Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction

Manchester University Press
Publication year

See in particular chapter three, on "Popular Romance."

This chapter focuses on contemporary popular or mass-market romance. In Britain the market leader is the publisher Mills & Boon; in North America it is Mills & Boon's sister company, Harlequin. (75)


I argue that the most successful uses of psychoanalytic criticism relate psychological structures to historical moment. To show how this might be done, in the final part of the chapter I move from formula romances to the family saga. In a discussion of Catherine Cookson's The Golden Straw (1993), I suggest that whereas changes within the 'formula' romance occur over years, the family saga can be read as charting those changes through several generations in one narrative. (76)


A utopian reading of formula romance might argue that narrative closure occurs when both hero and heroine have shown themselves to be out of place in the symbolic order: the heroine through her problematic femininity and the man in his display of vulnerability. Love is the utopian state in which both lovers transgress the restrictive boundaries of their 'lawful' gender identities and enter into a relationship that supplies mutual, total satisfaction, the abolition of lack. However, while there is clearly a utopian element to all romance narratives, the repetitive nature of formula romances and their repeated consumption by readers suggests that the reader's participation in utopia is partial and short-lived. This suggests one limitation of psychoanalytic interpretations of popular fiction, because while psychoanalytic criticism can identify some of the narrative patterns of formula romance and relate these to moments of psychic development, it has a tendency to reduce those patterns to universal psychic structures. [...] One of the key problems with psychoanalytic criticism is that it does not question the structure of the nuclear family as a specific historical and cultural phenomenon. (92)


Works in this collection