Fifty Shades of Romance


Reading the Romance

In 1991 the feminist scholar Janice Radway published a book that changed many perceptions about the role that reading romantic fiction played in the lives of its overwhelming female fans.  As Radway argued, in her intensive period of interviewing a large group of women readers who self-identified as compulsive consumers of Mills and Boon-style romance novels, she discovered that for these women, the pleasure these texts was not linked by and large to specific elements of plot or narrative, but rather, the act of romance reading itself – generally characterised by the readers with the single word “escape.”  Indeed several of the interviewees explained to Radway that “romance novels provide escape just as Darvon and alcohol do for other women” but while the romance readers believed that abusing such substances would be harmful to them and to their families, compulsive reading of romance was, they believed “innocuous.” Nevertheless, many of these women described their reading habits as “an addiction.”


In next week’s session of Writing Women, “50 Shades of Romance” we will be discussing Romantic fiction: its codes, conventions, pleasures, limitations and role in the lives of women writers and readers.   As the title suggests we will also be looking at an extract from Fifty Shades of Grey and thinking about the relationship between women’s growing cultural power as bestselling authors and the simultaneous normalisation of explicit and fantasy depictions of male brutality towards women (as in EL James’s repeated depiction of the “hero” Grey’s pleasure in hurting women and the publishing phenomenon of the success of such a tale). Romantic fiction has always operated within a strict set of plot boundaries, which often included the woman needing to help the man overcome some dark history that forces him to behave badly towards her until her love heals him (think of Mr Darcy’s secret shame about his sister’s attempted elopement and how that makes him nasty and suspicious until Elizabeth’s “fine eyes” bewitch him into chivalry).


But when did those codes begin to allow spanking and bondage to be part of the “hero”’s repertoire?  Moreover, why in a world in which women are killed every hour of the day by violent partners, would women buy, read or write books in which women get beaten and then forgive and/or marry the perpetrator of that beating? Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said, there is a special place in hell for women who fail to help other women.  Are writers like EL James creating a space for themselves there? Or is her success simply evidence of the acceptance of women as active participants in the creation and consumption of forms of sexual fantasy?    

Have a read of some of the reviews of the Mills and Boon book we will be reading this week (The Sinful Art of Revenge by Maya Blake) and see what the consumers think.



7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caroline on April 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Blog Post for Week 9: Reading the Romance

    Janice Radway: ‘The act of reading the romance: escape and instruction’
    Radway, within her essay, is trying to understand the motives behind women to read the romance. Her interviews with various women reveal to her the escapist fantasy that women obtain, although many dislike the use of the word ‘escape’ due to feelings of guilt. This escapist fantasy is fed into through advertising and the culture. Women’s reading enables them to deny the present, and gives them something personal to undertake which is uncommon within their daily routine. One important aspect was the escape from the role of the mother and wife, not the escape from her husband and her children. Radway states that women serve the husband, serve the children through their upbringing, and they suffer from having nobody to serve them, therefore reading enables them to serve themselves. They are able to absorb themselves into the books, which keeps them from being ‘overwhelmed by their expectations and limitations’. The reading of the romance, Radway argues, also encourages the women ‘to believe that marriage and motherhood do not necessarily lead to loss of independence and identity’. Radway concludes that the act of reading the romance fulfils the woman’s psychological, educational and social needs, as it provides the reader a sense of community with the other women readers as well as community within the novel.

    Q. If the romance is completely misunderstood, and it does actually provide the women with some form of emancipation and power how does the patriarchal society’s crushing of the genre impact on the emancipation?

    Maya Blake: ‘The Sinful Art of Revenge’
    Blake creates two characters, both who are severely troubled, and details their love affair. Reiko is created as an unsexed individual due to her inability to perform sexually because of her trauma. The fact that Damion still desires her and cannot be without her; Damion’s lust for her despite her flaws in being unable to be a mother figure; and Damion’s transformation from a corporate beast to a tamed and gentle partner due to their union provides aspects of the woman’s power within the novel. However, Blake constantly refers to Reiko needing Damion, and that he cured her from her pain and her troubles, not allowing Reiko to own her own recovery. The typical romance ending in the epilogue with the couple adopting a child and presumably being married, can be seen either way as the woman’s emancipation mingled with her entrapment within the patriarchal society’s gender roles and stereotypes.

