Posts tagged with marriage

From an article in The New Yorker by Adelle Waldman:

attention to a lover’s intelligence—and to those facets of character that fall under the auspices of intelligence and factor into respect, such as fairness, integrity, magnanimity, and sensitivity—is consistent with the way women novelists have long written about love. For as long as novels have been written, heroines in books by women have studied their beloveds’ minds with a methodical, dispassionate eye. The ideal mate, for Jane Austen’s heroines, for Charlotte Brontë’s, for George Eliot’s, is someone intelligent enough to appreciate fully and respond deeply to their own intelligence, a partner for whom they feel not only desire but a sense of kinship, of intellectual and moral equality.

A link between love and respect hardly seems like a unique or daring proposition—until we consider that so many male authors have tended to think about love very differently. Straight male authors devote far less energy to considering the intelligence of their heroes’ female love interests; instead, they tend to emphasize visceral attraction and feelings. From Tolstoy, whose psychological acuity helped to redefine what the novel is capable of, to unabashed chroniclers of sex like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth to contemporary, stroller-pushing, egalitarian dad Karl Ove Knausgaard, men have been, in a sense, the real romantics: they are far more likely than women to portray love as something mysterious and irrational, impervious to explanation, tied more to physical qualities and broad personal appeal than to a belief—or hope—in having found an intellectual peer.

In literature, the desire to find an equal, and the belief that love in its ideal form should comprise a meeting of minds as well as bodies, appears to be a much greater psychological driver for women than it is for men. [...]

Intelligence matters to these heroines because they crave, above almost everything else, conversation, the kind that requires mutual understanding. [...] Austen’s sensitive, intelligent heroines reflexively seek out as love interests those few men who are equally sensitive and equally intelligent, who are capable of meeting them “in conversation, both rational and playful.”

This kind of relationship is my favourite to read about and I can find examples of such relationships in modern romance novels. However, I wouldn't say it's the dominant type of relationship in romances, despite the fact that the majority are written by women.

That makes me wonder if the distinction between male and female authors identified by Waldman is not an absolute one, but has something to do with the fact, acknowledged by Waldman, that the male protagonists in the novels she discusses are intellectuals and traditionally "men may not have expected to find a true intellectual equal in a woman, and so they looked for intellectual companionship among men, and with women sought those qualities they did expect to find—beauty, charm, sex appeal, domestic skill".

Perhaps novelists (both male and female) who aren't writing about intellectuals may all place less emphasis on intellectual compatibility and more on the physical and/or practical aspects of relationships?


With thanks to Vassiliki for the link to "The Ideal Marriage, According to Novels" (The New Yorker, January 15, 2016) by Adelle Waldman.

gender, marriage


Following on from the rancher's view of the happy-ever-after, here's one presented to a racing driver hero by his friend, Jerry:

"The way I see it, [...] marriage is a lot like racing five-hundred miles at top speed. The only sensible way to tackle that big a challenge is a lap at a time. Right?"

"Of course."

"Well, the only sensible way to tackle marriage and forever after is a day at a time." (Varner 166)

It's a metaphor which suggests that marriage, and the happy-ever-after, will continue to throw up challenges, all the way to the finishing line. Dan, the racing-driver hero, adds an extra touch of realism to the metaphor by observing that some cars are more likely to reach the finishing line than others:

Though he tackled his five-hundred-mile races a lap at a time, just as Jerry pointed out, he did it in a dependable car, with good tires and plenty of fuel. If he and Torie tried to tackle marriage, whether a day, an hour or even a second at a time, they would be doing it unprepared - without the two most important prerequisites: love and a willingness to compromise. They would not be able to survive the long haul; they would not win the race. (172)

Shortly after this, of course, they discover that they do indeed have enough love to fuel them all the way to the end of the race, along with an ability to compromise which will make sure the wheels don't fall off their romance before they reach the finishing line.


Varner, Linda. A House Becomes a Home. New York, NY: Silhouette, 1991.


The photo is of "NASCAR driver Scott Gaylord's car, when he ran in the Winston Cup race at Sears Point in 1991" and was made available under a Creative Commons licence by Jay Bonvouloir. I came across it via Wikimedia Commons.

