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

Posts Tagged ‘intertextuality’

Fifty Shades of Remix: The Intersecting Pleasures of Commercial and Fan Romances
by Katherine Morrissey

The commercial success of the Fifty Shades of Grey books has prompted an outpouring of media coverage on the trilogy and its rapid success. Much of this coverage has focused on the idea of “mommy porn” and the notion that not only do female readers seem to enjoy erotic literature, but there is also potential for making money off this trend. For readers of all kinds of romantic fiction, however, this news is neither particularly shocking, nor, in any way, news. What may be of more interest to many romance readers [End Page 1] and scholars are, instead, the origins of Fifty Shades, and the fact that the series has made the move from a not-for-profit piece of Twilight fan fiction to a set of commercial books. Fifty Shades’ history and success marks an opportunity for fan studies and popular romance scholars. This is an occasion to revisit past conversations regarding the connections and disconnections between romantic fan fiction and commercial romances.

Past explorations of fan fiction as romance have often focused on the categories of het (male/female relationships) and slash (male/male) fan fiction. This work often either categorizes fan fiction as a type of romance writing, or works to mark out boundaries, separating fan fiction and romance into two different storytelling types.[1] Fifty Shades refuses such clear categorizing. In its transition from a lengthy work of fan fiction titled Master of the Universe by fan writer Snowqueens Icedragon to the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy authored by E.L. James, Fifty Shades blurs the lines between fan work and commercial fiction, amateur and professional, as well as the romantic and the erotic.[2] Fifty Shades compels us to look beyond taxonomic mappings of what does or does not constitute romance. The series reminds us that the differences perceived between categories can be shaped as much by networks of production and distribution as they are by story content.

With these themes of intersection and blurred boundaries in mind, I want to use the grey-ness of Fifty Shades as an opportunity to explore the connected pleasures that fan and commercial romances bring to their readers. First, I will review some of the concerns raised regarding the reconfiguration of fan work for the commercial market. Next, I will turn to past scholarship on the similarities and differences between fan fiction and commercial romances, discussing the challenges faced by scholars exploring these different modes of production. Finally, I will outline the importance of play with form and intertextuality across fan and commercial romances, emphasizing the significance of these elements to readers’ pleasure. While scholars need to be attentive to disciplinary concerns and medium specific contexts, the impulse to deny intersection and to quickly apply labels like “original,” “derivative,” and “formulaic” can signal problematic assumptions and artificially segregate certain storytelling forms. As Abigail Derecho argues, “[t]o label [a] genre of fiction based on antecedent texts ‘derivative’ or ‘appropriative’ then, throws into question the originality, creativity, and legality of that genre” (64). These terms reinforce stigmas long connected to women’s authorship and reading. In exploring intersections between fan fiction and commercial romances, new opportunities emerge to explore the ways that romantic storytelling is working within and against social norms and testing new possibilities for the representation of relationships and desire.

Reacting to Fifty Shades

For many readers and writers of fan and commercial romances, the repackaging of works of fan fiction as commercially sold texts is seen as a growing problem or threat to their reading experiences. While Fifty Shades has gained notoriety as a media event, it represents neither a first incident nor an isolated one. As digital publishing opportunities expand, a growing amount of stories and authors are moving from non-commercial fan spaces into digital-lit markets. This movement is facilitated by increased opportunities for [End Page 2] self-publishing as well as a growing digital publishing industry. Recently, Amazon.com has even taken steps to get involved in this trend, marketing their new Kindle Worlds service as a self-publishing platform for authorized works of fan fiction.[3] Readers and writers of commercial romances and fan works are observing these trends and wondering what Fifty Shades’ success may signal. Fifty Shades has offered these two communities an opportunity to discuss this type of crossover literature. In spaces like Dreamwidth, LiveJournal, and Tumblr, many fans have posted their reactions to the Fifty Shades series and its success. There have also been lengthy discussions on popular romance blogs like Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author. These discussions have raised questions regarding the ethics of converting fan fiction into a commercial product and the impact this may have on fan communities. Discussion has also focused on aesthetics and the perceived quality of fan work, fan fiction’s legal status, and whether something like Fifty Shades, a story that began as fan fiction and has been converted, qualifies as “original” work.

For many fans, the monetization of fan work has often meant a fan author “pulling to publish”: removing their writing from the community, deleting files on fan archives, and erasing as much of the work’s history as possible on fan websites and archives. Since fan fiction is generally produced within a community setting, pulling creative work from this setting is viewed negatively by many fans. The processes of both production and reception for fan works are highly social and the stories are often perceived as part of this larger community network, a network of exchange built around themes of sharing and giving, rather than profit and commerce (De Kosnik; Hellekson). Fan work is also particularly intertextual. Fan fiction writers use their fandoms as common frames of reference and extrapolate on these frames as they develop their own interpretations of settings and characters. This intertextuality goes beyond the relationship between the fan work and the source text it responds to and encompasses social relations between fans. As Louisa Stein and Kristina Busse explain:

[b]y definition, fan fiction is in intertextual communication with the source text; however, in practice, it also engages with a host of other texts, be they clearly stated requests [from other fans], shared interpretive characterizations, or even particular instantiations of the universes that the fan writer chooses to expand upon. (199–200)

Fan writers utilize and comment on these broader community ideas, critiques, and interpretations, adding to them with their own writing. Stories in this network influence and rub up against each other, feeding into a broader community dialogue around characters, narrative choices, and various potentials within different story worlds. Removing a particular story from this network threatens the gift economy through which fan networks often operate.[4] It erases a social history, moments of conversation, and moments of pleasure from a particular network of fans.

