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Posts Tagged ‘inspirational romance’

The Stable Muslim Love Triangle – Triangular Desire in African American Muslim Romance Fiction
by Layla Abdullah-Poulos

Romance fiction explores culturally-specific notions of intimacy. Because it portrays a group’s conventions about love and amorousness, it can provide outsiders glimpses of norms and practices. Authors can describe and critique features of a given social context—such as racism or religious prejudice—in ways that inform outsiders and, at the same time, [End Page 1] allow insiders to recognize and identify with behaviors and situations described. For example, Conseula Francis’ analysis of Addicted by Zane demonstrates how romance narratives provide Black women “a powerful counternarrative” to the “oversexed vixens of rap videos or gonzo porn” (173). Romance as a venue to foil extant stereotypes about Black women’s sexuality also situates Black female protagonists as receivers of the eros love typically reserved for White female characters and allows for nuanced social commentary related to the Black American experience. In her analysis of Brenda Jackson’s Tonight and Forever, Julie E. Moody-Freeman outlines how safe sex love scenes between Black protagonists reflect the promotion of Black women’s sexual health during the “age of HIV/AIDS” when the author published the novel (112). Francis and Moody-Freeman’s explorations of African American romance narratives offer powerful critical tools in observing cultural elements of a social group and ways in which the genre may be used by authors to address biases, stereotypes, and social issues affecting its members at the most intimate levels.

African American (AA) Muslim romance fiction is sui generis. It combines Islamic, African American, and American notions of love, courtship, and sexual dialogue. In this article, I explore four romances—Areebah’s Dilemma: Love or Deen by Karimah Grayson, American Boy by Zara J., Khadijah’s Life in Motion by Jatasha Sharif and His Other Wife by Umm Zakiyyah—and argue that they have a consistent, and uniquely AA Muslim, structure. Applying René Girard’s theory of triangular desire to the Islamic thematic underpinnings of AA Muslim romance, I show the consistent presence of a Stable Muslim Love Triangle (SMLT), a culturally-specific triangular romance structure permeating romantic plots. Girard grants fluidity to love triangles in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure and presents one love triangle containing a mediator of desire that dictates the yearning of the subject for the object of desire (2). AA Muslim romance novels consistently include a SMLT triangular structure of desire, wherein Allah (swt)[i] firmly maintains position as mediator of desire at the love triangle’s apex. Consequently, when determining whether to pursue or maintain a romantic relationship with the object of desire, the subject unfailingly relinquishes individual passions and acquiesces to the protocols set by Allah (swt) through interpreted Islamic teachings.

There are three primary manifestations for the SMLT in the surveyed AA texts:

  1. Muslim subject – Muslim object.
  2. Muslim female subject – non-Muslim male object.
  3. Muslim male subject – non-Muslim female object.

Each of the above manifestations of the SMLT involves nuances of religious application and identity that jeopardizes the joining of the novel’s protagonists. When both are Muslim, one protagonist’s un-Islamic behavior imperils the couple’s relationship. When one of the protagonists is non-Muslim, the lack of belief disrupts the SMLT.

AA Muslim romance is a distinctive subgenre reflecting unique notions about love and romance held by African Americans resulting from the infusion of Islamic observations with American heritages. The analyzed works illustrate the multiple cultural identities which comprise the multi-layered American Muslim experience. [End Page 2]

Cultural Identity

Layered Islamic and African American identities encapsulated in the AA Muslim experience simultaneously feed its members’ cultural productions. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish notions of culture and identity that create a distinctive AA Muslim cultural identity.

Although the terms “identity” and “culture” are usually used interchangeably, following Stuart Hall’s approach allows one to explore the differences among the various nationalities, ethnicities, and identities that comprise American Muslim culture while recognizing a common Islamic culture.[1] Hall asserts that identity serves as a point of human delineation: “Identities are constructed through, not outside, difference” (4). Therefore, one establishes identity by creating a distinction from another. An individual may have layered identities from which they have the ability to draw and clarify differences from those around them, although Hall’s identity binary allows for specified application of terms “culture” and “identity”.

Categorizing identity as a space of distinction makes room to apply an explicit definition to the term “culture.” Hall, as well as Geoffrey H. Hartman, designate culture as a sphere of appreciated similarity. Hall asserts that culture comprises practices, representations, languages and customs (439), while Hartman notes that culture is a “specific form of embodiment or solidarity” (36). In other words, a culture comprises associations with people sharing languages, customs and heritages, holding the same values, and relating to representations of shared experiences.

Thus, the term “cultural identity” indicates a distinction within shared experiences. In American Secularism, Joseph Baker and Buster Smith explain that where culture provides artifacts with which an individual may make a stable connection with others, identity is that with which we emotionally describe and differentiate ourselves (504). Personal identification is subjective and varies based on societal influences and internal processes (Baker and Smith 504). Individual relationships to cultural artifacts and desires to identify with cultural nuances of a social group vary as well. AA Muslims, and the authors who identify as such, assert identities distinct from the broader American Muslim culture, wherein they share similar Islamic cultural practices, customs, language[2], and representations. As a result, cultural artifacts from the AA Muslim cultural identity highlight a unique American Muslim cultural experience, influenced by social intersections of religion, race, gender, and national origin. The SMLT expounded upon in this article outlines a standard trope in AA Muslim romance reflective of American religious romances (i.e. Evangelical, Puritanical, etc.), demonstrating literary connections between novels written by authors of varying religions who weave faith with human love.

African American Muslim Cultural Identity

Dominant culture tends to assume Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Middle East or South Asia (MESA). Like many other social spheres in the United States, AA and Black Muslims encounter erasure of their identities resulting from intersections of race and religion via the promotion of a “foreign” MESA Muslim archetype. [End Page 3] Consequently, publishers, agents, etc. feed into the creation of an “ideal type” of American Muslim, and reinforce it, restricting ventures of the inclusion of Muslims to members of those two finite demographics. AA Muslim authors experience professional erasure which limits markets for and appreciation of their literary work. Since having an opportunity to highlight their distinctive—and distinctively American—identities matters to them, they must self-publish and create small presses.

I coined the term Native-born American (NbA)[3] Muslims to highlight social groups whose members have an extended American heritage and merge intersections of the country’s social intersections[4] with Islam. I elaborated on some distinctions existing in the culture when I created the NbA Muslims online platform:

The dynamics of the native-born American Muslims [NbA Muslims] hybrid culture are complex. There are a variety of socio-cultural topics that warrant in-depth academic investigation. For example, many NbA Muslims belong to multi-religious families. Consequently, there are various familial situations such as family reactions to conversion as well as interacting with the family while maintaining an Islamic ethic. Additionally, there are social concerns such as interfaith communal dialogue, gender relations and roles, community involvement, racism, contact with the immigrant Muslim population, and artistic expression (NbA Muslims).