A Rancher's HEA, from Head to Toe


A Rancher's HEA, from Head to Toe


Nancy Cook has observed that,

true to its pastoral and bucolic roots, ranch life in romance novels almost always centers on "husbandry" activities. [...] the ranching activities in a romance novel don't build power or empire for power's sake; they don't speak primarily of sound business practice and land management; they speak of husbandry, of sensuality, of "Nature" as procreative force. [...] Most of the novels set on ranches make the link between animal husbandry and human husbandry explicit" (65-66)

"Husbandry" in this context, then, refers to "The care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals" (OED) but, as the existence of the word "husband" demonstrates, can easily be understood to have implications for our understanding of human romantic relationships.

In Robin Wells' Plain Jane Gets Her Man (1997), the hero, Jake Masters, is a rancher who has

only seen examples of what not to do in a marriage. He had no idea how two people were supposed to act behind closed doors in order to have a successful relationship. Could a person exhibit behavior they'd never seen modeled before? He didn't know. He only knew it was a huge emotional risk.

His eyes rested on the shadowed outline of trees across the pasture. He was accustomed to taking other types of risk, of course - that was the nature of ranching. Things like weather and market prices and the health of his herd were all subject to sudden changes, all beyond his control. He'd always accepted the ups and downs of his business, understanding that every drought would eventually end, every bad season would eventually be offset by a good one, every rough spot would sooner or later be replaced by a period of smooth sailing. He'd always taken a long-term view, rationalizing that if he just hung in there, and gave it his best effort, things would all work out in the end.
But marriage was entirely different.

Wasn't it? The question made him stiffen in the saddle.

Maybe it wasn't so different. Maybe he could apply the same principles to a relationship. (181)

Romance may have been accused of giving its readers unrealistic expectations of romantic relationships but this seems to me to be a fairly realistic assessment of marriage, and one which puts into ranching language the old words about a couple taking each other

"for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part" (Book of Common Prayer).


Cook, Nancy. “Home on the Range: Montana Romances and Geographies of Hope.” All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature. Ed. Brady Harrison. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 2009. 55-77.

Wells, Robin. Plain Jane Gets Her Man. New York, NY: Silhouette, 1997.


The image of "Cowboy Boots and Hat" was created by MaurieF, who made it available under a Creative Commons licence. I found it at Wikimedia Commons.


Marriage: noun

There were those who said that the luster went from a marriage before one year was over and that all but the legal and ecclesiastical bonds were dead within seven years. (Balogh 362)

A romance heroine, on the other hand, will muse after seven years of marriage that

She did not suppose it was possible that she was more in love [...] now than she had been seven years ago [...]. That would be to insult what they had felt for each other when they married. But it was certainly true that she was as much in love. It was also true that the quality of her love had deepened. She knew him now in almost every way one human being could know another. Almost every way. No one could ever know absolutely everything there was to know about another, of course, and if it were possible it would not be desirable, because there should always be more to discover, always something new to surprise and delight. (Balogh 362-63)

Rake: noun

I believe the word rake needs to be defined [...] Or at least it needs to be established what a rake is not. As I understand it [...] the hero of Pamela is not a rake at all, for it seems he tried on a number of occasions to take Pamela's virtue by force and quite against her will. That man is an out-and-out villain, who ought not to be dignified with the name of rake. A rake, though capable of all sorts of wild, debauched, silly behavior, is still first and foremost a gentleman. And a gentleman never ever deprives a woman - and I speak not just of ladies - of her virtue against her will. [...] A rake may never be reformed [...] for most men believe it is a manly thing to be and something to which their gender entitles them. But they are not villainous for all that. Or, if they are, then they have put themselves beyond the pale of mere rakishness. (Balogh 297-98)

Seven-year-itch: noun. See Marriage.

Smell-that-is-uniquely-his: noun

Perhaps it was sweat, but who would have thought that sweat could smell so gloriously enticing? (Balogh 317)


Balogh, Mary. The Secret Mistress. London: Piatkus, 2011.


