In defence of reading (and watching) trash: Feminists reading the romance

Publication year
European Journal of Cultural Studies

The version available from CORE is presumably a pre-print version. Here's the abstract:

In Cultural Populism, Jim McGuigan argues that in British cultural studies ‘there is populist sentiment, but hardly any “sentimentality” is discernible’. There is, however, an arena of British cultural studies that has always been concerned with ‘sentiment’ and that is the romance narrative. This article argues that the study of popular fictions has always been integral to the history of cultural studies, and that it established a site in which feminist voices would make gender politics intrinsic to the field. At a time when gender was not a central issue for either Literature or Cultural Studies, generic fictions written by and for women provided a site for research that was undeniably about female experience, and the analysis of those texts offered a strategy for asserting a feminist focus.


The sub-genres of popular fictions written and read by women indicate a great deal about contemporary discourses surrounding gender, and those discourses shift historically. Their narratives tend to cluster around the dominant discourses of femininity in any given period, either to challenge or embrace that hegemony. And they can often challenge received wisdoms; to read across the output of Mills and Boon from 1945 to 1960 is to be confronted with narratives in which their heroines were by no means content to return to the domestic sphere, and indicate that women’s aspirations in the post-war period prioritised meaningful employment over true romance.