Is there a theme this week? I don’t think so, but three of the links are to women writers, all of whom faced struggles of one kind or another to get and stay published.
1. Mills & Boon author Jean MacLeod died this week, at age 103. A resident of England most of her adult life, MacLeod was born in Scotland the year Mills & Boon began, and, according to Jay Dixon, it was on one of her books — 1974’s The Black Cameron — that M&B’s famous rose logo debuted (I wish I could track this cover down. I can only find the Harlequin version. Anyone?). According to her obituary in The Telegraph, MacLeod’s heydey was from the late 1930s to the 1970s, although she working on her 131st book when she died. Alan Boon, son of the founder of the company, gave her advice that guided her her entire career: “never write anything a mother would not want her daughter to read.”
2. AAR contributor Leigh Davis has written a post called More Than I Bargained For — When Books Come with a Message. Davis’ take-home message is sensible:
For me even with non-controversial topics, an author can cross the line when the book loses balance and the message overwhelms the plot, no matter how much how much I agree with the message. Some very controversial subjects are more problematic for authors to handle even with a light touch, not that it can’t be done.
But I absolutely knew before even reading them that the complaints from readers would mostly be about liberal politics, Suzanne Brockmann’s advocacy for gay rights being a prime suspect whenever these discussions arise. I found myself asking what readers call “political”. It tends to be topics they disagree with. For my part, I think all of romance is very political (and often quite conservatively so — pronatalist, heteronormative, pro capitalism, you name it). But putting that aside, I don’t hear anyone complaining about all the Regency era dukes who believe in merit over blood, or all the 19th century heroines who try to help the poor, or all the other ways politics enters the genre. It is very interesting to me what counts as “political discourse”, and, more importantly, what doesn’t. I liked Elaine Mueller‘s comment, which states in part:
And I could be wrong but it seems to me that romance fiction contains its own political message – that the One True Happiness (especially for Woman) is to be found in the one man, one woman exclusive relationship and its happily ever after promise. There are other, slightly lesser happinesses to be found, but they just aren’t quite as good as the One True one.
3. 111 Male Characters of British Literature, in order of Bangability, from the Awl. Our colloquium series speaker two weeks ago claimed that women cannot actually sexually objectify men, so if you feel bad about reading the list, I can try to reconstruct her argument. In a bit of a shocker, Darcy is third. Can you guess who 1 and 2 are?
4. Many of us have been following the Judy Mays story this week. Judy Mays is the pen name of an erotic romance author who also happens to be a 10th grade English teacher in Pennsylvania. Some disgruntled parents got the local paper to write a story about Mays’s sideline, as if writing erotic romance was somehow newsworthy, or, worse, incompatible with teaching high school English. Today we have an impassioned, and amusing, video defense of Mays from one of her former students:
She can’t teach because she has wild sexual fantasies? If Mrs. Buranich can’t teach because of that, then I don’t know who can.
Your child is between the ages of 15 and 17. They know what sex is. And they know that Mrs. Buranich doesn’t want it from them.
5. Joanna Russ, science fiction writer, Hugo and Nebula award winner, academic, and feminist theorist, has died after a long illness. It was announced just a day or two ago that she had entered hospice care. It’s too bad that she did not have more time to benefit from hospice, but this is often the case for a number of reasons. I’ve only read her short story “When It Changed“, about a world without men, which left an impression. In 1998 she wrote a long essay called What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism. She showed the world that science fiction — who writes it, who gets published, how they write — is political. Two short excerpts:
First, caricature stops when confrontation stops. When the air no longer rings with horrid tales of ball-breaking dykes, man-hating neurotics, vicious and parasitic wives, and the rest of the tiny train of male-imagined phantoms, that’s not because feminism has influenced patriarchy but because patriarchy has influenced feminism almost out of existence.
Feminism is something you do, not something you are. Women who say “I’m not a feminist” and proceed to do feminist work are allies no matter what they call themselves.