The NbA Muslim cultural identity hybridizes Islamic and American conventions to produce unique social groups which implement components from each. The NbA African American[5] Muslim cultural identity includes the social intersection of race, influenced by the country’s historical and modern racial systems. Thus, literary productions of NbA AA Muslims reflect how the group redefines social intersections of race, gender, and nation for themselves.

The adoption of the Islamic faith by native-born Americans generates an additional cultural divergence in the American Muslim subculture. Unlike immigrant Muslim populations, the Islamic experiences of native-born African-Americans[6] primarily consist of conversion and adoption of Islam as a new faith.[7] Converts comprise ninety-one percent of native-born American Muslims (Pew Research). Therefore, Islam is new for the majority of native-born American Muslims, who must construct interpretations and observances for their new religion.

AA Muslims also maintain ownership of their Americanness, stemming from heritages extending from ancestral enslavement, recognized citizenship after emancipation, and continual assertion of their socio-political capital. They resist the reductive national narrative that Muslims are perpetually foreign.

NbA AA Muslims also encounter racism and anti-Blackness within Muslim spheres, which augment systemic racism from the broader society. Examining experiences of racism and racial micro-aggressions perpetrated by White and non-Black[8] Muslims reveals social clashes among adherents in the United States. The predominance of said racism means that many AA Muslims encounter a paradox, wherein the egalitarian ideals contained in their religion are superseded by the racial objectification inflicted on them (Karim 37). [End Page 4]

NbA African American Muslim Romance

African American Muslim authors represent the largest subset of writers in the NbA Muslim hybrid culture.[9] My research uncovered over thirty Muslim fiction[10] titles written by AA Muslims. A consequence of the continued lack of diversity the publishing industry, the majority of authors self-publish or become indie publishers.[11] Most AA Muslim authors are not full-time novelists. Consequently, publishing remains inconsistent, with no stable annual book releases[12] save a few professional authors like Umm Zakiyyah, Sa’id Saleem, and Umm Juwayriyah.

Of these thirty texts, I chose six to critically examine.[13] Some tropes shared by these works across genres diverged from those used by American Muslim authors who are not African American.[14]

  1. Many titles include conversion experiences and interactions between main characters and non-Muslim characters with whom they share familial (i.e. parent, sibling, relative, etc.) ties, as well as intimate friendships and/or relationships.[15]
  2. Plots tend to center the Islamic faith, and many characters are motivated by or recognize the significance with their relationship to Allah (swt).
  3. There is a connection to the tradition of AA novelists seeking to utilize fiction to articulate their cultural experiences, raise social consciousness, and affect social change—known as the Black Literary Tradition.[16]

Through an extensive African American heritage, AA Muslim authors tap into a rich literary tradition spanning centuries with some steady messaging, and infuse it with culturally-specific Islamic observances and interpretations reflective of members merging faith and race. Also, when centering the Islamic faith and characters’ fictional relationships with Allah (swt), AA Muslim romance authors often produce recurrent themes in Muslim fiction novels that highlight a triangular desire similar to those contained in Christian romance, but with a few marked differences, which will be noted later.

Faith-based Romance

Romantic distinctions stemming from religious and belief structures offer a subtle but significant divergent perspective differing from secular norms exclusively centering the heroine and hero. In romance fiction, the central (and occasionally the only) focus of the plot is on the love relationship and courtship process of the two main characters (Ramsdell 4; Regis 14). Characters and elements exterior to the couple serve to facilitate or foil the developing relationship, resulting in their lifetime joining either through marriage or committed partnership.[17] However, romance critics Lynn S. Neal and Valerie Weaver-Zercher present romance formulas wherein God maintains omnipotent influence over protagonists in Christian love stories. Neal explains in Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction how belief or lack of belief plays a pivotal role in the protagonists’ ability to unite in Evangelical romance (Neal 6): “Evangelical romances place one’s relationship with God before all other relationships [and the characters are] transformed [End Page 5] and brought together through the power of God’s love” (5). In Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, Weaver-Zercher posits a comparable objective for Amish fiction: to encourage readers to cherish and prioritize the sacred love of God (127). Both Neal and Weaver-Zercher seem to agree that “God is the ultimate lover who pursues them and will always be there for them” (Neal 159). However, numerous approaches to faith, love and romance makes it necessary to appreciate nuances beyond one construct. Since multifaceted representations of God as the ultimate lover across Christian denominations requires distinct analyses, so too should literary criticisms of works from authors of different faiths.

Similar to Christian romance models, romances written by AA Muslim authors prioritize Allah (swt) in the development of the romantic plot, barrier to the protagonists’ union, and ultimate objective in the love story. Although not an “ultimate lover” pursuing the protagonists—something I will unpack further later—the deity remains at the pinnacle of the Stable Muslim Love Triangle prevalent in AA romance fiction, whereby at least one of the protagonists’ commitment to Allah (swt), as opposed to attraction to the object of desire, serves as a lynchpin to the union.

The Love Triangle

The love triangle is a frequent feature of romance novels. In The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel, Jennifer McKnight-Trontz outlines ways in which married protagonists encounter challenges to their happily ever after (HEA) via “the heartache of matrimonial trouble by way of adulterous affairs, love triangles, and divorce” (35). However, romance love triangles are not limited to causing disruption in a marriage. David Shumway states that modern “popular novels or stories are much less likely to make love triangles explicitly adulterous [but] the love triangle remains fundamental to popular fiction of the turn of the century” (45). Love triangles are one manifestation of the “triadic structure”[18] of relationships, wherein one subject is excluded (Shumway 14-15). Love triangles present an opportunity to provide “the barrier” to the protagonists’ union, an essential romance element.

Pamela Regis describes the barrier in romance fiction as a series of scattered scenes containing external (outside the protagonists’ minds) or internal (inside of at least one of the protagonists’ minds) conflicts that establish reasons for the inability for the lovers to unite (32). In a romance containing at least one love triangle, an individual often serves as an external barrier to the lovers. However, a common theme in religious romance involves a protagonist’s internal conflict between a commitment to God and human love for another character, generating a love triangle jeopardizing both relationships. René Girard’s theory of triangular desire serves as a base to reveal how AA Muslim romance authors consistently place Allah (swt) at the apex of romantic structures, maintaining principle authority in determining the viability of love between characters.

René Girard’s Triangular Desire

The love triangle involving Allah (swt) as the ultimate arbiter of the feasibility of a union between the protagonists is a constant in African American romance. African [End Page 6] American authors often include an internal barrier where one or more characters use(s) Islamic parameters to decide whether to initiate or continue a romantic relationship. In Areebah’s Dilemma, the titular character Areebah chose not to pursue a relationship with her love interest, non-Muslim Frankie. Although Areebah was in love with Frankie, the character decided, “no matter how much she cared about him, she loved Allah [swt] the most” (134-135). Areebah’s decision indicates the level of dedication to her faith as well as Allah’s (swt) role as the “mediator of desire” (Girard 2) in a love triangle comprising the novel’s protagonists and God. Girard describes the “mediator of desire” as the “model” with which the “subject” pursues objects of desire (2). Girard uses the triangle as a “spatial metaphor” that expresses the triple relationship, wherein, “The mediator is there…radiating toward both the subject and the object” (Girard 2). The mediator of desire dominates all of the connections in the love triangle, and the subject forsakes personal desires and aspirations for the mediator’s criteria.

