Sweet Rocket

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Six Styles of Love, Romance Novel Style

Gratuitous illustration from N.C. Wyeth's "The Legends of Charlemagne."

Gratuitous illustration from N.C. Wyeth’s “The Legends of Charlemagne.”

Recently on Tumblr, I ran across a list of the six styles of love as defined by John Lee, and naturally my mind strayed to romance novels.

As I read through the list, I began to identify each stage with a romance novel, to wit:

Eros

a passionate physical and emotional love based on aesthetic enjoyment; stereotype of romantic love

Almost all of Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels historicals fit here; Shattered Rainbows comes to mind for the very passionate, emotional attachment between Lord Michael Kenyon and Catherine Melbourne. 

Ludus 

a love that is played as a game or sport; conquest; may have multiple partners at once

The classic example is Edith Layton’s Traditional Regency The Duke’s WagerRegina becomes the prize in a wager between the Marquis of Bessacarr and the legendary roue the Duke of Torquay. Ludus was alive and well in the Regency period, evidently — the trope of a female as prize in a wager is common in the Traditional Regency, though few have done it so well as Edith Layton.

Storge

an affectionate love that slowly develops from friendship, based on similarity

Like Mary Jo Putney and Eros, Carla Kelly writes almost exclusively to the Storge style of love, allowing her heroes and heroines to grow to love one another from a seed of friendship and mutual understanding. One of her finest examples of Storge is her Traditional Regency With This RingLydia and Sam meet when she volunteers at a makeshift military hospital, and develop a close friendship that deepens to love.

Pragma 

love that is driven by the head, not the heart

Pragma should have been easiest for me to identify; after all, romance is a genre that abounds with stories of marriages of convenience. But when I see Pragma assigned to a style of love, I think more of love that comes from an intellectual connection rather than an hormonal connection — not business so much as intellectual pleasure.

One of the first romances I thought of as I brainstormed was Laura Kinsale’s historical My Sweet Folly, which begins with correspondence between the two leads, who are separated by continents and years. But the letters between Robert and Folie are too romantic, even at the outset, for this to apply to my somewhat narrow standards.

Two other books, though, did come to mind. The first, My Dearest Enemyan historical by Connie Brockway, also relies heavily on letters between adventurer Avery Thorne and suffragette Lily Bede. Unlike Robert and Folie, who find themselves romantic and kindred spirits from the start, Avery and Lily’s letters begin as intellectual sparring before growing into a deeper affection.

The other book, Heart in Hiding  by Emma Richmond, a Harlequin from 1990 that I recently reviewed, might be more of a Pragma story than even My Dearest Enemy. Corbin and Verity, the hero and heroine, seem barely aware of each other as man and woman at the book’s beginning; only as Verity proves herself resourceful and indispensable, and Corbin reveals himself as more than an irascible destroyer of all things electronic do they begin to develop romantic feelings for each other.

Mania

obsessive love; experience great emotional highs and lows; very possessive and often jealous lovers

Pretty much most Gothics published between 1960-1979, and 95% of the Harlequin/Mills & Boon output from 1970-2000.

Agape

selfless altruistic love; spiritual

When linking Agape and romance, my mind went straight to another Laura Kinsale, the much-loved Flowers From the Stormwhich is the story of Quaker Maddy Timms and Christian Langland, Duke of Jerveaux. Maddy helps to rehabilitate Christian after a devastating stroke leaves him confined to an asylum, in a seemingly textbook case of Agape.

Instead, yet another Laura Kinsale book came immediately to mind, For My Lady’s HeartA medieval historical, For My Lady’s Heart has as much in common with Chaucer and Arthurian legend as historical romance — Ruck, the hero, is on what can only be described as a spiritual quest to repay what he sees as a debt of the soul to heroine Melanthe that begins with a would-be saint’s pilgrimage.

While selflessness, altruism and even spirituality are not necessarily the sole property of religion, few blatantly “inspirational” romances are as steeped in spirituality as For My Lady’s Heart. The influence of the church in the late Middle Ages is almost impossible for us as modern readers to comprehend, but Kinsale is one of few medieval romance writers who places the church in its rightful place in this period — it is the framework for the entire book. The church is what brings Ruck to Melanthe, and its teachings and commandments — commandments that carried the weight of law during the Middle Ages — drive much of the book’s plot and almost all of Ruck and Melanthe’s actions.

**WARNING — SPOILERS AHEAD**

The book’s sequel, Shadowheart is also the rare example of true Agape in romance, albeit to less effect than the epic For My Lady’s Heart, which is so steeped in the period that it uses Middle English for all dialogue. Shadowheart does, however, have one of the most affecting climaxes I have ever read in any book — one that hinges on Allegretto’s spiritual salvation.

John Lee’s styles of love were conceived as a “psychology of love,” a way to identify the difference between the ways humans express love and explain why there is, sometimes, a very basic breakdown in relationships resulting from conflicting ways of expressing and feeling love. Using them as a basis for literary criticism may be disingenuous, but it’s a case of the shoe fitting, especially in the case of romance.

Any well-written romance will show the hero and heroine cycling through several of the styles of love as their relationships progress, but most all romance novels seem to rely heavily on one style of love to define the relationship between the two leads. This defining style of love is synonymous with theme — i.e., bodice rippers falling squarely into the Eros style, inspirationals with a Storge theme, or those patently Pragma old-school Harlequins, full of boss/secretary and marriage-of-convenience romances.

Using Lee’s styles of love as a classification system that transcends subgenre just calls to the librarian in me. The styles lend themselves so easily to this use, allowing for description of a book’s tone or theme.  We all know, for instance, what the term “Gothic Romance” means, but further classification in terms of the love styles could help the picky reader to weed out the “Mania Gothic Romances.” It’s an imperfect classification system, yes, but an intriguing place to start.


