On inspection, the essay turned out to have no solid basis in research or data; indeed, although its author, Susan Quilliam, was the author of several self-help books, she had no medical or academic expertise of any kind. In the s, this concern was central to the early feminist studies of popular romance fiction, even among scholars who considered themselves to be defending both the genre and its readers. Janice Radway, a few years later, was equally wary. Despite the fact that the romance readers she interviews explicitly tell her otherwise see, for example, , Radway remains skeptical of their claims that reading romance changes their lives for the better, and she hypothesizes instead that reading the romance causes readers to stay trapped in unhappy or chafing personal circumstances.
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The claims made by these authors frequently echo those made by the readers Radway interviews but does not quite believe ; likewise, several of these authors take on Radway, Modleski, Kay Mussell, and other scholars by name, quoting from their work and defining their own views against those of the academics. Clearly, then, by the start of the s, academic accounts of popular romance were well known within, and contested by, the romance community. Perhaps her most accomplished work in this vein, however, is found in the New York Times bestseller Welcome to Temptation In this novel, Crusie implicitly confronts flawed popular and critical conceptions of the romance genre, including the notion that romance is an undemanding and addictive form of fantasy that misleads women readers about their actual lives.
Without simply dismissing what is problematic in our relationship with the fictions we enjoy, Crusie offers a nuanced argument for the liberating power of reading and writing the romance. Crusie argues through Sophie that active participation in imaginative experience can connect a woman more fully to herself and to others, that it empowers her to transform her life and the life of the community around her, and, further, that whether this possibility is realized depends on the quality of responsiveness to experience in the reader—either a real experience or a fictional one—and not at all on the subject matter of the experience, whether it is a real-life relationship or a popular romance.
According to the critics of romance, however, from 18 th century moralists to Susan Quilliam, confusion between the two realms seems to be the inevitable effect of the genre, at least on women readers. Crusie does not deny that individuals can confuse fantasy and reality, but rather suggests that confusion about boundaries between the two realms is not specific to women or to one form of fantasy, the romance, but rather arises in the vanity and egocentrism of the person experiencing the fantasy.
She is quoting a film, as Crusie heroines often do in this case, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , and, in the process, announcing her awareness that things might not be as they seem. Behind the blue skies, waving maple trees, and fluffy clouds, Sophie instinctively looks for the Bates Hotel, the bats, and the host who offers fava beans and Chianti. Yet in a significant twist, the fantasies from which Sophie derives her first flawed reading of the town of Temptation are not associated with women or with romance, even of the gothic variety. Furthermore, from the moment Sophie arrives in Temptation, she finds herself surrounded by other characters immersed in fantasies, as though—in this novel, at least—such immersion were simply part of the human condition, not an isolated or unusual case.
Crusie gives each of these self-absorbed individuals a different and commonly accepted form of fantasy experience. Few critics of popular culture would condemn high school plays, local repertory theater productions, small-market newscasts, or stagy wedding videos as potentially harmful; instead critics assume participants in these activities can navigate between their on-stage experience and ordinary life and benefit from their involvement in imaginative acts. Yet each of the supporting characters turns out to be so deeply immersed in an apparently innocuous fantasy that he or she grossly misreads his or her familiar environment and relationships with others.
Clearly, then, it is not a specific genre of imaginative experience that misleads or deludes its participants, nor is it women in general as participants in fantasy who feel its potentially harmful effects. Consider, for example, the overlapping fates of Frank and Georgia Lutz and actress and sometime porn-star Clea Whipple, all of whom grew up unlike Sophie in the Ohio town of Temptation. Before the novel begins, Clea and Frank, who played opposite each other in a high school production of The Taming of the Shrew, pretended, for the show, to be in love.
At the start of the novel, Clea has returned to Temptation to make a video that will, she hopes, restart her film career. The chance to see Frank again immediately stimulates her capacity for fantasy. Crusie casts a cool, appraising eye on all of these characters. Clea, though, comes off worse. Abandoning her fantasy of a reunion with Frank, she concocts a new one, a sort of narcissistic caricature of a woman-empowering romance novel plot.
We do not learn this right away, however—instead, we learn that the Garveys are publicly and consistently contemptuous of fiction. They are not readers, film fans, or theater-goers, and they are keen on censorship, especially when it comes to anything sexual. Not simply hypocrites, they are profoundly self-deceiving, so caught up in lies about their own morality and importance to the community that they cannot distinguish the real version of events from their subjective version.
Their lack of experience with imaginative fiction renders them unable to judge character effectively.
Virginia, for instance, simply admires celebrity; she has no capacity to judge the character of either Zane or Clea. A pervasive and unconscious subjectivity shapes their interactions with others, which renders them bad citizens, bad neighbors, and bad parents. The other, even more important, is the Tuckers. Utterly incapable of seeing herself as others see her, Virginia perceives others, including her daughter, as projections of her own wishes and resentments. Clea, the Lutzes, Virginia and Stephen: each of these supporting characters, whether female and male, has developed a controlling fantasy that inflates the self and distorts his or her relations with others.