A triangle with the text "Girard's Triangular Desire" in the middle and "Mediator" "Subject" and "Object" at the top, left, and right points respectively.

A subject surrendering desire to a mediator is present in various forms of literature. Girard uses Don Quixote as an example of the “subject/disciple” surrendering to a mediator (in this case, Amadis and chivalry), allowing it to supersede his desires (2). Others have extended Girard’s mediator of desire love triangle for specific cultural applications. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick states, “The triangle is useful as a figure by which the ‘commonsense’ of our intellectual tradition schematizes erotic relations, and because it allows us to condense in a juxtaposition with that folk-perception several somewhat different streams of recent thought” (597). Sedgwick utilizes Girard’s literary love triangle as a vehicle to convey homosocial bonds between the subject and the mediator (598), demonstrating the pliability of Girard’s model.

Lisa M. Gordis outlines two Christian triangular love structures, both of which maintain a rivalry between a supernatural God and human lovers. In Puritan texts, the human lover—typically the husband—becomes a rival with God for the affection of the love interest—usually the wife. In these works, God is a “full partner” and “active presence” as in most Christian romances, but He presents a superior lover to the wife in particular and an adversary to the husband’s affections (Gordis 324). Portrayals include God as “jealous” supreme being in the love triangle who punishes spouses for having too much love for their [End Page 7] corporeal love interest (325). The structure is triadic, with God vying predominantly with the husband for the affection of the wife, demanding priority in her heart through punishment and death.[19]

Evangelical romances reinforce the superiority of divine over human love, but through less grave content. Gordis asserts that the demand to uphold the genre’s happily-ever-after convention results in God being, “less a jealous God than a matchmaking deity, sending his beloved children earthly comfort” (331). Consequently, the humans must “learn to balance their triangulated relationship,” and God, while consistently victorious, continues to compete with the lovers for amorous supremacy (333).

AA Muslim romances differ from both of these Christian models in their placement of Allah (swt) in the love triangle. The distinctions among and between Christian and Muslim triangular models of desire[20] deserve sustained critical attention beyond the scope of this article. I will focus here on one significant difference regarding the position of Allah (swt) in the Muslim love triangle as well as His roles as competitor, intermediary, and arbitrator for the human couple and stabilizer of the triangular desire when the relationship dynamics between the lovers change.

Instead of positioning Allah (swt) as a victorious competitor—either through pain/death or enlightenment—for love between human subjects, AA Muslim romance authors continually recognize the immediate superior status of the deity in the love triangle. One or both human subjects pursue His affection and approval to the point of deferring to His protocols when determining the suitability of the object of desire. Amina Wadud posits that any relationships between any two people or two groups and Allah (swt) are essentially one of horizontal reciprocity, explaining, “Each of the two persons are sustained on the horizontal axis because the highest moral point is always occupied metaphysically by Allah [swt]” (850). Wadud’s horizontal placement of humans at the base of the triangle structure not only stabilizes Allah (swt) at the pinnacle, it infers and reinforces Islamic teachings regarding the deity’s independence as well as His appreciation for love between humans without the need to compete with it.[21]

AA Muslim fiction presents an additional departure from the Christian romance rivalry between God and the couple worshiping him, in that authors regularly emphasize the individual relationships each character maintains with the deity. Aysha A. Hidayatullah expands on Wadud’s horizontal reciprocity and explains that humans simultaneously occupy “horizontally equivalent” spaces under Allah (swt) while each also maintaining separate “vertical” relations to Allah (swt) (168), which they ideally prioritize. Habeeb Akande includes individual characteristics, stressing worship and love of Allah (swt) as premier attributes in a love interest. Akande highlights “taqwa” (god-consciousness) for men and “righteousness” for women as desirable qualities in potential partners (205, 240).[22] Writers of American Boy, Khadijah’s Life in Motion, Areebah’s Dilemma, and His Other Wife include pressures on love triangles stemming from characters’ embodiment of or challenges with belief or exhibiting righteous behaviors. Main characters must consequently navigate barriers to attaining a happily-ever-after because love interests either do not satisfy expectations of “righteousness” or do, but are not the immediate characters to whom the main characters are attached. The primacy of the vertical relationships existing between Allah (swt) and human subjects highlighted in AA Muslim romance situates Allah (swt) as the exalted arbitrator in the horizontal relationships between them. Furthermore, the authoritative role of Allah (swt) remains stable, whether plots include the deity as a [End Page 8] matchmaker like in some Evangelical texts, wherein he sends “his beloved children earthly comfort rather than deferring their happiness to the heavenly plain” (Gordis 331), or a barrier resulting from issues of faith or lack thereof in the object of desire.

In Muslim romances, Allah (swt) is the mediator of desire, and the Muslim protagonists submit to His dictates and protocols to determine whether to pursue the “object.” The level of commitment each Muslim subject has to Allah (swt) as mediator of desire varies, and Girard posits that simpler characters do not utilize a mediator (2).[23] However, Allah’s (swt) mediator status remains and generates a Stable Muslim Love Triangle at the foundations of AA Muslim Romance, even with the presence of subsidiary love triangles.

Numerous AA romance novels contain standard love triangles involving three characters. In American Boy by Zara J, main character Celine struggles to keep the father of her child Umar with her and away from her rival Tara. In Khadijah’s Life in Motion by Jatasha Sharif, Tyrone returns from prison to find out that his live-in lover Pamela converted to Islam and had a beau in the form of Muslim police officer Ibrahim. Deanna conspires to keep her husband Jacob and best friend Aliyyah apart in His Other Wife by Umm Zakiyyah. However, in addition to the external barriers presented by love triangles between characters, AA romance habitually contain internal barriers emanating from a SMLT, where Allah (swt) is the mediator of desire at the apex. The AA romance novels Areebah’s Dilemma: Love or Deen, American Boy, Khadijah’s Life in Motion, and His Other Wife reveal how Islamic ideals emphasizing love of Allah (swt) produce a SMLT comprising of the deity, heroine, and hero, the specifics of which vary depending on religious identity and adherence.

