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Posts Tagged ‘Georgette Heyer’

“You and I are humans, and there is something complicated between us”: Untamed and queering the heterosexual historical romance
by Jodi McAlister

Untamed by Anna Cowan was one of the most keenly anticipated and polarising historical romances of 2013. A debut novel from an Australian author, it won Favourite Historical Romance at the 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards,[1] as well as netting Cowan the Favourite New Romance Author award.[2] It attracted rave reviews from some readers, but was criticised harshly by others. This is perhaps unsurprising, because Untamed is an unusual novel: while it adheres to the structure and many of the tropes of [End Page 1] what we might think of as a typical heterosexual historical romance, it is also recognisably queer.

The popularity of Untamed and its notoriety within the online romance reading community make it an ideal candidate for study, because it raises an interesting question: what does it mean to queer the straight romance, and can it be done in a way that readers find satisfying? (This question is asked with the obvious caveat that no single text can be satisfying to all readers of a novel; however, it is certainly worth inquiring as to whether a novel can be satisfying to enough readers to position it as a “successful” text.) Romance novels are often criticised for reproducing rigid gender roles, usually because they are read as reinforcing patriarchal stereotypes. What reader reactions to Untamed show is that there is a considerable appetite for more fluid portrayals of gender, and that many readers are prepared to reject rigid archetypes. As such, I am rather more interested in readers’ reactions to the text than the text itself in this article: I do not seek to provide some kind of authoritative reading of this text, nor to argue whether this text is ultimately successful in its project or not. I approach this text with the understanding that popular texts are polysemic, containing the possibility for a myriad of different readings. It is these readings which are of most consequence to me in this article: in what circumstances is Untamed read as queer?

To briefly summarise the plot: the heroine of Untamed is Katherine “Kit” Sutherland, the eldest daughter of a genteel but poor family barely clinging to respectability. She has come to London for one season at the age of 28, where she is awkwardly and badly attempting to perform the role of marriage-minded debutante. At a ball, she encounters hero Jude, Duke of Darlington, who has disguised one of his friends as himself so that he can move around the room in relative disguise. (We should note here the gender neutrality of both protagonists’ names, one textual signal of the queerness of their relationship.) Jude needs to disguise his identity because he is intent on seducing the ball’s host and the book’s villain, Lady Marmotte, for political reasons – a sexual encounter which Kit accidentally witnesses. But although this figure of the daring rakish seducer is immediately familiar to the reader of the historical romance, the book swiftly complicates the trope. Kit recognises immediately that playing this role is self-destructive to Jude, and not an expression of his true desires. Fascinated with her ability to see through his disguises, Jude makes a deal with Kit: he will stop his sexual affair with her married younger sister Lydia if Kit will allow him to leave London with her and return to her family’s country house as her guest. What he does not say, and what Kit does not expect, is that he will travel with her dressed as a woman, a costume he wears for more than half the book.

This figure of the cross-dressing duke is, for the most part, what has endowed Untamed with its notoriety (despite the fact that Kit also cross-dresses), and it is the most discussed aspect of the book in reviews. It is certainly the factor that makes the book unusual: while cross-dressing heroines appear in historical romance with some regularity, cross-dressing heroes are comparatively rare. As I will discuss, Jude becomes the locus for many of the concerns and anxieties expressed by readers around the book’s particularly brand of queerness. But we should not make the mistake of situating Untamed’s cross-dressing duke within an otherwise “standard” historical world. To examine the book’s queerness, we must look at in its entirety. It is a book deeply concerned with performance: of performing gender, performing social roles, and even, at a deeper textual level, performing history. Ultimately, it is Kit and Jude’s failure to adequately perform the first [End Page 2] two that leads to their romantic connection; and the book’s failure to adequately perform the last that enables their union. Performance is both eroticised and ultimately rejected. Untamed appears to be a rejection of rigid archetypes, aspiring to protagonists who are individuals rather than normatively masculine or feminine: an idea that Kit expresses when she thinks of her relationship with Jude that, “you and I are humans, and there is something complicated between us.”[3] However, as I will discuss further, readers had varying opinions of the success of Untamed in this regard.

Queering the Straight Romance – Untamed versus The Masqueraders

To highlight the way that gender roles are read and queered in Untamed, it is useful to read it against another text with a similar plot which does not have the same aspirations to queerness and fluidity. I have chosen The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer. While reading a text from 1928 against one from 2013 may seem somewhat unfair, this historical gap is in fact useful to my purposes. The time period in which Heyer was writing effectively precludes her from any aspirations to queerness, as this was hardly a concept with which she was familiar: although The Masqueraders clearly has some queer potentiality, it is just as clearly recuperated into heterosexual romantic love based in normative gender roles. The Masqueraders is also an ur-text for romance with cross-dressing protagonists, and is clearly one of Untamed’s direct ancestors. As such, reading the two texts against each other allows us to isolate the textual elements where Untamed’s project of queering becomes obvious.

For purposes of definition, I am relying on David Halperin’s explication of the word “queer”. He writes that:

“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers… ‘Queer’, in any case, does not designate a class of already objectified pathologies or perversions; rather, it describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance. It is from the eccentric positionality occupied by the queer subject that it may become possible to envision a variety of possibilities for reordering the relations among sexual behaviours, erotic identities, constructions of gender, forms of knowledge, regimes of enunciation, logics of representation, modes of self-constitution, and practices of community – for restructuring, that is, the relations among power, truth and desire.”[4]

Halperin’s definition places emphasis on the fluidity of queerness. He does not denote a number of identities and designate them as “queer”: instead, he argues that the queer space is one of infinite possibility which cannot be contained by such rigid boundaries. The openness and fluidity of this queer space thus makes it a productive one for a freer existence than is typically allowed – one which, I contend, negates the need for performance, as one’s true identity can be expressed. It is in this space that the happy ending of Untamed takes place: a space where Kit and Jude are freed from performing the [End Page 3] gendered and social roles prescribed to them by their historical society. This is clearly anachronistic: the novel’s final scene, in which a homosexual couple, a heterosexual couple, and the complex and androgynous Kit and Jude all picnic together harmoniously and lovingly in a sort of queer Eden, is distinctly outside the realm of historical possibility. Understandably, many readers took issue with Untamed’s historical inaccuracy; however, it can be read as another way in which the novel is queered. In many ways, Untamed invokes a sort of retrofuturism, with history itself becoming a fluid “horizon of possibility”.[5]

This preoccupation with rigidity and fluidity was clearly part of author Cowan’s project when writing Untamed. In personal correspondence with me, she wrote:

“Society thought about gender very different back then, and even though in many ways it was more rigid, there was more room for men to play the woman (e.g. in school productions) – especially in the aristocracy, where male dress was only just moving away from the very effeminate.”[6]

Cowan is essentially having it both ways here: the strict rules of the historical society provide rigid gender and social norms (which Kit and Jude fail to adequately perform), although the society still contains the generative possibility for queerness, particularly in regards to masculinity. But this is a sort of performative queerness: the effeminate could only ever be a costume for a man, not an intrinsic part of his identity. This is the kind of formulation we see at work in The Masqueraders, which is arguably the most well-known romance text featuring a cross-dressing male protagonist, and a foundational text for the cross-dressing historical romance (although these texts usually feature cross-dressing heroines only, making The Masqueraders, with its cross-dressing hero, particularly apt to compare to Untamed). Hero Robin is playing the role of a woman, Miss Kate Merriot, while his sister, heroine Prudence, plays the role of Mr Peter Merriot, in service of one of his father’s schemes. However, it is clear that Miss Merriot is, for Robin, a costume only. His desires are firmly heterosexual, and when he acts on them, it is in male costume: he appears at a ball masked so as to begin a relationship with his love interest Letitia, whom he later saves from a forced marriage by playing at being a highwayman and killing her prospective husband in the very masculine ritual of the duel. He wears petticoats for utility’s sake only, and the novel ends with him casting them off forever to marry Letitia and to take up his public identity as his father’s son. His cross-dressing is, perhaps, playful, but his brand of masculinity is normatively heterosexual. Despite the admittedly unusual cross-dressing, The Masqueraders is not, I contend, an especially queer novel (which is hardly surprising, considering it was written in 1928 in a social context when “queer” was hardly a concept Heyer would have known or approved of).

Untamed, by contrast, builds on the foundations laid by The Masqueraders, but has a recognisably queer project. . Robin is clearly a man concealed in a dress, but when Jude assumes female dress, he essentially becomes his alter-ego Lady Rose. Kit describes his transformation, which she finds deeply disconcerting:

“Kit had seen her brother, Tom, assume local roles in the local, amateur productions – she’d even seen him act the woman more than once, when the number of parts required it. He always remained Tom, acting. The Duke’s transformation was absolute, down to the very marrow of his bones. There [End Page 4] wasn’t a single hint of self-consciousness about him. His demeanour, the set of his mouth, the lazy sway of his hand, all belonged to Lady Rose. The ease with which he changed his skin was frightening.

How could she ever hope to glimpse his true face?”[7]

This quote highlights the text’s preoccupation with the difference between performance and identity. It demonstrates both Kit’s discomfort with Jude’s ability to perform and her instinctive knowledge about his fragmented, wounded identity. She knows that while costumes conceal Jude’s true identity – there are many poignant and erotic scenes of her undressing him throughout the novel, unlacing gendered clothes to expose the human body beneath – they are also representations of his identity. The restrictions placed on him by society – both gendered restrictions, which force him to perform masculinity, and social restrictions, which force him to perform aristocracy – have caused his identity to become fragmented.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has argued that shame can be defining for queer subjectivities, and we can see this in evidence in Untamed.[8] Jude’s shame at aspects of his identity has facilitated this fragmentation, causing him to desire to become his costumes. He has the following discussion with Kit:

“’I know I’m cracked – I feel it all the way through me – but there is this… thing inside. If I let him out he will – […] I need to take… him… out.’

‘Is that your plan? Kill the man inside?’

Yes.  Kill what was sick and dangerous. Be the man outside who didn’t frighten people. Be only that man.”[9]

We can read the “man inside” as Jude’s true, queer self, who is “sick and dangerous” in a rigid historical society which has no facility for expressing queer, fluid identities. However, it is arguably the “man outside” – Jude’s performance of a normatively masculine rakish aristocrat (an archetypal historical romance hero) – which is the dangerous one, in the sense that it is dangerous to Jude’s own psyche. Jude’s shame at his own identity often makes him perform an outward lack of shame (“How could anyone be so lacking in moral sense – in shame?” Kit thinks, early in her acquaintance with him, astonished by his brazenness at seducing Lady Marmotte at a party in Lady Marmotte’s own house),[10] a sort of defensive function. His journey throughout the book is one of exposure: not to the world, but to Kit. Their romance is dependent on the fact that she knows and accepts all of his identities – the outwardly performed ones, and the inner loathed ones he prefers to keep hidden. She accepts him not as man or woman, but as human. Their love enables him to construct a whole, unified and distinctly queer self.

This is almost the opposite of what occurs in The Masqueraders, where Robin casts off his feminine identity completely. When Robin informs Letitia that he has been masquerading as her friend Miss Merriot while also occasionally appearing to her as a man, it is to apologise for the deception. He does not need to reassure her that his skirts are not [End Page 5] part of his identity – his normative heterosexual masculinity goes without saying. He is not ashamed of his masquerade, nor is his masculinity questioned by either Letitia or the text: and, indeed, we might argue that Robin’s distinct lack of shame is one of the reasons that The Masqueraders is not a queer text, despite its preoccupation with costumes and performing gender – and is, in that sense, despite its queer potential, a product of its time.

We should also note here that Jude’s particular brand of androgynous masculinity is one which the text seeks to eroticise (with varying degrees of success for different readers, as I will discuss). In addition to his cross-dressing, Jude is bisexual, something which Kit finds both erotic and troubling. She is worried that, in addition to sleeping with her sister Lydia, Jude will seduce her brother Tom (who is gay) and break his heart, but also imagines, “Jude’s pale beauty… an image of his limbs hot and in movement, his chest pushing flat against another man’s chest”,[11] an image which she clearly finds sexually interesting if somewhat frightening. Tellingly, this image focuses on Jude’s naked body, with his costumes stripped away from him, signalling Kit’s romantic and sexual fascinating with Jude’s “true” self, rather than with one of the performative versions of his identity. The use of the generally feminine word “beauty” is also key here, contributing to the eroticisation of a genderfluid male body: something never evident in The Masqueraders.

One reviewer of the text read this eroticisation of Jude as “fannish”, because the figure of Jude drew on archetypes of eroticised masculine suffering common in fan cultures.[12] This reviewer argued that Jude is a “woobie”: a fandom term for a character forced to suffer who is both pathetic and (often erotically) compelling. The hero who suffers is regularly eroticised by romance; however, key to the “woobie” is, according to this reviewer, a certain fluidity:

“The woobie is an object of both identification and desire, in a fluidity of identification which I think tends to be more characteristic of women than men, or of marginalised people than privileged ones on an axis of privilege.[13]

The language this reviewer uses suggests a familiarity with thought around gender and genre, and may point to a particularly literate reading of Jude – one that would not be available to, say, the contemporary readers of The Masqueraders. It also points to fluidity not necessarily in gender but in identification: the reader can both desire the erotically suffering Jude, and identify with him as queered hero. This would seem to be a demonstration and complication of the ideas expressed in Laura Kinsale’s essay ‘The Androgynous Reader’, in which she claims that romance readers often identify with hero as well as heroine, embracing both masculine and feminine. Kinsale writes that,

“as she identifies with the hero, a woman can become what she takes joy in, can realise the maleness within herself, can experience the sensation of living inside a body suffused with masculine power and… can explore anger and ruthlessness and passion and pride and honour and gentleness and vulnerability: yes, ma’am, all those romantic clichés. In short, she can be a man.”[14] [End Page 6]

Kinsale seems to be suggesting quite a literal queer reading here: the reader, as well as the protagonists, is fluid and unfixed. Read alongside Kinsale’s essay, Jude’s gender fluidity potentially allows him to function not just as object of desire, but object of identification. This makes reader reactions to his portrayals doubly interesting. Overall, where readers read Jude as feminine, he drew criticism, but where he was read as androgynous, he was more successful. There is, it seems, an appetite for gender fluidity within romance: for a cross-dressing hero who does not simply shuck off his skirts at the end of the novel like Heyer’s Robin and recuperate himself into normative heterosexual masculinity. Kinsale argues that what romance readers savour “is the freedom to expand into all aspects, feminine and masculine, of their own being.”[15] Reader reactions to Untamed appear to prove her point: readers, it would seem, are keen to have objects of identification and desire outside the “traditional” fixed gender archetypes of heterosexual historical romance. As one reviewer pertinently puts it, Untamed is “everything I didn’t even realise I wanted from Georgette Heyer.”[16]

Performing Gender: reading Jude

While both protagonists in Untamed cross-dress, it performs different functions within the text. Kit uses cross-dressing as a symbolic way of laying claim to agency, but never passes or attempts to pass as a man. Jude, on the other hand, successfully performs gender. His disguise as Lady Rose is wholly convincing, and only Kit is able to penetrate it. Kit’s brother Tom, for example, thinks that “She [Lady Rose] changed from one thing to another so quickly it sometimes smacked the breath from him,”[17] but, as the use of the female pronoun indicates, never suspects that Lady Rose is not a woman. Even Kit herself finds herself occasionally confused: watching Tom and Jude play cards, she realises that she sees “a man and a… woman.”[18] Cross-dressing both signifies and problematises Jude’s identity: he uses clothes not just to disguise himself as, but to become the roles that he plays, whether it is Lady Rose or the Duke of Darlington. Within the text, these identities are specifically referred to as “roles”: Jude reminds himself he “still had a role to play”[19] after he meets Kit for the first time; and Kit finds his entirely believable masquerade as Lady Rose frustrating, wondering “if he was even conscious of playing a role.”[20] But at the same time as these roles are performative, they are also real. “You seem to be confused. I’m a woman,” Jude tells Kit towards the midpoint of the novel.[21] He means this in jest, but there is also an undercurrent of seriousness: Jude’s identity is simultaneously performative and real, the roles becoming the performer, the performer becoming the role. As the heroine of this particular romance novel, Kit is uniquely equipped to see through Jude’s charade – she  alone can “run a finger through the grime on a window to let some light shine through”[22] – but the person she sees beneath the costumes is not a gendered self: she sees not man, not woman, but Jude.

Marjorie Garber notes that scholars examining cross-dressing have a tendency to look not at but through the cross-dresser, which she calls an “underestimation of the object”.[23]She argues that the notion of a “third” sex created by cross-dressing, operating outside of a rigid gender binary, has been misused by many scholars, who have attempted to co-opt it for one gender.[24] She contends that this third sex is, in fact, “a mode of [End Page 7] articulation [and] a way of describing a state of possibility.”[25] Cross-dressing becomes an “interruption”, a “disruptive act of putting into question”.[26] Jude, we might argue, belongs to this third sex, his cross-dressing putting into question normative ideas of masculinity. Kit is the only person who has been able to look at instead of through him, accepting him as a human without the need to force him into performing a binarised gender role with which he is uncomfortable. As such, Jude uses her image to give himself comfort: “he remembered, like whisky pouring warm through his chest, that it didn’t matter… She didn’t love him because he was a duke,” he thinks towards the end of the novel.[27] The reference to “duke” here is, on the surface, a reference to his social position, but it is also a reference to duke as a masculine role: Kit, after all, loved him just as much when he was masquerading as Lady Rose. It is this ability of Kit’s to both look at and see through Jude that makes their romance possible.

As well as disrupting masculinity more broadly, in a generic sense, Jude also disrupts the archetype of the historical romance. While, like many other historical heroes, he enjoys a high social status and a privileged position of wealth, his cross-dressing is in many ways a rejection of the “alpha” masculinity with which so many of these heroes are endowed. While in some ways, Darlington is similar to what we might call the “dandy” hero – the man who cares about fashion, style, and clothing, and who is generally fastidious about appearance – it would be rare to find a romance hero who self-describes as not “the manly variety of man”.[28] For instance, in Anne Gracie’s The Winter Bride (2014), which like Untamed, is a historical romance set in Britain by an Australian author, hero Freddy is fastidious about his appearance and shares some characteristics, such as flippancy, with Jude, but he also partakes in stereotypically masculine pursuits, such as boxing. While Freddy certainly appreciates women’s clothing, it seems unlikely that he would ever wear it. Jude is an unusual hero, and his cross-dressing has become the novel’s most notorious aspect for this reason: it seeks to interrupt and disrupt expectations, creating a new – queered – space of possibility for the heterosexual romance narrative.

Garber ultimately concludes that cross-dressing allows for the possibility of “structuring and confounding culture: the disruptive element that intervenes, not just a category crisis of male and female, but the crisis of category itself.”[29] This exposes a vulnerability internal to society, which, she contends, is wedded to binaristic modes of thinking.[30] Lisa Fletcher, writing specifically about the cross-dressing heroine in historical romance fiction, persuasively argues that Garber’s thinking here is too Utopian. She goes on to contend that popular romance fiction largely uses cross-dressing to dispel, rather than create, threats to normative constructions of sexuality.[31] If we look at Heyer’s The Masqueraders, we can see Fletcher’s point proven: as she writes, the declaration of “I love you” is concurrent with a revelation of the cross-dresser’s true sex and a reaffirmation of their heterosexuality (true here of both cross-dressing protagonists: Prudence is revealed as a woman, Robin as a man).[32] Untamed, however, aspires to something closer to Garber’s Utopian figuration in the character of Jude. Jude’s cross-dressing is used to signify his membership of Garber’s “third sex”: to trouble the binary between masculinity and femininity, particularly the way this binary is regularly represented in historical romance fiction. It is Kit’s ability to recognise Jude for who he is – outside the binary – on which their romantic narrative is predicated.

The success of the novel for many readers hinged on whether this binary was successfully troubled, as opposed to simply flipped. There were few reviewers who disliked [End Page 8] the novel on the grounds that it attempted this queering of the hero: rather, success hinged on execution. For the following reviewer, the book was successful:

“And for me, it didn’t feel like he was just a man putting on a dress, it felt like an actual expression of an integral part of who he was – he felt genderqueer to me (even though I know that in the time of the novel, gender and sexual orientations were seen very differently than they are today). As Lady Rose, Darlington is able to put aside the social expectations and constraints on him as a duke and he’s able to deal with Kit and her family on a more level playing field. In many ways, he’s more comfortable as Lady Rose than he is as Darlington.”[33]

The appeal here of the portrayal of Jude is the way it equalises the relationship between Kit and Jude, signalling an awareness of the problematic power dynamics of heterosexuality. Jude’s innate queerness allows him to construct a relationship with Kit that, although nominally heterosexual and certainly appearing so to the historical society of the novel, mitigates these problematic aspects of historical heterosexual power. Along similar lines, another reviewer writes simply that, “[t]hey [Kit and Jude] are both very androgynous. They are both so very human,”[34] which again signals the appeal of the equalised relationship between Kit and Jude: they are the same, therefor they are equal, which addresses many of the problems of power that are often concerns of the historical romance. With these issues of gendered power set aside, Kit and Jude are able to simply be themselves – to be human.

However, for many reviewers, Jude’s queerness was not successfully portrayed. Instead of the masculine archetype of the romance hero being troubled, the book was read as simply inverting romantic archetypes, with Kit playing the role of hero and Jude the role of heroine. Jude becomes not just feminine, but, for many reviewers, negatively feminine. For example, Alexis Hall (the author of acclaimed same-sex romance Glitterland) wrote the following comment on Dear Author under the moniker AJH:

“I know Ms Cowan has said explicitly Darlington is ‘fairly queer-gendered’ and he’s living in a world full of binaries so it’s not like he has the option to understand himself as anything other than an unmanly man, but his ‘unmanly’ traits appear to be: passivity, weakness, powerlessness, fearfulness, and frigidity. I don’t particularly see those traits as gendered, I just see them as negative. Also, if you’re going to assign your genderqueer characters traits, which for better or worse, code as female, why chose such as stereotypically feeble ones? I’m not disdaining or condemning Darlington for all the time he spends cowering and weeping on the floor (truthfully, I could see why someone night be into it) but he seems to walk into the text, be briefly intriguing, have unhealthy, self-destructive sex on a piano, jump into a frock for no reason and then commence falling apart.”[35]

Similarly, another commenter wrote: [End Page 9]

“I’m all for having non-stereotypical characters, and I applaud that, but at the same time just giving your heroine the stereotypical male characteristics and vice versa isn’t something that strikes me as really playing with gender roles, especially if it’s reinforced that ‘oh he’s behaving like a woman’.”[36]

Reading these comments, we could argue that Jude’s masquerade as Lady Rose is, perhaps, too successful. He performs femininity so well that he is read as feminine – and this is a kind of femininity which is disempowered. This is arguably reinforced by the book’s epilogue, where Kit has taken on the role of captain of industry, while Jude is blissfully domestic: an inversion of the typical historical roles of man and woman. Kit has social power, which she enjoys wielding, while Jude is content to stand by her side. We can see here Fletcher’s contention that cross-dressing in historical romance can work to reinforce, rather than subvert, normative constructions of gender: Jude’s characterisation, particularly his vulnerability, is read as feminine, thus reinforcing that as a feminine quality even though he is not a woman. One reviewer highlights this explicitly, writing that she is “not sure it’s entirely the swapping of roles that makes this book subversive, since one could view this as reinforcing heteronormative archetypes, even if they are ‘worn’ by the opposite gender.”[37] Where Jude is read as feminine instead of as a member of Garber’s third sex, he becomes problematic to readers, because he is read as negatively feminine.[38] This is in contrast to Kit, who is read as positively masculine. This is something author Cowan found frustrating and sexist: in correspondence with me, she wrote that, “I never intended to write Jude as female – he’s a version of masculinity I like.”[39] However, many readers did not find that Cowan succeeded in her intentions, and read Jude as an example of a kind of pathetic femininity, even though he is male.

This perception of negative femininity in Jude seems to revolve around his emotional vulnerability, which becomes more pronounced as Kit strips his costumes from him. We might read this as a stripping of armour, and thus of power, leading to a reading of Jude as disempowered and thus taking on the feminine role in a heterosexual binary. As Jessica Tripler notes in her review of the reviews of Untamed, the vulnerable hero who needs comforting is a romance staple.[40] It is Jude’s cross-dressing, we can extrapolate, that is the complicating factor which is leading his vulnerability to be encoded feminine for so many readers: unlike Robin of The Masqueraders, who remains masculine in petticoats, Jude becomes explicitly equated with the feminine. For these readers, he has not been successfully portrayed as Garber’s “third sex”, and the horizon of possibility that Halperin argues queerness designates has not been sighted.

However, where readers do read Jude as successfully genderfluid, rather than as a male character adhering to a rigid heroine instead of hero archetype, then not only does Untamed work as a queer text, due in large part to the equalised power relations between Kit and Jude, but the erotic appeal that Cowan has tried to encode in Jude – “he is the sex symbol hero, for me,” she wrote in correspondence with me[41] – is activated. Tripler notes that there are a number of romance review websites which feature “book boyfriends” – that is, pictures of handsome men who might resemble romance heroes – but none of these websites featured Untamed, despite the fact that it attracted a considerable amount of press and attention within the romance reading world. As Tripler mentions, the focus in these reviews is on the “hotness” of the heroes, which is usually analogous with his traditional masculinity.[42] Jude appears to have been troubling for these websites. Despite [End Page 10] this, other reviewers – notably, reviewers who enjoyed the book – found him distinctly appealing. One Goodreads reviewer, who states that she “adore[s] pretty men. Especially in dresses”, uses pictures of cross-dresser Kaya to illustrate her imagined Jude.[43] Another reviewer calls Jude “deliciously androgynous” and wonders whether the character represented on the novel’s cover (a dark-haired person, apparently a woman, in lacy gloves and long dress) is meant to be Kit or Jude, hoping that it is Jude, because “that is hot”.[44] This signals the appeal of the cross-dressing, genderfluid hero for a specific audience: one that finds this particular brand of androgyny erotically appealing.

Performing social roles: reading Kit

As Jackie C Horne notes in her review of Untamed, the cross-dressing heroine has long been a staple of historical romance, with putting on men’s clothing a way for her to wield social power within a social structure that denies it to her.[45] In this sense, Kit’s cross-dressing in Untamed is much more straightforward than Jude’s. Towards the beginning of the book, she describes herself as “a narrow kind of woman with no power,”[46] and her textual journey is towards obtaining it: ultimately, she dons trousers as a way of accessing an agentic spectrum encoded masculine. For her, cross-dressing is not a way of performing gender: instead, it enables her to perform social power. This is a practice that Kit seems to learn from Jude: in their first encounter, she describes the Duke of Darlington as “a hairstyle, some tall collars, and a cravat that other men envy.”[47] This demonstrates her awareness, from the beginning of the novel, of the way clothes can create power – particularly gendered clothes, which make the wearer the object of envy to their own sex (and, by expansion, the object of desire to the other). Kit’s awareness is reinforced as correct by the text: she says this unwittingly to Jude himself, unaware that he is the real duke and that the Darlington she is describing is in fact his friend Crispin, who is dressed in Jude’s clothes as they playfully attempt to ascertain just how long it will take their peers to realise that the man in the hairstyle, collars, and cravat is not Jude at all. Crispin is thus – for a little while, at least – able to utilise the social power afforded to a man of such high status. Kit learns from this and deliberately appears in public in men’s clothing as a way of claiming the status and agency that is afforded to men in her society (not, importantly, claiming maleness as a gender).

If we return to Halperin’s definition of “queer” as “at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant”, then Kit’s cross-dressing is certainly queer. It does not necessarily express a queer sexual identity – although her normatively masculine qualities, such as physical and mental strength, are part of her erotic appeal to Jude – but it is a definite challenge to the normal, legitimate and dominant in her society: the patriarchal structures of power. This claim is one that Kit makes deliberately and consciously, something which sets her apart from many of her fellow cross-dressing heroines. Prudence in The Masqueraders does not use her cross-dressing to claim any real kind of power, nor is it allowed to her by the text in any real measure – for example, when she is goaded into a duel, she is rescued by her eventual husband Sir Anthony Fanshawe, who engages her prospective opponent in another duel the day before she is due to fight. Prudence passes as [End Page 11] a man, but Kit does not, and this lack of interest in doing so is key to her claim for power. Her first appearance in men’s clothing is in public at a ball:

“She wore a midnight-blue coat that had to have been stitched on. The shoulders were crusted with jewels that refracted candlelight from the chandeliers above. It made her look even stronger. Taller. Hard and incomparable.

She wore breeches tight as skin, her long, muscled legs on display for everyone to see, feet planted firmly in shining black boots.

Her hair was gathered in a tight knot on top of her head. Her face with its crooked nose and severe brows, was plain and exposed. Her collars were short, so that the expanse of her brown throat was clear.


She was like something new and badly understood that was going to change everything. Like electricity.”[48]

Apart from the use of the pronoun “she”, there are no descriptions of overt femininity here: instead, description relies on Kit’s physical strength – an outward representation of her emotional strength. Indeed, there is in this excerpt an implicit rejection of feminised beauty: Kit exposes her “crooked nose” and “severe brows”, as well as highlighting her “muscled legs”. However, Kit does not “pass” like Jude does: instead, she dons male clothing to access masculinised power and rituals. Her first act, upon entering the ball, is to strike the book’s villain, Lady Marmotte, across the face with her glove, challenging her to a duel.[49] Similarly, Kit ultimately plays Lady Marmotte at piquet for a significant piece of information which would ruin Jude – performing a masculine ritual (gambling), while Jude becomes the damsel in distress. When Kit dons male clothing, it is the culmination of a running narrative thread around her inability and refusal to perform conventional femininity, and a claim for social power.

It is this to which Jude is drawn, both emotionally and sexually. He eroticises Kit’s strength: while he is dressed as Lady Rose, he watches her chop wood, and thinks, “[h]er movements were heroic, articulate, economic. She was so, so strong,”[50] a moment which swiftly develops into a sexual fantasy. (The word “heroic” is particularly telling here, positioning Kit as the hero – rather than the heroine – of the romance.) At the end of the novel, when she announces her plans to become a captain of industry, his response is, “[m]y God… I cannot wait to watch you live,”[51] awed by her boldness and audacity: traits regularly coded masculine. Kit’s claim to the social power afforded men – and, in a generic sense, the romance hero – is key to her romantic and erotic appeal to Jude, perhaps because it positions her in a queer space, reaching for, per Halperin, a horizon of possibility, as well as making her equal to him. Importantly, in the novel’s two key sex scenes, Kit and Jude are dressed in the clothes of the same gender. In the first, they are both wearing female clothes, and the scene ends with Kit penetrating Jude: “[s]he learned to enter him, so that when he [End Page 12] came he rose up into her mouth and his chest drew the arcing, suspended pain of letting go”.[52] In the second (the first scene of penetrative heterosex), they both wear men’s clothes. The stereotypical tropes of virginity loss in historical romance, where the virgin heroine is initiated into sexual pleasure by the experienced hero, are almost totally absent. Instead, Kit and Jude are constructed as equal participants and desiring agents in all ways in this scene. The masculine power that Kit lays claim to via cross-dressing extends to the bedroom, where she regularly takes control, and is ultimately vital to her relationship with Jude.

Unlike Jude, Kit is generally liked by readers of Untamed. The biggest criticism of her cross-dressing is that it is anachronistic. Overall, she is a far less troubling figure for reviewers than Jude. Perhaps this is because the cross-dressing heroine, unlike the hero, is a relatively familiar archetype: as Horne writes of cross-dressing heroines in her review of Untamed, “though her peers may find her costuming scandalous, the cross-dressing heroine of romance fiction more often finds approval from readers raised to take the equality of women for granted.”[53] It is often noted that the romance is, in many ways, an expression of feminine power.[54] This may explain why Kit is generally liked even by reviewers who felt that the queering of the central relationship was not successfully achieved, and that the binary was flipped instead of problematised: a heroine ending a romance novel with more power than the hero is fairly familiar, although this is often emotional power rather than the literal industrial power Kit wields. She becomes a less problematic figure than Jude, whose more pathetic characteristics are read as reinforcing a version of femininity that is fragile and disempowered. One reviewer favourably writes: “the heroine began the story being the ‘untamed’ of the title, and she finished the book still ‘untamed’”.[55] Kit’s power is not curtailed, and whether the narrative is read as successfully queered or simply a flipped binary, her journey to power appears to be generally satisfying. She is also a less troubling figure, because her costumes are clearly performative: she never “passes” as a man.  While her cross-dressing certainly contributes to the novel’s queerness, it is in a way that does not trouble the typical narrative of the heterosexual historical romance.

Performing history: reading anachronism

As many reviewers note, Untamed is not an especially historically accurate representation of the nineteenth century. While elements of nineteenth century British life and politics are important to the plot – for example, one major subplot revolves around the Corn Laws – it appears to be informed more by a kind of historical verisimilitude than history itself. It is perhaps not coincidental that the majority of the anachronisms in the book revolve around gender: Kit’s public cross-dressing and the fact that the divorcee Lady Marmotte wields immense social power, for example, seem historically unlikely. So too does the Edenic scene that takes place at the end of the novel, where a heterosexual couple, a homosexual couple, and Kit and Jude all picnic together. Arguably, there is a retrofuturist function at play in Untamed: that is, it presents an alternative view of the future as imagined from the past. This anachronism makes the narrative – especially the queer elements of the narrative – possible. Inasmuch as history is rigid, it must become fluid in service of Kit and Jude’s romance, just as the rigid society defined at the beginning of the [End Page 13] novel becomes fluid by the final utopian picnic. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has argued that heterosexuality “masquerades so readily as History itself,”[56] because heterosexuality is privileged as a kind of organising principle due to its link to reproduction. While Untamed is recognisably a heterosexual romance, it also attempts to construct an alternative history with a distinctly queer bent: one where the link between heterosexuality and history is complicated. History becomes a horizon of possibility, and anachronism is necessary to create the queer space in which the novel’s happy ending takes place.

This makes certain requirements of the reader. They must adopt a fluid reading position, and be willing to treat the past not as fixed but as this horizon of possibility – to embrace the text’s retrofuturist aspects. Because Untamed is marketed as historical romance rather than as part of an overtly retrofuturistic genre (such as steampunk), some readers, unsurprisingly, are unwilling to do this. This reader is one such:

“I’m definitely one of the Historical Authenticity police (I believe a popular term is nitpicker), and I totally understand that not everyone cares about this or notices them the way I do. But the issues in this book were really egregious, both in their level of inaccuracy and their importance to the story. Major plot points turned on events that did not or could not have occurred.”[57]

This signals not so much a resistance to the book’s attempt to queer its central relationship, but a resistance to anachronism. This is noted as a personal reading preference, but the appeal to realism is telling: this particular reader has certain expectations of the historical romance genre, and is not open to a retrofuturist reading.

Other reviewers, however, had a different view. “I often read historical romances as a particular type of speculative fiction, so deviations from what actually happened or how things worked tend to not bother me… sometimes history must behind service to the story,”[58] one writes, signalling a clear openness to a retrofuturist reading through the reference to speculative fiction. In her review, Kat Mayo specifically identifies the fluidity of the historical backdrop as necessary to the narrative:

“I’m not convinced this is actually a historical romance. It sounds like a historical romance and Cowan uses the convenience of the historical setting and its social mores to create a somewhat familiar backdrop for romance readers, but she doesn’t let the setting get in the way of the plot. This will be a deal breaker to many readers, but it seems clear to me, by the way the story is crafted, that Cowan never really makes an attempt to be faithful to history. The setting is more like a stage in which Cowan sets up her characters, and the backdrop is fluid as it needs to be to tell their story.”[59]

Mayo’s review both highlights that historical realism – or, at least, historical plausible deniability – is something readers expect in the historical romance genre, and identifies that Untamed has a different generic project. Essentially, Untamed presents a request to the reader to treat history as malleable: something which might be uncomfortable to those reading the book with the expectations of historical romance, but acceptable to those who read it via a more speculative lens. [End Page 14]

I suggest that this request is similar to the “unhistoricism” proposed by Jonathan Goldberg and Madhavi Menon in ‘Queering History’, which they suggest refuses the “compulsory heterotemporality of historicism.”[60] Goldberg and Menon contend that a process of unhistorical reading should be open to the possibility of anachronism, as it refuses an understanding of the past that treats it as wholly other, as well as rejecting a focus on normative heterosexuality.[61] Fletcher argues that the portrayal of romantic love in historical romance (referring particularly to the phrase “I love you”) functions to link the present to the past, giving heterosexuality a “claim to universality, timelessness and truth”.[62] Untamed, however, rejects the universality of a specifically heterosexual romantic love and instead offers a picture of romantic love with queer potential against a historical backdrop in which such a thing would have been virtually impossible. As such, Untamed requires a kind of unhistorical reading from its readers, asking them to embrace anachronism so that the retrofuturistic queer space in which the romantic happy ending takes place can be established. However, given that the book has been marketed as and is largely discussed as historical romance, readers reading Untamed with the generic requirements of that subgenre in mind have not necessarily been prepared to undertake this unhistorical reading. This does not mean that they are resistant to the book’s queer project – rather, it signals that it fails as a historical romance. This, in turn, would suggest that Sedgwick and Fletcher are correct when they assert that history and heterosexuality are entangled: it is very difficult, it seems, to imagine a historically plausible queer love story that is not clandestine and private, but public.