For readers of commercial romances, the repurposing of fan fiction stories into commercial ones is becoming increasingly visible with the growth of digital publishing, particularly within the category of m/m romance. The reworking of stories without disclosing their origins is sometimes framed by romance readers as a form of deception or a kind of cheating. (An allegation that implies fan authors are simply repurposing other people’s ideas and labor without putting in much work of their own.)[5] This sense of [End Page 3] deception may arise simply from a reader’s desire to know the history of the manuscript. However, a sense that the author is cheating can also reflect a deeper ambivalence regarding the very process of fan production itself and whether that process constitutes original work or, indeed, any work at all. While fan work has become more visible as a social practice in recent years, fans’ creative practices remain contested and debated. Fan work challenges traditional notions of authorship, ownership, and labor practices around creative production. In this way, fan work and the blurring of romance and fan fiction as writing categories may also serve as a threat to readers and writers of commercial romances. In a community that is so often told by society that romance is not real literature and where romance authors are often perceived more as hobbyists than authors, the prospect of being connected with the proudly unprofessional world of fan fiction may spark understandable concern.

Just as commercial romance readers and writers are concerned about larger public perceptions of romantic literature, fans may also be uncomfortable with their work being associated with romance. (The history of this in fan scholarship will be discussed further in the next section of the paper.) It is important to remember that here too, there is a community reacting protectively against larger public perceptions. Fan practices are often characterized as obsessive, frivolous, and aberrant in ways strikingly similar to the ways that commercial romance reading practices have been positioned.

Stigma around romance and fan writing is part of a long legacy of public concern around women’s writing and reading practices. Concerns about women’s reading and writing have come from many different directions, conservative and liberal, academic and cultural. As Joanne Hollows explains, due to the genre’s association with women, “[m]any literary critics [have] regarded romantic fiction as the ultimate example of the trivial” (68). Romance has also been positioned as work “produced for mindless, passive consumers” (Hollows 68). Similar concerns have been raised regarding fan fiction. Discussing the ways shame operates in many predominantly female fan communities, Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen note that there is a “cultural fear of female sexuality which sometimes lies beneath criticism of female fan behavior” (60). In particular, Zubernis and Larsen observe that cultural discourse around “the ‘wrong’ kind of desire is powerful… and is an integral part of the cultural containment of female desire in general” (60).

The public nature of Fifty Shades’ success and the equally public media debate over the “threat” BDSM content might represent to susceptible (i.e., female) readers has brought both fan fiction and romance into the spotlight again, reactivating many conversations about the relationship between these two modes of writing. Of course, the reactions and concerns described here do not reflect the views of all fan or commercial romance readers. More importantly, while here these reactions have been organized as emerging from two different writing and reading communities, the reality is that there is also a great deal of crossover between these spaces. Many fans of romantic stories read both fan fiction and commercial romances. Although there are differences between fan fiction stories and commercial romances, the success of Fifty Shades reminds us that stories, readers, and writers are flowing across these community boundaries. [End Page 4]

Romance(s): Problematizing the Slash/Romance Binary

Scholarship examining the relationship between fan fiction and commercial romance has a tendency to either rapidly align the two modes of writing and move on or position them in opposition to each other. More often, the tendency has been to focus specifically on one category of fan fiction, slash, contrasting the m/m relationships found in slash with the traditionally m/f world of commercial romances. This approach excludes het fan fiction and tends to footnote femslash (f/f relationships) entirely, dismissing it as a smaller and less relevant fan fiction category.  As Laura Kaplan describes it, “[t]he comparison usually carries with it a whiff of scorn for romance, if not for slash. Romance, it is to be understood, is a simplistic and static genre… slash fiction is either more of the same or is essentially the same but somehow improved” (121). This history sets up problems for scholars interested in exploring Fifty Shades and its position within both fan and commercial spaces. Fifty Shades began as Masters of the Universe, a lengthy piece of fan fiction connected to Twilight, a young adult paranormal romance series. As Masters of the Universe, it explored and reworked Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, adding more sexually explicit content and investigating the power dynamics of Bella and Edward’s relationship in Twilight through the context of a fictional BDSM relationship. Later, as the commercially sold Fifty Shades series, the same content was repackaged with new character names and sold as a boundary pushing erotic romance. Where do we place such a story? Do we analyze it only as fan fiction? Do we ignore the text’s ties to Twilight and focus more on the ways that Fifty Shades pushes at the boundaries of erotic romance? In order to better understand a text like this and the intertextual moves it makes, we need to revisit past scholarship and investigate some of the assumptions made regarding the relationship between romance and fan fiction.

