Monday, 15 September 2008

Intertextuality and the Vampire Romance

Vampire Romances are a fascinating aspect of the Romance Genre. They have mysterious heroes that are tortured by a traumatic past. As Anne Stuart explains, “At the heart of the vampire myth is a demon lover who is both elegant and deadly, a creature whose savagery is all the more shocking when taken with his beauty and style.”[i] In vampire romances the stakes are high- not only if the heroine fighting for love, she’s fighting for her hero’s soul and her life. Vampire romances invoke an older, intertexual tradition of attraction between a Maiden and Death.

Stories of maidens and Death are not new. The “Dance of Death” motif in the 14th century was a popular motif in France. Then, During the 15th century in Germany, another, more erotic narrative depicted images of “Death and the Maiden.”[ii] These images show a corpse or skeleton representing death embracing a young maiden, who passively accepts his embrace. In Niklaus Manuel Deutsch’s Death and the Maiden painted in 1517, Death is a rotting corpse who kisses the maiden, and gropes her without shame.[iii] In Hans Sebald Beham’s Death and the Maiden a voluptuous nude woman is embraced by a winged Death, who whispers seductively in her ear.[iv] Another Death grabs a naked, submissive maiden, pointing to her demise in Hans Baldung’s Death and the Maiden.[v] In each of the paintings it is clear that even the young maiden is susceptible to Death’s inevitable embrace. But even morso, there is a sense of inevitability in the paintings, where the young maiden does not fight death, but accepts it, even welcomes his embrace. There is also an unrepentant sexuality to the paintings, where death is either groping the maiden, or the maiden is naked in such a way that highlights a sexual bond between the female and Death.

Another more modern narrative of death and the maiden is Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” In the story Arnold Friend, a strange unknown man with alluring qualities, persuades Connie, a young girl, to leave her house and come with him in his car. A close reader concludes by the end of the story that if Connie goes with Arnold, she will die. And yet, what makes the story most compelling is the sense of the inevitable. Arnold Friend’s seductive quality, and the way Connie knows she shouldn’t go with Arnold, yet does anyway, is both disturbing and fascinating.[vi] In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” the narrative of the inevitability of death is told, and also the connection between death and sex appeal is made.

How then, does Vampire Romance fit into all of this? Vampire Romances have a hero that is a fallen angel- with aspects of both life and death. Anne Stuart, author of vampire romances explains, “The heroine’s attraction to the hero is never in doubt,”[vii] just like the attraction of Death in Death and the Maiden is not in doubt. Yet in vampire romance novels the authors twist the previous narrative tradition. There is still a sense of the inevitable in vampire romances, but the inevitable isn’t the eventual death of the heroine. Rather love is the inevitable consequence of the eroticism and attraction between a hero intimately connected with death and a heroine with life. Conflict in the vampire romance centers around the hero’s struggle with not wanting to damn his love (either by making her a vampire or killing her), and his eventual conquering of his monstrous instincts because of his love of the heroine. Love is the force that conquers the vampire’s monstrous nature, and prevents the hero from destroying the heroine. By rewriting the traditional Death and the Maiden narrative, romance novel authors create a new text that is life affirming and love affirming. They send the message that love transcends death.

[i] Anne Stuart, “Legends of Seductive Elegance,” in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, ed. Jayne Ann Krentz (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 85.

[ii] Randy Nelson, “Monsters, Heroes, and the End of Fairy Tales,” Davidson College Metafiction and Intertextuality class, September 10, 2008.

[iii] Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, Death and the Maiden 1517.

[iv] Hans Sebald Beham. Death and the maiden; la mort se saisissant d'une femme nue et debout.

[v] Hans Baldung (1484/5-1545). 1517. Death and the maiden.

[vi] Joyce Carol Oates, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," in Retellings, ed. M.B. Clarke and A.G. Clarke (NY, NY: McGraw Hill, 2003), 186-197.

[vii] Anne Stuart, “Legends of Seductive Elegance,” in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, ed. Jayne Ann Krentz (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 86.

Pictures from The First is Death and the Maiden by Niklaus Manuel Deutsch painted in 1517, and the second is the frescoe of Berne.

On another note, how eerie is it that the Death and the Maiden Paintings echo some romance novel covers in the way the two figures are positioned? Am I the only one seeing the similarity?

Friday, 5 September 2008

Weekly Essay #1: What is a Romance Novel?

