Contextualising Consent: The Problem of Rape and Romance

Publication year
Australian Feminist Studies

The assemblage of consent most congruent with operation of rape law can be found in popular romance fiction - particularly some of the novels published by Harlequin Mills & Boon. The question of rape in romance fiction increasingly exercises romance writers and their readers. Historically, rape was explicitly represented in novels such as Kathleen Woodwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, where it functioned at a narrative level as the ultimate obstacle to romantic consummation. Explicit sexual violence is now strongly discouraged. Further, romance readers themselves are anxious to distinguish some practices in the genre from what they understand as ‘real rape’. [...] However, the elimination of explicit representations of rape from contemporary romance fiction does not finally succeed in short-circuiting the supplementary relationship between rape and romance. In this context, it is interesting to consider Charlotte Lamb, a highly successful Harlequin Mills & Boon writer who has published 116 novels, and sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Her novels are marked by a specific stylistic signature; that is, her consistently violent representation of heterosexual sex. (32)