class addressed to the middle classes who have a view of the poor as diseased, criminal, or morally bankrupt.

In the meantime, a final point regarding the film’s work within the conventions of romantic cinema must be made: the importance of space as a site of affect. Renata and Ulises create a bridge between social classes that proves impossible to sustain, and their relationship unfolds in social spaces redefined by their relationship, reminding us of Deleyto’s arguments on romantic comedy spaces. The scene in which Ulises narrates his comic book to Renata takes place under a highway bridge, a space ridden with graffiti and removed from the safeties and comfort of middle-class spaces. This space becomes meaningful when Ulises invests it with his story, which the director represents by splitting the screen in different squares, occupied by Renata, Ulises, and the comic book characters he imagines. The original space is thus erased, allowing for the emergence of a new space fully constructed by Ulises’ dreams and ideas and by his emerging love for Renata.[17] Another use of space stems from Ulises and Renata’s appropriation of class-specific locales. One of their first dates takes place in the Chapultepec Forest, a site typically identified with Mexico City’s working class, while their first interactions occur in the Santa Fe mall, an upper-class commercial venue. The use of photography in the mall scenes is revealing. Whenever Renata and Ulises interact in this space, the image turns black and white and the narrative pace slows down, adding a contemplative and peaceful feeling to those scenes. The sound replicates this sensation by suspending the buzz of daily mall activity with a piece of music that overtakes the action’s background. From the outset of their relationship, Ulises and Renata develop the ability to confer new meanings on city spaces in different ways by projecting their subjective interaction onto the visual aesthetics of certain crucial class-specific scenes. This interaction with space fades towards the end at the bus station where the final scene develops. The violence that would ultimately and irreversibly end their relationship ultimately overtakes this particular site.

In its many uses of space, Amar te duele deploys a crucial convention of romantic comedy, its subjectification through the affective interactions of the protagonists with a different effect. Unlike Sólo con tu pareja or Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, in which the characters’ perspective effaces Mexico City’s social interaction, Ulises and Renata never fully erase the social meanings invested in the spaces of their relationship. In a great analysis of the film’s space, Joanne Hershfield contends that one can analyze what I have called “the space outside history” through Foucault’s notion of heterotopia to understand youth culture in a way that “rejects the fixity of geographic location” (154). I would expand this point by arguing that the heterotopic gesture of youth culture in Amar te duele (which Hershfield identifies with the comic book scene mentioned above) ultimately fails, because there is always in the film a reminder not of geographic, but of social fixity. In a particular scene at the mall, after a date, Renata decides to purchase a t-shirt for Ulises to replace the one that she ruined during the date. The fact that Renata nonchalantly purchases an item of clothing clearly beyond Ulises’ economic reach brings back to the story the class difference between them, after an interaction that seemed, for a moment, to have erased it.  Therefore, even though Ulises and Renata construct their own spaces and move between urban geographies, that heterotopic gesture does not suffice to truly overcome the class difference.[18]

Beyond its appropriation of the urban, youth culture in Amar te duele may be read as a site of critique of the inequalities of neoliberal modernity and as the portrayal of a generational stance against the notions of development advocated in the 1990s.[19] Renata’s family, a clear beneficiary of the neoliberal model of development, represents the lifestyle pursued by the professional upper classes. They live in a mansion clearly isolated from any sense of neighborhood, protected by 24-hour security, designed, like many of Mexico’s upper-class houses, as a bunker against any outside intrusion. When Renata’s father learns of her relationship with Ulises, he plots to send her to Canada, hoping that a trip to a “more developed” nation will help her avoid the “folly” of crossing class lines.[20] While romantic comedies tend to idealize the self-referential cultural space of the middle and upper classes, Amar te duele’s appeal to youth issues provides it with a language to weave a more critical fiction by allowing urban popular classes a space of cinematic representation alongside the wealthier sectors of society. In other words, while most commercial movies engage either the working classes or the upper sectors, Amar te duele stands apart in its representation of both social groups.

The parallel careers of the two main actors are telling in this sense: Higareda, a light-skinned young actress with large appeal to the middle classes, goes on to play wealthy characters in movies such as Niñas mal (Fernando Sariñana, 2007), in the role of the unruly daughter of a powerful conservative politician, and 7 días (Fernando Kalife, 2005), in which she plays a girl that becomes part of a scheme to bring the band U2 to play in Mexico. Most recently, she was the protagonist of Te presento a Laura (Fez Noriega, 2010), yet another romantic comedy which she co-produced. On the other hand, Peña’s most significant roles have mostly been portrayals of urban popular youths, in films such as De la calle (Gerardo Tort, 2001), where he plays a street kid who gets involved in cocaine trade to feed other homeless children.[21] Most recently, Peña has moved out of the middle-class cinema circle from Mexico City and into US-Mexico border trends of social cinema, playing a struggling working-class kid in Mexican-American director Alex Rivera’s sci-fi immigration allegory Sleep Dealer (2008), and a violent Mara gang member seeking redemption in Victorio (Alex Noppel, 2008). As one could expect from these trajectories, Higareda’s films have enjoyed considerably larger box office success than Peña’s. Their parallel careers are emblematic of the ways in which the need to appeal to middle-class audiences has led to a class compartmentalization of cinema that replicates urban social structures of exclusion. It also shows the ways in which commercial cinema, which mostly focuses on middle and upper-class subjects, and so-called social cinema, which tends to represent issues of the urban popular classes, occupy altogether separate paradigms in the new cinema’s economy.

Amar te duele is iconic for being perhaps the only commercially successful movie to cross this divide in formal and narrative terms, and for doing so in a cultural register that, unlike telenovela or the old-regime film melodramas, seeks no appeal whatsoever to working-class audiences. It is decidedly a film marketed to middle and upper classes, although it replicates some conventions (such as the rich-poor relationships) with distinguished histories, but also a film in which self-awareness of the enclosed culture of the upper classes is used as a critique of the new privileged subjectivities of post-1990 romantic comedy, rather than a celebration. Thus, in focusing his film not on the urban professional class benefitted by neoliberalism, but on youths born and raised within the Mexico constructed by it, Sariñana finds a site to critique Mexico’s paradigms of modernity. Still, this critique has limits, and Sariñana himself has been unable to replicate his stance on class issues: Niñas mal and Enemigos íntimos, his following movies, take place fully within the social spaces of the middle and upper classes and ignore the working class altogether.

To conclude this essay, I would like to return to the questions I raised in the first pages in light of my discussion of Amar te duele. The dilemma that this film posits is that, even though it shows considerable self-awareness of neoliberalism’s class divide, it remains a film closely invested in a regime of affect dissociated from working-class audiences. The film’s very title (a wordplay between the title’s literal meaning, “Love Hurts You,” and “Loving you hurts,” which in Spanish would read “Amarte duele”) connects it to recent scholarship on the importance of love for the reading of the contemporary. As sociologist Eva Illouz points out in her recent book Why Love Hurts, “[h]eterosexual romantic love contains the two most important cultural revolutions of the twentieth century: the individualization of lifestyles and the intensification of emotional life projects; and the economization of social relationships, the pervasiveness of economic models to shape the self and its very emotions” (9).[22] While Illouz’s main aim in this particular book is to discuss the creation of new structures of domination of women by men, her insight on heterosexual romantic love is also a powerful tool to understand the way in which love as a cultural discourse reproduces class divides. Her two “cultural revolutions” are indeed relevant to a film like Amar te duele: Ulises’ love for Renata runs parallel to his attempt to “individualize” his lifestyle through comic books, resisting the injunction to work in the family’s small business, a small and precarious clothing shop in a street market; and its main obstacle is precisely the “economization of social relationships,” which is why Renata is punished with a murder inflicted by none other than the class-appropriate boy she was supposed to date in the first place. If, as Illouz argues, social suffering is “mediated by cultural definitions of selfhood” (15), the “hurting” in the film’s title unfolds in Ulises’ case not so much in connection to his love of Renata, but in his inability to achieve the notion of selfhood that would allow him to establish a definitive relationship with her. If anything, Amar te duele is not only a romantic dramedy focused on the impossibility of loving across class lines, it is also a mise-en-scène of the lower class’s inability to conform to the social idea of the creative class as developed by Mexican neoliberalism’s culture.


