Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 4, No. 1, 1990
The Media of Publishing
Edited by Albert Moran

Popular Romance in the Postmodern Age. And an Unknown Australian Author

Ann Curthoys & John Docker

He [Captain Frederick Wentworth] was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.... They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love.... A short period of exquisite felicity followed, and but a short one. - Trouble soon arose. Sir Walter ... thought it a very degrading alliance; and Lady Russell ... received it as a most unfortunate one.

Anne Elliot, with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw herself away at nineteen; involve herself at nineteen in an engagement with a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining influence, but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession.... Such opposition as these feelings produced, was more than Anne could combat.... Lady Russell, whom she had always loved and relied on, could not, with such steadiness of opinion, and such tenderness of manner, be continually advising her in vain. She was persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing - indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success, and not deserving it.... she had to encounter all the additional pain of opinions, on his side, totally unconvinced and unbending, and of his feeling himself ill-used by so forced a relinquishment. - He had left the country in consequence.

... Anne, as she sat near the window, descried, most decidedly and distinctly, Captain Wentworth walking down the street ... For a few minutes she saw nothing before her. It was all confusion. She was lost ... she had scolded back her senses.... He was more obviously struck and confused by the sight of her. ... he looked quite red. For the first time, since their renewed acquaintance, she felt that she was betraying the least sensibility of the two. She had the advantage of him, in the preparation of the last few moments. All the overpowering, blinding, bewildering, first effects of strong surprise were over with her. Still, however, she had enough to feel! It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery.

Drew had fallen in love with her and, a few days before he was due to fly back to Sydney, asked her to marry him. Jenna said yes, and then they made the mistake of approaching her grandmother for consent, since Jenna wasn't of age.

"A grocer's son marry my granddaughter? Over my dead body!" the old lady had hissed at Drew, the fact that Drew had already made his mark as a successful businessman not rating a bean in her grandmother's book.

"Don't tempt me," had been Drew's sarcastic rejoinder.

Her grandmother had a lot to answer for ... She had prevented Jenna marrying Drew and, in her heart, Jenna could not forgive her for that - nor herself for not standing up to her. Nor Drew, for not forcing her to marry him.... Drew should have known better, should have known she was young and gullible and had been taken in by old Sarah Anderson.

Throughout this century, the feelings generated within high culture and radical alternative culture around questions of aesthetic distinction, hierarchies of genres, true cultural worth, the necessity of ideological purity and correctness, have often been as intense as those generated by other major divisive forces in society, of gender, class, nation, ethnicity, religion, region. 3 Popular fiction, sold at newsagents and railway and then airport bookstores, circulating in second-hand bookshops and exchanges, never claiming prestige or aesthetic status or critical acclaim for itself, has not managed to escape this field of intensity. For most of this century romance fiction, especially, has been high literature's Other, a negative icon, what not, what never to be. Newspaper critics in reviews, journalists in their columns, good professional-middle-class people in their conversation, would casually snap at a book or passage by saying things like 'it unfortunately smacks of Mills and Boon', or, 'in certain parts of the novel it lapses into pure Mills and Boon'. 'Mills and Boon' was a roaming, punitive signifier, a terrier running around and around the boundary that separates serious writing from the low, from sub-literature, para-literature, trash, schlock. 'Mills and Boon' meant embarrassingly 'bad' writing, sentimental, over-explicit, slushy, sloppy, the lush, the unforgivable. To pronounce 'Mills and Boon' in this way was to indicate where one took care to position oneself in relation to the high culture/ popular culture divide. For those on that divide's superior side, reading Mills and Boon openly, or admitting to such reading, would be to risk pariah status amongst one's peers.

We first started reading some Mills and Boon novels for a popular culture discussion group. When that ended and dispersed, we continued reading. Our initial attitude was that any single M and B would be representative of the whole lot. We soon realised how wrong that was. We were struck by the vast range in writing style, narrative strength, and gender politics. Some we found truly appalling. We were also struck by the exuberance of the genre, how 'mad' and frequently crazy M and Bs are, how much they enjoy their own extreme situations (often drawing on fairytale elements, of Cinderella and foundling stories). After a while, as with any genre, we began to pick out ones we enjoyed and favoured, and knew which not to bother with.