Untamed is remarkable not because it is necessarily successful – and, indeed, arguing whether it is objectively a successful novel or not is a fraught and ultimately unproductive practice – but because it is unusual. In correspondence with me, Cowan asserted that she sought to queer the heterosexual romance,[63] and reader reactions to this are instructive when we think about the way the genre might evolve in the future. No reviewers took issue with the way the book sought to subvert normative historical social roles: while some noted that Kit’s cross-dressing was anachronistic, none were concerned about her claims on social power typically coded masculine (perhaps, as I argued, because this was an extension and exaggeration of the female victory often encoded in the romance narrative). Similarly, few readers seem to have taken issue with the project of queering the hero. Some did – “the traditionalist in me kept waiting for both characters to do SOMETHING within the normal outlines of Hero and heroine,”[64] one reviewer lamented, another derisively compared the book to the Jerry Springer Show,[65] and a third wrote that, “I guess I am just the ‘urber [sic] alpha male’ type”[66] – but these were comparatively rare (and came, in several instances, from reviewers who referenced a conservative Christian belief system). The figure of the cross-dressing duke was exciting for many readers. The fact that readers generally enjoyed the book greatly when they were able to read Jude as a fluid character, and were disappointed when they read him simply as taking on the role normally played by the heroine is particularly interesting: it signals that there is in fact an appetite among historical romance readers, even readers of exclusively [End Page 15] heterosexual historical romance, for a queered narrative. The willingness of many readers to accept the anachronisms of the book would seem to be another sign of this appetite, although the number that did not suggests that the historical romance genre encodes a requirement for realism, and that it is difficult to write a queered romance within these realistic historical requirements.

Overall, the responses to Untamed demonstrate that there is an appetite among historical romance readers, for a kind of fluidity that we might call queer, particularly in terms of portrayals of gender. Given history’s entanglement with heterosexuality, this is difficult to achieve, even where, as in Untamed, the central romance is nominally heterosexual. However, if we read Untamed against Heyer’s The Masqueraders, we can see the ways in which the historical romance has developed, mirroring modern mores. Regardless of whether or not the book was considered successful by the individual reader, the publication of Untamed would seem to signal a new horizon of possibility for the historical romance, and a growing enthusiasm for a kind of fluidity that we might call queer.

[1] Notably, this broke the stranglehold held on this category by well known (and similarly controversial) Australian historical romance author Anna Campbell, who won the award from 2008-2012.

[2] ‘Australian Romance Readers Association – Awards.’ Australian Romance Readers Association – Awards. 23 Mar. 2014. Web. 4 August 2014.

[3] Cowan, Anna. Untamed. Destiny Romance, 2013a. Kindle edition, location 1319.

[4] Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: Towards a gay hagiography. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 62.

[5] I am using the term “retrofuturism” to refer to idea of an alternative version of the future as imagined in the past. A similar function is used in steampunk novels, another popular (and pseudo-historical) genre. In steampunk, this is a vision of the future as imagined from the nineteenth century: usually a future in which the major technologies are based on steam and clockwork. Interestingly, this idea of the horizon is invoked not only in Halperin’s explication of “queer”, where he speaks about it as a “horizon of possibility”, but also in author SM Stirling’s work on alternate histories, which is drawn on by steampunk scholar Mike Perschon to describe the genre. Stirling writes that alternate history takes place in a world where “horizons are infinite and nothing is fixed in stone”. (Stirling, SM. ‘Why, Then, There’. Worlds That Weren’t. Harry Turtledove, Walter Jon Williams, SM Stirling, Mary Gentle. New York: Penguin, 2005, 151; Perschon, Mike. ‘Finding Nemo: Verne’s antihero as original steampunk.’ Jules Verne Studies 2 (2010): 179-194.)

[6] Cowan, Anna. Personal correspondence with this paper’s author. 30 September 2013c.

[7] Cowan, 2013a, locations 811-815.

[8] Sedgwick’s work on shame appears in several of her written works. Most important for this paper is her article ‘Queer Performativity: Henry James’ The Art of the Novel’, in which she identifies “shame on you” as an alternative performative speech act to the marital “I do” as one which linked to queerness, as the word “queer” cannot decouple itself from associations with shame and stigma. (4) She argues that shame and pride (a word with obvious cultural importance for queer people) are “different interlinings of the same glove”, and that both are performative (5). She writes that, “[s]hame is a bad feeling [End Page 16] attached to what one is: one therefore is something, in experiencing shame” – and perhaps that something is queer. (12).This makes shame the catalyst for “metamorphosis, reframing, refiguration, transfiguration, affective and symbolic loading and deformation” (13) – all of which speak to the “horizon of possibility” offered by queerness in Halperin’s figuration.

[9] Cowan, 2013a, locations 1880-1884.

[10] Cowan, 2013a, location 635.

[11] Cowan, 2013a, locations 3214-3215.

[12] This is particularly true in what is referred to as h/c – hurt/comfort – fan fiction. While this exists across many different fan cultures and can feature protagonists of many gender, particular pleasure seems to be generated for many readers by positioning male characters of the sufferers and object of comfort. (cf. Fathallah, Judith May. “H/c and me: An autoethnographic account of a troubled love affair.” Transformative Works and Cultures 7 (2010).)

[13] Mely. ‘Cowan, Anna: Untamed (2013).’ Coffeeandink. 23 July 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[14] Kinsale, Laura. ‘The Androgynous Reader’. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992, 37.

[15] Kinsale, 40.

[16] Rule, Belinda. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 24 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[17] Cowan, 2013a, location 2742.

[18] Cowan, 2013a, location 1711.

[19] Cowan, 2013a, location 367.

[20] Cowan, 2013 a, location 1795.

[21] Cowan, 2013a, location 2240.

[22] Cowan, 2013a, location 648.

[23] Garber, Marjorie B. Vested interests: Cross-dressing and cultural anxiety. New York: Psychology Press, 1997, 10.

[24] For example, Garber contends that Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar attempt to co-opt the term for women when they argue that literary women persist in seeking a genderless third sex, while the blurring of gender boundaries gives literary men a kind of nausea. (9)

[25] Garber, 11.

[26] Garber, 13.

[27] Cowan, 2013a, location 5307.

[28] Cowan, 2013a, locations 1100, 1152.

[29] Garber, 342.

[30] This is perhaps especially true of nineteenth century society. Thomas Laqueur has argued convincingly in Making Sex that a major shift in thinking about gender occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth century: there was a shift from a one sex model, where women were imagined as lesser, inferior versions of men, to a two-sex model, where women were figured as men’s opposites. Masculinity and femininity were thus figured as polar opposites. Untamed’s rejection of this paradigm is another way in which it mobilises anachronism to construct a queer space of possibility. [End Page 17]

[31] Fletcher, Lisa. Historical romance fiction: Heterosexuality and perfomativity. Burlington: Ashgate, 2008, 73-74.

[32] Fletcher, 75.

[33] Luhrs, Natalie. ‘Anna Cowan’s Untamed: Magnificent and Flawed.’ The Radish. 17 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[34] Mmeguillotine. ‘A Review of Untamed.Goodreads. 17 July 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[35] AJH. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[36] Mary. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[37] Pamela. ‘Imperfect? Unruly? UNTAMED? A Subversive Regency.’ Badass Romance. 4 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[38] It is also worth noting here that it was not only Jude’s particular brand of masculinity that reviewers were critical of. While Kit was generally liked and I could find no criticism of the minor female characters, some reviewers took issue with the portrayal of the other male characters in the book. Reviewer GrowlyCub argues that Kit is a “martyr heroine who is the only competent human being in the world” in a book full of “men in distress”, going on to write that she would “have appreciated at least one male who wasn’t a totally useless shitsack”. Kit’s gay brother Tom and his partner Crispin, Jude’s friend, come in for particular criticism: “all the gayboys are totally wet and hopeless”, says Alexis Hall in his review. The vulnerability of the male characters – Jude in particular, but also some of the minor characters – seems to have been a sticking point for some reviewers. (GrowlyCub. ‘Book Review: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ GrowlyCub’s Den. 2 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014; Hall, Alexis. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 1 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.)

[39] Cowan, 2013c.

[40] Tripler, Jessica. ‘Anatomy of a Polarizing Book.’ The Radish. 26 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[41] Cowan, 2013c.

[42] Tripler.

[43] Lord Rose. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 15 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[44] SunnyGirl. ‘Review: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Femdom Book Reviews. 24 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[45] Horne, Jackie C. ‘The Gender-Bending Appeal of the Cross-dressing Hero, Part 1: Anna Cowan’s UNTAMED.’ Romance Novels for Feminists. 27 August 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[46] Cowan, 2013a, location 695.

[47] Cowan, 2013a, location 348.

[48] Cowan, 2013a, location 4700-10.

[49] It is important to note here that although the masculine ritual of the duel is invoked, Kit is challenging another woman to fight – symbolically laying claim to agency not just for herself, but to elevate disputes between women to an important, and, in this case, political level. Lady Marmotte is shown as dangerously powerful throughout the novel: however, the book does not ultimately pathologise her as a powerful woman. At the [End Page 18] end of the novel, when Kit has taken on the masculine role of captain of industry, Lady Marmotte becomes one of her biggest economic rivals.

[50] Cowan, 2013a, location 1979.

[51] Cowan, 2013a, location 5395.

[52] Cowan, 2013a, location 3796.

[53] Horne.

[54] For example, in the introduction to Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, romance author Jayne Ann Krentz writes, that “[r]eaders understand the books celebrate female power. In the romance novel… the woman always wins. With courage, intelligence, and gentleness she brings the most dangerous creature on earth, the human male, to his knees. More than that, she forces him to acknowledge her power as a woman… Romance novels invert the power structure of a patriarchal society because they show women exerting enormous power over men. The books also defy the masculine conventions of other forms of literature because they portray women as heroes.” (5)

[55] Leighton, Leisl. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 10 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014

[56]Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, 111.

[57] Sunita. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 15 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[58] Luhrs.

[59] Mayo, Kat. ‘Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Book Thingo. 26 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[60] Goldberg, Jonathan and Madhavi Menon. ‘Queering History.’ PMLa (2005): 1616.

[61] Goldberg and Menon, 1612, 1616.

[62] Fletcher, 15.

[63] Cowan, 2013c.

[64] Sara. ‘Anna Cowan – Untamed.’ The Window Seat on a Rainy Day. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[65] Erytryn. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[66] Ann. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014. [End Page 19]

Works Cited

‘Australian Romance Readers Association – Awards.’ Australian Romance Readers Association – Awards. 23 Mar. 2014. Web. 4 August 2014.

AJH. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Ann. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Cowan, Anna. ‘The Cross Dressing Duke by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013b. Web. 4 August 2014.

Cowan, Anna. Personal correspondence with this paper’s author. 30 September 2013c.

Cowan, Anna. Untamed. Destiny Romance, 2013a. Kindle edition.

Erytryn. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Fathallah, Judith May. ‘H/c and me: An autoethnographic account of a troubled love affair.’ Transformative Works and Cultures 7 (2010). Web.

Fletcher, Lisa. Historical romance fiction: Heterosexuality and perfomativity. Burlington: Ashgate, 2008. Print.

Garber, Marjorie B. Vested interests: Cross-dressing and cultural anxiety. New York: Psychology Press, 1997. Print.

Goldberg, Jonathan, and Madhavi Menon. ‘Queering History.’ PMLa (2005): 1608-1617. Print.

Gracie, Anne. The Winter Bride. Melbourne: Penguin, 2014. Print.

GrowlyCub. ‘Book Review: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ GrowlyCub’s Den. 2 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Hall, Alexis. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 1 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: Towards a gay hagiography. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Heyer, Georgette. The Masqueraders. William Heinemann, 1928. Print.

Horne, Jackie C. ‘The Gender-Bending Appeal of the Cross-dressing Hero, Part 1: Anna Cowan’s UNTAMED.’ Romance Novels for Feminists. 27 August 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Kinsale, Laura. ‘The Androgynous Reader’. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print.

Krentz, Jayne Ann. ‘Introduction’. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print.

Laqueur, Thomas. Making Sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1990. Print.

Lord Rose. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 15 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Luhrs, Natalie. ‘Anna Cowan’s Untamed: Magnificent and Flawed.’ The Radish. 17 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Mary. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Mayo, Kat. ‘Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Book Thingo. 26 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Mely. ‘Cowan, Anna: Untamed (2013).’ Coffeeandink. 23 July 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Mmeguillotine. ‘A Review of Untamed.Goodreads. 17 July 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[End Page 20]

Pamela. ‘Imperfect? Unruly? UNTAMED? A Subversive Regency.’ Badass Romance. 4 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Perschon, Mike. ‘Finding Nemo: Verne’s antihero as original steampunk.’ Jules Verne Studies 2 (2010): 179-194. Print.

Rule, Belinda. ‘A Review of Untamed.’ Goodreads. 24 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Sara. ‘Anna Cowan – Untamed.’ The Window Seat on a Rainy Day. 14 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. Print.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. ‘Queer performativity: Henry James’s The Art of the Novel.’ GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1.1 (1993): 1-16. Print.

Stirling, SM. ‘Why, Then, There’. Worlds That Weren’t. Harry Turtledove, Walter Jon Williams, SM Stirling, Mary Gentle. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Sunita. ‘Comment on DUELING REVIEWS: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Dear Author. 15 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

SunnyGirl. ‘Review: Untamed by Anna Cowan.’ Femdom Book Reviews. 24 May 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

Tripler, Jessica. ‘Anatomy of a Polarizing Book.’ The Radish. 26 June 2013. Web. 4 August 2014.

[End Page 21]


14 Weeks of Love and Labour: Teaching Regency and Desert Romance to Undergraduate Students
by Karin Heiss

[End Page 1] In February 2012, after finishing my Magister thesis on the popular Regency romance and getting my degree,[1] I was offered the opportunity to become a doctoral candidate at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), along with the chance to start teaching English Literary and Cultural Studies at the Department of English and American Studies.[2] In addition to two first-year introductory modules on cultural studies, I had the opportunity to design and structure a fourteen-week seminar to be offered as an elective module[3] on (British) popular romance. While many seminars had included references to popular romantic structures and Christine Feehan’s The Scarletti Curse (2001) was analysed in a seminar titled “The Gothic Vision,” popular romance had not been the focus of a seminar in our Institute of English Studies before.

This article examines the proceedings of the seminar and the applied approach to teaching the popular romance in three distinct ways. First, it documents and reflects on the planning, structuring, and delivery of the module. Secondly, it considers the students’ development and progress and their response to the pedagogical measures. Lastly, it argues popular romance as a topic for academic study can appeal to both BA and teaching degree university students who study English in a German academic setting.[4] Popular genres in general (such as crime or detective, but also horror fiction—seminars on which generate a lot of student interest and participation in my experience) have a strong appeal as a subject, presumably since they connect directly to many students’ reading preferences and interests. Of course, there is also a case to be made for the idea that some of my students started to express during classes: that a seminar on popular culture initially often gives rise to the (very quickly corrected) notion that this topic would contain “less difficult and complex” texts to analyse, not involve much abstract theory, or require much personal effort. But this did not deter the participants from engaging in the texts and assignments. Thus, student interest can definitely be generated, even among those who picked popular literature as a topic because they assumed it would just be “easy.” Moreover, dealing with popular genres can motivate students by demonstrating that academic approaches are more than dry, abstract theories, but can and should inspire critical reflection on their own lives, how they conceive of the world, their own habits, contexts and reading practices. Finally, with regard to the academic setting, it will be shown that such a module can very well be integrated into courses which focus on the study of literature and culture in general, and can enliven academic discussion by shedding light onto genres which are underrepresented even in the study of popular culture.

The students were permitted to choose the elective class after having acquired knowledge of basic approaches to both literary and cultural “texts,”[5] leaving me with the task of recapping that knowledge and encouraging them to apply it to the study of popular romance novels and their structures. This seminar was designed to provide insight into the workings of specific popular romance subgenres, as well as to offer an overview of criticism levelled against the genre in general, and to enhance student’s abilities to analyse a popular cultural environment of production and consumption.

The seminar “Reading the Popular Romance” was thus one of a number of similarly structured elective seminars on various topics offered in the respective semester. Which of these seminars the students attended was up to their preference in topic and depended on how they managed their personal study schedule. For them, the module offered the chance to actively incorporate and apply the knowledge they gained in introductory and advanced seminars, which focus mainly on theoretical approaches and exemplary case studies. Thus, [End Page 2] working within the constraints of one genre and on selected texts with given literary and cultural studies approaches would help them to think critically and perform academic analyses both orally and in written form. In pursuit of their degree, the Proseminar is intended to be the next step in becoming proficient at producing coherent (close) readings and analyses of a text, followed by incorporating the analyses into a sound argumentative structure—first with the lecturer in class and then with a more narrow focus in their end-of-term-papers. Acquiring academic skills at this level also includes honing research abilities and being able to conform to the desired formalities both when preparing presentations and the end-of-term-paper, especially with regard to the bibliographical details. In order to facilitate this learning, I used a mixture of teaching approaches. Learning objective oriented measures, such as recaps on central approaches and summaries of the results of analyses, were central in relaying the necessary information to the students (Johansen 11-13). In addition, some elements of activity-oriented teaching (Johansen 89-91) were incorporated to enliven the teaching style and encourage student participation as well as increase interest. The most important measures in this respect were group work/working with a partner (Johansen 73) and interactive class discussions which were partly designed to help students with their soft skills, developing the capacity to work in a team and dealing with possibly conflicting opinions of others in an academically appropriate manner. However, these approaches were subject to revision throughout the duration of the seminar, since “no single strategy works for every teacher in every situation” (Daniel 91). The pedagogical aims in the first stages of planning and structuring the seminar were quite basic, since it is difficult to judge the exact possibilities of a class without getting to know the students and the dynamics among them first. The seminar structure was in itself very conducive to discussions and group work, as it let students develop trains of thought and arguments on their own, share them in a group of their peers, and then present them to other groups and the lecturer. Developing skills at both accepting but also formulating constructive criticism and delivering it to a fellow student were likewise part of the aims for this module. The “point of departure” for the students also varied, with some having read popular romances before, but not the specific subgenres we were to touch upon, while others’ experience of the genre was mostly limited to ideas from Hollywood cinema. Thus, bringing everyone onto a level that the class could start from was of utmost importance in the first weeks.

Concerning linguistic abilities, the seminar provides a stage for the students to practice speaking English freely in front of an audience (especially important for those doing a teaching degree) and bringing them closer to complete fluency in the English language. By the time they attended the Proseminar, the students also had undergone two language training courses with the university’s language department, in addition to at least five years of English in school. Therefore, the students’ language capabilities allowed for the seminar on popular romance to be held entirely in English. At times, though, especially in group discussions, it became apparent that their passive language skills and vocabulary were more developed than their active ones. Most prevalent were problems with grammar and tenses in spoken English. As a result, the class was comprised of a medium-level group of readers, speakers and writers, with exceptions on both ends of the spectrum. Some of the students also intended to go abroad at the end of their second year in order to perfect their language skills. [End Page 3]

Since the class was offered as part of the English Literary and Cultural Studies elective seminar for second to fourth year BA and teaching degree students, the syllabus material had to be limited to primary literature by British authors. Thanks to the work I had done in my Magister thesis, I was deemed capable of choosing the primary and secondary texts myself, running them by my supervisor for final approval. However, a US-American angle was included by providing an overview of the romance genre and its place in popular culture, as well as in the publishing industry and the importance of marketing and producing the book as an “object” in the UK and in the US. The idea of analysing the popular romance novel in its book form as an object was motivated by my background in the analysis of book markets and book production, acquired as a result of research conducted for a degree course called “Study of the Book” (Buchwissenschaften), also taught at FAU.

During the fourteen-week semester, with one ninety-minute unit per week at my disposal, the focus was on three primary texts which were analysed in depth, namely Georgette Heyer’s Bath Tangle (1955), E.M. Hull’s The Sheik (1919), and a more recent Mills & Boon category romance, Marguerite Kaye’s The Governess and the Sheikh (2011), which falls into both the Regency and desert subgenre. Special emphasis was put firstly on an introduction to the popular romance as a genre, as a mode, and a functioning cultural construct within an economic context. Secondly, we concentrated on the aspects of hierarchical difference presented in the texts, which were supposedly overcome by the end of the novel. One important objective was to foster students’ capacity to work actively on texts with theoretical concepts from postcolonial studies, gender studies, and media/film studies, and also to show them the breadth of possible fields of research to specialize in during their own studies and maybe even for their BA final papers.

Twenty students signed up for the class—nineteen female students and a “minority” of one male—a ratio that already hints at the very gendered perception of the genre, considering that I advertised the class under the heading of “Reading the Popular Romance.” This overall number of students is quite common for seminars, since they are designed for relatively small groups in order to allow for more intense discussion and a teaching style that also focuses on individual students and their performance. That the popular romance genre had not been on students’ radars as a viable area for academic interest emerged in the first session when I conducted a short oral survey of the reasons why they had selected this class and what expectations they had for it. It turned out that a few of the students were actually romance fans while others were either oblivious to the genre beyond the common stereotypes, or reluctant to admit that they had read popular romances before. Consequently, it became another goal of the seminar to show how current common stereotypes mostly still refer back to 1970s/80s feminist criticism of the genre. When I inquired as to why the students had actually chosen this particular class, the majority of them admitted that they had seen the title and had never encountered a seminar that dealt with popular romance before and were actually quite surprised it would be a topic that fourteen weeks could be devoted to in academia.

Of immediate concern to the students were, of course, the assessments. To successfully complete the seminar, they had to perform an in-class presentation which was mandatory in order to be admitted to the final assessment. The latter was in form of an end-of-term paper (10-12 pages, i.e. roughly 4,000 to 5,000 words) on a topic of interest pertaining to one or more appropriate texts and approaches we dealt with in class.[6] With [End Page 4] prior discussion and approval of the lecturer, it was also possible to work on a suitable text not discussed in class beforehand. All topics were primarily chosen and worded by the individual students themselves, thereby making them familiar with the thought processes that go into putting together and verbalizing a thesis on a specific topic as well as researching and describing it in a limited number of words. A further requirement was the weekly reading of required texts designated as essential for each session. In preparation for the assessment, individual meetings were offered and one week’s teaching unit focused entirely on the academic skills and research abilities needed to complete the task successfully. In the last session of the semester, the students were required to present their assessment topic of choice to the whole class and to elaborate on their approach to the assessment, getting feedback and constructive advice from both their colleagues and the lecturer.

Structurally, the lessons were divided up into a presentation (which was a collaborative effort of several students), a discussion about the required reading (with the lecturer adding information from various other texts), and finally the application of the approaches and ideas we had talked about to the primary text(s) in question. I probably should mention that, though I was talking about the “romance,” it was made clear from the outset that the findings of the seminar would only relate to the two specific subgenres we would analyse and sweeping generalizations were to be avoided. The overall structure of the fourteen-week seminar was as follows:

Week Topic
1 Introductory session
Why analyse popular romance? Introduction to romance in a pop cultural context. Introduction to critical voices concerning the romance.
2 Basic concepts in dealing with and approaches to romance/ Romance Defined
: Overview: The History of the Romance Genre
3 The framework of popular romance in the US and the UK: A look at the publishing industry
: Mills & Boon and Marketing
4 Academic Skills Session
5 Literary analysis & close reading: Bath Tangle (1955)
Presentation: The Regency as historical period

[End Page 5]

6 Gender and gender difference in Bath Tangle (1955)
Presentation: Gender and the popular romance
7 Representations of History in Bath Tangle (1955)
Presentation: History Inside and Out – Romance Book Covers and Contents and the Re-Presentation of History
8 Foundation of all desert romance: The Sheik (1919)
Presentation: Orientalism and the Popular Romance
9 Intersections of race/nationality and gender in The Sheik (1919)
Presentation: Self and Other: Constructions of Race and Nationality
10 A change in media: The Sheik (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino
Presentation: Introduction to (Silent) Film Studies
11 Combining desert and Regency romance: The Governess and the Sheikh (2011)
12 Changes in the popular romance from Hull to Heyer to Kaye
Presentation: Sexuality and Sexual Encounters in Modern Popular Romance
13 Results and Question session
14 Presentation of End-of-term paper topics

After the introductory session, we started out with the basics: general facts about the popular romance as a genre in terms of definition (Hollows 68-88; Engler 7-12), and in terms of approaches that had been used in order to analyse the romance to date. We then set out to have a look at the cultural framework of producing (publishing industry guidelines, marketing techniques, authors as figures of fame) and consuming the popular romance in a popular cultural context. Here, students were asked to participate and comment based on their own experience (also by making comparisons to other popular genres they knew). Having outlined the basic premises of the publication conventions and possibilities, the students again had a chance to contribute, this time via group activities. They had to select three romances at random out of a substantial number of recent and older ones I brought to class and identify what form of publication (single-title/category or formula) as well as sub-genre they belonged to and what the target audience could be, [End Page 6] judging from the cover, in-book ads, author presentation, and paratextual elements. This exercise drove home the possible distinctions to be made within a certain set of current romance publications. The students responded positively to the activity and made observant remarks about the romances they had chosen and how they thought the elements of marketing were incorporated in order to ensure high customer interest. The discussion soon turned to the question of whether the romance novel covers were actually designed to attract new consumers or whether they were more a “marker” of genre for an already existing readership. All groups had at least one older historical romance cover that featured the stereotypical bodice-ripping male protagonist and the heroine with excessively luxuriant hair. Most students commented that even if they were looking for a novel with a romance plot, the covers would quite possibly deter them from buying the book for fear of the reactions of the cashier and people who might observe them carrying or reading a book with such a cover. A discourse of negation and self-censorship became apparent in the groups of students (“I might actually buy the novel, the blurb sounds good but the cover is just too embarrassing.”). Public acquisition of texts which were openly advertised as having “explicit” sexual content and were aimed at women was obviously taken to signify affiliation of the consumer with the stereotype of the frustrated housewife/woman and thus with discontent about one’s position in life and with regard to relationships in particular. Consequently, even though we had discussed and dispelled this stereotype of the reader, it became obvious that it is so ingrained in cultural imaginations about the popular romance as to become almost unshakeable. Fixing images of excessive heterosexual interaction onto the cover and thus referencing both a female tradition of romance production and female pleasure in the consumption of (romantically motivated) sexual action indicates connections to possibly illicit, private reading practices that could be considered culturally transgressive and maybe even part of a taboo which surrounds female-centric depictions of sexual interaction. Of course, this interaction on the cover is entirely expressed in terms of exaggeration, hyperbole, hyper-femininity and -masculinity, clearly marking the representation as a construct, as “fiction,” thereby containing anxieties about active female desire, projecting the latter into the realm of fictionality.

Mixing up these historical romances with Mills & Boon Modern category and single-title romances, like J.D. Robb’s/Nora Roberts’s Naked in Death, made for an interesting discussion, since students thought that the crime and science fiction elements as well as the cover of Robb’s text were much closer to genres usually coded as masculine or connected to male traditions of writing. Throwing authors like P.D. James, who writes crime fiction, into the discussion made some of the students realize that if no full name with indication towards the sex of the author is given on the cover or in the paratexts, the genre and cultural practices associated with it are most often the origin of assumptions about gender identity and writing practice. Especially surprising was also the fact that students very quickly started to pick up on the (sexualized) codes of the cover tradition and its system of signification which had been shortly discussed the week before. This indicated an aptitude with visual signifiers that boded very well for the planned film analysis.

Part of assessing in-class participation was having the students give presentations on topics such as the historical development of the genre, marketing techniques, gendered and heterosexual discourses in the popular romance, and the depiction of sexuality and sexual interaction in the novels examined. When it came to literary analysis, we started out by going over the narrative basics and laid the groundwork for understanding the subgenre [End Page 7] specific plot motifs, settings, and the recurring set of stereotypical characters. Analysis was conducted mostly through close reading and was based strongly on Pamela Regis’s eight central plot points (Regis 30-38) as well as George Paizis’s work on characterization in his book Love and the Novel (10-26). Here, the notion of a text operating as a “closed system [that is] both an ideal world and an unreal world” (Paizis 99) as well as issues of power and quality of the characters were examined, establishing the different hierarchies and power relations between various (groups of) characters. Group work at this stage included tasks like describing the (structural) function of select chapters in relation to the whole novel and discussing the importance of analysing them (also with regard to how the chapters would fit into Regis’s eight points of the popular romance). Moreover, it encompassed analysing the narrative situation and devices (on the level of discourse), and figuring out how the different characters are constructed by the text, taking into account different levels of mediation.

The Regency romance deals with a set of stereotypical characters (for example the rake, the Byronic hero, and the bluestocking or the spinster), which were introduced in order for the students to be able to judge adherence to and deviation from these roles. Going over constructions of gender and gender difference in Bath Tangle required a short introduction to Freudian psychoanalysis and Lacanian psychosemiosis (especially the concept of the mirror stage) in order to illustrate the emergence of structures of difference and desire. Psychoanalytical questions included inquiries into oedipal structures and absent parental figures. Furthermore, Judith Butler’s concept of performativity, as incorporated into an analysis of Heyer by Lisa Fletcher in Historical Romance Fiction (13-24), was subsequently dealt with and proved to be a notion that the students understood very well and could transfer onto Bath Tangle. With respect to gender as such, the general inquiry started off with the students identifying and discussing the nature and characterization of patriarchal authority figures and other structures of patriarchy in Heyer’s text. We then moved on to questions of how the gender roles presented in the novel are constructed as normative. This was achieved by an analysis of the linguistic and stylistic markers which have become conventionalized and thus help consolidate the gender stereotypes within the fictitious realm. Lord Rotherham and Serena Carlow, the protagonists, were examined in relation to their respective doubles or foils in the narrative, Serena’s stepmother Fanny and Major Kirkby. This doubling allows two separate courtship plots to unfold and while one is given more narrative space, it was interesting to note that the more conventional (pseudo)historical upper class courtship failed, whereas the courtship depicted and constructed as not in keeping with the ideals of the Regency romance upper class was the more successful and more prominent one. On the level of discourse, however, the love-hate type of romance is still a stereotypical feature of the Regency romance since it provides more internal obstacles to be overcome by the potential couple, as the students determined.

Historical difference was another topic examined in connection with Heyer’s novel, starting out with the postmodern dissatisfaction with “history”[7] as such, and then opening up the pop cultural historical setting as a liminal space into which discussions of current problems get displaced or projected and then negotiated. Claims to verisimilitude are “an illusion, created by the structural features of the text” (Hughes 18); therefore the analysis of these structural features and the effect they achieve was an important task. The students’ assignment was to examine the function of the Regency setting, how the reader [End Page 8] encounters historicity and to decide whether there is a degree of metafictionality to the novel. For this purpose, Helen Hughes’s chapter on “The Structures of Historical Romance” (13-28) enabled the students to make the proper connections. Another important part of this task was gaining the ability to identify history as related to tradition and nostalgia on the level of story. On the level of discourse, history became visible as a combination of “dated” language and Regency markers. These markers could take the form of dress or customs, but could also surface in allusions to contemporaneous (political or social) Regency events and historical persons.

Concerning the second subgenre of choice, the desert romance, we began by determining the specific plot motifs, the set of what are now stereotypical characters, and the aspects of the setting that are specific to the subgenre. Moreover, we established the notion of Orientalism as a vital concept in analysing the setting and the characters constructed as “other” (Teo 241-261). The motifs of the harem and captivity became important in this context too, especially in connection with Emily Haddad’s article “Bound to Love” (42-64). The narrative analysis was done as group work and again focused strongly on pivotal scenes of the novel, such as the Recognition (Regis 36-37), the Point of Ritual Death (35-36) and the Declaration/Betrothal (34-35; 37-38). The self/other distinction and, in addition, the resulting colonial discourse inherent in The Sheik were examined by the students in order to be able to understand the intersections of the categories of race/nationality and gender—an approach that was transferred onto the 1921 US-American silent film adaptation starring Rudolph Valentino. The differences between the book and the film, such as the omission of rape scenes or the change in the first meeting of the protagonists, were analysed in light of the background of the time and place of production (e.g. laws banning inter-racial marriage/relationships and miscegenation) and with regard to plausibility to the intended audience of both book and film. Questions of ethnic/racial affiliation and their respective representations within the power dynamics of the desert romance were raised and led to an investigation into stereotypes of race and gender and the privileging of different sides of the hierarchical binary oppositions. The construction of dynamic hierarchies between protagonists and supporting characters in the text through narrative representation became one of the foci of the analysis as well as the heroine’s privileged narrative status as character focalizer. These differences and hierarchies also became apparent in the analysis of the different cover illustrations that have graced the novel The Sheik throughout the decades. Furthermore, the silent film version was used to illustrate the practice of hiring European actors to play non-European characters, thereby enforcing the notion of a possible slippage from the privileged category of difference into a non-privileged one, but prohibiting any movement from the non-privileged category to the privileged one. Silent film practices such as title cards, intertitles, background music and the distinctive acting style were analysed in comparison to contemporary and current expectations of a narrative film, in addition to the general implications of choice of actors and scenery. Here, the students’ initial reactions to the acting style, which encompassed statements such as “He [Valentino] looks completely ridiculous. I can’t take this film seriously” soon gave way to a deeper understanding of historical and technological developments of film as a medium, and its debt to theatrical traditions as well as, in case of the silent film, to melodrama.

Teaching in this segment was also highly influenced by student input. For example, one of the presenters on silent film analysis was not sure how to rate the importance and [End Page 9] effect of the real name of an actor appearing beneath the name of his character on the intertitle instead of being named in the final credits. This warranted further contextualization of the medium film within a wider debate concerning the moving image as illusion versus representing “reality.” The analysis identified the instance of the appearance of actor’s name on the intertitle as a means of breaking the fourth wall. This consequently serves to curb anxieties about miscegenation and the threatening Other for an audience that was still primarily perceived as passive and therefore open to the notion of the film as a reflection of “reality” at the time of the film’s production. In so doing, it was possible to demonstrate the impact these seemingly tangential questions that arise during a presentation can have, and to expose the intricate network of discursive effects that affects each and every form of representation in a certain medium.

The combination of Regency and desert setting in Kaye’s The Governess and the Sheikh confronted the students with their first category romance (published by Mills & Boon). By now, the students were, for the most part, able to work with concepts such as Orientalism on their own in study groups with only marginal input from the lecturer and could present their findings to the other groups, who had been performing analyses using a different approach. The gaze, interpreted as a narrative gaze in the sense of a focalizing character, representing a “point of view,” showed the incorporation of the male perspective into the desert romance novel. Whereas in The Sheik the male protagonist and his thought process remain closed-off from the heroine, and, by extension, also from the reader, the hero of The Governess and the Sheikh, Jamil, becomes available not just from the outside, by being described and looked at by the heroine, but actually by having his thought processes and feelings represented through character focalization as well. This serves to establish his attraction to and developing love for the heroine from the start, as opposed to the older novel, where the Declaration (Regis 34) has to take place in direct speech at the very end of the novel.

Moreover, the historical setting again provided for an interesting interpretation of the Regency and desert setting as liminal spaces for the negotiation of modern cultural issues. A group task for the students involved applying Jessica Taylor’s ideas on “[…] Gender, Race, and Orientalism in Contemporary Romance Novels” (1032-1051) to the novel. According to her article, the construction of the Orient as an imaginary space and place is made believable by citing detailed (often stereotypical) images (of furniture, clothing, architecture) which evoke verisimilitude, even though the texts are set in “imaginary [desert] locations” and realms (1038). Thus, a fantastical space is produced that is nevertheless imbued with plausibility. The Orient consequently becomes knowable and controllable along with the male hero who is “tamed” by the white, Western heroine. The hero’s choice of the white female protagonist as a partner and thereby his participation in heterosexual monogamy is contrasted with the myth of the Oriental harem, the latter being subsequently dispelled in its function as a threat to the protagonists’ relationship. This clears the future for a modernized (i.e. westernized) Orient under the positive influence of a white female figure (1040-1024). The opening chapter of The Governess and the Sheikh was under particular scrutiny here, since it starts out from the male character’s perspective, making it obvious it is his society which is defined and centring the romance more firmly on equal ground in later chapters where the representation of both the male and female protagonists’ views are concerned. The description of lavish surroundings as well as the hero’s dealings with matters of state establish the contrast between what Taylor [End Page 10] calls details of reality and an imaginary (desert) realm (Kaye 7-18) and thus prove Taylor’s point.