In a small research study I conducted, all of the self-identified AA Muslim novelists indicated that they intentionally wrote to 1) convey NbA Muslim experience, 2) as a means of da’wah and social commentary. Authors also informed the survey that they included Muslim characters as literary vehicles to highlight Islamic faith practices according to their interpretations (Abdullah-Poulos). In many instances, authors construct Stable Muslim Love Triangles, where faith serves as an internal barrier against as well as a catalyst for the union of romantic protagonists. Consequently, Allah (swt) influences the Muslim’s affection and the moral compass with which the believer determines how to interact with people, including a potential or current love interest. These authors consistently highlight marriage as the primary objective of romantic interactions in their works, and position Allah (swt) as establisher of the protocol with which the believer determines who is suitable. The parameters for an acceptable spouse set in the Quran include: 1) faith,[24] 2) marital status,[25] and 3) familial ties.[26] Observant Muslims should follow the dictates of the religion to assess the qualifications of a potential spouse.[27] Muhammad al-Jibaly describes marriage as “a bond held together by mutual rights and responsibilities,” and spouses should have certain characteristics that make them competent in what is ideally a fair partnership (1) according to divine dictates. Al-Jibaly uses revelation and prophetic guidance to focus on obligations between the spouses, extending the deity’s authority in the horizontal relationships between the spouses as well as horizontal ones directly with him.[28] Thus, Allah’s (swt) exalted status and dual prevailing influence stabilizes the triangle of desire. [End Page 9]

The Stable Muslim Love Triangle (SMLT)

African American romance authors often use the Stable Muslim Love Triangle to serve both as a barrier to and the catalyst for the protagonists’ ultimate union. Two static components of the SMLT are the heteronormative nature of the triangle and marriage. Beyond these fixed confines, the composition of the SMLT, as well as its presentation as a barrier or catalyst, shifts due to a number of factors. Two prominent factors affecting the status of a SMLT in AA romance are 1) observation of the faith, and 2) the religious identity of the object. The former of these two factors influences the SMLT concerning two Muslim characters, while the latter applies to love triangles involving a Muslim subject and non-Muslim object. AA romances containing one or both of these factors generate three distinctive love models, as noted above:

  1. Muslim subject and object;
  2. Muslim woman and non-Muslim man;
  3. Muslim man and non-Muslim woman.

Exploring each of these love models reveals the SMLT’s role in fostering and impeding connections between protagonists.[29]

A triangle with the text "Stable Muslim Love Triangle" in the middle and "Allah" "Subject Muslim" and "Object Muslim/nonMuslim" at the top, left, and right points respectively.

Muslim Subject and Object

Novels include romance triangles with two Muslim protagonists. However, characters’ daily religious application and characteristics frequently differ. Consequently, African American romance contains unions with two Muslim characters strengthened by the Stable Muslim Love Triangle, as well as those weakened resulting from a shift in the mediation of desire dictated by Allah/the mediator. One protagonist in romance upholds an idealized Muslim archetype of a practicing Muslim who prays, fasts, and prioritizes their relationship with Allah (swt) in their daily interactions and interpersonal connections. In His [End Page 10] Other Wife, protagonists Jacob and Aliyyah both fulfill the idealized Muslim archetype. The novel contains scenes of hero Jacob performing Qiyaam al-Layl, a special late-night prayer to seek guidance from Allah (swt) about his marriage to Deanna and love for Aliyyah (182). Similarly, many of the scenes in His Other Wife show Aliyyah offering Qiyaam al-Layl as well as Fajr (early morning) prayer and reading Quran (46, 63-64, 111-112). The praying of Qiyaam al-Layl and Fajr denote a level of devotional excellence in Muslim culture, and Zakiyyah frames the protagonists as idealized Muslim archetypes. Satisfying the idealized Muslim archetype solidifies the viability of the Jacob and Aliyyah’s union and reinforces a positive SMLT between them. However, Jacob pursues Aliyyah while married to Deanna, whose behavior diminishes her ability to exhibit an idealized Muslim archetype and, we will later see, eventually jeopardizes the couple’s marriage.

Unlike the characters engendering Muslim devotional traits, an insufficient exhibition of religious excellence or an error made in the story line disqualifies a flawed Muslim character from obtaining idealized status. There are numerous major character defects contained in the examined novels that may make a character ineligible for idealized Muslim status. Umar in American Boy is a devoted Muslim but flawed by engaging in illicit sex through a one-night stand with his non-Muslim co-worker Celine. Tyrone’s sexual violence via his attempted rape of Pamela/Khadijah in Khadijah’s Life in Motion similarly disqualifies him as an idealized Muslim archetype despite his regular offering of prayers and attending Islamic classes at the masjid. Umar’s brother Khalid in American Boy drinks and gambles; Ahmed in Her Justice is extremely violent. These character flaws prevent them from being ideal Muslims. Whether a character is an idealized or flawed Muslim, their relationships follow a common pattern: if both partners in a relationship apply religion to their lives, their relationship solidifies; if one of them fails to do so, it fractures. Ultimately, characters who observe the Islamic faith to any significant degree defer to Allah’s mediation of desire, which delineates faith as the primary characteristic for a spouse in a Muslim marriage.

In the studied texts, novelists largely prioritize faith and piety at the pinnacle of desirable characteristics for a Muslim subject in AA romance, and when a Muslim object falls short of satisfying the expectations of the subject, there is a breakdown in the relationship. Observant Muslims tend to place religious dedication as their top preference when searching for a spouse. In His Other Wife, Jacob’s relationship with his first wife Deanna begins to deteriorate as his distaste for her perceived un-Islamic behavior increases. In one scene, Jacob and Deanna are driving home and she slaps him (63-64), which introduces readers to her abuse and violation of Islamic protocol regarding slapping (Muslim 6321). Jacob initially tolerates Deanna’s “slaps, hits, punches, or kicks” (63-64) as a part of their marriage, but when layered with more perceivably un-Islamic behavior, such as lying, harassment, and appearing on television with “her hijab pushed back displaying half her hair” and “her lips in a pout, shiny with red lipstick” (184-185), Jacob ultimately dissolves the marriage. Leaving Deanna is not easy for Jacob; she had a firm grasp on him through marriage and sexual control. In one scene, Deanna approaches Jacob during their separation and offers herself for sex. Jacob, torn by his emotions, “yearned for Deanna in a maddening way, and he hated himself for it” (132). Jacob eventually sees Deanna’s proposition for “halal intimacy” as “physical and psychological manipulation” (132). Jacob prays to Allah (swt), “O Allah, give me strength,” spurs Deanna’s advances, and walks away. Jacob’s distaste for his wife’s un-Islamic behavior supersedes the hero’s desires, and Jacob appeals to Allah/Mediator to intercede. Despite being Muslim, Deanna is unable to secure idealized Muslim archetype [End Page 11] status. The combination of Deanna’s physical abuse, immodesty, and aggressive sexual behavior transforms the SMLT she shares with Jacob from a catalyst of their union into a barrier, and ultimately, they divorce.[30]

In AA romance, the Muslim subject concedes to Allah/Mediator and the mediation of desire to initiate and maintain an amorous relationship. The Muslim subject will seek and dispose of a Muslim object love interest based upon the former’s conforming of resistance to the mediation of desire via adherence to the Islamic faith. As demonstrated in His Other Wife, the object’s failure to comply with the subject’s mediation of desire jeopardizes the SMLT.[31] The surveyed stories also convey a theme among AA romance authors that once the SMLT destabilizes, the subject rejects the flawed character, and there are no apparent means of redemption for the object. I have not yet found a novel with a plot structure diverging from this model.

