Disenchantment and its discontents: “modern love” and irony in popular romance fiction

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Here's the abstract:

Modern lovers, Eva Illouz proposes, inhabit an “ironic structure of romantic feeling” built from the interplay of “enchanted” and “disenchanted” discourses of love. Although popular romance novels are known for sincerity, not irony, this chapter argues that they, too, often display this ironic structure. The first half of this chapter outlines three versions of romantic disenchantment – scientific, socio-political and semiotic – and shows how each appears in selected American and British popular romance novels. Drawing on cultural historian Michael Saler, the chapter then demonstrates that these novels respond to disenchantment through upbeat strategies of provisional “as-if” thinking. In the strategy of disenchanted enchantment premodern discourses of love are recast or reinterpreted so that lovers can enjoy their emotional extravagance and utopian promise without any loss of reason or critical purchase. The strategy of enchanted disenchantment, by contrast, reframes feminist inquiry, therapeutic discourse, and technologies of choice as enabling romance protagonists to experience full-hearted passion, unstinting commitment and a sense of providential design, rather than as undermining those experiences. This chapter concludes by showing how these two strategies may overlap in a single novel, producing a virtuosic harmony of ironies that deftly balances faith and doubt in romantic love.