Parting the Curtain: The Virgin Heroine and the ‘Westoxified’ Villain in Contemporary Iranian Romance Novels

Publication year
Journal of Popular Romance Studies

Here's the abstract:

This paper explores the concept of virginity in eight popular romance novels published in contemporary Iran and argues that virginity is not only a prerequisite for the heroine, but also the capital with which she can bargain in the novel’s patriarchal world. As a commodity, virginity is interconnected to the ideology of the state – which is often reproduced in the novels – leading to the construction of two distinct versions of femininity. While hegemonic femininity does virginity properly, pariah femininity is connected to the otherized non-virgin. Thus, the romance heroines are forced to grapple with the ingrained virgin / whore complex which permeates these novels and links them inextricably to the rhetoric of Westoxification by painting the West(oxified) non-virgin as a threat to the social order. This obsession with virginity reproduces a number of tropes, among which are forced marriage, child marriage, post-virginity dysphoria and abjection/romanticization of death. The women characters’ ability to perform virginity delineates their fates in the narrative, leading to the stigmatization and damnation of the Westoxified villain and the veneration and martyrdom of the virginal heroine in the battle of incongruous ideologies and discourses around women’s bodies in contemporary Iran.


Note that

whilst a happy ending is one of the two basic prerequisites of romance novels in the West (Regis 21-22), in contemporary Iranian romance novels a tragic ending is not uncommon. Thus, I emphasize that due to such insistence on the dominant patriarchal and political ideologies negating women’s bodies and bodily pleasures, heroines who die in the narrative to serve such ideologies can be called the martyrs of the battles over the female body.


This article demonstrates the pivotal function of the main characters’ virginity in the development of the following popular Iranian romance novels written after the 1979 revolution: Fattaneh Haj Seyyed Javadi’s Bamdad-e Khomar (The Morning After, 1995), Nazi Safavi’s Dalan-e Behesht (The Hallway to Paradise, 1999); Roya Khosronajdi’s Harim-e Eshq (Love’s Privacy, 1999); Parinush Saniee’s Sahm-e Man (The Book of Fate, 2001); Roya Khosronajdi’s Elaheh-ye Sharqi (The Eastern Goddess, 2003); Simin Shirdel’s Aram (2004); Maryam Riahi’s Hamkhuneh (Housemate, 2007); and Homa Puresfahani’s Qarar Nabud (It Wasn’t Meant to Be, 2017).