We found ourselves drawn to an older Mills and Boon writer, Sara Seale, with her complicated dialogue, gentle ironies, play of half-suggestions, restrained expression of emotion; the most Jane Austenish of the M and B writers we'd so far encountered, we thought. Yet we also enjoyed more recent M and B contributors, like the heavy breathing Melinda Cross, with her confident heroines and emotional heroes, her novels set in the US. We began to distinguish M and B 'national schools', for example, the Canadian. The Canadians we like include Sandra Field, many of her romances set on the east coast, her novels witty and sexually explicit, journeys of social exploration into modem middle-class Canada; and Vanessa Grant, her romances moving about the wild coast of western Canada, her heroines always individualistic, strong, resisting emotional commitment. We compared these and other writers and hoped no-one would ever hear us talk like this. Nor see us up the back in the second-hand sections of bookshops or in book exchanges we began on weekends to spend hours at, going through piles of old M and Bs searching for copies of a Seale, a Field, a Grant, a Cross, or other favourites. Our perverse interest took us, when on vacation, to country book exchanges as well, excellent ones in Maitland and Bateman's Bay.

For a while we thought there were no interesting Australian contributors to the genre, until we stumbled on two we particularly like, Edwina Shore and Emma Darcy - the last playful pseudonym suggesting how selfconscious is the romance genre, how aware of its own ancestors it wishes to be; and this sent us back to nineteenth-century romance, to re-read its classics. Indeed, it was precisely because of reading M and Bs that we could now see that Jane Austen favourites like Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion were not in the tradition usually assigned to them ('the nineteenth-century realist novel'), but were, obviously, generically, romances. And we thought of the ways contemporary romance continuously draws on different aspects of Austen's novels, or Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. What were we going to do with this new interest, this new knowledge? How, by what theoretical trajectory, could we eject ourselves from the closet? We needed help.

Modernism in Retreat?

Postmodernism came, and, ah! how it has changed things. For 'aesthetic postmodernism', in everything from architecture to the detective novel, in mixing 'high' and 10w' genres, is questioning the boundaries between high and popular cultures determinedly set by modernism throughout this century of proliferating mass culture. Aesthetic postmodernism, that is, is helping to dissolve what had been modernism's reigning absolute oppositions, between the aesthetic and the commercial, art and the market, the supposedly authentic and ideologically pure as against the messy and contradictory. Modernism insisted on a strict hierarchy of genres. At the top was, naturally, modernism itself. Just below it might come tragedy, then realism and naturalism. But popular genres, from melodrama to romance to science fiction to detective, were relegated to the low; they were the aesthetic enemy; their lowness, particularly their melodramatic explicitness, defined the high.

The trouble is, people, even intellectuals and high literature writers themselves, kept liking genres like detective and science fiction, until the hierarchy that confined them to the bottom of the critical pyramid began to blur at the edges, began to seem strange, questionable. What had seemed like 'common sense' itself now looked narrowing and confining.

It was, perhaps, only a matter of time before romance, too, began to be defended. In his essay "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other", Andreas Huyssen argues that modernism, in its formative period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, particularly sought to define itself against the entwined genres of popular serial melodrama and romance, with their ever growing female readerships. For modernism, such genres, this female realm, was a morass of mere pleasure, sensation, feeling, sentiment. True authentic art and critical reason must pull back from the edge of such a seductive abyss. The modernist text must be autonomous, self-reflexive, referring to itself not to a readership expecting pleasure It must always be innovative and experimental, at the edge of time, trying to shock and disturb. It must rigorously negate society, both its bourgeois norms and the way such presumed norms underlie mass culture. It should stress what popular fiction, with its presumed striving for certainty, is incapable of, ambiguity and ambivalence. It should develop an aesthetic stressing control, distance, irony, tautness, hardness, spareness, restraint. Huyssen argues that late twentieth-century feminism has allowed us to see how deeply the modernist project has been gender-inscribed. 4