The image of dictionary indents was created by Minh Nguyễn and made available at Wikimedia Commons for use under the terms of a GNU Free Documentation License.

heroes, marriage

Not that long ago I quoted from a 1970s guide for couples preparing for marriage. Apparently such guides are nothing new:

in the sixteenth century manuals of various sorts [...] began to be published in large numbers. These early versions of the 'how to' format covered an astonishing range of skills. Noblemen could read about how to improve their hunting, including specialised treatises on catching birds and fish. The young nobleman, or not-so-noble-man, could refine his fencing skills or learn to box. There were accounting  books for buisinessmen, books on all matter of craftsmen's practices, surveying manuals for estate managers, and books on winemaking for both the householder and the professional vintner. One of the bestsellers of the period was a manual that explained how to make a sundial in your own garden. [...] There were manuals aimed specifically at women readers too. Cookery books are already, in the sixteenth century, best-selling. (Jack 133)

There were also manuals which explained how to have a good marriage:

Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss reformer, was author of The Christen state of matrimony, moost necessary and profitable for all of them, that intend to live quietly and godlye in the Christen state of holy wedlocke newly set forth in Englyshe (1541), translated by Miles Coverdale. It was enormously popular and went into eight editions. Although one of the first rules states the almost universally recognised necessity that 'The husband is the heade of the Wyfe', Coverdale's translation also stresses the need for husband and wife to be friends, as well as lovers, and the rewards of caring for each other particularly at the outset of marriage.

Women and men were repeatedly preached to about the duties of wedlock. Joannes Oecolampidius's A sermon ... to young men and maydens (c. 1548) warned both 'yong wemen and maydes' in equal measure against 'wanton and incontynent' behaviour and inappropriate dress. Books on marriage, principally of a practical kind, sometimes proposed new and (for the times) more subversive models of relations between a man and a woman. Economicus, the dialogue on household management by the ancient Greek polymath Xenophon, was translated into English in 1532 by Thomas Lupset as Treatise of Householde. It is even-handed in its own way. It is more 'honestie' for a woman to keep her house, and for the man to apply his mind to 'such thinges as muste be done abrode'. Women should not 'walke aboute', and men should not 'abyde sluggynge at home'. (Jack 136)


Jack, Belinda. The Woman Reader. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.

The image of Heinrich Bullinger came from Wikimedia Commons.

history, marriage

ChickWriting about "chick flicks," Imelda Whelehan has commented that their

postfeminist discourse is characterised as deploying what might be regarded as broadly "feminist" sentiments in order to justify certain behaviours or choices, but these sentiments have become severed from their political or philosophical origins. Postfeminism in popular culture displays a certain schizophrenia in the way women are often portrayed as enormously successful at work and simultaneously hopelessly anxious about their intimate relationships, over which they often have little control or for which they seek continuous self-improvement. The world of work is generally portrayed as allowing female success, but there are glimpses of sexism which present enough problems that women have to solve for themselves or in consultation with their close girlfriends; beauty, fashion and adornment remain highly prized as part of the arsenal of the high-achieving woman, so that postfeminism equates with excessive consumption, while at the same time expressing sentiments of empowerment and female capability. The things that make women miserable are often covertly laid at the door of feminism and can be summarised thus: "feminism gave women social equality, choices and freedoms, but those choices have emotional costs which individual women are constantly trying to resolve and balance." It is feminism, then, that is positioned as creating the most significant challenges for postmodern women, even though all that feminism did was to foreground the reality that the traditional feminine sphere of the home remains painfully exclusive from the world of work and almost entirely the domain of women. (156)

Romances, by contrast, tend to focus on women's success in the field of "intimate relationships," though they may also show heroines achieving success at work. The differences don't end there, however: while I certainly don't think that all romances are feminist, there are many that are and I discuss some of them in "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Century Harlequin Mills & Boon Romances" which was published today in the Journal of Popular Culture.