In order to study romance novels, it is important to clarify what, exactly, is a romance novel. A romance refers to fictional works that involve some combination adventure, mysterious events, difficult quests, thwarted love, and a triumphant ending. Novels are simply fictional prose narratives that can, but don’t have to, be a romance. However, romance novels refer to something entirely different.

Pamela Regis, in her A Natural History of the Romance Novel defines a romance novel to be, “a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines.[i] She goes on to explain that there are eight narrative elements of a romance novel which include: a definition of society, meeting, attraction, barrier, point of ritual death, recognition, declaration and betrothal.[ii] This definition is excellent because it is specific and clear. However, Pamela Regis makes an error in making her definition gender specific, saying there must be a heroine and a hero. While not as common as heterosexual romances, homosexual romances featuring a hero and a hero, or a heroine and a heroine, do exist. Consider, for example Suzanne Brockman’s All Through the Night which features Jules Cassidy and his partner Robin Chadwick.[iii] It follows all of Regis’ narrative elements- the only thing that is different is the male protagonists.

The Romance Writers of America offers a more gender-inclusive definition saying “a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.”[iv] They go on to expand that “In a romance novel, the main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.”[v] While this definition is more gender inclusive, it fails to be specific in that way that Pamela Regis’s definition is.

It also fails to take into account the new subgenre of romance called erotic romance. Marketed by publishers such as Ellora’s Cave and Samhain Publishing, these novels feature, among other things, love stories between three (or more) people. For example, Denise Rossetti’s book Tailspin features two heroes and a heroine.[vi] All of Regis’s narrative elements are present, just more complex as there are multiples of some of the elements, which force the three characters apart. The heroine, Fledge is living in a circus where she is repressed and unhappy, representing the definition of society that is corrupt.[vii] She meets Mirry, one of the heroes, and there is an immediate attraction as she looks at him. Rossetti describes Fledge’s attraction to him, “But he was beautiful. Even limp and dead, covered with stinking muck, his body was the very essence of masculinity.”[viii] As the story progresses, Jan, the third hero is introduced, and the three struggle to understand the love they have blooming between them, even though a ménage á trios is not socially acceptable (the barrier)[ix]. There is a point where each of the characters worry that their love will not overcome Mirry’s resistance or Jan’s emotional wounds (point of ritual death). However, they recognize that they love each other, and are able to declare their love and make a commitment to each other[x]. The story ends on a happy, hopeful note.[xi]

In light of these examples, the definition of a romance novel needs to be adjusted. A romance novel is a prose narrative dealing with the romantic love and courtship between two or more characters. Romance novels contain eight narrative elements which include: a definition of society that is corrupt, the meeting, the attraction, the barrier, the point of ritual death[xii], the recognition, the declaration, and the betrothal[xiii].

[i] Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 14.

[ii] Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 14.

[iii] Suzanne Brockman, All Through the Night, (Ballantine Books, 2007), back cover.

[iv] Romance Writers of America, “About the Romance Genre,”, (September 5, 2008).

[v] Romance Writers of America, “About the Romance Genre,”, (September 5, 2008).

[vi] Denise Rossetti, Tailspin, (Elloras Cave, 2007).

[vii] Denise Rossetti, Tailspin, (Elloras Cave, 2007) 8.

[viii] Denise Rossetti, Tailspin, (Elloras Cave, 2007) 9.

[ix] Denise Rossetti, Tailspin, (Elloras Cave, 2007) 49.

[x] Denise Rossetti, Tailspin, (Elloras Cave, 2007) 250.

[xi] Denise Rossetti, Tailspin, (Elloras Cave, 2007) 263.

[xii] Personally, I think that there is a better way to term the “point of ritual death” in a novel, both because the term is cumbersome to say, and because it is misleading. I would argue that it is more of a Dark Moment- where one or both of the characters are convinced that things will not work out between them.

[xiii] I would also argue that the betrothal isn’t always necessarily a betrothal, but more an understanding that there is a commitment between the characters.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Begining My Independent Study

As I begin on my independent study this semester, I'm struggling with two questions.

How do you define the romance novel? I think this is important because it is very hard to study something if you don't know what it is. So, this first week I'm reading Jennifer Crusie's essays, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, and various other texts in an attempt to find my own working definition of what constitutes a Romance Novel. I think I have a very good idea, and I'll expand on that point on Friday, with my weekly entry.

My second question, I feel, is just as important. What would be a clever title for this course? It seems silly, but I don't want to be calling my independent study class by that name for the entire semester. It just doesn't flow.

So, a final question. Any suggestions of a clever, insightful title for my class?
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