Muslim Woman and Non-Muslim Man

African American Muslim romances with a Muslim subject and non-Muslim object play out differently depending on participants’ gender. Islamic law differentiates between potentially permissible relationships between a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman and always forbidden relationships between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man. As a result, Muslim women choosing to marry non-Muslim men often meet cultural and religious resistance. AA Muslim romance authors address the gender distinction when Muslim characters explore relationships with non-Muslims, and the Stable Muslim Love Triangle functions as catalyst (when the relationship is permissible) or barrier (when it is forbidden).

Unlike the more common romance trope between a Muslim man and a woman outside of the faith, AA romance authors infrequently pair a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim man. One clear example, Areebah’s Dilemma, demonstrates the effects on the SMLT of a Muslim woman desiring a non-Muslim man and their potential union. Realizing that a romantic relationship with Muslim Areebah was impossible, non-Muslim Frankie begins to explore Islam as a faith option. In Areebah’s Dilemma, Frankie accepts Islam, develops his spiritual connection with Allah (swt), and marries Areebah. However, before Frankie’s conversion, Areebah is perplexed and wavers back and forth between avoiding and pursuing him.

Areebah is clearly smitten with Frankie. She loses sleep thinking about him and even considers being his second wife (137).[32] She takes the opportunity to arrange an “accidental” meeting with Frankie at the hospital when he visits his dying mother. Grayson writes, “When she saw Frankie…exit the elevator, she almost jumped into his arms” (112). However, Areebah is aware that Frankie is married and eventually meets his wife, Felicia. Consequently, Areebah and Frankie face an external barrier presented as Frankie’s marriage to Felicia, as well as an internal barrier that manifests because Allah (swt) is Areebah’s mediator of desire, and Frankie’s non-Muslim status challenges their union.

Felicia dies in the novel, removing the couple’s external barrier. Areebah and Frankie engage in a series of text and Facebook direct messages, reigniting their love for each other. However, the SMLT remains an obstacle, and hero and heroine remain distant. Consequently, instead of acting on her carnal desire for Frankie, Areebah appeals to her mediator, Allah (swt), to make Frankie interested in conversion and make him a suitable beau. Because of Allah’s (swt) supremacy over Areebah’s desire, Frankie becomes an object “emptied of its [End Page 12] concrete value and enclosed in an aura of metaphysical virtue” (Dee 391). In other words, Areebah wants an idealized Frankie that simultaneously embodies her temporal desires and the necessary spiritual markers by becoming a possession of the Mediator/Allah (swt). Once Frankie converts, Areebah experiences a fusion of her desire for Frankie and the need for her as a Muslim to adhere to the mediation of desire constructed by the Mediator/Allah (swt) in Islamic marital protocols.

Allah (swt) also becomes Frankie’s mediator of desire when he converts. Wanting to ensure that his conversion would be authentic and not because of his feelings for Areebah, Frankie distances himself from Areebah and begins to study Islam. Frankie did not want to “enter into a way of life for anyone except himself” (168). The character was “determined to learn more about Islam” regardless of whether or not he ultimately ended up with Areebah (168). Frankie’s fervor to study Islam reflects a common theme in AA romance and culture, where non-Muslims develop an interest in the religion because of a Muslim love interest. The shift that takes place in Frankie reflects the malleability of the SMLT, which is constant but not stagnant. Girard mentions that love triangles may change in shape and size without destroying the “identity of the figure” (2). Therefore, the Allah/mediator, Areebah/Muslim Subject, Frankie/non-Muslim object triangle transitions into an Allah/mediator, Areebah/Muslim Subject, Frankie/Muslim object triangle, which reflects Girard’s assertion that the stability of the love triangle emanates from the mediator and subject, while the object “changes with each adventure” (2). The changeable nature of the object – in this case, Frankie – promotes diversity in the SMLT without dissolving the structure.

The relationship between Areebah and Frankie shows a significant pitfall that a Muslim woman encounters when the object of her affection is a non-Muslim male. In practice, Muslims globally do not always observe limitations on Muslim women’s marriage to non-Muslim men. There are instances of Muslim women entering interfaith marriages (Abbas), and there are examples of Muslim imams who perform such ceremonies. However, they face considerable pushback from those strictly adhering to the faith’s traditional restriction. Riad Fataar, a senior leader of South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council, asserts, “Everybody knows that such a marriage is not permissible in Islam. It is ridiculous to think otherwise” (Moftah). Therefore, Grayson’s portrayal reflects a circumstance resulting from a Muslim woman’s fundamental observation of Islamic law, which frequently occurs in orthodox Muslim cultures.

The lack of a valid marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men simplifies the SMLT between such characters in AA romance. However, when the lovers are a Muslim male and non-Muslim female, the triangle’s nature increases in complexity. AA authors offer prolific storylines comprised of variable relationships between Muslim heroes and non-Muslim women.

Muslim Man and non-Muslim Woman

Compared to Muslim women, the Islamic faith affords more latitude to Muslim men regarding amorous relationships. Although non-physical courtship and heteronormative marital sex apply to Muslim men, the religious status of the inamorata is not as stringent. Islamic law, based on interpretation of a Qur’anic verse (Al-Quran, 5:5), traditionally allows Muslim men to marry certain non-Muslim women, specifically Jews and Christians. Similar to a relationship between a Muslim female protagonist exhibiting interest in a non-Muslim [End Page 13] man, African American authors predominantly respect the Islamic parameters interpreted by the culture for amorous plots involving a male adherent and woman who falls outside of these allowed groups. The majority of the novels include self-identified Christian women and Muslim men.

Muslim male characters in AA romance typically do not desire to sacrifice the idealized Muslim archetype to preserve their relationships with non-Muslim women. In some novels, Muslim male characters attempt to coerce their non-Muslim lovers—with whom they frequently have an existing or past sexual relationship— to convert, insisting that failure to do so will jeopardize the union. In American Boy, Umar refuses to marry Christian heroine Celine, whom he has impregnated, unless she converts. Umar is determined to have a Muslim family; he explains to Celine, “Growing up, my mother always talked about having a good Muslim wife and marrying the ideal woman. It was embedded in us” (180). Umar’s desire for a Muslim wife dually satisfies his desire as well as his obedience to his perception of what Allah/the Mediator arbitrates for him, which further impresses the urgency of the provision of Celine’s conversion before their nuptials. Umar’s ultimatum threatens more than their relationship. Celine’s pregnancy means that if she and Umar remain unmarried when she gives birth, their child will be born illegitimate.