Feminism Takes a Second Look

Feminist critics have also begun to revise an older orthodoxy on romance novels, which had derided them for their passive heroines, for being socially conservative in terms of women and careers, and for being heterosexist. In Reading the Romance (1984), based on ethnographic research, the American critic Janice Radway found that readers of popular romances were highly active in demanding the kind of novels from publishers they wanted. In particular, they disliked submissive heroines, loudly preferring, on the contrary, heroines who were, in their words, "extremely intelligent", "spunky", "independent", and "unique".

5

Radway's research involved getting to know "Dot", a salesclerk in a midwestern town's bookstore, who put her in touch with the romance readers Dot regularly served and advised. While living in Canberra in the mid-eighties we received enormous assistance from Alice's Bookshop, an exchange. Alice kindly helped two pitifully raw novices in telling us who were major romance authors, of differences within the genre over recent decades, and of contrasts between Mills and Boon writing as against American romance (she told us of Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower). She commented of Sara Seale's heroines that "they're always about seventeen and need fattening up, they're so skinny". Alice also attended a lecture John gave at the Canberra CAE on popular romance in 1985. Apart from asking a question, "John, why do you think romances are so popular?", that he floundered about trying to answer, much to the delight of the assembled students, she advised him that he might like to improve his lecturing style by attending Toastmasters. We would like to express our profound thanks here to Alice, helpful and friendly, always at the till talking to her customers.

In a more recent work, The Romance Revolution (1987), Radway's fellow American Carol Thurston argues against modernist Frankfurt School type critical theory that assumes mass culture readerships are entirely passive and dominated from above in the interests of social and ideological control. Like Radway, she observes that the market for romance novels is readership-driven. Thurston is also impatient with those feminist critics in the past who have claimed to deduce eternal, essential characteristics from a reading of one or two romance novels. Popular romances are, to the contrary, says Thurston, an evolving form, always changing, often rapidly. She notes that in America lesbian romances are a thriving sub-genre, though she will focus on heterosexual romances, whose readership is so large that it rivals popular television programs for audience size. 6

Thurston points out that American romance readers are demographically, in terms of income, education, and employment, spread across the population. The heroines of such romances are of the irrepressible, strongminded, highspirited, rebellious, daring, witty kind observed by Radway, they are no longer usually virgins, they may have been married, they may have a child from a previous relationship, they work, and the careers they have range from mechanics to doctors, journalists, lawyers, ranchers, psychiatrists, computer programmers, college professors, and so on. Indeed, Thurston notes, the heroines' professions are higher than the demographic average of American women. Further, the heroes in such romance don't obstruct but admire and aid the heroines in their careers, in their search for economic self-sufficiency and autonomy; and the heroines rarely give up their jobs upon marriage. 7

Thurston's general argument is that, beginning with Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower (1972), American romance, particularly in the historical 'bodice ripper' and 'sensuous contemporary' modes, can be observed responding both to the 1960s 'sexual revolution' and to 1970s/80s feminism itself. Romances offer their readers a variety of pleasures. They are a form of relaxation and privacy. They are also often a shared reading experience outside the home. They offer playfulness and humour. They are a form of erotica, female erotica, exploring and experimenting with sexual experience and fantasy entwined with involving characters and a suspense narrative, with the heroine often taking the initiative and sharing control in the sexual encounters. They are testing boards for new ideas and attitudes concerning women. They offer insights into relationships and behaviour. They explore other areas of the society or other societies, and other times and historical periods. 8 Thurston secs romance novels, then, in poststructuralist terms, as offering a plurality of pleasures and interests for romance readers, a plurality where no one aspect is necessarily prior or dominating.

