Romance

Her Fateful Debut

18 August 2016

For non-TPV veterans, TPV is not a book blog.

To be clear, there’s nothing disreputable about book blogs. Some of PG’s best friends operate book blogs. But just like a frog is not a Chevrolet, TPV is not a book blog.

Which means that PG doesn’t introduce new books, regardless of their merit. That would be Chevroletish.

There is one exception – Mrs. PG’s books.

Her Fateful Debut is Mrs. PG’s 25th book.

Fateful_Debut

Her Fateful Debut is a romance of the Regency persuasion.

What’s it about?

Penelope is a person of the female persuasion. PG was about to call her a woman, but that seemed very Twenty-First Century. Girls are, of course, not to be designated as such these days if they have reached courting age.

So, what is the proper term for Penelope?

Since the BBC is never wrong about proper terms, PG imagined the heroine in a historical BBC production.

Penelope is standing in an ornate drawing room filled with chatty people when the Maggie Smith/Judi Dench character walks in. Looking down her nose, Maggie-Judi takes in Penelope and asks, “Edmund, who is that strange gel?”

Penelope is a spunky gel from Northamptonshire, the British version of South Dakota. Or maybe Alabama. Anyway, Northamptonshire is not London and no one is going to mistake Penelope for a big-city London gel.

Penelope has her own doubts about London – too many unreliable-looking people, including a guy (How would Maggie-Judi say guy? Not as well as gel, PG thinks.) with a lavender jacket.

There’s a person named Lord Winston Saunders, Viscount Wellingham who Maggie-Judie would call Beau and a toffee-colored Pembroke Corgi named Wordsworth. PG doesn’t think we ever find out what color Beau is.

The gel eventually meets Beau and things go on from there. You’ll never look at a lavender jacket the same way again.

Her Fateful Debut is promo-priced on Amazon at 99 cents.

Mrs. PG is 70 pages into book number 26.

 

Fifty Shades Incest Acquittal

17 August 2016

From St. Edmund Chambers:

Last week my client was dramatically found Not Guilty of 8 counts of incestuous rape over a six year period. His daughter had given a compelling interview to the police and my client had absolutely no real defence other than “I did not do it”.

I was brought in very late: 2 days before the ground rules hearing, a week before trial. The week before trial I spent hours poring over the papers and drafting three separate major legal arguments. The complainant’s interview was going to be really tough to crack. She had described not only what her father had allegedly done, but how her body felt as a result. The only odd thing was the use of certain words, phrases and descriptions of how she felt which seemed beyond her years.

My first conference with the client was on the day of trial. Most of what my client described in response to my questions was unremarkable – apart from her favourite book – about a millionaire who takes a young woman under his wing and “teaches her about art”. He had no idea what Fifty Shades of Grey was about.

. . . .

On the morning of Day 3, I started my cross-examination gently to put the complainant at ease. She agreed her father was strict, and that she was really annoyed with him for “ruining her life”. I then went straight to my final question – that she was so angry with her father that she had made this all up. She wavered. I raised the striking similarities between her interview and the book. She suddenly broke and said I was absolutely right. She had made the whole thing up because she was angry with her father and wanted to teach him a lesson. I asked her whether she had got all the ideas from 50 Shades of Grey. She confirmed this book, and others – which she named. After seven minutes we were finished.

The Prosecutor re-examined on each point. She was adamant that none of the allegations were true. The jury were given a break, the prosecutor took instructions and no evidence was then offered. The Judge directed the jury to acquit, stating that this case is “unique” in the whole of his career at the Bar and Judiciary.

Link to the rest at St. Edmund Chambers and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Will Reading Romance Novels Make Artificial Intelligence More Human?