I found that a "focus on female sexuality and a woman’s right to experience sexual gratification is something that the Modern romances share with Second Wave feminism" (1066). Since they also acknowledge that even highly gratifying sex cannot, on its own, provide a firm basis for a long-term "intimate relationship," these novels explore what more is required in order to achieve a successful marriage and, much as

Second Wave feminists “critiqued marriage as yet another form of sexual slavery” (hooks 78–79) [...] In Modern romances the damaging consequences of unequal marriages in which the woman is treated as a commodity, providing sexual and reproductive services in exchange for her upkeep, may be shown through the stories of secondary characters. (1069)

The stories of the protagonists themselves, in the feminist romances of both the Modern and Romance lines, seem to offer the reader an alternative model for relationships of the sort outlined by bell hooks:

When we accept that true love is rooted in recognition and acceptance, that love combines acknowledgment, care, responsibility, commitment, and knowledge, we understand there can be no love without justice. With that awareness comes the understanding that love has the power to transform us, giving us the strength to oppose domination. To choose feminist politics, then, is a choice to love. (104)

According to Whelehan,

earlier, more positive accounts of the meanings of postfeminism have waned as more and more critics identify the seductions of the term as comforting us with the assurance that feminism‘s work is over. Postfeminism depends upon notions of feminism and feminist politics for its existence, but it often resorts to parody to diminish the historical importance of Second Wave feminism. (158)

However, although some of the feminist romances I looked at did reject some of the more radical aspects of second wave feminism, they did not do so in order to position feminism as the source of "the most significant challenges for postmodern women." Furthermore, although HM&B author Ally Blake has declared that some of them contain "post-feminist twentysomething heroines,"

in a personal communication she elaborated that she thinks of “feminists as the women who openly fought for women’s rights, and post-feminist [women] as those of us who believe in those rights and enjoy having them.” (Vivanco 1084-85)

What is clear is that this is not the postfemism present in the films described by Whelehan, in which "The constant return to the theme that full empowerment and heterosexual romance are incompatible has meant that under mature postfeminism men increasingly are being put under erasure" (169). On the contrary, in these romances empowerment (albeit not full empowerment, given that the protagonists still inhabit a world in which sexism has not been eradicated) and heterosexual romance are compatible.

One may still critique romances for the support they offer to "compulsory coupledom" but, unlike Whelehan, who observes tiredly that

For many of us in the business of offering feminist critiques of popular culture in the twenty-first century, it can seem like we‘re simply tilting at windmills. This article touches on those sensations of boredom and ennui which trouble a feminist cultural critic attempting to make sense of the postfeminist distractions of popular culture. (159)

I feel encouraged by the feminist romances I've read: they demonstrate "that romance writers and readers are themselves struggling with gender definitions and sexual politics on their own terms" (Radway 18).


Blake, Ally. "The Changing Face of Romance."

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge: South End, 2000.

Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. 1984. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991.

Vivanco, Laura. "Feminism and Early Twenty-First Century Harlequin Mills & Boon Romances." Journal of Popular Culture 45.5 (2012): 1060–1089.

Whelehan, Imelda. "Remaking Feminism: Or Why is Postfeminism so Boring?" Nordic Journal of English Studies 9.3 (2010): 155-172.


The image of the 3-week-old Polish Bantam chick was created by Charles M. Sauer, who made it available under a Creative Commons licence at Wikimedia Commons.

Mary observes of Tim, “It was almost as if he lived within her mind as an entity quite distinct from his real being” (73). When Danny kisses Amanda, “It was as though a missing piece of the puzzle was put back in place. He was a part of her” (71). Jesse remarks of Althea, “Truly, it was like she was inside him” (149), while Daniel lauds Jenny, “She was more than beside him: She was in him, the best part of his heart” (41). Ian Mackenzie likewise “dissolves” into Beth (217); when they kiss, his inner monologue expresses the desire “to pull her inside him, or himself inside her. If he could be part of her, everything would be all right. He would be well” (214). (133)

According to Emily M. Baldys these quotes are instances of an

oddly consistent metaphoric trope in which able-bodied characters are represented as incorporating disabled characters, literally and metaphorically taking disabled characters inside themselves. I contend that the trope of romantic incorporation is motivated by the threatening potential of disabled sexuality and used [...] to enact the bodily containment of threat. (133)

I'm not so sure. As Baldys admits, in the third example "Morsi’s phrasing places the able-bodied character inside the disabled character instead of the other way around" (133). More significantly, the "trope of romantic incorporation" is one I've seen frequently in novels in which both characters are able-bodied. Here's an example from Carol Arens' Renegade Most Wanted (2012):

If it had been possible for a woman's soul to flow out of her body and into a man, that's the way it would happen. If not for the constraints of the flesh, she would be right there, inside Matt's heart. (317)

A very short while later the "romantic incorporation" is reversed and made literal as "He slipped inside her" (318) and

he rocked against her womb. A wave crashed inside her. It washed pleasure from the point of their joining to her clenching fingers, then tumbled to the tips of her toes.

