Princeton Romance Conference

I haven’t been able to keep an active transcript of every presentation, though I know Sarah Frantz has, and once her entry is up I will certainly link to it. But if you’ve been following the Twitter feed for the conference you’ve heard very, very brief snippets of the proceedings. Twitter is great for real time updates but in terms of the layered depth of the presentations, 140 characters is nowhere near enough. It’s impossible for me to capture the amazing thematic ideas and concepts that are being discussed.

Session I: Love and Faith: Romance and Religion

Evangelical romance fans point often to “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers a genre-defining title, as love of God redeems protagonists. Fictionalization of Biblical characters in books such as “Redeeming Love” which “overlay… basic romance plot structure with fundamentals of conservative Christian faith.”

Relationships with God necessity of religious conversion, or hero or heroine learning to address problems, sexual temptation, or other symptoms of deeper sexual malaise.

Conversion, forgiveness, obedience feature in evangelical romance, placing relationship with divine ahead of all others. Inspirational readers who are evangelical Christians read for entertainment and escape. Elude demands of daily life. Strengthen faith while relaxing through entertainment. Sounds familiar, right? Many romance readers have said thing, but evangelical readers also add that their reading is a form of directing attention to God.

They see reading as honoring God to choose that type of book as form of recreation. Pleasing to him b/c it has scripture and is clean. Skim over something or wish that you hadn’t. It’s a godly way of self entertainment.

Note: It’s interesting to me that it’s not a form of worship so much as permissable entertainment, or a way of soothing guilt over taking a “brain break” (one of Neal’s reader’s words) that the novel is captivating, engaging, emotional, and clean and “wholesome.”

The heroines are encouraging and inspiring. Christian romance is, for the inspirational reader a utility to establish connection between reader and heroine.

Neal’s analysis of reader is fascinating because it separates the Inspirational reader, particularly the evangelical Christian romance reader, as particular and unique as and from the romance reader, as Sarah Frantz pointed out on Twitter. In a curious sense, the evangelical romance reader can recast God as ultimate romance hero, with unconditional love, devotion, and strength to help with tribulations. That recasting then leads to examinations of virginity, piety, and role of heroine, and access to the heroine, in the context of inspirational romance.

Dr. Pamela Regis (SQUEEING COMMENCES NOW) is studying inspirational romance, and started by outlining the issues facing anyone who studies romance. Notably:

– Is author American or from UK? Important distinction.
– Form of “romance” is a marketing tool. Not always accurate in usage. *
– Previous works of romance

* Reminds me of Barry Eisler’s comment that when chocolate sells in red wrappers, granola won’t sell equally disguised in red wrappers because consumers will spot the difference.

Regis cites the first romance in America: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. She is not asserting that Richardson is American, FYI. Printed in 1742-1743 by… Ben Franklin. His edition didn’t sell. Franklin “had to eat it.”

Regis’ examination of Vivia by E.D.E.N Southworth (1857) is very, very interesting, as she cites it as first inspirational romance. Regis extracted Vivia’s statement in narrative that defines barrier, and is confirmation of self-actualization and demand for autonomy from HERO. Vivia is pissed because hero is symbiotically attached to her and wants him to “withdraw” from her and “turn to the Lord” instead, to be his own person through his faith. Subversion and inversion of quest for autonomy through pleas for individual’s connection and commitment to God.

Regis is continuing to examine inspirational romance and welcomes your ideas and thoughts on the subject at

I’m twittering more of the panels as it’s easier to catch up with their presentations in smaller bursts. I imagine this is bugging the ever living crap out of my followers. Sorry, y’all.

What I love about this conference so far is the enthusiasm and the ideas that you can almost hear in people’s brains firing like popcorn like that one time I forgot to put the lid on the air popper. So much potential in just about every field of humanities (and, given Eric Selinger’s discussion of mathematics in Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, the sciences as well).

Just as those of us who are devoted to romance wish that as a genre it was taken more seriously, the academics here today who see its potential wish that it were suitable subject matter for academic attention, both in pursuit of tenure and of professional promotion. If this is a start of academia examining romance, their addition to the conversation can only make everything more interesting.


General Bitching...

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  1. 1

    Mad props to Princeton for hosting this conference, and to you Sarah for double-timing your conferences. I’m loving the juxtaposition of RTs sexily tattooed cover models (via Jane at Dear Author) and the academic discussions going on farther north… it’s a perfect confluence of the various degrees of engagement one can have with the genre. All good. All valid.

    Not saying tattoos can’t be academic too. Obviously Jane’s doing her research. ;)

    Eagerly awaiting more~

  2. 2

    Thank the gods for Twitter and blogs and folks like you and Sarah Frantz. I now have the vicarious experience of being at the amazing conference.

  3. 3
    SonomaLass says:

    When the ideas are popping like corn, that’s a good academic conference.

