Overexposed and undervalued

Scholar Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel, teaches popular romance not just as literature, but as an interdisciplinary study.


Why teach popular romance?

I think that teaching people about what it is that they’re reading anyway has value not only in sort of, in training literary scholars, but also in teaching people about the values of the culture, about their own assumptions [. . .]

[. . .] I think the romance is simultaneously overexposed and undervalued. It’s overexposed in that it is increasingly widely recognized as running the publishing industry and fiction. Romance pays for everything else. Presentation after presentation demonstrates that; RWA’s numbers demonstrate that, etc.

But the under-appreciated part is that that very commercial success gets viewed with a kind of cynicism in that, well—it’s that popular, it must not be any good. And I am the first person to admit that given that there are eight thousand titles a year, eight thousand new titles a year, that some of them aren’t very good, because some of everything isn’t very good. But there are some terrific books in there, and deciding not to read romance has—that decision can be made for good reasons and bad reasons. The good reason to make that decision is that it just doesn’t appeal to you. It’s just not the kind of story that you wish to read. The bad reason is is it’s so popular, it must not be any good.

How has academic interest in romance grown?

And in my case this has grown from a literature course into an interdisciplinary course that I’m going to teach in the fall called “Romantic Love” where I pull in my colleagues from many disciplines. I mean so somebody’s going to come in and talk to us about hormones. Somebody’s going to come in and talk to us about psych., about soc., music, etc. And my students will pursue what is essentially a big group research project, and they will define their own goals. They will decide what they want to get out of the course.

Because, in my experience, students are incredibly—they’re believers in romantic love. They believe in love [. . .]

[. . .] Another thing I do with the romance novel is I teach multicultural issues and topics, and that ranges from all—that actually ranges across all forms of alterity. So race is there. All the gender issues are there. All the sexuality issues are there. All the sexual identity issues are there. And the rich store of books that permit you to do this is a really—provides a really interesting way, because the narrative itself is familiar. Even if you’ve never read a romance novel, you have watched a sitcom which almost always has a courtship plot, and you return to the courtship plot during sweeps week, because that’s what people will tune in for.

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