A further issue of interest in this modern Mills & Boon romance was the fact that this was the first novel we read that contained explicit levels of (hetero)sexual longings and activity. A student presentation on the development of the rise of the more sexually explicit romance dealt with jay Dixon’s chapters on this topic in her book The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909–1990s (133-153; 155-178) and detailed the relations between the Mills & Boon romance’s concept of “legitimate” or privileged expressions of heterosexual love, physical desire, and also violence as a form of character interaction. Concerning the actual description of the characters’ experience during sex, narrative perspective was of utmost importance, as well as Catherine Belsey’s idea about the bodily union being able to bridge a sort of Cartesian dualism (23). Talking about sex and sexual interaction, especially in connection with the emotions portrayed in the novel, it was surprising to see that most students were quite reluctant to discuss these scenes in detail in class—and if they did, they employed either rather inventive euphemisms that rivalled the romance’s vocabulary or they reduced a scene with full intercourse to the expression: “physical contact.” Generally, I had assumed that the session which incorporated psychoanalytic approaches to literature and the repeated use of terms like “penis envy” or “phallus” would have done away with this disinclination. Even more interesting was the fact that it turned out a majority of my students wanted to incorporate Kaye’s “explicit content” novel into their end of term papers, and most of them willingly made reference to one or more of the sex scenes in order to analyse power structures, discourses of gender or the body. Therefore, the reluctance to discuss these scenes seemed to be directed towards an official teaching (or semi-public) context, and not the result of a general aversion towards reading and analysing them—thereby giving strong indication that the Mills & Boon romance that was dealt with constitutes part of a pleasure which is considered private, or at least experienced as belonging to a non-public space. The male student, in contrast, was confident in discussing the sexual aspects of the books, and was particularly interested in applying a psychoanalytical approach to the romances we discussed.

The final topical session was dedicated to the noticeable changes in the popular romance as we had traced them in the three exemplary texts. The wider context for these changes was covered by a discussion of Dawn Heinecken’s article “Changing Ideologies in Romance Fiction” (149-172), which led to a further categorization and comparison of the novels’ protagonists as well as the pivotal plot points and developments.

The seminar ended with a revision session in which we collected the knowledge we had accumulated concerning the popular romance in general and the exemplary sub-generic texts in particular, while applying different approaches to the novels. Interactive collection of assembled knowledge made up most of this session, with the students devising a huge blackboard sketch with colour coding for information we had collected over the semester. This exercise was met with much enthusiasm and carried out very satisfactorily.

Noticeable among the students during the whole semester was that they had trouble shaking off their quick stereotypical judgments about the popular romance audience as “frustrated housewives,” even though the issue was made a topic of discussion at several points, clarifying that this idea about the popular romance audience was rooted in a 1970s/1980s feminist backlash and an older tradition of romance plots. Finally, I [End Page 11] conducted an anonymous evaluation of the seminar to get the students’ feedback in an attempt to judge the impact the seminar, the teaching style, and the information exchange had on them and if they thought any of this would shape their future studies. The overall feedback for the seminar was (grade-wise) between an A- and a B+ (overall average mark in numerical grading system was 1.58), and most of the students remarked on how surprised they had been that there were so many different things one could “do” (i.e. analyse) with a popular romance. The evaluation reflected a positive reception of the seminar’s structure and choice of primary and secondary texts. General topic preference was divided between desert and Regency romance and the respective approaches, but marketing strategies and the “romance industry” were also noted as subjects of great interest. Also, out of fourteen students who took part in the evaluation, eleven claimed a notable increase in their interest in and knowledge about the topic of the seminar. The focus of this interest was also reflected in the choice of seminar paper topics. Twelve students completed the end-of-term assignment and were successful. The rest of the students finished the seminar as such, but did not hand in a seminar paper, some due to internships abroad and some due to mismanagement of time. Bath Tangle was the students’ favourite romance to work on in their papers, and was thus analysed by five students, who wrote about gender and gender difference, love relationships as a consequence of difference in categories of power, the function of the depiction of traditional gender roles, and issues of class and class distinctions. Three incorporated Hull’s The Sheik into their papers and examined issues of discourses of race and nationality, power relations and the gaze, as well as constructions of masculinity. As for The Governess and the Sheikh, four students decided to work with the text, respectively analysing gendered discourses, the gaze, Orientalism and the construction of power relations through categories of difference. One student was very interested in venturing into another romance subgenre for analysis and focused on Christine Feehan’s The Lair of the Lion (2002) and the protagonists’ adherence to gender stereotypes in the gothic popular romance in comparison with stereotypical gothic novel characters. In general, the students exhibited a very good grasp of the approaches to the romance, even though a small number of the seminar papers that were handed in proved that they sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between the levels of story and narrative mediation. Moreover, they tended to conflate the retrospective fictional construct of a historical era as a setting in the novel with the actual historical era and its characteristics—especially when dealing with topics such as gender constructions in Bath Tangle. Here, one of the papers kept referring to “actual” Regency gender positions and comparing them to the characters’ in the romance novel, not taking into account Heyer’s version of the Regency as a post-Regency retrospective construct. This level of abstraction was, however, achieved by most of the students after having dealt with the issue in class in the session on constructions of history.

In conclusion, if I offered this seminar again, I would attempt to incorporate different secondary texts and include one session to actually analyse first-wave romance novel criticism in detail to help historicise judgments about the popular romance and its readers. Moreover, I would try to direct some of the discussion even more, since sometimes the group works did, for all of some students’ efforts, not result in as much academic interaction as previously anticipated—which then had the effect of the lecturer having to intervene in order to bring the session to a satisfactory ending. It would also be interesting to focus on different subgenres, such as paranormal romance and maybe historical [End Page 12] paranormal romance, with emphases on conceptualizations of the Other and the inclusion of gothic or horror elements. To sum it up, though, the seminar touched upon various literary and cultural studies approaches and demonstrated the multiplicity of possibilities as well as the versatility of the Regency and desert romance and its changing strategies of negotiating social position, class issues, gender standards and stereotypes as well as ideas of racial and ethnic categories. [End Page 13]

Appendix I.


[1] My degree course was started before the German university system switched to the BA and MA system in late 2007 (“Studiengänge und Prüfungen.”). Thus, the degree I studied for was the Magister Artium (M.A.), a degree mainly designed to prepare the student for a further academic career in his or her field. The average period of education was nine semesters, i.e. four and a half years. This period could be extended if, for example, students were to go abroad for one or two semesters. The final paper (called Magisterarbeit), roughly probably equivalent to a Master’s thesis, with eighty to a hundred pages in length, was the Magister thesis I handed in at this stage. After passing final examinations in both written and oral form, I was awarded the title M.A. The main difference to the Master of Arts is that there was no prior degree (like a BA) that had to be attained before you could complete your studies at M.A. level. Thus, subsequently, I was accepted as a doctoral candidate/ PhD candidate and started working towards my PhD thesis (called Dissertation in German). [End Page 14]

[2] For a better understanding of the hierarchical structure at the FAU, see Appendix 1. It has to be noted that the term ‘Chair’ does not denote just one professor and his/her position but instead encompasses one professor who holds the chair as well as various subordinate members of staff, ranking from post-doctoral lecturers to doctoral candidates who can also hold a teaching position.

[3] The term module is here intended in the British English sense of “each of a set of independent units of study or training that can be combined in a number of ways to form a course at a college or university […]” (“module.”). In this context of meaning, module is taken to be interchangeable with the term seminar, which, also being in the German descriptive title of the module, signals a preoccupation of both a limited number of students and the teacher with one overall topic which is discussed in a thorough, if not exhaustive manner (“seminar.”). Both terms also hint at the difference from a lecture, which would mainly involve input from the lecturer and less actual work (i.e. group work, discussions, presentations) on the students’ part.

[4] An especially interesting aspect here is that most of the popular romance publications in Germany are actually translations from the US-American or British market. There are some German romance authors, like Michelle Raven, for example, who writes romantic suspense, but they are few and far between. Thus, those students who attended my seminar and professed to be actual fans of popular romance were already familiar with the genre being dominated by British and US-American authors. Therefore, they were already familiar with authors like Georgette Heyer or Barbara Cartland.

[5] The module on popular romance as such, a type of seminar officially called Proseminar in German, is an independent elective module, to be taken after the students have completed a basic seminar and advanced seminar in literary studies (Grund- und Aufbaukurs Literature) as well as at least the introductory module in cultural studies (Grundkurs Culture). The advanced module in Cultural Studies, in which the students are supposed to read and analyse first-hand scholarly texts, is obligatory only for BA students (Krug 4-5), not for those pursuing a teaching degree (Mittmann 4-7). These basic or advanced seminars last one semester each, so by the time the students are eligible to attend the Proseminar described here, they are at least into their second year, i.e. third semester. The majority of my students were advanced undergraduates, most of them in their fourth semester, with two fifth-semester students, one sixth-semester student, and one who was in their eighth semester at the time. BA students made up the bulk of attendees, followed closely in number by the teaching degree students, the latter aspiring to become English teachers for the German classroom.

[6] These assessments are part of the general structure of the seminar as fixed in the examination rules for the whole course of study. For the different Proseminare to result in students having the same formal academic training in oral and written argumentation, which is essential in order to advance to the next level of their studies, the examinations and final assignments have to be comparable concerning their basic requirements.

[7] Here, a general introduction to postmodern conceptions of history was attempted, featuring scholars such as Hayden White and his notion of Meta-history, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s idea of grand narratives as well as Linda Hutcheon’s term historiographic metafiction. [End Page 15]

Works Cited

Belsey, Catherine. Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. Print.

“Chair of English Literature.” UnivIS: Information system of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. n. d. Web. 4 April 2014.

Daniel, David B. “Learning-Centered Lecturing.” Effective College and University Teaching: Strategies and Tactics for the New Professiorate. Ed. William Buskist and Victor A. Benassi. London: Sage, 2012. 91-98. Print.

“Department Anglistik/Amerikanistik und Romanistik.” UnivIS: Information system of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. n. d. Web. 4 April 2014.

“Department of English and American Studies.” UnivIS: Information system of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. n. d. Web. 4 April 2014.

“Departments.” UnivIS: Information system of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. n. d. Web. 4 April 2014.

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

Engler, Sandra. “A Career’s Wonderful, but Love Is More Wonderful Still”: Femininity and Masculinity in the Fiction of Mills & Boon. Tübingen: Francke, 2005. Print.

“Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Theology.” UnivIS: Information system of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. n. d. Web. 4 April 2014.

Feehan, Christine. Lair of the Lion. New York: Leisure, 2002. Print.

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

Haddad, Emily H. “Bound To Love: Captivity in Harlequin Sheikh Novels.” Empowerment versus Oppression: Twenty First Century Views of Popular Romance Novels. Ed. Sally Goade. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2007. 42-64. Print.

Heinecken, Dawn. “Changing Ideologies in Romance Fiction.” Romantic Conventions. Ed. Anne K. Kaler and Rosemary E. Johnson-Kurek. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. 149-172. Print.

Heyer, Georgette. Bath Tangle. 1955. Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2011. Print.

Hollows, Joanne. Feminism, Femininity and Popular Culture. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000. Print.

Hughes, Helen. The Historical Romance. New York and London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Hull, Edith Maude. The Sheikh: A Novel. 1919. [n.a.]: BiblioBazaar, 2007. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. 1988. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Johansen, Kathrin Einsteigerhandbuch Hochschullehre – Aus der Praxis für die Praxis. Darmstadt, WBG, 2010. Print.

Kaye, Marguerite. The Governess and the Sheikh. Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2011. Print.

Krug, Christian. “Studienplaner: Bachelorstudiengang.“ Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Erlangen. 28 Feb 2012. Web. 3 April 2014.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. 1979. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997. Print.

Mittmann, Brigitta. “Englisch für das Lehramt an Gymnasien – Studien- und Examensplaner.“ Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Erlangen. 11 September 2013. Web. 3 April 2014.

“module.” Oxford Dictionary of English. 2nd ed., revised. 2005. Print.

[End Page 16]

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

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

Robb, J.D. Naked in Death. 1995. New York: Berkley Books, 2007. Print.

“seminar.” Oxford Dictionary of English. 2nd ed., revised. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

“Studiengänge und Prüfungen.” Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Erlangen. 18 October 2011. Web. 5 April 2014.

Taylor, Jessica. “And You Can Be My Sheikh: Gender, Race, and Orientalism in Contemporary Romance Novels.” The Journal of Popular Culture 40.6 (2007): 1032-1051. Print.

Teo, Hsu-Ming. “Orientalism and Mass Market Romance Novels in the Twentieth Century.” Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual. Ed. Ned Curthoys. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2007. 241-261. Print.

The Sheik. Dir. George Melford. Perf. Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres, Patsy Ruth Miller. Paramount, 1921. DVD.

White, Hayden V. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. 1973. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.

[End Page 17]


‘Who the devil wrote that?’: Intertextuality and Authorial Reputation in Georgette Heyer’s Venetia
by Elizabeth Barr

During a career that spanned the years 1921 to her death in 1974, British author Georgette Heyer wrote fifty-six novels and achieved enviable fame and fortune. However, [End Page 1] despite her commercial success, Heyer was never seen to belong in the higher literary circles, and, to this day, her work has been largely dismissed as escapist romantic nonsense.[1] This exclusion irritated the author; as biographer Jennifer Kloester notes, Heyer “hoped that her novels were better than she was willing to admit publicly. By the late 1930s she increasingly wanted others to acknowledge their worth and the quality of her writing . . . [and] wanted genuine, spontaneous praise from people whose opinions she respected” (Biography 125-26). This is most apparent in Heyer’s acclaimed novel from 1958, Venetia. Besides containing the intricate details and authentic speech of Regency daily life[2] that were Heyer’s trademark, Venetia is notable for its unconventional love story and a plot that is furthered by frequent quotations and other uses of intertextuality. In Venetia, Heyer utilizes quotations from classic works and authors considered to be “more serious” than herself in order to situate herself amongst more traditionally “literary” company. The plethora of clever quotations and obscure references in Venetia sprang from Heyer’s yearning for acceptance into the canon and by the intelligentsia. Alluding to some of the great works of literature was, to some extent, a seeking of attention for herself and acknowledgment of her own talents. Additionally, Heyer simply enjoyed showing off her knowledge, playing with the literature and poetry she loved, and bending it to her own purposes.

Andrea Kempf points out that, in many ways, the brilliance of Venetia could be due to Heyer’s frustrations with the genre she had been “forced” to write:

Venetia was the antithesis of the novel Heyer really wanted to write.  Although it is one of her most perfect creations because she used all of her knowledge of the period to create a totally authentic setting for a devastating examination of what was proper in society, the author’s real desire was to write histories in the form of novels. (41)

I believe that this goes far in explaining just why Venetia is so well-written: it is the product of its author’s desire to transcend the type of historical romance formula(s) she invented and practically patented with popular works such as Friday’s Child (1944), Arabella (1949), Cotillion (1953), and Sprig Muslin (1956). Heyer’s fans demanded novel after novel of the same stamp, trapping the author into writing formulaically. Therefore it is not surprising that Venetia stands as one of the strongest examples of Heyer’s talent: it is the most intertextual of her novels, and in it we see Heyer’s most complex and creative use of other authors and their traditions. Feeling confined by her own formula, Heyer manipulated her writing of Venetia so as to please her fans with the romantic and historical elements that they expected from her, while still satisfying her own intellect (and trying to appeal to other intellectuals) by including frequent references to canonical literary works. By so doing, she was able to please herself and hoped to please other “high-brow” readers like herself. With Venetia, she was able to insinuate herself into a higher level of literary achievement—or, rather, she brought the great works to herself, incorporating them into her own creation.

In Palimpsests, his seminal work on intertextuality, Gérard Genette defines the topic most simply as “the actual presence of one text within another. In its most explicit and literal form, it is the traditional practice of quoting (with quotation marks, with or without specific references)” (2; emphasis added). Simply put, intertextuality occurs whenever one [End Page 2] text refers, whether explicitly or implicitly, to another text. In her study of the subject, Mary Orr gives detailed attention to quotation and highlights the individual aspects of quotation against other types of intertextuality, calling quotation, “the most condensed form of paradigm shift, transmuting the context, form and meaning of the items both inside and outside the quotation marks. It is always enrichment by inclusion, integration and proclamation of otherness, a dialogue not a monologue” (133). Thus, when writers explicitly quote another author, they are putting their own work into discourse with the work or the author they are quoting. As I will discuss later, this quoting serves a dual purpose—one inside the text, and one outside. A character who quotes something is positioning him or herself as culturally aware or drawing upon some shared understanding of what the quotation means or to what it is referring (relying upon a kind of literary/linguistic shorthand). The person to whom the character is quoting is expected to recognize the source (or at least that the source is not the speaker) and understand the referential language. If the listener-character does not recognize the quotation, he or she is “excluded from an understanding of the text” (Eco 214). When, however, a speaker-character quotes something, not expecting the listener-character to recognize the quotation, if the quotation is understood, the speaker-character is surprised and forced to reconsider his or her assumptions about the listener-character. This type of surprise occurs in Venetia, most notably when Damerel and Venetia first meet. Similarly, a reader who recognizes what a character has quoted is aware of the significance of that quotation to some degree—perhaps merely recognizing that it is a quotation rather than spontaneously produced dialogue—and feels in harmony with the culturally-aware character. A reader who does not recognize a quotation, however, misses the information that the context or meaning of the quotation was intended to convey.

Quotation thus serves not only the character who uses it, but also those within the text who hear it, the author who includes it, and the reader who either does or does not recognize it. The degree to which any of these participants recognize or value the quotation’s significance becomes a test of cultural literacy. Therefore, I contend that Heyer continually references and quotes classic poets and authors as a way of putting her work in conversation and on a level with those who are acknowledged as great writers. By so doing, Heyer attempted to raise the cultural value of her work in her own eyes and in the eyes of literary critics and the reading public. And her characters do the same thing, using quotations to take the measure of each other’s personalities and education.

In Venetia, quotation functions in a variety of sometimes overlapping ways. The most frequent use involves references, characters, or situations used ironically to mock established romantic tropes and conventions. In Oswald Denny, Heyer created the perfect means of satirizing the melancholy pretensions of the Byronic hero. Oswald desires nothing more than to appear just like Lord Byron. A ridiculously romantic boy, five years younger than Venetia but pining after her, he suffers delusions of heroic, knightly grandeur in addition to his ridiculous pretensions of experience and turmoil. The silliness of Oswald’s attempts at romance (or, more properly, his attempts at becoming a romantic hero) becomes even clearer when contrasted with the truly Byronesque figure cut by Lord Damerel. But rather than being afraid of Damerel, Venetia is surprisingly amused by his brooding countenance, his stereotypically rakish looks, which makes her recall a line from Byron’s The Corsair: “Then, as she stared into his eyes she saw them smiling yet fierce, and a line of Byron’s flashed into her head: There was a laughing devil in his sneer” (Heyer 35). [End Page 3] However, Damerel is far more than a simple cardboard cutout rakehell, as can be seen by his horrified and amused reaction to Venetia’s comparison.

Venetia also uses quotation satirically to deflate Damerel’s attempts to paint her as beautiful or romantic. Significantly, for these endeavors she relies upon one text as her source: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Rather than playing along with Damerel’s perception of her as mysterious, Venetia admits that she is very inexperienced and has no real past: “As for telling you about my life—why, there’s only one answer to that, and it’s A blank, my lord!” (60). Venetia quotes from Twelfth Night, which, according to Jennifer Kloester, was one of Heyer’s favorite Shakespeare plays (84). The line comes from the scene in which Viola, disguised as Cesario, describes to Orsino the pain of her unrequited love for him, masking the significance of her words by claiming that she is telling the story of “his” dead sister. It begins with a prompt from Orsino, asking, “And what’s her history?” (2.4.108), to which Viola replies,

A blank, my lord. She never told her love

But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud

Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,

And with a green and yellow melancholy

She sat like patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief. (2.4.108-14).

Thus, when Venetia tells Damerel her life is “A blank,” he recognizes her reference and challenges it, remembering and paraphrasing the rest of Viola’s original quotation: “Am I to understand that you pine in thought? I hope you don’t mean to tell me you have a green and yellow melancholy, for that I’ll swear you have not!” (60). Venetia, with no desire to appear heroic, quickly clarifies by saying, “Good gracious, no! Only that I have no history! I have passed all my life at Undershaw, and done nothing worth the telling” (60). In this instance of quotation, Venetia has to backtrack somewhat and to clarify her words so they do not appear melodramatic or self-pitying. She may be willing to engage Damerel in exchanges of quotation and attempts at stumping each other with particularly good quotations, but she does not stoop to misrepresentation of herself in order to keep the context of the quote intact.

When Damerel and Venetia are reunited at the end of the novel, Venetia utilizes the romantic imagery of Viola’s “willow cabin” speech in Twelfth Night while continuing to mock the dramatics of it. In his drunken state, Damerel stubbornly tries to be noble; having made the sacrifice of giving up Venetia, he will not allow her to ruin herself for him. Furthermore, he recognizes the utter impropriety of her being alone with him in his house and tries to send her away, a move that Venetia just will not allow. She paraphrases the disguised Viola’s wooing speech to Olivia, telling Damerel: “Well, I warn you, love, that if you cast me out I shall build me a willow cabin at your gates—and very likely die of an inflammation of the lungs, for November is not the month for building willow cabins!” (351).[3] Venetia is thus able to demonstrate the firmness of her resolve while teasingly reminding Damerel of the unpractical nature of romantic declarations. It may seem contradictory that Venetia and Damerel fall in love while they so consistently scorn the extreme dramatics and tropes of literary lovers, but the way in which they refer to these things presents their love as more realistic and self-aware. [End Page 4]

In counterpoint to Venetia’s Shakespearean allusions, the Nurse (Mrs. Priddy) deploys biblical quotations, which serve an interesting purpose in the novel. First, the fact that she—the lower-class servant—borrows only religious language, while Damerel and Venetia—members of the gentry—rely on heavily secular, often suggestive works, puts the two classes in opposition on a literary level and cements prevalent beliefs about the conservative nature of servants versus the more temporal concerns of the aristocracy.[4]

In one such instance, Nurse responds to the suggestion that Venetia set foot in the contaminating doors of the Priory, even just to see Aubrey, by interweaving biblical quotations into her speech: “The Lord may see fit to turn an old woman over into the hands of the wicked, but it says in the Good Book that many are the afflictions of the righteous,[5] and, what’s more, that they shall be upheld,[6] which I do trust I shall be, though never did I think to be forced to stand in the way of sinners!” (52-53). This employing of religious language seems to be rather common to Nurse, judging by Venetia’s reaction to it:

Recognising from the sudden Biblical turn of the conversation that her guardian was strongly moved, Venetia applied herself for the next twenty minutes to the task of soothing her agitation, pointing out to her that they had more reason to liken Damerel to the Good Samaritan than to the wicked, and coaxing her to accept her own determination to go to Aubrey as something as harmless as it was inevitable. In all of this she was only partially successful, for although Nurse knew that once Miss Venetia had made up her mind she was powerless to prevent her doing whatever she liked, and was obliged to admit some faint resemblance in Damerel to the Good Samaritan, she persisted in referring to him as The Ungodly, and in ascribing his charitable behaviour to some obscure but evil motive. (53)

Thus, while Damerel and Venetia do not share Nurse’s enthusiasm for Biblical texts, their analysis of her quotations furthers the developing dynamic between them. Damerel, well aware of Nurse’s dislike and distrust of him, raises the issue with Venetia, and she responds by telling him of Nurse’s judgments:

“At least, I never heard her say, even of the laundrymaid, that she would be eaten by frogs!”[7]

He gave a shout of laughter. “Good God, does that fate await me?”

Encouraged by the discovery that he shared her enjoyment of the absurd she laughed back at him, saying: “Yes, and also that your increase will be delivered to the caterpillar.”[8] (58)

The significance of this conversation, beyond its continuation of the religious dialogue, will be discussed later on.

Despite her initial aversion to Damerel, Nurse revises her opinion quite quickly after Venetia’s first visit to the Priory. Optimistically, she selects more forgiving Bible verses, telling Venetia “[Damerel] couldn’t behave kinder to Master Aubrey, not if he was the Reverend himself . . . there’s no saying that the Lord won’t have mercy on him, if he was to forsake his way[9]—not but what salvation is far from the wicked,[10] as I’ve told you often and often, miss” (76). This is high praise from Nurse, and it allows Venetia to visit [End Page 5] Aubrey and Damerel daily for the several weeks Aubrey must spend in recuperation. Much to the dismay of the neighbors, Damerel continues the acquaintance after the Lanyons return home, paying visits to Undershaw whenever he wishes. Aubrey, usually happily unaware of everything going on around him, catches on to the humor of Nurse’s change of heart, sharing with Venetia one of Nurse’s previous comments:

“Up till then she wasn’t talking about his kindness, I promise you! She said he roared in the congregation.”[11]

“She didn’t!” Venetia exclaimed, awed.

“Yes, she did. Do you know where it comes? We could not find it, though we looked in all the likeliest places.”

“So you repeated it to Damerel!”

“Of course I did! I knew he wouldn’t care a rush for what Nurse said of him.”

“I expect he enjoyed it,” Venetia said, smiling. (76)

This exchange serves as a reminder of just how far Nurse has come in her opinion of Damerel, paralleling Damerel’s own shift from would-be seducer to valued friend for Venetia and elevation from mere sinner in the eyes of Nurse. In addition, this exchange further highlights the discrepancy in morality and what is considered important between the servant class and the nobility: Aubrey and Damerel are the two most educated men in the novel,[12] but neither recognizes Nurse’s allusion to a verse from Psalms. Thus, Nurse serves as a voice of religion and morality in the novel, and her choice of quotations about Damerel shifts along with Damerel’s attitudes, and the changing language she applies to him traces his reformation. Damerel himself recognizes this shift and relies upon Nurse’s judgments of him, as he confesses to his valet:

Damerel lifted his glass again, and sipped meditatively. “The King of Babylon, or an Ethiopian?”[13] he said. “Which, Marston? Which?”

“I can’t tell you that, sir, not being familiar with the King of Babylon.”

“Aren’t you? He stood at the parting of the way,[14] but which way he took, or what befell him, I haven’t the smallest notion. We need Mrs Priddy to set us right.” (157; emphasis added)

The references he makes here are particularly apt, for he is himself at a parting of the ways, stuck between his past life of wickedness and a future with Venetia that would require reformation. Damerel is forced to question whether or not he can change his internal character as the leopard or the Ethiopian would wish to change externally. Having become accustomed to Nurse’s biblical comments and her position as the moral compass of the novel, Damerel figuratively turns to her as a gauge of where he stands. However, he recognizes that she would probably view him as a hopeless case, too far gone to reform. He continues:

“Not that I think she would take a hopeful view of my case, or think that there was the least chance that the years that the locust has eaten[15] could yet be restored to me. She would be more likely to depress me with pithy sayings [End Page 6] about pits[16] and whirlwinds,[17] or to remind me that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.[18] Would you care to reap any crop of my sowing, Marston? I’m damned if I would!” (157)

Damerel’s brief foray into biblical quotation ends abruptly as the significance of his regrets sink in. Finishing off, Damerel returns to secular works to express his intentions:

He tossed off the rest of his brandy, and set the glass down, thrusting it away. “To hell with it! I’m becoming ape-drunk. I can give you a better line than any you’ll get from Mrs Priddy! Learn that the present hour alone is man’s[19] – and don’t ask me when I mean to leave Yorkshire!” (157)

Damerel, finding no comfort in taking a page out of Nurse’s book, returns to his own artillery of poetry. He is still uncertain of his future with Venetia, trusting not in God and the homilies of the Bible, but in man and the language of quotation that has brought him and Venetia together.

Significantly, all the biblical references in Venetia come from the Old Testament, with only two exceptions. Nurse quotes only once from the New Testament instead of the Old, when she is weighing her opinion of Damerel against what has been spoken about him:

Perhaps it was wrong to let them form the habit of such easy intercourse with a sinner, but although the Scriptures warned one that the wicked were like a troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, they also yielded some pretty pungent warnings against backbiters and unrighteous witnesses. Every neighbour will walk with slanders, said the prophet Jeremiah, and one had only to cast an eye over the district to know how true that was. Nurse was much inclined to think that his lordship had been a victim of false report. (112)

While Nurse draws most of her allusions from the Old Testament, she counterbalances her warnings about the wicked with an allusion from the New Testament. The “warnings against backbiters” seems to be a reference to Romans 1:29, which says, “Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.” Then Nurse returns to the Old Testament: “put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness” (Exodus 23:1; emphasis added). It is generally accepted that the Old Testament God is vengeful, while the New Testament God is merciful, so it is crucially important that the only time Nurse quotes from the New Testament is when she is advocating the possibility that Damerel is innocent of the slanders uttered against him. While the reader knows that this hopeful perspective is not fully accurate, it does introduce an opportunity for forgiving a reformed Damerel, which the Old Testament passages would not allow. The second allusion to a New Testament quotation occurs when Damerel is hypothesizing what Nurse may think of his hopes for reformation. By pointing to a less forgiving passage than did Nurse,[20] Damerel indicates his fear that he will reap the results of his wicked sowing. In Damerel’s own opinion, redemption is not a possibility for him because he is not worthy of it. [End Page 7]

In Venetia and Damerel’s relationship, quotation most often serves as a vehicle through which they can speak unreservedly and without censorship. The practice of quotation provides them with freedom from the constraints of polite society conversation. Venetia in particular is freed from having to speak and behave like a proper lady, and her quotations and references often carry her away into what would not be socially acceptable and what would very likely distress religiously-minded Nurse. For instance, when Venetia and Damerel laughingly joke together about Nurse’s biblical condemnations of Damerel,[21] the subject becomes improper:

“Oh, I’ve no objection to that! The caterpillar is welcome to my increase!”

“No, how can you be so unnatural? Increase must mean your children!”

“Undoubtedly! Any side-slips of mine the caterpillar may have with my good-will,” he retorted.

“Poor little things!” she said, adding thoughtfully, after a moment: “Not that it is at all easy to perceive what harm one caterpillar could do them.” (58)

Beyond illustrating the couple’s shared sense of humor, this section allows Damerel and Venetia to speak outside the constraints of polite conversation, cementing the style of communication that they began in their first improper encounter. A gentleman and a lady do not discuss “side-slips,”[22] as Venetia embarrassedly recalls a moment later. Rather than checking her conversation as every other man she has ever met has always done, Damerel encourages Venetia to be free and open with him: “‘Don’t set a guard on your tongue on my account!’ he said, ushering her into the dining-room. ‘I like your frankness—and detest damsels who blush and bridle!’” (59). The fact that these two can speak to each other without constantly worrying about the codes of proper society conversation allows them to fall into an almost anachronistic level of friendly intimacy.

Venetia explains that, as a child, she was never told much of Damerel, due to the salacious nature of the details. She draws on a speech from Hamlet to describe the censored story she received: “It was always We could an if we would whenever we tried—Conway and I—to discover why you were the Wicked Baron” (96). The italicized phrase comes from Hamlet, after the prince has seen the ghost of his father and is explaining to his friends how he shall behave once he “put[s] an antic disposition on” (1.5.173), pretending to be mad by “pronouncing of some doubtful phrase / As ‘Well, well, we know,’ or ‘We could, an if we would’ / Or ‘If we list to speak,’ or ‘There be, an if they might’” (1.5.176- 178). While Hamlet pretended to be mad in order to avenge his father, Venetia decides that Damerel resolved to act the part of a rake in order to mask his crushed feelings after the abandonment of his ladylove.

Damerel speaks candidly and scathingly of his former love affair and describes his studiousness (and therefore his aptness to quote) as being part of why he was abandoned for a wealthy, foppish Italian:

“There were no bounds to my folly: if you can picture Aubrey tail over top in love, I imagine I must have been in much the same style. Chuck-full of scholarship, and with no more commonsense than to bore her to screaming point with classical allusions! I even tried to teach her a little Latin, but the only lesson she learned of me was the art of elopement. She put that into [End Page 8] practice before we had reached the stage of murdering one another—for which piece of prudence I’ve lived to thank her. She had her reward, too, for Vobster [the lady’s cuckolded husband] was so obliging as to break his neck before custom had staled her variety,[23] and her Venetian was induced to marry her.” (99)

Rather than being horrified by Damerel’s story, Venetia disapproves only of his erstwhile mistress (probably especially because she did not appreciate Damerel’s “classical allusions!”) and the way Damerel was treated by his parents. Thinking practically, she points out that the former Lord Damerel would have done much better by not “behaving in a very foolish and extravagant way, exactly like a Shakespearian father,” rhetorically asking, “Pray, what good did it do old Capulet to fly into a ridiculous passion? Or Lear, or Hermia’s absurd father!” before reasoning, “But perhaps Lord Damerel was not addicted to Shakespeare?” (101). Though Damerel is much amused by this response, replying, “It seems he cannot have been!” (101), Venetia again understands that she has said more than what a lady in society should by disparaging the deceased Lord Damerel. Since Damerel is an educated man, he would assume that Venetia was intentionally insulting his father with Shakespearean comparisons. When she tries to apologize for her forthrightness, Damerel stops her with another quotation, for once using a source that Venetia does not recognize, and seizes the opportunity to comment on her beauty and renew his attempts at flirtation:

He raised his head, still choking with laughter, and said: ‘Oh, no no! Sweet Mind, then speak yourself…!’[24]

She wrinkled her brow, and then directed a look of enquiry at him.

“What, lurched, O well-read Miss Lanyon?” he said provocatively. “It was written by Ben Jonson, of another Venetia.[25] I turned it up last night, after you had left me.”

“No, is it indeed so?” she exclaimed, surprised and pleased. “I never heard it before! In fact, I didn’t know there had been any poems written to a Venetia. What was she like?”

“Like yourself, if John Aubrey is to be believed: a beautiful desirable creature!”

Quite unmoved by this tribute, she replied seriously: “I wish you won’t fall into flowery commonplace! It makes you sound like a would-be beau at the York Assemblies!” (101-102)

Heyer’s characters additionally use quotations to grab the attention of another character—most often Venetia, when trying to capture Aubrey’s ear. Venetia, having unsuccessfully attempted to gain Aubrey’s attention at the breakfast table, manages to alert him to her presence by “quizzing” him on his choice of reading material:

“Ah, Greek! Some improving tale, I don’t doubt.”

“The Medea,” he said repressively. “Porson’s edition, which Mr. Appersett lent to me.” [End Page 9]

“I know! She was the delightful creature who cut up her brother, and cast the pieces in her papa’s way, wasn’t she? I daresay perfectly amiable when one came to know her.”

He hunched an impatient shoulder, and replied contemptuously: “You don’t understand, and it’s a waste of time to try to make you.”

Her eyes twinkled at him. “But I promise you I do! Yes, and sympathize with her, besides wishing I had her resolution! Though I think I should rather have buried your remains tidily in the garden, my dear!” (1-2)

Making light of the mythological heroine’s story, Venetia turns Medea’s murder of her brother, committed to delay her father’s pursuit and aid her flight with Jason, into a joke (furthermore, ignoring the later, tragic consequences documented in Euripides’s play).  Almost immediately, Venetia again relies on literature to capture her brother’s attention, paraphrasing Antony’s famous speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:  “Aubrey! Dear, odious Aubrey! Do lend me your ears! Just one of your ears, love!” (8). From these exchanges, it becomes clear that, despite their mutual affection, Aubrey and Venetia are not the best of companions, the former being far too engrossed in his studies to attend to the latter, unless she speaks to him in his own language, the language of literature. This is a striking parallel to how Heyer herself was attempting to attract attention: like Venetia, she uses literature to demand acknowledgement.

Related to these ploys for attention are utterances that appear to be offhand and that indicate hidden intent and the transformation of characters. When Damerel first meets Venetia, when she is trapped amongst the blackberry bushes, he sets the tone of their relationship by what might have been a throwaway comment: “She had been making her way round the outskirts of the wood, and had paused to disentangle her dress from a particularly clinging trail of bramble when an amused voice said: ‘Oh, how full of briars is this working-day world!’” (30). Damerel is borrowing the exclamation of Rosalind from Act I, Scene III of As You Like It, after she has fallen in love with Orlando, changing the meaning of briars from figurative to literal. Venetia immediately recognizes that this brooding stranger must be Lord Damerel himself, so perfectly does he fit the part.[26] Seeing what he presumes to be a simple country maiden stealing his blackberries, Damerel grabs her, exclaims, “But beauty’s self she is…!” (31), and then kisses her. Once again, Damerel borrows his words, this time from an anonymously-composed Renaissance sonnet, which quite naughtily reads in full, “No beauty she doth miss / When all her robes are on / But beauty’s self she is / When all her robes are gone” (Garrett). Clearly, Damerel is intent on debauchery.