[1] For a sampling of this rise in the context of Latin American studies, see Moraña and Sánchez Prado. In the specific context of cinema, the most notable contribution to this date is Podalsky, The Politics of Affect and Emotion in Contemporary Latin American Cinema.

[2] See particularly Sadlier, which offers an important reconsideration of melodrama in various quadrants of the region’s cinema.

[3] I should acknowledge here that the definition of affect and emotion in cultural theory are by no means consensual. Some critics use both interchangeably, while others, like Sieworth and Gregg, articulate a wider notion of affect that embodies not only emotions and feelings, but also a Spinozist idea of the body as an entity that affects and is affected. For the purpose of this essay, I will stay on a notion of emotion and affect more narrowly bound to the question of feelings such as love, but it is important to note that this limitation is merely heuristic and not conceptual.

[4] I have developed this argument extensively in my book Screening Neoliberalism: Mexican Cinema 1988-2012. For the sake of space, I will restrict myself in the article to describe the relevant processes of change in Mexican cinema, but interested readers may find in my book more substantial data and analysis regarding these processes. Readers may also consult Misha MacLaird’s excellent book Aesthetics and Politics in the Mexican Film Industry, particularly chapters 1 and 2.

[5] When the first Cinemark complexes opened in Mexico in 1994 and 1995, tickets were priced between 36 and 45 pesos, while the daily mínimum wage ranged between 14 and 16 pesos. In 2013, that gap is not as dramatic, but attending the theater remains a very expensive proposition: a ticket costs somewhere between 50 and 70 pesos, while the mínimum wage stands at 64 pesos a day.

[6] See Sánchez Prado, Screening Neoliberalism, Chapter 2.

[7] As MacLaird documents, the producer of Sexo, pudor y lágrimas was inspired by Sólo con tu pareja and by Cilantro y perejil (Rafael Montero, 1997) when deciding to shoot a romantic comedy (48). It is also useful to remember that Cilantro y perejil, a romantic comedy about a middle-class couple facing potential separation, was the first co-production between the State and Televisa’s film arm, Televicine. The fact that the first collaboration between the two historically dominant entities in film production is a romantic comedy provides telling evidence of the centrality of the genre in the new mediascape.

[8] The updated version of the “creative class argument” is found in the revised and expanded 10th anniversary edition of Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class. I opt instead to cite the original argument because it  better frames the ideals set forward by Mexican cinema. I must clarify here that, for me, the creative class is not necessarily an existing entity –particularly in Mexico, where neoliberal capitalism and immaterial labor have manifested themselves in uneven forms, compared with the United States. Rather, the “creative class” in Mexican cinema is a social ideal that allows the middle class to embrace the narrative of individual achievement as neoliberalism undid the collective protections created by the post-Revolutionary regime. To read about the actual middle class in Mexico during the neoliberal period, see Gilbert, Mexico’s Middle Class in the Neoliberal Era.

[9] For a good reading of Notting Hill in similar terms, see Wegner, who argues that the film allegorizes in the relationship the tension between the global and the local embedded in the advancement of capitalism in a way similar to the theorizations of global capitalism gurus like Thomas Friedman (322-23).

[10] Other examples in mainstream Mexican movies with considerable box office success include the protagonist of Fernando Sariñana’s Todo el poder (2000), a documentary filmmaker, the upper-middle-class protagonist of the second story in Amores perros (Alejandro González Iñarritu, 2000), and the protagonists of the very successful comedy Ladies’ Night (Gabriela Tagliavini, 2003), who are all employees in an advertising firm. The examples are very extensive, and part of my claim here is that this creative class is in fact the protagonist of the affect regime constructed by the type of commercial Mexican cinema addressed to middle and upper classes.

[11] This pattern also exists in drama movies. I have discussed in a different article something that I call the “neoliberal sublime,” present in highly aestheticized films that use temporal disruption to represent failed love relationships. For the purpose of the present discussion, the films I study in that article– Sobreviviente (Jesús Magaña Vázquez, 2003), Eros una vez María (Jesús Magaña Vázquez, 2007) and Amor, dolor y viceversa (Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, 2008)– all construct “spaces outside history” that allow all characters to be middle and upper class and that fully erase the visibility of the lower class. See Sánchez Prado, “El sublime neoliberal.”

[12] I take this term from Timothy Shary, who identifies the genre in American cinema of the 1980s. The contentions that Shary develops about youth cinema in the US in the 1980s foreshadow my analysis here. Shary identifies both youth romance and class-clash romances as central to 1980s film culture. This coincides with post-2000 Mexican cinema because there are parallels in the way in which class difference becomes crucial due to the pitfalls of neoliberalism in both settings, and due to the rise of the multiplex as a central space for film viewing both in 1980s America and in 1990s Mexico.  See Shary, Generation Multiplex for the latter point.

[13] Sexo, pudor y lágrimas is the first post-1988 Mexican movie to use the movie soundtrack proactively as a marketing tool. In that case, the eponymous song, written by Aleks Syntek, allowed the film unprecedented exposure on media such as MTV and radio. In Amarte duele, music is also an important device to demarcate class differene. As Frederick Aldama shows, “In Amarte duele Sariñana and his sound designer use music to distinguish the presence of nacos (a pejorative term used to describe working-class Mexicans), such as Ulises, and the fresas (the wealthy elite), such as Mariana (Ximena Sariñana) and Renata (Martha Higareda). Music here works to emphasize what the film already achieves: dividing different groups of people in artificial and destructive ways” (40-41).

[14] Perhaps the only other major precedent is La primera noche (Alejandro Gamboa, 1998), a Televicine production that sought to capitalize on cinema the success it had attained with telenovelas aimed at the youth market. The film follows Mariana (Mariana Ávila) in her sexual and emotional awakening. While following some of the conventions of the romantic comedy, the movie is not as strongly linked to neoliberal aesthetic as Amarte duele, mostly because it remained tied to the languages developed by the telenovela. The movie, however, was successful enough that two sequels (with similar names but different plots and characters) were released in 2002 and 2006, respectively.

[15] One can remember here that female soccer leagues are hardly a pursuit in Mexico’s private school circuit, and that the appropriation of female soccer is not related to an actual reality (in Mexico, soccer is mostly regarded as a male sport, although some strides have been made to allow women more spaces to play), but to the popularity that female soccer has in US schools.

[16] Hasta morir is focused on a young man trying to escape criminal networks in Tijuana, while Ciudades oscuras is a film about members of Mexico City’s social underground and their chance encounters. Both of these films stand in stark contrast, both representationally and ideologically, with the predominantly middle- and upper-class universe of Sariñana’s more commercially successful works.

[17] For a detailed and very suggestive analysis of the comic book scene, see Hershfield 153-54.

[18] If one brackets the youth topic for a moment, a good contrasting film is Maid in Manhattan (Wayne Wang, 2002), a romantic comedy that narrates the love relationship between Marisa (Jennifer López), a hotel maid, and Christopher (Ralph Fiennes). This relationship is rendered possible because of the initial invisibility of their class difference, given that Christopher mistakes Marisa for a socialite when she is trying on a dress. The initial separation takes place when the misunderstanding is cleared and the final reunion is achieved when her son pleads with Christopher, convincing him (using the telling example of Richard Nixon) that you can lie for a higher purpose. Beyond the film’s political revisionism, it is worth noting that Marisa, like Ulises, is defined by her individual exceptionality, which is shown by presenting her as more professional and enterprising than her fellow maids. The final closure of the relationship is connected to the presumed social climbing of Marisa, via a major promotion to management. Thus, the film shows neoliberalism as a viable path upwards, providing the exact opposite allegory as Amar te duele.

