Homeward Bound: Leisure, popular culture and consumer capitalism

Publication year

The chapter includes a very swift overview of romance fiction and women's work from World War II to the time of writing:

Of all cultural commodities, books are those that are consumed most privately. But while the act of reading has always been, and by its very nature must remain, a private and largely domestic activity, the ideas and fantasies that popular fictional texts offer can provide insights into wider cultural aspirations and anxieties. By virtue of their popularity, bestsellers and widely read authors clearly touch a cultural nerve that goes beyond the individual reader. The act of choosing to buy or borrow and of reading a book may be a private experience, but the network of publishing hype, library categorization and criticism (both professional and that of friends’ recommendations) within which those choices are made, belong to a broader cultural ideology. (25-26)


The single, young woman who was then (and remains) the staple protagonist of popular romance fiction was of precisely the status and age group that the government was attempting to recruit into war work, and her fictional incarnations were rapidly pressed into service. The recruitment of women had its effect on the status and occupation of fictional heroines, and of their love objects, in the romantic fiction of such best-selling authors as Denise Robins, Ursula Bloom and Daphne du Maurier; heroes and heroines were now more likely to be garbed in uniform than in party dress, their love to bloom in the fields of battle. (29)


While nursing had been a popular role for romance heroines, before the war years it had been seen largely as a noble calling which did not really carry the status of work, and often not even wages. However, with the establishment of the National Health Service in July 1948, nursing came to be a recognized area of (relatively) skilled labour for women. It was in the 1950s that the still popular hospital romance was established as a genre in its own right. Many of the new publishing paperback houses carried special hospital title imprints, among them Arrow, Fontana and Mills & Boon. (35)


In contemporary Mills & Boon romances the changing status of women at work is represented by heroines who may now be lawyers, accountants, bank managers; but the hero is inevitably in a position of superior professional authority. (39)