Later, Damerel’s mutterings to his horse reveal how conflicted he has become about his relationship with Venetia. Despite Oswald’s envy of the Byronesque figure that Damerel presents, Damerel himself grows to regret his reputation, which he views as an impediment to marriage with Venetia. After Aubrey’s interruption prevents Damerel from kissing Venetia in a heated moment, he rides home from Undershaw and broods over the situation, speaking aloud to his horse:

“Old fool!” he said. “Like your master—who is something worse than a fool. Would she could make of me a saint, or I of her a sinner— Who the devil wrote that? You don’t know, and I’ve forgotten, and in any event it’s of no [End Page 10] consequence. For the first part it’s too late, old friend, too late! And for the second—it was precisely my intention, and a rare moment this is to discover that if I could I would not!” (147)

Though Damerel’s usually encyclopedic brain is too distraught to think of the quotation’s source, it comes from a song written by English dramatist William Congreve, usually titled “Pious Selinda Goes to Prayers.” Obviously touching upon the problems of a man of experience in love with a virtuous woman, the section Damerel recalls reads: “Wou’d I were free from this Restraint / Or else had hopes to win her / Wou’d she could make of me a Saint / Or I of her a Sinner” (Congreve 78). After originally deciding to stay in Yorkshire in order to seduce Venetia, Damerel finds himself affected more than he thought possible and is unable to see a way of making the relationship work either on his original terms (seduction) or the only respectable offer he could make her (marriage).

A complex sub-category of these references involves instances where Damerel is trying to make Venetia think that he is using quotation offhandedly as a sign of his disinterest or lack of concern at their parting. In actuality, Damerel is trying to hide his own emotions, sending Venetia away thinking that he has appropriated the manner in which they had used quotation as a signal of their ease with each other. Venetia perceives that he has changed it into a more cynical, almost brutal distancing mechanism. He does this with the rapid-fire way in which he shifts from quotation to quotation in his farewell scene with Venetia in order to disguise his real feelings of despair, trying to make her able to forget about him and move on:

“ . . . Let us agree that it was a lovely interlude! It could never be more than that, you know: we must have come to earth—we might even have grown a little weary of each other. That’s why I say that your uncle’s arrival is well-timed: parting is such sweet sorrow[27]—but to fall out of love—oh, no, what a drab and bitter ending that would be to our autumn idyll! We must be able to look back smilingly, my dear delight, not shuddering! . . . the day has brought your uncle—and there let us leave it, and say nothing more than since there’s no help, come let us kiss, and part! . . . “[28] (258-59)

Practically shoved out the door by Damerel, Venetia numbly watches as her love turns truly Byronic and scoffs: “be grateful to me for opening your beautiful eyes a little! So very beautiful they are—and about the eyelids much sweetness!” (259). Damerel again paraphrases, rewording John Aubrey’s description of Venetia Digby’s “dark brown eyebrow, about which much sweetness, as also in the opening of her eyelids” (106). Venetia sees that Damerel is eager to get her out of his life (which, of course, is exactly what he wants her to believe):

He was holding open the door, a suggestion of impatience in his attitude. The second line of the sonnet he had quoted came into her mind: Nay, I have done: you get no more of me. He had not spoken those words; there was no need: a golden autumn had ended in storm and drizzling rain, an iridescent bubble had burst, and nothing was left to her but conduct, to help her to behave mannerly. (261) [End Page 11]

Recognizing the context of Renaissance poet Michael Drayton’s Sonnet 61 from his sonnet cycle Idea (1619) helps to explain why it was not necessary for Damerel to quote the poem’s second line, since it is about a man who seems to be happy about getting rid of his lover: “Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part / Nay, I have done: you get no more of me / And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart / That thus so cleanly, I myself can free” (lines 1-4). Convinced that Damerel has no serious intentions, Venetia leaves for London, heartbroken.

Because Damerel uses quotation to hide his feelings as he parts from Venetia, it is particularly significant when he chooses to use his own words to express his emotions, most notably when he first confesses his love for her: “He released her hands, but only to pull her into his arms. ‘When you smile at me like that, it’s all holiday with me! O God, I love you to the edge of madness, Venetia, but I’m not mad yet—not so mad that I don’t know how disastrous it might be to you—to us both! You don’t realize what an advantage I should be taking of your innocence!’” (235). The moment at which Damerel fully, honestly and desperately proclaims his love for Venetia, he avoids any use of quotation. His feelings are too raw to be expressed using the words of anyone but himself. He cannot hide behind someone else’s words, nor can he use them archly in order to speak to Venetia outside the conventions of polite society.

In Venetia, Heyer also makes literary allusions that reinforce the fact that Venetia relates to the world through the books she has read. Heyer frequently reminds us of this point: “[Venetia] had never been in love; and at five-and-twenty her expectations were not high. Her only acquaintance with romance lay between the covers of the books she had read; and if she had once awaited with confidence the arrival on her scene of a Sir Charles Grandison[29] it had not been long before commonsense banished such optimism” (23). Heyer emphasizes again and again how little experience Venetia has had with the world and how everything she knows about it and human nature comes from what she has read: “Venetia had no guile, and no affectations; she knew the world only by the books she had read; experience had never taught her to doubt the sincerity of anyone who did her a kindness” (53).

Heyer also makes literary allusions in subtler ways, consciously paralleling her characters with famous literary characters in order to demonstrate her own knowledge. For instance, the fact that Venetia is an “energetic walker” (20) puts her in league with Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Various critics—including Jennifer Kloester—have noted the similarities between several of Jane Austen’s characters and Heyer’s. Celeste Warner has particularly noted the parallels of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Collins with the insufferable Edward Yardley (23-24). In addition, Lady Denny and Mrs. Hendred are both reminiscent of many of Jane Austen’s sillier matrons, such as Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Jennings from Sense and Sensibility, and Mrs. Allen from Northanger Abbey.

Given Heyer’s acknowledged opinions about the Brontë sisters[30], the situations in Venetia evocative of Jane Eyre are likely intentional. Indeed, Heyer referred to Mr. Rochester as an enormous influence on her own heroes (Kloester 309). Like Rochester, Damerel shuns his ancestral home, only deciding to stay once he has met Venetia.[31] In addition, Damerel’s recollection of himself at twenty-two—young, innocent and fully in love with a woman who proved to be fickle—echoes Mr. Rochester’s bitter remembrance of [End Page 12] his affair with Celine Varrens, as recounted to Jane Eyre (Brontë 120-24). Finally, Venetia’s reunion with Damerel is rather like a bizarre version of Jane’s return to Rochester in Jane Eyre: Venetia comes upon Damerel, sitting alone in the dining room, but instead of finding him blinded and depressed—as Jane found Mr. Rochester—she discovers that he is brooding[32] and utterly drunk. He is so drunk in fact that, upon first seeing Venetia, he is convinced she is an apparition. As Jane Aiken Hodge notes, “Jane Eyre would have turned and fled, but Venetia stands her ground” (136), and she manages to convince Damerel of her substantiality.[33]

Heyer uses quotation not only as a device through which to demonstrate the compatibility of her romantic leads, but also in an attempt to reach out to her educated, literary audience. She uses  quotations often with great subtlety, thus appealing to a higher quality of reader than usually read her novels (the fans she constantly abused and dismissed). Her moderately educated readers might chortle at her Shakespeare references and feel self-congratulatory for recognizing them, but a true scholar or the literati (her dream audience) would appreciate the less obvious allusions. For example, the first exchange of quotations between Damerel and Venetia, which occurs after the hysterical barking of her dog, Flurry, rescues her from Damerel’s unwanted embrace. As soon as she breaks free, she stays to berate Damerel, dismissing his flowery speech and countering with a quotation of her own: “‘your quotations don’t make your advances a whit more acceptable to me—and they don’t deceive me into thinking you anything but a pestilent, complete knave!’” (32). This insult, taken from Othello, amuses Damerel, who laughingly replies, “‘Bravo! Where did you find that?’” (32). Embarrassed to remember the original context, Venetia refuses to tell him. Heather-Joy Garret explains the quotation’s context: “Iago is planting the seed that Desdemona is unfaithful (with Cassio) to Othello. Hence Venetia feeling the context did not suit the situation.” Because this is before they have fallen into the habit of speaking freely with each other, Venetia is uncomfortable discussing such things with him. Damerel responds to Venetia’s reticence by saying, “Oho! My curiosity is now thoroughly roused! I recognize the hand, and see that I must carefully study my Shakespeare” (32), before introducing himself in a blunt fashion. Venetia, of course, already knows his identity and so she tells him—“Yes, so I supposed, at the outset of our delightful acquaintance. Later, of course, I was sure of it”—a jab that prompts Damerel to quote again from Othello: “Oh, oh—! My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (33) Laurie Osborne, who has examined the Shakespearean allusions in Heyer and this scene in particular, suggests that Damerel’s return to Othello indicates that he already knew the source of the insult that Venetia refused to reveal to him. As Osborne concludes, “Although the reader may not get the joke or the subtle suggestion that Damerel, like Cassio, has lost his reputation for an indiscretion provoked by another, this Shakespearean bantering shows that the characters understand one another” (50). Heyer’s hope, of course, was that an educated reader would, indeed, get the joke.

A second example of Heyer’s subtle use of literary allusion occurs in the same scene. The couple quibbles over poetry to describe Venetia’s beauty and end up becoming confused[34] as to what they are quoting, effectively testing the reader’s ability to correctly identify the lines:

I’m not complaining, but I wonder at such a little beauty’s venturing to roam about the country alone. Or don’t you know how beautiful you are?” [End Page 13]

“Yes,” replied Venetia, taking the wind out of his sails. “Item, two lips, indifferent red—”

“Oh, no, you’re quite out, and have gone to the wrong poet besides! They look like rosebuds filled with snow!”

“Is that from Cherry-ripe?” she demanded. He nodded, much entertained by her suddenly intent look. Her eyes sparkled with triumph; she uttered a tiny gurgle of laughter; and retorted:

“Then I know what comes next! Yet them no peer nor prince can buy, Till Cherry-ripe themselves do cry! So let that be a lesson to you to take care what poets you choose!” (34)

Venetia, attempting to curtail Damerel’s honeyed words, utilizes the lines originally spoken by Twelfth Night’s Olivia when she trying to put off Viola (disguised as Cesario). Switching tactics, Damerel borrows some of the blazon from Thomas Campion’s “The Garden,” but he seems to enjoy sparring with Venetia too much to correct her when she misidentifies it as coming from Robert Herrick’s “Cherry Ripe” (Garrett). However, her response—and her lesson for him—is also from Campion, not Herrick. That she unwittingly finishes the same couplet Damerel began, while being mistaken as to its source, is perhaps a sign of how attuned her mind and Damerel’s have already become. Heyer shows that, even when they have become confused as to what they are quoting, Damerel and Venetia (and, hopefully, the reader) are able to correctly complete the quotation.

As a voracious reader, Heyer had a huge store of literary knowledge from which to draw inspiration and quotations. Hodge argues that Heyer had forced herself to avoid using quotations in her previous work for fear of alienating her audience, but, in this novel, released herself from such constraint and effectually flaunted her own reading habits:

[Damerel and Venetia] are launched on a volley of quotation and cross-quotation in which Georgette Heyer makes up for her past abstemiousness. She had been re-reading Shakespeare’s plays, Restoration drama and related works. . . . The book is thick with [quotations], used like the Regency language as a kind of distancing for the serious romantic plot. (134-35)

I fundamentally disagree with Hodge’s assertion that Heyer’s quotations function exclusively as a distancing method, but, regardless, it seems clear that Heyer very clearly enjoyed including them. Hodge continues: “[Heyer] allowed herself a volley of quotations, obviously aware that she had her audience totally in hand, and would be forgiven the highbrow indulgence” (141). Contrary to Hodge, I believe that Heyer was not just indulging herself, but, rather, trying to appeal to a higher level of audience. In a letter to her publisher at Heinemann, A.S. Frere, she acknowledges her inclusion of the quotations:

You may think this frivolous of me, but have you ever read what Aubrey said of Venetia? “A beautiful, desirable creature” Also, “about the eyelids great sweetness.” Well, you see what I mean? But Johnson has one or two nice phrases, & I think I may find something in Aurelian Townsend, & Habingdon, both of whom wrote poems to her. My hero, I should add, is rather given to quotation. (Letter, 7 March 1958) [End Page 14]

That Damerel is “given to quotation” is the most crucial aspect of his character and the essential element in the development of his relationship with Venetia. This character trait of his also gave Heyer the opportunity to present her readers with evidence of her own research, education, and literary prowess. When authors make any kind of intertextual reference, they are, Judith Still and Michael Worton tell us, “inscribing themselves in Tradition and making public a loving gratitude to ancestors—but their works are equally witnesses to an agonistic impulse to demarcate and proclaim their own creative space” (13). Thus, the profusion of highbrow quotations in Venetia allowed Heyer to pay tribute to authors that she admired as a reader and to use them in order to assert her own worth as a writer.

Venetia’s ability to utilize quotation is what enables her to earn a happy ending, using narratives borrowed from other literature to communicate in a male-dominated world. Similarly, Heyer borrows the words and narratives of other (mostly male) authors while working within the narrative expectations of her own readers in order to shape her novel into something that both appeased her audience and reached out to the people and literature with which she wanted to be identified. Ultimately, when Damerel and Venetia quote back and forth to each other, they demonstrate their suitability as a couple, speaking the same language and viewing the world in the same way. Contrary to S. A. Rowland’s declaration that Venetia and Damerel “continue the distancing role of manners by use of quotations” (310), I do not see the use of quotation as distancing, in most cases. Rather, their quotations show that their minds are of the same stamp. This mental likeness is most forcefully illustrated when Venetia is able to complete the couplet of an Alexander Pope sonnet, once prompted by Damerel, who provides the first line:

“You call me your friend, but I never called you mine, and never shall! You remained, and always will, a beautiful, desirable creature. Only my intentions were changed. I resolved to do you no hurt, but leave you I could not!”

“Why should you? It seems to me a foolish thing to do.”

“Because you don’t understand, my darling. If the gods would annihilate but space and time[35]—but they won’t, Venetia, they won’t!” (230)

Damerel believes that he does not deserve Venetia because of his rakish past and that it would require an act of the gods to make him worthy of her. Venetia, recognizing the quotation, attributes it and finishes it off, clearly indicating that she disagrees with Damerel’s assessment of the situation: “‘Pope,’ she said calmly. ‘And make two lovers happy. Aubrey’s favourite amongst English poets, but not mine. I see no reason why two lovers should not be happy without any meddling with space and time’” (230). This back-and-forth illustrates that they quite literally (or literarily?) complete each other.

Venetia and Damerel understand how each other’s minds work, so while Venetia’s uncle may be shocked at her knowledge of the Oedipus myth, Damerel recognizes immediately what she is trying to say and laughs at her blundering mix-up of the story’s specifics:

“Do but recollect a little! Damerel may be a rake, but at least he won’t turn out to be my father!” [End Page 15]

“Turn out to be your father?” repeated Mr. Hendred, in a stupefied tone. “What, in heaven’s name—?”

Damerel’s shoulders had begun to shake. “Oedipus,” he said. “At least, so I apprehend, but she has become a trifle confused. What she means is that she won’t turn out to be my mother.”

“Well, it is the same thing, Damerel!” said Venetia, impatient of such pedantry. “Just as unsuitable!” (366)

Mr. Hendred might be appalled by the indelicate nature of Venetia’s reference, but Damerel is not, and his comfort with her allusion only serves to further Venetia’s point about the suitability of the match. She says, “But you must surely see, sir, that Damerel isn’t in the least shocked! . . . Doesn’t that circumstance help you to understand why he would be the most suitable of all imaginable husbands for me?” (367). As Venetia tells her Aunt Hendred before leaving London, “there’s nothing I couldn’t say to him, or he not understand” (342).

At the end of the novel, the rake has been reformed; Damerel, whose previous attempts have been interrupted or aborted, proposes marriage to Venetia for the fourth time. Finally able to accept the reality of his relationship with Venetia rather than wishing he could change the past, Damerel tells her, “You may regret this day: I could not! What I regret I can never undo, for the gods don’t annihilate space, or time, or transform such a man as I am into one worthy to be your husband” (374). This time, Damerel’s use of the Pope quotation is not wistful or despairing; he accepts his past, as Venetia does, and looks forward to the future. And, after all, Venetia reminds him, had he been a better man they would never have met: “Well, if you hadn’t behaved so badly you would probably have married some eligible girl, and by now would have been comfortably settled for years, with a wife and six or seven children!” (374). Uttering the last reference to a quotation in the novel, Damerel reminds her of Nurse’s early predictions, “No, not the children! The caterpillar would have had them” (374). Damerel, leaving off his gloomy use of the Pope poem and jokingly reminding Venetia of Nurse’s earlier condemnation of him, shows that he has finally come to terms with himself and his situation. If Venetia can love him as he is, he need not lament that the gods will not annihilate space and time, nor does he have to fear or regret the past that elicited Nurse’s predictions of fire and brimstone. Once Damerel makes peace with his past and begins to look forward to a happy future, quotation in the novel ceases, as least so far into the future as we readers are allowed to see.

Just as Venetia and Damerel’s similar taste in literature demonstrate their compatibility, so do Heyer’s literary allusions in Venetia demonstrate her own attempt to prove her suitability for the title of “serious author.” Heyer, ultimately, faced the same situation in courting her educated audience as did Damerel in his pursuit of Venetia: Heyer and Damerel both used literary references and highbrow quotation in order to woo their desired targets (an educated audience and Venetia, respectively). Venetia skillfully combated Damerel’s initial perception of her as an easy mark for a quick and sordid liaison by exhibiting her literary knowledge and genteel education. Similarly, Heyer demonstrated with Venetia that, because of her tremendous literary knowledge and skillful references to classic works and authors, readers should not mistake her for a trashy romance novelist. Thus, both Venetia the character and Venetia the novel, allowed Georgette Heyer to proclaim herself a serious literary force, capable of taking on and repurposing some of the great works of literature—all with her trademark wit and style. [End Page 16]

[1] In a 1955 review of Bath Tangle, Henry Cavendish labeled her “mistress of the sheerest kind of romantic fluff” (3).

[2] As Michael Dirda notes, “Her characters wear the correct clothes, use the appropriate slang, visit the properly fashionable coffeehouses, and move smoothly in the society of the time” (85).

[3] In answer to Olivia’s query as to what he [she] would do in love, Cesario/Viola replies: “Make me a willow cabin at your gate / And call upon my soul within the house; / Write loyal cantons of contemned love / And sing them loud even in the dead of night” (1.5.268-271).

[4] This issue of different standards of morality for different social classes is raised at Venetia and Damerel’s first meeting. Assuming that because Venetia is walking alone she must be a lower-class girl, Damerel does not hesitate to kiss her against her wishes. As Helen Hughes explains, “There are, of course, implications about class attitudes in this ‘stolen kiss’ motif, which is found frequently in Heyer’s work and other female romances. The lower classes, it is implied, are fair game for the wealthy” (119). Lillian Robinson continues, arguing that Heyer’s heroines “kiss passionately only at the end of the books when love has terminated in betrothal, and they are revolted by sexual advances made on the mistaken assumption that they are of the class that is assumed to be universally available to gentlemen” (213).

[5] A paraphrase of Psalms 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Bell, Mabey and Shea have identified the majority of these Bible verses, and I have verified the specific sections and cited the original passages in the King James Bible.

[6] Psalms 37:17: “The Lord upholdeth the righteous.”

[7] Psalms 78:45: “He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.”

[8] Psalms 78:46: “He gave their increase to the caterpillar, and their labour unto the locust.”

[9] From Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

[10] Psalms 119:155: “Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.”

[11] Psalms 74:4: “Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations.”

[12] Aubrey’s status as a prodigious scholar is an accepted thing, and, despite the slothful life Damerel lives, Aubrey reveals that he had “read classics . . . [at] Oxford”; while his lordship might claim he “has forgotten all he ever knew,” Aubrey sagely recognizes that as “humbug” (72).

[13] This is probably a reference to Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” [End Page 17]

[14] Ezekiel 21:21: “For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.”

[15] Damerel is again bringing up Nurse’s declaration about sinners (borrowed from Psalms 78:46) that “He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.”

[16] Possibly Damerel is referring to Psalms 140:10: “Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again.” Of course, Damerel is trying to rise up again to be worthy of Venetia.

[17] There are two references to whirlwinds in the King James Bible. The first is Isaiah 21:1 – “As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land” – and the second is Zechariah 9:14 – “and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.” Damerel is quite possibly just speaking of whirlwinds in the abstract rather than thinking of one quotation specifically.

[18] Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

[19] Damerel is slightly misquoting a famous phrase by Samuel Johnson, originally from his play Irene; A Tragedy: “Learn that the present hour is man’s alone” (Garrett).

[20] See footnote 18.

[21] See page 5.

[22] Regency slang for illegitimate children.

[23] A sarcastic reference to the famous description of Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety” (2.2.240-41).

[24] As Damerel explains, the line is from a set of poems about Lady Digby composed by Ben Jonson in 1633, the year of her death, called Eupheme; or The Fair Fame Left to Posterity of That Truly Noble Lady, The Lady Venetia Digby (Garrett). The full quotation, from the section titled “The Picture of Her Mind,” reads: “Sweet Mind, then speak yourself, and say / As you go on, by what brave way / Our sense you do with Knowledge fill / And yet remain our wonder still” (lines 17-20).

[25] Venetia Stanley (later, Lady Digby), “Born 1600 and died 1633 mentioned amongst other places by John Aubrey in his ‘Brief Lives’” (Garrett) which Damerel goes on to quote.

[26] Heyer’s description: “He was taller than Venetia had at first supposed, rather loose-limbed, and he bore himself with a faint suggestion of swashbuckling arrogance. As he advanced upon her Venetia perceived that he was dark, his countenance lean and rather swarthy, marked with lines of dissipation. A smile was curling his lips, but Venetia thought she had never seen eyes so cynically bored” (31).

[27] Of course, the oft-quoted and therefore hackneyed utterance of Juliet in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow/That I shall say good night till it be morrow” (2.1.230-231).

[28] A quotation lifted from English Renaissance poet Michael Drayton’s Sonnet 61, from his sonnet sequence “Idea” (1619) (Garrett). Venetia thinks of more of the sonnet as she departs.

[29] The eponymous hero of a novel by Samuel Richardson: The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753). [End Page 18]

[30] She wrote an article about them for Punch in 1954.

[31] A similarity pointed out by Celeste Warner in her master’s degree thesis on the Heyer hero (14).

[32] Every inch Byron’s Corsair: “The harsh lines of his face seemed to be accentuated, and his sneer was strongly marked” (Heyer 348).

[33] “She exclaimed: ‘Oh, Damerel, must you be foxed just at this moment? How odious you are, my dear friend!’ . . . His hand fell; for one instant he gazed at her incredulously, then he was on his feet, knocking over his wineglass. ‘Venetia!’ he uttered. ‘Venetia!’” (348).

[34] There is, of course, the slight possibility that it is Heyer herself who has become confused, but, in light of her talented management of quotations elsewhere in the text, I think this move is deliberate.

[35] In full, the short poem reads “Ye Gods; annihilate but Space and Time / And make two lovers happy” (Pope 169). [End Page 19]

Primary Sources

Aubrey, John. “Venetia Digby 1600-33.” Brief Lives. Ed. Richard W. Barber. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 1982. 105-06. Print.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Richard J. Dunn. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

Congreve, William. The Complete Works of William Congreve: Part Two. Ed. Montague Summers. Vol. 2. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2004. Print.

Drayton, Michael. “Idea: Sonnet LXI.” Daniel’s Delia and Drayton’s Idea. Ed. Arundell Esdaile. London: Chatto and Windus, 1908. 128. Luminarium. Anniina Jokinen, Oct. 2000. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.

Heyer, Georgette. Venetia. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2011. Print.

—. Letter to A.S. Frere. 7 Mar. 1958. Heinemann Archives. MS, Print.

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments. New York: Meridian, 1974. Print.

Jonson, Ben. “Eupheme; or The Fair Fame Left to Posterity of That Truly Noble Lady, The Lady Venetia Digby.” The Works of Ben Jonson. Vol. 1. London: G. Routledge, 1838. 721-25. Print.

Pope, Alexander. The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq. Ed. William Warburton. Vol. 4. London: A. Millar, J. and R. Tonson, and Others, 1776. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.” The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 905-972. Print.

—. “The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra.” The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 2643-2721. Print.

—. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 1696-1784. Print.

—. “Twelfth Night, or What You Will.” The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 1793-1846. Print.

Secondary Sources

Bell, Miranda, Sally Mabey, and Terri Shea. “Biblical Quotations.” Georgette Heyer Discussion Lists. 20 Dec. 2009. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.

Cavendish, Henry. “A Frothy Bit of Life and Love.” Rev. of Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer. Chicago Sunday Tribune 4 Sept. 1955: 3. Print.

Dirda, Michael. “Georgette Heyer.” Classics for Pleasure. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 84-88. Print.

Eco, Umberto. “Intertextual Irony And Levels of Reading.” On Literature. Trans. Martin McLaughlin. Orlando: Harcourt, 2005. 212-35. Print.

Garrett, Heather-Joy. “Annotations for Venetia by Georgette Heyer.” Georgette Heyer Discussion Lists. Dec. 2008. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.

Genette, Gérard. Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree. Trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1997. Print.

Hodge, Jane Aiken. The Private World of Georgette Heyer. London: Bodley Head, 1984. Print. [End Page 20]

Hughes, Helen. The Historical Romance. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Kempf, Andrea. “Shared Lives: Women Who Wrote for Women.” Sabbatical Projects. Paper 1. Johnson County Community College. 1994. PDF file.

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

Orr, Mary. Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003. Print.

Osborne, Laurie. “Romancing the Bard.” Shakespeare and Appropriation. Ed. Christy Desmet and Robert Sawyer. London: Routledge, 1999. 47-64. Print.

Robinson, Lillian S. “On Reading Trash.” Sex, Class, and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978. 200-22. Print.

Rowland, S.A. “Heyer, Georgette.” Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers. Ed. Aruna Vasudevan and Lesley Henderson. 3rd ed. London: St. James, 1994. 309-11. Print.

Still, Judith, and Michael Worton. Introduction. Intertextuality: Theories and Practices. Ed. Michael Worton and Judith Still. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1990. 1-44. Print.

Warner, Celeste R. “Heyer’s Heroes: An Investigation into Georgette Heyer and Her Literary ‘Mark’ on the Regency Hero.” Master’s Thesis. University of Waikato, 2010. PDF file. [End Page 21]



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]

Works Cited

Aiken Hodge, Jane. The Private World of Georgette Heyer. 1984. London: Arrow, 2006.

Baines, Edward. Directory, General and Commercial, of the Town & Borough of Leeds, for 1817, containing an alphabetical list of the merchants, manufacturers, tradesmen, and inhabitants in general … to which is prefixed, a brief but comprehensive history of the borough, containing a variety of useful and interesting information; with a map of the country ten miles round Leeds. Leeds: Edward Baines, 1817.

Ballaster, Ros. Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740. 1992. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998.

Balogh, Mary. “Do It Passionately or Not at All.” North American Romance Writers. Ed. Kay Mussell and Johanna Tuñón. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1999. 24-28.

Bigland, John. The Beauties of England and Wales: or, Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive, of Each County. Vol. XVI. Yorkshire. London: J. Harris; Longman and Co.; J. Walker; R Baldwin; Sherwood and Co.; J. and J. Cundee; B. and R. Crosby and Co.; J. Cuthell; J. and J. Richardson; Cadell and Davies; C. and J. Rivington; and G. Cowie and Co., 1812. and

Bloom, Clive. Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Burt, Steven, and Kevin Grady. The Illustrated History of Leeds. 1994. Derby: Breedon Books, 2002.

Byatt, A. S. “An Honourable Escape: Georgette Heyer.” Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings. London: Chatto & Windus, 1991. 258-65.

—. “The Ferocious Reticence of Georgette Heyer.” Sunday Times Magazine 5 Oct. 1975: 28-38. Rpt. In Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective. Ed. Mary Fahnestock-Thomas. Saraland, AL: PrinnyWorld, 2001. 289-303.

Cooke, G. A. Topography of Great Britain, or, British Traveller’s Pocket Directory; Being an Accurate and Comprehensive Topographical and Statistical Description of All the Counties of England, Scotland, and Wales, with the Adjacent Islands: Illustrated with Maps of the Counties, which Form a Complete British Atlas. Vol. XXI. containing Yorkshire. London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones. No date.

Feltham, John. A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places, with a Description of the Lakes, a Sketch of a Tour in Wales, and various Itineraries, Illustrated with Maps and Views. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1815.

Fildew, Linda. “Heyer’s Influence.” Email to the author. 7 Aug. 2012.

Guiley, Rosemary. Love Lines: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Printed Pleasures. New York: Facts on File, 1983.

Hand, Louise-Ann. “Re: Briggate.” Email to the author. 13 Oct. 2009.

Heyer, Georgette. 1961. A Civil Contract. London: Pan, 1973.

—. 1953. Cotillion. London: Pan, 1966.

—. 1972. Lady of Quality. London: Pan, 1973. [End Page 16]

—. 1950. The Grand Sophy. London: Arrow, 2004.

—. 1962. The Nonesuch. London: Pan, 1975.

—. 1926. These Old Shades. London: Pan, 1962.

Hughes, Helen. The Historical Romance. London: Routledge, 1993.

Jordan, Penny. Past Loving. Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon, 1992.

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

—. 2005. Georgette Heyer’s Regency World. London: Arrow, 2008.

Laski, Marghanita. “The Appeal of Georgette Heyer.” The Times 1 Oct. 1970: 16. Rpt. in Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective. Ed. Mary Fahnestock-Thomas. Saraland, AL: PrinnyWorld, 2001. 283-86.

Laurens, Stephanie. Foreword. These Old Shades. By Georgette Heyer. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 2003. i-iv.

Le Marchant, Denis. Memoir of John Charles, Viscount Althorp, Third Earl Spencer. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1876.

Lutz, Deborah. The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2006.

Norcia, Megan A. “Puzzling Empire: Early Puzzles and Dissected Maps as Imperial Heuristics.” Children’s Literature 37 (2009): 1-32.

Picture. The Picture of London for 1803. London: R. Phillips, 1803.

Putney, Mary Jo. Foreword. The Nonesuch. By Georgette Heyer. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 2000. i-iv.

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

Robinson, Lillian S. “On Reading Trash.” Sex, Class, & Culture. 1978. New York: Methuen, 1986. 200-22.

Ryley, John. The Leeds Guide; Including a Sketch of the Environs, and Kirkstall Abbey. Leeds: Edward Baines, 1806.

Styles, Michelle. His Unsuitable Viscountess. Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon, 2012.

Veve, Thomas D. “Wellington and the Army of Occupation in France, 1815-1818,” The International History Review 11.1 (1989): 98-108.

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

Westman, Karin E. “A Story of Her Weaving: The Self-Authoring Heroines of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romance.” Doubled Plots: Romance and History. Ed. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi. 165-84. [End Page 17]


“The Upper-Class Bisexual Top as Romantic Hero: (Pre)dominant in the Social Structure and in the Bedroom” by Ann Herendeen

As an illustration of the attractions of wealth and high social status in a marriage partner, it’s hard to surpass Elizabeth Bennet’s reply in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to her sister Jane’s question as to how long she has loved Mr. Darcy: “I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley” (353; vol. 3, ch. 17). While the remark is presented as a typical jest from the wittiest of Austen heroines (“Another entreaty that she would be serious, however, produced the desired effect”), some readers can’t help seeing a grain of truth in this supposedly humorous answer. We recall Elizabeth’s thoughts during her visit to Mr. Darcy’s beautiful grounds, “that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (note the exclamation point) and her “lucky recollection” that her “uncle and aunt would have been lost to [her]” which “saved her from something like regret” (235-236; vol. 3, ch. 1).

In my second novel, Pride/Prejudice, I develop Austen’s link between status and attraction, teasing out its sexual undertones. On his wedding night, Fitz(william) Darcy is momentarily deflated, literally and figuratively, upon learning that Elizabeth has seen him, naked and aroused, in the company of an equally naked and aroused Charles Bingley. Elizabeth attempts to joke her new husband into confidence and potency: “Although Charles is a very well-formed man, appropriate for a respectable four or five thousand a year, your far more magnificent appearance confirmed my every idea of the grandeur of a large estate, a house in town, and a clear ten thousand pounds” (Herendeen, P/P 318).  This is the place in my book where the deliberate correlation of wealth, power and sexuality is stated most clearly, and as Elizabeth cheerfully admits, crudely. But the combination of high economic, social and sexual status as desirable ingredients in the romantic hero underlies all my fiction, and is an obvious theme in my two published novels: P/P; and Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander.  That the romantic hero in each of these books is not simply a wealthy, upper-class man, but also a bisexual top, as dominant in the bedroom as he is in the social structure, is the twist on the Austen model that I wish to explore in this essay.

The connection these novels imply between the heroes’ social status and their dominant bisexuality seems to have struck some readers as not only confusing but contradictory. Consider, for example, the way that Meredith S. Faust began her presentation on my work at the 2011 PCA/ACA conference: “Many [ . . . ] old school romances depict sexuality according to strict patriarchal hegemonic heteronormative structures: masculinity rules. [ . . . ] Therefore, when I picked up Ann Herendeen’s Phyllida . . . a female / male / male polyamorous love story, I expected to see [ . . . ] characters whose understanding of relationships and preferences in relationships was evolved. [ . . . ] I was [ . . . ] astonished by the patriarchal and rigid heteronormative structures in place” (1).  Faust seems to have assumed that a romance novel featuring bisexuality and polyamory would necessarily contest “old school” constructions of masculinity and sexuality, and I can understand why, given how the genre itself has “evolved” in recent years.  Over the past three decades, after all, as first feminism and then “gay” liberation (now more inclusively seen as LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) brought into question the nature of “masculinity” and “femininity” and the very concepts of “men” and “women,” the popular romance novel has undergone profound changes. Contemporary romance novels—those written recently, including those set in the past—reflect readers’ increasingly diverse outlooks and advanced ideas of sex roles and relationship dynamics. Alpha males are more likely to be vampires or shape-shifters than human beings, and gender roles are constantly being reevaluated and renegotiated in romance subgenres like BDSM, m/m and paranormal. Members of minority groups such as African-Americans, gay men and lesbians and, occasionally, people with disabilities are the heroes and heroines of love stories from which they were not so long ago excluded.  The idea of a romance hero who is wealthy, upper-class, and sexually dominant seems at odds with a presumably “progressive” decision to cast this hero as a bisexual.  To Faust, at least, it seemed positively retrograde.

Set during the English Regency (1811-1820), near the end of the Georgian era, my novels take place at a time when traditional ideas of social class were only beginning to be questioned.  As I wrote them, I imagined heroes who embody late Augustan-age,[1] robust masculinity: men at the top of their society who enjoy every material advantage and who expect to control their partners. The characters of my heroes, Fitz in P/P and Andrew Carrington in Phyllida, are determined primarily by their social and economic class.  Both are wealthy, even by the standards of their rarefied stratum of society; both are nephews of earls; and both are, I imagined,  “tops,” men who prefer the dominant position in sexual activity. As their creator, I was making a deliberate connection between their social class and their sexuality—one which, as I hope to show, has some basis in actual history, however refracted through a novelist’s eyes.

What, though, of their bisexuality, their status as outsiders in a harsh, punitive, heteronormative society? At a time when same-sex love between men was a capital offense, how could these men also be at the top of their world?

To address these questions within the limited space of this article, I will have to survey changes in attitudes toward male human sexuality over time and place in a necessarily cursory fashion, concentrating on eighteenth-century England.   I will be interpreting these changes from the point of view of a novelist, especially in their relation to the fiction that has directly influenced my own writing; I hope that this perspective will help me escape, at least in part, the solipsism of any author’s analyzing her own work, yielding me something to offer an academic forum on a popular genre of fiction.  My intent is not to refute Faust (or any other scholar kind enough to discuss my work) but rather to contribute the viewpoint of both a writer and a longtime reader of the romance genre to the evolving scholarly conversation about it, and not just in the cases of P/P and Phyllida.