12 August 2016

From JSTOR Daily:

This past spring, Google began feeding its natural language algorithm thousands of romance novels in an effort to humanize its “conversational tone.” The move did so much to fire the collective comic imagination that the ensuing hilarity muffled any serious commentary on its symbolic importance. The jokes, as they say, practically wrote themselves. But, after several decades devoted to task-specific “smart” technologies (GPS, search engine optimization, data mining), Google’s decision points to a recovered interest among the titans of technology in a fully anthropic “general” intelligence, the kind dramatized in recent films such as Her (2013) and Ex Machina (2015). Amusing though it may be, the appeal to romance novels suggests that Silicon Valley is daring to dream big once again.

. . . .

But there is more to intelligence than logic. Logic, after all, can only operate on already categorized signs and symbols. Even if we very generously grant that we are, as Descartes claimed in 1637, essentially thinking machines divided into body and mind, and even if we grant that the mind is a tabula rasa, as Locke argued a half-century later, the question remains: How do categories and content—the basic tools and materials of logic—come to mind in the first place? How, in other words, do humans comprehend and act upon the novel and the unknown? Such questions demand a fully contoured account of the brain—how it responds to its environment, how it makes connections, and how it encodes memories.

. . . .

But if there was a latent romanticism in the field of artificial intelligence, it did not survive the 1980s, a period informally termed the “AI winter.” The ’80s brought not only diminished funding, but also a series of crippling attacks on the field’s basic theoretical conceits. In 1980, the philosopher John Searle argued that the ability of computers to perform intelligent behaviors—his example was reading Chinese—is not a proxy for how human intelligence works because the underlying architecture is so different. A stream of water, for example, always finds the most efficient and expeditious path down the side of a mountain. But to call this behavior an example of intelligence is to depart from the basic meaning of the term. Intelligence, at its roots, means to choose (legere) between (inter) a pair or set of options. Water does not choose anything, since choosing requires something more than the lawful interaction of brute physical particles—it requires consciousness. And even when they are navigating us around the far-flung cities of the world, finding us dinner dates, and beating us at AlphaGo, there is no serious suggestion that these “intelligent” machines are conscious.

. . . .

But we have, in nearly all technologies, from the calculator to the chess-champion computer, made the trade that Turing was unwilling to make: We have exchanged humanness for intelligence. Little surprise, then, that these technologies are ill-equipped to handle many stubbornly human tasks and activities, like putting a patient at ease, interpreting the final stanza of The Waste Land, or teaching someone to ski. For all of its practical and philosophical flaws, there may be something to be said for Turing’s “imitation game” as an index of progress in artificial intelligence. There are, after all, many existing and conceivable technologies for which humanness is, if not all that matters, certainly what matters most.

This seems to be the conclusion that Andrew Dai and Oriol Vinyals, the researchers behind Google’s romance novel gambit, have reached. Dai told BuzzFeed News in May that the project was initiated in the hope that the “very factual” responses of the Google app can become “more conversational, or can have a more varied tone, or style, or register.” Then, for example, Google’s automated email reply feature, Smart Reply, could be trusted to carry on a greater share of a user’s correspondence as he plays in the backyard with the kids. Dai and Vinyals are hoping, in other words, that it can become a fully functional Turing machine, writing emails and messages in an increasingly human voice.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG notes that Google researchers chose romance novels rather than science fiction novels.

You Should Read More Romance Novels

26 July 2016

From Reason.com:

Libertarians like their genre fiction just fine and read lots of it. Science fiction is a staple, from Ayn Rand’s Anthem to the works of Robert Heinlein to Joss Whedon’s dearly departed television series Firefly. Murray Rothbard is on record as a reader of detective novels. Rand praised Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane for the rough heroism of their potboilers. Rose Wilder Lane’s and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s independence-minded stories of settlers on the frontier have been staples of children’s literature for generations.

But when it comes to romance novels, it seems as if fans of the free market aren’t buying what Fabio is selling. Hayek isn’t on record anywhere as a fan of Gone With the Wind. And Coase and Mises are strangely silent about the charms of regency romances and modern gothics. Maybe it’s the lurid covers, with their heaving bosoms and metallic lettering? Maybe there’s something to the stereotype of libertarians as emotionless rational calculators? I prefer a third thesis: Maybe libertarians just don’t know what they’re missing under these covers.