Many early pieces of scholarship on fan fiction and romance seem overly focused on answering the question: Why would women want to read that? Often making problematic assumptions about what “that” is. Working in a variety of disciplinary fields, scholars often use terms like romance, pornography, and genre in ways that do not cleanly intersect, frequently causing communication errors. More recently, however, there has been a great deal of popular romance scholarship calling attention to the problems inherent in defining a single universal type of romance. Similarly, in fan scholarship, others are calling for a reconsideration of the slash/romance binary. As popular romance studies emerges as an interdisciplinary field looking at various modes of romantic storytelling, it is important that we treat this history with care and be mindful of the different ways our disciplinary fields may position us and the terms we use.

In scholarship on fan fiction, slash has often been framed as a kind of feminist and/or grassroots counter to a predominantly heterosexual mass-market romance (Lamb and Veith; Penley; Kustritz). Slash is also sometimes aligned with the pornographic or seen as utilizing and renovating pornographic elements into a new and distinct mode of romance writing (Penley; Woledge). In this configuration, the pornographic is often problematically positioned as active and romance assumed to be passive (Driscoll). The problem with positioning slash in opposition with commercial romance is that it overlooks the many shared interests and themes between these two modes of writing. It also ignores the diversity of commercial romances and the various ways that romance sub-genres [End Page 5] approach sexual content. Furthermore, the heavy focus on slash artificially isolates it from the larger field of fan fiction, which includes a variety of romantic stories, as well as stories with no romance plot at all. The relationship between slash specifically and fan fiction generally is far more intertextual than confrontational. Similarly, the heavy focus on “pairings” and “ships” across fan fiction, and a focus in these stories on overcoming obstacles to place two characters in relationship with one another, suggests that fan fiction and commercial romances are not oppositional modes of writing, but instead are modes of writing with linked interests.[6]

In much past analysis of slash, romance has been positioned as a problematic starting point which slash renovates and improves on. Penley, Lamb and Veith, Kustritz, and others contrast romance with slash, positioning slash as a “redoing,” a “radical departure,” or a “tear[ing] down” (Penley 318; Lamb and Veith 238; Kustritz 377). For example, Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diana L. Veith find consistent themes of “psychological, emotional, and physical intimacy” in slash when they look at Star Trek fan zines from the 1980s (238). The difference between slash and romance, they argue, is that slash zines insist “that true love and authentic intimacy can exist only between equals”—the implication being that this equality is not possible in a relationship between a man and a women (244).  To find this equality, Lamb and Veith argue that Star Trek slash writers and readers move beyond their day to day realities, and look instead to m/m romances and fantastic futures as a way of transcending the complicated realities women negotiate in their own relationships.

If slash renovates romance, this still implies that it is heavily dependent on and exists in conversation with romantic conventions. Furthermore, this notion of slash as a kind of romance improvement model can overlook ways that themes of intimacy and equality are also popular in commercial romances. As Pamela Regis observes, a common element in much commercial romance literature is a flawed society which “may be incomplete, superannuated, or corrupt” and “always oppresses the heroine and the hero” (33). According to Regis, this setting often becomes a major part of the external and internal barriers that the protagonists struggle to overcome. In negotiating with these obstacles, romance is often working to bring its characters from a place of inequality and misunderstanding into greater intimacy and connection. Commercial romances also take flawed relationships and remodel them for their protagonists. Indeed, it might be said that a key element across romantic storytelling is the constant return to and reworking of relationship dynamics.

While much scholarship on the relationship between fan work and romance has focused exclusively on slash, it is also important to remember that slash is not the entirety of fan writing. Slash is one piece of a larger network of fans’ creative work. While there are many fans who prefer one particular variety of fan fiction over another, the fandoms themselves weave together different threads of fan interest, serving as loose social networks that connect many types of fan fiction readers and writers. Thinking about slash in connection with other types of fan fiction reveals larger patterns. It reminds us of the significance of “pairings” and “ships” across fan fiction and suggests that the relationship between commercial romances and fan fiction is less oppositional and more interdependent.

Catherine Driscoll uses the existence of general, or what fans call “gen,” fan fiction as evidence of the dominance of pairing culture within fan work. “Gen,” she explains, “is [End Page 6] defined mainly by opposition… [it] is fan fiction that falls predominantly into no other available genre” (83). In this way, gen becomes a kind of catch-all categorical other to het and slash, suggesting “a layering effect to classification in fan fiction, where pairing and rating function as more important generic markers than comedy or angst” (Driscoll 84). Driscoll observes that common romantic patterns “of ignorance and revelation,” as well as “obstacles arranged around status of different kinds,” are used in fan fiction (84). These elements are used as barriers “to defer romantic fulfillment, which is the usual point of narrative closure” in fan fiction stories (84). As with any attempt at mapping out a mode of writing, there are ways Driscoll’s description both encompasses many fan fiction conventions and also cannot cleanly apply to all of them. Her observations are still a reminder, however, that romantic conventions are common across many types of fan fiction. Each mode of writing (fan romances and commercial ones) varies in its use of these conventions and takes them in different directions. In particular, differences in production medium, editing systems, and distribution/reception networks all influence the kinds of romantic stories told within fan and commercial spaces.