Romance and Genre

Romance as genre has a long history. In The Dialogic Imagination, Mikhail Bakhtin outlines the characteristics of the romance novel of antiquity. Bakhtin evokes the ancient Greek romance as a particular example of the adventure novel, with a particular organisation of space and time. There are certain constant elements in the narrative. There is the girl and boy of marriageable age. Exceptional in their beauty and chastity, they usually come across each other unexpectedly, often during a festive holiday. They are overtaken by a sudden and instantaneous passion. However, they are, naturally, then confronted with obstacles that retard and delay a union that they and we on their behalf, yearn for. Often they have to flee arranged marriages, the heroine and hero usually coming from different homelands. Then follows the flight of the lovers, where they will often journey through strange worlds, to Persia, Phoenicia, Egypt, Babylon, Ethiopia. There will be descriptions of the specific features of the cities and countries in which the lovers find themselves, as well as of various exotic and marvellous animals and other wonders and rarities they might observe, like a Nile horse (hippopotamus), an elephant, a crocodile. (This ancient interest in exploring cultural and social geography continues strongly in Mills and Boon, their locations searching out different areas in the now known world, anywhere from northern Canada to central Australia). During their flight there will usually be a storm at sea, with a shipwreck followed by a miraculous rescue. But the heroine and hero will then often find themselves parted, suffering separate misfortunes, attempts on their chastity, or being sold into slavery, or thinking the other is dead, or false accusations of crimes and accompanying court trials. They might have to disguise their identities to survive. Finally the novel ends happily with the lovers united and consummated in marriage. 9

Bakhtin argues that from the very beginning the love between the heroine and hero is not subject to doubt. In this way, he notes, they represent a particular kind of construction of character, they are 'fixed' characters. All the trials and sufferings and quests for reunion they experience test, says Bakhtin, not only their chastity and mutual fidelity, but their "nobility, courage, strength, fearlessness, and - more rarely - their intelligence". But they themselves remain unchanged. When they meet again at the end of the narrative they are exactly the same as when they began; what has kept them apart, and motivated the romance novel's actions, are events external to them, the operation of chance, or omens and prophecies, or dark destructive Fate in the scheming of villain figures. There are no obstacles within themselves to their union.

Bakhtin then goes on to contrast the 'fixed' character of Greek romance with the construction of character in another kind of ancient novel, the "adventure novel of everyday life", Apuleius' delightful The Golden Ass being its major example. (In The Golden Ass Lucius, a rather feckless wandering young nobleman, desires voyeuristically to gain a better insight into people's night-time activities by being turned into a bird; the magic potion goes wrong, however, turning him into an ass, and he then has to suffer various misfortunes, being captured by robbers, doing backbreaking repetitive work, being disregarded and humiliated, and so on, until at the end the goddess Isis sees that he has suffered enough and allows him to be transformed again into a man; he will now dedicate his life to serving the gods.) Chance, says Bakhtin, still plays a large role in moving the narrative of The Golden Ass along, but the primary initiative in the novel's actions now belongs to the hero and his personality: because of his youthful frivolity and careless curiosity, Lucius himself desires the dangerous entanglement with magic potions, with witchcraft, that so coarsens his appearance; and because of his sufferings for his action, at the end of the story he has changed, been transformed, has learnt and become enlightened.

Bakhtin argues that the course of Lucius' life, always caught in the moments of crisis of adventure-time, corresponds to a drama of metamorphosis and identity, an interest that was widespread in the ancient world, in folklore (as in a hero's presumed death, passage to the nether regions, and resurrection), in philosophy and literature, and extending into Christian narratives of saints (sin, punishment and suffering, crisis, redemption and rebirth as holy).