In fact, modern romance fiction is filled with lessons about the things independent thinkers value—or ought to value—most highly. If you’re a reader looking for novels that understand the importance of work and markets, that promote the bourgeois virtues, and that enthusiastically support Millian experiments in living, you should be reading romance.

. . . .

The basic structure of most romance novels is not terrifically complicated. The hero and heroine are introduced to the reader and one another very early on. As savvy readers know, even if the protagonists claim to despise one another, they are destined for a happy ending by the novel’s final pages. So the job of the romance author is to throw a compelling obstacle in their way.

Sometimes the obstacle is a past insult (like Mr. Darcy’s famous snub of Elizabeth Bennett early in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). Sometimes it’s a tortured past (such as Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife, locked in the attic at Thornfield Hall). Really, the thwarting device can be anything—an overly protective older brother, a difference in class status, a run of incredibly bad timing, a poorly chosen outfit, a cursed demon amulet. It just has to keep the hero and heroine apart for enough tantalizingly torturous pages to make the happy ending feel satisfying and earned.

What’s interesting, though, is how often the obstacle is work. While Fifty Shades of Gray has made us all annoyingly familiar with the “mysterious billionaire” subgenre of romance novels, in which the hero has a seemingly endless supply of wealth while apparently doing very little to obtain or maintain it, other romances manage the realism somewhat better.

Melia Alexander’s Merger of the Heart, for example, begins with the heroine’s discovery that her grandfather died moments before selling the family construction business out from under her. The hero is, of course, the man who was ready to buy it. Conflict ensues.

What’s great about Merger of the Heart is that we hear the details of the heroine’s business. She’s anxious because Grandpa purchased construction equipment rather than leasing it and wasn’t able to pull in enough work to break even with the cost. She’s worried about the fates of her 200 employees. Throughout the novel we consistently see her thinking about and working on the company on a daily basis.

The trouble with Merger of the Heart, though, is one that plagues “contemporaries,” or romance novels set in the current time. The company that wants to buy our heroine’s family construction business seeks it to raze the corporate offices, get the zoning changed, then redevelop the valuable riverfront property. The heroine protests because of her emotional investment in the business. It’s a familiar cliché, and it’s as present in contemporary romance fiction as in popular culture writ large: The big company is always the bad guy, and the hero who works for the big company only achieves redemption and wins the heroine’s heart when he realizes that mom-and-pop shops are more important than big, faceless corporations. Atlas Shrugged it ain’t.

. . . .

In Sabrina Jeffries’ How to Woo a Reluctant Lady, our heroine Minerva is a gothic novelist who wants to arrange a fake engagement to an inappropriate man in order to encourage her grandmother to release her inheritance. (The basic plot of the romance may be simple, but there are endlessly delightful variations and rococo complexities to discover.) What Minerva finds, instead, is a lawyer and fanboy: “I’ve read them all,” he says of her books. “When she’s with people she hides behind her clever quips and her cynical views, but you can see the real Minerva in her novels. And I like that Minerva.”

His genuine affection and respect throws Minerva for a loop and she finds that she doesn’t hate him after all. But here comes the mandatory obstacle: She believes their professions mean she can never have him, since a king’s counsel requires a wife of pristine reputation and she could never be that. She could never play the part of adoring spouse exclusively, and he would come to resent her need to write. Two hundred pages later they’ve found a way to continue both their careers and their romance.

. . . .

My favorite discussion of work, however, happens in Loretta Chase’s Silk Is for Seduction. Here, the Duke of Clevedon must learn to appreciate and even participate in the bourgeois virtues of the dressmaker heroine, Marcelline Noirot. Her job, he points out to her, “isn’t employment. It’s your vocation.” They begin working together, combining his connections and her talents. By the end of the book, they have gotten into business, and into bed, together.

