Romance in Academia: A Link Roundup

Grab your lasso and your chaps, because we’re going back to college to round up some romance in academia links.

First: on 23 February at 12:30 pm at Brandeis University, documentary filmmaker Laurie Kahn, who directed Tupperware!, a documentary about Tupperware and the women behind it, for PBS’ American Experience, will be talking about her new work-in-progress, “Creating the Popular Romance.”

From the press release, sent to me by awesome reader Michael:

The world of romance novels (who writes them? who reads them? who publishes them? why are they so popular? and what do they say about our culture?)  is the subject of my next film, whose working title is “Love Between the Covers.”  The film will take its viewers to the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America, into the lives of well-known and wannabe writers, behind the scenes of publishing houses, and into the operation hubs of huge participatory online communities of romance readers.  Kahn’s talk will invite input as the project takes shape.

All events and lectures at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center are free and open to the public.

Meanwhile, over at Yale, Lauren Willig and Andrea DaRif (aka Cara Elliott) are teaching a seminar at their alma mater entitled “Reading the Historical Romance Novel.”

The New Haven Register has already covered the seminar, revealing that 80 students applied for only 18 spots in the course.

And guess what is among the required reading for the course? Bosoms! Oh, this makes me giggle like a 12 year old boy. The Yale Herald also discusses Willig and DaRif’s course from the perspective of envy: “The syllabus describes the need for this type of course because “despite the dismissive sniffs, “romance” is achieving not only commercial success but serious academic attention as well.”  It was, however, very surprising to see my suitemate come home from the Yale bookstore with books with titles such as Regency Buck, The Accidental Duchess, and to top it all off: Beyond Heaving Bosoms; The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels.”

Ha! I love that! Woo! I’m hoping I can make the journey up to Yale for the course at least once in April – but I cannot wait to hear how the course goes this spring. I almost want to incur the student loan debt (and go through the application process) to go back to college. Almost.

Finally, SmartPop Books has a free essay online this week from James Owen hypothesizing that the Twilight series is a romance series, and the books are romance novels. Owen’s argument is interesting, though his tendency to repeat that the books are “all about Romance” undermines his essay:

When the Romance genre was first defined, it arose from the broader concept of Romanticism itself. This was a movement of heroic and noble sagas, bursting with strong emotions and aesthetic experiences. It was about the exploration of possibilities. Even the earliest science fiction (which of all the modern genres is the one most open to possibility) was termed “Scientific Romance.” It was only with the advent of the twentieth century and the more narrow definition of Romance novels as being about two people exploring a relationship that the term both gained acceptance and lost power. But the sci-fi/fantasy genre has retained the reputation it started with: a genre filled with wonder. And so the combination of those elements with Romance is exceedingly compelling—it allows Romance to, in effect, return to its true Romantic roots.

As a term of popular culture, Romance means “bodice ripper.” But I’d like to suggest that with her Twilight series, Stephanie Meyer has achieved a Romance in the old-fashioned sense as well: she’s created a work that explores possibility through the relationship between a girl and a deathless boy.

I’m still asked if I think the Twilight series is a romance, so I suspect this is a discussion that will be ongoing so long as the books remain popular.




The Link-O-Lator

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  1. Becca says:

    The title for Lauren Willig’s seminar is whited out, and can’t be read. and in the next line you say:

    The New Haven Register has already covered the seminary

    that would be something, to see a course on romance being taught in a seminary!

  2. Perhaps Owen is right about Romanticism morphing into whatever you want to call it today—Spaghetti Western? Avatar?  What I don’t like is that Romanticism is required reading in college and Romance gets no respect…it’s for feeble brained women.  Byron and Hemingway were all about adventure—and what was that but escape from the counting house or the boring House of Lords? Romanticism was created by men for men and still is glorified and idealized. Romance is MORE POPULAR than Hemingway, SELLS BETTER, but still is dismissed with terms like “bodice ripper.”

  3. Becca says:

    I’d love to see the full reading list for the class.

  4. Kat Sheridan says:

    Why, oh WHY don’t “scholars” know enough to know the loathesomeness of the term “bodice ripper”. Big heaving sigh.

