Links Defending The Romance

Marianne Mancusi interviewed me at Galtime, talking about how romance novels are far from being horrible influences on us young impressionable women. Yay!

But wait, there's more!

Romance author Maya Rodale self-published a defense of romance novels titled Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation Of Romance Novels Explained based in part on the research she did for her master's thesis. Apparently (I haven't read my copy yet) it has footnotes. SEXY AUDACIOUS FOOTNOTES. It's up on Amazon and should be up on shortly. 

There's also a video – though the sound is uneven, so beware ye folks at work. It gets loud in a quick hurry. Don't get busted while rebelling against doing work by watching videos about rebellious reading. 


Based on the video, I am most intrigued. I've got this in the queue to read asap. 

So, what's up with you? What are you reading this week? 



The Link-O-Lator

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  1. 1
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    Bless you, Maya Rodale. I just purchased your book.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    DPR I LOVE your avatar.

  3. 3
    emkw says:

    I saw the Handel opera “Rodelinda” at my local theater (streamed from the Met), and was struck by how much it is a romance, Eloisa James style. Rodelinda is married, not single, which made me think of James’s heroines. There’s a true villain, plus a wannabe villain who reforms by the end. Two couples, each with big problems—the politics of the plot (king in hiding, usurper wanting to marry the queen) sure seemed secondary to me.
    But I have never heard grand operas characterized as romances, have you?
    So perhaps one way to co-opt those who denounce romance is to find it in respectable places.

  4. 4
  5. 5
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    @SB Sarah, Maya Rodale

    Aw, shucks! :-)

  6. 6
    CK says:

    Gah! Awesomesauce. I’m totally sharing it. LOL

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    That video was AWESOME!

  8. 8

    This was awesome…Already brainstorming how I can use it personally and in my school.


    Can I use the word orgasm with my 12th graders at least?…

    Very excited none the less ;)

  9. 9
    Darlynne Vrechek says:

    Great, great video and I’m eager to get my hands on the B&N edition.

    SB Sarah, why doesn’t my usual avatar appear in the new hot pink palace? Inquiring minds want to know.

  10. 10

    The excerpt available via Amazon doesn’t include the list of works cited, so I’m wondering if Rodale mentions Kate Flint’s The Woman Reader 1837-1914 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993). According to Flint, “Renaissance prescriptive remarks concerning woman’s reading were remarkably close, in outline, to ones which were repeated during the next three centuries” (23). The works discussed in Helen Hackett’s Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) are romances in the older sense and therefore not novels of the kind I assume are discussed by Rodale, but she writes that

    even before the Elizabethan fiction boom, romance had been associated with imagined female readers. This originated as concern as to the dangers which might ensure if literate women got hold of romances. Early in the sixteenth century, the works in this category were mainly popular chivalric romances […]. Juan Luis Vives, the Spanish humanist, wrote a tract on the education of girls at the instigation of Catherine of Aragon for the instruction of her daughter Princess Mary. He listed romances […] as being ‘fylthe and vitiousnes … playne and folysshe lyes’. He elaborated: ‘though they were never so wytty and pleasant, yet wold I have no pleasure infected with poyson: nor have no woman quickened unto vice. And verely they be but folisshe husbandes and mad, that suffre their wives to waxe more ungratiously subtyle by redyng of such bokes.’ The Protestant reformer Heinrich Bullinger also expressed disapproval of romances in The Christian State of Matrimony, translated by Miles Coverdale in 1541. He advised for the education of daughters:
    let them avoyde idlesnes, be occupyed ether doing some profytable thynge for youre familie, or els redynge some godly boke, let them not reade bokes of fables of fonde and lyght love, but call upon God to have pure hertes and chaste […] (10)

    It’s interesting how long these arguments have been around, and how similar they are to the arguments still being made against romances today.

  11. 11

    Love the video—and the book sounds grand too.  It sounds like Ms. Rodale’s premise is that romance novels actually empower women. I agree.