A Blurry Field of Reference

Conversations regarding fan fiction and romance can be tripped up by terms and stalled by attempts to deflect stigma. Scholars interested in the larger questions that cross these writing spaces are often hindered by the meanings, implications, and histories different terms carry with them. Fan and popular romance studies are both interdisciplinary fields. Within their various research disciplines, fan and romance scholars are working to address and move beyond stigmas collectively faced by many modes of storytelling associated with women. With these goals in mind, greater care needs to be taken to ensure that this research is not deflecting stigma by constructing problematic hierarchies of its own.

The study of popular romance is an interdisciplinary field featuring various media, industries, and modes of storytelling. An interest in representations of love and sexual desire often connects this work, but terms like “romance,” “erotica,” and “pornography” can mean very different things in different disciplinary spaces. As the field of popular romance studies grows, our ability to place terms in relationship with one another and explore how various texts represent love and desire will be equally dependent on how we approach these words and our attentiveness to how others are using them.

This issue of terms also seems to saturate conversations regarding Fifty Shades. Readers and scholars alike struggle over whether Fifty Shades should be labeled romance or erotica, “original” work or “derivative” fan fiction, bad role model or good. The more complicated answer may be that Fifty Shades is all of these things at the same time. What different reading communities want to argue Fifty Shades is not may indicate as much about the person doing the analysis and their own perspective as it does Fifty Shades. While broader, cross-media analysis is challenging (and will always need to be balanced with focused and site specific analysis), this work remains important for scholars interested in broader cultural conversations and in thinking about genre beyond medium and industry specific zones. Despite the challenges, it is important that popular romance scholarship [End Page 7] considers romantic storytelling at both micro and macro levels of genre and culture. It also requires that scholars remain particularly attentive to and reflexive about the ways disciplinary context and medium shape their research and analysis.

Rethinking terms and taking care in how they are used seems particularly important at a time when romance scholarship, so traditionally located in the medium of print, is experiencing its own remediations and fluctuations. Genres are constantly undergoing change, but, at the current moment, the influence of digital publishing on the broader world of romantic literature warrants greater attention and study. Popular romance studies is working simultaneously to adapt to and trace this process. This makes seeking a clean classification system to either separate or connect commercial and fan romances a quest that is fraught with issues. Rigid taxonomies are not useful when examining a flow of texts and culture which is inherently intertextual, multi-modal, and constantly changing to address both market demands and shifting cultural norms.

Within and Against / Unique and Familiar

With these themes of intertextuality and interdisciplinarity in mind, this paper will now return to the issue of the “formula.” I want to look again at the significant roles that intertextuality and a spirit of play (with form and archetype) perform within fan and commercial romance writing. Being mindful of the differences between them, we can also find clear intersections between the intertextual play of fan work and that of commercial romances. Recent fan and romance scholarship suggests that these are processes that lie at the heart of both modes of writing. Within fan and commercial romances, intertextuality can function at the level of archetype/setting, as well as shared forms and narrative rhythms. Noticing these patterns reveals processes of storytelling in which texts and authors are constantly in conversation with one another, pushing each other to explore new configurations and possibilities for love and desire. Given Fifty Shades’ success as an erotic romance series and the text’s history as a lengthy work of Twilight fan fiction, Fifty Shades invites analysis from the perspectives of both fan and popular romance studies. With this need in mind, I want to place recent works of fan studies and popular romance scholarship in conversation with each other and then use these connecting ideas to think about some of the possibilities this scholarship has for a text like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Scholarship on romance novels has often worked to refute the stereotype of a mechanically reproduced romantic form. Carol Thurston, Jayne Ann Krentz, Pamela Regis, and others have worked to explore historic shifts in romance conventions, to reconsider formula as generic codes with nuanced meanings to readers, and to consider them as narrative elements found across literary history. Recent work by Pamela Regis and An Goris has called for these formulas to be seen instead as common frameworks: story elements available as creative tools for authors to work with.

Similarly, in fan scholarship, there has been increased attention to the intertextuality of fan work, positioning transformative work or remix as a long-standing cultural and creative practice. In this way, fan scholars are arguing that the remixing of characters and settings from individual fandoms should not simply be seen as a derivative process. They argue instead that the fandom (or source text) for fan work is only one [End Page 8] component of the process through which fan fiction is produced. In both fan and commercial romance communities, these processes of play with form and archetype seem to provide an important component to the pleasure of reading and writing romantic stories.

Play with formula is now being argued to be a principle part of the pleasure of reading and writing commercial romances. An Goris discusses this in her article “Loving By the Book,” a project which analyzes “how successful romance writing is… conceptualized from within the romance industry” (73). Goris points out that, despite dismissals of romance novels “as repetitive and formulaic… [romance writing handbooks] define and locate the genre’s success precisely in its ability to… [offer] its readers experiences of both comfort and surprise” (76). This practice, Goris continues, “translates into the simultaneous and interacting occurrence of familiar and new creative features in the romance’s narrative, as well as in its rhetoric, thus profoundly influencing a reader’s entire textual experience” (76).