  5. Yalie says:

    I am in this seminar, and it’s AMAZING. Professors Willig and DaRif are terribly knowledgeable not only about the genre, but also about the historical events that form the backdrop of each book.

    These articles are kinda cool, but I do wish that the writers had showed up to at least one actual class (which includes three dudes!) We’ve only read Heyer and Austen to this point, so the dudes, while avowed skeptics, have stayed silent (Heyer and Austen are uber tame compared to some of the later readings), but I’m REALLY curious to see what they’ll have to say about Flame and the Flower on Monday.

    I actually have too many classes as a second semester senior with major requirements to finish, but I forced my dean to squeeze this class into my schedule. IT IS THE EXCITINGEST.

  6. Becca says:

    Yalie, please please give me the reading list for the class! (and why did they choose Regency Buck, which I think is one of the least fun of the Heyers?)

  7. Kirsten says:

    Hmm. I don’t think Twilight counts as science fiction by a long shot, and the horror community definitely doesn’t see it as horror. So if you don’t think it’s romance, what DO you think it is? I am really curious.

  8. Letty James says:

    And to think how far we’ve come! Thirty years ago, I told the woman at my college interview at UNC-Chapel Hill I wanted to write a paper about category romances. She couldn’t get me out of her office fast enough. Needless to say, I didn’t go there but I kept reading and now I’m writing them. Boo on her and YEAH to Yale!

  9. Ridley says:

    I am going to try to make it to that talk at Brandeis, since I’m local and unemployed. Hopefully it’s cripple accessible. I remember Brandeis being one steep hill.

    If it’s a success, I’ll try to take notes.

  10. Of course Twilight is a romance—certainly by RWA definition—though I suspect Meyer had no idea at all that she was writing one, and would vehemently protest the label. But it’s all in the packaging, isn’t it? Put a vampire love story in a different section of the bookstore with an upscale cover, and you’ve got a romance that everyone will read.

  11. Ann Stephens says:

    Yalie, if you have time for further updates, keep us posted. This course sounds awesome! Go Romance!

  12. Wendy says:

    Congrats for being taught in the Yale course ladies!  That’s awesome! 
    I’m really glad that there are an increasing number of courses on modern texts being taught in universities.  The “Studies in a Single Author” January term course at the school where I work was in Stephanie Meyer.  One of my student workers is doing a wonderful independent study on the presentation of women in young adult fantasy fiction.  Respect for the genre fiction, hurrah!
    Lots of really exciting things happening in academia, I think.

  13. AgTigress says:

    (…why did they choose Regency Buck, which I think is one of the least fun of the Heyers?)

    At a guess, perhaps because she is known chiefly for her Regency romances, and this was the first she wrote set in that period?  I agree that there are several Heyer titles that would seem more typical of her mature work.

  14. Alpha Lyra says:

    Gosh, I didn’t think it was even up for debate whether or not Twilight was a romance. Of course it is.

  15. Liz says:

    i was just at the Yale website, and did a search for the class.  This is the description:

    The Regency romance tradition from the works of Jane Austen to modern permutations of the genre. Discussion of novels in textual, historical, and sociological context through examination of changing tropes and themes.

    I would totally take this class if I was smart enough to get into Yale, cause while i am a smart bitch, i am not that smart of a bitch.

    Unfortunately the syllabus is only available to Yale students 🙁

  16. Alicia says:

    @Letty James: Six years ago as college senior, I tried to write an essay on romance novels and ethics for a contest, and was kindly patted on the head and discouraged. I wrote the damn thing anyway. 🙂

    But this?

    And that may be Stephanie Meyer’s greatest achievement: that in a genre where anything can happen, she has presented a story where readers want to see happen exactly what we know is going to happen, and kept our attention every step of the way.

    That’s an achievement? Good romance authors have been doing this for decades.

  17. mischief says:

    Eh. “Scientific romance” “Planetary romance” “Ruritanian romance” are more likely to derive from the original, the “chivalric romance,” in which “romance” meant “something written in French rather than Latin”.

    I mean, that’s where the Romantic movement got the name original. 