Maybe flesh was no barrier to souls after all.

Hadn't her wedding vows declared that the two shall become one flesh? (318-19)

I think passages describing "romantic incorporation" can perhaps be explained by extrapolating a little from some of the ideas Baldys outlined earlier in her essay.

Compulsory heterosexuality—the ideology that positions heterosexuality as a default, biologically derived identity and enforces its normalcy through pervasive cultural mechanisms—has been a common idiom in queer and feminist studies since 1980, when Adrienne Rich published her influential essay coining the term. More recently, scholars writing within disability studies have proposed an analogous conception to Rich’s formative idea. “Compulsory able-bodiedness” is an ideology that positions able-bodiedness as the default position and bolsters itself through cultural forms that represent ability as original, authentic, and normal. This concept, as theorized by Alison Kafer and Robert McRuer, posits a complex interrelationship between heterosexuality and able-bodiedness. Kafer explains that heterosexuality is threatened by disability’s associations with deviance, while able-bodiedness is threatened by the relationship of queerness to illness and medicalization (81–82). Thus, the two ideologies are “entwined” (in McRuer’s terminology) and “imbricated” (in Kafer’s) such that each is contingent on the other: the default heterosexual subject is necessarily able-bodied, and the default able-bodied subject is necessarily heterosexual. (127)

The "trope of romantic incorporation" seems to suggest that there is a third ideology entwined with the other two. Catherine Roach has observed that

To the ancient and perennial question of how to define and live the good life, how to achieve happiness and fulfillment, American pop culture’s resounding answer is through the narrative of romance, sex, and love. The happily-in-love, pair-bonded (generally, although increasingly not exclusively, heterosexual) couple is made into a near-mandatory norm by the media and popular culture, as this romance story is endlessly taught and replayed in a multiplicity of cultural sites.

Given that these narratives are "increasingly not exclusively [...] heterosexual," I think they cannot simply be described as a part of "compulsory heterosexuality." Rather, they perhaps indicate the existence of what one might term "compulsory coupledom" which often, but not always, complements "compulsory heterosexuality" and "compulsory able-bodiedness" and which should at times be analysed separately from them.

According to Bella M. DePaulo and Wendy L. Morris

A widespread form of bias has slipped under our cultural and academic radar. People who are single are targets of singlism: negative stereotypes and discrimination. Compared to married or coupled people, who are often described in very positive terms, singles are assumed to be immature, maladjusted, and self-centered. (251)

Given that romances always feature "individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work" who "are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love" (RWA), it would seem likely that romances could be seen as a "cultural mechanism" which helps to enforce "compulsory coupledom." Certainly Kyra Kramer and I observed a pattern in many romances in which becoming part of a couple completes/perfects the "Phallus" of the romance hero:

“Phallus” refers to the socio-political body which expresses aspects of masculinity associated with the Father, such as authority, the capacity to administer punishment, and the ability to love and care for those under his protection. If a full range of Phallic traits is evinced by a hero then his socio-political body is a Completed Phallus.

At the beginning of a romance novel, however, most heroes have Incomplete Phalluses. Such heroes tend to demonstrate authoritarian or aggressive aspects of Phallic masculinity, including “the threat of violence, the law-giving nature, the ownership of the world, a power vested in physical presence” (Cook 154), and few of the softer qualities, such as care-giving. In a romance in which the Incomplete Phallus displays many of the negative characteristics of men in patriarchal culture, the hero of the romance can also be “its villain, a potent symbol of all the obstacles life presents to women” (Phillips 57). [...]

The feminine equivalent of the Phallus is the socio-political body we shall term the Prism [...]. Even though a romance heroine’s Prism is initially incomplete, it nonetheless focuses her hero’s powers, enabling his Incomplete Phallus to fulfil its potential in a socially acceptable manner and become a Completed Phallus.

