cover art-art

Laura, Laura Quite Contrary

My academic garden/field has just thrown up a new bloom in the shape of an article by An Goris which is available, in its entirety, online at Belphégor. An focuses

on three standard elements of the category romance’s paratexts : the front cover iconography, the line template in the design of the category romance’s material packaging and the preview scene that is routinely printed on the first page of a category romance novel.

An's a member of IASPR and helped edit various issues of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies so she knows the field of popular romance studies well. Indeed, I'm sure she's met far more of the people working in this field than I have but, all the same, I'm not entirely convinced she's right about her romance-scholar-colleagues' attitudes towards romance cover art and so I started to feel a bit contrary early on in her article:

the popular romance genre is largely ignored by academics, who deem books that are supposedly all the same unworthy of their critical attention. Somewhat surprisingly, a similar mechanism plays out within the developing field of popular romance studies with regard to the genre’s materiality. Underlying this disregard is, I believe, the tacit assumption that the romance novel’s materiality, which even more than other aspects of the genre is imbued with stereotypes and conventions, is a relatively simplistic and straightforward aspect of the genre that is free of the interpretative complexities romance scholars now regularly (and, notably, against the cultural grain) uncover in the genre’s texts.

Speaking purely for myself, if I've avoided analysing romance covers at length (though I have taken brief looks at them from time to time here and at TMT) it's because I know I don't have the academic training required to analyse visual rather than written works. It should no more be taken as an indication that the cover art is "simplistic and straightforward" than my tendency to ignore rom-coms should be assumed to imply a lack of respect for their actors and directors.

I'd also have to query her statements about the conclusions to be drawn from the visual similarity of category romances which results from their branding by "line". According to An

the public tends to connote the extensive visual and material similarity of the line template in a rather negative way (category romances are generally considered inferior forms of literature because they are – or at least materially appear to be – so similar)

However, wasn't the iconic Penguin paperback design doing something very similar? 

According to Stacey Sheppard:

In the early days [of Penguin], [Allen] Lane insisted that all books followed a rigorous application of colour, grid and typography. Each genre was allocated its own colour: orange for fiction, green for crime and blue for biography. This commitment to design was further strengthened under the direction of German typographer Jan Tschichold in the 1940s.

He designed a template to be used for all Penguin books with designated positions for the title and author’s name with a line between the two. He also unified the design of the front, the back and the spine and redrew the Penguin symbol in eight different variations. This strict design ethos ensured that the same style was always applied.

So perhaps it's not the branding which causes members of the public to make assumptions about Mills & Boons/Harlequins, but their pre-existing beliefs about HM&B books which cause them to interpret HM&B's "strict design ethos" in a very different way from Penguin's or, indeed Virago's?

(photo from Paperback Reader's blog).

 

BowringI also noticed that although An is focussed on the cover art of category romances, she doesn't mention Joanna Bowring and Margaret O'Brien's The Art of Romance: Mills & Boon and Harlequin Cover Designs (2008). Admittedly Bowring and O'Brien's book doesn't provide rigorous academic analysis:

Part of a centenary celebration, this collection of some two hundred Mills & Boon covers offers a fascinating visual record of how our perceptions of romance, love, and drama have evolved over the years. With titles such as Romance Goes Tenting, Egyptian Honeymoon, and Beware the Beast, these novels' contents have changed dramatically as women defined their roles in the 1920s and 1930s; searched for heroes during World War II; strove for careers in the 1950s; engaged in free love in the 1960s; yearned for sexual emancipation in the 1970s and 1980s; and ultimately learned a lot about self-reliance while waiting for Prince Charming to show up.

These social transformations are reflected in the covers, chronologically arranged as full-color plates. An introduction charts the changing themes of the novels and explores the reasons behind the enduring popularity of the romance novel.

However, I did enjoy looking at all the covers and with over 200 "full-color plates" it would presumably make a good resource for someone interested in the genre's "materiality".

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Goris, An, 2015. "Hidden Codes of Love : The Materiality of the Category Romance Novel." Belphégor.

Sheppard, Stacey, 2011. "Judging a Book by its Cover." We Make Magazines.

laura Monday, 13 July, 2015
Circle Time!

