Finding Romance in Literary Fiction

heart_book I’ve heard it in various forms from many different corners. “Oh, literature is just too depressing.” “The difference between literary fiction and romance? Love stories in lit fic all end uphappily.” Stick around enough message forums and blogs, or simply talk to enough readers and you’ll hear variations on that theme. Then there are the the literary fiction “guidelines” Robin Uncapher wrote for AAR back in 2007, which definitely skewer certain authors and book trends rather aptly. But is all of it really that depressing for a romance reader?

I don’t read literary fiction all the time, but I’ll go on my occasional forays beyond the familiar genre fiction shelving. True, there are beautifully written but also tragic books such as The English Patient or Bel Canto, books full of ponderous words and perhaps an amount of pretension which seems to have an inverse correlation with the amount of actual plot action, and then there’s stuff that I quite frankly think is absolute dreck(Why do they shelve Nicholas Sparks with literary works? Why, why, why?) Continue reading

Read Anything Interesting Lately?

Ever had one of those frustrating weeks where you just don’t get to curl up with a book as much as you’d like to? Yeah, me too. My day job pretty well ate my life last week and had me sitting in traffic all over northern Virginia as I went from appointment to appointment. On the plus side, I did get to catch up on blog reading in between all of the mad dashes and I found some interesting stuff over the past few days.

I like to read Jezebel every now and again because some of their writers do offer useful perspectives on women’s lives and they can be very supportive of women’s choices, history, literature and so on — except when they’re not. My general reaction to reading this article which somehow takes the idea of Jane Austen having both highbrow and lowbrow appeal and conflates it to the notion that her books are basically well-written Twilight. The author also takes care to get in a few slaps at modern romance authors, making sure to note that, “it goes without saying that Austen is way wittier and more talented than her modern day counterparts.” Continue reading

Deadeye Dick’s Last Shot, or All for the Love of Bessie Burton

virginian If you are not a fan of the 1960’s western television show, The Virginian , then this title means nothing to you. As a caregiver for an aging relative, I can almost repeat all the dialogue. One episode opens as a young woman and her mother are traveling out west to visit relatives. On the train, the young woman is reading a dime novel featuring the western hero, Deadeye Dick. When an older man saves her from falling off her horse after tumbleweeds spook him, just like Deadeye Dick saved Bessie Burton, she has her hero. Throughout the episode the mother understands that her daughter’s impressionable age is to blame rather than the dime novels and never forbids her the joy of reading them. While watching the show, I wondered how today’s mothers guide their daughters’ reading choices through the immense choices available.

During an internet search, I saw that Wikipedia touts Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded as one of the first romance novels. From Jane Austen to serial romances in women’s magazines, from Georgette Heyer to Mills and Boon and finally the explosion of the genre with Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and The Flower, young girls today have a myriad of choices available to them. And even if your daughter or niece is not interested in romance now, the chance of her wanting to read one in her adolescence is very high, especially with books like Twilight being made into movies. I eased into reading romance books while in my early teens. Like many readers here, my introduction to this genre started with Harlequin romance and Georgette Heyer. While I had an aunt who disapproved, my mother never censored my reading, and we had a long history of loving the same types of books.
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The Lover Scorned

libby Recently, I reread Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March. It’s a book I’ve read with great pleasure before; this time I was particularly struck by the way the relationship between the poet Catullus and society lady Clodia is portrayed. He loves her with all his heart and writes great poems to her and about her; she sometimes admits him as her lover and spends time with him before jilting him again in favor of a rival. The novel leaves no doubt that Clodia is cruel and capricious; however, at this reading, I suddenly felt that I understood her right to jilt him, and her urge to do so. In spite of the undoubted depth of Catullus’ feelings, it is quite clear that Clodia does not feel as deeply for him. Yes, she might have treated him with far less cruelty, as Caesar points out to her, in ending the affair. But for the first time, my reaction as a reader was sympathy with her desire to regain her autonomy in the face of Catullus’s overwhelming love and of his general wonderfulness.

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