Recognizing the problems and the conventions of a woman-centered novel, the reader feels part of a community and a tradition of women who talk well about their lives and link them, by language, to larger subjects. More and less, not more or less: a shift which suggests that the fabric of reality has its own elements of fantasy, of story, woven inextricably within it. After the death of their mother in an automobile accident, Sophie mothers and nurtures her sister Amy and her younger brother Davy, and she continues to do so in a self-abnegating way even after they are all adults.
At the opposite extreme from characters like Clea and Virginia Garvey, who are unable to see reality through the lens of their fantasies, Sophie sees only reality. Since she also quotes early and often from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Manchurian Candidate, Psycho, and Silence of the Lambs , however, we might well conclude that her wary realism stems from something else: a determination not to base real-world actions on a controlling fantasy, of whatever sort, the way that characters in these four movies do. Trapped in altered psychic states, these characters are extreme versions of the deluded characters who surround Sophie in Temptation.
This determination, however, has not allowed Sophie to escape a conventionally female destiny. For Sophie to get to a new version of reality, then, she must begin by allowing herself to entertain fantasies. Her access to fantasy, to fiction, to reading as an affirming and self-transforming act, comes, instead, through Phin. Phin is connected with reading in multiple ways.
This reading places them on opposite sides of any number of binary oppositions: insider and outsider; male and female; established authority and resistance to it; college educated and under-educated; upper class and no class. His ties with those around him, including his relationship with his young daughter, may be flawed by his own lack of self-fulfillment, but they are unmistakably loving, and as the novel begins, Phin is utterly at home with domesticity. We are not, however, finished with this seduction scene.
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Phin does more, introducing Sophie at once to sexual and textual pleasures. Phin, the bookstore owner, quickly shows Sophie the power that an experienced reader actually has over the text at hand. In direct contradiction to the argument that romance reading renders women passive and invisible, then, Crusie designs the interaction between her hero and heroine as a dynamic of liberation. In fact, these early scenes can be read as a step-by-step rewriting of those early academic worries about the effects of the genre.
She becomes more corporeally real to herself. She has been ignoring injuries and nervous habits. In the scenes that follow, she also becomes more psychologically real to herself, more self-aware. In a comic twist, he responds like an academic romance critic responding to a romance reader, refusing to take her word for what has happened and interpreting her behavior in psycho-political terms. He then further defines her actions, saying,. Sophie, however, refuses to accept his interpretation. Far from confusing fantasy and reality, then, Sophie has gained perspective on her real situation.
Realistically, Crusie does not let a single exposure to fantasy to accomplish a complete transformation of her heroine. Such change does not happen overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum.waaprotisev.cf
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At this point in the novel, then, fantasy and authorship fail Sophie, leaving her unable to silence self-doubt and resist the patriarchal backlash embodied by Zane. Once again, Phin-the-text comes to her aid. Unfazed by her lack of response, he asks her what her fantasies are when she masturbates. In the chapters that follow, Sophie becomes an increasingly active and imaginative participant in her lovemaking, not just taking charge of exactly how kinky and exciting it will be, but demanding to learn from it, scene by scene.
Although she is repeatedly tempted to persist in her former construction of reality, particularly romantic reality, she soon learns to correct herself without prompting:. Well, that was men for you. She glared at the cherries across from her. Took what they wanted and then—. It was, in short, nonproductive.
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Authorship, authority, and sexuality are inextricably and quite playfully intertwined. It would suggest that romance was essentially reducible to erotica, or even pornography: a claim that has, of course, been made about the genre, sometimes as a criticism and sometimes in its defense, by academic critics. Instead, Crusie distinguishes between the limited sexual version of her transformation and something broader or deeper, of which sex is only a part.
She draws that line of distinction in two ways.
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First, she has the first group of sexual fantasies that Phin elicits from and acts out with Sophie becoming part of the script she is writing, while the later love scenes do not. Phin, however, despite his comfort with sexual fantasy, has not learned to read his own heart as clearly. Sophie deliberately steps into that role.
In the pages that follow, Sophie uses these skills in a pair of crucial scenes that show the private and public impacts of her transformation. The Phillips piece in question is her contribution to the Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women anthology. In control. I already had those things. Phillips already had command and control, and to this day she remains one of the most empowered women I know. The romance fiction she read simply reminded her of her own capabilities, thereby reinforcing her own experience of reality.
In fact, because he is the mayor, the two changes turn out to be one. Phin is as burdened by his social role as Sophie is, and as concerned with family duty; in fact, his family pressures, embodied by his mother Liz, might be read as even more ominous, given the multiple references to Psycho that crop up throughout the book.
Not sex, not love, but marriage seems crucial here. First-wave romance scholars often lamented the connection in romance between fully expressed female sexuality and heterosexual marriage.
Crusie, by contrast, frames the issue of marriage in terms of a redefinition of heterosexual power dynamics. For Regis, then, the hero and heroine choose to marry when the plot liberates them from barriers that have constrained them in old patterns, and their marriage signals that those barriers and patterns are no more Regis 15, In the town of Temptation, the patterns that constrain hero and heroine alike are summed up by two motifs introduced to the reader in the opening pages and repeated throughout the novel.
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