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Sleepless Masculinity

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 23 December, 2014

Wakefulness as a measure of masculinity is a facet of the history of gender in America that has received no attention at all. Recent gender studies have pursued many facets of male experience and identity, often fixing on dramatic expressions such as extreme muscularity and myriad forms of aggression. But mundane manly stamina, as displayed by persevering through long days or nights on the job, has thus far gained little notice. Fulfilling the familiar male breadwinner role entailed a daily dedication to struggle to maintain consciousness as a basic test of strength. For many American men, winning bread meant losing sleep. (Derickson x)

Now that I think about it, I'm fairly sure that one can find sleeplessness as a marker of masculinity in romance novels too because I have a feeling there are quite a lot of heroes who sleep relatively little. I'll certainly be trying to spot examples in the future. What about Edward, in Twilight, who famously spends a lot of time watching Bella sleep? Of course, he's an immortal vampire. For mortals, as Derickson notes,

Although not as self-evident as the link between somnolence and accidents, the role of sleep loss in producing chronic disease has been established by researchers for numerous disorders. These include ulcers and other gastrointestinal ailments, depression and other psychiatric conditions, heart attacks and other forms of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes and other metabolic disturbances. Some evidence links short sleep to elevated rates of cancer. (xii)

Romance novels can reflect concerns about overwork/lack of sleep too: there are heroines who're concerned about heroes who seem tired and overworked.

I can also recall scenes in which a heroine thinks that her hero looks touchingly vulnerable and boyish when he's asleep. Those scenes would seem to affirm the association between sleeplessness and masculinity, but in a way which perhaps suggests that where there is love, there is no need for constant masculine vigilance. I'm reminded of the story of Samson:

One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.”

But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels[a] of silver.”  [...]

she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.

So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. (Judges 16, NIV)

Samson and Delilah

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014.

Image of "Samson and Dalila" by Francesco Morone via Wikimedia Commons.

Nature or Nurture?

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 7 December, 2014

I'm too busy repeating "it was written in 1953" from between gritted teeth to write anything very insightful about Margaret Malcolm's Cherish This Wayward Heart but here's the blurb, from a 1983 Harlequin reprint:

All her life Judith had tried to make up for not being the son her father had wanted. She was determined to be as good as any man.

Now, with her father's death, Windygates Farm was hers. And right from the start she resented the new estate manager, Charles Saxilby.

But, in the ensuing battle of wills between them, Charles taught Judith to be a woman!

Obviously, this heroine is doomed to fail: there is no way she can run a farm as well as a man could because

Men and women were different. Had and ought to have a different outlook on life so that each was not the same as the other but complementary. Right from the beginning it had been been impossible for her to take the place of the son that her father had wanted so fervently, and she should never have been allowed to try. Life had always been frustrating because she had attempted to live it in a way that was foreign to a woman's nature, only she had been too stubborn to see that or admit it if she had.

And that, of all reasons, was the real one why she had hated Charles. He, with the normal man's approach, had taken it for granted that she would rely on him - that she would need to, just because he was a man and she a woman. And he had compelled her to admit it to herself, if no one else. He had always been there when she needed help - and she had needed it. (553-554)

The novel teaches that a woman simply can't do a man's job, because men and women are different and are therefore naturally best suited to different jobs. It's interesting, though, that the blurb says Judith needs to be "taught [...] to be a woman" because Simone de Beauvoir has argued that

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." By this, Beauvoir means to destroy the essentialism which claims that women are born "feminine" (according to whatever the culture and time define it to be) but are rather constructed to be such through social indoctrination. (Mussett)

I doubt that's quite what the blurb writer had in mind, though. Personally, I think Beauvoir was correct, and I'd suggest that Cherish This Wayward Heart provides evidence that romance novels can, on occasion, help with "social indoctrination."

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Malcolm, Margaret. Cherish This Wayward Heart. In The third anthology of 3 Harlequin Romances by Margaret Malcolm. Toronto: Harlequin, 1983. 385-574.