    Q. Could the novel be seen as a symbol for how society can never be equal, due to the woman’s need for acceptance from the man? Does this suggest that it will always be a patriarchal society and that women just cannot catch up?
    Q. Alternatively, could this be read as an equal society, due to the fact that both the woman and the man physically and emotionally need each other?

    Tim Parks: ‘Why So Popular?’ and E.L. James: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
    Parks discusses the reasons behind why James’ novel is so popular despite it being so poorly written. He discusses why the sexual violence within the novel is considered to be acceptable due to the fact that there is a contract that ‘will let [Anastacia] know what she is in for […] she can indicate precisely what she is and is not willing to do’. The contract, he argues, therefore allows readers ‘to take pleasure in extreme sexual experience while remaining essentially nice, considerate people who have everything under control.’ Anastacia is portrayed as ‘retaining her identity and independence’ despite being controlled and sexually abused by Christian Grey. Parks highlights the debate whether the novel demeans women, however doesn’t attempt to answer it. He merely states that there is an ‘atmosphere of innocent, often infantile comedy’ in the fact that Grey asks her to sign a contract, cares when she is crying, and ‘invites Anastacia to use the pill’ amongst a strong array of sexual violence.

    Q. How do you think Fifty Shades of Grey will impact on a potential younger audience who may happen upon the book? Could the novel damage younger audience’s approach to sexual experiences?


  2. Posted by Alice Gomm on April 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Maya Blake – The Sinful Art of Revenge


    Blake portrays a modernised version of a conventional love story. In romance novels the heroine is often taught how to love by a rich, powerful, attractive but dangerous man and heals the man through love. The Sinful Art of Revenge follows this formula, Damion, the love-interest, is described as being ‘perfectly sculpted’, ‘damned sexy’ and as having ‘overwhelming masculinity’ (p. 15). Damion, however, is also dangerous and describes himself as ‘extremely possessive’ (59). By the end of the novel Damion is apparently cured of his obsessive behaviour through his love for Reiko, the heroine, as is shown when Damion tells Reiko: ‘“I don’t want to own you.” […] “We belong to each other”’ (186).
    Reiko conforms to and subverts the role of the conventional romantic heroine. Unlike the heroines of conventional romance novels, Reiko does not need to be taught to love because she is am inexperienced virgin but because of psychological trauma caused by a train crash which left her scared and unable to have children. However, it is questionable whether Reiko may be seen as emancipated due to her inability to facilitate her recovery without the help of a man and her financial problems which may suggest that she is unable to support herself.


    Is Reiko an emancipated woman?

    ‘Why so Popular?’ – Tim Parks and extracts from Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James


    In ‘Why so Popular?’, Parks argues that Fifty Shades of Grey is written in a conservative way which allows readers to read pornography who would usually be too embarrassed .
    Fifty Shades of Grey appears to follow the conventional tropes of romantic novels; Christian Grey is portrayed as rich, powerful and attractive while the heroine Anastasia Steele is portrayed as young and inexperienced. The principal difference between Fifty Shades of Grey and more conventional romantic fiction is Christian’s pleasure in being violent towards women. Christian’s pleasure in violence relates to his need to control women, Christian says to Anastasia: ‘“I need to control you. I need you to behave in a certain way”’(287). This controlling behaviour links Christian Grey to male characters of other romantic fiction, who are often controlling, although not in such an extreme way. Anastasia does not seem to enjoy s&m, saying ‘“I do it for you, Christian, because you need it.”’ (503). Presumably Christian’s violent and controlling nature will be ‘cured’ by Anastasia’s love in the later books, following the conventions of romance novels.


    Why are women attracted to novels about controlling and/or violent men and submissive women?

    Janice Radway – Reading the Romance


    Radway argues that romantic novels offer ‘compensatory literature’ (p. 11) as they provide ‘a vicarious experience of emotional nurturance and erotic anticipation and excitation’ (21). According to Radway, romantic novels provide ‘“adult conversation”’ (28), which the women who read them miss when they are looking after children all day, and teach the readers about the world who cannot afford to travel. These are also examples of how romantic fiction is compensatory. Radway also examines how the readers of romantic fiction find it enjoyable to read because it provides an escape from their domestic lives which are spent in the service of their children and husband. Radway drew these conclusions through speaking to the readers of romantic novels about why they like to read them and the impact it has on their lives.


