introducing readers to writers since 1995

February 15, 2005

You'll Find It in Balzac

by Ron Hogan

It's no longer a secret that Eloisa James is really Fordham English professor Mary Bly, but a NYT op-ed informs anybody who hadn't heard yet. "Intellectuals never seem to believe that a strong story and an interest in relationships could explain the popularity of romance," she notes of the disconnect between her two worlds, further observing that "the contempt for romance reflects a deeply unproductive divide in American culture that keeps some people from reading novels that they would enjoy and that frightens others from fiction that has the imprimatur of 'literature.'" There's even a bit of a call to arms, or at least embraces:

"So let's quit this out-of-date mockery of the genre. Focusing solely on the sensual content of romances and deriding them as bodice-rippers leads to the assumption that America is full of women gobbling up romance novels because they're sexually frustrated and want to be overpowered by a strong man...We all long for stories with narrative drive, stories that talk about relationships, and stories that aren't riddled with violence or death. Romances reflect no more than what most of us hope for in daily life--and that includes being lucky enough to experience shared desire."

Here, here--I've long maintained that the best romances, the ones that push against generic convention to indulge in genuinely imaginative storytelling, are social comedies as insightful as those produced by more upscale authors like (as Bly suggests) Elinor Lipman. As it happens, I just finished Bly's latest, Much Ado About You, and it's one of the funnier novels I've read in recent months. This is the thing a lot of people don't get about romance; the best writers in the field know how to have fun with it. As for why I'm reading Bly, well, you'll just have to continue reading the blog over the next few weeks to find out...but I'll say this for now: she's not the only romance novelist with a Ph.D. in literature...

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