    There has always been a resistance in the academy to the study of popular culture and popular entertainment—unless its old, that is, and takes on the shine of history.  (Hello, Shakespeare?) At least, they don’t want us to study it as literature or as art; that’s been my experience in English, comparative literature, theatre and film studies.  Studying the popular as social anthropology is somewhat more acceptable, it seems, if you are working from an underlying question such as “why did/do they like this crap?  Who paid for this entertainment, and how did it make their ugly little lives more bearable?”  To up and say “that which pleases many people must have some worth” is going against the academic grain, and I expect that gets even worse when most of those pleased people are women.

    I’m excited to think this might be changing, because it’s about goddam time.  Thanks for sharing this conference with us, SB Sarah—for all the fun everyone’s having at RT (and it does sound like fun!), it’s the Princeton conference for which I envy you.

  4. 4
    Dave says:

    The conference really is fantastic.  I’m not even a romance reader, and the ideas that are coming up are positively blowing my mind.  So glad I came!

  5. 5
    Marianne McA says:

    I’m surprised that they feel there’s such a clear distinction between the evangelical christian romance reader and the bog-standard christian romance reader.
    Oddly enough, I read ‘Redeeming Love’ last week for a book group associated with my church, and I couldn’t have told which type of Christians were which from their reactions to the book.

  6. 6
    Kate Diamond says:

    My critique partner is at the conference right now, and I am so jealous!

    I hope you continue to post your notes from various conference sessions. I want to live vicariously through you.

  7. 7
    ksquard says:

    I SO wanted to be in Princeton today, but my boss got dibs on the day off. I’m so very excited to have such inspiring (Ha!) academic debate of the romance genre. Keep updating us on all the good stuff!

    As for inspirational Christian romances, I’m an evangelical Christian and I can’t stand to read such books. It’s a personal preference. I have read Christian fiction/romance that is better than most (Francine Rivers is an incredible writer, no matter the genre or sub-genre) but they’re written for the market where swearing and sexual contact is a no-no and that never serves to take me out of the “reality”. I am thrilled, however, to here there are such interesting, academically oriented discussion (at PRINCETON no less!) going on about it and endless other aspects of our beloved romance genre.

  8. 8
    xenoglossy says:

    Holy crap, Pam Regis is a professor at my college—I’m taking Brit Lit with her this term, even. I knew she’d written stuff on romance novels, but I didn’t realize that she was such a big deal in the field, or that the Smart Bitches considered her squee-worthy. This is sort of a weird collision between my academic and online lives.

  9. 9
    Sarah Frantz says:

    @xenoglossy: Now Pam is wondering who you are! ;) And yes, hugely squee-worthy. And so amazing!

  10. 10
    Bonnie L. says:

    I have tried to get into the inspirational romance sub-genre because I thought it would be nice to take a trip to a land that I know well and explore it a bit, but I have found that the majority of the characters and stories that populate that particular land don’t resemble any of the people and situations I know. Time and time again, I pick up a book only to be bored by characters and conflicts stripped of the meatiness in order to appear, I don’t really know what the goal is, but they come off as unrealistic and something I just cannot connect to.

    On the topic, I’m glad to see that so many academics and other thinkers get together to examine a genre that is so often thrown away.

  11. 11
    Tina C. says:

    Just read the entire Twitter …conversation?  Tweets?  Not sure what to call them, but I read all 20-something pages.  I was able to follow most of it (the character restriction makes it hard to get the complete gist sometimes) and I’d love it if the papers presented were printed up or posted online or something.  Some of them seemed really intriguing.  But the one that I really couldn’t understand was this:  Was there someone on SBSarah’s panel that was dissing her/Smart Bitches and, if so, why?  I couldn’t make out what the beef with this site was (if there was one) and why she chose this venue to present it.

    (Oh, and Sarah, I definitely agree—10-minute presentation means 10 minutes.  Not 15.  Not 20.  Definitely not 30.  It is absolutely disrespectful to other panelists and to the audience, who won’t have time for questions.  And speaking of questions, yes, questions should actually come in the form of a question.  Otherwise, they are statements.  There’s a difference.)

  12. 12
    Jan says:

    What a wonderful conference. Will the papers be posted on Teach Me Tonight? Please continue to keep us up on the proceedings, especially what you find squee-worthy. Wish I could be there.

  13. 13

    The conference was amazing! So glad I got to be there…and great to finally meet you, Sarah (and you, Sarah F!).

  14. 14
    Larnsturt says:

    I’m pulling my hair out trying to remember the name of a romance author who wrote secular novels for many years before becoming a Christian and somewhat renouncing her earlier work for her new, and much tamer, novels.  My mother (a deaconess in a church) gave me a few of her Christian novels and I remember liking them very much.  She still tread that fine line between lust and love, but without ever being explicit.  I don’t think the main characters even kissed, but all of the longing was still there.  It was very well written.  It was about early Christians in Rome and how they were persecuted.  The main character was a servant in a decadent Roman household.  The son of the house fell in love with her, but she would have none of him, in a very gentle way though, until he was a converted Christian and marrying her.