In romances like these, appreciating a heroine’s occupation means appreciating the heroine. A woman who is free to be herself in her working life is free to be herself in her romantic life. And no happy ending is possible without that.

Link to the rest at Reason.com and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Maverick women writers are upending the book industry and selling millions in the process

23 July 2016

From Quartz:

“I just wanted a story with a nice guy.”

In late 2012, author H. M. Ward had an experimental manuscript collecting proverbial dust on her computer. It starred a woman named Sidney and a man named Peter—an impossible nice-guy combo of handsome, strong, smart, patient, and, oh, super wealthy.

Ward had been writing since 2010 and had been down the traditional publishing route before, finding an agent and shopping her work around. Her instinct told her that publishers would have no interest in Peter. “If you take a nice-guy book to a traditional publisher,” she says, “They’re like, ‘That’s weird. Nice guys are boring.’”

So in April 2013, she published her manuscript online on her own. “I just put it up out of curiosity to see what would happen,” she says.

Despite reports that e-books are dying, Ward’s chance paid off, and continues to pay out today. According to the author, Damaged shot to No. 6 in Amazon’s Kindle store within a few days and held the No. 1 spot for several weeks. It spent a month on the New York Times bestsellers list for combined print and ebook. It was the first in two series of nice-guy books that would go on to sell 12 million copies in three years.

Publishers took note. In the year after Ward published Damaged, she was offered a series of deals from various publishers totaling $1.5 million, by her estimate. She turned them all down, and by the time she said no to her last contract, she was making eight figures as a self-published author. “It would have been a colossal mistake to sign with them at that point, financially,” she says.

Romance novels, home of heavy lids, hot breaths, and grabbed wrists, have long been the embarrassing secret money-maker of the book industry. But today, a renegade generation of self-published authors like Ward are redefining the romance novel, adapting to digital in a way that has long-lasting lessons for the book industry.

. . . .

 “Romance readers are a really, really different animal from any other kind of reader out there,” says Laura Bradford, who founded the San Diego-based Bradford Literary Agency, which focuses on romance fiction, in 2001. “They are incredibly voracious. They consume content like locusts.”

. . . .

Ward now earns seven figures a year. She writes in an email, “I’ve been able to hire staff, rent an office, and I admit I might take a private jet now and again. I was living below the poverty line when I started in publishing.”

But she claims none of it would have been possible with a traditional publisher.

. . . .

 With less overhead, self-published authors can set prices far lower than traditional publishers can, usually $3 or $4. Despite the lower prices, the high payout of self-publishing means that some ultimately take home far more than if they go with a publisher, even after accounting for their marketing and editing costs. That’s an added advantage for romance, where authors set their prices extra low because they know their readers read more, and are especially price-conscious.

Link to the rest at Quartz

Romance Publishers and Diversity at the Nielsen Summit

17 July 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

On a day when the term silo was heard many times relative to the experiences of publishers and authors in the romance space, transparency was a welcome word—and it came from Malle Vallik, Editorial Director with Harlequin Books, in commentary about working well with market-savvy authors.

Vallik was joined by Grand Central Publishing’s Leah Hultenschmidt, Editorial Director of the Forever and Forever Yours imprints; by Deb Werksman, Editorial Director of Sourcebooks’ Casablanca division; and by Kensington Publishing CEO and President Steven Zacharius. “Romance Publishers Talk Shop” was a panel in Nielsen’s Romance Book Summit.

. . . .

No issue drew as much attention or debate during the day as the question of diversity in a genre that, according to Nielsen research, is heavily white and female—as is US publishing overall—both in its writers and readers.

. . . .

The question of needed multiculturalism in publishing isn’t limited to social considerations, of course: it’s also a key point around business interests.

As McLean reminded delegates at the conference, Nielsen’s The Multicultural Edge report indicated in March 2015 that between 2000 and 2014, some 92 percent of growth in the US population was generated by multicultural consumers.

More focus: 21 of the most densely populated 25 counties in the United States have populations with multicultural majorities.