Legitimacy among American Muslims is extremely important; illegitimate children are subject to numerous legal issues. For example, if Umar’s child is born out of wedlock, Islamic law dictates that he or she will have Celine’s last name and the child will not be able to inherit from Umar. Both Umar and his family may be unaware of Islamic law. However, the author presents them as a traditional Muslim family observing Islamic protocols, so it is doubtful. Umar and his family prioritize the main character having a wife who satisfies the idealized Muslim archetype over the interests of the unborn child. The fact that Umar’s “ideal” Muslim wife is available in the form of Tara makes it easier for him to court her and overlook how his decision to marry her instead of Celine will affect his baby. For Umar, standards about a Muslim wife from his upbringing supersede the reality of the need for him to marry a woman, who is an acceptable candidate for marriage under Islamic law, to protect the legitimacy of his child, which is arguably the priority. Consequently, the novel contains two love triangles. The Allah/mediator à Umar/subject à Celine/object presents a barrier love triangle and the Allah/mediator à Umar/subject à Tara/object a catalyst love triangle.

Ultimately, Umar commits to the SMLT with Tara at the detriment of his child, which was acceptable for the novel’s Muslim characters. Umar abandons Celine and their baby because of her non-Muslim status and marries Tara. However, by the novel’s end, Umar eventually takes his newborn child from Celine to raise with his new bride. He leaves the mother of his child alone and showing obvious signs of post-partum depression. The love triangle between Umar, Celine, and Tara excludes Celine, not because of anything she does but because she is a nonbeliever in the Islamic faith. Like Frankie in Areebah’s Dilemma, the main character flaw is being non-Muslim and aggravating the SMLT in each romance plot via their unsuitability according to Allah (swt) as the mediator of desire.

AA romance characters exemplify many issues that exist in AA culture. The romantic connections depicted in their love models involve either 1) two Muslims or 2a) a Muslim woman desiring a non-Muslim man or 2b) a Muslim man seeking to develop or maintain a relationship with a non-Muslim woman. These represent multifaceted applications of the SMLT, which firmly places Allah (swt) at the pinnacle governing the decisions a Muslim character makes about an object of desire. [End Page 14]

The SMLT is a consistent trope in AA romance. It is comprised of Allah (swt) as the mediator in a mediation of desire and one Muslim subject acquiescing to his dictates when determining whether to pursue or maintain a relationship with an object of desire. Variations of the SMLT appear along the lines of religious identity. In novels containing plots with a Muslim subject desiring a Muslim object, a character’s lack of piety and the inability for the object to satisfy the idealized Muslim archetype expectations destabilize the SMLT and disrupt the relationship. When the subject is a Muslim woman, and the object is a non-Muslim man, Islamic marital prohibitions, established by the mediator Allah, disqualify the union. Muslim men may marry Christian and Jewish women in addition to Muslim women. Consequently, when the object of desire for a Muslim male subject is a non-Muslim woman who self-identifies as either, conversion to transform the object and satisfy the idealized Muslim archetype creates the primary barrier to the union. The SMLT demonstrates culturally-specific usage of triangular structural relationships prevalent in romance literature by AA romance authors.

AA Muslim romances demonstrate the existence of a distinctive AA Muslim hybrid culture, resisting stereotypes of American Muslim culture as inherently foreign. Moreover, they offer sharers of the depicted experiences—AA Muslims—opportunities to negotiate tensions stemming from simultaneously belonging to AA, American, and Muslim American communities as well as the global Ummah.[33] Authors also provide unique romantic structures indicative of their cultural experiences, generating SMLT tropes that place Allah (swt) at the pinnacle as an authority over and not a competitor to the viability of protagonists’ love connections.


[i] (swt) is an abbreviation for the English transliteration Subhana wa Ta’ala, meaning “Glory be to Him, the Highest.” It is customary among Islamic scholarship to include the phrase after writing Allah’s name in their works.

[1] It is important to note that the term “Islamic culture” encompasses an array of practices, customs, and representations, with ideally Quranic and prophetic underpinnings – the interpretations of which vary individually, ethnically, regionally, etc.

[2] While American Muslims speak a multitude of languages, including English, Arabic maintains a widespread influence because of the use of the language in religious practices.

[3] Native-born American in the scope of this study comprises African-Americans, Euro-Americans, and Latino-Americans. The premise here is that these three Muslim groups represent specific American experiences and heritages with significant historical influence in the development of the country’s socio-political dynamic.

[4] i.e. socio-political, racial, gendered, nationalistic, etc.

[5] The term “Black” is often interchangeably used by people who also self-identify as “African American”. However, the term “African American” more specifically indicates a cultural identity and heritage connected to the enslavement of Africans in the Americas, to which not all Americans of African descent identify.

[6] Conversion populations also include NbA Latinx, Euro-American, and Native American Muslims.

[7] It is important to note that while there is a large conversion population in the NbA African American Muslim cultural identity, the subculture also contains extensive generational Muslim families, with some having as many as five generations. [End Page 15]

[8] Non-Black in this context represents a cross-section of identities within Muslim communities, including Middle Eastern, South Asian, Asian, and Latinx. In addition, African American Muslims may encounter bias from African-immigrant Muslims, who often seek to disassociate from them—the complexities of which are beyond the scope of this article.

[9] Although there are works of fiction written by NbA Muslims identifying with other ethnicities (i.e. Euro-American, Latino-American, etc.), I did not find a sufficient number of novels to present a well-rounded representative sample of those hybrid subcultures.

[10] Muslim fiction is a budding genre in the United States, with authors from numerous backgrounds comprising American Muslim culture, and Muslim authors and publishers still need to solidify a stable definition. However, there is a current consensus that Muslim fiction is 1) authored by self-identified Muslim authors and 2) contains Muslim characters. I have pushed back on those reductive parameters in conversations with authors and publishers because they tend to alienate certain Muslim author-produced texts.

[11] A few examples of indie publishing presses launched by AA Muslim authors include Mindworks Publishing and University Publications.

[12] The last observable AA Muslim romance, Her Justice, was published in 2016.

[13] Ironically, I informed at least two authors (Umm Zakiyyah and Nasheed Jaxson) that their texts could be considered romances. The author categorized them outside of the genre. Umm Zakiyyah’s text His Other Wife remains so, but Nasheed Jaxson’s text Her Justice is now categorized with romance titles.

[14] Presently, most American Muslim fiction authors write mainly YA and children’s books. I discovered few romance titles by Muslims centering Muslim love interests and the faith—AA Muslim romance authors being the primary exception. There are Muslim authors like Sa’id Saleem writing general romance, but most titles do not fit within current parameters of Muslim fiction, which raises questions about them that makes further exploration by scholars, authors, and the industry necessary.