When I come across articles I can't read in full, I'm tempted to speculate. That's what happened when I came across Sara Petersson and Daniel Söderberg's study about shapes and different types of genre fiction. It's available in full online but unfortunately I don't understand Swedish. Tantalisingly, I was able to read the abstract:

This study aims to explore whether there are any connections between geometric shapes and popular literary genres and, if so, how they are justified. The geometric shapes included in the study are circle, square, rhombus and two types of triangles (one peaking upwards and one peaking downwards), while the included popular literary genres are romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and horror. [...] It emerged that not all genres had substantiated connections to a geometric shape, but that there were two distinct, positive results. One of them was the distinct connection between the circle and romance and the other one was an equally distinct connection between the two triangles and the genre science fiction. The connection between the circle and romance was justified with the circle’s perceived softness, positivity and warmth and its symbolic eternal value. The connection between the triangles and science fiction was explained with how the triangles were perceived as hard, cold and metallic together with the respondents’ cultural references to triangles in science fiction.

I immediately wondered whether the associations of these shapes had in fact been formed by publisher and other logos, or whether those logos (and book covers in general) had been shaped by the perceptions of these shapes outlined by Petersson and Söderberg.

Here are a few triangles in science fiction:

Ace BooksAce Books StarfleetStarfleet Tor BooksTor Books BaenBaen

Tor and Baen are combining circles and triangles, but I thought the triangles were more dominant visually (the Tor logo is dominated by the bulk of the triangle and in the Baen logo the circle's being pierced by the triangular spaceship).

And what about romance? Well, Harlequin's logo features a rhombus so that doesn't fit either my theory or theirs but the covers of Harlequin Presents, which I think is their best-selling series, certainly do feature circles and, on occasion, they've taken the form of an engagement ring (which makes one association between circles and romance very clear):

Harlequin PresentsHarlequin Presents

 

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Petersson, Sara and Daniel Söderberg. En berättelse tar form - en studie i hur geometrisk form på bokomslag indikerar populärlitterär genre. Linköping University, 2014.

laura Tuesday, 15 July, 2014

Covering the Modern Popular Romance's Ancestors

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 8 June, 2014

Sunita made me aware of a 1978 article by John G Cawelti, author of Adventure, Mystery and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (1976). In it, Cawelti states that "the romance tradition originated in the 18th century with writers like Samuel Richardson" (104) and thus

Contemporary portrayers of the tender passions can trace their craft back in an unbroken line to at least the middle of the 18th century. By contrast, the Western did not begin until James Fenimore Cooper's first "Leatherstocking" novel in 1823, while there was nothing that could really be called a detective story until Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin tales of the 1840s. Science-fiction enthusiasts claim an ancestry going back to ancient times, but the earliest fantasy with most of the characteristics of modern SF was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein of 1818. The spy thriller is of even more recent origin, emerging around World War I. (103)

He adds that "Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice [...] (1813) is one of the archetypal models for romance fiction" (106) and to illustrate his point (literally) there's this:

Even in the original the pictures are fairly small and not very clear but they do enable a reader to see how, in the 1970s, the cover art for at least one edition of Pride and Prejudice could, as Cawelti says, be taken as an indication that it and the Harlequin romance "spring from a common romance tradition."

[Edited to add: I haven't been able to work out when that edition of Pride and Prejudice was published. Has anyone seen it before? ]

[Edited to add some more: Since Cartland's been mentioned in the comments, here's the cover chosen for her "Library of Love" reprint (I think from 1977) of E. M. Hull's The Sheik (originally published in 1919).

 

 

 

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Cawelti, John. "Romance: The Once and Future Queen." The Wilson Quarterly 2.3 (1978): 102-109.

Persistent Concerns: Disability, Race, Sex

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 2 February, 2013

Since the concern of commercial media is to exploit as wide an audience as possible, their repertoire of genres in any period tends to be broad and various, covering a wide (though not all-inclusive) range of themes, subjects, and public concerns. Within the structured marketplace of myths, the continuity and persistence of particular genres may be seen as keys to identifying the culture's deepest and most persistent concerns. (Slotkin 8)

Some fictions make their views of these concerns rather more explicit than others. Thomas Dixon Jr.'s The Leopard's Spots (1902) and The Clansman (1904) are extreme examples. In the former

Dixon sought, in part, to correct what he perceived as gross misrepresentations of the South in literary works, primarily in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which even fifty years after its publication was still widely read. In his fictional portrayal of the beginning of the Klan, Dixon argues the group began as a defensive organization—to protect white womanhood from black male sexual aggression and to protect government from corruption. Dixon seamlessly weaves his racist rhetoric into sentimental love plots, priming readers to feel sympathy for white supremacist leaders.  ("Controversial")

One of these is

Dixon's hero, Gaston [...]. Although Gaston's cause is originally southern, [...] Gaston's revenge produces a movement that finally awakens northerners to the Black menace: "You cannot build in a Democracy a nation inside a nation of two antagonistic races. The future American must be an Anglo-Saxon or a Mulatto." (Slotkin 187)

It seems a particularly gratifying context in which to recall the identity of the current president of the US, and to remember that

Children from racial and ethnic minorities now account for more than half the births in the US, according to estimates of the latest US census data.