Mussett, Shannon. "Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

An untamed North African Elephant Shrew, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Tip on Writing Romance Heroes

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 30 October, 2014

One of the sections in Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance stresses the importance of

Vulnerability

Perfection isn't totally appealing. It can be scary. It can be unbelievable. It can seem inhuman. It can be just too much. [...]

Why especially for the hero?

So why is that vulnerability so vital - especially in a hero? As I've said, the alpha male is strong, powerful, forceful, dynamic and successful  [...]. But at heart he's just a human being. (109)

One of Sally Wentworth's heroines throws a bit more light on the topic:

she would probably never have fallen in love with him if she hadn't seen his bad leg and realised his vulnerability. Before she had been half afraid of him; he was so different from herself that he might almost have come from another world, not only of class and background, but of confidence and experience; he was a man in every sense of the word [...]. But the fact that he was vulnerable to pain, to frustration, to life, had brought him down to a level where she could fall head over heels in love with him. (146)

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Walker, Kate. Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Abergele: Studymates, 2008.

Wentworth, Sally. Man for Hire. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1982.

The illustration is of Achilles, from The World's Famous Orations, Vol. 1 (via Wikimedia Commons).

They voted no

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 19 September, 2014

Scotland has voted "no" to independence and I agree with Euan Bennet that this seems a likely outlook:

  • No new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Or worse, the Labour proposals for further devolution are brought in, featuring no new powers, but new responsibilities without the means to fund them.
  • A Tory Government or a Labour Government at Westminster come 2015. Both have pledged that they will continue planned public spending cuts, austerity measures, punitive welfare reform, and confrontational foreign and immigration policy. Add UKIP to a coalition with the Tories for extra racism, sexism, and every other ‘-ism’ in your worst-case scenario!
  • An EU exit following the proposed referendum in 2017.
  • The TTIP opens up the NHS in Scotland to marketisation just like it already is in England.
  • 100,000 more children in poverty by 2020.
  • Another banking crash fuelled by the housing bubble that economic policy is currently reinflating.
  • More austerity, forever.
  • BUT enough money to build a new generation of nuclear weapons stored 30 miles from our biggest city.
  • Scotland’s renewable energy potential left to one side while fracking poisons our soil and water.

That so many people have voted for this has fundamentally affected how I feel about participation with other people, both on and offline. I'm putting this blog on hiatus and only expect to update it if I publish any new work (and I'm considering cutting down on that too).

Stereotypes Dogging Scotland

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 9 September, 2014

Euan Hague sent me his latest article on Scotland, in which he notes that in romance novels set in Scotland (but written by US authors)

the idea of Scottish adversity, typically in relation to England, produces an 'underdog' theme which researcher Jody Allen [...] finds appealing: 'Scotland as the underdog, always fighting back, still today with the "yes" vote campaign for independence.' The idea of fighting against a superior political power resonates with US readers reminded every Fourth of July about their nation's struggle for independence. A reader of romances who posted on Word Wenches (2013) concurs: 'I think we like to read about the "underdogs. Scotland is loaded with "underdogs" in history ... I read a lot of English-set novels - but for them I am usually reading for the heroine, who is the underdog. When I'm reading a Scottish one, the hero is just as important because usually he's as much of an underdog - the stakes are greater! Freedom for your entire country - a huge stake!' (188)

These novels are not, however, necessarily ideal entry points to understanding either modern Scotland or its independence referendum. The kind of Scotland to be found in US romance novels can generally be described as

Tartanry, replete with kilt-wearing, sword-wielding, bagpipe-playing Highlanders wandering across treeless mountains and along scenic lochsides among the purple flowers of heather and thistles, remains the dominant representation of Scotland internationally. (173)

and

key themes include genealogy, family and heredity, which raise associated plot lines of the legitimacy of heirs and competing claims to land, power and leadership positions in both clans and royal families. Brooding, passionate, feisty Scots are often drawn in contrast to more prosaic English or American protagonists. (176)

