Monday, August 6, 2012

Romam* (for Roman*)

Fifty Shades of Grey, which I blogged about on Friday, is basically a classic romance novel, despite its kinky content, and this got me thinking a bit about the genre in general. Up to this point, I had read exactly two manifestations of the type, variously called, as I recall, "Harlequin romances," "gothic romances," or simply "romance novels." Despite their seeming similarity, it seems that some of these are steamier than others (Fifty Shades), while others are more esteemed (like the books of Mary Stewart, for example). The pair of pulpy paperbacks that found their way into my hands, if not quite my heart, were consumed one day while I was locked (not literally) in a closet (literally) somewhere in the Deep South. I had discovered them tucked inside the drawer of a little table at which I labored lazily to sell mediocre magazines to resistant targets over the telephone. "Romance" may or may not be a euphemism for sex in these books, but it's always an over-the-top fantasy. Nevertheless, they (at least the ones that don't manage to rise above the limits of the form) are so formulaic, so reductionistic, so silly, and so sexist, it's pretty hard to take them seriously. Given all of that then, it's nothing short of a minor miracle that filmmaker Julie Moggan was able to make such a truly touching, funny, and affectionate film on this very subject. Recently shown on PBS's documentary series P.O.V., Guilty Pleasures features an aging British pensioner who finds his joy in writing romance novels; a young Japanese housewife who takes up ballroom dancing just so she can see what it's like to be swept off your feet by the perfect partner; a gorgeous but goofy Harlequin male cover model; and other unreconstructed fans. We got 65 hits on Romam* in OhioLINK and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat. (A look in the latter for Romamc* got 40, and Romamt* 22.)

(Fayaway, the heroine of Typee by Herman Melville, "Spreading it out like a sail," from the book Typee: A Real Romance of the South Sea by A. Burnham Shute, 1892, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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