Black, Hispanic, Asian and mixed-race births made up 50.4% of new arrivals in the year ending in July 2011.

It puts non-Hispanic white births in the minority for the first time. (BBC)

I'm certain these facts would not please Dixon. What I want to highlight here, though, is the fact that Dixon used "sentimental love plots" to express his beliefs. This is true not just of The Leopard's Spots but also of The Clansman, in which:

The southern male hero is more virile and attractive than his northern counterparts, and the northern heroine (Elsie Stoneman) is wooed from her infatuation with the unnatural doctrines of racial equality (espoused by her father) by her desire to love and be loved by the manly southerner. Elsie's father, the leader of the Radicals, is physically deformed, with "explains" his hatred of the healthy southern male and his desire to cripple and deform the southern race through miscegenation. (Slotkin 188)

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Meljean Brook's Riveted is a direct response from the romance genre to Dixon, but in her acknowledgments Brook pays tribute to

Monica Jackson, who fought to turn the world around: You flipped some of us. I truly believe that everyone else will follow, someday. I just wish that you were here to see it.

Monica, who died in May 2012, was outspoken about the racism in romance:

I've written many words on why black racial separation is so prevalent in romance. My favorite theory is that it's the nature of the romance genre. Romance is fantasy-based. Readers are notoriously picky about their settings and having sympathetic characters that they can relate to them. Also, majority romance readers have plenty of romance novels to choose. There's no shortage of books, so why should a reader take the trouble to venture outside their comfort zone and spend money on something that may not appeal? No black romance author gets major buzz in the majority romance community compared with the buzz, awards and recognition white authors receive, so where do they start?

These are a few of the reasons, but figuring out how to address the issue of segregation in romance and thinking about how to go about changing it, is a daunting task. Race is an uncomfortable and taboo subject to discuss on nearly any level by almost anybody, black or white. Desegregating any institution in this country has always been a monumental struggle. (All About Romance)

I think Brook's Riveted can be read as her small contribution to that struggle, and one which she extends so that it also challenges discrimination on the basis of gender, disability and sexual orientation. The novel suggests that it is because of prejudice that "it is not usually what we think of ourselves that makes our lives harder or easier; too often, it is what others think of you" (267).

US cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackie C. Horne has argued that the novel "proves not to be a meditation on gender roles, for Brook takes for granted the equality of the sexes that Gilman and feminists in the 1960s and 70s could only imagine." This is largely true, because the heroine of the novel comes from an all-female society and works as an engineer on an airship captained by a woman. However, the "New World" is rife with sexism: in Manhattan City, for example, "exposing a bare ankle or elbow earned a rebuke and a trip in a paddy wagon back to the port's gates, where her salacious behavior was reported to Captain Vashon and the airship threatened with docking sanctions" (4). There:

without a man's name behind hers, a woman had very little. Even many of the female scientists [...] had to secure the approval of their husbands or fathers before pursuing their chosen field, and were sometimes forced to abandon that pursuit when other demands were made of them. There were exceptions, of course - there were always exceptions - but it was a sobering realization. (276)

One could make the case that, to an even greater extent, Riveted "proves not to be a meditation on race." Certainly Annika, the heroine, is "marked [...] by the darkness of her skin" (13) and although she doesn't know who her biological parents were, it's possible that she is "a descendant of the Africans who'd fled across the ocean to escape the Horde" (55). David, the hero, is half "native" (154):

Many of my father's people were among those who converted when the Europeans first came. My name - Kentewess - identifies me as one. When I was a boy living in the east, reclaiming of the old ways had just begun, so I didn't think of it much. But when we moved to the mountain builders' city [...], many of those around us took great pride in never having converted, never having lost history to Europeans. And when I was with the other boys, I would do everything I could to avoid mentioning my name, and gave them instead the name of an ancestor. I'd ask my father for legends, for tales - not even to truly honor them, but because knowing them make it easier to not feel ... European. (155)