It would be very wrong, for instance, to assume that those campaigning for Scottish independence are motivated primarily by "genealogy, family and heredity":

In Scotland, both the devolutionists of the Constitutional Convention and the independence-minded SNP (which stood outside the Convention) have proclaimed a non-ethnic, inclusive, ‘civic’ concept of nationalism.(SA 29:138) Ethnic nationalism ‘is in essence exclusive’, stressing the ethnic group and common descent. Civic nationalism ‘is inclusive in the sense that anyone can adopt the culture and join the nation’. (Kellas p.65) (Miller and Hussain 1)

 

As for being an underdog, well

Dr Nasar Meer, an Edinburgh-based social sciences academic at the University of Strathclyde who has studied the support for independence among minorities, agreed that minorities "identify with the narrative" of Scotland.

"They understand what it feels like to be oppressed, and that's the Scottish version of their history too," he said. "Though, of course, it's not necessarily true that Scots have always been oppressed. Scots ran the British Empire, practically. The Indian military has a Scottish tartan in its formal regalia." (Elgot)

If that sounds like a bit of a paradox, try this, from Professor Tom Devine:

the Scottish people seem to be wedded to a social democratic agenda and the kind of political values which sustained and were embedded in the welfare state of the 1950s. In fact, you could argue that it is the Scots who have tried to preserve the idea of Britishness in terms of state support and intervention, and that it is England that has chosen to go on a separate journey since the 1980s.

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Devine, Tom. "Tom Devine: why I now say yes to Independence for Scotland." Bella Caledonia, 22 August 2014.

Elgot, Jessica. "Why Are So Many Scots From Ethnic Minorities Voting Yes?" Huffington Post, 14 June 2014.

Hague, Euan. “Mass Market Romance Fiction and the Representation of Scotland in the United States.” The Modern Scottish Diaspora: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives. Ed. Murray Stewart Leith and Duncan Sim. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2014. 171-190.

Miller, William L. and Asifa M. Hussain. "Devolution, Nationalism and Ethnic Minorities: The Civility of Civic Nationalism."

 

The image of the Scotch Terrier came from Wikimedia Commons and was created by Pearson Scott Foresman.

A Sermon on the Scottish Independence Referendum

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 31 August, 2014

I've written in a somewhat comical vein about the referendum in the past. It's not because I take the subject lightly, though. This week I'm choosing a rather more serious template for my post because I was filled with righteous indignation by Alistair Darling's attitude in the second televised debate between him and Alex Salmond. In his summing up, Darling stated that "any country's starting point is currency, money." Let that sink in. It's not the people of the country, the communities they build, the respect and love they show one another, or the talents and skills they have. No, for Alistair Darling it apparently all starts with money. And that's what the No campaign's been about: money.

Since this is supposed to be a sermon, can I just point out that

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

The No campaign's been focussed on Mammon: its priority seems to be to frighten people that they'd lose the pound, and make older people fear for their pensions. So, let's clear those things up:

Last Sunday, over 30 ordained ministers of the Church of Scotland declared "We believe that a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum makes possible a more socially just Scotland" and they quoted Matthew 23:45

Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.

The Yes campaign have been saying quite a lot about social justice and about the need to end inequality. These are pressing issues because

Recently released research has revealed increasing levels of poverty in Scotland. Over the last year a further 110,000 people fell below the poverty line, under which affording the basic essentials of life is often a struggle. The fact that women, men and children are turning to food banks to get enough to eat is just one sign that the system isn't working.

In a wealthy country like Scotland, it's scandalous that some 820,000 people now live in poverty, including 180,000 children.

But alongside increasing poverty, there's another major issue: inequality.

Across the UK the five richest families own the same as the poorest 20% of the population put together. Here in Scotland, the richest 10% of households have 900 times more wealth than the poorest 10%.