    I’ve always thought that Romance novels – all the way back to those original ones that started the genre – were actually tales of female power.  Male power is quick and showy – like a firecracker.  Female power is quiet, useful and eduring – like a candle. That’s why, in the end, the candle lights the way to the future in all those romances.  It’s just too bad that so many people focus on the firecracker.

    It sounds like Ms. Rodale’s book is well worth checking out.  Maybe it’ll empower us to be proud of the romances we love to read (and write)!

  12. 12
    rooruu says:

    And yay, the kindle Ed can be bought in Australia.  So I did.

    TBR pile:
    The Scottish Prisoner (Gabaldon)
    The Night Circus (Morgenstern: had big recommendations for this)
    The Language of Flowers (Diffenbaugh.  Sounds intriguing)
    Leviathan (YA steampunk by Westerfeld)

    And on my commute, I’m up to the last volume (sob) of Stephen Fry’s sublime audiobook reading of Harry Potter.

  13. 13
    Maya Rodale says:

    Hi Laura, your comment inspired me to post the list of works cited in Dangerous Books For Girls. You and the rest of the world can view it here:….

    I didn’t reference the book you mentioned, though it sounds like I ought to have done! This snark toward romances and women’s reading has been around for ages—my mom and I even found references in The Tale of Gengi which is hundreds (thousands?) of years old (it’s considered one of the first novels EVER written).

    It’s interesting to note too that ROMANCE didn’t always mean what we think of today…I go into that in the book and I’m working on crafting it into a blog post. Having said that, you’re totally right: it’s the same arguments from the dawn of time and still…women keep reading.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    Flo_over says:

    Everything changes.  Everything morphs to what the current generation believes it to be.  Look from just 30 years ago in the romance genre to now.  Look at movies from then and now.  Look at music and music talent from then and now.  It changes with the needs of the generation.  Which is a good thing!

  16. 16

    Thanks for posting the bibliography, Maya!

    It just occurred to me that although we’re discussing concerns about women readers, Don Quijote is a very famous (fictional) example of a male reader of romances who’s negatively affected by them.

    He does seem to be a bit of a counterexample, though, given that he’s male and upper-class, and that led me on to wonder whether, in general, concerns about “dangerous” reading have tended to focus on women, children and the working classes: “working-class and female readers enjoyed particularly sustained attention, partly due to the hyperbolic rhetoric of many Victorian commentators on the dangers reading presented to the susceptible masses” (Palmer and Buckland 3) and there was a “moral panic” about horror comics in the 1940s and 50s. During the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial

    the prosecution counsel, Mervyn Griffith-Jones […] famously got to his feet and told the jury: “Ask yourselves the question: would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book. Is it a book that you would have lying around the house? Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?” (Travis)

    And, of course,

    For slaves and their teachers, the exercise of reading and writing was a dangerous and illegal one. In most southern states, anyone caught teaching a slave to read would be fined, imprisoned, or whipped. The slaves themselves often suffered severe punishment for the crime of literacy, from savage beatings to the amputation of fingers and toes.

    Although some masters did teach their slaves to read as a way to Christianize them, most slave owners believed that teaching such skills was useless, if not dangerous. They assumed that slaves had no use for reading in their daily lives, and that literacy would make them more difficult to control, and more likely to run away. (Cornell University, emphasis added)

    So there’s obviously a long history of reading being seen as dangerous because it could encourage readers to be less accepting of authority and the social status quo, and more likely to be distracted from the work/tasks they were expected to do. Many of the criticisms of modern romance novels do seem to fit into that tradition.

    Having said all that, however, I still think there are also some criticisms which are motivated by other concerns. For example, although I’m not a particular fan of Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance, her criticism of romance novels can perhaps be summarised as being based on the feeling that romances are not dangerous and subversive enough and I think there’s an artistic/intellectual difference of opinion at the root of George Eliot’s comment, in her “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” that

    The most pitiable of all silly novels by lady novelists are what we may call the oracular species—novels intended to expound the writer’s religious, philosophical, or moral theories. […] Great writers, who have modestly contented themselves with putting their experience into fiction, and have thought it quite a sufficient task to exhibit men and things as they are, she sighs over as deplorably deficient in the application of their powers.  “They have solved no great questions”—and she is ready to remedy their omission by setting before you a complete theory of life and manual of divinity in a love story

    It seems to me that Eliot places herself in the group of “Great writers” and so prefers to “exhibit men and things as they are.” In other words, she prefers what Northrop Frye termed the “low mimetic mode”, whereas the “lady novelists” have a preference for the high mimetic.