Racial differences are noted, then, and do have an impact on how the characters are perceived, but what more often seems to set Annika apart are her colourful clothes and her "lack of proper sensibilities" (61). With David what mostly sets him apart are his prosthetics. He has a prosthetic hand "grafted on so that the steel contraption had become a working part of his body" (11), "mechanical legs" (23) and "Pale scars raked the left side of his face, with several wide, ragged stripes running diagonally from forehead to cheek [...] And [...] some sort of optical contraption [...] had been embedded into his temple, which shielded his left eye with a dark, reflective lens" (12). It sets him apart from others and at eighteen he'd "confused loving [...] with being grateful that someone would touch him without disgust" (121-22), only to discover that "she'd loved him for what he couldn't do, not what he could" (122). Years later, David knows that

There would always be the Emilys who kissed him out of pity, the women who flinched away in disgust. There would always be those with good intentions. It made David more grateful for rare men like Dooley, who took him as he was - and for women like Annika, who seemed to. (122)

Another possible response to disability, and the one expressed by the villain of the novel, is to use the disabled as an inspiration:

"Men like him [i.e. David] have had to fight harder than all of us, every day [...] It should be a lesson to the rest of us, to remember how our lives could be much more difficult. We need to be thankful for what we have [...]."

[...] David didn't want to be a hero, or a lesson. Just a goddamn man. People treating him like less or more than one made his life more difficult than losing his legs ever had. (145)

David's mother came from Hannasvick, a secret Islandic village populated only by women but since a

community couldn't continue without children, [...] some women left to lie with men, and returned with a girl - or empty-handed, if the baby had been a boy that they left with his father. Some of the women remained away, choosing to stay with their sons. Others, like Annika's mother, took in a child stolen from Horde territories or the New World. (97)

This, however, is not the reason why Annika believes that the village must remain a secret, even from David:

Annika had seen what would happen to her people if the New World descended on them. She'd seen men hanged for less than what the women had done for years. She would never expose them to the ugliest part of the New World, the part that transformed love into sickness and sin.

Not everyone in the New World believed the same; perhaps David Kentewess wouldn't, either. If she told him about the love shared between her mother and his aunt, about so many of the others who'd made their lives together in her village, maybe he wouldn't show the same disgust. But Annika couldn't know how he would react. (101-102)

It is, however, someone else who states that "Something is wrong in them, Annika, and what you see isn't love. It's just lust" (175). Annika argues with this individual but since Annika herself has never found "a woman who stirred her passion [...] - and she hadn't met any men to do it, either. Until David" (163), in our world she would probably be classified as an "ally" of lesbian, gay and bisexual people rather than as someone who was herself lesbian or bisexual. Annika herself wonders about the extent to which she is committed to being an "ally" for although she believes she would be willing to defend her lesbian or bisexual friends and relatives if their lives were at risk, she is less sure she would risk her own life

"[...] For something [...] I think it's harder to die for something you believe in. To stand up and to say that something else is wrong. I said it to my friend, but would I shout it aboard this ship? I don't know. I'd be too afraid of what would happen to me, because so many think as she does. I hate myself for this."

"When you're surrounded by stupidity, self-preservation isn't a sin."

"Refusing to challenge that stupidity and letting it continue might end up hurting someone you love, later. I'd die to protect them, but not to tell people that I've kissed a woman, too?"

Alarmed, David shook his head. Though he agreed with her in principle, he'd be the first to knock her off the pulpit if she intended to shout it from the deck. If she intended to risk herself, to stand for her people, he'd be there with her - but there had to be better ways of going about it. (180-81)

The question of how to "go about it" is raised again, this time in the context of poverty, and David argues that

"If you broke every stupid rule in the New World simply because it was stupid, you'd never have time for anything else."

"I should choose one or two that matter, then." Though she wore a faint smile, her gaze remained serious. "If I had been caught [giving money to the starving so that they could buy some food], died for it - perhaps someone would realize how stupid it is to die for a few coins. If enough people recognized it, they could make a change. But I didn't risk anything. And when I was stopped by the port officer, I thought, Who would come help me? I wouldn't even risk giving money to the hungry. [...]" (182)

Later in the novel Annika does take a risk to free others, and it does indeed "make a change." Her question, "Who would come help me?" reminds me of pastor Martin Niemöller's statement which exists in various versions: he "may have thought first of the Communists, then the disabled, then Jews, and finally countries conquered by Germany" (Marcuse) but the version which, according to Wikipedia, is most commonly cited in the US, is:

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me. (Wikipedia)

Riveted may speak out more loudly on some issues than on others, but it seems to imply that all of us need to speak out against prejudice. Firstly, because it's the right thing to do, but also because all of us may one day face prejudice: as Annika suggests, "I suppose there is always something to make us different. I wonder if anyone at all ever feels at home" (314). As Annika and her mother acknowledge:

"It won't be easy, rabbit."