Goris further emphasizes that, since this practice of repetition establishes a clear framework for all works in the romance genre, each text serves to provide a consistent and affective reading experience of “escape, relaxation, and positive emotions” (77). Consistency and predictability are not what is happening here. Readers expect common features, but look for them to be utilized in new ways. As Goris explains, “the romance reader expects and demands a new, exciting, and surprising reading experience… a unique new story which is still somehow familiar” (77). Key in building this encounter is the combination of an author’s voice with the traditional patterns of romance literature. In this formulation, the often-derided notion of the generic formula can be seen more as a basic narrative pattern providing a particular affective rhythm to the reader. This is a pattern that comes with common character archetypes and relationship dynamics, but these are elements that the author can be playful with, use creatively, and personalize. Authors bring the reader the affective rhythms they enjoy while also offering new possibilities, settings, and interpretations.

Goris is, of course, not the only romance or genre scholar to explore this process of playing with the familiar and to note its pleasures. As Eric Selinger and Sarah Frantz observe in their introduction to New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction, whatever the genre, “competent readers… take their pleasure in individual texts by reading them at once within and against the traditions and possibilities of that system” (6–7). Selinger and Franz observe, however, that genre scholars have historically hesitated to explore how this process plays out within romance. This is one reason why Goris’ analysis seems so useful. Mapping out the pleasures that familiarity and surprise brings to readers, Goris argues that the emphasis on voice and creativity within romance writing handbooks offers scholars a counter to the accusations of unoriginality and repetition the genre is often subjected to. Also notable here, beyond this notion of working with and against the familiar, is an underlying spirit of play, both with form and the reader’s expectations. A reader may read for a particular emotional journey, but part of writers’ work is to deliver a consistently happy point of narrative closure, while simultaneously producing a sense of risk and surprise in the reader. Additionally, particular settings and archetypal characters are both reused and reworked to test different configurations and possibilities. Within this play, intertextuality serves an important role for both readers and writers, with narrative patterns and archetypes becoming a shared referent for a writer to work and rework. [End Page 9] Readers, then, have the pleasure of experiencing this process as it unfolds, uncovering the ways that each text in the genre links to those around it. This can occur in common patterns which a text utilizes or by offering a kind of rhythmic counterpoint to other texts in terms of approach, articulation of character, and the ways an individual author chooses to narrate one particular instance of romance.

This play with voice and narrative rhythms can be seen in both Masters of the Universe and Fifty Shades of Grey. Both texts follow a similar narrative arc to the one provided by Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (a pattern that is also common to many romantic stories). In each text, the male and female leads encounter each other and immediately experience attraction and desire. Edward/Christian warns Bella/Ana away and this warning serves as a mystery that only draws her closer. Over time, secrets about the hero are revealed and these secrets challenge the couple’s ability to form a normative romantic relationship. Like the first book in the Twilight series, the first book in the Fifty Shades trilogy also concludes with our heroine alone and grieving over the apparent end of the relationship. The couple then spends the next books in the series working through the different barriers blocking intimacy and a long-term relationship between them.

To a degree, the narratives of all of these texts share a common momentum. Once Bella discovers that Edward is a vampire and Ana learns that Christian is a Dom, each text begins to work through this disclosure and feel out the kinds of obstacles it will present to the protagonists forming a romantic relationship. In each text, the hero presents some danger to the heroine and this threat becomes a part of the novel’s sexual charge. What is immediately apparent as different in the ancillary texts, however, is the way the narrative handles desire and sexual attraction. Masters of the Universe/Fifty Shades diverges from Twilight by insisting on addressing and satisfying Bella/Ana’s sexual desire for Edward/Christian. As a paranormal romance targeting a young adult audience, sexual desire is present in Twilight, but it also remains carefully under wraps. Masters of the Universe/Fifty Shades aggressively departs from these limits, pushing desire to the surface and making the couple’s sexual relations a primary focus of the narrative. Rather than reading about Bella and Edward spending many chaste and intimate hours talking together in the woods of Forks, Washington, in Masters of the Universe, these characters spend this time locked away together in Christian’s sexual playroom. In the process, Masters of the Universe/Fifty Shades reconfigures the narrative patterns of Twilight to bring different relationship elements to the surface of the text. As the characters negotiate the terms of their sexual relationship in Masters of the Universe/Fifty Shades, the subtextual desire present in Twilight becomes quite literally textual. Now the extent and form of the protagonist’s sexual relationship is discussed via numerous email exchanges, and Christian attempts to codify it further in the form of a contract between dominant and submissive partners.

In transitioning from Masters of the Universe to Fifty Shades, the revised text clouds the story’s legacy as fan fiction by changing character names and making small alterations to the story. The familiar shifts again into something new. In the process of changing publishing environment (and, eventually, moving from digital publication to print), the text’s ties to fan culture and the Twilight series fade from immediate view. Instead, the traditions and possibilities of each publishing system work to open up new angles of analysis. As Fifty Shades moves into the sphere of commercial literature and the references to Twilight become less vocal, the story’s broader ties to other bodies of romantic and [End Page 10] erotic literature may now be better able to come to the surface. For example, Fifty Shades’ frequent references to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and the parallels drawn between Hardy’s Tess and E. L. James’ Ana, subtly remind the reader that Bella and Ana (in all their textual iterations) are part of a long line of romantic heroines struggling with their desire and the themes of power, submission, and danger long attached to representations of female sexuality.