“Homosexual behaviour is common among social animals, and is mainly expressed within the context of a bisexual sexual orientation,” Aldo Poiani declares in the abstract to his 2010 work on animal homosexuality. Poiani’s statement, something that would have seemed radical not so long ago, is now almost mainstream; it takes for granted a distinction between sexual acts (behavior) and an individual’s identity, his or her “sexual orientation.” Poiani goes further, applying the concept of sexual orientation to other animals besides human beings and, most radical of all, acknowledging “bisexual” as an orientation, one still not entirely accepted even within the LGBT community.[2]

If most animal “homosexuality” can be interpreted as behavior that occurs in the context of a bisexual orientation, it can also be said that, as far as we can tell from the sketchy historical record, most human “bisexuality” has occurred in contexts where modern ideas of “orientation” only awkwardly apply.  From classical to early modern times, for example, sexuality was defined or categorized by what I call a “vertical” divide, based on a person’s role in the sexual act itself and in relationships, both sexual and social:  a conceptual framework that spanned Greco-Roman antiquity, Christian Europe, and much of the Islamic world (Andrews and Kalpakli 11-15), and is also quite common elsewhere (Werner 330). The important distinction was who inserted or penetrated (the “top”) and who received or was penetrated (the “bottom”). In vaginal heterosexual sex, the man is the inserter, the woman the receiver. Inserter/penetrator and receiver/penetrated defined the concepts of masculine and feminine, and the inserter/receiver distinction was applied to same-sex male relationships as well, influencing a society’s acceptance or rejection of the individual participants and of their place in the social structure.

This inserter/receiver understanding of gender identity and sex roles can take two forms (Werner 330-331). In one, the “gender-stratified society,” cisgender males (men who exhibit the appearance and behavior their society considers masculine) (“Cisgender”) are distinguished from “pathics,” men who engage in sex exclusively with other men and prefer the receiver role. Only the pathics are considered to be homosexual, and there is often a specific word in the language for them. Pathics may dress as women and perform women’s jobs, and in some societies they may marry a cisgender man as his second or third “wife.” The cisgender men who have sex with pathics are not considered to be homosexual and are not recognized as a separate group from men who do not engage in sex with pathics.

In the second type, the “age-stratified” society, boys or youths take the receiver role with older men, either in a monogamous relationship with a “mentor,” or in a “catamite” system in which the boys are available as sexual objects to older and socially powerful men. When the boys reach an age at which they are considered to be (young) men, they switch over to the inserter role with younger boys/men. In some age-stratified societies, the period of same-sex relationships is a distinct phase for all males between early adolescence and heterosexual marriage; in others, access to youths is a permanent privilege of masculine adulthood.

Many societies contain elements of both gender and age stratification, but among these various societies there are two constants: the view of cisgender males as “masculine,” whether or not they engage in homosexual behavior with pathics or boys; and the relegation of adult men who choose the receiver role to a separate category, pathics, distinguishable by their “effeminate” dress and behavior. Reinforcing the view of the receiver as taking the “feminine” role, K. J. Dover compares the acceptable behavior for a youth courted by an older man in ancient Greece to that of a proper Victorian lady (90). The modest youth, like the nineteenth-century woman, does not desire or seek out sexual intercourse for its own sake, but yields to an honorable proposal from a good man whom he admires. It is the adult masculine role to pursue and to take the top position in sex; it is the feminine or youthful role to submit to the bottom position, but only out of love for a worthy suitor.

Both age- and gender-stratified societies, then, might be said to be “heteronormative,” in the sense that even when a degree of same-sex male sexual behavior is accepted or encouraged, it occurs within a cultural context that feminizes the man or boy in the receiver role. In the gender-stratified society, the pathic is female-identified by appearance and behavior. In the age-stratified society, it is boys who are too young to show secondary sex characteristics that are acceptable objects of adult male attraction. Stratification, social hierarchy, is the crucial conceptual framework involved, not what we might think of now as “sexual orientation.”  In fact, in both kinds of stratified society, adult men married to women might engage in sex with pathics or boys as their society allows, without their activity being labeled “bisexual” and without their identity as (heterosexual) men being questioned, as long as they do so in the active, penetrating role.

It is important to note that I am talking now only about socially-approved behavior. The fact that in ancient Athens adult men were not supposed to engage in the receptive role in same-sex relationships tells us very little about men’s actual sexual behavior. The disapproval of adult males’ taking the receiver role applied only to citizens (Dover 31-34). Working-class men, foreigners, and especially slaves were by definition on the bottom of this vertical divide, expected or required, for reasons of poverty or disenfranchisement, to engage in the receptive role with wealthy higher-ranking men.

By the time we come to early modern England, acceptable behavior no longer includes any same-sex activity. But the vertical distinction between masculine inserter/top and feminized receiver/bottom is still in place. Up until the middle of the seventeenth century, invisible homosexual relationships could exist within a hierarchical society that contained, along with the usual age and gender stratifications, a third one—social class—also present in ancient Greece. Master with servant or apprentice, schoolmaster with pupil, and gentry and noblemen with “boys” of all sorts, the Ganymedes and linkboys of Lord Rochester’s Restoration-era contests with his mistress, “When each the well-looked linkboy strove t’ enjoy, / And the best kiss was the deciding lot, / Whether the boy fucked you, or I the boy” (lines 38-40): all these couplings allowed the older or higher-ranking man to engage in the active sexual role while retaining his masculine identity, and we know from both public and private texts (diaries, letters, etc.) that such couplings were far from uncommon (Andrews and Kalpakli 125-129).

At the end of the seventeenth century, for complicated and much-debated reasons involving urbanization and the concentration in cities of young unmarried men, as well as the desire to persecute Roman Catholic institutions, male same-sex activity came to the attention of the legal and religious authorities. The sporadic single prosecutions of the 150 years following the passage of the Buggery Act of 1533 gave way to cycles of raids and hangings that both Bray (92) and Norton (Mother 16-18) relate to the development of a subculture of “molly houses” and the men (“mollies”) who frequented them.  Since the law made no distinction between inserter and receiver, all men accused of “sodomy” were equally guilty, equally “unnatural,” and equally “gay,” and the old, vertical model of sexuality began to seem obsolete. Inserter/receiver or masculine/feminine no longer made sense as ways of describing or thinking about same-sex male relationships, and some Western European societies moved toward a third way of classifying sexual identity, the “egalitarian system.”

In an “egalitarian system,” as opposed to a stratified one, all men who engage in same-sex activity, whether inserter or receiver, cisgender or pathic, are considered to be homosexual (Werner 331).  Under this new way of thinking, sexuality is defined, not by a vertical division, top and bottom, but by what we might call a horizontal division between “male” and “female” based on a person’s (perceived) gender and the gender of his or her partner. This horizontal division is similar to, and perhaps the first step toward, the modern concept of sexual orientation or identity.  In an egalitarian system, men who are consistently attracted to other men and choose men for their partners are classified as homosexual in orientation; men who consistently choose women are considered heterosexual.

I don’t mean to suggest that the older conceptual model vanished away entirely.  Indeed, the older, stratified system and the emerging egalitarian one sometimes converged as they grappled with male (homo)sexuality.  Under the old system, the “unnatural” man was the one who, as an adult, chose the bottom position. He was considered to be feminized, or partaking of both male and female identities (two-spirit, etc.). In the transitional eighteenth century, sexual subcultures, perhaps celebrating their freedom from the constrictions of earlier gender roles, were often characterized by effeminate behavior, cross-dressing, and the use of female nicknames by men whose occupations are conventionally masculine (butcher, bargeman, blacksmith, coal merchant, etc.), reinforcing this notion of sexual duality, androgyny, or even metaphoric hermaphroditism (Norton 93).[3]  By the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, theorists like Havelock Ellis and Richard von Krafft-Ebing were debating whether the newly-defined group called “homosexuals” constitutes a “third sex,” and the idea that male homosexuals are “feminine” men while lesbians are “masculine” women became entrenched in the popular imagination (Norton, “Critique”), from which it has never entirely vanished.  My fictional character Sylvester Monkton, a proud and outspoken man of exclusive homosexual orientation, expresses his (and my) exasperation with this enduring idea: “The world is so ignorant of these things, [that] they confuse buggery with incapability and a sodomite with a hermaphrodite” (Herendeen, P/P 214).[4]

As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has observed, this three-sex conceptual model necessarily created new suspect, boundary-crossing categories.  What, for example, was one to do with that problematic figure, the “straight-acting and -appearing gay male” (Sedgwick, Closet 46)?  And what, I would add, of the male bisexual?  As an adjective, “bisexual” originally signified a pathic, “two-spirited,” androgynous, hermaphroditic quality:  “having both sexes in the same individual” (“Bisexual”), precisely the confusion lamented by my Monkton.  The older idea of a man who is attracted to members of both sexes, but is in no way “feminized” by that attraction—who is, quite the contrary, the ultimate in dominant masculinity precisely because of it—seems to me to have slipped out of learned discourse about the sexes with the arrival of the three-sex model. In a curious twist of history, however, it has lingered within popular culture, preserving the older, stratified model of sexuality even as the broader culture has embraced the egalitarian model. [5]

This version of the bisexual man—the one who is the inserter, the top, with “anything that moves”—shows up in both progressive and deeply conservative aspects of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Western culture.  As recently as 2002, for example, the deliberately humorous title of a national publication for bisexuals was “Anything That Moves.”  Less happily, Mark Simpson quotes the advice that openly bisexual author Colin MacInnes (Thirkell) received from his father—”What you must do, son, is become a fucker and not [ . . . ] a fucked” (69)—and notes that such admonitions help explain “why ‘bisexual’ is not an identity taken on by the vast majority of men who are bisexual in behaviour: they regard themselves as straight men who happen to have sex with other men” (209). From the few reputable studies that have been conducted, there does appear to be a small but genuine subset of men that enjoys dominating both male and female partners (Werner 335-336; Dixson 397). In a gender-stratified society—a society in which, as Faust said in her conference paper, “masculinity rules”—such men would find a comfortable home at the top of the economic and political hierarchy, since what we now think of as bisexuality is, in such contexts, an established, if often covert form of male dominance. Recall my earlier point about gender-stratified societies: they generally are, as we would now say, “heteronormative,” but they define adult masculinity in terms of male dominance, and not in terms of the sex of one’s partner. In such societies, the “straight man who happens to have sex with other men” is not an outlaw or outlier, but something like a cultural ideal, at least if he has the money and power to be “a fucker” and not “a fucked.”

The aristocratic bisexual heroes of my Regency novels are precisely these sorts of men, unabashed tops (in every sense of the word) in a society still stratified by class and gender. No wonder Faust was all astonishment! In the egalitarian system, bisexuality has been reclassified from a mode of male dominance to an oppressed minority’s sexual orientation, so that just like people of different ethnicity or racial heritage and people with disabilities, the bisexual male is someone whose rights are being trampled on by “The Man.” My heroes have gone from being The Man to being Born This Way. And as the transition from gender- or age-stratified to egalitarian society can be seen as “evolution,” an upward progression from discrimination against an outcast group to acceptance, progressive readers might mistakenly expect to find “evolved” modern men in my novels instead of men who (rather shockingly, I gather) recall the traditional romance heroes of the old-school, heteronormative romance. It is to those old-school heroes, my literary models, that I want to turn next.


The modern popular romance novel, if we follow Pamela Regis in beginning with Richardson’s Pamela, and progressing to Austen and Georgette Heyer, has been necessarily situated within its own heteronormative society. Its heroines are disenfranchised, inevitably by gender, and often additionally by poverty or inferior social status; its theme is the heroine’s elevation, through romantic love and marriage, to a situation more appropriate to her nature, defined as intelligent, spirited and virtuous—a natural aristocrat. In such works as Pride and Prejudice and most of Heyer’s historical romances, the agency of this elevation is a man with the requisite status and wealth to accomplish it. Only a Mr. Darcy or a Duke of Avon—an alpha male—can afford to marry purely for love, to choose a young woman of superior character without regard to her (lack of) fortune, land, or aristocratic connections.

The setting for my two novels, the England of 1811-1813, is a society in transition. A new, wealthy middle class is making inroads on the aristocracy’s monopoly of power, but rank and title still establish a man’s place in the hierarchy; the gay subculture exists, but for most people sexuality is still divided the old-fashioned, vertical way. In novels by Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson, wealthy and powerful men, including titled aristocrats, landed gentry, and merchant princes, reflect the privileges of rank in their sexual practices. Richardson’s dedicated seducer-rapists, Fielding’s cheerful libertines, Defoe’s entrepreneurs, those dark lords of commerce—all enjoy the hunt, the chase and the conquest.[6] Sedgwick’s interpretation of English literature at this time, however, teases out how transitions in class and in sexuality appear in the subtexts of some authors of the time, including the “feminization of the aristocracy” in the eighteenth century (Men 93, ch. 4) and evidence of “homosexual panic” in some male authors’ Gothic novels (Men ch. 5). [7]

As for the fiction of Jane Austen, I would argue that Austen’s place in the literary continuum is decidedly with the heterosexual and “masculine” first half of the eighteenth century.[8] Her only response to the Gothic is parody (Northanger Abbey), and the authors she admires, whether men (Richardson, Samuel Johnson) or women (Maria Edgeworth, Frances Burney), wrote in the realistic tradition. From her position on the lower rungs of the gentry, Austen sets her works within her own milieu; influenced by her female contemporaries Edgeworth and Burney, she created a new kind of hero, appealing to women readers tired of being conquered. Empathetic and respectful, Austen’s heroes are gentleman, not noblemen, and each accepts his female partner as an equal from the beginning. With one exception: that darkest of Austen heroes, Mr. Darcy. It’s no coincidence that he’s the most aristocratic and by far the wealthiest.

Writing a century after Austen, in a world transformed by extraordinary gains in women’s social and legal status, Georgette Heyer likewise consistently rejects the sentimental and the Gothic, preferring Austen’s humor and common sense. Building on Austen’s transformation of the romance hero, but never losing sight of Mr. Darcy, Heyer glamorizes and, dare I say, romanticizes the upper-class man. Her heroes are paragons: educated and intelligent, fashionable and well-dressed, athletic and financially responsible—sound minds in exceptionally fine bodies. And however much they love the heroine, their expectations for marriage are traditionally masculine. The Heyer hero will be on top after marriage as before, and his only “feminization” is an appreciation for the woman who is his proper mate: not his equal, but his complement.

My two Regency novels are deliberate homages to Austen (P/P) and Heyer (Phyllida), and their respective heroes, Fitz Darcy and Andrew Carrington, are written to be as un-evolved as their literary predecessors. Andrew was imagined as the direct descendent of the domineering, alpha-male heroes of Georgette Heyer’s romance novels,[9] while Fitz was simply my reading of Austen’s most-desired hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Of course, my reading took place through a very particular set of historical and erotic lenses. Given the correlation of social class and sexuality in Mr. Darcy, how could I not see him as potentially (OK, to me, obviously) a bisexual dominant? As for Heyer’s aristocratic heroes, many could easily be interpreted as bisexual tops with little or no change in their personality.

To me as both reader and author, the character of the traditional romance hero, from Pamela onward, already corresponds almost perfectly with what history and anthropology tell us about dominant male bisexuality in stratified sexual cultures. Like these old-school heroes, my particular type of “bisexual” hero dominates his partners, male and female, just as he dominates his society with his ten thousand pounds a year and his great estate, his control of electors and clergymen’s livings—because the top is his rightful place in the world. He is “to the manner born,” a phrase from a time when aristocratic behavior (“breeding”) was thought to be transmitted, generation through generation, to those born into the top of society. For such a man, bisexuality of the “anything that moves” variety is a natural fit, reflecting the persona of the man who is born to power and accepts his role as leader. In the dichotomy of modern terminology, it is who he is, expressed naturally and happily, by what he does. To me, the hero’s bisexuality enhances his masculinity, making him even more desirable to me as participant/heroine in the love story I am writing. His ability to top other men, and women, is proof, in my view, of his extraordinary virility.

This version of masculinity does not have to be cruel or selfish; it can be loving and generous, as it is, eventually, with both my heroes. Eventually—because the plot of the old school romance novel, from Richardson to Austen to the present, is mostly the story of an upper-class (and therefore, to Austen, morally suspect[10]) hero who is “properly humbled” by love, and I wanted to use this plot as well. Just as the hero in heterosexual romances often begins with a negative outlook on women, love, and marriage (leaving him sexually predatory, rejecting love, and uninterested in monogamy), my bisexual heroes have been damaged by past loves, here inflicted not by women but by other men. Just as the hero in heterosexual romances is “humbled” by love for the heroine, emerging as an ideal husband only after an enforced metamorphosis from the pupa of a rather prickly caterpillar, my alpha-male bisexual heroes must evolve toward an emotional equality with two partners, male and female, making two parallel and simultaneous transformations. And, as in heterosexual romances, the transformed heroes must retain a degree of masculine pride, even dominance, the quality that made them so appealing (to me) in the first place.

In Phyllida, envisioned as an old-school romance of the highest order, I approached this challenge through a version of that oldest of old-school plots, the marriage of convenience. As we meet Andrew Carrington at the start of the novel, he is a man of large fortune who—after some heterosexual experimentation in his teens—thinks of himself simply as a “sodomite,” acting on his desires without apology or regret. Reconciled to the new egalitarian system which has made him an outsider, he is hopeful that his wealth and social status will allow him to live as he pleases (Herendeen, Phyllida 4, 31); to be on the safe side, however, and to do his family duty, he arranges to marry Phyllida Lewis, an impoverished young lady[11] who writes Gothic romances. Phyllida accepts his offer, agreeing to ignore his sexual orientation in return for access to his wealth and social position, but also in return for his willingness to ignore her continuing work as an author, so long as she continues to publish anonymously. As she finds herself falling in love with her “sodomite husband” and aroused rather than disgusted by his same-sex activity, Phyllida must reexamine her earlier, innocent ideas on physical and emotional love between men and women, as well as her fulfillment in the kind of marriage that society sees as mercenary, even if approved (67-68, 145-147). Andrew, meanwhile, must come to terms with the fact that he is aroused by and, in time, quite in love with his wife, even as he also pairs off, sexually and emotionally, with his male partner, Matthew Thornby, the tall, blond, muscular, financially comfortable son of a tradesman.[12]

Abrasive as he may be to modern sensibilities, Andrew is not envisioned as a morally challenged aristocrat but simply as sexually dominant. He’s cocky, not corrupt. His favorite form of sexual encounter is a sort of verbal / sexual sparring, filled with drawled insults and sneering orders, but he reserves “playing the game” (85, 168) for encounters with equals:  men like Matthew, and certainly not women. How to “properly humble” such a hero? First, I unsettle Andrew by having Phyllida be less than pleased by what to him seemed a more than adequate performance on their wedding night (49-52), so that he’s forced to turn to his straight younger brother (oh, the humiliation!) for advice on how to satisfy her sexually. Next, he is emotionally wounded—that old trope —by the ending of a long-distance relationship with a young officer serving overseas: a turn that is quickly followed by a Big Misunderstanding that leaves poor Andrew convinced, quite erroneously, that he has not just failed to please his wife, but struck her in anger. Aghast, abashed, he finds himself impotent at the thought that he has abused his power. In a final twist, near the center of the book I have Andrew read Austen’s anonymously published Sense and Sensibility, believing his wife to be the author. He admires her talent, but is downright terrified at the thought of being married to such a brilliant writer. “She could eviscerate him with a chosen phrase, demolish him with a sentence. His manhood would never withstand that cold scrutiny” (448).

Andrew’s lowest point occurs when his emotional distress over the problems with his wife affects his sexual performance with Matthew (368-372). The aspect of his sexuality about which he has been most confident, his relationships with other men, has been undermined, but it’s the woman who has unmanned him. While Matthew, an ideal partner, is properly encouraging and sympathetic, Andrew’s return to healthy masculine sexuality requires the reparation of his relationship with Phyllida. Their rapprochement begins when Phyllida no longer perceives Andrew as a threat but as a wounded hero in need of healing. Instead of demanding that Phyllida submit to him in fulfillment of her wifely duty, Andrew requests that she share his bed, and only when she is ready (265). And it is here, in his flaccid state, that Andrew experiences his first genuinely egalitarian sexual moments. Unable to engage in intercourse, Andrew takes the “submissive”[13] role in oral sex, bringing Phyllida to full, screaming orgasm and giving Andrew the sense of accomplishment that has been lacking in their earlier “vertical” encounters. Not only does he acquire a new respect for women’s powerful sexuality, but he reaps an immediate reward for his submission, as Phyllida reciprocates and brings him to his own first climax since his loss of confidence.

Over time, as the two become comfortable with each other, Andrew’s recovery to dominant masculinity will be complete, but within an egalitarian, consensual context, without the earlier overtones of coercion. In their first encounters, despite the spark between them, Andrew’s unconscious reliance on “the game” confused and frightened Phyllida. Her involuntary response to Andrew’s dominant manner unnerved her, and she worried that there may be no clear line between consensual sex and rape (67-68). Once Andrew discovers that Phyllida responds to the teasing words of the game as well as any man, and once Phyllida recognizes the game as Andrew’s peculiar but enjoyable sexual style and has gained the experience to participate in it as an equal, their lovemaking can become egalitarian regardless of who is on top in any particular act. Andrew signals their impending reconciliation by calling his wife a “slut” who is “hungry for cock” and threatening to strip off her inappropriate attire, to which Phyllida responds by calling him a “foulmouthed beast,” a “brute” and a “fiend.” As Andrew explains to the shocked bystanders, “Mrs. Carrington was merely expressing her love in our own subtle idiom” (419-420).

Andrew’s necessary sexual evolution occurs almost entirely with his wife, as his feelings of pride and later on, love, require him to learn the differences in women’s anatomy and responses. He can experiment with a beginner’s level of nonthreatening equality, such as mutual oral gratification, and when Phyllida later tops him in bed it’s at Andrew’s invitation, following a spectacularly successful demonstration of the old, dominant method. With his male partner there are no such difficulties. Matthew’s submissive desires are a perfect complement to Andrew’s dominant ones; their only problems are caused by plot devices related directly or indirectly to Andrew’s troubles with Phyllida. By the end of the story, Phyllida and Andrew are evolving into genuine versatility, while Andrew continues to enjoy the dominant role with Matthew. With both partners, Andrew adds words of love to his repertory while engaged in some form of dominant sexual activity (484,498-499), although the almost identical verbal role-playing (“slut” and “brute”) will continue indefinitely.

Outside the bedroom, Andrew’s social evolution is accomplished through clashes with both partners. Although Phyllida and Matthew may enjoy the submissive role in the bedroom, neither is submissive in character, and their strong wills challenge Andrew’s authority as a gentleman of leisure and wealthy provider. Matthew continues to work at his father’s business, while Phyllida insists on pursuing her career as author, writing it into the marriage contract. Both partners engage in the kind of teasing banter with Andrew that is the opposite of the obedience he expects from a wife or the deference of a working-class man. More seriously, they unintentionally (at first) and without malice deceive Andrew, for reasons of necessity and expedience (Phyllida) or simply because it’s so easy (Matthew). Phyllida doesn’t correct Andrew’s mistaken ideas about her writing, finding it preferable to his discovering its true Gothic (and semi-autobiographical) nature, but also enjoying the secret pleasure it gives her, a form of emotional and financial independence. In a similar fashion, she lets Andrew continue to believe he struck her, despite the cost to their marital happiness, convinced that her silence is protecting Andrew from the threats of a blackmailer.

It’s only with Matthew’s seemingly lighthearted deceptions that Andrew confronts all the deepest conflicts of wealth and social class. Andrew perceives Matthew as his inferior in wealth as well as socially, and Matthew deliberately encourages Andrew’s misconceptions, lapsing into Yorkshire-inflected speech on occasion and complaining about the expensive lodgings at the Brotherhood. As it turns out, Matthew’s “tradesman” father is an obscenely wealthy cotton baron, the personification of the social upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution on the English nobility’s inherited wealth and titles, leaving Matthew more than a match for Andrew in size, in strength, and in wealth. He can buy and sell Andrew if not “ten times over,” “at least once or twice,” and is the beneficiary of a similar education (Harrow to Andrew’s Eton) (489, 528). What’s worst, from Andrew’s point of view, is that Matthew is not ashamed of his inferior background. He works by choice, not out of necessity, despite having enough ready capital to buy a landed estate, and he deliberately provokes Andrew’s displays of upper-class hauteur, as when Andrew covers his hurt at Matthew’s seeming abandonment by correcting his expression of going “up” to the country, instead of “down” (454).

But Andrew’s evolution toward equality with his male partner is relatively easy. As the men’s climactic confrontation shows, their fistfight turned into lovemaking (chap. 27), it is the logical outcome of all of Andrew’s—and his world’s—conflicted desires. Andrew has discovered the truth of his lover’s vast fortune, earned through despised “trade” rather than inherited, as Andrew’s is, and the reality of Matthew’s gentlemanly education. “The Yorkshireman is heavier, but Carrington’s got style,” one of the upper-class spectators remarks (493), and as the fight progresses, Andrew’s style triumphs over Matthew’s brawn. For Andrew, there’s a thrill to be had in topping someone who outmatches him in size, in strength, and in wealth. In the Heyer model, upper-class style (manners, “breeding”) has value beyond its “weight;” the rising middle classes emulate their social superiors because they want to join their ranks, not displace them, and the aristocratic bisexual top may dominate the heavier middle-class or working man—but only with his acquiescence.

Once I moved from writing an original work to interpreting Austen’s famous novel, I felt as if I was entering a darker, harsher universe. My original creation, Phyllida, and its male protagonists, Andrew and Matthew, were shaped in part by the worldview of Georgette Heyer and her relatively benign assessment of upper-class masculine dominance. Austen, by contrast, takes a more jaundiced view of the aristocracy, male and female, and its assumption of privilege.[14] The conflicts of wealth and social class are explicit in Austen’s novel, leading me to focus on bringing out the implicit bisexuality in mine. Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy is an aloof, arrogant, and disdainful man at the beginning of her novel, and his “humbling” by Elizabeth Bennet is not only an argument in favor of equalizing male-female relationships but a representation of the superiority of middle-class manners and morals. Elizabeth rejects Mr. Darcy’s first proposal because he has not behaved in a “gentleman-like manner” (Austen 188; vol. 2, ch. 11), and from the beginning of the novel it is his friend, Mr. Bingley, whose father made his fortune in trade, who is described as “gentlemanlike” (12; vol. 1, ch. 3).

Austen’s novels have become classics both of popular romance and of English literature, to an extent almost unimaginable a century ago. Perhaps it’s their iconic status that colors our perceptions of their characters. While I deliberately wrote Andrew Carrington to be as arrogant and overbearing as the most self-assured of Heyer’s heroes—and readers have read him that way—I’ve been astonished at reactions to my Fitz, with some readers apparently remembering Mr. Darcy as having been flawless from the beginning. As Faust says: “Thus, instead of idolizing Mr. Darcy as the perfect mate, as the reader does in Austen’s novel, the reader of Herendeen’s novel grows disgusted with Fitz’s behavior” (MA thesis 32). But the Mr. Darcy presented at the start of Austen’s P&P strikes me as a most un-evolved hero indeed, hardly someone to idolize. That, to me, is the theme of Austen’s story, and of so many romance novels that followed: that an ideal husband is made, not born; that he is the product of hard work—and hard knocks—the heroine’s initial rejection leading to his desire to improve.

In fact, the only major difference between my bisexual heroes and their heterosexual counterparts is one of number, not kind. I saw my Fitz as a bisexual hero with a bad attitude, engaged in two relationships, with Charles Bingley and Elizabeth Bennet, which require him to evolve emotionally if he wants to retain (Charles) or gain (Elizabeth) his partner’s love. Fitz’s treatment of his lover, Charles, in the first half of P/P is overbearing and domineering, just as Mr. Darcy’s treatment of his friend Mr. Bingley is verbally condescending and bullying in Austen’s novel. He’s not an “evolved” personality in either book, and the sexual and romantic relationship between the men in my P/P is not equal. It’s not intended to be a model of an ideal same-sex male romance, but the starting point for a story of a dominant male’s transformation from an unlikable but sexually compelling “player” into a husband or lover who wins his partners’ love through courtship, by treating them not merely as conquests, but as worthy of the respect that inspires love.

The story of my P/P follows Austen’s novel, bringing out what I see as an implied bisexuality in Fitz (Mr. Darcy’s) character, as shown in his two same-sex relationships: with Charles Bingley; and with his foster brother, the seductive and manipulative George Wickham. Austen’s novel gives us several instances of Mr. Darcy’s affectionate but seemingly contemptuous style of conversation with his friend Mr. Bingley,[15] which Elizabeth in P/P recognizes as similar to that of “the clever husband with the simple wife” (Herendeen P/P 30-31), saying that “Mr. Darcy could not be more jealous of a new bride than he is of [ . . . ] Mr. Bingley” (26). Similarly, the exploitative and deceptive nature of the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Wickham strikes me as one that can easily accommodate a physical sexual manifestation, and I wrote explicit scenes with both men in which Fitz displays his dominant bisexual masculinity.

Where Andrew Carrington’s dominance was an exultant, happy expression of his sexuality, Fitz’s dominance has darker roots, related to Austen’s view of Mr. Darcy as having been “encouraged [by my parents . . . ] to be selfish and overbearing [ . . . ] to think meanly of all the rest of the world [ . . . ] of their sense of worth compared with my own” (Austen 349; vol. 3, ch. 16). Building on this self-description in Austen’s novel, I imagined my Fitz as expressing this unpleasant side of his nature in his private sexual activity, although here I felt that there were mitigating factors. Fitz has been deeply scarred by his first love for Wickham, who seduced Fitz with submissive “favors” and led him on to make declarations of love, only to reveal, with the cruelest words, that his motives were mercenary and practical. “Love you? Are you really that stupid, Darcy?” (Herendeen, P/P 192) Where Andrew’s wounds, the result of a reciprocated love affair reaching a natural if unwelcome ending, were easily healed, Fitz’s wounds are permanent and disfiguring. Wickham’s practiced duplicity has left Fitz suspicious of love and looking for a partner who is innocent and naïve—one whose love is genuine, or whom he can easily influence, if not control.

Partly as a result, for Fitz the allure of domination is more difficult to overcome. While Andrew’s partner, Matthew, is submissive only in the bedroom, Charles Bingley is submissive in all aspects of his character. At the start of the novel, Charles is beginning to assert his independence, questioning the ideal of man/boy love underlying his relationship with Fitz, and beginning to think that “it might be very nice to have a wife” (Herendeen, P/P 6). But ultimately he enjoys being “taken care of” by Fitz, as Elizabeth remarks scornfully to Colonel Fitzwilliam (Austen 180; vol. 2, ch. 10). The challenge for Fitz with Charles is to continue to play the roles he enjoys: sexual top, protector, and mentor, while accepting Charles as his equal in spirit. Just as in a democratic society everyone is supposed to be equal before the law regardless of ability or income, so Fitz must not let his own areas of genuine superiority—wealth, intellect, pedigree, size and strength—undermine the equality and reciprocity necessary to sustain a relationship of love. Contrasting their uncomplicated love with the inescapable realities of heterosexual relationships, Fitz tells Charles, “We share the purest form of love, one that can exist solely between men—disinterested love whose only object is its own fulfillment, that looks for no advantage of money or condition” (Herendeen, P/P 226).

Where Andrew’s two partners are similar, Fitz’s male and female partners are opposites. Unlike Charles, Elizabeth is most certainly not submissive, and I could not imagine her exuberantly active nature melting away into passivity in the bedroom. On their wedding night, Fitz takes the dominant position at first, as he is the experienced lover. Elizabeth, overcome by the pleasures of lovemaking, utters the essential words, “I love you,” as a form of submission (Herendeen, P/P 324). But by the next morning, after three or four sexual encounters, Elizabeth has developed the skill to top Fitz by winning a sexual wrestling match, and I imagined Fitz’s astonished delight at being topped by someone he loves: “Never had surrender felt so like victory” (334). To underscore the significance of this reversal of positions, I show Fitz imagining himself as a racehorse with Elizabeth as the jockey whipping him to the finish line, and it is he who now “submits” by saying the words of love. Later in their marriage, Elizabeth dominates Fitz emotionally as well as physically, topping him on a chair in the breakfast room, forcing him, through his uncontrollable arousal, to perform despite his voiced fear that “Someone might come in” (350).

In the marriage of Fitz and Elizabeth I see a joyful combat between two dominant personalities; their only solution is to take turns. Fitz and Elizabeth will remain sexual tops, enjoying an equal, unwinnable contest, their more erudite conversational sexual intercourse an exalted version of Andrew and Phyllida’s coarser “game.” In fact, I saw Fitz’s relationship with Charles as similar in many ways to a conventional marriage, domestic and comfortable, the two men naturally fitting their respective roles of “husband” and “wife,” while Fitz’s connection with Elizabeth has the allure of forbidden passion, more like an ongoing extramarital affair that neither partner can give up because it’s so exciting—and transgressive.

For the two men, Fitz and Charles, it is only after they have entered into heterosexual marriages that they can resume their sexual relationship on new terms—an agreed-upon, negotiated dominance. Where Fitz has been humbled by his love for his exceptional wife and mellowed by winning her affection, Charles has matured, his character strengthened by marriage to his perfect female complement, the equally sweet and submissive Jane. “You have grown into marriage,” Fitz tells Charles. “From a youth to a man. I admit to liking it very well” (360-361). Only now can the two former lovers approach each other with something resembling equality, and in their first reunion after their respective marriages Charles “surprises” Fitz by taking the initiative in their lovemaking. But evolution cannot entirely transform fundamental nature, and these two men will always be perfectly matched as opposites, as they are similar to their wives. When Fitz expresses the desire to make love “as they were used to,” with Fitz on top, Charles replies, “I shall always want that” (365-366). Where upper-class male dominance wins the day with a timely left hook in Phyllida, in my version of Austen’s world, the dominant aristocrat stoops to conquer, adopting some of the qualities of his middle-class partner and meeting him halfway.


In writing my masculine, bisexual heroes, I had to make some concession to the realities of their time. My heroes are anomalies under the old systems governing male sexuality, cisgender men who desire, not boys or “pathics,” but other cisgender men, and each must come to terms with the changing definition of sexual identity and orientation. And in some ways they are already moving toward the future, as embodied by the men they desire: other cisgender men, neither pathics nor effeminate, who choose the bottom position in sex.

In our modern understanding of “gentle doms” and “pushy bottoms,” the man who plays the top role in bed is often motivated by the desire to please his partner rather than to control him, and the man in the submissive role as often as not directs the action (“Pushy bottom”). Both Andrew and Fitz perform oral sex on their wives as a matter of course, and although consistently dominant with their male partners during anal intercourse, willingly and eagerly take the “submissive” role in oral sex at times. When Andrew meets Matthew, his first clear statement of intent “involves your cock in my mouth and my cock in your arse” (Herendeen, Phyllida 298), and as soon as the two men are in bed, he makes good on his promise (306-307). Fitz, like Andrew, takes on the “submissive” role in oral sex as a way of both controlling and gratifying his partner. By pleasuring Charles orally, Fitz allows him to climax first, while also preparing him for the receptive role in the anal sex that will be Fitz’s “reward” (Herendeen, P/P 21-23).

For Andrew, already psychologically adapted to the new social order, and accepting himself as a “sodomite,” it’s the unexpected passion for a woman that most disturbs him. On his wedding night, after worrying that he will have to perform on demand, he’s astonished to find himself “[holding] back with difficulty. He liked this, wanted this” (Herendeen, Phyllida 46). His early hope that Phyllida will become pregnant immediately and “he might never have to do it again” (51) soon turns to frustrated desire when Phyllida, displeased by his performance, locks him out of her room, and the transition from dominant “homosexual” to dominant “bisexual” is ultimately a natural one for him.

Fitz, the more introspective—and bisexual—of the two, labors toward self-acceptance. In two extended flashbacks, readers see him struggling to reconcile his position as a dominant bisexual man with the new egalitarian system that is being established, even at the top of the social and economic hierarchy he inhabits (Herendeen, P/P 191-200, 255-262). Fitz belongs to the same “gentlemen’s club” of the earlier novel, but resists identifying as a sodomite or molly. His university education, with its exposure to the ideas of ancient Greece and Rome, has given him a different perspective. “Not all love between men is sodomy, any more than all love between a man and a woman is fornication,” Fitz says (103), to the scorn of Monkton and the others.

My two stories are novels—fiction—that take place during a time of significant changes in both the literary and sexual traditions that still resonate today. I wanted my heroes not only to be transformed by their relationships with women, but to confront the Gothic, which Sedgwick sees as “feminizing” the literary and cultural aesthetic of the time—the fictional counterpart to the physical details of the men’s sexual evolution. In Phyllida, a work that plays on the divide between “higher” literary fiction like Austen’s novels and “low” popular romances, the influence of the Gothic is empowering. Although steadfastly scorning Gothic novels as “sensational trash, only a step up from obscenity” (326), and admiring Austen’s work as superior, Andrew admits that marriage to a writer like Austen would be uncomfortable (see above). Later, while reading Phyllida’s real work, a Gothic novel with an improbable but arousing m/m/f plot, Andrew realizes that the author of this novel is the perfect match for him, combining “the best of mind and carnality in a mixture that [he] had thought [ . . . ] could only be found in men” (449). The encounter with the feminized, homosexual Gothic has unexpectedly reinforced his dominant bisexuality.