"No. It will take a long time, I think. But we can start small, here. And never back down." (388)

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BBC. "Non-Hispanic US White Births Now the Minority in US." 17 May 2012.

Brook, Meljean. Riveted. London: Penguin, 2012.

"Controversial History: Thomas Dixon and the Klan Trilogy." Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2004.

Horne, Jackie C. "Lesbiian Allies, Heterosexual Romance: Meljean Brook's Riveted." Romance Novels for Feminists. 20 Nov. 2012.

Jackson, Monica. "What It's Like." Section of "Racism in Romance?" ed. Laurie Gold. All About Romance. 15 Oct. 2005.

Marcuse, Harold. "Martin Niemöller's famous quotation: 'First they came for the Communists ...' What did Niemoeller himself say? Which groups did he name? In what order?" Webpage created 12 Sept. 2000 and last updated 24 Feb 2012.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. 1992. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

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The cover image on the left (showing David as well as Annika) is the US version. The one on the right is of the UK cover. Brook has written that:

Cover art matching the contents is always iffy, unfortunately. And I think the girl on the cover [of the US edition] is darker, but the lighting/ice ends up washing her out. I saw some of the original stills from the photo shoot, and she was more obviously not-white, which was pretty awesomely thrilling. So I think the model was good. Then desaturation and lighting was added to make it look like they were on location, and then end result was all-over lighter. The UK cover ends up being closer in that respect.

A Long-term Relationship: Art and Romantic Fiction

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 31 August, 2012

From 2005 to 2009 Mills & Boon published a series of "Regency Lords and Ladies 2-in-1 reprints" which featured cover art supplied by Sotheby's Picture Library. Here are volumes 9 and 10:

Vol9Vol10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cover on the left shows A Favour by Edmund Blair Leighton (1852-1922) and the one on the right features part of A Romantic Interlude by Frederic Soulacroix (1825-1879).

When I first saw the covers I didn't stop to wonder what the original inspiration for the paintings might have been; I just assumed that they were being given an entirely new purpose. I still don't know any details about these particular paintings but it really should have occurred to me that the relationship between art and romantic fiction is a long one. I was reminded of this recently when I came across something else provided by Sotheby's. In the catalogue notes for Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's An Eloquent Silence, which formed part of a sale of 19th-century European art, held in New York on the 4th of May 2012, one can find the following:

In 1890, the year An Eloquent Silence was painted, Alma-Tadema and his family were staying at Georg Ebers' summer home at Tutzing in Bavaria [...]. The idyllic scene of a white marble balcony under cyan skies and over the deep blue Mediterranean sea presented here could not have been more different than the reality of Kaiser Wilhelm's Europe, but the writing of George Ebers provided ample inspiration for the artist. Ebers was an Egyptologist who is perhaps most famous for discovering and translating the ancient medical document now known as the Ebers Papyrus, but he also sought to popularize ancient lore through historical romance novels, creating the now popular genre and titles such as An Egyptian Princess, Bride of the Nile, Cleopatra and, of particular note, A Question.

Published in 1882, A Question (Eine Frage) was intended to be a literary illustration of the idyllic ancient world created by Alma-Tadema and based on the relationship of the figures in his 1876 canvas, Pleading [...]. In fact, the book features an etching of the painting as its frontispiece. In 1883, one year following A Question's publication and a testament to the collaborative spirit between artist and author, Alma-Tadema painted a variation on the composition and titled it Xanthe and Phaon, named after the two lovelorn protagonists of Ebers' novel. The theme of courtship continues throughout Alma-Tadema's oeuvre, but An Eloquent Silence is a perfect depiction of Ebers' scene of two lovers described as sitting on a marble bench, surrounded by brightly colored flowers overlooking the sea. In chapter VI, it reads: "Then she again gazed into the distance. Phaon shook his head, and both remained silent for several minutes. At last he raised himself higher, turned his full face toward the young girl, gazed at her as tenderly and earnestly as if he wished to stamp her image upon his soul for life."

Alma-Tadema's patrons may not have been familiar with the romantic writing of George Ebers, but they appreciated the technical mastery and attention to detail that he brought to all of his works.