[19] Of course, I am not claiming here that all youth cinema is critical. As Jorge Ramírez Suárez’s (¿Ya lo hiciste sin?) Amar (2009) shows, the topic of youth has recently been domesticated into relatively critical presentations of sexual initiation within the context of the middle class. In other cases, youth has been taken even further than the class critique of Amar te duele. Gerardo Naranjo’s Drama/Mex, for instance, presents a very critical stance on the superficiality of affective engagement in the realm of the privileged upper-class adolescents, while Voy a explotar also represents a teenager whose decision to date an unruly young man is a way to rebel against her powerful politician father. Another example is Horacio Rivera’s Limbo (2009), in which a young boy’s accident gives him a more critical perspective on his middle-class life, which he observes from limbo. Through this conceit, the protagonist, Isao (Fátima Díaz), encounters characters victimized by life in contemporary Mexico. A meaningful issue in this movie is the fact that Isao is gay and that he is played by a young female actress, subverting the coming-of-age masculine discourse of youth cinema. A final relevant example is Fernando Eimbcke’s Temporada de patos (2004), a successful, minimalistic feature that focuses on the tedium and absurdity of middle-class life, as experienced by three youths during a power outage. The film’s black-and-white photography distills the characters’ empty lives and explores the minutiae of their subjectivity, resulting in a subtle critique of over-mediatized youth.

[20] It may be noted here that family crisis is becoming a common topic in more recent cinema. For instance, Rodrigo Ortúzar’s Todo incluido (2009), which, incidentally, features both Ana Serradilla and Martha Higareda, centers on the family of a professional man, played by Jesús Ochoa, as it goes on vacation to an exclusive resort in order to reconstruct its family dynamics. Also, Sariñana’s latest movie, Enemigos íntimos (2008), tells the story of two middle-class people, played by Demián Bichir and his daughter Ximena, whose battle against cancer highlights the decaying structure of their family.

[21] It should be noted here that Joanne Hershfield uses both Amar te duele and De la calle as paradigmatic examples of youth cultures creating heterotopias in the urban space. In both cases, she privileges Peña’s character as the agent of this creation. In the light of my argument here, one could supplement her argument by pointing out that the lower-class individual’s ability to do this is imagined in a way thoroughly consistent with the creative class ideology, in that the characters’ exceptionality is what allows them to achieve something that no one else in their social position can.

[22] Illouz’s previous work, represented in her books Consuming the Romantic Utopia and Cold Intimacies, have been of great influence to my understanding of romance in contemporary Mexican cinema. I find that her work on what she calls “emotional capitalism” is one of the best critical and theoretical tools to study the relation between love and capitalism.

Works cited

7 días. Dir. Fernando Kalife. Perfs. Eduardo Arroyuelo, Jaime Camil, Martha Higareda. 2005. Quality Films, 2006. DVD.

Aldama, Frederick Luis. Mex-Ciné: Mexican Filmmaking, Production, and Consumption in the Twenty-First Century. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2013. Print.

Amar te duele. Dir. Fernando Sariñana. Perfs. Martha Higareda, Luis Fernando Peña. Distrimax, 2002. DVD.

Amores Perros. Dir. Alejandro González Iñarritu. Perfs. Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Emilio Echevarría. 2000. Lions Gate, 2001. DVD.

Cansada de besar sapos. Dir. Jorge Colón. Perfs. Ana Serradilla, José María de Tavira, Ana Layevska. 2006. Buenavista Latino, 2007. DVD.

Ciudades oscuras. Dir. Fernando Sariñana. Perfs. Alejandro Tomassi, Demián Bichir. NuVisión, 2002. DVD.

Clase 406. Perfs. Sherlyn, Dulce María.  2002. DVD. Xenon. 2006

De la calle. Dir. Gerardo Tort. Perfs. Luis Fernando Peña, Maya Zapata. 2001. Imcine/ NuVisión, 2002. DVD.

Deleyto, Celestino. The Secret Life of Romantic Comedy. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

El juego de la vida. Perfs. Valentino Lanú, Sara Maldonado. 2001-2002. Televisa/ Univisión. Television Broadcast.

Enemigos íntimos. Dir. Fernando Sariñana. Perfs. Demián Bichir, Ximena Sariñana. Corazón Films, 2009. DVD.

Faulk, Barry. “Love, Lists, and Class in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.” Cultural Critique 66 (2007): 153-76. Print.

Florida, Richard L. The Rise of the Creative Class, and How it is Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Print.

Foster, David William. Mexico City in Contemporary Mexican Cinema. Austin: U of Texas P, 2002. Print.

García Canclini, Néstor. Consumers and Citizens: Globalization and Multicultural Conflicts. Trans. George Yúdice. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2001 [1995]. Print.

Gregg, Melissa and Gregory J. Seigworth. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

Hasta morir. Dir. Fernando Sariñana. Perfs. Demián Bichir, Juan Manuel Bernal. 1994. Vanguard Cinema, 2002. DVD.

Hernández Laos, Enrique. “Panoramas del mercado laboral de profesionistas en México.” Economía UNAM 1.2 (2004): 98-109. Web.

Hershfield, Joanne. “Youth and Urban Space in De la calle and Amar te duele.” Transnational Cinemas 3.2 (2012): 141-56. Print.

Illouz, Eva. Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation. London: Polity, 2010. Print.

—.  Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. London: Polity, 2007. Print.

—. Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Print.

La primera noche. Dir. Alejandro Gamboa. Perfs. Mariana Ávila, Oswaldo Benavides. 1998. Quality Films, 2003. DVD.

Ladies’ night. Dir. Gabriela Tavigliani. Perfs. Ana Claudia Talancón, Luis Roberto Guzmán, Ana de la Reguera. 2003. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2004. DVD.

León Távora, Ana and Itzá Zavala-Garrett. “Romeo the Mexican and Juliet the Gipsy: Shakespeare’s Hispanic Flavor in Amar te duele and Montoyas y Tarantos.” Coming of Age on Film: Stories of Transformation in World Cinema. Eds. Anne Hardcastle, Roberta Morosini, and Kendall Tarte. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. 80-92. Print.

Limbo. Dir. Horacio Rivera. Perfs. Fátima Díaz, Enoc Leaño, Érika de la Llave. 2008. Distrimax, 2010. DVD.

MacLaird, Misha. Aesthetics and Politics in the Mexican Film Industry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

Maid in Manhattan. Dir. Wayne Wang. Perfs. Jennifer López, Ralph Fiennes. 2002. Columbia TriStar, 2003. DVD.

María la del barrio. Perfs. Thalía, Fernando Colunga. 1993. Televisa. DVD.2008.

María Mercedes. Perfs. Thalía, Arturo Peniche. 1992. Televisa. DVD. 2008.

Marimar. Perfs. Thalía, Eduardo Capetillo. 1994. Televisa. DVD. 2008.

Mazziotti, Nora. La industria de la telenovela: La producción de ficción en América Latina. Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1996. Print.

Mora, Carl J. Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896-2004. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. Print.

Moraña, Mabel and Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado. El lenguaje de las emociones: Afecto y cultura en América Latina. Madrid: Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2012. Print.

Morrison, Aimée. “New Fangled Computers and Old-Fashioned Romantic Comedy: You’ve Got Mail’s Futuristic Nostalgia.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies 19.1 (2010): 41-58. Print.

Niñas mal. Dir. Fernando Sariñana. Perfs. Martha Higareda, Camila Sodi, Ximena Sariñana, María Aura. 2007. Columbia Pictures, 2008. DVD.

Notting Hill. Dir. Roger Mitchell. Perfs. Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant. Universal Studies, 1999. DVD.

Podalsky, Laura. The Politics of Affect and Emotion in Contemporary Latin American Cinema: Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

Rosas Mantecón, Ana. “La batalla por la diversidad: Exhibición y públicos de cine en México.” Situación actual y perspectivas de la industria cinematográfica en México y en el extranjero. Coords. Néstor García Canclini, Ana Rosas Mantecón, and Enrique Sánchez Ruiz. Mexico City: Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía/ Universidad de Guadalajara, 2006. 263-91. Print.

—. “New Processes of Urban Segregation: The Reorganization of Film Exhibition in Mexico.” Television and New Media 4.1 (2003): 9-23.

Saavedra Luna, Isis. Entre la ficción y la realidad: Fin de la industria cinematográfica 1989-1994. Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco, 2007. Print.

Sadlier, Darlene J. Latin American Melodrama: Passion, Pathos and Entertainment. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2009. Print.

