Marginal Footnotes

Men, Women and ‘Romance’ Fiction
September 26, 2006, 5:19 am
Filed under: Books, Literary, Uncategorized

Quick! Act now or you might miss the completely unfascinating and pedestrian debate occurring over at The Telegraph, a tit and then a tat in an entirely new theatre in what is apparently the still-ongoing Battle of the Sexes. An ill-advised and uninformed remark by BBC anchor Daisy Goodwin has ignited a dimwitted ‘debate’ between some guy plugging his forthcoming romance novel and journalist Liz Hunt on the question of–wait for it–whether men write compelling pieces of romance fiction!

I realize neither writer is allowed the space to engage seriously with the question, and why should they since the question itself is so unserious, but one might pause a moment to reflect on what it is, precisely, that romance fiction actually is? For Hunt, it is, predictably, Austen, Bronte, Mitchell. The Male Side, represented by Ray Connelly, appears to characterize romance fiction as any text which ‘brings a tear’, one that discusses ‘a bloke and his relationship’. It’s getting to damn deep for me already, and I don’t have the shoes for it. I realize this is all in good fun, but here’s some super-special nuggets of wisdom for your reading pleasure:

From Hunt:

“So they must seek that passion between the covers (of a book) and it is only another woman who really knows how to deliver it because she has been there – or would like to have been there – too.” 

“I would argue that only a woman can truly capture these emotions in a credible way, because she has experienced them or can imagine experiencing them in a way that a man simply cannot.”

“Women writers are better at detail, too – and details are essential in creating a romantic build-up: what he wore, what she wore, how they were standing, how they moved, how they touched.”

And from Connelly:

“Teasing aside, it seems to me that most stories are about people in relationships, and how relationships change people.”

“Nearly always, relationships are about love and, yes, desire, too, and love inevitably involves romance in its many and varied forms. But neither men nor women have a monopoly on falling in love.”

Phew! I am just whirling from the complexity, the downright sophistication and intellectual rigour of the case presented. It’s going to be a tough one to adjudicate.

Let me swivel in my chair here and look upon my modest shelves to see if I can come up with anything, you know, which might settle the debate. Presumably the only thing required to falsify Goodwin’s assertion and Hunt’ defense is a persuasive counter-example. Connelly offered Flaubert and Tolstoy. I’ll add:  

1. James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room. I wonder why neither author considered even in passing the potential ‘romantic’ possibilities of queer lit.

2. Jamie O’Neill. At Swim Two Boys. Ditto.

3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera.

4. Ernest Hemmingway. A Farewell to Arms. One of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century. Also, a love story.

5. Thomas Hardy. Jude the Obscure/Tess of the D’urbervilles. Is Hardy’s representation of Tess inauthentic because he, as a man, could never have ‘experienced’ life as she would, as a woman? Some would be highly inclined to challenge the premise of the question.  

And let’s not forget about Dante.



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