Popular Fiction and the Feminine Masquerade

Publication year
European Journal of English Studies

The romance analysed is a Harlequin romance (in the Temptation line) by Marion Smith Collins: By Any Other Name (1984). In it the heroine undergoes a makeover.

In common with so many popular romances, it is a work of instruction on how to become a woman: how to dress, how to behave, how to get your man. Grooming is important: rubber bands break fragile hair; hand cream keeps skin soft. Handle your lover with care: cheeky is fine, but don't damage his ego. In this it helps to complete the programme that used to be offered by finishing schools and modelling agencies, and is available in women's magazines and books of feminine etiquette. But it also demonstrates, whether inadvertently or not, the price women have been expected to pay for our culture's conflation of romance and marriage. From the perspective of a cultural analyst, an anthropologist, say, the exhilaration of Gabby's phallic power might seem an odd basis for a lifetime of companionship, when it entails the abnegation of her serious writing, not just on special occasions, not just for the duration of a romance, but daily, and for ever. (246)

There is also a discussion of Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek (1941) but this is romantic fiction rather than a romance, as well as some of Enid Blyton's fiction for children.

The acceptable meaning of woman has expanded unimaginably since the 1940s, and even since the 1980s. But I hope the expansion does not simply lead to a new, merely more comprehensive, fixity. I hope, in other words, that as things change, we can continue to recognise the distinctions between intellectual independence and partnership, romance and domesticity, allowing for differences between these values and within identities, in consequence of perceiving identity itself as defined by disruptive alterities, not single, not constant but, on the contrary, radically discontinuous. (358)