    Is Fifty Shades of Grey escapist in the same way as the novels described in the article?

    Does romantic fiction support traditional gender roles?

    Has romantic fiction changed since this article was published? How has it changed?

    Is romantic fiction only read by housewives as Radway seems to suggest?


  3. Tim Parks, ‘Why So Popular?’ & Excerpts from E. L. James Fifty Shades of Grey
    Living in a sex obsessed world, Tim Parks questions how E. L. James has sparked a worldwide interest and fascination in her recent bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. Parks finds it difficult to grasp the attraction and success centring a pornographic yet, ‘poorly written’ novel. Whilst he highlights the easy accessibility to many pornographic sources in our society, Parks acknowledges how James has possibly allowed women to openly enter a domain that is usually enjoyed and dominated by men without feeling ashamed. The explicit sexual descriptions present the sadomasochistic relationship formed between James’ two protagonists however, the in-depth characterisations of Christian Grey’s traumatic past and Anastasia’s innocence, and inexperience balances the pornographic content of the novel. Christian’s warnings place responsibility onto Anastasia, making her fully aware of the consequences of this sexual adventure as he requests for her consent with a contract. It can be argued whether women would want to identify with a submissive woman who out of love, forces herself through a number of painful and unpleasant experiences to please a man who enjoys punishing and controlling her? Whilst James promotes a violent relationship, some readers will the plot along in a hope that the protagonists remain as a couple, an encouragement that challenges the morals involved in this reading activity.
    1.Is Christian’s and Anastasia’s relationship made acceptable as the reader witnesses the predictable happy ending of ‘marriage’ and ‘motherhood’ in the sequels, or does this fail to divert from the fact that a violent relationship is being condoned?
    2.James’ novels have been popular amongst a wide range of people including those who never usually read. With this book freely available to all readers, is it acceptable for younger females to be reading such a novel that deludes their ideas of sex and love? Should books be treated like films and have age restrictions or does this responsibility lie elsewhere?

    J. A. Radway, ‘The Act of Reading the Romance: Escape and Instruction’
    In an investigation to discover what romance fiction offers to the reader and why it is so popular, J. A. Radway poses a number of different questions to the Smithton women and highlights a number of complex, and contradictory issues deriving from their reading. In a number of thought-provoking interviews with Dorothy Evan’s and her customers, Radway reveals how women read romances for the main purpose of ‘escape’ from their daily tasks as housewives. Radway also found various other reasons for their reading including its educational purposes, nurturance, satisfaction, adult conversation, fulfilment of psychological and emotional needs, and contentment with occupying a role as a housewife. These women restricted to their homes and limited to the company of their husbands and children, felt they too deserved rewards, breaks and pleasures that they found in ‘compensatory literature.’ In order to meet the demands of society and fulfil the needs of their family, the Smithton women felt they could maintain their emotional stability by regularly indulging in fiction that evoked an ideal, fantasy world separate from their domestic spheres. These guilty pleasures however, troubled many women in a fear that they were neglecting their families and defying their husbands. By creating justifications and hiding their reading activities, the Smithton women represent doubleness as they simultaneously, conform to their traditional roles and disrupt conventions. Their justifications and anxieties question the validity of their responses and call upon the scepticism surrounding their reading as they deny many of the gaps romance fiction may fill (E.g. sexual desire), in an attempt to uphold a public image. Radway also challenges how far romances can reassure its female readers in its temporary state and how their happiness is something they buy through the false hopes of mass-media.
    1. Radway discovered that few women conversed with each other on the Romance novels they had read. Are women therefore, trying to uphold a public image against each other as well as their husbands? (With the knowledge they claim to acquire from romances, could domestic women be competitive with each other as well as the set middle-class values of society in an attempt to better themselves?)