Sánchez Prado, Ignacio M.  “El sublime neoliberal: Amor y temporalidad en el cine mexicano del capitalismo tardío.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 16 (2012): 293-310. Print.

—. “Innocence Interrupted: Neoliberalism and the End of Childhood in Recent Mexican Cinema.” Representing History, Class, and Gender in Spain and Latin America: Children and Adolescents in Film. Eds. Carolina Rocha and Georgia Seminet. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 117-33. Print.

—. Screening Neoliberalism: Mexican Cinema 1988-2012. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2014. Print. Forthcoming.

Shary, Timothy. “Buying Me Love: 1980s Class-Clash Teen Romances.” The Journal of Popular Culture 44.3 (2011): 563-82. Print.

—. Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema. Austin: U of Texas P, 2002. Print.

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Sólo con tu pareja. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Perfs. Daniel Giménez Cacho, Claudia Ramírez. 1991. The Criterion Collection, 2006. DVD.

Te presento a Laura. Dir. Fez Noriega. Perfs. Martha Higareda, Kuno Becker. 2010. Distrimax, 2011. DVD.

Temporada de patos. Dir. Fernando Eimbcke. Perfs. Enrique Arreola, Diego Cataño. 2004. Warner Bros. 2006. DVD.

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Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch of Regency Romance
by Laura Vivanco

Georgette Heyer’s “invariable answer, when asked about her private life, was to refer the questioner back to her books. You will find me, she said, in my work” (Aiken Hodge ix).[1] Although The Nonesuch (1962) is probably not Heyer’s best-known or best-loved Regency romance, there is a great deal of Heyer in this novel. Its eponymous hero, Sir Waldo Hawkridge, is “straitlaced” (234) and Heyer’s son “described her, to her amusement, as ‘not so much square as cubed’” (Aiken Hodge 41). Both Heyer and Sir Waldo were left [End Page 1] fatherless at too early an age: until George Heyer unexpectedly collapsed and died when Georgette was twenty-two he “had been by her side, advising and encouraging her, her closest ally” (Kloester, Biography 85) and Sir Waldo acknowledges that when his “father died, I was too young for my inheritance!” (16). Their fathers did, however, remain important influences on their lives. Sir Waldo’s “father, and my grandfather before him, were both considerable philanthropists” (275) and he followed them in devoting “half my fortune” (275), and a considerable proportion of his time, to charity. As for Heyer, it seems her choice of career was also shaped by family “Tradition, and upbringing” (275): her grandfather “was described by his daughter Alice as being ‘full of little pithy stories […] and very witty’” (Kloester, Biography 10) and Heyer declared that “I inherited my literary bent from my father” (Kloester, Biography, 17). Perhaps, then, Heyer, “the acknowledged Queen of the Regency romance” (Robinson 208), would be better styled its Nonesuch, “first in consequence with the ton, and of the first style of elegance” (Heyer, Nonesuch 20).[2]

As for Heyer’s historical romantic fiction, it could be said to offer her readers pleasures akin to those to be derived from the “book, or some trifle” (Nonesuch 190) which Sir Waldo gives to young Charlotte Underhill. Heyer certainly described her novels as though they were trifles, for she “referred to her own work with a persistent, broadly funny self-mockery” (Byatt, “The Ferocious” 297). She did, however, admit that her writing was “unquestionably good escapist literature, and I think I should rather like it if I were […] recovering from flu” (Aiken Hodge xii).[3] By her own assessment, then, Heyer’s romantic fiction may be considered to resemble the presents Sir Waldo brings to “amuse” (190) Charlotte Underhill during her convalescence.

The book Sir Waldo chooses for Charlotte is Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering and the value of this work is forcefully defended by Miss Ancilla Trent, who is both the heroine of The Nonesuch and “a very superior governess! […] Besides such commonplace subjects as water-colour sketching and the use of the globes, I instruct my pupils in music—both pianoforte and harp; and can speak and read French and Italian!” (87).[4] She is also “intelligent […] and had a sense of humour” (59) and this gives some weight to her opinions. When Mrs Mickleby confesses to being “an enemy to that class of literature, but I daresay that you, Miss Trent, are partial to romances” (190), Ancilla Trent retorts “When they are as well-written as this one, ma’am, most certainly!” (190). Although Heyer’s Regency romances are not “romances” of exactly the same kind as Scott’s, it seems possible that she may have intended Miss Trent’s defence of Scott’s romance to serve as a subtle rebuke to those who denigrated the quality of her writing.[5] According to A. S. Byatt, Heyer’s criticism of her own work “hid a sense that it had more real value than was acknowledged” (“The Ferocious” 297) and Jennifer Kloester has stated that

Georgette was […] prepared to acknowledge her own ability (up to a point), though any hint of self-praise or a suggestion in a letter that what she had written was good was invariably and immediately qualified or contradicted. To have publicly admitted that she thought her writing good would mean committing the unforgivable sin of vulgarity […] to Georgette’s mind a well-bred person never bragged about her own success. (Biography 324)

It would appear that Heyer, like Mrs Chartley in The Nonesuch, believed “A lady of true quality […] did not puff off her consequence: anything of that nature belonged to the [End Page 2] mushroom class!” (125). Nonetheless, Heyer would have been happy to have heard her own romances described as “well-written”: she “remembered with pleasure” that “the critic St John Ervine […] had once written about her ‘seemly English’” (Aiken Hodge 95).

Mrs Mickleby and Miss Trent’s exchange of views about romances is a very short one but it leaves the latter feeling that she has “a score to pay” (191). An opportunity to do so is soon provided by a “dissected map” (190) which, like Guy Mannering, is a gift from Sir Waldo to Charlotte. Since “The Misses Mickleby had not seen one […] Miss Trent […] advised their mama, very kindly, to procure one for them. ‘So educational!’ she said. ‘And quite unexceptionable!’” (190-91). The use of the map to avenge the criticisms made of romances perhaps subtly suggests that some romances should also be considered both “educational” and “quite unexceptionable!” It is certainly the case that in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy (1950) this latter phrase is used to express approval of another of Scott’s novels: Hubert Rivenhall “went into raptures over that capital novel, Waverley” (50) and Miss Wraxton, whose family is “very particular in all matters of correct conduct” (11), “graciously said that she believed the work in question to be, for a novel, quite unexceptionable” (50). Heyer may have been subtly claiming an “unexceptionable” pedigree for her own historical romances by placing them in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott, a respected author of historical fiction. She may also have considered their subject matter “quite unexceptionable” inasmuch as they have “no sex in them” (Laski 285). They are not entirely devoid of either passion or discreet references to sexual activity but Heyer was fiercely determined that they should not be confused with “salacious novels” (Kloester, Biography 278): she was repulsed by a film version of her The Reluctant Widow because “It seems to me that to turn a perfectly clean story of mine into a piece of sex-muck is bad faith” (Kloester, Biography 278) and, angered by some of the covers Pan produced for the paperback editions of her novels, she protested “against any suggestion that a book written by me will be found to contain lurid sex-scenes. I find this nauseating” (Kloester, Biography 346).

In addition to having a claim to be considered “unexceptionable” in both subject matter and literary status, The Nonesuch may also be considered “educational.” Education is an important theme in the novel, and not simply because its heroine is a governess and its hero is a “social mentor” (79) who is quite explicitly described as teaching others: “to Julian Sir Waldo was […] the big cousin who had taught him to ride, drive, shoot, fish, and box; a fount of wisdom” (8). Such things as a conscience and a sense of responsibility are not acquired in quite the same way as these practical skills but Heyer implies that they, too, must be taught and learned. In Cotillion (1953), an earlier novel of Heyer’s, Freddy Standen asked “How the deuce would you know the right way to go on if you was never taught anything but the wrong way?” (266-67). In The Nonesuch, Tiffany and Laurie serve as demonstrations of the negative consequences of a lack of a suitable education. Tiffany has “been ruined by indulgence” (27) and Miss Trent observes that “it is never of the least use to appeal to her sense of what is right, because I don’t think she has any—or any regard for the sensibilities of others either” (42). Laurie can also be considered a case study in how indulgent treatment, no matter how well-intentioned, can spoil a character. As Sir Waldo frankly acknowledges, “I ruined Laurie” (16) by inadvertently “encouraging him in the conviction that he would never be run quite off his legs because his wealthy cousin would infallibly rescue him from utter disaster” (156-57) and “By the time I’d acquired enough sense to know what it signified to him, the mischief had been done” (16). Sir Waldo [End Page 3] therefore feels responsible for “Laurie’s idleness, his follies, his reckless extravagance […]. By his easy, unthinking generosity he had sapped whatever independence Laurie might have had, imposing no check upon his volatility” (156).