    And given that the chivalric romance turned tales of King Arthur into tales of courtly love, probably the origin of the romance novel, too.

  18. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the links. I’m writing two papers on the Twilight phenomenon and using a lot of romance academics in my lit review so an argument for Twilight as romance could be useful. Although…I can’t think how someone would formulate a great argument that Twilight isn’t a romance. It’s not a huge stretch.

    And to stick up for those of us who know better, not all academics refer to the genre in terms of “bodice rippers.”  As a romance reader also, I know better than to make that reference.

    captcha: area47. I assume that’s just down the road from Area 51.

  19. Rachel says:

    I have no problem seeing a connection between romanticism and genre fiction, but Owen’s use of “Romance” leaves a lot to be desired.  The term has been around for a lot longer than romanticism, and it certainly was in use before Jane Austen, and it was historically more often associated with the idea of a story (or perhaps from the 17th c. onward what we would call a novel, unless you want to include medieval romans like Le Roman de la rose) than our contemporary idea of love.  That whole paragraph where he describes how we get from romanticism to the modern romance novel feels a little sloppy to me, like he looked at the word “romanticism” and the word “romance” and a cartoon lightbulb went off.  /sanctimonious pedant

    I would love to see the reading list for the Yale course, and I wish I had the opportunity to take it!

  20. Sally says:

    I find it interesting why people need a study about people who read/write romance novels (tho I’m sure the results would be fascinating).

    99% of songs are about love and no one wonders why musicians and listeners find that subject so absorbing. Why should it be surprising that we like to read about it too?

    We just like it! 🙂

    And while I’m on the subject of music, I don’t think this can be topped:

  21. Scrin says:

    Twilight as a romance? Not by my standards. Or, rather, it tries but doesn’t do much romantic for me, but it does for other people, so I’ll concede the point.

    This is something I’ve been thinking of lately (while I’ve been buffing floors and being such a janitorial powerhouse that my supervisor alternates between calling me Superman and Harry Potter; gotta pay the bills and student loans somehow, but the brains hungers for thought)—the Theory of Failed Design. My main criteria for coming as close as I can to saying something is objectively good is “Does it do what it’s supposed to?”

    Then it’s possible to fail to reach a goal, despite trying to do so. If it happens, knuckle down and try to improve the result. And, sometimes, it’s personal taste when something doesn’t work for someone.

    So, Twilight doesn’t do anything for me, but it evidently does for a lot of people. While I disagree with them on Edward Cullen’s virtues (i.e., that he even has a significant number of them), I will concede that I’m not likely a member of the target audience and probably temperamentally unsuited for the series, so that’s my personal taste there. I won’t say people who disagree are idiots, just that I’m not one of them.

    On the flip side, when I read the Sharing Knife, it worked for me as a romance because the characters had my sympathy firmly on their side. I wanted them to be happy.

    Another bit to Failed Design: I’m actually intellectually comfortable applying it to just about anything. Media, tools, systems of organization. First question I should ask is, “Does it do what it’s supposed to?” Next question is, “Does it do it well?”

  22. clew says:

    Anyone thinking about the role of previous literary movements, some called Romance, and modern novels, and literature, and romance, might like to read Richard Burton’s book on the subject. (Gentleman *was* a romance hero.) Masters of the English Novel, available at Project Gutenberg;  or a few relevant quotes.

  23. I can’t believe anyone would see Twilight as anything other than a romance. A paranormal romance at best but still definitely not horror.

  24. yalestudier says:

    Just wanted to include the Reading list for the class since everyone is so interested 🙂

    Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
    Regency Buck, Georgette Heyer
    The Flame and the Flower, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
    Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught
    Gentle Rogue, Johanna Lindsey
    Dreaming of You, Lisa Kleypas
    Mr. Impossible, Loretta Chase
    The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn
    The Accidental Duchess, Jessica Benson
    A Duke of her Own, Eloisa James
    With This Ring, Amanda Quick
    The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
    After Midnight, Teresa Medeiros
    Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field, Melissa Nathan

    Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Candy Tan and Sarah Wendell
    An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, Venetia Murray
    Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye
    Before Victoria: Extraordinary Women of the British Romantic Era, Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger

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