    Mills and Boons, Maya Blake, The Sinful Art of Revenge
    The Sinful Art of Revenge narrates the reunion of past lovers; reawakening feelings of desire as Damion wishes to possess Reiko as well as the painting she has access to. In an attempt to fulfil his grandfather’s wishes, Damion battles to obtain the painting whilst, Reiko uses her knowledge to her advantage and as with everything else including their relationship, she does not succumb too easily. Beyond the repetition of gazes, desires and repressed urges, the reader learns about Reiko’s heartbreak from her previous attachment to Damion along with their complex histories of family deaths, trauma, obsessions and injury. Maya Blake creates in-depth characters that many readers admire, keeping them intrigued however, recurring references to “grey eyes darkening,” “clenching” and “heat slamming into his chest” can remove this seriousness and make the plot monotonous. Although in reviews, many readers comment on the excitement and anticipation they feel through these references, others may find Blake’s use of language repetitive. With the revelations of the two protagonists, the novel is filled with melodrama, set in a background of extravagance, indulgences and idealism. These qualities fit in with the romantic conventions J. A. Radway outlines in her essay as the heroine is always at the centre of the male’s desire. Reviews prove that many females gain something valuable from romance novels whilst with all books; other readers may disagree and not take the reading activity as seriously, are Romances therefore, only able to serve to one type of audience?
    1. Blake’s and James’ novels bare many similarities with their Romance conventions. Would you therefore, place these novels in the same category or has James created a new Romance genre with a pornographic content? Is this due to our highly sexualised culture?


  4. Posted by Nina Gill on April 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    ‘The Sinful Art of Revenge’, Maya Blake, Mills & Boon

    This romance novel depicts the tale of two characters, Reiko and Damion, who have both experienced pain and troubled lives. They were previously lovers and the novel describes their union after many years. Maya focuses on the passion between them which builds consistently throughout the novel, until they express their love at the end of the novel. Damion remains a gentleman throughout his relentless lust for Reiko and eventually creates a family with her; his security sex is seen as a ‘prize’ to her, in the same way that her sex is seen to him. Damion is the one who rescues Reiko as she has ‘had enough pain for one lifetime’.

    Q: Do you think that creating a family, (institution of marriage) is a resolution at the end of most romantic fiction? Is this justifiable?
    Q: Do you think that the physical lust that constantly forces itself upon Reiko without her knowledge is essential to the plot? Is it relatable?
    Q: Is this connection between lust and love significant? Could a romance novel have the same impact without the lust or would the love seem less beautiful?

    ‘The act of reading the romance: escape and instruction’, J.A Radway

    Attempting to understand the attraction to the romantic plot, Radway details her study of a group of females who read romance fiction. In this chapter of her novel, her main finding is that these women are mostly drawn to the idea of ‘escaping’ the real world and find a ‘release’ in the fantasy novels. However, reading as a form of ‘escapism’ is nothing new, so Radway explored further to find the reasons for escaping to this type of fiction in particular.

    One of the reasons she found was that women are able to escape from the ‘routine aspects of life’ in romance fiction. In one way, women are able to escape ‘literally’, by ‘denying the present’ and being drawn into the story, but also they are able to escape ‘figurative[ly]’ as they are ‘given an ‘intense sense of relief’ by ‘identifying with the heroine’. When describing the feeling of ‘escape’ from reality, the women wanted to ensure that it is not an escape from their husbands or children as such, but simply the ‘heavy responsibilities and duties of the roles of wife and mother’, such as ‘attending to the physical and affective needs of their families’, (which are tasks that are ‘solely and particularly theirs’). She recognises that this is perhaps inherent in the ‘social institution’: ‘the contemporary family’. Additionally, this act of reading allows them to ‘focus their attention’ on themselves: ‘my time, my space’.

    They express their ‘desire to encounter only idealised images’ and read only ‘optimistic’ stories and this is because they already know the pessimistic side of love affairs and have previously ‘been through it’, leaving them with a desire to read about the more optimistic stories. They admit that they are aware of romances being detached from the ‘real world’ and it is exactly this difference that appeals to them. Nonetheless, the ‘good feelings’ they gain from the fiction is very real and lasts once the book has finished, ‘and these good feelings are what we need to sustain us’. Thus this fiction is termed ‘compensatory literature’, succeeding to ‘relieve tensions’.

    In spite of these good feelings it brought to them, the women experience feelings of ‘guilt’ as they enjoy the fiction. One reason is because of the expenditure, the money that tends to be given to them from their husbands. Another reason is the time and attention that they spend on reading them, because it takes time and attention away from their family. Also, the stigma attached to this type of fiction is that it is often ‘pornographic’ and the societal perception of the women who read this type of novel: ‘their guilt can also be traced to a culture that remains uneasy about the free expression of female sexuality’.