And yet, figures from the Trussell Trust in Scotland show the amount of food aid distributed has risen sharply, with over 71,000 people using their food banks last year - a five-fold increase over the previous 12 months. (Oxfam)

The Yes campaign isn't promising that independence will transform Scotland into a utopia, but it is confident that after independence

we’ll be able to vote for policies such as the following:

  • abolishing the “Bedroom Tax” cut to housing benefit and increasing support for carers
  • introducing a “triple lock” on pensions and ensuring tax credits and benefits rise with living costs
  • transforming provision of childcare to help tackle gender inequalities
  • ensuring the minimum wage rises at least in line with living costs
  • an industrial strategy to revive Scotland’s manufacturing sector, creating good quality jobs
  • a tax on bankers’ bonuses, an end to tax cuts for hedge funds and the reintroduction of the 50p top rate of tax.
  • promoting and incentivising companies to pay the living wage and wage ratios, and support for collective bargaining to boost wages. (Yes Scotland)

Internationally, a Yes vote could also be a force for good. The Yes campaign is committed to removing the UK's Trident nuclear submarines from the Clyde and Scottish CND is therefore of the opinion that "The independence referendum provides a great opportunity not just to remove Trident from Scotland, but to achieve nuclear disarmament in Britain" (Yes Scotland). The Churches' position on this would seem to be clear:

“We believe that nuclear weapons are inherently evil .” (General Assembly of the Church of Scotland May 2009)

“This point of view, that nuclear weapons have any place in a civilized society, is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 2007)

“ All people of faith are needed in our day to expose the fallacies of nuclear doctrine. These hold for example that there is a role in the human affairs of this small planet for a bomb more powerful than all the weapons ever used. We are bound to confront these follies before it is too late”. (World Council of Churches 2006) (Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland)

Scottish Independence Referendum: The Musical

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 25 August, 2014

Tonight sees the second debate between Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Alistair Darling, the head of the "Better Together" campaign. In the first debate

Alistair Darling pressed Alex Salmond repeatedly about which currency he would use if the rest of the UK refused to enter a currency union.

For his part, Alex Salmond urged Mr Darling to accept that Scotland could be a prosperous independent country. Again and again he asked him to say if he agreed. (BBC)

The fact is, though, that a Fiscal Commission outlined various currency options many months ago.  So if I were writing a musical about the referendum, I'd give myself a little bit of poetic license and adapt the folk song about a soldier who implies he'll consider marriage, if his demands are met, only to turn around at the end and say he's already got a wife:

"O Darling, Darling, will you not agree,
we'd be a "successful independent country"?"
"Oh, no, Salmond, I really can't agree,
For I have no currency clarity."

Then off Salmond went to his Fiscal Commission,
And brought back a report from the very, very best:
He brought back a report from the very, very best,
And the Darling took a look.

 

"O Darling, Darling, will you not agree,
we'd be a "successful independent country"?"
Ah, no! Salmond, I really can't agree,
For you have no currency Plan B."

Then back Salmond went to his Fiscal Commission,
And brought him Annex A of the many, many options:
He brought him Annex A of the many, many options,
And the Darling took a look.

 

"Now, Darling, Darling, will you not agree,
we'd be a "successful independent country"?"
"Ah, no! Salmond, I really can't agree,
For I've a Project Fear I can't disown!"

Yes, yes, yes!

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 6 August, 2014

So, having tried my hand at writing fiction about the Scottish referendum last week, I thought I'd move quickly on to graphic design.

I thought this would be ideal if there were a "Romance Readers for Yes" group

On second thoughts, if a Romance Readers for Yes group existed and we used this on our T-shirts, we'd probably get hassled by people wanting to know which currency we'd be accepting.

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Of course, I had to borrow all the elements because I'm not much good at drawing. And then I needed a bit of help with resizing and positioning the various elements, but at least I cropped them myself!

The woman came from the cover of a 1949 comic. The "Yes"es were provided by Yes Scotland.