Becoming part of a couple also completes/perfects the heroine's Prism.

There are, of course, romances which do not follow this pattern and in any case I would not wish to suggest that all romances imply that the unpartnered are incomplete: the protagonists of romance are sometimes depicted in contexts which include happily-single secondary characters. Nonetheless, the extent to which such contexts can mitigate the focus on the achievement of a romantic relationship is limited because, by definition, a romance has to prioritise the depiction of the central couple (or occasionally threesome or more).

Baldys states that the "demands of compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory able-bodiedness" are "intertwined" (127); it appears they may also be intertwined with compulsory coupledom:

never-married men do run the risk of being labelled 'queers', 'fairies' or 'queens'.

In an analysis of Australian attitudes, Penman and Stolk (1983) found that single women were described as unfulfilled, incomplete, unattractive, and less happy than married women" (Callan and Noller 97, emphasis added)

The idea that single people are "incomplete" evidently has a long history, for Plato's Symposium contains a tale in which it is explained that "the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love" and that it came about because

the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.

These early humans attacked the gods and as a punishment Zeus declared that he would "cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers." According to this myth, all humans are incomplete, and when we fall in love it is because we seek to become whole once more. Obviously the story is not one which can be taken at all seriously but there is nonetheless a

tendency to refer to marriage as a union of two persons into oneness [which] often prompts married people to refer to their spouse as their "other half" or "better half". Unfortunately, it gives rise to the idea that an unmarried person must be fractured, being only half of a whole.

Therefore, the implication is that we must go about looking for another person to provide completion to our being. In other words, a person who is unmarried is incomplete as a person and has less than a full existence than a married person has. (Yeo 11-12)

In romance novels, the formation of a couple sometimes accompanies the curing of disabilities. Baldys notes that

One strain of ableist fantasy suggests that cognitive disability can be “overcome” in one way or another through the extraordinary power of heterosexual relationships. Simi Linton identifies such an “overcoming rhetoric” as one of the clichés that structure dominant meanings and response patterns assigned to disability. “The idea that someone can overcome a disability,” she writes, implies “personal triumph over a personal condition.” Linton argues that this idea is not a concept native to the disability community, but rather “a wish fulfillment generated from the outside” (165). This wish-fulfilling fantasy, in romance novels, finds expression in a process of narrative rehabilitation through which the effects of disability are represented as mitigated or overcome by the characters’ blossoming love. (Baldys 134)

Although I've not read the novel Baldys gives as an example of "the most extreme (and credulity-straining) measures to rehabilitate disability" (134), I've come across a number of romances in which blind protagonists regain their sight as well as novels in which previously infertile protagonists become pregnant or father children. Deborah Chappel has observed the transformations which occur in LaVyrle Spencer's novels and argues that

the changes in Spencer's protagonists (regularization of speech, dimming of freckles, development of healthy-looking bodies) are sometimes so pronounced that it seems inner, emotional reality has the power to improve the material world. Love, and the hope love engenders, operate as forces in the world. [...] Thus, in The Gamble Agatha's limp becomes less and less pronounced and she is able to achieve the three seemingly impossible wishes she expressed in the opening chapters: she can dance, swim, and ride a horse. (110)

Baldys believes that the depictions of disability in romances differ "from depictions in canonical literature, where disability has traditionally functioned as a 'cipher of metaphysical or divine significance' (Quayson 17)" (138) but I'm not so sure that this is the case. As Catherine Roach has observed, "The story of romance is the most powerful narrative in Western art and culture, sharing roots with Christianity and functioning as a mythic story about the meaning and purpose of life, particularly in regards to the HEA ending of redemption and wholeness."

Perhaps in romances the curing of protagonists' disabilities, which takes to a new and literal level the metaphorical use of words suggesting that love makes a person whole/completes them, serves as a kind of secular miracle bearing witness to the power of love (and compulsory coupledom, compulsory heterosexuality and compusory able-bodiedness)  by implying that when a man is united to his wife, not only are they "no more twain, but one flesh" (Matthew 19; 6) but that sometimes, in addition, "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk" (Matthew 11:5).