Although lessons, particularly in bad habits, can be imparted without much effort, reversing the ill effects of those lessons is more difficult and may require a combination of knowledge and cunning. At the beginning of The Nonesuch we learn that Sir Waldo, now older and more sensible, has attempted to trick Laurie into adopting a new lifestyle by telling him he will no longer pay his debts. Sir Waldo may not mean it, “but […] Laurie thinks I do” (15). Sir Waldo’s plan depends for its success on his knowledge that “Laurie won’t go back on his word” (17) and that “Laurie is no more a gamester than I am!’ […] All he wishes to do is to sport a figure in the world. Do believe that I know him much better than you do” (17).

Another of Sir Waldo’s plans also requires cunning and knowledge in order to succeed: having reached the conclusion that neither Tiffany’s “disposition nor her breeding made her an eligible wife for young Lord Lindeth” (79), Sir Waldo sets to work to teach his cousin the truth about Tiffany’s personality. Since he is aware that “Julian might ignore, and indignantly resent, warnings uttered by even so revered a mentor as his Top-of-the-Trees cousin, but he would not disbelieve the evidence of his own eyes” (80-81), Sir Waldo proceeds to provoke Tiffany into “betray[ing] the least amiable side of her disposition” (78). He does so with such skill that Julian remains unaware “that Waldo’s lazy complaisance masked a grim determination to thrust a spoke into the wheel of his courtship” (78).

Ancilla Trent, who owes “her present position to the knowledge, which had made it possible for her, in the past, to manage the wayward Beauty rather more successfully than had anyone else” (25), employs equally “unorthodox” (43) methods to educate her pupil:

when informed of Tiffany’s determination to marry into the peerage [she] not only accepted this as a praiseworthy ambition, but entered with gratifying enthusiasm into various schemes for furthering it. As these were solely concerned with the preparation of the future peeress for her exalted estate, Tiffany was induced to pay attention to lessons in Deportment, to practise her music, and even, occasionally, to read a book. (28)

In addition, she attempts to teach Tiffany to give at least the impression of modesty by insisting, “without the least hesitation” (23), that “whenever you boast of your beauty you seem to lose some of it” (22-23).

Unlike Miss Trent, Heyer was not the grand-daughter of “a Professor of Greek” (86) but her father was “a natural and inspiring teacher” (Aiken Hodge 3) and her younger brother Frank “became a schoolmaster, teaching for twenty-one contented years at Downside” (Aiken Hodge 4). Heyer herself can perhaps be said to have employed subtle educational methods which “masked” the didactic elements of her novels beneath highly entertaining plots. Jane Aiken Hodge has suggested that Heyer “did her best to conceal her […] stern moral code behind the mask of romantic comedy, and succeeded, so far as her great fan public was concerned” (xi). The comic aspects of Heyer’s novels enable them to appeal to those who, like Tiffany, would be “Bored by the reproaches and the homilies of […] a parcel of old dowdies” (27). Nonetheless, in The Nonesuch there is clear authorial [End Page 4] approval of Patience Chartley, “a modest girl” (21) “so free from jealousy that she wished very much that Tiffany would not say such things as must surely repel her most devout admirers” (22), who is also capable of putting herself in considerable danger to rescue a “slum-brat from under the wheels of a carriage, with the greatest pluck and presence of mind!” (239). She is contrasted with the vain and selfish Tiffany and since both receive their just deserts, they serve as examples of both the right and the wrong way for a young woman “to go on in society” (202). The Nonesuch can therefore be considered “didactic love fiction—romance that has a didactic project, is future-directed, and attempts to represent a moral way of living” (Lutz 2) rather than “amatory fiction” which “cannot be, generally speaking, recuperated morally” (Lutz 2).[6]

It should be noted, however, that the lines between the two types of fiction are somewhat blurred by the ubiquity of “the enemy lover” who, “Contrary to all expectation […] appears in […] didactic fiction” (Lutz 3), albeit when he is the hero of a work of didactic love fiction he is “set up as dangerous only to then be reformed in the end” (3). Heyer divided her romantic heroes into two categories: “her hero, Mark II [is] ‘Suave, well-dressed, rich, and a famous whip,’ as opposed to her Mark I hero who is ‘The brusque, savage sort with a foul temper.’” (Aiken Hodge 49). The Mark I hero is of the “enemy lover” type and, as Heyer made very clear, he is not truly marriage material:

my youthful fans […] seem (from their letters) to be convinced that my Ideal Man is the prototype of what I call the Heyer Hero, No. I pattern—a horrid type, whom no woman in the possession of her senses could endure for more than half a day. (Aiken Hodge 197)

The Nonesuch, with its Mark II hero, is therefore fully didactic in nature since it does not encourage “youthful fans” to hanker after a type of man who, as Cotillion’s Freddy Standen says of his rakish cousin Jack, “wouldn’t make you a good husband” (Heyer 333).[7] Instead it provides the reader with both a youthful and a more mature version of the Mark II hero and outlines the characteristics required in a woman who wishes to be a good match for him. Tiffany is deemed unsuitable because “she hasn’t a particle of that sweetness of disposition which is in your cousin, and nothing but misery could be the outcome of a marriage between them!” (91). By contrast, Julian and “The Rector’s well-brought up daughter” (134) Patience are, in Miss Trent’s opinion, “very well-suited to one another” (134) and Sir Waldo, too, is “much inclined to think that […] Julian had found exactly the wife to suit him” (197-98). Heyer never became as involved in her readers’ love lives as Sir Waldo is in Julian’s, but the owner of one romance review website recounts that

a commenter at the site who goes by the name DreadPirateRachel told me, “The first romances I ever read were by Georgette Heyer. They taught me to hold out for a partner who would share my intellectual passions and respect me for the person I am. I’m glad I paid attention, because I ended up with a husband who is funny, kind, supportive, and adoring.” (Wendell 196)

Clearly Heyer’s novels have helped at least one person find exactly the spouse to suit her.

The most obviously didactic aspect of Heyer’s romantic fiction, however, is her use of historical detail. As Karin E. Westman has observed, [End Page 5]

Her Regency romances […] made Heyer a household name and continue to grant her lasting narrative power within contemporary culture. […] Heyer’s presence on the cultural landscape […] is not even limited to the literary: her name is frequently invoked to conjure for the general reader the Regency period as a whole […], the mention of “Georgette Heyer” guarantees that readers have in mind the leisured upper-class social world of Regency England that Heyer created. (167-68)

Some of those readers may resemble Tiffany, who acquired no more than “a smattering of learning” (Nonesuch 28) despite all of Ancilla Trent’s efforts. Penny Jordan, an author of contemporary Harlequin Mills & Boon romances, appears to have depicted at least one reader of this type in Past Loving (1992). During a scene set at a charity event with a Regency theme,

Holly […] glanced briefly at the outrageously décolleté dress that Patsy was wearing. The chiffon skirt of the dress was so fine that it was almost possible to see right through it.

‘That’s how they wore them in those days,’ Patsy told her defensively […]. ‘They used to damp down their skirts so that they would cling to their bodies.’