Modern Romance

Bakhtin's conception of characters undergoing change and metamorphosis can help us understand the modern history of the romance novel, from Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Bronte's lane Eyre onwards through to today's popular romances. In such modern romance a major obstacle to the union of the man and woman lies in the attitudes of the hero and heroine themselves. The man, a Mr Darcy or a Rochester, will often be powerful, arrogant, and commanding in manner, the woman will be independent, courageous, standing up for herself. But she may also be prejudiced in various ways about the hero, and has in the course of the story to learn not to be. For his part, the hero (with clear traces of the tyrant of the Gothic novel behind him) has to realise he cannot command, he cannot assume he is the one, she the other, he has to recognise her and their equality. Again, the actions of Fate, of villain figures, male and female, might intervene and help keep the hero and heroine apart; but they also cannot achieve happiness until the conflict between them is resolved.

Modem romance, that is, marries the narrative pattern of ancient romance, with its fixed characters undergoing various trials and separations, to dramas of metamorphosis, to stories involving characters who learn about themselves in conflict with each other. Much of the pleasure of the genre indeed lies precisely in the agon, the contest, the jousting, between the hero and heroine.

Romance can do so much; it can be tragic, or, as with the cosmology of melodrama, offer a happy ending as the overcoming of the harsh fate that decrees separation and failure. Because the obstacles to the relationship can now be anything in the characters' own biography and psychology, in differences of attitude and values concerning gender, class, region, ethnicity, subculture, whatever, it can endlessly socially explore. It is not fixed in any ideology, nor is it necessarily tied to heterosexuality in the lovers. 10 We can also see romance in terms of a postmodernist aesthetic, a poetics of excess, enjoying extravagance, flamboyance, fantasy, delight in extremes. We can enjoy them for being so mad and crazy.

Help, then, came to the party. But this doesn't mean we flaunt our reading of M and Bs amongst the people we know. We are still haunted by the ghosts past of High Literature and Feminist Correctness.

Romance and Romanticism

"... I'd rather marry a dozen Adam Nashes than have anything to do with someone like you. I thought I made that clear to you four years ago."

That wiped everything off Drew's face - the last of his smugness and his tan along with it. The colour swept out of his face in front of Jenna's eyes, the sudden pallor turning the deep blue of his eyes into solid black.

"I don't believe you, Jenna," Drew said slowly; the shakiness in his voice was new to her. Drew was hurt. It was a shock and a triumph. Her final cruel thrust had really hit home, never mind that it was a lie.

(Edwina Shore, Storm Clouds Gathering) 11

Elsewhere we have explored a couple of Emma Darcy's Mills and Boon novels that are set in the Middle East, the fabled Orient; we trace a context that extends from early nineteenth-century Romanticism, as in Byron's love poems of the East like The Giaour (1813) and The Corsair (1814), to Edith Maude Hull's The Sheik (1919) and the Valentino movies of the 1920s. 12 Here we would like to touch on Edwina Shore's Mills and Boon novels, in particular, in terms of the self-consciousness, the intertextuality, of the genre, the one we've been epigraphing, dropping tidbits of, Storm Clouds Gathering, a witty replay and reworking of Jane Austen, mainly Persuasion and some elements of Pride and Prejudice.

Edwina Shore's novels also include A Will to Love (1985), The Last Barrier (1986), A Not-So-Perfect Marriage (1988), and Just Another Married Man (1988). They may be set in Australia, or involve an Australian heroine in Britain; sometimes they involve a wholly British range of characters and location. Just Another Married Man suggests the London of the young Australian temporary resident, the London of hotels, public transport, flats, flatmates. Shore's heroines are generally in the early stages of a professional artistic career, as a jewellery designer, illustrator, photographer. They are rarely stable, settled, secure. They are travellers, wanderers. In each novel, the heroine has particular trouble recognising her own feelings; and in each the dialogue between heroine and hero is so fierce that you wonder how, in the space of the invariable 188 or so pages, the conflicts between them can possibly be resolved.