In P/P, the friendship between Fitz and Charles is a perfect example of what Sedgwick calls “homosexual panic,” a man’s fear that he is “under the compulsion of another male” (Men 91). There is also a direct reference to Gothic romances when Charles, entering Fitz’s darkened bedroom, compares it to a scene from The Mysteries of Udolpho, while Fitz replies that he “hoped to be spared talk of ladies’ novels in my own home” (Herendeen, P/P 223). But just as Austen rejected the supernatural Gothic in favor of sympathetic realism, so P/P must come down on the side of the “higher” literary genres. Fitz and Charles eventually reach a more equal relationship based on mutual agreement rather than the dominance and submission of Gothic control—while Fitz is introduced to the pleasure of realistic “ladies’ novels” by his wife (347-349).

Sedgwick’s idea of the feminization of the aristocracy in the eighteenth century seems to be a way of describing the upper-class adoption of a middle-class or bourgeois concept of the family. In discussing my two romance novels, with their conventionally masculine heroes and the most unconventional families they create, I have also been talking about social class. In the old class- and gender-stratified world, one that did not have a concept of bisexuality or sexual orientation, these men were indistinguishable from other cisgender males. Now, with the new vertical division of sexuality, these upper-class heroes are “humbled” by love.

That the “submissive” male partners in both books are the sons of tradesmen is an outgrowth of my (and Austen’s, and perhaps Sedgwick’s) view of the social hierarchy. In Phyllida, the direction of accommodation is “upward,” as Matthew, benefitting from his father’s wealth and the education and opportunities it affords, adopts the manners of the upper classes and moves effortlessly (or so it seems) into the landed aristocracy. By the end of the novel, it is his estate, purchased from its impoverished owners, that becomes the de facto country home of Mr. and Mrs. Carrington and site of the infamous “molly weddings” that close this comic novel. In P/P, Charles Bingley’s personality and background are Austen’s creation, a personification of middle-class virtue to contrast with the inherently amoral aristocracy (in Austen’s view) from which Fitz must be reclaimed. Like Matthew, Charles is introduced at the beginning of Austen’s novel as in the market for an estate, but his status as gentleman is already established by his superior manners. It is Mr. Darcy, and my Fitz, who must improve themselves by moving “downward,” adapting their domineering upper-class behavior to fit the modern, egalitarian world being shaped by the middle classes. There’s hope for Fitz, as his father was a commoner, however wealthy, and the redeeming force is love: for Elizabeth—and, I would argue, for Charles—in both novels, mine and Austen’s. “Perhaps we can create a new ideal,” Charles says (Herendeen, P/P 366).


In both novels, I portray a form of male bisexuality that, invisible from the outside, coexisted with the rigid heteronormativity, class system, and economic structure of their historical setting. Bisexuality of this kind was not, in itself, revolutionary, even if it might seem, to modern eyes, subversive, and I underscored the socially “natural” state of this bisexuality in my portrayals of both sets of men. Just as both Andrew and Fitz are dominant bisexual men by nature, so their male partners, Matthew and Charles, are sexual bottoms; when they submit to the hero, it’s out of love, and because bottoming is their preferred position in bed. In the outside world, however things are changing in the social and economic structure, these cisgender but submissive men are still on top by virtue of their sex and masculine demeanor. It’s the women who will want to equalize their marriages, and in both novels the heroes are ultimately “humbled,” not by their male partners, but by their wives.

That was my both my problem and my solution as a writer: to retain the reality of eighteenth-century male dominance, while at the same time “feminizing” it by allowing the heroines (and readers) to be aware of, even share in the men’s bisexual activity. Phyllida and Elizabeth are “modern” heroines; unashamed of their sexuality, attracted to their husbands physically as well as emotionally, and actively enjoying the fulfillment of their marital duties. Indeed, I take my heroines’ liberation from old-school sexual submissiveness several steps further, imagining them, rather than disgusted by their husbands’ same-sex activities, instead reveling in the vicarious arousal they provide.

But there’s more at stake than arousal, important as that is for women’s empowerment in marriage. According to Sedgwick, male homosocial desire is an expression of the patriarchy’s “traffic in women.” What may look like homoerotic attraction is just another form of male dominance, with women as commodities to be acquired and exchanged. Similarly, the traditional view of the married bisexual man is that he is “deceiving” his wife by engaging in same-sex activity or “cheating” on her with his male partner. In my contemporary reinterpretation of this very old situation I hoped to free my characters, male and female, from the “traffic in women,” and the means of this liberation is a rejection of the passive, depressing, wifely “acceptance” or “tolerance” of her husband’s sexual activities, in favor of a more active and positive response.

For these liberated wives and bisexual husbands, marriage is no longer something to endure for the sake of wealth and social position, or respectability. Released from the demeaning business of subterfuge, the men can pursue their male partners for no ulterior motive, only love, while their wives discover in their husbands’ male partners a comrade: a kindred soul, not a rival. As Phyllida says to Matthew, dismissing Andrew’s suggestion of “brother-in-law” as an “artificial relationship”: “You are one of the family. Not exactly a husband, but far more than a friend” (Herendeen, Phyllida 530-531). Elizabeth Darcy, inspired by her sister Jane’s belief that “A truly happy marriage ought not destroy a longstanding [male] friendship,” reexamines her own understanding of love (Herendeen, P/P 402-403). By the end of both novels, the heroines’ original ambivalence, nurtured by joyful and happy marriage, has blossomed into endorsement and encouragement of their husbands’ bisexuality. Phyllida acts as the “groomsman” at her husband’s marriage to Matthew (Herendeen, Phyllida 521), and Elizabeth allots a room to her husband and Charles for use during “inclement weather” (Herendeen, P/P 403).

Within the shell of a very old social order, a new one is beginning to emerge: playful, polyamorous, lit up by what Pam Rosenthal has called “the revealed spectacle of male homosocial desire” (7). It’s an order centered, still, on the concept of marriage, but a marriage grounded in honesty and equality, chosen freely by all partners. That was a radical idea in Austen’s time, and it remains one, as appealing to my heroines and heroes—and, I hope, my readers—as the beautiful grounds of Pemberley.

Works Cited

Andrews, Walter G. and Mehmet Kalpakli. The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Print.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. Ed. Vivien Jones. Penguin classics ed. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

“Bisexual, adj.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.

Bray, Alan. Homosexuality in Renaissance England. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. Print.

“Cisgender.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, LLC, 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.

Dixson, Alan. “Homosexual Behaviour in Primates.” Animal Homosexuality: A Biosocial Perspective. Aldo Poiani. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

Dover, K. J. Greek Homosexuality. Updated ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. Print.

Eisner, Shiri. “Monosexual Privilege Checklist.” Radical Bi. WordPress, posted 28 July, 2011. Web. 28 July, 2012.

Faust, Meredith S. “[A] strange primitive feeling of lust”: Heteronormative Rigidity in Herendeen’s Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander. Paper presented at the PCA/ACA Conference, San Antonio, 22 Apr., 2011. Print.

———. “Love of the purest kind”: Heteronormative Rigidity in the Homoerotic Fiction of Ann Herendeen. MA thesis. DePaul University, 2010. Print.

Herendeen, Ann. Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander. New York: Harper, 2008. Print.

———. Pride/Prejudice. New York: Harper, 2010. Print.

“Morphodite.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, LLC, 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.

Norton, Rictor. A Critique of Social Constructionism and Postmodern Queer Theory, “The Medicalization of Homosexuality.” Rictor Norton. 2008. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.

———. Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England, 1700-1830. London: GMP, 1992. Print.

Poiani, Aldo. Animal Homosexuality: A Biosocial Perspective. With a chapter by Alan Dixson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

“Pushy bottom.” Def. 1. Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, LLC, 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.

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

Rochester, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of. “The Disabled Debauchee.” The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.

Rosenthal, Pam. The Queer Theory of Eve Sedgwick at the Edge of the Popular Romance Genre. Paper presented at the Second International Conference on Popular Romance, Brussels, 5-7 Aug., 2010. Print.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. 1985. With a new preface by the author. New York: Columbia University Press, [1992]. Print.

———. Epistemology of the Closet. 1990. Updated with a new preface. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. Print.

Simpson, Mark S. Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Werner, Dennis. “The Evolution of Male Homosexuality: Implications for Human Psychological and Cultural Variations.” Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective. Ed. Volker Sommer and Paul L. Vasey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 316-346. Print.

[1] While Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, its earliest version, “First Impressions,” was written 1796-1797, and its sensibility seems more 18th-century than Regency. Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, especially those set in the early years, like Regency Buck, show a society in transition from the old century to the new, as reflected in dress, in speech and particularly in morals.

[2] For example, see Shiri Eisner’s “Monosexual Privilege Checklist” that begins, “Society assures me that my sexual identity is real and that people like me exist.”

[3] As the exemplary quotations that define the old slang term “maphrodite” reveal, this corrupt form of “hermaphrodite” was long used as a synonym for “homosexual” (“Morphodite”).

[4] This remark occurs in the context of the “ignorant world” betting against the possibility of newlywed and former “confirmed bachelor” Andrew Carrington’s impregnating his bride. Suspicions of a penchant for “buggery” have been conflated with incapability, even for this most masculine-appearing man.

[5] Werner calls the gender-stratified society the “most common” in the ethnographic record (330), with only 30 modern societies having the egalitarian system. He also cites a 1995 study that found a number of societies in the process of changing over from gender-stratified to egalitarian (331).

[6] Bray (106) cites Ian Watts’s 1957 work The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding in his discussion of the cultural change from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century. While we no longer restrict our discussion of the early English novel to these three male authors, I feel that their works are an accurate representation of the heterosexual orthodoxy of the time.

[7] The statement appears in a discussion of Gothic fiction and is related to Laurence Stone’s belief that the molly houses were “gentlemen’s clubs,” which Bray disputed and Norton’s work (not yet published when Men was written) entirely exploded, showing that the molly culture was a working- and middle-class phenomenon.

[8] I consider Austen’s writing sympathetic to women but “masculine” in style and mood: harsh, satirical and witty (while of course not believing that these qualities belong only to one gender).

[9] Influences for Andrew are many: Julian Audley, 5th Earl of Worth, in Regency Buck; Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, in These Old Shades (aka Tracy Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, in The Black Moth); Sir Richard Wyndham in The Corinthian, etc., along with the way this version of the romance hero was distilled through romance novels of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

[10] For an example of the ultimate amoral aristocratic Austen antihero, see the unpublished novella “Lady Susan,” in which the eponymous protagonist, the daughter of a nobleman, breaks every rule of female sexual behavior and wins through to an ending which, if not exactly happy, is certainly successful in terms of wealth and respectability.

[11] I mean “lady” here in the period sense of the word:  it meant, at the very lowest, middle class status, and usually implied gentry.  Phyllida’s family is poor by middle-class standards, as was Austen during most of her adult life, but as a gentleman’s daughter she is an eligible match for Andrew.

[12] Hugo Darracott, the hero of Heyer’s An Unknown Ajax, was the direct inspiration for Matthew. The idea of a large, tall, blond, muscular Yorkshireman, the epitome of masculine stereotypes, as a sexual bottom struck me as hilarious and very appealing.

[13] I use the term “submissive” for the person performing oral sex and “dominant” for the one receiving it. Although the person performing oral sex is usually more “active,” the performance is commonly perceived as submissive and the dominant partner may not reciprocate.

[14] Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt, is even more disagreeable than her nephew. The aristocratic minor characters in other novels are usually buffoons or villains or both at once. Some examples: Sir Walter Eliot, the heroine’s vain father in Persuasion; Willoughby, seducer of innocents, in Sense and Sensibility; and coldhearted General Tilney and his rakish elder son, Frederick, in Northanger Abbey.

[15] For example, when Mr. Darcy accuses Mr. Bingley of “the indirect boast … being proud of your defects” (47-49; vol. 1, ch. 10).


Pedagogy Report: Embedding Popular Romance Studies in Undergraduate English Units: Teaching Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester by Lisa Fletcher, Rosemary Gaby, and Jennifer Kloester


This paper outlines one model for introducing popular romance studies to undergraduate English programs: teaching romance texts and topics alongside canonical and contemporary literary texts. This “embedding” approach has clear advantages over the teaching of “specialist” popular romance units, not least because of its flexibility in relation to diverse curricula. We discuss one recent example of teaching popular romance—specifically, popular historical romance—at the University of Tasmania, Australia (UTAS), where the authors recently collaborated on the design and teaching of a new unit in which students read Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester alongside literary classics such as William Shakespeare’s Henry V and Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. The paper explains the unit design in detail, presents the case for adopting an embedding approach to teaching popular romance fiction, describes the teaching strategies Lisa Fletcher and Jennifer Kloester used in their lectures on Heyer, and analyzes student responses to this initiative through examination of selected assessment tasks.

1. The Teaching Context: Sylvester and “Fictions of History”

In 2009 a new team-taught unit, “Fictions of History,” was introduced in the English major at UTAS; it was taught for the first time in Semester 2, 2010 (June—November) and will be offered again in Semester 2, 2011. The unit is an elective at the advanced level, aimed principally at students who have completed introductory and intermediate English; however, the prerequisite allows students who have only completed introductory (or first-year) English to enroll. “Fictions of History” was designed to:

  • build students’ knowledge of historicist approaches to analyzing literary texts;
  • encourage critical reflection on the relationship between the treatment of history in literary and popular texts; and
  • enhance skills in conducting research on a diverse range of texts.

An additional impetus for developing this unit was to facilitate collaborative teaching, which would bring together the research interests of academic staff. One common thread linking the work of the lecturers (Elizabeth Leane, Ralph Crane, Rosemary Gaby, and Fletcher) who contributed to this unit is a focus on the intersections of literature and history. At UTAS, achieving a “teaching-research nexus” is especially important at the advanced level as we seek to engage students’ interest in pursuing honors and postgraduate study. The embedding approach therefore has clear benefits for popular romance scholars (in this case, Fletcher) looking to motivate students to pursue postgraduate research, but who may not have the opportunity to teach units devoted to the field.

Unit Description

How does literature represent the past? This unit introduces students to key theoretical frameworks for interrogating the complex and contentious relationship between “fiction” and “history.” Students have the opportunity to discuss “fictions of history” from a range of historical, cultural, and national contexts. Texts will range from literary classics to popular genre fiction to postmodern tours de force. (

Required Texts (in order taught)

  • Shakespeare, William Henry V
  • Scott, Walter Ivanhoe
  • Heyer, Georgette Sylvester
  • Farrell, J. G. The Siege of Krishnapur
  • Bainbridge, Beryl The Birthday Boys

Teaching Pattern

The unit is taught over thirteen weeks. Students attend a fifty-minute lecture each week and a 90-minute weekly tutorial from the second week of semester. The bulk of lectures focus on analysis of the set texts; two lectures (delivered by Fletcher in 2010 in the 4th and 7th weeks of semester) introduce theoretical approaches to reading fictions of history.


Students in this unit are required to complete a 1000-word essay, a 2500-word essay and a 2-hour exam:

2. Teaching Popular Romance Fiction: Why Take an “Embedding” Approach?

The embedding approach to teaching popular romance fiction is based on the view that Literature and popular fiction are distinct, but interrelated fields. Ken Gelder uses the capital “L” for Literature in his book, Popular Fiction: The Logic and Practices of a Literary Field, in order to distinguish the two major sub-fields of the broader literary field. He argues “popular fiction is best conceived of as the opposite of Literature” (11). For Gelder, popular fiction and Literature are antagonistic fields; they each define themselves against the other. Gelder gives us the best starting point yet for theorizing the relationship between the popular and Literary fields of cultural production, especially when the focus of study is on particular genres. He writes: “Popular fiction is, essentially, genre fiction” (1). However, he misses the extent to which genre cuts through the curtain he brings down between, to use different terms, “lowbrow” and “highbrow” texts (Fletcher 4). The tropes and conventions of the romance genre cut across the boundaries of these cultural fields in fascinating and important ways, which the pedagogy of popular romance studies must take into account. Teaching popular romance texts alongside Literary texts can help students recognize that considering the form and function of popular romance is not a trivial pursuit with only narrow cultural relevance.[1]

Critics often speak up for the value of studying romance fiction because of the sheer, unparalleled popularity (in global terms) of the distilled or purer versions of the form—most commonly category romance novels. Readers of JPRS will recognize this argument: studying popular romance fiction is important because of the sheer magnitude of texts and readers it looks to (and respects). The embedding approach begins with a slightly different argument: Romance is relevant to students of English because it does not stop working at the boundaries of the field of popular romance fiction. Heyer is a pertinent example here. While her novels clearly participate in the popular romance genre—she is, after all, the Queen of the Regency Romance—they are both influenced by and influence texts that fall outside the strict parameters of romance. So, perhaps the first step to getting the burgeoning field of popular romance studies into the classroom is to identify texts that, like Heyer’s Sylvester, connect in important formal, thematic or historical ways to texts that already have an established place in the curriculum.

3. Teaching Sylvester

The unit includes two lectures on Sylvester. In 2010, the first lecture was delivered by a guest of the UTAS English program, Jennifer Kloester, author of Georgette Heyer’s Regency World and Heyer’s official biography (forthcoming 2011). Kloester’s lecture explained the historiographic and literary traditions that informed Heyer’s depiction of the Regency period, and encouraged students to think critically about the relationship between “history” and “fiction” in Sylvester. The following week, Lisa Fletcher delivered a lecture focused more closely on the novel, in which she introduced the term “romance” to the discussion and examined Heyer’s self-reflexive use of genre conventions. Kloester and Fletcher worked closely together to plan their approach to the lectures; in particular, they were concerned to spark interest in a text (and genre), with which tutors in the unit had reported most students were unfamiliar.[2] They were aware too of quite open resistance from some students (especially males) to studying a romance novel and concerned to use the lectures to model “serious” scholarly research and analysis.

Lecture Summary: Kloester

In short, the first lecture on Sylvester provided students with background to assist with their study of a novelist and a sub-genre with which they were largely unfamiliar. The first aim of this lecture was to introduce Heyer as a writer, not only of historical romance novels, but also as someone who had a remarkable ability to seamlessly integrate historical fact with enduringly readable fiction. Heyer is universally recognized as the creator of the Regency genre of historical fiction and lauded for her ability to “bring the past to life” (Fahnestock-Thomas; Fletcher; Kloester). Her historical fiction offers students an accessible medium for examining the methodologies required to create this sense of the past and to look at some of the issues rising from the diffusion of historical facts through a fictional text.

The second aim was to raise the students’ awareness of Heyer’s own historical context and how this affected her understanding of what history was and the kinds of historical data she accrued for her novels. An understanding of this aspect of her writing is particularly important given the dramatic shift in historiography that occurred throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century which eventually resulted in the professionalization of history. In order to assess Heyer’s writing and her historical methodology the students needed to know that hers was a nineteenth-century approach to the past. She was greatly influenced by the grand narrative histories written by famous nineteenth-century historians such as Macaulay, Carlyle and Froude as well as by novelists such as Sir Walter Scott, Stanley Weyman, and Charles Dickens, among others.

There are several useful parallels to be drawn between Scott and Heyer: both were the number one best-selling authors of historical fiction in their day and both had a concern for historical accuracy; each attracted a wide audience, introducing many new readers to history; both were innovative in their depiction of the past and each came to be identified by a particular type of novel or historical period. But there were also differences in their treatment of history and in the focus of their novels. Scott was a more historical writer than Heyer, with a more scholarly approach to the past and, unlike Heyer, much of his history is overt—as demonstrated in the later editions of his books where he was at pains to include in their introductions, notes and appendices, many of his novels’ historical underpinnings. By contrast, Heyer made little or no concession to her readers’ possible interest in the historical sources from which she drew her portrait of the Regency. Apart from her two Waterloo books, An Infamous Army and The Spanish Bride, her Regencies are devoid of footnotes or bibliographies and offer their audience no clear way of discerning the historical facts from Heyer’s fictional imaginings.

This narrative paradox forces the reader to trust Heyer in her recreation of the historical period. There is an expectation that factual detail will be accurate and that she has rendered the past faithfully. For Heyer this meant creating fictional stories that were not merely set against a backdrop of historical scenes but that were actually dependent on the historical realities of the era. As in Scott, in Heyer’s novels, the history is an essential element of the books—an inherent part of the story, plot structure and writing technique; the historical past is so closely woven into the fictional story that the history cannot be extracted from the novels without destroying the textual entity. Unlike many modern category historical romances, Heyer’s romantic plots both depend upon and are informed by the historical past she depicts.

This is especially true in Sylvester, a novel which relies for part of its plot on Regency society’s attitudes to women. When Phoebe Marlow is told she is to receive an offer of marriage from the hero, Sylvester, she is aghast. She understands, however, that her social and domestic situation makes it impossible for her to refuse such an offer—even from a man she purports to despise. Heyer’s knowledge of the era, gleaned from her intensive reading of mainly primary source material (especially contemporary letters, diaries, journals and other eye-witness accounts) allowed her to develop her plot in keeping with the known customs and attitudes of the day.

At this point in the lecture it was necessary to explain to the students how Heyer’s specific knowledge of the social aspects of the Regency period pre-dated many of the comprehensive histories of the period. This is vital to understanding the nature of Heyer’s history and her portrait of the Regency. One of the reasons she stuck so closely to the primary sources was because in 1935, when she wrote her first Regency novel, Regency Buck, there were very few secondary sources about the period. Most writing about the era was incorporated into much larger histories of the nineteenth century or books on specific subjects such as the Napoleonic Wars.

An analysis of three major historical bibliographies (Royal Historical Society; Chaloner and Richardson; Brown and Christie) reveals that general recognition by historians of the “Regency” as a specific or distinctive historical period did not begin until the late 1940s (by which time Heyer had already written nine bestselling Regency novels). In the 1950s there was a gradual increase in written accounts of the era, with a more marked increase in historiographical interest occurring in the 1960s and 1970s, which has continued to the present day. From 1950 onwards there was a significant shift in the number of history books with the word “Regency” in their title. Whereas only twelve books were published with the word Regency in their title in the 120 years between 1830 and 1950, in the thirty years between 1950 and 1980, twenty-five books such books were published. Since then the number has grown exponentially (in fact, the increase from the late 1940s runs parallel to the huge growth in popularity of Heyer’s Regencies from 1944).

In Sylvester Heyer makes deliberate use of her knowledge of the era by drawing on the experience of the historical figure, Lady Caroline Lamb. Not only does Heyer refer directly to Lady Caroline and her novel Glenarvon in Sylvester, but she also has her fictional heroine Phoebe anonymously write her own scandalous roman à clef. This parallel juxtaposition of the factual and the fictional typifies Heyer’s approach to her writing. By constructing her novels with an invisible scaffolding of meticulous historical detail she strengthens the verisimilitude of the emotional drama (though only the most knowledgeable readers may be aware of it).

The tone, the style, the color with which history was written in the nineteenth century legitimized and strengthened Heyer’s own work. This is evident not only in her approach to research and her perception of the historical process, but also in the literary construction of her prose. Her form of history was not always so very far removed from the rhythm and language of the works of the great nineteenth-century historians such as Macaulay, Carlyle, and Froude. Heyer was not a historian, if a historian is defined as one who analyzes the past in order to solve a puzzle, or to explain the causes and consequences of a specific event or to clarify the evolution and significance of ideas and movements. She was not interested in “causation”—although a close reading suggests that she was interested in social realities (mainly for the upper class) such as class relations, marriage, money and the role of women. Nor was she an analyst or an explicator; she was a narrator of the past; though she was not a historian, her books are full of history: historical fact, people, events and a remarkable sense of period. She was not interested in critiquing her sources—either for their interpretation of the past or for the internal machinations of their writers’ minds. For her the sources were just that—sources: “authentic” records of past moments waiting to be perused by the researcher and mined for any relevant information which might contribute to the accurate reconstruction of some aspect of the past. Heyer was, in some ways, a consumer—rather than a practitioner—of historical research; she absorbed the historical past and understood it but she did not seek to explain it to her readers.

Ultimately, Heyer offered a picture of the Regency that was (and is) far more than a mere painted backdrop against which her characters perform: she created a carefully constructed social matrix (based on her understanding of the primary source material), which was true to the structure of the society about which she wrote. Heyer was rigorous in her application of historical fact within her chosen slice of the Regency period. By immersing herself in its broader economic, political and social structures as well as in its lively and engaging minutiae, she was able to create characters who not only “lived” within the Regency but whose (albeit fictional) lives were also shaped by its customs, manners and mores.

Lecture Summary: Fletcher

This lecture began by reading two brief 1958 reviews of Sylvester in order to introduce a focus on “romance.” Kirkus Reviews classifies Sylvester as “Another Regency Romp [which] pursues the obstacle course of true love in the marital stakes of Sylvester, Duke of Salford, and authoress-incognito, Miss Phoebe Marlow.” It concludes, “Nothing to put you in a gudgeon [sic] but a pleasant entertainment for Heyer’s following.” The review published in Library Journal is similar: “Period romance of Regency England. [. . .] All ends happily. Frothy, readable, and full of delightful Regency dialogue.” According to these reviews, Sylvester is an uncomplicated, formulaic novel. Neither reviewer takes Heyer’s novel very seriously, but treats it as a light read. For both reviewers, the novel’s defining feature is the love story between the Duke of Salford and Phoebe Marlow; historical detail (“delightful Regency dialogue”) provides the backdrop for the romance, but is not significant in itself. The reviews were a useful starting point because they invited students to consider Sylvester as a historical romance fiction and to examine the meaning and significance of the term “romance” in this context. In brief, this lecture raised and addressed the following questions:

  • What are the implications of describing Heyer as a “romance” novelist? Is this how critics usually classify her?
  • Heyer’s fiction has attracted very little attention in literary studies, certainly in comparison to popular genre writers such as her close contemporary Agatha Christie. To what extent is this neglect related to her reputation as a “romance” writer?
  • Does Heyer’s meticulously researched period detail simply provide the backdrop of a love story, which could be set in any time or place? Or, are the history and the romance ultimately inseparable?

The aim of this lecture was to encourage students to think more critically about their response to Sylvester; and to model the value of close textual analysis when developing arguments about popular romance texts. To this end, we used Gillian Beer’s broad definition of “romance” as a broad and diverse category of literature, which is unified by the “imaginative functions” of “escape” and “instruction.” These two terms were central to the first serious critical responses to Heyer: A.S. Byatt’s essays “Georgette Heyer is a Better Writer Than You Think” and “The Ferocious Reticence of Georgette Heyer.” Byatt writes, “the act of research was for Georgette Heyer, the act of recreating a past to inhabit” (“Ferocious” 37). Sylvester is an ideal text to include in “Fictions of History” because Heyer uses the form of the historical romance novel to reflect on her approach to combining historical and romantic elements, and to consider the role and responsibilities of the historical romance writer.

On the first page, Sylvester is introduced as a man who has forgotten the “lure” of medieval romances; “He and Harry, his twin, had slain the dragons, and ridden great wallops at the knights” (1). Sylvester is consistently described with reference to stock heroic figures from fairytale, but makes the mistake of assuming reality and romance are unrelated categories: “No bad fairy had attended his christening to leaven his luck with the gift of a hunchback or a harelip” (2). He mocks his mother’s belief in “love-matches” (23) and asks whether she would prefer him to behave “like the prince in a fairy-tale” (23). Soon after he says to his godmother “Now if you were a fairy godmother, ma’am, you would wave your wand and so conjure up exactly the bride I want!” (30). Sylvester may have forgotten how to play childhood games of knights and dragons—how to imaginatively inhabit a romance—but he is nonetheless cast by his mother and godmother as the knightly hero in a fairly standard romance plot. Sylvester shocks both women with his anti-romantic plans to marry; to be, in his words “leg-shackled” (11) to a “well-born girl of my own order” (12). But his “godlike” (4) manner is based on a misunderstanding of his role in writing his life story. Sylvester’s confidence that he can plan his transition from the “muslin company” (13) to the “Marriage Mart” is based on his faith that a man of his “rank, wealth, and elegance” (2) is in control. The name of his country estate—Chance—is an early hint in the novel that Sylvester is not necessarily the author of his own fate.

Clearly, on a thematic level, this novel is about novels and novel writing because the chief impediment to Phoebe’s romance with Sylvester is the publication of her novel The Lost Heir, which she and others describe as a “dashed silly book” (282), a “trumpery novel” (283) and a “wretched romance” (313). But Sylvester is also about romance authorship because of the roles played by Sylvester’s mother and godmother (the “Duchess” and the “Dowager”) in their “scheme” to match-make Sylvester and Phoebe. In fact “scheme” is the key word in this book. There is something gorgeously comic in the inclusion of these two women schemers—they are both immobilized by illness, so can’t inhabit the Regency world of the novel to the same degree as other characters. But they’re more in control of the course of events than anyone else. The Duchess is a published poet and the Dowager a careful and accomplished letter writer. So, in effect, they can be read as romance writers—as women like Heyer—possessing unparalleled knowledge of the Regency and its people, they bring the romance to its happy ending without the main players realizing the degree to which they have been manipulated.

The Dowager and the Duchess can be read as surrogates for Heyer within the fictional world. Stranded at the Blue Boar, Sylvester exclaims “I wonder why I embroiled myself in this affair” (101). Of course, he is in this affair because he has been set up by a conspiracy of romancers and their “skilful handling” (206). There are numerous examples of the characterization of the Dowager and the Duchess as romance authors, both in relation to the relationship between Phoebe and Sylvester and in relation to their portrayal of characters in Regency society more broadly: “Unusual: that was the epithet affixed to Miss Marlow. It emanated from Lady Ingham, but no one remembered that” (195).

This section of the lecture focused on the question: how is Phoebe’s literal authorship of her book The Lost Heir and of the Duke’s reputation as a wicked uncle related to Lady Ingham and the Duchess of Salford’s more figurative “authorship” of the romance between Phoebe and the Duke? In effect, all three of these women are rewarded for their roles as authors. The risk that Phoebe will be ruined is never genuine because her book is subsumed by the greater text of her “fairy godmothers’” scheme to marry her to a Duke. There is another “authoress” in the novel: Lady Henry Rayne. Ianthe tells stories to “blacken” her brother-in-law’s name. When Sylvester learns that Phoebe has been talking to Ianthe he asks “Did I figure as the Unfeeling Brother in Law or as the Wicked Uncle?” (192). Ianthe is the actual villain in this novel—vain, petty, unmotherly, seduced by a parody of the Regency hero, Sir Nugent Fotherby. The characterization of Fotherby is a further example of Heyer’s self-reflexive depiction of the Regency as a constructed fictional world. In order to encourage students to look for further metafictional elements in the novel, the lecture concluded by suggesting that they examine Heyer’s depiction of the relationship between genre and gender. For instance, Tom Orde assures Phoebe that Sylvester will never read The Lost Heir, because only “girls” are interested in such books. Soon after he is surprised—and disconcerted—to learn that Sylvester is an avid reader of novels exactly like Phoebe’s “wretched romance.” He shares his mother’s love for popular novels, for whom reading is her “greatest solace” (128).

4. Student Responses

Of the 84 students enrolled in this unit, 26 (31%) chose to write their 2500-word essay on Sylvester. Heyer was also a popular choice in the exam. For one of their exam questions students could choose to answer on Heyer, Shakespeare, or Sir Walter Scott and here 40% of students chose Sylvester. Predictably, although 24 students in the class were male (28%), only one male student chose Heyer for his essay and only four chose to write on Heyer in the exam. Of students with results within the top 15% of the class only one chose to write on Heyer for the essay, and three chose Heyer for the exam. These results suggest that Heyer appealed more to female students and that some of the more serious English students either preferred Shakespeare and Scott, or assumed the choice of more canonical writers might earn higher marks.

Students could choose one of the following broad questions to answer in relation to one or more of the set texts:

Essay Questions

  1. “When historical figures are the central figures in works of fiction, there is a danger that the novel will not present the atmosphere of the age, but a picture of an individual in that age . . . Ideally the protagonist of an historical novel should be a fictitious character within whom the wider and often conflicting pressures of the period can be seen at work.”
    Discuss with close reference to one or more of the texts studied in this unit.
  2. Discuss the representation of at least one category of difference (e.g. race, gender, class, religion) in one or more of the texts studied this semester. How does this relate to the text’s treatment of history?
  3. “Fictional texts which tell stories of the past are inherently contradictory because they cannot meet the competing demands of ‘literature’ and ‘history.’” Discuss with close reference to one or more of the texts studied this semester.

Five students chose to discuss Heyer in the context of question 3, but all other students chose question 2 and focused on gender and (less frequently) class. Nearly all students chose to focus on Sylvester alone, rather than comparing it to other texts in the unit. Results spanned the full range from fail to high distinction, but the small cluster of students choosing to discuss Heyer in relation to “the competing demands of ‘literature’ and ‘history’” did produce the strongest work. These students tended to engage more closely with the theorists introduced through the unit (including Georg Lukács and HaydenWhite) and grappled with the problem of reconciling Heyer’s meticulous historical research with her adherence to romance genre conventions.

Overwhelmingly students were interested in writing about the social restrictions placed on young women in Regency society, and many thought that Sylvester’s unconventional heroine, Phoebe, provided some critique of nineteenth-century gender roles and expectations. Essays generally revealed a limited understanding of the roles occupied by women in Regency society however, and a tendency to view all periods and societies prior to the present as consistently and similarly oppressive. Aspects of Sylvester that worried students included the depiction of Ianthe, particularly in regard to the implicit dismissal of her rights as a mother. According to one essay, “outrage on behalf of the reader at her neglect of Edmund is likely to obscure a more understated reality, which is that regardless of whether Ianthe was motherly or not, in the patriarchal world of the English Regency, a widowed woman’s child could be legally left to another male relative with no argument to be made about it.” The student maintained that in this particular instance Sylvester is “uncritically faithful to the sensibilities of the English Regency period.” A number of the more thoughtful essays on gender also argued that Heyer’s depiction of the pressures and constraints placed on young Regency women is complicated and/or compromised by the pleasures and expectations generated by the romance genre.

Students writing about class often demonstrated difficulty understanding the subtle social distinctions informing relationships in Sylvester, but many essays noted Heyer’s focus on aristocratic characters and found an uncritical acceptance of class difference in her work. One student wrote, “although Heyer makes the reader aware of the hierarchal society; it is, in her novels, essentially a happy and content hierarchy in gender and in class.” Students seemed generally well-informed about Regency fashion and manners, yet despite Kloester’s detailed introductory lecture, occasional references to Sylvester’s “eighteenth-century” or “Victorian” setting still cropped up. Overall the essays on Heyer reflected a strong engagement with the lectures, with several students citing details mentioned in Kloester’s lecture. Many mentioned the interesting preponderance of female authors in the text and some responded productively to Fletcher’s suggestion to explore its metafictional dimensions in further detail.

Although Sylvester did not appeal to all students (and some disliked it intensely), it proved a particularly useful text for tutorial teaching. Most classes contained some dedicated Heyer fans and the range of impassioned responses for and against Sylvester generated lively debate. Perhaps the most important function the text served within the unit was that it operated as an excellent touchstone for measuring the other texts and for considering the various themes of the course. Students were struck, for example, by the contrast that emerged between Scott’s intrusive omniscient narrator in Ivanhoe, whose nineteenth-century view of twelfth-century attitudes is always obvious, and Heyer’s more discreet use of free indirect discourse to guide responses to her characters. Sylvester was followed in the course by J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur and again the contrast in narrative style and tone helped students to recognize and appreciate Farrell’s ironic late-twentieth century take on a nineteenth-century colonial world view. Interestingly, questions about the depiction of heroism, masculinity and British nationalism that arose in relation to the other texts in the unit also proved apposite for Sylvester. By the end of the course most students acknowledged that the inclusion of a popular historical romance added breadth to their understanding of the development and range of historical fiction. Sylvester helped to focalize questions about the relationship between fiction and history; about what constitutes valid subject matter for both history and fiction; and about how writers of fiction shape our understanding of the past.

Works Cited

Beer, Gillian. The Romance. London: Methuen, 1986. Print.

Brown, Lucy M. and Ian R. Christie, ed. Bibliography of British History 1789 – 1851. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977. Print.

Byatt, A.S. “The Ferocious Reticence of Georgette Heyer.” 1975. Fahnestock-Thomas 289-303. Print.

—. “Georgette Heyer is a Better Novelist Than You Think.” 1969. Fahnestock-Thomas 270-78. Print.

Carlyle, Thomas. The French Revolution: A History. London: J.M. Dent, 1929. Print.

Chaloner, W.H. and Richardson, R.C. Bibliography of British Economic and Social History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984. Print.

Elam, Diane. Romancing the Postmodern. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Fahnestock-Thomas, Mary, ed. Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective. Saraland, AL: PrinnyWorld, 2001. Print.

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

Froude, James A. History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth. London: J.W. Parker, 1856-70. Print.

