LaVyrle Spencer and the Anti-Essentialist Argument

Publication year
Para.doxa: Studies in World Literary Genres

essentialist categories deny the complexity of individual lived experience and may limit the possibilities for change.

Romances often make narrative arguments [...], but the arguments they make are usually not polemical. [...] Those arguments about which we might disagree [...] are dealt with in romance, but often in ways that are opposed to traditional Western styles of argument and debate. Looking at how controversial issues are examined in women's romance provides a singular view of the intersection of politics and culture, as well as insight into the ways a marginalized group (romance readers) is able to "read" texts concerning political issues and come to individual and collective judgments. (108)

like poststructuralist feminists who resist essentialist understandings of "woman" and "the female body," Spencer's romances see female subjectivity as complex and multiply positioned, so that readers and heroines can identify across gender and sometimes racial lines. As I have shown above, heterosexual experience is so unevenly represented that we may question whether the term "heterosexual romance" is even applicable, and whether in this genre categories of male and female are not as determinative as we might suppose. (120)