As a product, Fifty Shades also shifts the text’s target audience from the younger readers associated with Twilight to a more adult demographic. The focus now moves from implications of desire and a narrative that focuses more on longing and delay towards a story in which desire is brought to the surface and made explicit. The sexual encounters between the lead characters of Fifty Shades and Masters of the Universe are not possible within the publishing realm of young adult paranormal romance. Sexual content is, however, a familiar story element for fan fiction and commercial romance readers.

These themes of intertextuality, play with form and archetype, reading for an emotional experience, and the pleasure that comes with balancing familiarity and surprise seem strikingly familiar to many of the elements fan studies scholars have described as pleasurable and central to many fan fiction communities. Indeed, Selinger and Frantz’s description of readers taking their pleasure by reading “within and against the traditions and possibilities of that system,” feels profoundly similar to some of the core pleasures fans describe finding in the reading and writing of fan fiction (6–7).

Selinger and Frantz refer to genre as a single system, but in fan writing, it is often possible to locate multiple systems that fans are working within and against. In addition to a fandom’s system of romantic conventions, fan writers are also working with an immediate referent text (a fandom and its characters/story-world), a system of conversation within fans’ social networks, as well as broader generic systems like romance (Stein and Busse). The multiple systems activated within fan fiction may help to reveal further layers in commercial romances as well and, in particular, help to shed light on the ways that commercial romances utilize formulaic elements associated with the pornographic or the erotic. This, in turn, may help scholars to better understand the various generic systems at work within Fifty Shades of Grey.

Comparing slash fan fiction and commercial m/m romances, Deborah Kaplan argues that “[s]lash and romance conventions play off one another intertextually [in slash] to create something which is difficult to pin down” (126). Still, there are striking parallels that emerge within the reading and writing process for both noncommercial fan work and commercial romance. This suggests that fan studies scholarship exploring intertextuality may offer useful insights to romance scholars. Goris suggests that further analysis of romance’s process-oriented reading and writing systems may help romance scholars blur the high/low cultural divisions still producing literary hierarchies within our contemporary culture (82). Fan studies scholarship exploring intertextuality may offer useful insights to romance scholars pursuing these questions.

There have been numerous explorations of the functions of intertextuality, repetition, and play within fan work. Abigail Derecho has, for example, identified an “archontic” process at work in fan fiction, a term which Derecho uses to describe “works that generate variations that explicitly announce themselves as variations” (65). Derecho’s concept of an archontic work is derived from Derrida’s notion of the archive and an archive’s drive to expand and multiply. Archontic literature repeats with difference, [End Page 11] explores potentialities, and is shaped in relation to other texts (73–75). Within archontic literature, there is a drive to build on what came before, referencing other texts and adding new variations with each new iteration. Derecho sees the archontic process as a way to expand existing canons and add variation to norms (72).

This impulse to draw upon previous models and offer alternate interpretations to the canon can clearly be seen in Masters of the Universe, as well as being found across fan fiction and commercial romance writing more generally. In the Twilight series, Edward’s fascination with Bella leads him to regularly sneak into her bedroom to watch her sleep, and he insists on controlling when and how she touches him. Bella is regularly threatened by different vampires in the series because of the temptation she presents to them. These details point to an underlying tension in Twilight around issues of desire, temptation, and control. Masters of the Universe takes up these same power dynamics and examines what they might look like within a relationship between adults where they are addressed more directly as aspects of fictional BDSM relationship. As Fifty Shades, the references to Bella and Edward are removed and, instead, the broader ways that the text works within and against generic borders come into view. Fifty Shades is a bestseller, but it is also just one of many erotic romances currently on the market tackling issues of power and control within a sexual relationship. In this way, Fifty Shades is one text of many within this conversation and builds on a long literary archive of works exploring the relationship between the erotic and the romantic.

Derecho argues that archontic literature’s drive towards expansion and variation means that this type of literature will always appeal to the subordinate and provide those with less cultural privilege a place to speak. This is a tricky claim to uphold in relation to fan fiction given that, like all cultural products, it too struggles with issues of diversity and can reinforce hierarchies of cultural capital. Nonetheless, by framing archontic literature as a kind of expanding archive that gives voice to alternate possibilities, Derecho’s work opens up new opportunities for thinking about the environments that fan fiction and commercial romances have traditionally been produced in. A writer’s ability to be a voice for the subordinate or to deviate from norms also depends on conditions of production and market interests. Thinking about the ways different production environments facilitate or limit variance within romantic storytelling may provide alternate possibilities for discussing differences between various fan and commercial romances. This also raises intriguing questions about works and authors that cross these spaces. What enables a work like Masters of the Universe/Fifty Shades to move from fan fiction to commercial product? What drives authors to leave their publishing contracts and explore self-publishing or to write within fan networks? These are questions both fan and romance scholars will face as digital publishing opportunities expand and reading habits change.