    Radway found that women felt that they ‘learn’ from these books as they fiction inclined them to ask questions about themselves, making them ‘reevaluate’ situations in their life. The women also express the ‘educational function’ to this fiction, by learning about ‘faraway places and times [and] cultures’. Radway recognises the contradiction of these women, who indulge in such a fantasy while assigning it in an educational value. Essentially, this fiction can allow a woman to ‘imagine what it feels like to have her needs met as are those of her alter ego, the heroine’.

    Q: Do you think that this text is outdated and is therefore no longer as relevant today? If so, in what ways do you think this text may have outdated ideas? Or is the date irrelevant as still women feel the same ‘pressure’ in their roles as wives and mothers even today?
    Q: Is the need for escape a healthy thing?
    Q: Do you think that Radway’s summarising paragraph points towards the idea that as women escape their ‘roles’ only to return, they are in fact cementing their roles even further?

    ‘Why So Popular?’, Tim Parks (and the extract from ‘50 Shades of Grey’, E.L James)

    In his article, Tim Parks comments on the way in which modern narrative in general holds the idea of ‘having one’s cake and eating it’. He describes the element of ‘transgression’, giving into carnal desires, without neglecting the ‘moral code’ in reality. The fact that Grey’s sexual violence stems from his own abusive childhood and also allows his sexual partner the option to place a limit on the acts of aggression within sex, it tends to be read as slightly more acceptable. The protagonists, Christian and Anastasia ‘live in their heads, not their bodies, they want to remain in control, want to believe they are good, and yet want to enjoy all life’s good things’. They are ‘caricatured’ versions of what is idealised by the modern middle-class today, making it representative and therefore relatable. Christian’s sexual domination along with Anastasia’s internal conflict (between ‘inner goddess’ and ‘subconscious’) represent a ’journey of self-discovery’. This romance novel’s popularity is ultimately due to the way in which it gives readers the chance ‘to take pleasure in extreme sexual experience while remaining essentially nice, considerate people who have everything under control’. Christian’s ‘responsibility’ allows the reader ‘to indulge [in] an appetite for pornography that they would usually repress’. Thus, the ‘narrative frame’ provides safety for an element of indulgence in ‘regression’.

    Q: It is possible that a young girl at the age of thirteen or so is able to access this text and it is likely that girls at this age have not developed their sexuality entirely or expressed their sexuality and perhaps have not reached a level of maturity to read such fiction and acknowledge it without romanticising it. Do you think that the romanticising of this sort of ‘romance’ fiction is dangerous? In what ways could it impact the less sexually experienced? Would it incline them to think that this is romance or this is what they should desire?
    Q: Do we need to start having age limits on books? (Like we do with movies) Or start stacking them in the higher shelves in book shops? (Like magazines). Or would that cause controversy about the freedom of expression and publishing, only to cause a further interest in them?
    Q: From a lot of the texts we have been looking at on this course, it is evident that women writers convey enlightening messages, even when it is not directly related to women (Murdoch and her philosophies for example). Do you think that the “better” writers are those who write to express and to share rather than to entertain?


  5. Posted by floeastoe on April 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ E.L. James and ‘Why So Popular?’ Tim Parks
    Once a ‘Twilight’ fan fiction story, now a seemingly unedited novel, is the badly written tale of an abusive relationship that is held up by society as a rational model for women to use for their love lives. Tim Parks tries to explain the trilogy’s popularity, saying that Christian and Ana are “representative of modern middle-class aspirations”, which may be why so many women have bought and read the book, because they can associate with the characters. The contrast of the traditional romance narrative of an innocent, naive, sexually inexperienced young woman, meeting a handsome, complex, older man, eventually marrying and having children with him (apparently), with the sexually explicit BDSM may add to its popularity.

    Q: How long do you think the popularity of the ‘Fifty Shades’ books will last? Is this merely a cultural flash-in-the-pan, or a more permanent cultural change?
    Q: In a culture where a woman is murdered by a violent and abusive partner every day, is it healthy for society to encouraged to read these books?