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What Are We Hiding on Our E-Readers?

One of many, many reasons why e-readers are so popular.

I read with great interest a blog post on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books earlier this week about a phenomenon I’ve experienced for years but had no name for: reader shaming.  Don’t know what that means? Your e-reader likely does.

According to a recent article in The Guardian, genre fiction — i.e. romance, fantasy, Westerns, vampire porn — accounts for the majority of e-book purchases.  Why? According to the author, Antonia Senior,

Bibliophiles are furtive beasts. Their shelves still boast classics and Booker winners. But inside that [e-reader’s] plastic case, other things lurk. Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls.The ebook world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare. No cliche is left unturned, no adjective underplayed…In digital, dross rises.

No wonder blogger SB Sarah at SBTB took umbrage enough at Senior’s article to respond with a blog post titled “Reader Shaming.” Attitudes like Senior’s drive the very trend she reports on — we’re “shamed” into going underground to read anything but best-sellers, award winners, or safely respectable books.

Reader shaming is territory I know well. It all began with a box of Silhoutte and Harlequin romances left behind in a house my family bought when I was a young teenager.

The only reason the box hadn’t been discarded completely was that it was too heavy for my mother to carry and my father kept forgetting to haul it away. My mother, who read Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins and Anne Rivers Siddons, never gave the books a second look; the awful late 1980s-early 1990s covers on the books were all she needed to see. Besides, my mother shunned category romances. One of her sisters, a prodigious reader of category romances, had shelves and shelves full of these books, and my mother would always roll her eyes and say, “I don’t know why she reads that trash, much less why she keeps them.”

One interminably boring weekend, having already read the books I’d brought with me, I started digging through this box of books. Of course I dug furtively; I would have been mortified, had my mother, my father, or worse yet, my brother, caught me even considering reading a Harlequin. I squirreled away about ten or fifteen books that seemed promising, and hid them in a duffel bag.  I read them only behind the locked door of my bedroom.

I stayed up all night that night reading Anne Stuart’s Break the Night. I found out later that Break the Night — and Anne Stuart — were anything but typical for category romances, but I was hooked nevertheless. Having read this book, I couldn’t understand what my mother, and so many others, held against romance novels. Even the less-entralling ones that I plucked out of the box were better written than any Danielle Steel novel, and the better ones, such as those by Anne Stuart, Judith Duncan and Ruth Wind, made much of the “women’s fiction” that my mother read seem amateurish.

Still yet, I hid my stash of romances away. Nor did I become bolder as I grew older; if anything, I was even more ashamed to admit that I liked romance novels as an adult. I found it impossible to reconcile my degree in English with my love of a genre that could produce something called The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable Girl (click the link if you don’t believe me) in earnest. And so began my ridiculous cycle of  hiding my romance novels under beds, dragging them out to read only when I was sure I was alone. I was allowing myself to be reader shamed.

If what Antonia Senior claims is true, that every e-reader in the world is hiding romance and other genre books, then why do I feel embarrassed about allowing myself to be reader shamed? Why, if everyone else is doing it, do I feel like I’m doing a disservice to the romance genre because I refuse to carry around a vintage Anne Stuart or Laura Kinsale paperback, but rarely leave home without my e-reader loaded with their books?

I put part of the blame on romance publishers. For years, romance publishers have marginalized their own product by publishing them with covers that most rational people would find hideous. Even if the covers do not feature scantily clad heroes or heroines, the flowery script and panting book descriptions are enough to make many of us embarrassed to be seen with them. Case in point, the first and a later printing of Laura Kinsale’s Flowers From the Storm:

No one would assume, from looking at either cover, that Kinsale’s writing is more accomplished than that of most mainstream novelists, or that the book addresses such themes as mental illness and religion. The Fabio-esque hero on the older cover leads you to expect purple prose; the newer one is just boring.

It’s also hard to negotiate respect for romance novels when publishers continue to publish umpteen Playboy/Sheikh/Cowboy/Virgin/Rake titles every month. It’s not the repetitive nature of the titles that’s the problem — it’s the fact that publishers evidently feel that we, as readers, will accept poor quality writing as long as it’s in a recognizable package. So they perpetuate the prejudices against their books by releasing as many cliched and rehashed titles as they do well-written books. The end result is, of course, that even if you’ve managed to find an awesome Playboy Sheikh novel, you don’t really want to read it in public, knowing that you will have to defend your choice of book.

But I place the majority of the blame for my reader shaming on myself. There’s still a part of me that feels guilty for enjoying romance novels, that feels as though I’m wasting my education by reading these books. This despite the fact that many of the romance novels that I read reference history, classical literature or mythology that requires education to appreciate!

Writers like Antonia Senior who refer to genre fiction as downmarket dross only exacerbate our own reader shaming behaviors by validating for us the prejudices we perceive against the books that we love. They force us farther into the underground territory of our e-book readers, and reinforce to publishers that genre fiction is not worth the type of care that goes into selecting covers and weeding out the foolishness that is standard for mainstream literature.

As for Senior, she, too, is a victim of her own prejudices — the only genre fiction she’ll admit to reading is “male-oriented historical fiction… Swords and sails stuff.” I’m not saying that Senior’s prevaricating, but I wonder if she’d have easily admitted a predilection for bodice-rippers or futuristic romance?

Senior may be snarky, but she’s far from brave. After all, she’s “keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.”  Brave is my aunt, who used the shallow shelves she built herself that lined the stairways in her home, to proudly display her mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s Harlequins, Silhouettes, Candlelights and Avons. While I wish I were that brave, I would like to add that the covers on my aunt’s collection of books were much less hideous.