The Romance Genre on the Web

Researching online romance genre communities and their perspectives

I’m back…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 10:26 am on Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yep, it’s been very quiet round here – again. I can’t believe that a month has passed since I last posted, but that’s what the dates say. Gulp. I’ll blame it on going straight back to the madness of the day job the day after I got back from Dallas, and cramming beginning of semester work overloads, jet lag, bad flu-type thing, teaching a weekend workshop, more ‘flu, and a trip to Sydney for the Romance Writers of Australia conference into too few days.

I’m mulling a couple of longer posts about aspects of the genre, but simply haven’t had time to get them written down here yet.
I’m also at a stage in the PhD where I”m contemplating directions and reviewing where I’m at and what I have already.

In the meantime, there’s a great discussion over at Smart Bitches about alpha heroes, which reminded me of the romance hero archetypes I blogged about a little while ago. I’m still thinking that maybe we don’t have enough of a common language framework to adequately discuss the genre and it’s complexities, and would love to hear other’s thoughts.

6 Comments

Comment by Laura Vivanco

August 16, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

I think any attempt to simplify the “complexities” of the genre is going to be difficult because there are bound to be exceptions and disagreements. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted, of course, but particularly in a genre where people’s responses seem to be very individual (e.g. for some people “too alpha” means beyond what they personally find sexy) I get the impression that drawing clear lines (along the alpha/beta line) will be hard work and involve redefining terms which have strong (but widely divergent) existing meanings for many readers.

I’m intrigued by the idea that there may well be national differences. I have the impression that the cultural differences between the US, Australia and the UK mean that authors from these countries perhaps have slightly different ways of portraying alpha heroes, or when they do perhaps they’re more/less likely to make the alpha a contemporary native of their own country. That’s generalising too, of course, because there isn’t homogeneity along national lines, but I wonder if there may be some broad trends.

I do believe that a lot of what’s described as “masculinity” is constructed socially, though of course a lot of people might disagree with me. However, when I compare their descriptions of “what men are like” to the men I know (who are from a different culture) I’m seeing something rather different, and since both groups have a Y chromosome, I think culture must be playing an important part in things, as well as individual differences (which tend to be obscured when people make generalisations about “men”).

I also wonder if living in times/places which have more uniform ideas about “masculinity” and “femininity” affects readers’ responses to the texts and shapes what they want from them. Certainly, from what I can tell, the romances in which rape was common were very popular in the 1970s, which was perhaps a time when women were negotiating what “femininity” meant to them, and how they related to their sexuality.

Online I’ve come across (a) people who love alpha heroes in novels but who wouldn’t want a partner like that in real life. It seem that for them the alpha seems to be more of a fantasy, which they find attractive but, for practical reasons, wouldn’t want to live with (b) people who love alphas both in real life and in their fiction (c) people who dislike alphas in both real life and in their fiction and (d) people who have a fantasy of living with a beta hero (as discussed in this At the Back Fence column but may live with an alpha in real life.

That may seem really obvious, but it perhaps suggests that for some people a fictional alpha is pure fantasy, whereas for others the alpha is (either a pleasant or an unpleasant) reality, and that probably affects these people’s attitudes towards, and definition of, alpha-ness.

Sorry, that turned in a huge, rambling post. I’ll leave it as it is, though, in the hope that there might be something there that’s interesting/of use to someone else.

Comment by Jennie Adams

August 17, 2007 @ 9:17 pm

I came home from RWAus conference last week with a giant synonym finder. When I compare this book to the synonym function in my word processing program, the difference is 1 word with say 10 or a dozen other words offered as alternative choices in the word processing program, and 1 word with 10 or a dozen other words offered as alternative choices, all with twenty to fifty words to help define or support or express or encapsulate or expand on each of those ten to twelve key words in the synonym finder book.

I’m looking for more options to help me define romance fiction and its aspects and nuances, styles, characters, stories, themes, messages. It’s a simplistic way to express what I want, I know, but in a way, I’m looking for that great big Romance Definer that gives me a whole heap of choices I may agree with or disagree with, but that will always and at the least, open up a whole heap of other options and possibilities and views that help to express the genre.

I vote for Bronwyn putting together a ten volume beginner pack in her spare time ;-)

Jennie

Comment by Bron

August 17, 2007 @ 10:56 pm

Laura, I’m not so much looking for a way to simplify the complexities, but perhaps rather to find a way to articulate the range of those complexities in a way that enhances the understanding of them, and which might provide some common language and framework to then further discuss and explore those complexities. I suspect that we all – academics and readers – flounder a little because the generalisations are so broad and open. Maybe it’s not possible, but I’m mulling the problem, anyway :-)

I’m also interested in your comments about culture, because I agree there were distinct cultural differences in the 1970s/1980, and I suspect that these still exist, if perhaps muted due to the increased interaction between authors, readers, and publishing houses across the oceans. The aggressive alpha/forced seduction issue appears to have been strong in historical romances in the North American market at this time, yet in the UK market it appears to have been predominant in contemporary romances, eg Anne Mather. One of the research projects I’d love to do would be to analyse a selection of novels, contemporary and historical-set, from both markets from this period, and to compare them with a similar selection from the current offerings. It’s on the list of things to do… (Don’t suppose you’re interested in a joint project/paper next year??)

