A Possible Answer to “Generic Intersections: The Fairy Tale and the Romance”

Some weeks ago, I wrote a post questioning the distinction between the Romantic Romance, as described by Jacqueline M. Labbe in Romantic Paradox, and the fairy tale. Happily, I have stumbled upon a possible and/or partial answer to my concerns while composing my American Folklore Society conference presentation on Elizabeth Gaskell.

Ruth B. Bottigheimer explains in Fairy Tales: A New History,

Restoration fairy tales grew seamlessly out of the medieval romances that preceded them, retaining their chivalric locations, courtly activities, and royal characters. Precursor plots about the restoration of displaced and suffering royal figures who returned to their rightful position are nearly as old as storytelling itself, as are many of the motifs that characterize restoration fairy tales. In the 1500s this traditional plot took on a new and abbreviated form as brief tales of princes and princesses whose expulsion and suffering are relieved by magic and marriage” (24)

For those readers unfamiliar with the term “restoration fairy tales,” Bottigheimer included a lovely diagram for explanation, which I have attempted to reproduce here:

royal origins *                                                  * royal restoration

\                                                   /

\                                            /

\                                     /

\                              /

\                       /

^^^^^^^^^ 

(tasks, tests, trials, and sufferings)

*(Adapted from Bottigheimer 11)*

While Bottigheimer is discussing medieval rather than Romantic romances, the connection between the romance and the fairy tale is made explicitly clear. What is left to determine is what is the distinction between medieval, Romantic, and gothic romances…

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Generic Intersections: The Fairy Tale & The Romance

My fascination with the fairy-tale genre should be obvious by now. It has sustained me for years, academically since 2008 and my introduction to Anne Sexton’s Transformations, but since childhood in the form of Disney (in particular The Little Mermaid) and bedtime stories from a big illustrated book of Grimms’ fairy tales. In the last couple of years, the literary annual has entered into my list of favorite genres, and today I will be adding the romance.

labbe romantic paradox

Labbe’s The Romantic Paradox

Jacqueline M. Labbe’s The Romantic Paradox: Love, Violence and the Uses of Romance, 1760-1830 (2000) has blown my mind. I came across Labbe’s book while researching Letitia Landon, and I definitely was not disappointed in her analysis of Landon’s work, especially given that it largely supports my own interpretation of Landon’s subversive use of the fairy tale. Without going into great detail, Labbe basically argues that Landon subverts the romance genre and in doing so expresses a profound disillusionment. Moreover, she characterizes Landon as an authorial femme fatale, symbolically ruining or killing the romance even while she utilizes it for her own purposes. (How can I not squee over such a beautiful overlap of so many of my favorite topics and themes?)

But while Labbe’s analysis of Landon was both exciting and eye-opening, her discussion of the romance genre has caused me to seriously reflect on the intersections of this genre and the fairy-tale genre that has held my interest for so long. Labbe begins her introduction as follows:

“The Romance has always had a bad press within Romanticism. As a genre, its associations with women readers and writers and assumptions of its inherent inferiority to, for instance, the epic, the ode, or even the sonnet have for many readers contained its power; as a plot-line, its fabled preoccupation with love and fantasy has limited its appeal. The romance is rule-bound, immature, feminised and predictable: readers know the outcome before the story even begins.” (Labbe 1)

Already the similarity to the fairy tale (and even the literary annual) is apparent: its a fluffy genre, appropriate for women to write and read, includes elements of romantic love and fantastic magic, and is formulaic.

Labbe then discusses what she calls “the Romantic romance,” or the romance as interpreted by Romantic poets:

“The Romantic romance contains all the necessary ingredients, although not always at the same time: a love relationship central to the plot; a hero, heroine and villain; journeys, adventure and escapes; the supernatural or magical. Importantly, however, it largely dispenses with ‘happily ever after’; lovers meet, love, are parted, but seldom are reunited, and if they are, it is seldom to good effect. Instead of celebrating their happiness, the Romantic romance utilises their distress; it finds in the elements of the romance justification for pursuing a changed romance. [. . .] The traditional romance is inherently deeply conservative in its gender constructions; indeed, many gender stereotypes about strong heroes and passive, beautiful heroines are directly traceable to its plot. The Romantic romance throws down a challenge to the romance of gender; subverting the familiar angles of plot, the Romantic romance reveals the emptiness of generic rhetoric.” (Labbe 2-3)

Romanticism has ever been a period that I’ve struggled to get into and interact with. My fascination with Landon and with the figure of the femme fatale (as seen in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats) has enabled me to find a foothold in the period, but I am now fascinated by Labbe’s Romantic romance. What she describes as the Romantic romance directly ties in with what fascinates me about the proto-feminist fairy tales I’m currently writing about: largely, the upset of the “happily ever after” and gender stereotypes.

