Thursday, April 14, 2005

Romancing the Genre

I've been reading Juliet Flesch's book From Australia with Love: A History of Modern Australian Populer Romance Novels this evening, and it's great. As well as looking at the genre in a broader context, she discusses Australian romance novels and authors in the past 50 years. The book is based on her PhD thesis, and it is so refreshing to read a scholarly work that values and thoughtfully discusses the role of romance fiction in popular literary culture.

I work in a university and am currently contemplating possible alternative research projects for my stalled PhD. I was discussing some thoughts with a colleague this morning, and I realized as we talked how much of the early feminist critique of romance as a genre over the years has explicity devalued women and their interests, by objectifying romance readers (Greer referred to them - us! - as 'submenials') and by denying any value in notions of romance as portrayed in romantic fiction - concepts that women value, as demonstrated by the consistent and large proportion of women who read romantic fiction.

The scholarly discourse is heavily biased by this insidious devaluing - to the extent that the questions that are asked are often based on the assumption that romance is a negative, subversive influence on women who, it is implied, do not have the capability of making rational judgements about what they read. An attitude almost bordering on the misogynist, it seems to me.

Hrmph. I'd stay up here on my soapbox, but it's past my bedtime.

Anyway, Flesch's book is great, because it doesn't fall into that trap.

And I have lots of ideas to toss around for possible research projects.


Kate R said...

yeah, reminds me of the class I took in college which showed the horror and intellectually stifling caused by every feminine role in history(and we're talking 1989, so it's not early feminism) The only positive homemaker in that whole reading list was in Dorothy Canfield's The Homemaker -- and he was male. OY! and all those poems equating breastfeeding to vampirism.

The push to belittle roles held by females is a huge mistake. The thing to aim for is to make it all dignified and acceptable. And then there's the old about how we'll only be liberated when boys will be able knit in school without getting assaulted.

Jumping off soap box,

Kate R said...

too bad I can't edit. someone could use a little more coffee before launching into rant mode.