Cant and Canonicity

Publication year
Journal of Popular Romance Studies

This article began a section in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies which also included a response by Julie E. Moody Freeman, another article on the same topic by Jodi McAlister and concluded with one by Sarah E. Sheehan.

Here are some excerpts:

Is there a popular romance canon? If any, then many, though maybe’s there’s none (though we all know, deep down, that there is): that, my friends, in a nutshell muddle, was the answer collectively given by Len Barot/Radclyffe, Beverly Jenkins, Nicole Peeler, Susan Ostrov Weisser, and myself at the February 2015 conference “What is Love? Popular Romance in the Digital Age.” Organized by filmmaker Laurie Kahn and romance scholar Pamela Regis, this gathering at the Library of Congress featured a sneak preview of Kahn’s documentary Love Between the Covers and a day-long series of panel conversations, of which our discussion of “What Belongs in the Romance Canon?” was the first.


As that mention of a syllabus suggests, there are also purely practical reasons to thrash out what should belong in romance canon. Anyone entering the field of popular romance studies—a first-year grad student, a senior scholar, an advisor for thesis research—needs some sense of where to start reading and of the touchstone texts that are already part of the conversation.


To discuss what belongs in the popular romance canon is also, practically speaking, to put ourselves as romance scholars in a definitional hot seat. Only a portion of “popular romance culture”—that is, of popular culture centered on romantic love—consists of texts with an HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. A canon in keeping with the broad church definition of “popular romance” used here at IASPR and JPRS might well raise some eyebrows in the popular romance reading (and writing, and publishing) community.


there might be plenty to gain by discussing what belongs—and, by extension, what does not belong—in the popular romance canon. The effort may sometimes put us at odds with readers, reviewers, and authors of the popular romance novel, but the sparks that fly could be illuminating, and they might lead to a more systematic use, by us scholars, of such terms as “romantic fiction” (that is, “love stories”), the “romance novel” (love story plus HEA/HFN), and the “popular romance novel” (love story with HEA/HFN and a paratext or epitext that places it in a popular rather than a literary genre world).