Unusually for Edwina Shore's work, in Storm Clouds Gathering it is the heroine's secure existence in a bounded social environment that is a major obstacle to the romance; and a major clue to the literary ancestry it is calling on. Like most popular romance, Storm Clouds Gathering moves swiftly into its story, conflicts and dilemmas, key characters. It opens with Jenna Anderson learning from an over-interested shopkeeper that Drew Merrick is back on the island. The island is "Cone Island", somewhere near Norfolk Island, but the rebellious spirit of the original mutineers against Captain Bligh has long been overlaid on Cone Island by a rigid class structure, with several leading families overseeing an enclosed society ("this beautiful, bigoted, stifling little dot in the Pacific''.)l3 As an Anderson, Jenna was born to rule as part of the island's two elite families, along with the Nashes.

Now recall Persuasion where Lady Russell, friend of the Elliot family, Anne's godmother, had advised a young Anne that, given the position of her family in the village of Kellynch in Somerset county, she ought not marry the handsome Captain Wentworth, although he was evidently ardently in love with her, because, brother of a curate, he possessed little status and less wealth. Captain Wentworth subsequently went to the wars, thereby making his fortune. Meanwhile, for some seven years after, Anne Elliot's life ticks over in the tiny, confining social circle of Kellynch, Somerset, with no "novelty or enlargement of society" to engage her interest. 14 In Persuasion, perhaps the most intense and intensely focussed of Austen novels, we see Captain Wentworth, now rich and certainly now socially acceptable, returning to the scene of his disappointed affections, bitter and even revengeful against Anne Elliot for listening not to the love in her heart but to Lady Russell's counsel.

In Storm Clouds Gathering Jenna, when near eighteen, had fallen in love with Drew. Her Mrs Russellish grandmother, however, who brought Jenna up (her parents died when she was a child), had strongly opposed the proposed union, since Drew was the son of the island's grocer. Old imperious Sarah Anderson would make the young Drew use the back entrance when delivering, and would use a particular tone to speak down to him. (Drew was an "outsider in the island's tightly knit, snob-ridden 'old family' society run by her own grandmother".) 15 At the last moment, with her grandmother claiming to be terminally ill, Jenna backs out of the marriage. Drew leaves the island for good, thumbing his nose at Cone Island, which is yet fascinated by reports of his doings as a wealthy businessman in Sydney.

Four years then go by, four years of pain and misery for Jenna. Old grandma dies at last, but Jenna drifts into agreeing to marry the island doctor, Adam Nash, stolid, cautious and conventional, whose mother had been Sarah Anderson's closest friend. Jenna finds herself choosing respectability, safety, status, certainty, staidness, correctness, boredom. She imagines herself fond of Adam, who struts about self-importantly, the comedy here recalling the pantomime scenes that feature the pompous, respectable Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, the Mr Collins who once asked Elizabeth Bennet for her hand, before Elizabeth, finally, overcoming various prejudices against him, chooses Mr Darcy, powerfully featured, commanding in manner, forceful, Gothic. Jenna Anderson is Elizabeth Bennet at her most wrongheaded and prejudiced, flung into Anne Elliot's unfortunate situation.

The comedy, the agon, the jousting of Storm Clouds Gathering involves Drew Merrick, our antipodean Mr Darcy/Captain Wentworth, returning to Cone Island to sever the knot to be tied between Adam Nash and a listless, cranky, out-of-sorts Jenna, living in ever more shabby gentility in her grandmother's house, having unsuccessfully tried to turn part of it into a restaurant. (In Persuasion the Elliot family was also in decline.) She sits round most of the day in an old frayed cotton robe. Once, when she has to be helped by Drew into the house after slipping and hurting her ankle ("there was no way, save perhaps by crawling, that she was going to get herself into the house unaided"), he takes off her shoe to reveal a sock with an enormous hole at the toes. 16 But Jenna feels only anger at Drew Merrick, for not returning to the island four years earlier, despite her rejection, to rescue her from its repressive hold. And she is too proud to admit to Drew that she had been wrong to heed Sarah Anderson. Jenna is convinced in her own mind that she no longer loves him, that he is only out for revenge, that he is manipulative and instrumental and highhanded now he is wealthy, that he is now hateful, despicable, ''unspeakable''. 17