Once Upon a Referendum

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 29 July, 2014

magical realism provides a perfect means for children to explore the world through their imaginations without losing a connection to what they recognize as the 'real world'. (Bowers 100)

YessieIt can be quite helpful for, and popular with, adults, too. So, with a bit of help from Diana Wynne Jones's The Dark Lord of Derkholm, let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, there was heather and tartan, plenty of ancient castles and a loch inhabited by a very strange monster. The inhabitants lived on a diet of oatcakes, shortbread and haggis and the water of life flowed plentifully. From below its seas could be extracted a substance which, although

it doesn't endure very long in the world it goes to [...] does marvels while it does last, of course. [...] they [...] use it to run all their machines, but they have to keep getting more" (438).

Despite it's usefulness, however, there were those who insisted it was not worth much: "It's just earth" (438). And all was not well in the land, for fear stalked the kingdom.

Admittedly those spreading the frightening rumours were not able to order that Edinburgh castle be transformed into a "Dark Lord's Citadel [...] with a labyrinthine interior lit by baleful fires" (Jones 47) but they could warn all the inhabitants that if they made the wrong choices, the “forces of darkness” would gather strength, with "cataclysmic" consequences (Scotsman). They couldn't insist that "one of your gods must manifest at least once to every party" (Jones 48) of tourists: instead they rustled up a wide range of celebrities (and some heads of state).

A rather motley band, including some griffin-like creatures who flew overhead, spreading their wings over Scotland, remained undaunted even when told that if they persisted they might be "fined [...] a sum not exceeding one hundred gold coins" (Jones 49) or, rather, £2.7 billion.

Did they all live happily ever after? I don't know. Maybe they'll ask

"[...] to be able to rule their own affairs. [...] We give the wizard Querida the task of making this world into its own place."

"But," Querida whispered, "won't that take ages?" [...]

"At least another forty years [...] And, as the Oracles warned you, [...] it will not be easy. Slaves have to learn freedom [...]." (Jones 504)

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Bowers, Maggie Ann. Magic(al) Realism. 2004. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2005.

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Dark Lord of Derkholm. 1998. London: Harper Collins, 2013.

 

Yessie (a relative of Nessie) was created by Stewart Bremner and prints of the poster are available for purchase. The lion with wings is the logo of "Wings Over Scotland." I don't know who created the "Will it be easy? Nope. Worth it? Absolutely" poster.

Conventional Criticisms of the Happy Ending

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 July, 2014

Given how often criticisms of romance are interpreted as being, at their core, the result of the denigration of a genre associated with women, I was intrigued to discover that many of the negative responses to popular romance can also be found in the critical work on Hollywood movies. The common factor would seem to be happy endings, which are, apparently, commonly supposed by critics to be "a ubiquitous feature of Hollywood cinema" (MacDowell 1).

Here are some of the critiques made of Hollywood movies which sound rather familiar:

  • "Probably the second most common scholarly assumption about the ‘happy ending’ is that it is inherently ideologically conservative" (3).
  • Some critics have resorted to "Freudian psychoanalysis" (4) to understand their appeal.
  • "narrative ‘closure’ is in itself ideologically suspect – a view rehearsed many times in both literary and film scholarship since at least the 1960s" (4).
  • "the ‘happy ending’ is in some sense ‘unrealistic’" (15)

All these quotes are from the introduction to James MacDowell's Happy Endings in Hollywood Cinema and I think I may have to get hold of the rest of his book because he aimed

to broaden our conception of what ‘happy endings’ clearly have the potential to do, and to explore some of the implications of that potential. While I do not in the least intend to imply that ‘happy endings’ never function in the ways they have so frequently been assumed to function, I am nevertheless keen to convince the reader that, at the very least, there is little in the convention that ensures they must always do so. Demonstrating this is the necessary first step towards a much-needed reconsideration of this most famous and maligned of conventions. (15)

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MacDowell, James. Happy Endings in Hollywood Cinema: Cliché, Convention and the Final Couple. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2013. [Introduction available in full here.]