[15] Intimate relationships serve as a barrier catalyst in some AA Muslim romances, which will be explored later.

[16] Novels written by African Americans often serve as more than sources of entertainment. These literary works frequently reflect historical and social conditions of the African American experience as well as serve as “weapons for social change” within the culture (Carby 95). I explored this aspect of AA Muslim authorship in my thesis and think delving deeper into how authors tap into this tradition is important to understanding complex cultural connections contained in the subculture.

[17] The emergence of diverse romance plots that include polyamorous relationships push against the boundaries of heteronormative monogamous tropes, which makes them worthy for deeper exploration beyond the scope of this article.

[18] According to Shumway, triadic structures in narratives are not exclusively comprised of love interests and may include “father/daughter, king/court” as well as other examples. Triadic structure relationships are “intersubjective because all three subjects of the narrative are represented as both desiring and desirable” (15; emphasis in original).

[19] In her analyses of The Autobiography and The Parable of the Ten Virgins by Thomas Shepard as well as A Christale Glasse for Christian Women by Phillip Stubbes, Gordis provides examples of Puritan female characters who endure suffering and end up on their death beds resulting from an imbalance of their male love interest’s (husband’s) love for her or his inability to handle the stronger pull of God on his bride (325-330). [End Page 16]

[20] American Muslims are hardly monolithic or stagnant in their interpretations and implementation of the faith. The AA Muslim authors and works examined highlight a cultural sampling of a specific experience, which contain additional facets not revealed through textual analysis, which encourages further examinations and expansion.

[21] Quran and hadith both contain references to Allah’s (swt) supremacy and self-sufficiency without needing or desiring worship or love from His creation. In the Quran, Allah (swt) says, “O mankind, you are those in need of Allah [swt], while Allah [swt] is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy” (35:15). Therefore, unlike the Puritan and Evangelical texts, God is not a competitor for or jealous of love or affection between humans, nor does he punish humans for loving each other too much in an Islamic context.

[22] Although, Akande quotes specific ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) as well as scholarship in a way that categorizes them as gender-specific, Quranic teachings encourage adherents of both genders strive to attain taqwa and righteousness. Human subjects in AA Muslim triangular romance will ideally seek said qualities in the love interest.

[23] In Areebah’s Dilemma: Love or Deen, Areebah’s son Baqir has a non-Muslim girlfriend. However, as a minor character, the absence of Allah as mediator of desire is not relevant to the novel’s plot.

[24] Abdul A’La Madudi explains that the prohibition against marrying a “mushrik” (Al-Baqarah, 2:221) secures a believer from being influenced by a non-believing spouse and corrupting the faith in the home (volume 1, 162). He asserts, “One who sincerely believers in Islam can never take such a risk merely for the sake of the gratification of his lust” (volume 1, 162). Madudi’s default use of “his” indicates how androcentric Quranic exegesis from men can be, which influences the broader culture and reinforce misconceptions that Muslim women do not have inclinations towards non-Muslim men—mushrik or otherwise. Except for Karimah Grayson, the majority of Muslim novelists surveyed reinforced this generalization. Grayson’s Areebah’s Dilemma features a Muslim woman torn between her faith and the non-Muslim man she loves, something not uncommon in African American Muslim culture despite efforts to ignore it.

[25] Madudi also expounds on the allowance for Muslim men to marry chaste women from the “People of the Book”—generally accepted to mean Christian and Jews (Al-Maidah, 5:5). He mentions that the sanction contains a caveat requiring the women be “chaste” (volume 3, 20), something insufficiently addressed in AA Muslim romances. While there is yet to be a plot with a Jewish love interest, the chastity of Christian ones is not addressed, and is, in fact, often clearly nonexistent, which will be examined later. Muslim male protagonists in Khadijah’s Life in Motion and American Boy contain love triangles with apparent sexual history between the subject and object of desire.

[26] Prohibitions against certain women one may marry are mostly self-explanatory lists and infer the male gender by default: “Also (prohibited are) women already married…” (An-Nisaa, 4:22-24). Madudi does clarify that maternal and sibling marital injunctions extend to step- and foster parents and siblings (volume 2, 110). AA Muslim authors have yet to include any type of risqué plots involving incestuous desire.

[27] Additional sources that codify acceptable spouses for Muslims exist. There are ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) that provide further description for Muslims deciding upon a candidate for marriage, but the mentioned Quranic passages serve as the foundation. [End Page 17]

[28] For example, al-Jibaly asserts, “A woman’s obedience to her husband is an obedience to Allah (swt) in the first place, because he ordered it (73). al-Jibaly’s obtuse treatment of the term “obedience” disturbingly reinforces spiritually-coercive gender oppression by inferring that male domination over women is by divine mandate, but his argument does exemplify the simultaneous vertical and horizontal sovereignty Allah (swt) retains as well as negates notions that the deity is jealous; rather, He directs interactions between the spouses.

[29] NB: I’ve concluded that the repetitive use of the terms “Muslim man,” “Muslim woman,” Non-Muslim man,” and “non-Muslim woman” necessary to highlight the defined heteronormative parameters to which the surveyed authors adhere as well as leave an “open door” for extension of the present frame to include love models that may not neatly fit into the current one. For example, I do not want to erase the possibility that there may be, now or in the future, an AA Muslim author who includes LGBTQ love interests, which would require new analyses.

[30] Deanna also experiences a mental breakdown and hospitalization as further punishment for her un-Islamic behaviors. Although the author reveals that she is a child sexual assault survivor, Deanna suffers a series of humiliations that justify Jacob’s leaving her and marrying Aliyyah, making her the other woman despite being married to the hero.

[31] The Muslim subject and Muslim object are gender-neutral terms. There is an opportunity for portrayals a woman who defers to Allah (swt) as mediator of desire and a man who jeopardizes the SMLT through un-Islamic behavior. Interestingly, I did not discover an example of an African American romance author writing this dynamic in a plot.

[32] Polygyny is never a viable option in the novel. Frankie remains an ineligible suitor for Areebah until after his wife Felicia dies and he converts. Interestingly, the majority of African American Muslim authors surveyed “toy” around with notions of polygyny in their works, and never present it as a functional marital option despite its practice in many AA Muslim communities. Examining portrayals of polygyny is beyond the scope of this article, but it does warrant further exploration.

[33] Ummah is a broadly-used term in Muslim cultures to denote the larger Muslim fellowship. [End Page 18]

Works Cited

Abbas, Rudabah. “‘Halal’ Interfaith Unions Rise Among UK Women – Al Jazeera English.” Al Jazeera: Live News | Bold Perspectives | Exclusive Films, 31 Dec. 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/12/2012122795639455824.html. Accessed 13 Mar. 2016.