Arens, Carol. Renegade Most Wanted. Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon, 2012.

Baldys, Emily M. "Disabled Sexuality, Incorporated: The Compulsions of Popular Romance." Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 6.2 (2012), 125–141.

Callan, Victor J. and Patricia Noller. Marriage and the Family. North Ryde, NSW: Methuen, 1987.

Chappel, Deborah K. "LaVyrle Spencer and the Anti-Essentialist Argument." Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997), 107-120.

DePaulo, Bella M. and Wendy L. Morris. "The Unrecognized Stereotyping and Discrimination against Singles." Current Directions in Psychological Science 15.5 (2006), 251-254.

Plato. Symposium. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive.

Roach, Catherine. "Getting a Good Man to Love: Popular Romance Fiction and the Problem of Patriarchy." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

RWA. "About the Romance Genre."

Vivanco, Laura, and Kyra Kramer. “There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre”, Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

Yeo, Anthony. Partners in Life: Your Guide to Lasting Marriage. Singapore: Armour, 1999.


The image of a dovetail joint comes via Flickr where it was made available under a Creative Commons licence by Jordanhill School D&T Dept.

At one stage in Rose Lerner's In for a Penny (2010) the recently-married hero exclaims that

Living with someone, being married to her – that’s work [...]. It’s trying to be what she needs even if it doesn’t come naturally, and struggling to understand her, and working together to make a life! It’s accepting that sometimes things aren’t perfect. (236)

The recognition that long-term relationships require work is, according to Sarah Wendell, "the number one lesson [to be learned] from romance novels" (181) because in her opinion:

courtship, the process of charming someone and demonstrating in word, thought, and action how much you care about them, does not end with the declaration of love or the commitment between you.

Courtship becomes part of relationship maintenance, but "maintenance" itself is a horribly unsexy word.  [...] "Routine care and maintenance" are among the most unsexy and uninspiring words. Oil changes, annual physicals, and food and water do not always inspire passion or the remote possibility of poetry. [...] It's better to think of the care and feeding of your relationships as "courtship" only without the pesky insecurity of not knowing if the person feels the same way about you. (181-82)

According to Kristin Celello, viewing marriage as a relationship which requires work is actually a fairly recent development in the institution's history:

The pairing of "marriage" and "work" is so pervasive and reflexive that it is difficult to imagine a time in which this was not a guiding maxim of American unions. Before the twentieth century, however, Americans did not work on their marital relationships. Rather, the "marriage as work" formula became popular in response to specific changes in marriage patterns, most notably the growing incidence of divorce in the white middle class. Furthermore, what it meant to work at your marriage, as well as the question of who performed this work, was by no means static, and, indeed, frequently contested.  (1-2)

Christine B. Whelan has summarised part of Celello's argument like this:

As 19th century ideas of marriage as duty faded, friendship, romance and personal fulfillment became more salient features of a successful 20th-century relationship. At the same time, divorce rates rose to 6.6 per 1000 women in the early 1920s. Celello argues that it is necessary to understand the 20th-century cultural panic over divorce to properly understand the new willingness to consume marital advice. To educate couples on the modern, companionate marriage—and quell the rising tide of divorce—a diverse group of experts began writing for popular press outlets offering advice for how to improve marriages and create lasting relationships.

From the beginning, whether from university professors or magazine columnists, marital advice was primarily geared toward women. Experts assumed that women had a greater vested interest in marriage, both emotionally and financially, and held them accountable for the success or failure of the relationship. Colleges and universities held marriage preparation courses throughout the 1920s and 1930s which stressed the scientific complexities of the role of "wife" in an attempt to appeal to the modern young women who, some feared, might eschew marriage and childrearing responsibilities for a career. The idea was to convince young women that marital work was a necessary and noble goal – and that working on marriage would yield benefits not attainable through divorce. (937)


Celello, Kristin. Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2009.

Lerner, Rose. In for a Penny. New York: Dorchester, 2010.

Wendell, Sarah. Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2011.

Whelan, Christine B. "Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States (review)." Journal of Social History 44.3 (2011): 937-39.

history, marriage
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