IASPR2018: 19thC Legacies

This represents my notes on the presentations at the 2018 International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference. Please consider my status as an imperfect recorder of literary academia. I hope you enjoy reading about this conference as much as I enjoyed observing it. This blog uses affiliated links.

House, Home, and Husband in historical romance fiction. Sarah Ficke (Marymount University)

The “I’m in love with this house” genre.

The upper class woman’s relation to her house was one of insecurity

  • Went to sons (if had them)
  • Daughters gives dowry to buy a husband (and a house)

Sense & Sensiblity – wife and daughters are treated like visitors when husband dies
Pride and Prejudice – Collins will turn you out

Marriage was done to get you a comfortable home, but there were no guarantees

  • Husband owned wife and controls her (coverture)
  • Fortune hunters: Wickham v Lady Catherine

The darker side of coverture was legalised rape and domestic violence.

Romance heroines mitigate these problems via:

  • labour, often using book keeping or estate management to make themselves irreplaceable.
  • Childbirth (reproductive labour and the production of a son)

But work is not enough to ensure security.

Love is shown as the final security that overrides the law’s difficulties.

Darcy is shown as ideal because he cares about ALL the people around him. It gives Lizzy a belief in her own security (if he treats his servants and others well, he’ll treat her well).

Nowadays, women are allowed to own property, so why are these books still popular?

Perhaps as a celebration of how far we have come – a reminder of the restrictions of old rules. (My note: and as an extension, a reminder that we can continue to fight unfair laws as heroines of our own stories)

Plots are more complex than legal issues, balancing training for the role with the anxiety over role and work. Echoes to professional work in a contemporary setting – learning to balance gender roles, pay gap, having kids, roles in life.

In Romance, the house represents the law and work. By comparison, in gothic literature, the house represents internal psychosis.

Beloved Monstrosity: Romance and romanticism in Frankenstein. Steven Gil

2018 marks 200 years of Frankenstein.

It is significant as the original sci-fi novel

Three main characters

  • Frankenstein, the scientist trying to cheat death
  • The Creature
  • Robert Walton, scientist cast as parallel to Frankenstein

Female counterparts

  • Elizabeth Lavenza (wife to Frankenstein)
  • The Bride
  • Walton’s sister Margaret

Author Mary Shelley

First published in 1818 – by ANON, in three volumes. Preface by Percy Shelley (husband to author, and source of conspiracy theories that he wrote it, not her)

1822 – Percy died

1823 – reprinted with Mary’s name as author. Theatrical adaptions began (the most famous changes in cultural history to the original novel came from the theatre)

1831 – revised with intro, more moralistic (emo-esque)

These major revisions included:

  • Lavenza was originally the daughter of Frankenstein’s maternal aunt. In 1834 version, is an orphan adopted by aunt (removing the cousin linkage). The reason for the change is unknown to history, and Gil notes that famous scientists Darwin and Einstein both married their cousins.

In the novel, the creature is elegant with good communication.

In movies, he is a lumbering mute

Frankenstein almost finishes The Bride (without telling Walton how he did it), but can’t finish.

In movies he is cast as an unrepentant scientist. In the novel, he comes to regret his actions.

At the end, the Creature turns mad and bad stuff happens.

In 1910 movies, love overcomes the Creature/Monster

In the novel, the Creature overcomes Love.

The 1994 movie, Frankenstein uses his dead wife to create a Bride for the Creatuer. This is a radical change to the book and ruins the redemptive/romance arc.

‘Creature has no love’ myth

  • Misunderstood
  • He wants a bride to love, and he wants Frankenstein to love him
  • When he doesn’t get these, he destroys Frankenstein’s love in revenge.

(Kat Mayo tweet) I read Frankenstein in high school so I can’t remember anything about it & can’t really follow the close reading discussions. (Sorry!) But Victor sounds like a douchebag, so there’s probably room for a Frankestein retelling in romance.

Reader, I mirrored him: the recasting of romance tropes in Jane Eyre fanfiction. Lucy Sheerman

Jane Eyre (Bantam Classics), 1847

By 1900 there were 8 plays, and 14 silent films

Each version rewrites subtle scenes


Fanfict: repeatedly plunders the novel

  • Lots of fan fict revolves around the falling off the horse scene
  • In novel, he is lower than her
  • In movies, he is always above/taller/carrying her
  • Other fan fict uses the James Eyre trope – taking out the gender dynamic and making it a power dynamic about class only

(Jodi McAlister tweet) Sheerman: in addition to a huge amount of adaptations of Jane Eyre, there are also innumerable fan fiction versions. The story has a palpable hold over the public imagination, acquiring a status like the fairy tale because of endless reiterations.

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