Their meetings and encounters offer a series of extraordinary verbal duels that constitute most of the novel. They throw everything they can think of at each other, including Jenna a couple of times trying to talk down to Drew in the style of her grandmother, particularly when he seemed to have the "upper hand". ("She was pleased with herself for managing to hit the right tone of voice - the one that put Drew Merrick in his place'').l Their tone to each other ranges from the contemptuous, the sarcastic, the hurtful, the snide, the tart, the harsh, the mocking, the sardonic, the ironic, the dismissive, the cutting, the icy, the hard, the cruel, the all-round nasty, to the infuriated and enraged . Their words strike like animals of prey, in feline or snake-like ways. Touches of the gentle and tender are but fleeting.

Here modern romance shows its close kinship to melodrama, that theatre of psychoanalysis, where what is usually repressed or unspoken is given voice, is made explicit, in conversations that are at the same time confrontations. 19

"Well, it's been nice of you to look us up", she said patronisingly, her grandmother's maliciously gracious drawl coming right out of her mouth.... She saw the back of Drew's suntanned neck below the hairline turn a dark red under the tan. He had not missed the tone of voice either, and it had stung. Really stung. He turned around slowly and had apparently used the few seconds to arrange his expression into a stony mask; his eyes were icy.

Her face very hot, Jenna stood up. "I didn't mean ... I'm sorry," she blurted agitatedly.

The corner of Drew's mouth tilted in a bitter semi-smile. "For what? Being Sarah Anderson's granddaughter?" He gave a low growl of a laugh. "I'm sure you've nothing to be sorry about, Jenna; your grandmother would be proud of the way you've learnt to put the local riff-raff in their places." 20

Drew, not surprisingly, is indeed resentful that Jenna had listened to her grandmother, but he still loves her, and sets out to rescue her lost rebellious part (Jenna is evoked, with her large brown eyes, as like a gypsy), from a mind now apparently ruled by the island's deadening respectability. He wishes to turn her world "upside-down". 21

He accuses Jenna, for all her stroppiness and crankiness, of being weak, the dupe of those around her, from old grandma in the past to her harebrained brother now, who had talked her into trying the restaurant idea. He challenges her to stop lying to herself, to grasp her own fate, which she finally does, though clashing angrily with Drew to the end. At novel's close Jenna leaves for Sydney, seen as sophisticated and cosmopolitan, where women can pursue careers like Drew's lawyer friend Jessica; Jenna, meantime, has been trained by her grandmother in nothing except being a lady.

In Persuasion Captain Wentworth brings with him knowledge of a world far wider and more mixed and interesting than that of Kellynch village, Somerset. Here is a conversation between Mrs Musgrove, a local family friend of the Elliot family, and Mrs Croft, sister to Captain Wentworth and wife of his friend the Admiral.

"What a great traveller you must have been, ma'am!" said Mrs Musgrove to Mrs Croft.

"Pretty well, ma'am, in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and back again ... besides being in different places about home - Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights - and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies."

Mrs Musgrove had not a word to say in dissent; she could not accuse herself of having ever called them any thing in the whole course of her life. 22

Through the comedy here, with Mrs Musgrove's insularity rather like that of the Cone Islanders, we can perceive Mrs Croft (while she herself has never gone "beyond the Streights") uncannily tracing the reaching out of romance to explore the world, from Celtic Ireland to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Americas, the refusal of the romantic spirit to be confined by place, by nation, by 'race'.