‘I know,’ Holly agreed drily. ‘I read Georgette Heyer as well, you know.’ (54)

Other readers have learned rather more: Jennifer Kloester, for example, has acknowledged that Heyer’s Regency novels “beguiled my leisure hours, affording me enormous pleasure, but also giving me a great deal of useful information about the English Regency period” (Regency World xv). It was not until she began to write Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, however, that Kloester realised

just how much accurate and factual information there was in the novels […] and, although I’d always been under the impression that Heyer was meticulous in her communication of the period, I hadn’t appreciated the scope of her research, nor the degree to which she immersed herself in the Regency era. (xv)

Aiken Hodge states that Heyer was

so deeply grounded in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that she could date a book effortlessly by the most casual of references to contemporary events. She hardly ever uses an actual flat-footed date. […] It is almost a game that she plays with the reader. (65)

Dating the novels can thus become an interesting and educational challenge.

The first of the references which helps to date The Nonesuch is to be found in Sir Waldo’s questions to Miss Trent regarding her brother being “engaged at Waterloo” and currently “with the Army of Occupation” (85). Following the defeat of Napoleon at [End Page 6] Waterloo, “Article V of the definitive treaty between France and the allies, signed on 20 November 1815, […] set up a multinational occupation force” (Veve 99) and

The arrangements to end the occupation were signed at the conference of Aix-la-Chapelle on 9 October 1818. All allied forces were to be removed by 30 November […]. The allied withdrawal did, in fact, begin almost immediately, and all British forces were disembarked in England within a few days of the planned departure date. (Veve 106-07)

Since we are told that “the event which started the succession of gaieties which made that summer memorable was Mrs Underhill’s informal ball” (76) which took place on “a warm June night” (74), and the Army of Occupation did not yet exist in June 1815, one may assume that The Nonesuch is set in either 1816, 1817, or 1818. The precise year in which the novel is set can be identified thanks to Sir Waldo’s mention of “Lady Spencer—the one that died a couple of years ago, and was mad after educating the poor” (275). This Lady Spencer is not an invention of Heyer’s but was the wife of the first Earl Spencer and

one of the first in the higher classes to adopt Sunday-schools; and her name will be found among the bountiful supporters of many of the most useful plans originated in her day, for ameliorating the condition of the poor […] she expired, after a very short illness, on the 18th March, 1814, in her seventy-sixth year. (Le Marchant 6)

If Sir Waldo’s memory is accurate, the events in The Nonesuch must be taking place in 1816, a few months and a “couple of years” after Lady Spencer’s death.

Heyer was truly interested in getting her historical details right, had “her own […] library of about 1000 historical books” (Byatt, “The Ferocious” 300) and only occasionally made mistakes.[8] Although in general, when

Reading her books, one remembers with surprise that the post-Waterloo years in which many of them are set were ones of appalling depression and poverty in England, with ex-servicemen begging in the streets and a very real danger of revolution […] in fact […] Georgette Heyer does occasionally look below the smiling surface of things. (Aiken Hodge 88)

Since Sir Waldo’s philanthropic efforts are focused on “collecting as many of the homeless waifs you may find in any city […] and rearing them to become respectable citizens” (275), The Nonesuch is one of the novels in which Heyer looks “below the smiling surface of things.” In it Leeds is presented as both a commercial centre which is a suitable destination for “the tabbies [who] spend the better part of their time jauntering into Leeds to do some shopping” (256) and as a potential source of “homeless waifs”:

Leeds was a thriving and rapidly expanding town, numbering amongst its public edifices two Cloth Halls (one of which was of impressive dimensions, and was divided into six covered streets); five Churches; a Moot Hall; the Exchange (a handsome building of octangular design); an Infirmary; a House [End Page 7] of Recovery for persons afflicted with infectious diseases; a Charity school, clothing and educating upwards of a hundred children […]; a number of cloth and carpet manufactories; several cotton mills, and foundries; inns innumerable; and half-a-dozen excellent posting-houses. The buildings were for the most part of red brick, beginning to be blackened by the smoke of industry; and while none could be thought magnificent there were several Squares and Parades which contained private residences of considerable elegance. There were some very good shops and silk warehouses. (131-32)

The accuracy of this description can be ascertained by a comparison with the details given in John Ryley’s Leeds Guide (1806), John Bigland’s Yorkshire volume of The Beauties of England and Wales (1812), and Edward Baines’s Directory, General and Commercial, of the Town & Borough of Leeds (1817).[9]

Heyer was certainly familiar with works of this type since they are mentioned in the texts of her novels on more than one occasion. In Cotillion Kitty Charing acquires “The Picture of London, and it says here that it is a correct guide to all the Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments, and Remarkable Objects in and near London, made for the use of Strangers, Foreigners, and all Persons who are not intimately acquainted with the Metropolis” (141). Kitty is quoting here from the extended title of a guide which actually existed (Picture) and which was reprinted many times in the early nineteenth century. In Lady of Quality (1972) Corisande Stinchcombe observes that Farley Castle is “a place any visitor to Bath ought to visit, because of the chapel, which is very interesting on—on account of its relics of—of mortality and antiquity!” (61) and she is promptly accused of “having ‘got all that stuff’ out of the local guidebook” (61). Her recommendation and description are indeed rather similar to the ones in John Feltham’s A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815) in which it is stated that “Farley Castle, six miles from Bath, […] deserves a visit; particularly on account of its curious chapel, with some remarkable reliques of mortality and antiquity” (66).

Engraving of the "Dropping Well" from the Yorkshire volume of The Beauties of England... by John Bigland.

Bigland’s work contains an engraving of what he calls the “Dropping Well” at Knaresborough which may have formed the inspiration for the one spotted by The Nonesuch’s Lord Lindeth in Leeds: “A picture hanging in the window of a print-shop caught his eye; he recognized the subject, which was the Dripping Well” (Heyer 136). Heyer’s [End Page 8] “Dripping Well” must be the same as Bigland’s “Dropping Well” since it can be found in Knaresborough (Heyer 91) and Bigland states that

The walk along the margin of the river, from the dropping well to the bridge, is extremely delightful. […] The precipitous rocks which run along the north side of the river, are not less than a hundred feet in height. At the bottom […] are many dwellings, scooped out of the rock, and inhabited from time immemorial […]. The most remarkable of these, is that called the Rock-house, a large cavern, supposed to have been the retreat of some of those banditti, who, in former times, infested the neighbouring forest. (642-43)

Some of this information appears to have made its way into The Nonesuch since Lord Lindeth “told us of the wild, ragged rocks, and the cavern which was once the lair of bandits” (Heyer 91).

Heyer’s inclusion of Leeds’ charitable institutions in her description of the town hints at the social problems created by rapid industrial expansion.[10] She reveals them even more vividly via a minor character, a “ragged urchin” (136), who steals an apple and has to be reassured by Patience Chartley that he will not be handed over to “the beadle (an official of whom he seemed to stand in terror” (138). Ryley describes the beadle, along with the Chief Constable, as “personages who are, to vulgar thieves, as terrific as the Chief Justice himself” (89). Heyer’s

urchin hails from the slums: either in the eastern part of the town, where the dyeing-houses and most of the manufactories are situated, or on the south bank of the river. […] So far as I am aware there is no epidemic disease rife there at the moment, but most of the dwellings are little better than hovels, and there is a degree of squalor which makes it excessively imprudent for you […] to enter them. (145)

Once again, Heyer’s description is congruent with that provided by contemporary sources. Bigland observes that “On the eastern side, the town falls into a deep valley, through which runs a rivulet, having on its banks a great number of dying houses. […], on the banks of the abovementioned rivulet, the houses are mean, and the streets and lanes dirty, crooked, and irregular […]. The southern edge of the town […] is almost equally disagreeable” (775).[11] For his part Ryley comments that in the families of women who work in the large factories “we find an offensive neglect of cleanliness, a total disregard of frugality, and every appearance of the most squalid poverty; the children are dirty, diseased, and in rags” (102). He concludes that it “remains for the philanthropist […] to apply correctives, and more especially to apply assiduously to the forming of the minds of the rising generation to habits of virtue and religion” (102).