Even more similarities can be found when Labbe later discusses the instructive nature of the romance. She writes in the first chapter,

“In many ways, the moral of the conventional romance is the preservation and strengthening of the status quo [. . .] Romance offered, even demanded, the continuation of a lifestyle where strength and goodness were rewarded, gender distinctions (mostly) upheld, men protected women, social classes were strictly observed and believed in.” (Labbe 33)

Inherent to the traditional fairy tale is the moral, an aspect of the genre that was explicit in some cases, such as the fairy tales of Perrault. Furthermore, Perrault’s fairy tales were written to educate and instruct children in their courtly gender roles. While the fairy tales of the French conteuses of the same time period were more subversive, attempting to expand women’s role in society, many fairy tales throughout the centuries are more concerned with the reification of cultural mores than with the transformation of social expectations and society in general. The classical fairy tale would therefore seem to have much in common with the “conventional romance.”

My knowledge of the romance genre, and the Romantic romance in particular, is still very basic and incomplete, but I am very pleased to have found another point of interest in the Romantic period. Perhaps more importantly, Labbe has caused me to question how much of my discussion of proto-feminist fairy tales is perhaps more a discussion of Romantic romance or proto-feminist romance. The same generic playfulness and/or subversion is present not only in Landon’s fairy tales but also in those that come later in the century. Could there be a Victorian romance waiting to be revealed? And how much do the genres of the romance and the fairy tale crossover? Is there a distinction that I’m missing? While such classic tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” seem to share little with the romance, fairy tales such as “Cinderella” seem to share much with the romance.

Such intersections are certainly worth pondering more. But for now, I’ll leave you with a final fascinating quotation from Labbe:

“As the century progresses and the romance becomes ever more popular and widespread, it also gains the ability to engage directly with the violence it describes: texts become metaphorically blood-soaked as human relations disintegrate into an anti-fairy-tale world of dying unhappily ever after.” (Labbe 4, my emphasis)

Literary Annual Research @ U of MN

Once August hit, my summer went from relaxingly productive to complete craziness, hence my recent lack of posts. Between a full schedule and exhaustion, blogging has not been high on my list of priorities. In addition to moving, unpacking, and physical therapy, I’ve also begun my archival research at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Libraries, and this is the topic of today’s post.

A professor first mentioned the Victorian literary annual to me during my first semester in my doctoral program; in my second semester, I began researching the genre for a book history course. (I’ve written on the topic previously here and here.) Now, the literary annual is playing a major role in my dissertation as one of the genres I’m investigating (along with fairy tale collections and poetry and short story collections).

I’m fascinated by the history of the literary annual. Marketed as appropriate reading and gifts for young middle-class women, the annual featured luxurious bindings (such as red silk) and state of the art steel-plate engravings. These engravings were the real appeal of the annuals, as the poetry, short stories, and nonfiction texts were written to accompany the engravings. Moreover, the genre was increasingly “feminized,” as women increasingly edited, wrote, and read the literary annuals. Published between 1823 and 1857, at the height of their popularity more than 60 different annuals were published in a single year.

Perhaps because they were considered feminine, as well as because the engravings rather than the texts were the selling point, critics since the genre’s debut have considered the literary annual to be fluff rather than literature, and the literary annual has only become a source of scholarly interest in the last few decades. So there is plenty of work to be done with the annuals, in particular with the literary contributions that have been overlooked in favor of the genre’s intriguing history as a book-object.

I was thrilled to discover that the University of MN has an extensive collection of British (and American) literary annuals; as a side note, those interested in exploring the catalog should search under “gift books” rather than literary annuals. Holdings are available in regular collections that are loanable as well as in various special collections, including those held at the Andersen Library and Wilson/Bell Library. I’ve included my current batch of special collection annuals in the spreadsheet image below.

Literary Annual Holdings (Incomplete) @ U of MN

The literary annuals I’m currently accessing at the U of MN

Although my research has only begun, I’ve already found some literary gems although they are not quite what I’m looking for for my dissertation. Fingers crossed that my theory is proven true as I continue my research into the fascinating world of the British Victorian Literary Annual!

Getting into the Writing Mood: Where Candles & Literature Collide

One effective writing habit that I have whole-heartedly embraced in the last few months is that of the designated writing location. For me, it’s my (often messy and full of flotsam) desk. But sometimes merely sitting at my desk isn’t enough to get into the writing groove. Enter my signature “writing scent” and Frostbeard Studio Soy Candles.

I came across these candles at a local craft show (Craftstravaganza, I believe it was called) and was instantly drawn in by their unique combination of scented candles and literature. I fell in love with and purchased Pemberley Rose, a pink candle inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. According to Frostbeard Studio’s online product description,

“PEMBERLEY ROSE — SOY CANDLE

Part of our Book Lovers’ Series, this candle is a completely original scent! Inspired by the Pemberley Estate and ideal for fans of Jane Austen.

This scent is our most feminine and traditional, a pleasant floral garden mix.

Scents:
Fresh roses with a hint of lilac and hyacinth.”