Persuasion might be seen as opposed to, ironic towards, intense Byronic passions, in particular undying fealty to a lost love. At one point, for example, Anne gently reproves the melancholy Captain Benwick, another sailor friend of Captain Wentworth's, and a great reader of Byron, especially The Giaour, for dwelling on his "broken heart" and "mind destroyed by wretchedness". (Benwick's betrothed had died while he'd been at sea.) Anne advises him to read less of sad Romantic poetry and more of the "best moralists" of the time. But it is precisely such fealty and melancholy that has for many years gripped Anne herself, as she acknowledges at the close of her conversation with Captain Benwick ("nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination" ) 23

Persuasion is itself Byronic, including in its suggestions of how intolerable small 'English' communities can be, and in its looking to wider spaces, its desire for the other. Mrs Croft's Cork, Lisbon, Gibraltar, the East Indies and the Atlantic are not that distant from the fascination with the Orient in Byron's The Giaour and The Corsair. In a similar Byronic spirit, in Storm Clouds Gathering, Jenna finally realises that she found and finds Drew exciting because he represents everything that was other to the island's closed village-like society. ("Drew had never fitted into the tight, repressive mould, and this is what had made him so exciting and different.") 24

In a mind/body distinction familiar from Romanticism, it is Jenna's body which keeps indicating the truth of her feelings, her body, her senses, which keeps betraying and exposing, turning upside down, her rationalisations by responding to Drew even during their endless ferocious arguing. Jenna's mind finally catches up to her body, finally realises that she has to escape the island's tight reign of social respectability, that she has to recover that original mutineering spirit. As in Romanticism, 'nature' leads the way, the revolt against stifling social rules that prescribe narrow notions of gender and propriety, of what Jenna can less and less tolerate, being "proper". 25

While Jenna is frequently wrongheaded in her 'prejudices' against Drew Merrick, and in her pride that would admit no wrong, she is an exceedingly verbally resourceful heroine. In the words of the readers that Radway talked to in Reading the Romance, Jenna is intelligent, spunky, independent, and unique. At the end she becomes a seeker, a wanderer, like other Edwina Shore heroines - and perhaps even, in her considerably more gentle way, like Anne Elliot.

Edwina Shore is not a 'recognised' Australian author. Generous as it is The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature will reveal no notation for her name, nor will it be found in critical works on Aust. Lit. We don't even know if 'Edwina Shore' is a nom de plume or not, or anything about her. She is not favoured by magazine articles, or interviews. She's obviously not reviewed. But she is read by thousands and thousands of women in Australia, and thousands and thousands of women worldwide, given how international the readerships of popular romance are. We would like to express here our pleasure in her playful, witty, jousting romances.

Notes

  1. Jane Austen, Persuasion (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1984), p.55-6, 185.

  2. Edwina Shore, Storm Clouds Gathering (Mills and Boon, Sydney, 1988), pp.55-6.

  3. Cf. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986).

  4. Huyssen in Tania Modleski, ed., Studies in Entertainment (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1986). The essay is reprinted in Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide. Modernism, Mass Culture and Postmodernism (Macmillan, London, 1986). See also Jan Bruck and John Docker, "Puritanic Rationalism: John Berger's Ways of Seeing and Media and Culture Studies", Continuum, v.2, n.2, 1989.

  5. Janice Radway, Reading the Romance (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1984), p.101.

  6. Carol Thurston, The Romance Revolution. Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987), pp.4, 65,137-8,11-12, 3 (in order of quotation).

  7. Ibid., pp.68, 25,11, 24.

  8. Ibid., pp.154, 25.

  9. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1981), chapter on "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel".

  10. Cf. John Docker, "Antipodean Literature: A World Upside Down?" Overland 103,1986, pp.534.

  11. Storm Clouds Gathering, pp.113-14.

  12. Cf. Ann Curthoys and John Docker, "Romancing the Orient", part of a book-to-be on postmodernism and popular culture.

  13. Storm Clouds Gathering, p.38.

  14. Persuasion, p.57.

  15. Storm Clouds Gathering, p.28.

  16. Ibid., pp.63-4.

  17. Ibid., p.111.

  18. Ibid., pp.26-7.

  19. Cf. Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1976).

  20. Storm Clouds Gathering, pp.32-3.

  21. Ibid., pp.81, 165.

  22. Persuasion, pp.94-5.

  23. Ibid., pp.121-2.

  24. Storm Clouds Gathering, p.120.

  25. Ibid.


New: 21 March, 1996 | Now: 15 March, 2015