Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns (Part 3 of 3)

This is the last part of the article based on my talk at Featherston Booktown. Part 1 talked about Dangerous Books for Girls, and the first of six reasons that romances are a threat to the establishment. Part 2 gave three more reasons. So here are the last two.

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#5 Because female orgasms

Romance novels are about people falling in love, which means (whether they are at the sweet end of the spectrum or far down the other end at erotica) they are about people who feel a sexual attraction to one another. This might well be a revelation to some now, as it was 200 years ago. Women have sexual desires. Women experience sexual pleasure. And women’s feelings, sensations and experiences are different to those of men.

A novel is a safe place to explore sexuality. It can’t make you pregnant. People don’t get STDs by taking books out of the library. Romance novels tell women that a hero cares for the pleasure of his beloved; that he puts her pleasure ahead of his own. Dangerous Books indeed!

And today’s best romance writers are very good at writing about sex, unlike the authors celebrated in the annual ‘Bad Sex Awards’, from which comes this gem:

Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

Compare the list of ‘Bad Sex Award’ excerpts to the list of scenes that will get you hot and bothered, or this one, which is a first kiss.

She opened her mouth, already shaking her head, and he hurried on to say his piece before she could object. “You could marry me. I don’t flatter myself that I am a prize, but I am a better bet than Hackerton. Marry me, and let me care for you, Rose.” He bent, curving low to capture her mouth. It was as soft and full as it looked, though at first stiff and unresponsive.

But she followed his lead in this as she had in the dance, and what had begun as an impulsive gesture to prevent her from saying no became a luxurious vortex that spun him out of space and time until he was oblivious of everything except the giving, the taking, the sharing of their lips, their tongues, their mouths.

She looked dazed when he drew back. Well, good. He was dazed. He gathered her against his chest and rested his cheek on her hair. “Marry me, Rose,” he repeated.

#6 Because HEA

If a fictional heroine escapes the confines of the house, chooses love, has orgasmic sex, and dies at the end of the story, the message is clear: Don’t try this at home. But if she lives happily ever after? The message is also clear: Live the dream, girl!

In romance novels, the heroine lives. Not only that, she lives happily ever after, which is shorthand for a life of being loved for oneself and for having achieved a measure of security.
(Dangerous Books for Girls, by Maya Rodale)

Unhappy endings appear to be a convention in literary novels. They may be beautifully written, challenging, interesting, and effective in their own way. But they are not hopeful, and people need hope if they are to change their lives. Live the Dream!

While I’m here, can I just dispose of one particular feminist critique of romantic fiction, that it teaches women to believe that happiness lies in a successful love affair? Excuse me? This is a romance. Read the label on the box. If it says cornflakes, don’t grumble at finding cornflakes. If it says romance, don’t be offended by the happy ending.

The happy ending is not more nor less a fiction than all the killers brought to justice in murder mysteries, or the appearance of magical creatures and powers in fantasy novels, or technology that does not exist in science fiction. Do readers of thrillers really believe that a lone hero, with brooding good looks and the memories of an appalling childhood, will ride into town and save the day? No. It’s fiction.

But some killers are brought to justice, technology that was science fiction ten years ago is true today, sometimes one person might make a difference, and happy ending do happen.

And if some find that concept dangerous, isn’t that their problem?

Changing the world, one reader at a time

 

 

Around six months ago, I started posting my novel A Baron for Becky on Wattpad, one chapter at a time. ‘Grandmother,’ said the 15-year old, ‘don’t you realise that’s a site for fan fiction about One Direction?’

But I had read of other novelists building a following by posting there, and I figured it was worth a try. I did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the results reported in the site’s analytics. In the last few weeks, since I posted the final chapter and epilogue, ‘reads’ (Wattpad measures how many people read each part of a ‘work’) have been rising by several hundred a day. As of today, A Baron for Becky has had over 11,000 reads, and nearly half of those have been from parts of the world where romance novels are as dangerous today as they were in England two hundred years ago.

Wattpad readers 19 May

The darker the blue, the higher the concentration of readers: 15% in India, 9% in Philippines, 4.5% in Malaysia, plus readers in Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Algeria, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Peru, Suriname, Indonesia, Mexico and other places too small to show unless you zoom in on the map.

I’m writing Dangerous Books, and they’re being read by Girls.

Reading romance novels is an affirmative action

As I’ve said before, genre is not a statement about quality, it’s a way to sort books. So why is it still open season on romance novels. Why is it rare to find a romance novel in a high school syllabus, or the study of the genre at university.

Take a look at the names that the genre attracts: mommy porn, chick lit, bodice ripper—they’re all about gender. It is hard not to conclude that the unthinking dismissal, often by people who have never read a romance novel, is anti-woman. And if that’s the case, reading romance is an affirmative action.

So read romantic fiction proudly. Read the best, by all means. In my sub-genre, read Elizabeth Hoyt, or Grace Burrowes, or Courtenay Milan, or Mary Balogh, or any one of a score of other thoughtful talented writers who research carefully and write brilliantly.

Or read light frothy stuff that gives you a rest from your day job. Again, you have many fine writers to choose from.

But read a romance. By doing so, you are supporting a writer who believes that women should have the same freedom as men to make choices.

 

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One thought on “Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns (Part 3 of 3)

  1. A Happy Assembly, a Jane Austen Fan Fiction web site, has a forum called “Original Stories” for posting on themes that may be of interest to readers of Jane Austen Fan Fiction but are not related to Austen and her works. There are just under 10K members. Registration is required since some of the stories are mature content (mainstream, i.e., some content restrictions). There is no fee and there’s no advertising allowed, since it’s a non-profit site. A good bodice ripper would be welcome there.

    The regular JAFF “Stories” forum has at least a dozen Austen-inspired stories posting at any given time, and most are novel-length Regency romances, with some modern, fantasy, paranormal, crossovers, and other period romances represented.

    The site also has forums on Regency history, author advice, and popular culture related to Jane Austen.

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