. . . .

  • The share of female romance buyers who report their sexual orientation to be heterosexual or straight: 85 percent
  • The share of male romance buyers who report their sexual orientation to be heterosexual or straight: 88 percent
  • Male (61 percent) and younger readers surveyed said it’s important that characters in romance reflect diverse ethnic backgrounds
  • Non-white respondents who said it’s somewhat or very important that characters reflect diverse backgrounds: 78 percent

Needless to say, publishers in the romance sector today are acutely aware of the issues reflected in such findings. And publishing houses are frequently criticized by authors for rejecting or ghettoizing multicultural work into special, under-supported imprints. Retailers hear the same criticism for categorizing and displaying multicultural romance as “social studies” or as ethnicity-specific work, as in cases of African-American romance sold in “Black Studies” sections where romance readers won’t find it.

. . . .

Harlequin’s Vallik, she said, is in charge of directing “author engagement,” something she described as “a unique position that exists solely because of the indie world out there. My job is to develop and execute on strategy to show authors why they want to publish with a traditional publisher. Also to transform Harlequin to think differently about that entire world.

“We do an author survey. Three years ago about 75 percent of our authors—and we have around 700 authors—published exclusively with us and 25 percent with somebody else, as well. We just did another survey in February” and found that the authors were publishing some 50 percent of their work with others. So that’s a huge change.” And a lot of it represents hybrid publishing, she said, meaning publishing both with the trade and in self-publishing.

To capitalize on what she says are the creativity and energy that hybrid authors can provide, “We’re really open when you want to do something else. How do we schedule it together? Are there any marketing opportunities we can do together?” Mallik said she runs workshops on ways authors and publishers can coordinate their resources. She agreed with Sourcebooks’ Werksman that publishers aren’t always as good about explaining how things work to authors as they need to be.

“Some things, even our own editors don’t understand, and that’s part of our changing landscape: making sure our staff knows, and how do we talk about it with authors?—part of our transparency issue, being upfront about the marketplace and what the changes are.”

Hultenschmidt from Grand Central agreed, applauding Mallik’s use of the term transparency. She talked of a dashboard that her program provides to authors after a title is out for eight weeks to brief them on where and how many copies are selling, which accounts are buying, and other details.  “They’re able to use that if something is taking off,” she said. “We can often leverage that to keep it going well. Having that kind of immediate reaction” helps authors know how the company might be adjusting marketing.

. . . .

By way of demonstrating the kinds of obstacles publishers, like authors, can run into, she mentioned “a very popular author” with Harlequin who had a new book releasing with a cover “which we loved, showing black characters. And it was when it started going to the accounts that we got some pushback.” Retailers, she said, were asking “whether it couldn’t be an ‘iconic’ cover, instead?”

“And our answer was, ‘No. This is the cover and it suits the book.’ But the point is that sometimes, even when we’re yes-yes…there are other obstacles to get through, too,” in order to place more diverse material within consumers’ reach. “It can be the accounts and distribution channels” that present the barriers, she said, “not just the publishers.”

. . . .

“I can see this going two different ways,” she said, getting close to a question that dogs a lot of publishing efforts today among writers who say multicultural work is placed in imprint “ghettos.” On one hand, she said, “you can push to the mainstream audience, branding and building it for a mainstream story—the accounts will have no trouble with that. Or—and this works better on the digital side—you can have a smaller audience that might be more niche.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

2016 Romance Writers of America RWA PAN Presentation

16 July 2016

From Author Earnings:

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Link to the rest at Author Earnings and thanks to SFR for the tip.

For the Love of Industry Data

13 July 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Nielsen’s preamble to its romance market “snapshot” opens with McLean’s summation of the basic premise of romance as a bellwether sector:

“There is no other part of our business that combines such a passionate community of readers and writers with some of the most interesting and dynamic market forces at play in publishing today…

“For the romance reader, ebooks, social media, and an explosion of great content have made it easier than ever to enjoy reading what you want, when you want, and at a range of prices that make even the most voracious romance habit affordable…

“Romance has embraced new technologies, new production platforms, new channels of distribution, and new economics, and is blazing the way for the rest of us.”