Moving away from the metaphor of the ever-expanding archive, Mafalda Stasi describes slash fan fiction instead as an “intertextual palimpsest,” connecting “the various types of intertextuality in slash… to other textual strategies in different genres, styles, and periods” (119). Stasi uses the palimpsest—a surface that has been cleared for new work, but still contains traces of what came before—as a metaphor for fans’ use of existing characters and story-worlds as archetypal tools with which fan writers test new possibilities and variant histories.

Fifty Shades is a surface that contains the traces of many different texts within it. The two most visible influences are the work of fan fiction it was (Masters of the Universe) and [End Page 12] the Twilight series that initially inspired it. For example, Fifty Shades’ use of first-person narration leads directly back to the first-person narration in Twilight. The story’s regular references to Tess of the d’Urbervilles also remind the reader of traces of even older texts and literary traditions. Fifty Shades is not unique, however, in the ways that it contains traces of past texts. The reuse and repurposing of certain archetypes and paradigms is common across commercial romance literature.

Fifty Shades’ sexual language, however, and the use of non-conventional sexual encounters may also help explain the difficulty different zones of production have in fully claiming this text as one of their own. Frank discussions of menstruation are not necessarily standard fodder for romantic sex scenes in mass-market literature. Slowly working through barriers to intimacy, however, to form a mutually satisfying relationship is a paradigm at the heart of many romantic narratives. Fifty Shades is a story that borrows from many different writing traditions, high and low. The fact that this story emerged first online as a transformative fan work, and later made its way into print, may help explain Fifty Shades’ jumble of influences and literary reference points.

In their discussion of archontic literature and intertextual palimpsests, both Stasi and Derecho also seek to cross between notions of high and low culture, as well as folk processes of retelling (as craft) with creative legacies and influences in art and literature. Like Goris, they are aware that intertextuality and reference are traits that all creative works share at some level, yet each of these scholars is also exploring the heightened role that intertextuality seems to play within their particular sphere of romance writing.

Expressing a frustration that should feel familiar to many romance scholars, Stasi argues that, “[f]ar from being a monolithic, repetitive set of substandard texts created by a naïve set of scribbling women, whose bizarre hobby stands apart from any self-respecting body of literature, slash is a legitimate part of the literary discursive field” (119). In Derecho and Stasi’s work, we see two fan studies scholars working through the particulars of intertextuality in fan writing, but also connecting these aspects of fan fiction to longstanding creative practices. Within Stasi’s insistence that slash is more than a “repetitive set of substandard texts created by… scribbling women” and Selinger and Frantz’s earlier frustration with genre scholarship’s reluctance to explore romance’s repetitions at an aesthetic and formal level, we see both romance and fan scholars struggling with a similar problem: The ways that intertextuality and play with form within genres associated with women have culturally been relegated to the role of mechanized formula, labeled a particularly feminine pleasure, and categorized as pastime or hobby. The intersecting modes of pleasure in these storytelling forms have historically been stigmatized and diminished within academic institutions and in broader society. This should remind us that, while these clusters of texts are not identical, fan and romance scholars still struggle against similar forces. Both fan and commercial romances constitute important and connected pieces of a larger conversation about women’s leisure time, female desire, and women’s creative work in our contemporary society. Fifty Shades makes these conversations and interconnections particularly visible, but this conversation should not be limited to Fifty Shades. [End Page 13]

The Borders Are Always Grey

Past scholarship linking romance and fan fiction has sometimes been guilty of oversimplifying the similarities between these two storytelling modes, using them reductively to draw conclusions about “good” versus “bad” romantic formulas. This work has a difficult history. Both fan studies and popular romance studies scholars are warranted in their rallying call for more careful, contextualized, textual analysis of individual works within these different spaces. There is still much to be gained, however, in exploring the intersections between fan and commercial romances. Fifty Shades of Grey‘s massive popularity reminds us of the impact that digital publishing is having on the broader romance market. As a text, Fifty Shades shows us that fan and commercial romances not only intersect, but that movement across these writing spaces may be increasing. Many of the broader public reactions to Fifty Shades— asking, should women read this? is this good for them?— represent concerns that, hopefully, romance scholarship is starting to move beyond. In this way, Fifty Shades is also an opportunity to push the conversation further. Authors, readers, and scholars interested in fan and commercial romances still struggle against ongoing discomfort with expressions of female desire, writing and reading connected to emotion and sensation, and work that challenges capital “R” Romantic notions of authorship and originality.

The intertextuality underlying commercial and fan romances may sometimes play out in different ways, but these are stories in which the blending of personal voice with shared characters and forms is profoundly pleasurable. Fifty Shades of Grey reminds romance and fan scholars that, while drawing up disciplinary boundaries is necessary to develop fields and methodologies, scholars also need to be mindful of interdisciplinary flows and of the intertextuality of their own work. Stories and readers do not easily stay in fixed categories, and in today’s transmedia market, genres flow messily across media forms. Thankfully, however, as much as comfort and surprise are part of the pleasure of reading and writing romances, they also constitute part of the pleasure of studying it. Exploring the familiar in a new way seems a useful place to begin.