    Anyway, it was part of a rather good series, though I eventually lost interest.  I remember trying to track down some of her secular novels and thinking they weren’t quite as well-written.  I think she finally found her spark with her faith.  And I say, good for her.

    I’m just gonna go back to my smut novels now…don’t tell my mom.

  15. 15
    DS says:

    @Larnsturt:  Perhaps Robin Lee Hatcher?  She put her foot in her mouth a few years ago in a media interview—some negative about the sex in romance novels—and got chewed up on AAR.

    I really like a couple of British mystery series that deal with religion and the C of E that.  Greenwood’s Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite books are very good in dealing with the complications of the modern church and the religious life.  Rickman’s Vicar Merrily Watkins books are rich with all types of religious thought including Wiccan and Pagan.  Neither are particularly judgmental in that there is no strictly right or wrong answer—although there are harmful ways that ideas can be applied.

  16. 16
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    @DS—I don’t think the author @larnsturt was thinking of was Robin Lee Hatcher (although Robin has since repudiated her earlier books and still does so on her site). Robin tends to write Americana, though, and I don’t recall her doing anything set in ancient Rome.  Maybe someone else can come up with the author who wrote the books with the early Christians in Rome.

  17. 17
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    Me again—could the Rome books be “The Mark of the Lion” series by Francine Rivers?  Rivers wrote romance for the general market before she started doing Christian books, and she’s pretty much cut herself off from those books.

  18. 18
    Abby says:

    @ Larnstart… do you mean Anne Rice? I don’t know.

  19. 19

    Read the Twitter posts. Great job, SB Sarah and Sarah F.!

    Thought I’d answer the question: Why do I think slash is “uniquely American”? (This was a last-minute addition to my talk when I realized that I ought to think up some reason why a Regency romance—so English—was included in a conference on American culture.)

    Answer: because it began with “Star Trek,” an ultra-American show (imho): literally (it was on American TV); and in mood. Of course, everyone writes slash now. I think I did say that in my talk.

    SB Sarah: it was a pleasure meeting you. I don’t know how you do all this great work on top of a full time job, but thank you for it!

  20. 20

    Great coverage of the conference!  I’ve been following the tweets and have been vicariously enjoying the sessions.  Thanks for sharing with all of us.

  21. 21
    Erum says:

    It was an excellent conference. My head is still buzzing from all the things that I learned – from both academics and non-academics alike. I think the two best panels were those that focused on “religion” and “race”. I wish those two had been longer.

    Tina C. – I’ve attended a LOT of conferences at Princeton and this one was actually was one of the best ones I’ve attended in terms of respectful audience members and keeping to the schedule. Most academic conferences at Princeton tend to have audience members that talk a lot when it’s their turn at the mike. I think that they – like most folks – have so much buzzing around in their head that they just need to get their thoughts out and see the reactions that the academics have to their thoughts. It can get annoying, but I thought that this conference was not that bad. (I’ve attended some lectures where audience members spend more than 10 minutes asking their “question”.)  Most of the thoughts and ideas people shared were VERY interesting and gave us food for thought, as well. And I think the panelists didn’t mind.

    I will say, though, that some of the longer presentations were a bit hard to follow & it was a bit of a bummer to have the questions section be so short.

    Over all, it’s a rare all day academic conference that ends and people say, “Wow, that was so short. The time just flew by!” It’s a testament to this conference that it elicited this response from it’s participants.

  22. 22
    Kathy says:

    It truelly was an amazing conference. The thing that keeps repeating for me, (and there are a LOT of amazing things spinning around in my mind after this conference) is WOW this was Princeton and Romance. 
    The number of folks who shared their own Shame stories… for reading, writing and editing the genre (“Do they really edit those books?”) not only struck a personal chord, but a personal limit. So when I walked into church on Sunday—cause I work in one of those northern uber liberal Episcopal churches—and was asked what I had done this week I glowingly talked about it.  And it was wonderful.  How often is academia personally affirming?
    Now if I can just figure out how to work Redeeming Love into my Old Testament paper….. hmmmm

    Oh and Sarah when I got home with Elizabeth’s autographed copy of Heaving Bosums I realized you and I were heading home to the same town.  Whatdayaknow—good to meet cha

  23. 23
    KS says:

    @larnsturt—I think you might be thinking of Catherine Palmer. Steeple Hill reissued some of her medievals, but I think she did some secular ancient Rome ones too.

    @SBSarah—it was fantastic to meet you and to hear you speak. (Her presentation was wonderful, btw, everyone.)  The conference was very affirming, as someone said, but it does make a person want to work even harder on romance to do the “academy” justice. I only wish I’d been less tongue-tied in my own presentation!  Hard to talk with such luminaries in the room. :-)

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