Among the most interesting elements of the Romance Book Summit, co-chaired by Nielsen’s McLean and BISG’s Kat Meyer, is the fact that it’s devised to serve both publishers and authors. RWA, itself, is an event that brings authors and publishers together in the same program, so it makes sense to engage the field as widely as possible in a concentrated professional analysis of what has given romance such draw and staying power for so long—and how to sustain that.

. . . .

No trap door has opened beneath the high heels of good romance. Yet. The digital dynamic still fuels a robust romance sector, but Nielsen research indicates that it peaked in the States in 2013, with total output reaching roughly 318 million units per year from the traditional publishing sector, in both print and digital markets.

Since then, however, Nielsen will report Thursday, the trade has seen “a slow erosion in both ebook and print unit sales.”

There’s a corresponding decline in overall fiction sales in the US since 2013, revealed by Nielsen’s PubTrack Digital and BookScan data. And as more from the research is presented in the official sessions of the event, summit attendees will hear that there does seem to be substantial offset of that erosion in traditional sales coming from the busy self-publishing authors of romance. Still, there’s that warning that fiction overall is a softening market component—in Nielsen’s analysis, “as people increasingly divide their attention between multiple forms of media.”

. . . .

Romance also has the characteristic of selling at generally a lower average price point than other fiction, not least because its greatest fans read so many titles. Formats, preferred reading devices for romance ebooks, and the share held by romance in overall fiction, these are more of the factors on Nielsen’s program for report and study.

. . . .

As part of its research, Nielsen cites as much as 81 percent of the romance readership in the States being caucasian, 7 percent African-American, 6 percent Latino/Hispanic American, and 3 percent Asian-American. Among US romance authors, 98 percent appears to be caucasian.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Is PG the only one who is mildly annoyed when an article on the business of romance writing includes cutsie metaphors like “high heels of good romance”?

Once again, Nielsen reports on the business of publishing without access to information about indie author sales through Amazon, the largest bookstore in the world.

PG speculates that romance readers are significantly more likely to read ebooks because of the ease of purchasing/borrowing and great prices.

Additionally, the enormous impact of Prime Day yesterday almost certainly means that more readers will have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Kindle Book Lending thereby generating more readers and money for indie authors.

The “sales” that exist in Amazon’s book borrowing/lending world are completely invisible to publishing researchers like Nielsen.

Exciting News: Samhain Set to Keep Publishing!

26 June 2016

From RT Book Reviews:

Romance is Alive and Well at Samhain!

In early 2016, Samhain Publishing announced it was closing its doors, but after several months of analysis, Samhain is moving forward with the publishing company- much to the delight of their authors and fans! The publisher currently has 2500 titles available in print and digital, and is now gearing up to acquire and publish new titles in 2017.

After the announcement that they were closing, Samhain never stopped exploring alternatives.

Link to the rest at RT Book Reviews and thanks to Toni for the tip.

It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That’s Not About Love

22 June 2016

From The Atlantic:

I came of age without a literary soulmate. Growing up, I read every book recommended to me. Nick Carraway’s lucid account of the 1920’s seduced me. Huck Finn’s journey up the river showed me the close link between maturity and youth, and Ray Bradbury taught me to be wary of big government as well as the burning temperature of paper. While the male characters of literature built countries, waged wars, and traveled while smoking plenty of illicit substances, the women were utterly boring.The assigned, award-winning, cannon-qualified books about women were about women I didn’t want to be. Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester, as were all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter was too maternal, and no one wants to grow up to be Anna Karenina. These women wanted to get married and have kids. They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn’t want to be with them. They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted.

