Reading the Romantic Heroine: Text, History, Ideology

Publisher
University of Michigan Press
Location
Ann Arbor
Publication year
1985
Comment

There is only one chapter on popular romance: "Sex and the Working Woman in the Age of Electronics: Harlequin Romances." The other texts examined, and the overall shape of the book are outlined in this quotation from the preface:

The study undertaken here concerns neither romanticism in general nor romance in general, but narratives, be they romances or romantic novels, that have, since the twelfth century, made romantic love a cultural model which continues to dominate women's imaginations even today. Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan and Isolde (twelfth century), Prévost's Manon Lescaut (eighteenth century), Stendhal's The Red and the Black (nineteenth century), Charlotte Brontë's Shirley (nineteenth century), Alain-Fournier's Big Meaulnes (early twentieth century), and Harlequin Romances (contemporary) have all contributed to this tradition. Their study can help build a theory that finds connections between an unconscious feminine personality structure, the culture that shapes women's consciousness, and women's social situation.
Romantic love, although a myth that does not exist in daily experience, remains the ideal model for interpersonal relations. As a heterosexual, private, total, exalted love, it is supposed to give meaning to an otherwise drab existence, and allow us to transcend daily life to a higher plane. Whether fatal passion or happily-ever-after fantasy, it has always been a total love, combining sexuality, emotional intimacy, and self-reflecting intellect. (vii)

Here's some more from the chapter about Harlequins:

What the heroines seek is not simply to succeed in the man's world but to change that world. An analysis of the romances will show that on an implicit level they seek not so much an improved life within the possibilities of this social structure, as a different social structure. The very facts that in an increasing number of romances from 1981 to 1984 the hero is both boss and lover, that the world of work and business is romanticized and eroticized, and that in it love flourishes suggest that the Harlequin heroines seek an end to the division between the domestic world of love and sentiment and the public world of work and business. (166)

This is extremely close to the wording in Rabine's article in Feminist Studies 11.1 and, indeed, thoughout this chapter the two appear almost identical.

Here's a link to a review by Suzanne Clark, in the Minnesota Review.