  17. 17
    SB Sarah says:

    Hey Darlene! I think if you go to the top of the comment column, there’s a button that says ‘DISQUS.’ You should be able to click and edit your profile and add your avatar there.

  18. 18
    donna says:

    Big thoughts early in the morning. Thanks ladies. I love this place. Now back to my job where use of upper brain functions is both unwanted and disapproved of.

  19. 19
    Amber Tayman says:

    I believe… I just found a new author to love!!  :)

  20. 20
    snarkhunter says:

    In defense of Eliot, the novels she chooses to attack are by and large truly, epically, catastrophically silly. I love me some 19C sentimental literature (it’s hilarious, for one thing), but there reaches a point where it becomes STA.

    I’ve always preferred Austen’s defense of the novel in Northanger Abbey:

    <quote>Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens—there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss—?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.</quote>

  21. 21
    kkw says:

    I liked that quote a lot more until I read Belinda and a couple of Burney’s novels.  Sort of like how Northanger Abbey itself left me disposed to like Radcliffe, which didn’t pan out.  I still agree with what Austen says, but I think the examples undermine her argument.

  22. 22
    snarkhunter says:

    But that sounds more like an objection to the style of 18C fiction in general (which I actually agree with, not being a fan myself) than to Austen’s point. And I’ll take Belinda over Political Justice any day.

  23. 23
    kkw says:

    The moralizing and the 18th century writing are closely enough intertwined that it tends to be off-putting, certainly, but there’s still good stuff out there.  For lively effusions of wit and humour, in the best-chosen language, I’d take Swift and Fielding over Edgeworth and Burney.  Of course all novels aren’t sentimental drivel, but if that were my point I wouldn’t tell someone to check out Pamela.  It’s sort of like defending the romance novel using A Hero in the Making as an example, or what was that one I mistakenly read even after readheadedgirl panned it…Scoundrel’s Captive.  Ye gods.

    Although I’d probably take any of those over something called Political Justice.

  24. 24
    Rebecca says:

    I’d add that Northanger Abbey itself walks the same knife-edge as Don Quixote in condemning/glorifying genre fiction.  After all, Catherine Morland does suffer a certain amount of anxiety and embarrassment because of her reading of silly novels.  And for all that Don Quixote is piously held up as an example of book-induced madness, a lot of the things that the main character says and does while “mad” make an awful lot of sense.  And in the end it’s the practical Sancho Panza who makes the case for fantasy.  When Don Quixote gives up fantasizing he dies.  I think both Cervantes and Austen were going on the “95% of everything is crap” rule, and (because I suspect genius that great doesn’t have much false modesty) adding in the proviso “but when I do it it’s really stylish, no matter how dumb the rest of the genre.”

  25. 25
    Rebecca says:

    Forgot to mention….I have to give a shout-out to Juan Luis Vives, who was a humanist with a lot more sense of humor than the quote above gives him credit for.  Aside from the fact that his tract “On Assistance to the Poor in Bruges” could have been written yesterday in terms of both the terms of the debate and solutions he proposes, he also comes up with a wonderful zinger for those who argue that trying to eliminate poverty is unchristian because Jesus said “the poor ye shall always have with you.”  After all, he says (more or less, I’m quoting from memory), Jesus was probably referring to not merely to physical poverty, which could certainly be alleviated, but to spiritual poverty, or to mental poverty, of which there is certainly never going to be any shortage.  (One can almost hear the unspoken comment “I can think of many stupid people off the top of my head.”)  And in fairness to Vives about romance novels, he WAS writing for Catherine of Aragon.  Given her marital situation at the time, stories about handsome young knights swept away by (usually adulterous) passion probably were kind of a trigger for her.  He might have just been being tactful.

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