These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Like many young adults, I didn’t necessarily want stable. I wanted to drive On The Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.”Great” books, as defined by the Western canon, didn’t contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. Of the 100 Best Novels compiled by Modern Library, only nine have women in the leading role, and in only one of those books–The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark–do the leading women strive to do more than find a husband or raise their children. Statistically, one percent of the Best Novels are about women doing something other than loving.To be clear, I love a beautifully told love story. I cry during The Notebook and love Mr. Darcy. I’d just as soon advocate for the banning of metaphors as I would for the banning of stories about love (which is to say never). Love stories are needed because they mirror real life. Men and women alike search for and find partners–be they for a moment or a lifetime. Love stories are huge plot lines in real life, but they aren’t everything.

These days, most women develop personal lives before love lives. They struggle, make decisions, and grow up long before they worry about finding a life partner. Women are getting married later with the average marrying age at 27 according to the most recent Pew Report. That’s four years older than in 1990. Additionally, women’s roles in the workforce have changed radically in the last 50 years. Though incomes between men and women still remain unequal, more women are joining and staying in the workforce, even after they have kids. Their literary counterparts, however, don’t reflect that.

. . . .

There are not many books that star a woman without a man to hold her hand and guide her, or a mess of domestic tasks for her to attend to as her first priority. In the 33 years since Housekeeping’s publication, few–if any–books have mirrored Robinson’s example. Female protagonists like Orleanna Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible or Margaret Atwood’s Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, participate in political agendas, fight in wars, and generally have goals other than their love lives. Likewise, some popular fiction has begun to feature leading women with larger career goals and less focus on love. Skeeter of The Help by Kathryn Stockett chooses her career over love as do Edna Pontellier of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and even Andrea Sachs of Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. These women and their goals are the main thrust of these novels, but they all include a love subplot.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG came of age in a different century, but he doesn’t remember caring about the gender assigned to any fictional character in any of his early reading. Scout would have been equally cool and interesting as a boy. Gatsby was as driven and destroyed by passion as Anna K.

PG also disagrees that only a woman author can create an accurate female character. He remembers one of his professors in college (a lovely old woman) saying that Theodore Roethke’s Mediations of an Old Woman was uncannily accurate at capturing the hidden thoughts and feelings of an old woman.

The Western literary canon preceding the twenty-first century is what it is. Absent the unlikely discovery of a new literary genius in a pile of dusty manuscripts, we’re not going to find a striking 18th century female protagonist choosing career over family.

The authors of the 18th century wrote in the context of that age. Elizabeth Bennet would have been a fascinating character in any age, but in the early 19th century, her material self-interest was tied to marrying the right man. If she were going to have any significant personal independence of the kind 21st century women may seek in their careers, Elizabeth’s adult life had to begin by marrying money. Absent such a marriage, her world would become immensely more constrained. Jane Austen certainly understood that, as did her contemporary readers, male or female.

In 21st century America, if you don’t finish high school and go to college, your prospects in life are much narrower than for those who do graduate from college. Some future observer may find this arbitrary condition extraordinarily boring and limiting for one or more identity groups, but that’s the context for our world. Authors who write books set in today’s world will either explicitly or implicitly recognize the class distinctions between a high school dropout and a college graduate (or a Harvard graduate vs. a degree from The Tulsa Welding Institute).

Elizabeth Bennet’s indefatigable determination to not compromise love for money is a terrible career move. It’s like becoming a welder instead of an investment banker. She’ll be giving up income, promotions, influence, a large apartment in a fashionable neighborhood, travel, independence, social status, etc., all for the simple pleasures of living in a shower of sparks joining pieces of metal together day after day.

The true distinction between contemporary heroines with ambitious career goals and important political agendas and Elizabeth Bennet is that Lizzy is interested in love.

Fiction written in the 18th century about subjects other than fundamental and timeless human emotions has disappeared. On the other hand, PBS could not survive without Jane Austen and the Brontës.

There is a reason that romance outsells every other genre, including women’s fiction. It’s the same reason that people read and reread Jane.

“We are all fools in love.”

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