    ‘The Sinful Art of Revenge’ Maya Blake
    A story published by Mills & Boon carries a certain notoriety with it, the cover featuring a supposedly handsome man and a woman in an evening gown, is often set in exotic locations, and features a “passionate” romance. The arrogance of the hero, Damion, and his almost-threat that he and Reiko will have sex, whether she “wants to or not”, seems incredibly threatening, and not romantic at all; the blurb of the novel claimd that the hero will be “taking what is rightfully his”.
    The heroine, Reiko, is physically and mentally “damaged” through a traumatic accident, she cannot be “healed” until Damion rescues her, like a white knight. This part of the plot emphasises the dependence that society may believe that women should have on men.
    Both characters seem to be unable to control their bodily reactions to one another, which is wholly unbelievable, yet is a staple of romance literature.

    ‘The Act of Reading the Romance: Escape and Instruction’ J.A.Radway
    Radway quickly establishes that Romance literature cannot be looked at in terms of the levels of textual quality when attempting to understand the popularity of the genre. Most of the women interviewed use it as an escape from their lives, it allows them to take a break from the menial tasks of housework and running around after their children. However, society’s condemnation of the genre leads readers of Romance having to justify what brings them pleasure. Radway argues that these women (as the readers seem to be wholly female) should not have to feel guilty about what they enjoy reading, simply because it is it is not wholly acceptable, instead claiming the educational value of the books as their reason for buying them in vast quantities.
    The reasons the readers given for liking these novels were interesting, that “the story is the main thing”, rather than the explicit sex scenes, and the emphasis that is placed on the setting, which needs to be “realistic”, even if the plot is not.

    Q: As the author of this essay uses initials rather than a first name, it is difficult to identify her gender. Would men and women draw different conclusions from this study, even if they were given identical transcripts from the women interviewed?

    ‘The Female Eunuch: Romance’ Germaine Greer
    Greer satirises Romance writing, showing how it idealises and emphasises ideals held by society. She emphasises how this type of literature is a very “female” genre, highlighted by how “all romantic novels have a preoccupation with clothes” and how the heroes are what women would choose for themselves in an “ideal world”; Greer herself admits that, in her past, she has fallen for the tall, dashing, handsome man who is often older and educated. Greer refers to the hero as a rather Freudian “father-surrogate”, due to the way that he treats the heroines of these incredibly popular novels, who seems to derive from Mr Rochester, Mr Darcy and Lord Byron himself.
    She highlights how women place huge pressure on The Kiss, that first kiss, “the unforgettable” moment, and just how ridiculous it is as a concept, that two people can create a “psychedelic kiss”, that can transcend time and space. Greer uses examples of romance literature, like Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland to support this (and many other) points.
    It is interesting how Greer places emphasis on the sexual content of romance books, while the readers that Radway interviewed claimed that it was not the main reason they read the books. This is perhaps because the two pieces have written at different times, but the consistent popularity of romance literature supports Greer’s statement that “a woman is never happier than when she is being wooed”.

    Q: Is what Germaine Greer says about the necessity for women’s liberation movements having “to cope with phenomena like the million dollar Cartland industry”, still relevant today, in light of the popularity of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?


  6. Posted by Fliss on April 15, 2013 at 8:18 am

    ‘The Act of Reading the Romance: Escape and Instruction’ J.A.Radway

    Escapism in romantic fiction. Two forms: denying the present / experience of relief in identification with heroine.
    The absorption of reading – particularly for women (demands high level of attention, requires participation – draws woman into book.
    ‘romance reading as a special gift’ – it becomes an indulgence.
    Enjoy it because it is private – it absorbs them and gives them time away from the ‘psychologically demanding and emotionally draining task of attending to the physical and affective needs of their families, a task that is solely and peculiarly theirs.’
    It is emphatically not escape from their families, they say, but from the responsibility and role of wife and mother.
    If women are considered to be more naturally nurturant and selfless than men then they ought to have no difficulty in meeting the family’s needs.
    Reading keeps them from feeling over whelmed by expectations and limitations.
    Lack of support in real life – romantic fiction books become compensatory.
    ‘we read books so we won’t cry ‘romances portray the world as I would like it to be, not as it really is’ – Jill, mother of two.
    Seek an ‘optimistic plot’ to counter the pessimism of everyday life.
    Reading ‘bad romances’ where women are weak and dominated, women readers begin to reevaluate. Dot says ‘women are capable of learning from what they read’. Romance reading changes the woman. Self perception transformed. Intelligence and independence favourable – marriage still ultimate goal – encourages women that marriage does not necessarily lead to a loss of these things.
    Pay a price of guilt and self-doubt in reading. Time and money.
    Rejection of label ‘soft-porn’, ‘the story is the main thing’.
    It is the act of reading itself that is of importance to these women, rather than of the content that they read.