[1] Some of this history will be covered later in this paper; however, a sampling of work on the relationship between romance and fan fiction includes:  Lamb and Veith 1986; Penley 1994, 1997; Kustritz 2003; Salmon and Donald Symons 2004, 2004; Woledge 2006; Kaplan 2012.

[2] Both Snowqueens Icedragon and E.L. James are pseudonyms.

[3] Of course, many in fan studies have countered that this service is simply a new spin on the traditional practice of licensing tie-in novels for popular media franchises. For more on Kindle Worlds, see the announcement from the Amazon Media Room: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1823219.

[4] For more on gift economies and fan cultures, see Hellekson, Karen. “A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture.” Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 113–118.

[5] Debate about the legality or ethics of commercially profiting from fan fiction are beyond the scope of this paper. However, conversation about these issues has certainly circled around the Fifty Shades series and has long been a topic of debate in relation to fan fiction more generally. For a sampling of these conversations in relation to Fifty Shades, the [End Page 14] Dear Author blog’s series of posts on Fifty Shades (and its comments section) may be a useful place to start. For example, see the varied responses to blogger Jane Litte’s suggestion that disclosing Fifty Shades origins as fan fiction would be “courteous… truthful advertising”: http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/master-of-the-universe-versus-fifty-shades-by-e-l-james-comparison/.

[6] Pairings and ships (relationships) are terms fans use to refer to romantic/sexual pairings of characters. Individual pairings and ships help to organize a great deal of fan work, often serving as key terms used to structure fan fiction archives, guide web searches, etc.

Works Cited

Boog, Jason. “The Lost History of Fifty Shades of Grey.” Galleycat. 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.

De Kosnik, Abigail. “Should Fan Fiction Be Free?” Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 118 – 124. Print.

Derecho, Abigail. “Archontic Literature: A Definition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006. 61–78. Print.

Driscoll, Catherine. “One True Pairing: The Romance of Pornography and the Pornography of Romance.” Fan Fiction And Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays. Ed. Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse. McFarland, 2006. 79–96. Print.

Frantz, Sarah S. G., and Eric Murphy Selinger. “Introduction: New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Ed. Eric Murphy Selinger and Sarah S. G. Frantz. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012. 1–19. Print.

Goris, An. “”Loving by the Book: Voice and Romance Authorship.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Ed. Eric Murphy Selinger and Sarah S. G. Frantz. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012. 73–83. Print.

Hellekson, Karen. “A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture.” Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 113–118. Print.

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

Kaplan, Deborah. “‘Why Would Any Woman Want to Read Such Stories?’: The Distinctions Between Genre Romances and Slash Fiction.” New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Ed. Eric Murphy Selinger and Sarah S. G. Frantz. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012. 121–132. Print.

Krentz, Jayne Ann, ed. Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print. New Cultural Studies.

Kustritz, Anne. “Slashing the Romance Narrative.” Journal of American Culture 26.3 (2003): 371–384. EBSCOhost. Web.

Lamb, Patricia Frazier, and Diane L. Veith. “Romantic Myth, Transcendence and Star Trek Zines.” Erotic Universe: Sexuality and Fantastic Literature. First Edition. Ed. Donald Palumbo. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986. 235–55. Print. [End Page 15]

Litte, Jane. “Master of the Universe Versus Fifty Shades by E.L James Comparison.” Dear Author. Blog. 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

Meyer, Stephenie. Breaking Dawn. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print.

—. Eclipse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

—. New Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006. Print.

—. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. Print.

Penley, Constance. “Feminism, Psychoanalysis and the Study of Popular Culture.” Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations. Ed. Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, and Keith Moxey. Wesleyan University Press, 1994. 302–324. Print.

—. NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America. London ; New York: Verso, 1997. Print.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Print.

Salmon, Catherine, and Don Symons. “Slash Fiction and Human Mating Psychology.” Journal of Sex Research 41.1 (2004): 94–100. Taylor and Francis. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.

Salmon, Catherine, and Donald Symons. Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Print.

Snowqueens Icedragon. Masters of the Universe. Fan fiction. 2010 (estimated). Print.

Stasi, Mafalda. “The Toy Soldier from Leeds: The Slash Palimpsest.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006. 115–133. Print.

Stein, Louisa, and Kristina Busse. “Limit Play: Fan Authorship Between Source Text, Intertext, and Context.” Popular Communication 7.4 (2009): 192–207. EBSCOhost. Web.

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

Woledge, Elizabeth. “Intimatopia: Genre Intersections Between Slash and the Mainstream.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006. 97–114. Print.

Zubernis, Lynn S., and Katherine Larsen. Fandom at the Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. Print. [End Page 16]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blank, my lord. She never told her love

But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud

Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,

And with a green and yellow melancholy

She sat like patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief. (2.4.108-14).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you repeated it to Damerel!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20] See footnote 18.

[21] See page 5.

[22] Regency slang for illegitimate children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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