A Childe in Love, Or Is It Just Fantasy? The Values of Women's Genres

Publication year
Para.doxa: Studies in World Literary Genres

This essay originated in response to a group project on the Bildungsroman begun in 1990. The general focus there was women writers' appropriations of the Bildungsroman and how the genre could be used to tell stories of women's transitions into adulthood. Although the anthology was never brought together and sent to a publisher, I found my part in the exercise useful, because it introduced me to yet another way of understanding the women's romance novel phenomenon. No one approach to this phenomenon - aesthetic, ideological, sociological, economic, historical - can encompass it and no one exemplar can completely represent or illustrate it. (121)

In this essay I concentrate on [Emma] Darcy's novels of development, to consider them as examples of the contemporary female Bildungsroman. Of the first thirty or so Darcy novels, eight, more so than the others might be called fictions of female development: Twisting Shadows, Don't Play Games, Fantasy, Song of a Wren, Man in the Park, Mistress of Pillatoro, The Aloha Bride, and The Power and the Passion. Although sexual awakening or heightened awareness of sexuality figures significantly in most of Darcy's novels written in her first decade of publishing, the real issue in these eight novels is whether or not the heroine's past, her experience, works to block her self-realization, her fulfillment through a relation that allows her to share her vulnerabilities and strengths intimately with a stranger. [...] Like the Bildungsroman, Darcy's category romances stress "the coherent self," with coherent meant quite literally, both in its sense of "rational," that is, "logically connected," and "connected," that is, "sticking or holding together." [...] For Darcy's heroines, the coherent self can be achieved only when the couple realize that their happiness lies in their clinging to each other. For category romances generally there is no paradox in finding individual fulfillment within the couple. (129)