Abdullah-Poulos, Layla. “Muslim Love American Style: Islamic-American Hybrid Culture and Native-Born American Black Muslim Romance.” MA thesis, SUNY Empire State College, 2016. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Accessed 6 Aug. 2018.

Akande, Habeeb. A Taste of Honey: Sexuality and Erotology in Islam. Rabaah Publishers Ltd., 2015.

Al Quran. Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in English Language: A Summarized Version of Al-Qurtubi, and Ibn Kathir with Comments from Sahih-Al-Bukhari. Translated by Muhammad T.D. Al-Hilali and Muhammad M. Khan, Maktaba Dar-Us_Salam Publications, 1986.

Al-Jibaly, Muḥammad. The Fragile Vessels: Rights and Obligations between the Spouses in Islam. al-Kitaab & as-Sunnah Publishing, 2000.

Baker, Joseph O, and Buster G. Smith. American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems. New York University Press, 2015.

Bukhari. The Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Ṣaḥîh Al-Bukhâri: Arabic-english = Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī. Translated by Khan M. Muhammad, Maktaba Darul Salam, 1994.

Carby, Hazel V. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. Oxford UP, 1987.

Dee, Phyllis S. “Female Sexuality and Triangular Desire in ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘The Mill on the Floss’.” Papers on Language and Literature, vol. 35, no. 4, 1999, p. 391-416, Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A58163348/AONE?u=esc&sid=AONE&xid=cd5b42b2. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Francis, Conseula. “Flipping the Script: Romancing Zane’s Urban Erotica.” Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love As the Practice of Freedom?, edited by William A Gleason and Eric M. Selinger, Ashgate, 2016, pp. 167-180.

Girard, René. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

Gordis, Lisa M. “Jesus Loves Your Girl More Than You Do: Marriage as Triangle in Evangelical Romance and Puritan Narratives.” Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love As the Practice of Freedom?, edited by William A Gleason and Eric M. Selinger, Ashgate, 2017, pp. 323-346.

Grayson, Karimah. Areebah’s Dilemma. Create Space, 2015.

Hall, Stuart, and Gay P. Du. Questions of Cultural Identity. Sage, 1996.

Hartman, Geoffrey H. The Fateful Question of Culture. Columbia UP, 1997.

Hidayatullah, Aysha A. Feminist Edges of the Qur’an. Oxford UP, 2014.

Jaxson, Nasheed. Her Justice. Kindle edition, Nasheed Jaxson, 2014.

J, Zara. American Boy. University Publications, 2014.

Karim, Jamillah A. American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender within the Ummah. New York UP, 2009.

Maududi, Abdul A’La. The Meaning of the Qur’ān. 3 vols. Translated by ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Kamal, Islamic Publications, 1988.

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McKnight-Trontz, Jennifer. The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.

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Moody-Freeman, Julie E. “Scripting Black Love in the 1990s: Pleasure, Respectability, and Responsibility in an Era of HIV/AIDS.” Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love As the Practice of Freedom?, edited by William A Gleason and Eric M. Selinger, Ashgate, 2016, pp. 110-127.

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“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).

Conclusion

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

Primary Texts

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. London: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. 1811. London: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Bevarly, Elizabeth. Dr Mummy. 2000. Richmond, Surrey: Silhouette, 2001. Print.Beverley, Jo. My Lady Notorious. 1993. New York: Signet, 2002. Print.

Burney, Frances. Evelina. 1778. London: Penguin, 2004. Print.

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Cartland, Barbara. The Problems of Love. London: Corgi, 1978. Print.

Castle, Jayne. Orchid. New York: Pocket, 1998. Print.

Chase, Loretta. Lord of Scoundrels. New York: Avon, 1994. Print.

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Herries, Anne. Captive of the Harem. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2002. Print.

Heyer, Georgette. Cotillion. 1953. London: Pan, 1966. Print.

Heyer, Georgette. Devil’s Cub. 1932. London: Pan, 1969. Print.

Heyer, Georgette. Simon the Coldheart. 1925. London: Arrow Books, 2005. Print.

Heyer, Georgette. The Nonesuch. 1962. London: Pan, 1975. Print.

Hull, E. M. The Sheik. 1919. London: Virago, 2002. Print.

Jenkins, Beverly. Josephine. 2003. New York: Kimani, 2009. Print.

Lindsey, Johanna. Defy Not the Heart. New York: Avon, 1989. Print.

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Martin, Michelle. Pembroke Park. Tallahassee, FL: Naiad, 1986. Print.

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Samuel, Barbara. “The Love Talker.” Faery Magic. New York: Zebra (Kensington), 1998. 193-260. Print.

St. John, Cheryl. The Preacher’s Wife. New York: Steeple Hill, 2009. Print.

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

Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974. Print.

Barrett-Fox, Rebecca. “Hope, Faith and Toughness: An Analysis of the Christian Hero.” Empowerment versus Oppression: Twenty-First Century Views of Popular Romance Novels. Ed. Sally Goade. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2007. 93-102. Print.

Betz, Phyllis M. Lesbian Romance Novels: A History and Critical Analysis. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Print.

Blackwood, Evelyn. “Women’s Intimate Friendships and Other Affairs: An Ethnographic Overview.” Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Ed. Caroline B. Brettell and Carolyn F. Sargent. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 237-47. Print.

Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham: Duke UP, 1988. Print.

Cook, Jon. “Fictional Fathers.” Sweet Dreams: Sexuality, Gender and Popular Fiction. Ed. Susannah Radstone. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1988. 137-64. Print.

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

Douglas, Ann. “Soft-Porn Culture: Punishing the Liberated Woman.” The New Republic 183 (30 Aug. 1980): 25-29. Print.

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

Frantz, Sarah S. G. “‘Expressing’ Herself: The Romance Novel and the Feminine Will to Power.” Scorned Literature: Essays on the History and Criticism of Popular Mass-Produced Fiction in America. Ed. Lydia Cushman Shurman and Deidre Johnson. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. 17-36. Print.

Gallop, Jane. Feminism and Psychoanalysis: The Daughter’s Seduction. London: Macmillan, 1982. Print.

Gilbert Albino, Lucia, Sarah J. Walker, Sherry McKinney, and Jessica L. Snell. “Challenging Discourse Themes Reproducing Gender in Heterosexual Dating: An Analog Study.” Sex Roles 41.9-10 (1999): 753-74. Print.

Gilmore, David D. “The Manhood Puzzle.” Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Ed. Caroline B. Brettell and Carolyn F. Sargent. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 207-220. Print. Rpt. Of Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1990. 2-29.

Gold, Laurie. “Frequently Asked Questions.” All About Romance. Web. 5 May 2009

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Johnson-Kurek, Rosemary E. “Leading Us into Temptation: The Language of Sex and the Power of Love.” Romantic Conventions. Ed. Anne K. Kaler and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. 113-148. Print.

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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).

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