I also wonder if some of the cultural nuances about what makes a man ‘heroic’ or a suitable fantasy hero stem from the fact that there isn’t a strong frontier/fighter tradition in the UK. In the UK market, heroes tend to be wealthy (through class or economic success) or ‘exotic’ – non-English, and usually from somewhere warm, like the Mediterranean or even the Middle East. In contemporary UK-published novels, the average English (or Scottish, or Welsh) bloke rarely gets a look-in. In historical novels, I seem to recall some working class men as heroes, but that would have been more in the saga-style of novel, which has traditionally had a struggling heroine, too. In the US, though, as well as the financially successful heroes, and the dynastic heirs, there is that strong frontier/fighter tradition – cowboys, soldiers, law enforcement, etc.

So, yes, I think it’s definitely something worth looking into further, as well!

Jennie, I’ll add the Great Big Romance Definer to my list of books to write – but I hope you’re not in a hurry for it :-)

Comment by Laura Vivanco

August 18, 2007 @ 9:19 am

to find a way to articulate the range of those complexities in a way that enhances the understanding of them, and which might provide some common language and framework to then further discuss and explore those complexities

OK, I see what you’re getting at. I know I couldn’t do it, because in general I’m so busy wanting to analyse each tree that I have a hard time generalising about the forest. But it would be very, very useful and interesting if you could come up with this sort of thing.

(Don’t suppose you’re interested in a joint project/paper next year??)

I wouldn’t object to the idea of a joint project, but I don’t really like alpha heroes (though, as you said, there isn’t a lot of consensus about what “alpha” really is ;-) ) so it’s probably not an area that I’d be happiest working in. Also, I suspect that a lot of the texts (old single-title romances) wouldn’t be readily available in the libraries near me. Actually, the relative scarcity of single title romances in the UK is another difference between the UK and the US. So if you were analysing attitudes, would you have to take a look at the “saga-style of novel” too?

In contemporary UK-published novels, the average English (or Scottish, or Welsh) bloke rarely gets a look-in.

I’m not sure if that’s true of the M&B Medicals, or the M&B Romance line (I think they’re called “Sweet” in Australia) and the Mod Extras are a bit more in that direction too, because they do have more average heroes (inasmuch as romance heroes can be “average”, because they have to be attractive, hold down a reasonably well-paid job etc, but I’m thinking of vets, doctors, architects, chefs and other people who aren’t shipping tycoons, sheiks or billionaires).

I have the impression that the “frontier tradition” plays out differently in Australia from in the US, but seeing as I know very little about either country I could very well be wrong.

After I’d posted my first comment, I started thinking a bit more about national/cultural differences, so I’ve just blogged about them. Mostly I have a lot of questions and not many answers, but I did blog a while ago about how national differences might affect heroes, and I agree that UK romances tend to have a different approach to physical force, inasmuch as British heroes don’t tend to be, as you said, “cowboys, soldiers, law enforcement, etc.”. I’ve also noticed on romance message boards that US posters often say that one of the most important features of the romance hero is that he protects his woman. I’d never even thought of this as a desirable or necessary quality, so I wonder if that’s a cultural difference or just a result of my own personal preferences.

Comment by Bron

August 18, 2007 @ 10:45 pm

I’m not sure if that’s true of the M&B Medicals, or the M&B Romance line (I think they’re called “Sweet” in Australia) and the Mod Extras are a bit more in that direction too,

Of course you’re right, Laura. I think I was thinking of older books. In the older medicals I borrowed from my mother, the hero was almost always a senior specialist – and when I worked in hospitals in the 1980s, I learned very quickly that senior specialists were up there with God in importance and status :-)

I don’t think I’ve actually read many if any of the Romance or Mod Extra lines by authors other than Australians in recent years, so yes, that’s a definite gap in my knowledge. I’ll have a look for some next time I’m book shopping.

So if you were analysing attitudes, would you have to take a look at the “saga-style of novel” too?

Given that it’s such a predominant form of historical romance in the UK tradition, yes, I think it would have to be considered and compared/contrasted with other forms.

Comment by Jennifer Crowley

March 19, 2008 @ 10:05 am

Wow, when I read this post I got a real chill, because I’m just on the cusp of beginning my own semester-long research project on the objectification of males in Romance Novels, and/or male archetypes in romance novels. It really gets me excited also to see your blog, because I’m doing a similar thing as you are… using my blog as a record and a way for voicing and refining my thoughts as I go along.

It’s really exciting for me to see all this research being done on the romance genre, because it is something I thought (until recently) just wasn’t done. Now that I’m looking for this scholarship, I’m finding it all over the place, and it is quite exciting!

As I progress more into my research I’ll be excited to see where you go with your thesis.

Final question, where you the woman a few months back asked the ladies at Smart Bitches to help you with a survey for your dissertation? If so, I have to thank you, because your call for help was part of a series of incidences that led me to realize that writing critically on romance novels was a feasible pursuit.

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