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

Heyer, Georgette. Sylvester. 1957. London: Arrow, 2004. Print.

Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer’s Regency World. 2005. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2010. Print.

Lukács, Georg. The Historical Novel. 1937. Trans. Hannah Mitchell and Stanley Mitchell. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1983. Print.

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. The History of England from the Accession of James II. London: J.M. Dent, 1912. Print.

Royal Historical Society. Writings on British History 1901-1933, Volume 5:1825-1914 and Appendix. London: Jonathan Cape, 1980. Print.

White, Hayden. The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987. Print.

[1] A similar argument drives the teaching of popular romance texts in two other advanced-level units taught by Lisa Fletcher at UTAS: “Popular Fiction: From Page to Screen,” and “Cinema, Costumes and Sexuality,” in which students read romance novels and films under the rubrics of “popular fiction studies” and “feminist film theory.”

[2] The tutorials in this unit were run by Gaby and Guinevere Narraway. We would like to acknowledge Guinevere’s contribution to the planning and research for this paper.


“There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre” by Laura Vivanco and Kyra Kramer

Modern romance novels written in English have a pedigree which stretches back to the eighteenth century:

Harlequins can be traced back through the work of Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen to the sentimental novel and ultimately […] to the novels of Samuel Richardson, whose Pamela is considered by many scholars to be the first British novel (it was also the first English novel printed in America). (Modleski 15)[1]

Defined as novels in which “The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work” (RWA) and which conclude with “an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending” (RWA), romances constitute a genre which, despite being “so stable in its form” (Regis 207), has not remained unchanged: “Although the base plot […] remains constant, themes vary from decade to decade and author to author” (Dixon 8). With regard to the portrayal of sexuality in the genre, however, it has been suggested that although many modern romances “portray human sexuality more explicitly than in the past, […] assumptions about male sexuality […] have not altered as much as one might expect from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela to one of last month’s Harlequin Romances” (Mussell 4). It has also been argued that “the popular romance genre since 1972 has been divided into two basic types — the sweet romance and the erotic romance — with the fundamental difference between them being the presence or absence of specific sexual behavioral norms and explicit sexual activities” (Thurston 7). We have examined primary texts in English which span more than two centuries, and which include both “sweet” and more explicit romances, in order to explore some of the continuities and variations that exist in the interactions between the bodies of the “individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.”

Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret M. Lock’s “The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology” provides a framework within which many of the existing analyses of the physical appearances, social statuses, and sexual behaviours of the characters in romance novels can be pieced together to reveal differing models of romantic relationships. Scheper-Hughes and Lock’s essay, which draws on Michel Foucault’s theories about the body, can be summarised thus:

The human body is both naturally and culturally produced, and each body has three distinct points of analysis and perspective […]. While the most obvious body is the individual body, or the embodied self, the human body is also a social body and a political body. (Kramer)

This tripartite approach to understanding the human body can usefully be applied to the protagonists of romance novels. We can think of them as individuals with physical bodies (the individual body), as representations of cultural identities (the social body), and as characters existing in a particular political context (the political body). Each character’s three bodies can be conceptualised and analysed separately, but they exist simultaneously and therefore, as we shall see, a description of a character’s appearance in the least sexually explicit of romances may nonetheless intimate much about the sexuality of his or her social body.

Since each protagonist has three bodies, there are six bodies in a monogamous romantic relationship. Although we will discuss all six bodies, our discussion will centre around some socio-sexual aspects of the social bodies and a few socio-political elements of the political bodies. We focus in particular on one configuration of the six bodies which is both extremely common in modern romances and has a long history within the genre, and then briefly discuss a few alternative configurations, some of which are relatively recent innovations and others of which have been present in romantic fiction for centuries.

The Individual Body

As humans, we understand that we have a body; our consciousness is embodied in a physical self. This is the individual body, an “expectant canvas of human flesh” (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 10). The individual bodies of heroines vary, and one may have “a pair of fine eyes” (Austen, Pride 73) while another has a “lush lower lip and unblemished skin” (Lindsey 65), but “some indication, however slight, of the heroine’s physical attributes has always been an important part of the romantic novel” (Anderson 85). Social beliefs are inscribed on the “expectant canvas” of the body as soon as value judgements are included in the description. A heroine’s appearance, for example, may be compared to particular ideals of feminine beauty and attractiveness:

Was he looking at her nose? ‘Strong’ was the euphemism that people tossed around but Grace knew what she saw in the mirror every morning. Her nose was too big for the perfect oval of her face, too distinctive. Like her height, another ‘advantage’ that she had been encouraged to flaunt rather than conceal. She knew without vanity that she was beautiful, but not in the classical sense of the word. Her features taken piece by piece were far from perfect — apart from her nose, her blue eyes were too widely spaced, her mouth too full — but together with her gleaming cap of midnight-black hair they formed a striking whole. Her beauty was ‘unique’ and in this era of mass-production uniqueness had an inflationary value. (Napier 6)

Ann Barr Snitow has suggested that “There are more descriptions of his [the hero’s] body than of hers [the heroine’s]” (248), and although

The body of the romantic hero may represent an ideal of masculine beauty, […] beauty here is the equivalent of physical strength, and physical strength itself becomes a sign of something more, a definition of authentic virility as a power that is always scarcely contained. (Cook 155)

Descriptions of a hero whose “Iron-hewed strength rippled from every muscle” (Lindsey 47), or whose “gold-blond hair had been cut military short, a style that looked both severe and sexy” (Mallery 19), certainly call attention to his strength (which may be a component of his socio-political body) and to the potent sexuality of his socio-sexual body.

Since sexual desire is such an important part of romantic relationships, it is unsurprising that even in “sweet” romances, or in scenes which involve non-sexual activity, descriptions of the protagonists’ individual bodies are often overlaid by references to their socio-sexual bodies:

Harlequins revitalize daily routines by insisting that a woman combing her hair, a woman reaching up to put a plate on a high shelf (so that her knees show beneath the hem, if only there were a viewer), a woman doing what women do all day, is in a constant state of potential sexuality. (Snitow 249)

Bodies are more than flesh, blood, and bone: the social and political bodies co-exist with, and are written on, the individual body.

The Social Body

The social body can be thought of as the way in which the individual body relates to its cultural context. Descriptions of the protagonists’ clothing and adornments can be particularly helpful in revealing the social body. In Johanna Lindsey’s Defy Not the Heart, for example, we are told that the hero’s preference for “simple attire said a lot for his character” (274). His avoidance of ostentatious dress reveals his lack of vanity and is a culturally approved masculine behaviour, albeit perhaps a historically anachronistic one for a novel set in the Middle Ages.[2] Clothing may thus assist both in distinguishing between male and female individual bodies and in increasing or decreasing the former’s masculinity and the latter’s femininity, for although “The ‘naturalness’ of gender is constantly invoked, […] masculinity and femininity are disciplines of the body that require work” (King 33). Women, for example, are expected to construct their social bodies through how they dress and adorn themselves. In turn, “Cultural constructions of and about the body are useful in sustaining particular views of society and social relations” (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 19), and women’s fashion has been deemed problematic by many feminists because it can reinforce negative images of women:

Turning woman into an ornamented surface requires an enormous amount of discipline and can cause discomfort, not to mention untold feelings of inadequacy. […] Female styles over the years have also served to confirm myths about woman: as duplicitous, over-sexualised temptress; delicate and weak or narcissistic, frivolous and obsessed with trivialities. (King 36)

Culturally constructed “ideas about men and women, their appropriate behaviors and attributes, and their relations to each other” are called “gender ideologies” (Blackwood 240-41). Despite the fluid nature of gender across cultures, each culture’s ideologies about gender tend to assume that gender is natural, inherent, and determined by a person’s sex at birth. For example, “the social sciences in the postwar period […] posited women as expressive (emotional) and men as instrumental (pragmatic, rational, and cognitive)” (Gutmann 388). Cross-cultural studies have found that

most societies hold consensual ideas — guiding or admonitory images — for conventional masculinity and femininity by which individuals are judged worthy members of one or the other sex […]. Such ideal statuses and their attendant images, or models, often become psychic anchors, or psychological identities, for most individuals, serving as a basis for self-perception. (Gilmore 208)

Masculinity can be defined as “anything men think and do to be men” (Gutmann 386, emphasis added). In many societies, perhaps even all cultures, “there is a constantly recurring notion that real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness” (Gilmore 208) and that manhood must be earned or achieved in particular ways. After his first experience of sexual intercourse, for example, a rare virginal romance hero tells his heroine that “I gave you my virginity; you gave me my manhood” (Napier 133). Zilbergeld suggests that sexuality is an area in which men feel under particular pressure to earn and demonstrate manhood:

One of the cornerstones of the masculine stereotype in our society is that a man is one who has no doubts, questions, or confusion about sex, and that a real man knows how to have good sex and does so frequently. For a man to ask a question about sex, thereby revealing ignorance, or to express concern, or to admit to a problem is to risk being thought something less than a man. (5)

Manhood, then, is a status which once achieved must be maintained, and it therefore appears to be a status more easily lost by males than womanhood is by females. Jo Beverley’s Cyn Malloren, for example, must frequently fight to maintain his manhood because his individual body constantly calls it into question:

Despite all evidence to the contrary people would persist in seeing him as fragile, even his family who certainly should know better. […] As a boy he’d believed age would toughen his looks, but at twenty-four, a veteran of Quebec and Louisbourg, he was still disgustingly pretty. He had to fight duels with nearly every new officer in the regiment to establish his manhood. (6)

As Gilmore has observed,

femininity seems to be judged differently. It usually involves questions of body ornament or sexual allure, or other essentially cosmetic behaviors that enhance, rather than create, an inherent quality of character […], femininity is more often construed as a biological given that is culturally refined or augmented. (208-09)

Even if she chooses not to augment her femininity but instead performs actions and behaviours associated with masculinity, a heroine may do so without losing her womanhood. In E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, for example, Diana Mayo’s “boyish directness” (6) and the fact that she is “far more at home” (14) in “smart-cut breeches and high brown boots” (13) than in “pretty dresses” (14) are the result of having been “brought up as a boy” (9). Nonetheless, “Diana Mayo, with the clothes and manners of a boy, was really an uncommonly beautiful young woman” (17), and one who at a ball can be found “ten deep in would-be partners” (3). By contrast, cross-dressing heroes are extremely rare, and if a hero acts in ways which are associated with femininity, this will tend to be dealt with circumspectly, so as not to impugn his masculinity. Cyn Malloren may disguise himself as a woman for a time, but he does so to play “knight-errant” (Beverley 25) to a “damsel in distress” (28). He is an experienced soldier, and the reader is aware that beneath the feminine dress he has chosen to wear, his individual body bears witness to his masculine socio-political and socio-sexual bodies: “He had a scar across his chest which it seemed no woman could ignore. It came from a minor wound, a long shallow saber cut, but it looked dramatic” (31). The scar is described in considerable detail while Cyn is dressing in “female garments” (58) for the first time and the reader is again told that women find it irresistible, thus emphasising the masculinity of Cyn’s socio-sexual body: “All the women who had been favored with a glimpse of it had been impelled to touch it, […] some with a finger, some with their mouths” (58). It also provides information about his socio-political body: seeing the scar convinces the heroine that “you really are a soldier” (59). In addition, even in disguise “His jaw was a little too square, his cheeks too lean. He carefully applied rouge to them, and was heartened to realize that for once he looked too masculine” (65). In another romance, analysed by Mary M. Talbot, it is the hero’s choice of profession which poses a threat to his masculinity since

Artists are assumed to be male, but at the same time there is some sort of problem with having an artist as hero. There is a shadow of doubt cast on the gender identity of artists. Being artistic is not masculine. The two identities sit uneasily together; there is a suspicion of homosexuality or, less serious but still quite unsuitable, being ‘weird’. He is made ‘whole’ by the label Anna attaches to him: ‘He’s a portrait painter’. The hero […] is established as artist but reassuringly masculine, meaning heterosexual. (93)

Sexualities of the Social Bodies

Gender ideologies create, and are simultaneously created by, beliefs about human sexuality. There are deeply ingrained cultural beliefs about the differences between male and female sexuality (Kane and Schippers). A clergyman in Richardson’s Pamela, for example, attempts to excuse Mr. B.’s abduction and intended rape or seduction of Pamela on the grounds that “’tis what all young Gentlemen will do” (135). These differences, however, may not all have biological causes: “Foucault […], Tiefer […], and others have argued that sexuality is constructed within particular sociocultural contexts and discourses” (Gilbert, Walker, McKinney, and Snell 755). Far from being entirely innate,

sexual potential takes its form through a number of social processes, including ideologies of religion or ritual, ethnicity, class, gender, family, and reproduction, as well as the material and social conditions of everyday life. These processes provide the interpretive context for sexual feelings, desires and longings. (Blackwood 237)

Women have long been constructed as sexually “feeble and passive, literally a receptacle for the desires of the male” (King 31). This may explain why so many romance heroines, particularly in older romances, are virgins who are initiated into sexual activity by a romance hero, although thereafter they may enjoy sex immensely. Romance author Doreen Owens Malek argues that the heroine’s virginity is important because

virginity is a gift that can only be given once, and it is ideally bestowed on a woman’s great love. This giving of virginity adds an immeasurable element of drama and power to the story. It changes the heroine, of course, but in romance novels it also changes the hero. (118)

It is significant that Owens Malek only discusses the virginity of female characters. Virginal heroes do exist in the genre, but as acknowledged in a short questionnaire which Mills & Boon appended to Susan Napier’s Secret Admirer, “Many heroines in our stories are virgins, but it is rare for the hero to be sexually inexperienced.” In Owens Malek’s description of virginity there is no suggestion that the hero might be a virgin whose virginity would be considered a “gift that can only be given once” and would change the heroine. Napier’s virgin hero, Scott Gregory, does, however, use this kind of language:

‘Couldn’t you tell, Grace? Was my gift such a paltry thing? I thought one’s partner could always tell.’ […]

‘What gift? T-tell-what?’ she stammered […]

‘Why, that it was my first time, of course.’ (133)

If we reword the quotation from Talbot which we cited earlier in the essay, so that “artist” is replaced by “male virgin,” we can say that this gender reversal casts

a shadow of doubt […] on the gender identity of [male virgins]. Being [a male virgin] is not masculine. The two identities sit uneasily together; there is a suspicion of homosexuality or, less serious but still quite unsuitable, being ‘weird’. (93)

Grace, in her attempt to reconcile Scott’s claim of virginity with the knowledge that he has “been out with lots of women” (139), eventually asks “Are you homosexual?” (140) but Napier has already defused most of the suspicions about Scott’s sexuality and masculine identity by ensuring that the revelation occurs after Scott has lost his virginity and demonstrated that in all other respects his sexual behaviour is identical to that of a great many other romance heroes. Having literally, as well as emotionally, chased the heroine until she surrendered to him:

His desire […] had proved insatiable. And, although the second and third time they made love it was not with the stunning speed of the first, it was still fiercely, gloriously energetic. […] He made her feel unutterably sexy […]. In short, he was every bit the fantastic lover. (131)

By taking the lead in initiating sex, ensuring that his partner experiences hitherto unknown heights of pleasure, and demonstrating the stamina necessary to repeat the experience several times in one night, Scott has proved that he is indeed a man.

The group of cultural beliefs about masculine sexuality known as the

male sexual drive discourse was identified by Hollway […]. Zilbergeld […] identified the following themes: sex is a male performance; the man is responsible for orchestrating sex; a man always wants and is always ready to have sex; for a man, all physical contact must lead to sex; and birth control is the woman’s responsibility. Similarly, Reinholtz et al. […] included the following in their list of common themes in communication about sexuality: male sexuality as uncontrollable, female responsibility for male sexuality, sex as a force of nature, and men as dominant and women as submissive. These researchers also identified a theme they labeled, “romance,” the cultural notion that when two people “fall in love,” sex automatically follows and cannot be controlled by rational consideration. (Gilbert, Walker, McKinney, and Snell 755-56)

With the possible exception of ideas surrounding contraception, since modern romance heroes often take responsibility for providing condoms, these beliefs about gendered sexuality frequently appear to underlie the sexual behaviour of characters in the romance genre. However, although “both men and women perceive men’s sexual drives as greater than women’s” (Kane and Schippers 655), there is

a clear and consistent pattern of gender differences in beliefs […] related to sexual power […]. Women are much more likely to see men’s sexual power as greater than their own, while men are much more likely than women to hold the view that women’s sexual power is greater. […] In terms of value judgments regarding power differentials, both men and women are likely to see the other group as too powerful. (Kane and Schippers 655)

In the romance genre, however, perhaps because it often offers “a fantasy of female empowerment” (Phillips 55), the heroine will tend to possess “an unrelenting and absolute power […] over the hero’s mind and body. The conventional line is often literally ‘No other woman had affected him like this before’” (Johnson-Kurek 127). It is possible for a hero to resist the power of the heroine’s allure. He may even seek to deny the possibility of any attraction, as Darcy does when he states that “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (Austen, Pride 59). He cannot, however, resist indefinitely and Darcy eventually confesses to Elizabeth Bennet that “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (221). If she is aware of the attraction the hero feels towards her, a heroine may exult in it:

his mouth, hard and hungry, fell upon hers, dragging over her lips as though to punish her.

But what Jessica tasted was victory. She felt it in the heat he couldn’t disguise, and in the pulsing tension of his frame, and she heard it clear as any declaration when his tongue pushed impatiently for entry.

He wanted her. (Chase 160)

Madeline has a similar response to the evidence of her hero’s desire:

She’d seen the desire that flamed in his eyes when he held her. She’d felt the tremors in his arms and heard the pounding of his heart. A heady sense of feminine power shimmered in her veins. It thrilled her that she could cause such a reaction and made her eager to test her power over him once again. (Lovelace 133)

The Mighty Wang

Each of these heroines has aroused her hero’s Mighty Wang. The term “Mighty Wang” (Wendell and Tan 36) was coined by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan as a humorous way to describe the extremely large and effective sexual organ possessed by many a romance hero. The Mighty Wang (MW) can also be thought of as a symbol of the male sexual drive discourse: it is a penis functioning as a symbol of the ideal masculine socio-sexual body. The term “MW,” as it is used in this paper, will refer not to the individual body’s penis, but to the hero’s socio-sexual body. The appropriation of the name of this particular body-part to refer to the whole of a hero’s socio-sexual body seems particularly apt given that in romances there is frequent “use of the personal pronouns — me, he, him, himself — to signify this body part […]. The seemingly unavoidable use of these pronouns is a […] curious euphemistic practice because it equates the man’s penis with the man himself” (Johnson-Kurek 119). The sentence “She cradled the rigid length of him in her palm” (Castle 172) is an example of this kind of writing: the part seems to become the whole. Conversely, when the reader is told that a hero’s body has “Long, long legs, […] a broad back that went on forever, all golden-skinned and rock-hard” (Lindsey 47), the allusion to another part of the hero that might be long, broad, and hard is not subtle.[3]

When the MW performs acts which are common to the male sexual drive discourse, he is giving a demonstration of the socio-cultural attributes of masculine sexuality. Although Austen is so discreet about these matters that the reader is left to surmise what she or he will about the precise ways in which “the utmost force of passion” (Pride 228) might be expressed physically, many of the more explicit modern romances take the reader into the bedroom to observe the MW in action; it is not uncommon for the hero’s penis to be, if not quite “Two Feet Long, Hard As Steel, And Can Go All Night,” as described in the title of Zilbergeld’s chapter on “The Fantasy Model of Sex,” at least unusually large, hard, and possessed of immense stamina. Although Zilbergeld was writing in 1978, his comment that “Much of the explicitness of recent […] fiction serves only to give more detailed presentations of the same old myths” (53) continues to ring true in relation to the romance genre. The size of Ranulf’s penis, for example, is implied when, prior to his second sexual encounter with Reina he partially reassures her by reminding her that “you have withstood my size once without dying” (Lindsey 177) and Dain fears that his immense organ will damage his virgin wife: “His lust-swollen rod strained furiously against his trousers, a great, monstrous invader that would tear her to pieces” (Chase 223).

The MW exists “in a state of constant hornytoad” (Wendell and Tan 84) and Wendell and Tan have noted its immense stamina:

There is a concept of recovery time that never really affects the romance hero, and thus casts mortal men with normal turgid boners in a shameful light, because immediately after having a great orgasm, real men need at least a half hour before they can think about going another round. (167)

Another of the characteristics of the MW as it appears in more explicit romances is that it can “Elevate sexual intercourse to near heavenly experiences, one orgasm at a time” (Wendell and Tan 84). During Clare’s first experience of sexual intercourse, for example, she experiences “passion without subtlety: a primal, desperate need for union that swept them both into the heart of the storm” (Putney 292). This, however, is merely “a synopsis” (300), and “the unabridged version” (300) which follows is so intensely pleasurable that afterwards Clare murmurs “This could make someone forget about God, for it is hard to imagine that heaven can offer anything more” (301). If the heroine is sexually experienced, she has generally never had sex quite as good as the sex she has with the MW. In Merline Lovelace’s His Lady’s Ransom, for example, Madeline, despite “Having twice been wed, […] was yet a stranger to the feeling that suddenly coursed through her at the sight of this tall, broad-shouldered man” (29-30) and the contrast is even greater once they actually reach the bedroom:

her first lord, as gentle as he’d been with her young innocence, had lacked either the skill or the stamina to hold himself in check. And in his eagerness, her second lord had all but spilled himself afore he got his braies off. But Ian had wrung responses from her she’d never dreamed she was capable of. (226)

In less explicit romances, the description of the MW’s kisses may seem to foreshadow the even greater delights still in store for the heroine. Germaine Greer once sarcastically commented of a Barbara Cartland romance that “when handkissing results in orgasm it is possible that an actual kiss might bring on epilepsy” (178). Cartland did not, of course, write a scene in which handkissing literally resulted in orgasm but she did use hyperbolic language to describe the intensely pleasurable sensations experienced by her heroines while kissing:

his mouth came down on hers […] and it was even more wonderful than she had thought it could be.

She had not imagined a kiss could make her feel as if a streak of sunlight ran through her body, making her pulsatingly alive. (Cartland, Problems 138)

The heroine of Beverly Jenkins’s Josephine experiences similarly intense sensations while being kissed by a MW:

Her whole world seemed to have come alive in response to his kisses. Now she understood how a girl could become overwhelmed and allow a boy to take liberties he shouldn’t. The soaring sensations and rising emotions were so exciting, Jo didn’t want to stop.

They had to, however, and they both knew it. (227)

In Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, the pleasure and power of the MW’s embrace almost render the heroine unconscious:

He had caught her in his arms so fiercely that the breath was almost crushed out of her. His dark face swam before her eyes for an instant, then his mouth was locked to hers, in a kiss so hard that her lips felt bruised. She yielded, carried away half-swooning on the tide of his passion. (277)

Another way in which the sexual potency of the MW may be revealed is via a description of the hero’s sexual history: Richardson’s Mr. B. has an illegitimate child by a woman he seduced; Cartland’s Duc de Savigne has had many liaisons with “women whom he takes up on an impulse and apparently without any consideration for their feelings, discards […] as soon as they bore him” (Love 8); and another hero, prior to meeting his heroine, “took what the wenches threw at him, never doubt it” (Lindsey 223). While multitudes of former sexual partners can serve as a demonstration of the MW’s allure, this can also be expressed via descriptions of women who find the hero attractive but who may not have had direct experience of his sexual prowess. Mr. B., for example, “is admir’d, as I know, by half a dozen Ladies” (Richardson 41) while Adam Morgan is “a young man accustomed to having young ladies jump at his beck and call” (Jenkins 176) who has “never had a young lady throw my interest back in my face” (188). Given the number of willing females available to him, it takes a very special woman to capture the MW’s permanent attention: a woman with a Glittery HooHa.

The Glittery HooHa

Although the term “Glittery HooHa” (GHH) “emerged at the internet discussion board Television Without Pity” (Vivanco) between 2004 and 2006, authors have long been describing heroines as glowing, sparkling and glittering. Pamela has “speaking Eyes” which can “overflow” with tears “without losing any of their Brilliancy!” (Richardson 186) and we learn of Syrilla that

there was something more than mere beauty about her, he thought, which made her different from other women.

It was the fact that she was so intensely alive, and that when she was animated she seemed almost to sparkle as she spoke, while her eyes shone as if they had captured the sunlight. (Cartland, Love 81)

A more recent example of a glittering heroine is Jo Best, whose “dark unblemished skin glowed with health and beauty. She was by far the most radiant young woman he’d ever had the pleasure of knowing” (Jenkins 123).

The GHH is a symbol of the female socio-sexual body and in particular of female sexual allure. Its glitter indicates the desirability of the heroine’s socio-sexual body. When Mr. B. states that Pamela is “so pretty, that go where you will, you will never be free from the Designs of some or other of our Sex” (Richardson 87), he is revealing that he himself has some quite definitely sexual “Designs” upon her GHH. Austen is much more reticent about sexual matters and Darcy has no immoral “Designs” on Elizabeth, but when he notices “the beautiful expression of her dark eyes” (Pride 70) and is “forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing” (70), it is evident that despite having initially “looked at her only to criticise” (70), he is unable to deny the growing attraction he feels towards her GHH. As is demonstrated by Pride and Prejudice, there is no need for a heroine to be either the most beautiful woman in the novel, or one whom all men find irresistible. What matters is the special effect her GHH has on the hero:

A woman with a hooha as glittery as this girl merely needs to walk around as glitter falls from her netherparts, leaving a trail for Our Hero to follow. And once he finds her, it only takes one dip in the Glittery HooHa to snare him forever. […] For yea, no matter how many hoohas he might see, never will there be one as glittery as hers. (Crusie, Stuart, and Rich 237)

The heroine’s GHH is not merely sexually alluring; it is powerful enough to render a MW monogamous. Even while the attraction remains unconsummated and the hero’s physical penis (which is part of his individual body) has not penetrated the “hooha” or vagina (which is part of the heroine’s individual body), it is not uncommon for the hero to realise that his MW is no longer attracted to other women and their less glittery GHHs. Cyn Malloren “found he had difficulty imagining being aroused by any woman other than this one” (Beverley 68). In Diana Palmer’s Silent Night Man, the hero sets up a date with a woman who is not the heroine. She kisses him, and “In the old days, that would have set the fires burning. But not tonight” (85). That, and his inability to concentrate on anything except the heroine, enable the woman to reach an accurate diagnosis:

“Poor man,” she sighed. She reached up and kissed his cheek. “I guess we all meet our Waterloo someday. Looks like this is yours.” […] That same thought was only beginning to form in his own mind. He smiled sheepishly. (86)

In romance, then, it is often “the heroine’s task to remake male sexuality, to subordinate it […] to love” (Cohn 30) and her success is made possible by her GHH.

Not all romance heroes need their sexuality to be “remade” in the same way. Some heroes have repressed, rather than hyperactive, MWs. Heyer’s Simon the Coldheart, for example, states that “There is no place for women in my life, and no liking for women in my breast” (16). In this case, the GHH regulates the MW by bringing forth a “new-born passion” (298). In Napier’s Secret Admirer, the hero’s sexuality was affected by his step-mother who, when he “turned fifteen […] decided that it was time I was taught the facts of life … on a practical basis” (154). Sent to a private boarding school by his father as punishment for what was assumed to be the attempted rape of his step-mother, Scott found that his “guilt and revulsion about sex in general was reinforced by the crude boastings in the dorm” (156). After that, he “never felt so strongly attracted to any one […] that I was willing to allow myself to be vulnerable” (158), but the heroine’s GHH changes his attitude towards sex. Whether hyper-sexual and promiscuous, or repressed and underused, the MW is attracted to, and then regulated by, the GHH.

Although the GHH is irresistible to the MW, the MW is also extremely attractive to the GHH. In some cases “The hero’s proximity alone can send the blood pounding through her veins, make her hands tremble, deprive her of speech and reason” (Douglas 26). In Anne Herries’s Captive of the Harem, the heroine expresses this attraction in terms of magic:

The sweetness of that kiss had surprised her, and aroused a longing for something that she did not understand, robbing her of the will to resist him. She had felt as though he cast a magic spell over her by some sorcery — was it this that made so many of the harem women eager for his notice? (99)

The heroine, who is generally unaware of the extent of her GHH’s power over the MW, may initially fear the “magic spell” cast by the MW. Such fears are not unfounded. In Barbara Samuel’s The Love Talker, in which the hero is quite literally a magical being, we are given a description of the full extent of the damage a MW can cause to women whose GHHs are not glittery enough to tame it:

The Love Talker is a fixture of Irish faery lore, a seductive and dangerous being indeed, a conscienceless faery who ravishes the senses of unsuspecting women and leaves them to pine away to their deaths. In all the poems and stories, he is the King of Rakes, a libertine of unholy power. (195)

This reflects the way in which male sexuality is culturally constructed as an active, unemotional, possibly dangerous part of masculine behaviour.

In a romance novel, the sexual desires and activities of a hero and heroine often reveal their growing emotional attachment, but how, when, where, and with whom the protagonists have sex, as well as the ramifications of their sexual activity, can express socio-cultural ideologies about what constitutes “ideal” sexuality.

The Political Body

Sex is not simply an activity engaged in by individual bodies: “Cultures are disciplines that provide codes and social scripts for the domestication of the individual body in conformity to the needs of the social and political order” (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 26). These codes and scripts are often translated into law, making it illegal to go against the cultural definition of normality. One of the most significant differences between the social body and the political body is that while the social body may be subjected to cultural sanctions, such as being socially marginalised, the political body may be disciplined by the state, especially through imprisonment.

Romances, however, generally conclude with the political bodies of the protagonists being rewarded. One of the key narrative elements of a romance is the “betrothal,” a “scene or scenes” in which “the hero asks the heroine to marry him and she accepts; or the heroine asks the hero, and he accepts” (Regis 37).[4] Marriage, or even the promise of marriage, gives both cultural and legal recognition to their relationship and legitimises the joining of their social and political bodies as well as of their individual bodies. In romances the pairing of the hero and heroine’s individual bodies, and of the MW and GHH, is complemented by the pairing of their socio-political bodies, which we shall call the Phallus and the Prism.

The Phallus in Romance

Teresa Ebert has described the romance hero as the personification of the Phallus:

The phallus […] is ideologically disguised as a full, embodied presence. […] Harlequin Romances, for example, are saturated with representations of the male anatomical organ. These representations take the form of tropic substitutions for the penis, as in such descriptions of the hero as “straight and tall, as brown and unbending as the monster trees rearing … behind him,” and “the erect masculine figure astride the horse”; or, more directly, “the thrusting weight of steel-hard thighs and hips.” These images […] reify the penis and thus mystify male power, sensuality, and sexual difference as physical and natural, while concealing the production of the phallus as signifier as well as the construction of male prowess and privilege in signification behind the naturalized penis. (34)

Perhaps the conflation of the Phallus with the penis occurs because while “generally ethnographers have concluded that few men actually equate their manhood with their genitalia, nonetheless many studies indicate that they are a favorite point of reference” (Gutmann 396). Regardless of the cause of the conflation,

The penis is what men have and women do not; the phallus is the attribute of power which neither men nor women have. But as long as the attribute of power is a phallus which refers to and can be confused […] with a penis, this confusion will support a structure in which it seems reasonable that men have power and women do not. (Gallop 97)

In this essay the “Phallus” refers to the socio-political body which expresses aspects of masculinity associated with the Father, such as authority, the capacity to administer punishment, and the ability to love and care for those under his protection. If a full range of Phallic traits is evinced by a hero then his socio-political body is a Completed Phallus.

At the beginning of a romance novel, however, most heroes have Incomplete Phalluses. Such heroes tend to demonstrate authoritarian or aggressive aspects of Phallic masculinity, including “the threat of violence, the law-giving nature, the ownership of the world, a power vested in physical presence” (Cook 154), and few of the softer qualities, such as care-giving. In a romance in which the Incomplete Phallus displays many of the negative characteristics of men in patriarchal culture, the hero of the romance can also be “its villain, a potent symbol of all the obstacles life presents to women” (Phillips 57). In Lindsey’s Defy Not the Heart, the hero abducts the heroine on another man’s behalf before marrying her himself, and in Napier’s Secret Admirer the hero poses a threat on a business level because he’s “powerful enough to destroy us if he wants to — he’s done it before to other companies” (22). Not infrequently the heroine is wary of the Incomplete Phallus, and rightly so, since he may attempt to use his power and authority to imprison or coerce her. In Lovelace’s His Lady’s Ransom, for example, the hero is convinced that the heroine is nothing more than a GHH to be controlled and has her confined within an isolated castle. In other romances the MW and Incomplete Phallus may work in conjunction, through rape or sexual assault, to assert their dominance over the heroine. This is the case in Richardson’s Pamela, in which the hero attempts to rape the heroine, and in E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, in which the hero succeeds in such attempts.[5] More recent romances do not tend to include rapes of the heroine by the hero, but one can still find “ritual” versions, such as a punishing kiss which serves to demonstrate the social status and/or physical power of the Incomplete Phallus, and the sexual potency of the MW.

The Incomplete Phallus tends to have obtained his power and authority from one or more typically male-dominated cultural areas. He frequently has high social status (e.g. Duke, Sheik), wealth (billionaire, tycoon), or both. With or without wealth, he usually displays fighting skills or at least physical strength (SEAL, warrior, cowboy). In his most obviously patriarchal guise he has the ability to regulate society by enforcing the law (police officer, sheriff), or he may try to perfect society by fighting a corrupt system (outlaw, spy, private detective). There are, of course, other professions open to heroes, but many of them seem to involve power in forms strongly associated with masculinity.

Many Incomplete Phalluses lack emotional connection to others, but this lack can manifest itself in a number of different ways. A hero with a very strong MW and a very Incomplete Phallus may be a rake who spends much of his time engaging in sexual activity, as Dain does in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels:

He lusted for virtually every attractive female he saw. He had a prodigious sexual appetite […]. If he lusted for a whore, he paid her and had her. If he lusted for a respectable female, he found a whore as a substitute, paid her, and had her. (49)

In slightly less extreme cases this type of hero may be a “passionate, romantic figure with a past, perhaps most familiar in Charlotte Brontë’s Mr. Rochester” (Mussell 119). Sometimes rakish behaviour is ascribed to a deep emotional pain suffered by the hero:

He had deliberately set out to defy the conventions, to shock decent men and women, to become a by-word for everything that was debauched and immoral.

He had succeeded, but strangely enough it had not eased the hurt which had caused him to behave in such a manner, and the wound within himself had not healed. (Cartland, Love 84)

Although a rake generally acts in response to the demands of his MW, particularly where the heroine is concerned, his Phallic attributes may be considerable. Richardson’s Mr. B., for example, is a landowner, Justice of the Peace, and Member of Parliament and Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan states that “The French Government has no jurisdiction over me. I am not subject to it. I am an independent chief, my own master. I recognise no government. My tribe obey me and only me” (Hull 63).

A second type of Incomplete Phallus may be identified by his devotion to his work (often in one of the typically Phallic professions listed above) and his avoidance of family ties. This type of hero’s Incomplete Phallus tendencies thus take precedence over those of his MW. Often this behaviour too is shown to be an imperfect coping mechanism developed in response to emotional trauma. Napier’s business “piranha” (22), for example, has been “taking over electronics companies, and offering preferential deals to anyone who has business with RedWing” (97) as part of his plan to destroy his father’s company in revenge for the way his mother was treated:

My mother died because she couldn’t afford a life-saving operation. […] She asked him for money and he told her that she had made her bed and now she could lie on it … but he meant die on it. […] my father had no humanity. (97)

He may be an emotionally wounded warrior, like Susan Mallery’s Rafe, whose “‘[…] folks died when I was four. There wasn’t anyone else. I became a ward of the state.’ […] He’d learned to take care of himself and never need anyone” (183). Diana Palmer’s Tony, a “professional soldier” specialising “in counterterrorism” (41), was physically abused by his father, who also “started doing things to my little sister, when she was about eight. […] My mother caught him at it […] She stabbed that knife up to the hilt in his stomach, all the way to the heart. […] I never saw so much blood” (70-71). Then, “When my sister and I went into foster care, it was like the end of the world. Especially when they separated us. […] She killed herself” (57). As he acknowledges, “I’ve got a past that’s going to make it hard for any woman to live with me on a permanent basis” (74). In Lindsey’s Defy Not the Heart, the hero is an emotionally damaged, illegitimate, mercenary knight who has

no home, but it was his burning ambition to correct that lack. It was his only goal, yet it was an all-consuming one. It was all he worked toward, hiring out to any man no matter the task, no matter the difficulty, no matter his own feelings in the matter. His ambition did not allow for scruples. (15-16)

This particular ambition, and his authoritarian attitude towards his followers, put him on the brink of transforming into a third type of Incomplete Phallus.