Heyer, like the philanthropic Sir Waldo, has had an effect on “the rising generation.” Pamela Regis goes as far as to claim that Heyer’s “influence is felt in every historical romance novel written since 1921, particularly in the Regency romance novel. Heyer is the mother of this kind of romance” (125). Heyer’s work is in some respects comparable to Sir Waldo’s: he has for many years been engaged in “collecting as many […] homeless waifs […] as I could, and rearing them to become respectable citizens. […] The important thing is to [End Page 9] enter them to the right trades” (Nonesuch 275). As Sir Waldo admits, “we’ve had our failures, but not many” (275) and although Heyer was horrified by instances of blatant plagiarism of her novels, on the whole the authors she inspired might be described as “respectable citizens” of the society of romance authors.[12] Prominent among them are Stephanie Laurens, for whom Heyer’s These Old Shades “is unquestionably the one that has most strongly contributed to, not just what I write today, but the fact that I write at all” (ii) and Mary Balogh, who first encountered Heyer when she picked up a copy of Frederica:

I was enchanted, enthralled. I could not bear for the book to end. I started gathering about me and devouring every other book she had written. Then I discovered that other people were writing the same kind of books—Regency romances. To say that that one book changed my life would not be overstating the case at all. (24)

For Mary Jo Putney, another author of Regency-set romances, Heyer’s influence, albeit exerted indirectly, was also decisive: “discovering the modern Regencies inspired by her books was the first step on my path to authordom” (ii). Directly or indirectly, then, Georgette Heyer’s novels have introduced some authors to what would become, for them, “the right trade.”

To this day Heyer’s attention to historical details sets a high standard for others to follow. Linda Fildew, Senior Editor of Mills & Boon Historical/Harlequin Historical romances, has stated that

Georgette Heyer is known and respected for her accuracy and in our historical line at Harlequin we certainly ask that authors do their research. The process is such an engrossing, enjoyable one that we know the challenge for some authors is what to put in and what fascinating facts to leave out.

Heyer herself left out some “fascinating facts” about the Regency period; as Aiken Hodge observed, “Her Regency world is a very carefully selected, highly artificial one” (87-88). Although Heyer worked hard to ensure her novels were historically accurate, her depiction of the Regency is coloured by her own beliefs. For example, as already mentioned, she did not wish her novels to be considered “salacious.” In addition, it seems highly unlikely that Heyer, who “consistently criticised the feminist stance, and could be vehement in her condemnation of women in business” (Kloester, Biography 134), would ever have considered creating heroines such as those to be found in Paula Marshall’s Dear Lady Disdain (1995) and Michelle Styles’s His Unsuitable Viscountess (2012), who respectively run a bank and a foundry. These two Harlequin Mills & Boon authors had, nonetheless, done their research. As Styles notes, there were

successful Regency businesswomen—women like Eleanor Coade, whose factory made the famous Coade Stone statues […] and Sarah Child Villiers, Lady Jersey, who inherited Child and Co from her grandfather […]. Lady Jersey served as the senior partner from 1806-1867. She never allowed the men in her life to take an active part in the bank, and retained the right to hire and fire all the other partners. […] In 1812 in England fourteen women [End Page 10] literally held licences to print money because they were senior partners in a variety of private banks. The two wealthiest bankers in London in the 1820s were the Peeresses—Lady Jersey and the Duchess of St Alban’s, who was the senior partner at Coutts. (2)

Heyer’s personal views certainly affected her depiction of class and racial differences. It might be said of her that “the mushroom-class” was one which she, like Lord Lindeth, “instinctively avoided” (The Nonesuch 64). In her biography of Heyer, Kloester states that “Georgette’s own view of herself was as someone who was well-bred and most comfortable in upper- and upper-middle-class circles” (133) and “Her notion of class and breeding underpins all of her writing […] she held to the idea of a natural social hierarchy” (132). This was certainly not a view exclusive to Heyer: Helen Hughes, in her study of “historical romances written between 1890 and 1990” (8), observes that one of the “themes which remain[ed] the same throughout the century […] is the portrayal of class. In the texts […] upper-class characters are seen as belonging to what amounts to a different species from lower-class ones” (136-37). In Heyer’s oeuvre the clearest example of this portrayal is perhaps to be found in These Old Shades (1926). Here the cross-dressing heroine’s “gentle birth,” which “One can tell […] from his speech, and his delicate hands and face” (12), is more readily discerned than her sex while the true parentage of the peasant-born boy who has taken her place is betrayed by the fact that he is “A boorish cub […] with the soul of a farmer” (51) who has it as his “ambition to have a farm under his own management” (37). The young man’s supposed paternal uncle does not suspect the deception, but he is nonetheless certain that the youth cannot be the product of pure aristocratic bloodlines: “there must be bad blood in Marie! My beautiful nephew did not get his boorishness from us. Well, I never thought that Marie was of the real nobility” (51). The effects of descent from “good […] yeoman-stock” (47) are noted in A Civil Contract (1961): Jenny Chawleigh tells Lady Nassington that “my mother was a farmer’s daughter” (115), is told in reply that “you have the look of it” (116), and her subsequent enjoyment of country living reveals that she “owed more to her mother’s ancestry than […] she herself had known” (241). The idea that particular personality traits could be ascribed to entire social groups also underpins Heyer’s depiction of “Mr Goldhanger, […] a literary caricature of an avaricious moneylender whose antecedents were undoubtedly Dickens’ Fagin and Shakespeare’s Shylock” (Kloester, Biography 368). Mr Goldhanger appears in The Grand Sophy, in which he is described as “a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer” (190) and “The instinct of his race made him prefer, whenever possible, to maintain a manner of the utmost urbanity” (191, emphasis added).

As with the Nonesuch’s gift of a “dissected map […] all made of little pieces which fit into each other, to make a map of Europe” (190), “The impression given of ‘history’ in these novels can be summed up as an imaginative creation, a selective version of the past” (Hughes 139). The nineteenth-century dissected map, “born in the same workshops as its more formal sibling, the imperial map” (Norcia 5), offered children “narratives of power and authority which are incumbent in the business of building both nation and empire” (2). Such maps were not simply neutral depictions of the world: they were “often strategically colored or marked to catalog the resources and opportunities for imperial inscription; titles reflect the moving horizon of imperial ambitions” (10). Heyer’s historical romances are also shaped by ideologies which ensure that, despite the historical accuracy of many of their [End Page 11] details, they will not be universally accepted as “quite unexceptionable.” Mrs Chartley cautioned Miss Trent that

Sir Waldo belongs to a certain set which is considered to be the very height of fashion. In fact, he is its leader […]. You must know, perhaps better than I do, that the manners and too often the conduct of those who are vulgarly called Top-of-the-Trees are not governed by quite the same principles which are the rule in more modest circles. (207)

Heyer is the Nonesuch of Regency romance: like Sir Waldo she led her “set,” conforming to such high standards of historical accuracy that she too can be considered a “paragon” (20). Nonetheless, neither Heyer nor Sir Waldo embodied “perfection” (20) and the manners and conduct endorsed by Heyer’s novels are not governed by quite the same principles as those which are the rule in many more modern circles.


[1] I am very grateful for the assistance I have received from: Linda Fildew at Harlequin Mills & Boon; Louise-Ann Hand, Information Librarian: Local and Family History Library, Leeds City Council, who was a fount of useful information about the streets and inns of early nineteenth-century Leeds; Greta Meredith, Assistant Librarian, Thoresby Society, who pointed me in the direction of useful primary and secondary sources about Leeds; and Harlequin Mills & Boon author Michelle Styles.

[2] Although Lillian S. Robinson qualified the description of Heyer as “Queen of the Regency romance” by adding that “later paperback editions make some such peculiar claim” (208), it is a claim which has persisted down the years: in 1983 Rosemary Guiley observed that “By the time she died […] Georgette had long reigned as the Queen of the Regency romance” (190) and the backcover copy of the Arrow (2006) edition of Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography of Heyer states that “An internationally bestselling phenomenon and queen of the Regency romance, Georgette Heyer is one of the most beloved historical novelists of our time.”

[3] A. S. Byatt and Rachel Law, Lady Ellenborough, have offered support for the last two of these assessments: the former described Heyer as a “superlatively good writer of honourable escape” (“Honourable” 258) while the latter declared that “Georgette Heyer […] was the only reading for a hospital bed” (Aiken Hodge 209).

