Review/Summary (8 - Jude Elund): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Focusing on the representation of lesbianism in mainstream erotic fiction, the essay principally investigates the idea of experimenting with one's sexual orientation as an aspect of the cultural shift toward embracing sex practices that depart from the norm. In mainstream erotic fiction, I will suggest, female-female sexuality is primarily represented in the context of, indeed, as an element of, heterosexual, white, middle-class fantasy. [...] One particular novel, Till Human Voices Wake Us by Patti Davis, serves as a key text for analysis. A self-published novel about an upper-class American woman who falls in love with her sister-in-law after the death of her child, Till Human Voices Wake Us appears to have little claim to either "literary" or "erotic" merit and would probably be completely unknown except for the fact that Davis happens to be the daughter of Ronald Reagan. However, an analysis of this novel and its discursive context will provide some insight into the uncertain position of same-sex desire in relation to mainstream women's erotic fiction. (150)

Elund argues that in Davis's novel affluence is key to permitting the protagonists

to live a life outside of the normative. This is neo-liberal ideology at work and is a key driver to how we, as a society, understand and engage with difference: if the market allows it then it must be at least somewhat legitimate and/or permissible. [...] Sexual and gender diversity are marketable; they illustrate an apparent social consciousness while striving for an edginess that conservative hetero-culture cannot embody. Naomi Klein argues that these representations have become a strong selling point for marketers, whereby marketing has "seized upon multiculturalism and gender-bending in the same ways that it has seized upon youth culture in general - not just as a market niche but as a source of new carnivalesque imagery" [...]. This means, for example, that homosexuality and sexual fluidity become more visible and socially accepted, but only a certain sanitized version of homosexuality and/or sexual fluidity that is suitable for the mainstream market. (158)

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Elund, Jude. "Permissible Transgressions: Feminized Same-Sex Practice as Middle-Class Fantasy". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 150-66.