This type manifests the incompleteness of his Phallus by the way in which he assumes his patriarchal authority and family duties. Although he may work hard, be a (phallic) pillar of the community, and a devoted father or brother, he tends to be an authoritarian patriarch who is emotionally flawed in some way. Darcy is an example of this kind of hero, since he has both high social standing and wealth, his father is deceased and he therefore stands in loco parentis to his younger sister, and he is declared by one of his servants to be “the best landlord, and the best master […] that ever lived” (Austen, Pride 270). This patriarch’s flaw, the evidence of his emotional lack, is his pride. Simon the Coldheart embodies, as far as that is possible for a human, the qualities of justice — “If it was a question of judgment or arbitration men found Simon relentlessly, mercilessly just” (Heyer 19) — and of omniscience:

‘[…] God alone knows what will come to this poor land!’

‘Nay, not God alone,’ the secretary said. ‘My lord knows also.’ (97)[6]

God-like in his own domain, Simon is omnipotent and one might say he “Suffer[s] the little children to come unto” (Mark 10:14) him because he “dost love children” (Heyer 114). In general, however, he seems incapable of feeling warmer emotions: “something he seemed to lack, for with all his assets and attainments, he was cold as stone, almost as though some humanising part of him had been left out in his fashioning” (130).

The Prism

The feminine equivalent of the Phallus is the socio-political body we shall term the Prism. The word appears in the rakish Marquis of Vidal’s mocking designation of Mary Challoner as “Miss Prunes and Prisms” (Heyer, Devil’s Cub 49), a phrase which characterises her as prim and disapproving. The term “Prism,” as used in this essay, also draws on Jayne Castle’s Orchid, set in a futuristic society in which many individuals are “talents” but only a few, including the heroine, are “prisms”:

talents […] possessed a specific type of paranormal power that could be actively used. […] The psychic energy that talents produced endowed them with a sixth sense. But unlike the other five senses, it could not be accessed except in brief, unpredictable, erratic bursts without the aid of a prism. […] In them, paranormal energy took a different form. Prisms possessed the ability to focus the powers of a talent for an extended length of time. (3)

Even though a romance heroine’s Prism is initially incomplete, it nonetheless focuses her hero’s powers, enabling his Incomplete Phallus to fulfil its potential in a socially acceptable manner and become a Completed Phallus.

The Prism embodies the Mother aspect of femininity and the Incomplete Prism’s motherliness tends to manifest itself in differing combinations of two different qualities. The first is nurturing tenderness, and the second is feistiness, which may also be thought of as an incomplete version of maternal authority and

the lioness aspect of the female personality […]. It’s acceptable for a woman, socially, to be outspoken and rude when defending her children — everyone knows not to get between a mother bear and her cub. (Wendell and Tan 59)

With the decline in the number of virgin heroines there may have been an increase in the proportion of heroines who are biological mothers, but childless heroines have long been given opportunities to display the nurturing aspect of their Prisms. Such heroines may often be found caring for children, either due to their jobs or because they have responsibility for younger siblings or abandoned infants. Slightly less blatant demonstrations of the Prism’s nurturing motherliness include expressions of love and care for animals or vulnerable friends. As Wendell and Tan declare in their humorous “ten commandments of heroine conduct” (36):

Thou shalt have a nurturing streak larger and warmer than the South China Sea. Thy desire for children shall be unquestioned […]. And shouldst thou choose to remain child-free, thou freak of nature, verily thou shouldst display your nurturing streak with animals. (36)

Elizabeth Bennet’s mother is so incompetent a parent that Elizabeth attempts to provide her sisters with both maternal care and authoritative maternal guidance. When her older sister Jane is “very unwell” (78), it is Elizabeth, not their mother, who feels “really anxious” (Austen, Pride 78) and tends to her during the illness. Furthermore, “Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in an endeavour to check the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia; but while they were supported by their mother’s indulgence, what chance could there be of improvement?” (241). In Cartland’s The Problems of Love, the heroine has taken on the role of mother: “I now have the family to look after, because my mother died five years ago” (11). On this heroine’s wedding day it also becomes apparent that in some respects she resembles the hero’s mother: “I was thinking in Church today when we were married that you were like the lilies that were arranged on the altar. I have never felt that about any other woman with the exception of my mother” (145). In some romances, the heroine may express motherly feelings towards the hero. Mary, the heroine of Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, recognises that

it was not a notorious Marquis with whom she had fallen in love; it was with the wild, sulky, unmanageable boy that she saw behind the rake.

‘I could manage him,’ she sighed. ‘Oh, but I could!’ (110)

Similarly Jessica sees “the lonely little boy in” Dain (Chase 269), and understands that he needs “love […] he needed it far more than many, because, apparently, he hadn’t had so much as a whiff of it since he was a babe” (269). In some romances this motherly nurturance may take a very literal form: Sarah S. G. Frantz has written of one romance hero that his

desire to suckle (to be suckled) at his wife’s breast, when read against his whole character, can be read as the desire to return to the mother’s nourishment that he never received as a child, as his need for his lover to embody his mother and his mother to be his lover. (25)

Gentle maternal qualities are not the only traits demonstrated by Prisms, for as the Rev. Mr. Villars instructs Evelina, “Though gentleness and modesty are the peculiar attributes of your sex, yet fortitude and firmness, when occasion demands them, are virtues as noble and as becoming in women as in men” (Burney 242). The Prism’s feisty “fortitude and firmness” may be displayed on behalf of others, as when Elizabeth Bennet angrily rejects a marriage proposal from Darcy, “who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister” (Austen, Pride 222), or in self-defence, often against either an untamed MW or an Incomplete Phallus. Pamela, for example, although only a servant, constantly expresses her resistance to her master’s designs upon her virtue:

when you forget what belongs to Decency in your Actions, and when Words are all that are left me, to shew my Resentment of such Actions, I will not promise to forbear the strongest Expressions that my distressed Mind shall suggest to me; nor shall your angriest Frowns deter me. (Richardson 211)

In Devil’s Cub, Mary goes so far as to shoot and injure Dominic when his untamed MW is about to rape her (Heyer 102).

In the end, displays of feisty strength in the heroine tend to bring forth positive characteristics in the hero, but as Incomplete Prisms differ in their type of feistiness and Incomplete Phalluses vary in the qualities they lack, each heroine will bring out slightly different personality traits in her hero: Pamela’s feistiness is focused on preserving her virtue, and she therefore stimulates her hero’s piety; Elizabeth Bennet’s blunt honesty about Darcy’s arrogance inspires him to become more self-aware and kind; Margaret “stole what men thought was not there to steal. Thy cold heart” (Heyer, Simon 300) and so teaches Simon to love; and Josephine is “a beautiful, headstrong woman” (Jenkins 100), and so the “man who marries you will have to have patience, a strong mind and an even stronger wit” (100).

Completing the Phallus

The Incomplete Prism’s feistiness poses a challenge to the Incomplete Phallus’s authority and its nurturance gentles him, bringing into focus his softer qualities. Many romances conclude with the hero “endowed with maternal qualities; he is not simply the phallus but also the maternal phallus: the ideal mother and father” (Treacher 80). However, since the Father also has nurturing qualities it should not be assumed that a Completed Phallus is an androgynous parental figure. The transformed hero is “the ideal male, who is masculine and strong yet nurturant too” (Radway 97). In becoming a Completed Phallus the hero suffers no loss of his culturally ascribed masculinity: he will still tend to exert control and power over others, but he is more likely to take the heroine’s views into account, and protectiveness will take the place of jealousy and aggression. Johanna Lindsey’s Ranulf, for example, becomes the Lord of Clydon and his military prowess ensures the safety of Reina, her lands, and dependants. The Completed Phallus’s Prism-inspired paternal care for the wider community may also be expressed politically. As the Marquis of Osminton declares:

I had never expected a woman to think seriously as you do on social and political questions, which have always been left to men. […] It will help and inspire me to make a greater effort in that direction than I have done in the past. (Cartland, Problems 144)

If he couldn’t before, he will now be able to express his feelings and often becomes an emotionally involved father. In Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, for example, Dain could initially only think of his illegitimate son as an “unspeakable thing” (293) which “was as foul inwardly as it was hideous outwardly, […] there was not a scrap of good it could have inherited from its depraved monster of a sire” (293-94). Dain’s own self-loathing has clearly affected his perception of the child who looks so much like him, but Jessica forces him into a situation in which he cannot help but realise that his son is indeed “just like his father, he needed someone […] to accept him” (340). Jessica’s conviction that Dain is not “a monster, impossible to love” (339) alters Dain’s perception of both himself and his son, and enables him to accept love for himself and show it to his child. In much less traumatic circumstances the Marquis of Osminton, too, is reconciled to the idea of fatherhood and confesses that

Once, before I knew you, […] I thought that children might disturb my well-organised life and perhaps be destructive, but now, because I love you, my darling, I can think of nothing more wonderful than to see you holding my son in your arms. (Cartland, Problems 146)

If he had feelings of loneliness or uncertainty about his role in life, these will be resolved by the Incomplete Prism. Barbara Samuel’s Galen is a faery cursed “to wander between the mortal and faerie realms, never to cross to either,” and so experiences a “loneliness so vast ‘twould make stones cry” (Samuel 199). His suffering lasts for 285 years, until he meets Moira who feels the allure of his MW, but is able to resist it in order to break the curse. As a heroine with a strong Incomplete Prism, she “wanted to protect him, protect him from the despair she’d glimpsed on his face […], protect him from having to return to the lost world of his exile” (247). Clare Morgan may not have to break a faery curse, but she is “the one Marta foresaw […] who would heal her Nikki’s heart” (Putney 346). It is thanks to Clare that “Nicholas Davies, the Gypsy Earl of Aberdare” (12), a man who says he doesn’t “give a damn about anyone or anything” (17), becomes involved in his local community, is reconciled with an estranged best friend, finds himself emotionally “free” (377) from his dead wife’s betrayal and his deceased grandfather’s hatred, and “can believe in my childhood again” (376).

The final transformation of the Incomplete Phallus may take place in a dramatic, emotionally charged scene. In Susan Mallery’s The Sheikh & the Virgin Princess, Rafe is an emotionally-wounded warrior hero who has power and status but is clearly an Incomplete Phallus because he has no desire to become the head of a stable family unit: “Rafe had told her that she was a marriage-and-kids kind of woman and that he wasn’t a marriage-and-kids kind of guy” (158). Zara intuits the reason behind this stance: “she knew. She read it in the pain in his eyes, in the set of his shoulders. After a lifetime of people turning away from him, he wasn’t about to trust her with something as fragile as his heart. Not before he knew that she would be willing to stay forever” (247-48). By demonstrating that she is indeed “willing to stay forever,” the Incomplete Prism transforms Rafe into a Completed Phallus:

The thick, angry barrier around his heart shattered and blew away. […] He knew then that he had to believe her or lose her forever. That he was nothing without her. That he had finally found a safe place to belong.

“I love you,” he told her. […] “[…] I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Please do me the honor of marrying me.” (248-49)

In a way that parallels the GHH’s regulation of the MW, the Incomplete Prism completes the Phallus, making him a happier, better man than he was without her: “till within these few Days, I knew not what it was to be happy. […] I hope, from her good Example, […] in time, to be half as good as my Tutoress” (Richardson 308).

Completing the Prism

As with Incomplete Phalluses, there is variation in what is lacking in Incomplete Prisms. Some extremely feisty Incomplete Prisms are described as having a boyish appearance or behaving mannishly. Diana Mayo, for example, “looks like a boy in petticoats, a damned pretty boy” (Hull 2). It is said of Lady Margaret that she “fights at the head of her men” (Heyer, Simon 135) and when she “don[s] boy’s raiment” (196) in an attempt to escape from Simon she looks like “a slim stripling” (198) and declares “In man’s clothes I stand, and a man will I be” (216). Feistiness taken to the point of mannishness is depicted in these two novels as a characteristic of which the heroine must be broken, at least insofar as she relates to the hero, so that she can become a Completed Prism. Diana Mayo’s sheik adopts particularly violent methods:

with a greater arrogance and a determination stronger than her own Ahmed Ben Hassan had tamed her as he tamed the magnificent horses that he rode. He had been brutal and merciless, using no half measures, forcing her to obedience by sheer strength of will and compelling a complete submission. (Hull 226-27)

She comes to think of him as “A man of men. Monseigneur! Monseigneur! Mon maître et seigneur” (245) and Lady Margaret murmurs “Stern, merciless conqueror! Simon, mon maître et mon seigneur!” (Heyer, Simon 299).

Another way in which heroines may demonstrate their feisty nature is by engaging in “Too Stupid To Live” (TSTL) behaviour. This type of behaviour was “first recognized […] at romance supersite All About Romance” (Wendell and Tan 31) but AAR’s Laurie Gold has clarified that the term

tstl, or too-stupid-to-live […] actually came from a very well-known author who wrote me about it in 1997 and asked to remain anonymous. A tstl heroine does things like going […] where specifically told not to by the hero and ends up endangering both with her foolishness.

In Diana Palmer’s Silent Night Man, the heroine knows that “some crazy person is trying to kill me” (48), and she has been told that her apartment “is a death trap […]. […] Easy entrance and exit right outside the door, no dead bolts, a perfect line-of-sight aim for anybody with a high-powered rifle with a scope” (48). Her safety can only be assured if she moves in with Tony, whose professional skills will enable him to act as her bodyguard. She does so, but after an argument with him she decides to prove to him that she “wasn’t a doormat. No way was she staying in here to listen to him cavorting with his girlfriend! No way!” (82). Unfortunately, and rather predictably, the hit man “was watching and followed her home” (93). Tony only just arrives in time to save her. TSTL behaviour on the part of the heroine thus gives the hero an opportunity to display his manly prowess, and may demonstrate the extent to which the heroine needs the protection of a Phallus.

Removed from the context of TSTL behaviour, and described in terms which are more flattering to the heroine, this protection could be thought of as a benefit which accrues to the heroine once she has taken indirect control of his Phallus: “his almost superhuman physical strength is now hers to command” (Phillips 58). Once the heroine of Lindsey’s Defy Not the Heart marries Ranulf, for example, she is safe from attacks by other males intent on usurping her wealth and power. Regardless of whether one views this outcome as evidence of the heroine’s lack or of her triumph, the end result is that the Completed Prism falls under the protection of the Completed Phallus.

Marriage to the Phallus may also enable a Prism to enter the socio-political elite or, “Put more polemically, popular romance tells the story of how the heroine gains access to money — to power — in patriarchal society” (Cohn 3). Millie, a woman who “came from a poor background, and lived on a meager budget” (Palmer 58), marries Tony, who is “rich” (62). In Richardson’s Pamela there is an even more marked elevation in the social status of the heroine: the landowner hero marries “his Mother’s Waiting-maid” (261) and “She was regularly visited by the principal Ladies in the Neighbourhood; who were fond of her Acquaintance” (499). In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet, though not noted for her intelligence in other matters, perceives the material benefits which will accrue to Elizabeth upon her marriage to Darcy: “how rich and how great you will be!” (386). By the end of Devil’s Cub Mary, a commoner, is engaged to the Marquis of Vidal who is “one of the biggest prizes on the matrimonial market” (Heyer 14).

Increased access to money and power may give the Completed Prism greater opportunities for displaying the nurturing aspects of the Prism. After her marriage to the Earl of Aberdare, Clare may have had to give up

being a full-time teacher, but […] now that she had Nicholas’s deep purse to plunder, she was able to help people on a broader scale. There were no more hungry children in Penreith, and the valley was becoming the prosperous, happy place she had dreamed of. (Putney 379-80)

Similarly, whereas Richardson’s Pamela as an Incomplete Prism, having received a charitable gift, exclaimed “O how amiable a Thing is doing good! — It is all I envy great Folks for!” (18), once she has been transformed by marriage into a Completed Prism she is able to reward her new servants, take Mr. B.’s illegitimate child into their home, and display “a diffusive Charity to all worthy Objects within the Compass of their Knowledge” (499).

The conclusion of Richardson’s novel also reveals that Pamela “made her beloved Spouse happy in a numerous and hopeful Progeny” (499), and in the epilogue to Thunder and Roses we learn that Clare “was almost sure that the next Gypsy Earl was on the way” (Putney 380). Dain and Jessica require no such epilogue for although they have only “been wed five weeks” by the end of Lord of Scoundrels, “It is easy enough to calculate. One fertile marchioness plus one virile marquess equals a brat” (Chase 373). Given the increase in recent decades of premarital sex in romances, it is now not uncommon for the virility of heroes and the fertility of heroines to be demonstrated long before either their wedding or the end of the novel. The heroine of His Lady’s Ransom, for example, falls pregnant after one night of “wild, prolonged and very thorough couplings” (Lovelace 273) with the hero; they marry a few months later, and in the final chapter their baby lies “in a basket on the table, gurgling” (353). Regardless of the method by which romance authors impart the information, it is common for them to provide evidence that the Completed Phallus and Prism, secure in their domestic bliss, have produced, or will produce, a suitable number of offspring.

The Alchemical Model of Relationships

In the model of romantic relationships outlined above, the processes of transformation are complex and involve the protagonists’ individual bodies, a GHH and MW, and an Incomplete Phallus and Incomplete Prism. Frantz suggests that a heroine who gives her breast milk to a supplicant hero is “appropriating patriarchal power for herself, but she is also then generous enough to return some to the hero, who continues to embody patriarchal power” (27). In such scenes, the individual bodies of the protagonists perform actions which can be read as symbolising the changes that are occurring to their socio-political bodies: the Incomplete Prism becomes a Completed Prism through her relationship with the Incomplete Phallus, and does so in a way which renders him Completed too. The GHH tends to be the catalyst for the transformation, because by ensuring that the MW desires union with this particular GHH, the hero’s Incomplete Phallus is brought into contact with the heroine’s Incomplete Prism. The Incomplete Prism then transmutes the glitter of sexual attraction into the gold of a socially sanctioned relationship between a Completed Prism and Completed Phallus. This, then, may be termed the alchemical model of relationships and it has been summarised by Mr. B., who admits to Pamela that “after having been long tost by the boisterous Winds of a more culpable Passion, I have now conquer’d it, and am not so much the Victim of your Love, all charming as you are, as of your Virtue” (Richardson 341); or, put more succinctly, “her Person made me her Lover; but her Mind made her my Wife” (474). Here “your Love” and “her Person” seem to refer to what we might term the heroine’s GHH, whereas her “Virtue” and her “Mind” are aspects of her Prism.

It is only because the heroine possesses both a particularly glittery GHH and an Incomplete Prism that she is able to have a transformative effect on both the MW and the Incomplete Phallus; as Janice A. Radway observed with regard to Alaina McGaren, the heroine of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Ashes in the Wind, “It is […] the combination of her womanly sensuality and mothering capacities that will magically remake a man incapable of expressing emotions or of admitting dependence” (127). A GHH unaccompanied by an Incomplete Prism will be unable to effect the transformation of the Incomplete Phallus, as is demonstrated in Diana Palmer’s Silent Night Man in which, as the heroine is aware, the hero has frequently found other women sexually attractive and “the brassier they are, the better you like them” (50). These women, however, appear to have lacked Incomplete Prisms, for as the hero explains:

“Those glittery women are fine for a good time. You don’t plan a future around them.”

He was insinuating that they were fine for a one-night stand. (60)

The brassy glitter of these promiscuous women is very different from the special glitter of the heroine, who is “illuminated” (59) and displays a special “radiance” (59) when in the presence of the hero. Her GHH is so closely associated with her Incomplete Prism that, like Mr. B.’s Pamela, she “would never go to bed with a man she hadn’t married” (58), and both novels conclude with the hero and heroine safely united in matrimony. Cartland’s Syrilla also has a glitter which is quite clearly inextricable from her Prism: “she had a radiance in her face that was not of this world” (Love 87), and since for the hero she “brought back dreams […] of a woman who could be innocent and pure and inspire a man spiritually as well as physically” (152), she may serve as a reminder to the reader that where some heroines are concerned, marriage is definitely Holy Matrimony.

The initial fear that many heroes experience in response to their overwhelming desire for the heroine can therefore be understood not solely in sexual terms (as a fear of a monogamy caused by a desire so strong and so specific for the GHH that the MW can barely feel attraction towards any other woman), but also as a fear of the gentling which will occur as his Incomplete Phallus is focused by the Incomplete Prism. The way in which the heroine’s GHH binds the hero to her, enabling the Incomplete Prism and Incomplete Phallus to act on each other and become Completed, has been described by Cook as

a bargain: his love for her sex. […] He finds pleasure in the confession of love because love is something he has learned to deny and fear, often as the result of a terrible experience in earlier life. She finds pleasure in the confession of sex because she can give freely to the hero what he has brought about in her and not fear the ruin of her identity. The formula of the bargain creates a kind of symmetry, a pretence of equality. The father of desire meets the mother of love and they exchange gifts. Each makes the other complete in a fantasy of total union.

But the bargain is also, on the heroine’s part, about attaching desire to social convention, to propriety, to marriage. It is part of her traditional role that she should represent virtue. […] Her function is to […] reassure us that, in the end, desire and the law are compatible. (157)[7]

There can be no better representative of the “traditional role” than Pamela, whose would-be seducer is so thoroughly reformed by his interactions with her Prism that he becomes “the best and fondest of Husbands; and, after her Example, became remarkable for Piety, Virtue, and all the Social Duties of a Man and a Christian” (Richardson 499).

Some Alternative Models

Although the alchemical model of relationships, in which a GHH regulates a MW, an Incomplete Prism focusses an Incomplete Phallus, and an Incomplete Phallus completes an Incomplete Prism, has been present in the genre for centuries, there are alternative models of how the six bodies of romance protagonists can interact, some of which also have a very long literary history. It would be impossible to offer a comprehensive survey of all of these models in the space available, and this section therefore provides only a very brief overview of just a few of the alternative models to be found within the genre.

One of these alternative models offers the reader a hero who, at the start of the novel, already embodies masculine perfection. His MW needs no regulation and almost all he requires in order to become a Completed Phallus is a wife. Marriage is necessary in order to comply with the demands of heteronormativity: as Fulk tells the young Simon, “a man must take a wife unto himself” (Heyer, Simon 115), or, as Austen somewhat satirically observes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Pride 51). Among these near-perfect heroes are Frances Burney’s Lord Orville, who is depicted “as a fully formed paragon of male manners from his first appearance” (Hamilton 429), and Austen’s Mr. Knightley. A more recent example may be found in Heyer’s The Nonesuch. Sir Waldo Hawkridge, the novel’s hero, is known by this nickname which

means perfection! […]

‘A paragon, certainly.’ […]

‘[…] they say the Nonesuch is a clipping rider to hounds too. […]’ […]

‘Sir Waldo is first in consequence with the ton, and of the first style of elegance, besides being very handsome, and hugely wealthy!’ (20)

Sir Waldo, who “commanded as much liking as admiration” (169), is also a philanthropist and a responsible and caring role model to his younger cousin. This kind of hero is “the more conventional, sensitive, mature and competent husband-lover” who “has great strength and stability and seems particularly solid and trustworthy” (Mussell 119-20). He can be found in the novels of Betty Neels, which jay Dixon recalls reading “to fill my need for a knowledgeable and calm father-figure” (35). As Mussell observes, such heroes

appeal […] because of their implicit stability, their self-knowledge, and the status they can confer through marriage. If this figure seems more mature and sensitive than other men, and more attractive and intelligent, he offers an assurance of sexual fidelity because he knows his own mind in choosing the heroine. […] His strength and power derive from self-assurance, self-control, and uncompromising moral principles. (124)

Since his MW is already perfectly regulated, and he already manifests the full range of qualities required to be a Completed Phallus, the heroine’s GHH and Prism function solely to attract him and assure him of her suitability, but there is no need for them to effect a major transformation of his personality. She, however, may be taught by him, as is the case in Austen’s Emma, or enjoy the benefits which, as described above, generally accrue to a Completed Prism. In The Nonesuch, for example, Ancilla Trent is saved from life as a governess and restored to the social circle from which her father’s death had distanced her. In addition, Sir Waldo’s philanthropy will give her ample opportunity to manifest the charitable, caring aspects of the Completed Prism, particularly as his “mother […] will welcome you with open arms, and will very likely egg you on to bully me into starting an asylum for female orphans” (275).

Many modern “inspirational” romances feature an explicitly Christian version of this near-perfect type of hero. His possession of a MW may be implied via descriptions of his individual body: “The heroes’ physical stature and good looks reinforce their virility and attractiveness to heroines” (Neal 149). In Cheryl St. John’s The Preacher’s Wife, for example, Samuel Hart is “broad-shouldered” (13) and although “It was inappropriate that she should notice his well-defined cheekbones or his recently shaved, firm, square chin, […] she had. Even his deep, rich voice arrested her attention” (15). The use of the word “inappropriate” suggests that Josie, the heroine, is not merely cataloguing the features of Samuel’s individual body: despite his status as “a widower, a father and a preacher” (109) he has “a fluid agility and masculine grace” (109) — in other words a MW — which “she couldn’t help but appreciate” (109). That the ideal Christian romance hero’s MW is pre-regulated and incapable of succumbing to uncontrollable lust is made very clear in the guidelines provided by some publishers. In Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired romances, for example, “Any physical interactions (i.e., kissing, hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality” (eHarlequin). Similarly, the guidelines for Barbour Publishing’s Heartsong Presents stipulate that:

Physical tension between characters should not be overdone. Do not be overly descriptive when describing how characters feel in a particular romantic moment, for example, kissing, embracing, and so on. It has been our belief from day one that we can tell a great love story without going into excessive physical detail. People can easily imagine the desires and tensions between a couple who are blossoming into love. Kisses are fine (no tongues or heights of arousal, please).

One consequence of the sexual restraint demonstrated by this near-perfect Christian romance hero is that he poses a challenge to some aspects of the “male sexual drive discourse” so often present in the mainstream romance genre’s depiction of heroes’ socio-sexual bodies. In addition to having a well-regulated MW he

retains all the rugged individualism, toughness, and power of secular heroes but combines this traditional masculinity with gentleness, patience, and attention to female needs, from snuggling to child-rearing. (Barrett-Fox 97)

He, like the near-perfect secular hero, is thus in possession of a Phallus which can become fully Completed without the need for major personality changes. However, despite the strong similarities between the near-perfect Christian hero and his secular counterpart, there is one very significant difference between the processes by which their Phalluses, and the Prisms of their heroines, become Completed: “The transformation that seems ‘magical’ in secular romances is explained by divinely sparked spiritual growth in their evangelical counterparts” (Neal 5).[8] Returning again to Samuel Hart, we find that he has an almost perfect Phallus, “He represented everything that was good and perfect about fathers and husbands” (St. John 157), but he does occasionally make mistakes and “Whenever he overlooked the obvious, whenever he let pride get in the way of what was best, God graciously pointed his foolishness out to him” (209).

The “beta” hero presents a challenge to the gender roles underlying all of the previous models because his Phallus is never Completed: he is never transformed into an authoritative, patriarchal figure. He is “More playful and relaxed,” “More of the ‘boy (or man) next door’ type,” “Considerate of his heroine’s feelings and opinions” and “The sort of man that a reader can actually imagine meeting, falling in love with, marrying — and being able to live with!” (Walker 100). Jayne Ann Krentz scornfully describes him as a “neurotic wimp” and “a sensitive, understanding, right-thinking ‘modern’ man who is part therapist, part best friend, and thoroughly tamed from the start” (109). It is indeed true that “you don’t get much of a challenge for a heroine” (109) from such a hero, if that challenge is understood in terms of demonstrating the power of her Prism and GHH. He brings into question the role of the heroine in the alchemical model because he tends not to need her to tame, gentle, domesticate or regulate his bodies.

Although Krentz attributes the beta hero’s appearance in romance to “a wave of young editors fresh out of East Coast colleges who arrived in New York to take up their first positions in publishing” (107), he is not a recent invention. Edward Ferrars in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) is

too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open affectionate heart […]. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life. (49)

Like the more recent “beta” heroes, he has been found wanting by some readers:

There is a strong tendency among critics to disparage Edward Ferrars as romantic hero. […] I suspect that Edward’s gender dissonance has stymied even professional readers. […] Edward […] lacks aggression altogether: for the most part he is retiring, he is passive, and he is as backward a lover as ladies are enjoined to be. […] As to society, Edward lacks ambition and the desire to be somebody in the world […]. Against the grain of the affluent gentry’s model for men, but consonantly with the female model, he aspires to nothing higher than a happy domestic life. (Perkins 5-6)

This “beta” hero is favourably contrasted with an “uncommonly handsome” (75) rake, as is also the case in Heyer’s Cotillion, in which she “was teasing her fans […] by making ineffective Freddy the hero rather than handsome Jack Westruther” (Aiken Hodge 91). Jack is “a tall man” (Heyer, Cotillion 110) with “powerful thighs” (110), whereas Freddy is “a slender young gentleman, of average height and graceful carriage” (36), and this smaller, less physically powerful individual body is matched by a less attractive socio-sexual body and a very socially acceptable but non-dominant socio-political body:

He was neither witty nor handsome; his disposition was retiring; and although he might be seen at any social gathering, he never (except by the excellence of his tailoring) drew attention to himself […] he was too inarticulate to pay charming compliments, and had never been known to indulge in the mildest flirtation. But a numerous circle of male acquaintances held him in considerable affection, and with the ladies he was a prime favourite. The most sought-after beauty was pleased to stand up with so graceful a dancer; any lady desirous of redecorating her drawing-room was anxious for his advice. (108-09)

Many “beta” heroes are neither shy nor sexually inexperienced, but as a type the “beta” hero, because of his lack of a Completed Phallus and the fact that he often possesses character traits more often associated with femininity, challenges the way in which particular groups of traits (such as those which are characteristic of the Prism) tend to be assigned only to individuals of one biological sex.

Although the Phallus is firmly associated with masculinity and the Prism with femininity, psychologists have long acknowledged that no individual is exclusively imbued with qualities ascribed to only one gender:

In every human being, Freud […] remarks, “pure masculinity or femininity is not to be found either in a psychological or a biological sense. Every individual on the contrary displays a mixture.” […] It is now generally accepted […] that masculine and feminine principles are not inherent polarities […]. Still, […] there exists a recurrent cultural tendency to distinguish and to polarize gender roles. (Gilmore 214)

Sexual, social, and political power are expressed in highly gendered ways when the MW and Phallus are strongly associated with heroes and their male individual bodies, while the GHH and Prism are strongly associated with heroines and their female individual bodies.

Elizabeth Bevarly’s Dr Mummy challenges such gender roles, but unlike romances featuring “beta” heroes, it does so by reversing the biological sex of the characters who, by the end of the novel, possess the Prism and Phallus. Perhaps in order to neutralise the threat to the hero’s masculinity which might result from this departure from the usual configuration of the six bodies, the transformation is not revealed until the epilogue, long after the hero’s “appealingly rugged, startlingly handsome […]. And big. Really, really big” (24) individual body has been established as being in conformity with the masculine ideal. The relationship between Nick and Claire’s socio-sexual bodies also conforms to romance conventions: “Nick’s hot, unyielding body before her, and the sense of his overwhelming possession thrilled her in a way that nothing else could” (117). The transformations undergone by their socio-political bodies, however, are anything but conventional. Nick begins the novel as an Incomplete Phallus: law enforcement is a typically Phallic profession and he works as a “narcotics detective” (15). Years before the start of the novel he had wanted to marry Claire and become a Completed Phallus:

He’d wanted them to have a half-dozen kids, just as his folks had done. He’d […] wanted Claire to stay at home with the kids, had wanted to work himself to death to take care of the family financially. […] And Claire just couldn’t see that happening. She hadn’t wanted to give birth to and care for six children — or even one child. She hadn’t wanted to be a homemaker — she’d wanted to be a doctor. (48)

Nick’s dream of having a large family with Claire is achievable, but only by abandoning traditional gender roles. By the end of the novel he has been transformed into a Completed Prism, a homemaking, stay-at-home parent who is “in charge of the bake sale this year” (184) and certain that “the job I have now is so much more important than the one I had before” (185). Claire, initially an Incomplete Phallus who had resisted parenthood, dedicated herself to her highly paid professional job, and who “had always had difficulty revealing any honest emotion” (56), becomes a Completed Phallus as the family’s only wage-earner.

Romances featuring protagonists of the same sex may also offer new dynamics between, and depictions of, their six bodies. Phyllis M. Betz states that in a lesbian romance “The very fact that two women have determined to pursue a passionate relationship contravenes traditional social norms and expectations” (105), and as Paulina Palmer has observed, “By placing characters who identify as lesbian in a heterosexist frame and highlighting the tensions this generates, they alert the reader to the ideological limitations of the romance genre and the social codes which it inscribes” (203). Michelle Martin’s Pembroke Park, for example, opens as Lady Joanna Sinclair is walking and daydreaming about romances, and so it is while “half expecting to find Ivanhoe” (2) that she first encounters Lady Diana March and “instead of a knight in shining armor there was a fair damsel […]. She was […] dressed in brown turkish trousers” (2). Lady Diana’s individual body is female, but her socio-political body has traditionally masculine attributes, as indicated by her attire and the comparison with Ivanhoe. Her “excellent birth […], her friends at the highest level of English society, and her vast fortune” (164-65), as well as the role she plays in rescuing Joanna from familial oppression, mark her as the possessor of an Incomplete Phallus. As the more sexually experienced of the two, her socio-sexual body can be thought of as a MW. For her part Joanna, who despite having been married has “never been in the throes of a Grand Passion” (111), has a GHH and as the mother of a young daughter and a woman in need of protection, she is clearly an Incomplete Prism whose love will heal Diana’s emotional wounds. In many respects, then, Pembroke Park tells the traditional story of how a GHH and Incomplete Prism work together to gentle and complete a MW and Incomplete Phallus, but because that MW and Incomplete Phallus belong to a person with a biologically female individual body, Diana “flagrantly sidestep[s] every rule of social decorum!” (4).


Romance novels, because they deal so explicitly with sexuality and men’s and women’s roles within sexual relationships, are cultural agents (primarily for women) for the transmission of gender ideologies. Gender ideologies, in turn, “construct men’s and women’s sexualities” (Blackwood 240). Although we have stressed the degree of continuity that exists in the depiction of the alchemical model of heterosexual romantic relationships, the genre has responded to changes in social attitudes towards sexuality and gender roles. In addition, despite the fact that all romances feature protagonists with three bodies (individual, social, political) there are some romances which offer alternatives to the pairing of a female protagonist’s individual body, GHH, and Prism with a male protagonist’s individual body, MW, and Phallus. Such romances provide alternative “guiding or admonitory images” (Gilmore 208) regarding ideal masculinity or femininity. Due to the diversity that exists within the genre, the many bodies of romance heroes and heroines may be sites of reinforcement of, or of resistance to, enculturated sexualities and gender ideologies.

Works Cited

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[1] For a more detailed analysis of the genre’s history, see Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel.

[2] Simplicity in men’s apparel was not unknown in the medieval period but, “In the Middle Ages, the norms regarding clothes were based on the nearly timeless precept that differentiations in social structure should be recognized by means of dress, hair and beard. However, at the same time – thanks to Christianity – clothes were endowed with a number of moral-symbolic interpretations […] controversy was caused on the one hand by the fashions prevalent at royal and aristocratic courts, and on the other by the symbolic attire of the ascetic religious movements, which opposed in equal measure the opulence of the Church and of the laity” (Klaniczay 52). It is only in much more recent centuries that simple fashions for men have been widely adopted by the aristocracy: “Clothing historians have labeled the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the era of ‘the great masculine renunciation,’ a period of increasing modesty and simplicity in middle- and upper-class men’s dress” (Kuchta 54).

[3] Unusually, this description is given from the point of view of a gay male, Theodric, who also observes the hero’s “tight, exquisitely curved arse” (47).

[4] Regis acknowledges that “In romance novels from the last quarter of the twentieth century marriage is not necessary as long as it is clear that heroine and hero will end up together” (37-38).

[5] Rape may also function, as Kate Saunders has observed in her introduction to The Sheik, as a way to ensure the heroine “is morally off the hook, in an era when female sexual desire on its own was shameful and improper” (vi).

[6] Another indication of his near omniscience is that “No matter how softly one might creep up to him, he always knew of the approach, and needed not to see who it was who drew near” (111).

[7] With regard to the “pretence of equality,” Cohn suggests that “the belief that a fair bargain has been struck between two parties when one offers rank and wealth and the other, moral improvement is the kind of pious wish-fulfillment called on to mask social relations that are far less benign” (140).

[8] Another significant difference between Christian romances and many secular romances is that characters in Christian romances have a fourth, spiritual, body. The existence of a spiritual body is explicitly mentioned in Cheryl St. John’s The Preacher’s Wife, in which the reader is informed that a minor character’s “physical body lay beneath the lush grass in the fenced-in cemetery behind the tiny white church. His spirit had gone on to be with the Lord” (7).