    – Do men really feel threatened by women reading?

    – Is escape into a world that is highly unlikely to be a reality for women that read romance a positive thing, or does it instead reinforce these women’s positions: finding consolation in their books they do not seek to find a way that might improve their real lives? Instead they live vicariously through the lives of their heroines.

    ‘The Sinful Art of Revenge’ Maya Blake

    The Sinful Art of Revenge centers around two main characters, Reiko and Damien, former lovers brought together in the search for a famous, yet allusive painting. During their time together, the two are forced to confront their demons and eventually heal one anothers wounds. The book builds the characters sexual tension upon surfacing physical attraction. Obsession, love and lust appear mingled into one, and possession is often referred to: Damien often refers to his need to possess Reiko. While the story emphasises Reiko’s loss of confidence in her body after a train crash permanently scars her, it is ultimately Damien’s lust for her that brings the two together. Sex, after all, appears to be the healing agent in this case.


    What is the significance of Reiko’s injuries? How might her inability to conceive be relevant? (She refers to her no longer being a woman). Does Damien’s intervention, and their eventual pregnancy, in some way make her woman again?

    – Does the book build on more contemporary ideas of the importance of women’s intellect and heart being of importance, and her means of attraction, or instead continue to establish women’s power over men being in their body?


  7. Why So Popular?-PARKS.

    Parks much like anyone else known to have read Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James, states that it is a terribly written novel. He includes the numerous repeated phrases and words that are used throughout, which add to the bad reputation of this book. Therefore he questions why this book has been so popular and has sold so many copies. The fact that it has done so well is said to be a much greater shock than anything within the pages. Parks concludes in his article, that the reason for this particular erotic book’s success is thanks to the hero and heroine’s middle-class, sophisticated and seemingly normal exterior which the reader is able to identify with, this causes James’ audience to become released of their sexual repression.
    Q) How far do we agree that Parks is correct in his conclusive statement concerning the popularity and success of Fifty Shades?

    Fifty Shades of Grey extract-JAMES

    From the extracts, it seems that the character of Anastasia is a very immature and uneducated young girl who has naively fallen into a dark and sexually abusing and controlling relationship with a very attractive yet confused and dominating man. The language used when describing sex acts is claimed to be exciting and shocking through Ana’s narration rather than being creatively written to give this impression more artistically. The simplistic language hinders the plot and the credibility of the characters and their feelings and James ends up with a silly girl and an empty man. In other words the characters do not become deeper or more likeable as the story goes on, instead they remain the same from the start. This is due to the tiresome repetition of phrases from Ana as everything that happens seems to deserve the exclamation ‘holy f***’ or ‘holy cow!’ and Christian continuously looks troubled and runs his fingers through his hair.
    Q) Is it fair to expect so much from a writer who has never claimed to be an expert? Why do people expect novels of this genre to also be particularly well-written when at the same time they say that it is only the uneducated who enjoy it?

    The Sinful Art of Revenge- BLAKE

    Given that Mills & Boon is not the type of book read commonly by my age range, it is purely on this novel’s themes that the collection can be judged. The story begins with a couple who were once engaged in a very passionate affair but have since become bitter due to life experiences and misunderstandings and these, together with their strong feelings for eachother result in a very fiery reunion. Blake’s descriptions do set a scene of two people who are still very much consumed by lust, however she does seem to exaggerate the intense feelings of her hero and heroine who do not breathe calmly, unclench, or resume a normal bodily temperature throughout the course of 190 pages. Furthermore the hero is shown to be extremely possessive over the heroine and he eventually persuades her to avoid any physical contact with any other person as it ‘drives him insane’. Considering that this novel is written in modern times, this forceful treatment that was deemed so shocking and controversial in Fifty Shades of Grey, and the gradual weakening of the initially very strong woman is if anything disappointing, as it is portrayed as romantic when it is in fact, manipulation and control.
    Q) Is it true to say that despite our belief that women are still seeking freedom and equality, the readers of these novels (who are shown to be predominantly female) still enjoy the idea of a certain amount of domination? If so, what effect is this seemingly contrasting and contradictory enjoyment having on society as a whole?


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