[4] Jennifer Kloester has noted that Guy Mannering is “the story which so enthralled Mrs Underhill and her family in The Nonesuch” (Regency World 342). Although it is not explicitly named in Heyer’s novel, enough details are given by Mrs Underhill to enable reliable identification. She describes the book that “Miss Trent reads […] after dinner to us” as being “so lifelike that I couldn’t get to sleep last night for wondering whether that nasty Glossin would get poor Harry Bertram carried off by the smugglers again, or whether the old witch is going to save him—her and the tutor” (190).

[5] Regarding the term “romance,” Clive Bloom notes that “Before the First World War there was simply too little popular fiction to need categorising, almost all popular writing being designated with the vague title of ‘romance’, which had not itself become a term used exclusively for women’s fiction” (86). Heyer is known to have used the word to [End Page 12] describe her own work: in 1955, while writing Sprig Muslin, she mentioned her need to “turn out another bleeding romance” (Aiken Hodge 112).

[6] Deborah Lutz acknowledges her debt to Ros Ballaster who, in Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740, writes that “The early eighteenth century […] saw a split between female-authored pious and didactic love fiction, stressing the virtues of chastity or sentimental marriage, and erotic fiction by women, with its voyeuristic attention to the combined pleasures and ravages of seduction” (33).

[7] Jack Westruther is very much in the Mark I mould. Freddy himself is a Mark II hero, and Kitty has by this stage in the novel come to recognise their relative merits:

‘I was never in love with Jack in my life! […] I thought I was, but I know now it was no such thing. He seemed just like all the heroes in books, but I soon found that he is not like them at all.’

‘No,’ agreed Freddy. ‘I’m afraid I ain’t either, Kit.’

‘Of course you are not! No one is! And if somebody was, I should think him quite odious!’ (333)

[8] Kloester reports “an uncharacteristic error” (Biography 142) in Regency Buck:

In describing (in loving detail) the minaret-domed exterior and the magnificent Chinoiserie interior of the Pavilion, Georgette described a building which did not yet exist in that form. […]. While it remains the fiction writer’s prerogative to adapt history to suit the needs of a story, this had never been Georgette’s approach. Her mistake in Regency Buck came from her reading of the limited source material […]. Georgette made very few mistakes in her historical novels and the discovery of an error always caused her considerable distress. (142-43).

Another is noted by Aiken Hodge:

When Frederica began to come out in Woman’s Journal a reader pointed out a rare error. Researching Felix’s beloved engineering works at the London Library, Georgette Heyer had been misled by a reference to an iron foundry in Soho and placed it in London instead of Birmingham. (168)

A minor error of a slightly different nature can be found in The Nonesuch. The shopping party made up of Tiffany, Patience and Ancilla “alighted from the carriage at the King’s Arms” (Heyer 131), and they return there to eat “cold meats, fruit, jellies and creams” in a “private parlour” (132) hired by Lord Lindeth. Later in the novel, however, the King’s Arms seems to have metamorphosed into a rather different area of the royal body, for Tiffany coerces Laurence into taking her to “the King’s Head” (248) and they are “ushered into the same parlour which Lindeth had hired for his memorable nuncheon-party” (249). Both the King’s Arms and the King’s Head are listed in early nineteenth-century sources. According to Baines’s 1817 Directory, the King’s Head was to be found in Kirkgate (195). The King’s Arms is one of the Leeds inns (Cooke 33, 40) included in “An Itinerary of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in the West Riding of Yorkshire in which are Included the Stages, [End Page 13] Inns, and Gentlemen’s Seats” (Cooke 17). It is also included in Baines’s Directory, in the list of “Inns, Taverns, &c. in the Borough of Leeds” (194) which mentions that it is to be found on “Lower head row” (195) and had as its proprietor an H. Dawson (195). Since “Lower Headrow (today known just as the Headrow) […] was located at the northern/top part of Briggate” (Hand) and “Briggate […] has historically been, and indeed still is, the main shopping street in Leeds” (Hand), the shopping party could easily have left the King’s Arms, walked along “Lower head row” until they reached Briggate, and then “set forth on foot down the main shopping street” (Heyer Nonesuch 131).

[9] Ryley begins his survey of Leeds’s public buildings by describing its “five Churches of the established religion” (20), and “From the description of the edifices approprited to the exercise of religious worship, the transition is natural to those devoted to its best fruit—Charity” (43), including the Infirmary, House of Recovery and Charity School. He also describes the White Cloth Hall (57), the Mixed Cloth Hall with its “six long streets or aisles” (57), the Moot Hall (63), the Exchange, which he deems “a beautiful building, on an octagan [sic] form” (57), the cloth factories (103-04), cotton mills (104), foundries (104-05), squares and parades (67-68). Baines’s Directory, in addition to containing descriptions of the White Cloth Hall (29), the Mixed Cloth-Hall (28), “The Exchange, […] an octagon building, adjoining this Cloth Hall” (28), the churches (24-25), the Moot-Hall (23), the General Infirmary (31), the House of Recovery “intended for the reception of persons attacked by infectious fevers” (31) and the Charity School (35-36), provides a long list of “Inns, Taverns, &c. in the Borough of Leeds” (194). Bigland describes the Mixed Cloth Hall’s “six covered streets” (785), mentions that there are “carpet manufactories,” “cotton mills” and “founderies” (787) and observes that Leeds is “in general well built, almost entirely of brick” (775), although “the western part displays the greatest degree of elegance. In this quarter is a spacious square environed with handsome brick houses […]. Park Square is also composed of elegant modern houses” (777). Bigland also notes that at the Charity School “70 boys are taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and 50 girls reading, writing, and knitting” (784). Ryley does not give the precise number of children at the school (51-52). Baines’s Directory, published in 1817, a year after Sir Waldo’s fictional visit to the town, relates that the Charity School had “been lately rebuilt, in the Gothic style, and is intended in future solely for the reception of girls. The boys have been removed to the National School” (36). No publication date is given for G. A. Cooke’s Topography of Great Britain but the archive which makes it available online dates it to 1820 and in the text itself Cooke comments that in Leeds “New buildings even in the latter end of the summer of 1819, were erecting, and excited the appearance of a town in a thriving state” (186). This would appear to suggest that Cooke visited Leeds during the summer of 1819. His statement that “The charity school instructs seventy boys and fifty girls in reading and knitting” (183) agrees with Bigland’s 1812 work rather than with the 1817 Directory. His comments regarding the Charity School cannot be regarded as entirely reliable, however, since his description of Leeds often appears to repeat Bigland verbatim. For example, Bigland states that Leeds is “one of the most commercial and opulent towns in Yorkshire” (775) and Cooke uses precisely the same words (179).

[10] Ryley states in his Guide that “Within the last thirty years the town has increased to more than double its number of inhabitants, and it is annually augmenting in its dimensions” (19). According to Cooke, “In 1811 the population of Leeds was 62,534 persons, an increase of nearly ten thousand since the census of 1801” (185). Cooke would [End Page 14] appear to be giving the total for “the town and parish of Leeds” (Bigland 789), not just the town of Leeds itself. Ryley sets the total population of the town in 1801 at 30,669 (118), a figure accepted by Steven Burt and Kevin Grady in their modern history of Leeds: “Its population of 17,117 in 1775 had mushroomed to 30,669 by 1801. By 1811 another 5,000 had been added, and in 1821 the total had reached 48,603” (95). Bigland includes the figures quoted by Cooke and those given by Ryley (789).

[11] This is another passage which Cooke includes almost verbatim in his work (179-80).

[12] Regarding those who are alleged to have plagiarised Heyer’s novels, Aiken Hodge mentions that “In the spring of 1950, a letter from a fan drew her [Heyer’s] attention to a series of books by a successful romantic novelist […]. When Georgette Heyer read the books in question, she found so obvious a debt to her own work that she seriously considered filing a suit for plagiarism” (80). Kloester identifies the author in question as Barbara Cartland (Biography 281). In the early sixties Heyer’s attention was drawn to another suspected case of plagiarism, this time involving Kathleen Lindsay (Kloester, Biography 335) and she wrote that “It makes me feel quite sick to know that another slug is crawling over my work” (Aiken Hodge 139). [End Page 15]

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