Candle, book, Spellbound, Pemberley Rose

Frostbeard Studio’s Pemberley Rose Candle & Molly Clarke Hillard’s new text, Spellbound: The Fairy Tale and the Victorians

The floral scent is lovely and perfectly sets the mood for dissertation writing. Moreover, these candles seem to be ideal gifts for any book-lover, and Frostbeard Studio also notably features several candles inspired by Harry Potter and even Doctor Who.

The Lit Lover’s Dilemma: Where Do I Store All My BOOKS?

As every literature student, instructor, collector, lover, etc. knows, bound books take up valuable living space. A lot of space. As every literature lover who has had to move knows, bound books are HEAVY. As a rabid reader of fiction since junior high school, I have accumulated A LOT of books though the years, as anyone who has helped me move can attest. And every time I move, I determine to downsize. But I can never part with my books, and since I continue to buy more each year, my collection continues to grow.

Book Cover Images

A small selection of titles in my bound-book collection.

E-BOOKS AS SPACE SAVERS?

As I am currently once more in the process of moving, the dilemma caused by my extensive bound book collection is fresh on my mind. I have too many boxes of books to count packed and stuffed into the one-bedroom apartment I currently share with another. We won’t move into a two-bedroom apartment until August, so I tried to anticipate my writing and reference needs by filling a suitcase with “necessary” books for easy (or simply easier) access.

A family friend who helped move me from Michigan to Minnesota lamented (repeatedly), “More boxes of books?! Why do you have so many books? Haven’t you heard of e-books?”

In theory, I have no problem with e-books. I own a number of them actually. But there are many reasons I continue to use and purchase bound books.

1. I owned the bound book before the e-book was available.

A lot of my books, in particular my non-academic, mass-market paperback genre fiction novels, were purchased before the release of the e-reader. These are the books I tend to purchase as e-books because it is simply easier and saves space; it’s also more convenient for vacation or relaxation (aka “fun”) reading as you can access a variety of texts anywhere, anytime with an e-reader. But as much as I’d like to simply replace these bound texts, it is not financially feasible on a graduate student budget. I keep telling myself I’ll do so when I get my (dream) job and can afford to do so.

2. Bound books are easier to use as sources for literary analysis.

When I’m analyzing a text and writing an argument about it, it’s a lot easier (for me) to reference a bound version of the primary text. This is because I can mark relevant quotations, make marginal notes, and skip around within the text as needed. Finding unmarked passages that I need is also easier to do in a bound book, as you can fan through the pages as needed and have a better idea of physical location (for example, I’m looking for a passage in the middle of the book so I’m fanning/skimming in that area). While I can mark, take notes, and sometimes search through e-books, skimming really doesn’t work, and I can’t move quickly back and forth between difference notes, marked passages, etc. as I can with a bound book. Furthermore, MLA citation requires page numbers that are usually unavailable in a digital format.

3. Bound books are easier to use in the classroom.

For many of the same reasons listed in the previous point, a bound book is easier to use in the classroom, as the class moves from passage to passage, not necessarily in any chronological order. This is especially the case as an instructor, I think. I’ve used e-books in the classroom as a student (it’s hard to pass up free 19th-century texts) and have found them clunky and unwieldy. Even using the search function to locate specific passages, I am inevitably behind in the conversation, unlike those students who can simply reference a page and paragraph number.

4. Used bound books are cheap.

I love used book stores. One of my favorites is Half-Price Books, and I’ve found some excellent deals on both literary texts and literary criticism/theory texts at their stores (particularly if I visit a store located near one or more college campuses). Cheap bound books are also available on Amazon. While e-books are often (but not always) cheaper than their bound counterparts, used bound books are often cheaper still. So until I can purchase a “used” e-book, I cannot overlook the deals available on used bound books.

5. A lot of critical texts are unavailable as an e-book. Numerous academic monographs, anthologies, etc. are not available in any form other than bound hardcopy. This means access is limited to purchasing the bound book or borrowing the bound book from a library. While the library is often a good source, purchasing the book allows unlimited, repeated access and reference, and it can sometimes be quicker as well.

6. Bound books are more aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes it’s just nice to admire a book cover or unusual binding, to hold a book in your hands and smell its pleasantly musty scent. In my opinion, personalized epigraphs and signatures in books received as gifts also adds value. Yes, they’re dust-traps, but don’t they look nice displayed on your books shelf???

BOOK STORAGE CONCLUSION

I think these are pretty good reasons to keep my collection of bound books. I obviously didn’t explain this in detail to the lamenting family friend, but his lament’s did encourage me to think about this in more detail. (My response on moving day was “I’m an English major.”)

And regarding storage space, I’ll simply have to invest in another bookshelf to make up for the loss of the built-in shelf I sadly said goodbye to in my Michigan apartment. Off to Ikea I go! I’m also looking to purchase a rolling book cart (like those used in libraries) to store some books in my closet. Maybe some day I’ll use that same cart in my own home library…