Faculty of Arts Department of English
and American Studies English Language and Literature
The Power of Romance: From Pamela to Contemporary Popular Romance
Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: Mgr. Eva Juhasová
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Eva Juhasová for invaluable advice and guidance.
Table of Contents
1 The Popular Romances Now and Before 7
1.1 Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight and the Popularity 7
1.2 Pamela, Pride and Prejudice and the Popularity 10
1.3 Why Women Read Romances 12
2 Fifty Shades of Grey and Pamela 16
2.1 The Narrative and the Main Motifs 16
2.2 The Characters 25
3 Twilight and Pride and Prejudice 30
3.1 The Narrative and the Main Motifs 30
3.2 The Characters 39
Works Cited 46
The best-sellers Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight have both become enormously popular shortly after they were published with people (mostly women) from all around the world engaging with the story of a young, virginal heroine falling in love with a villainous, rich man. This main idea of both stories is, nevertheless, criticized for not reflecting the society of today and undermining its equality. Yet, the numbers show that romance, in general, is a very popular genre that attracts readers of various ages and social backgrounds.
However, the phenomenon of a young, inexperienced heroine on one side and villainous, rich hero on the other is not new in literature. As early as in the eighteenth century, a similar novel to these contemporary best-sellers was published; Pamela by Richardson. A story of a virtuous servant and a wicked master sparked controversy and in its time, the novel was both criticised and celebrated just as the contemporary versions of it. Despite that, many authors adopted the same ideology and continued to develop this phenomenon in their novels, among them Jane Austen with Pride and Prejudice which is admired and praised by many readers and becomes an inspiration for other writers.
What this thesis argues is that the contemporary romance novels are based on the same ideas and motifs as the novels published over two hundred years ago. This is shown through close analysis and comparison of Fifty Shades of Grey with Pamela – the two more controversial of the four novels mentioned – and Twilight with Pride and Prejudice – in which the sexual aspect of the relationship is rather repressed. In addition, the comparisons also show that the four novels have a lot more in common than just the main idea and that Meyer and James were inspired by Richardson and Austen directly when writing their novels. Three main aspects, which prove the similarity of these novels, are considered in both analyses: the narrative, the main motifs and the main characters. The analysis, in case of Fifty Shades Trilogy, focuses primarily on the first novel in which the central love story develops and undergoes the major changes. For the same reasons, the analysis of Twilight focuses on the first novel of the series in comparison with Pride and Prejudice.
The main motifs analyzed in Fifty Shades of Grey and Pamela are the virtue, the social unacceptance, the money and the relationship. In case of Twilight and Pride and Prejudice, they are a little different; the virtue, the social unacceptance and the relationship remain, however, the family replaces the motif of money.1 Apart from that, in both analyses, certain characteristics of the main characters remain similar too. The heroines are always disadvantaged and virtuous, and the heroes are rich and villainous. These features that all four novels share suggest certain connection between them all which is explained in the first chapter – Fifty Shades of Grey is written as a fan fiction to Twilight, and there also exists a possibility of Austen being inspired by Richardson when writing Pride and Prejudice as she was an admirer of his work.
The last thing that the thesis examines is the popularity of the four novels which, in case of each, is immense. In the first chapter, it is suggested that this popularity is connected to the uniformity of the plot and the fact that the story is always predictable, however, it is remarked that the difference between what is happening in the story and the reality is what is appealing for the readers too. Eventually, what this thesis tries to prove is that the imitation is the essence of creating a widely popular romance of today, and the way the two most popular romances imitate Pamela and Pride and Prejudice is analysed in the second and third chapter.
1 The Popular Romances Now and Before
1.1 Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight and the Popularity
Romance is as popular as it is controversial. Statistics show that over 200 million women a year read the stories in the Harlequin series. This readership is very diverse, despite stereotypical expectations: women of all ages, social backgrounds and levels of education, with both high and low family incomes, housewives and professionals, all enjoy romances. (Percec 1)
With eighty-two percent of the readers of the romance being of the female population, it can with no doubt be said that romance is a genre for women (Romance Reader Statistics), and with almost 1.5 billion dollars on its account in 2012, it can be said that romance is a powerful genre in the literary world (Percec 1). It is mainly because all kinds of women read all kinds of romance novels. However, there is one thing which needs to be noted and it is the fact that the act of reading romance is a long-term commitment. Over seventy-five percent of the women reading romance novels have been reading them for at least five years, and thirty-five percent for over 20 years. (Romance Reader Statistics)
It is obvious that women find the ideology which romance novels represent appealing. This is something Janice Radway explores when she tries to determine the “ideal romance” and claims that its “most striking characteristic” is “its resolute focus on a single, developing relationship between heroine and hero” (Radway 122). Apparently, the major concern of the romance novels and of the readers who read them repeatedly is the romantic relationship which evolves each time with different settings, a modified storyline and improved characters. Given this definition of ideal romance, it seems that the number of various love stories which can be written could be infinite, however, not all of them become widely popular, and those that do are significantly influenced by other, older famous love stories. Barbara Fuchs suggests that “defenders of romance novels” emphasize “the similarity between the genre, in the contemporary mass-market sense, and earlier novels equally concerned with courtship and marriage” (127). This similarity results in the canonical novels such as Pamela and Pride and Prejudice becomingthe inspiration for contemporary writers of romance novels that recreate these stories and sell them as new.
One of such novels is the erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey published in 2011 and written as a fan-fiction of Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer with original title Master of the Universe (Lewis 48). The book was at first available online, however, once published, it quickly became “one of the fastest-selling paperback series in history” despite its controversial contents (Luscombe 40). It was not long before the rights for the movie were bought and the “Fifty Shades frenzy” got even bigger when the author published a book from Christian Grey’s perspective called Grey. This is, however, not the last of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy the world gets, as two more movies are planned to be made. The trilogy has become a phenomenon, however, Dionne van Reenen presents the “paradox” of the novel which “quickly gained notoriety for its pornographic and explicit bondage/discipline–dominance/ submission–sadism/masochism (BDSM) content, which sparked much controversy”, and on the other hand, the fact that “female readers could not resist engaging with this literary genre” (223). The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is doubtless, and even though it is difficult to say whether it is the romantic story or the explicit sexual content which makes the novel appealing to the readers, the fact that the romantic part of the novel can be found in both equally popular novels Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey suggests that love story is what attracts the readers. However, the love story which evolves in Fifty Shades of Grey is also a recreation of the one from the eighteenth century - Richardson’s Pamela.
The second novel, also a recreation of a canonical novel, had been published few years before James wrote her widely successful fan-fiction novel. In 2005, Twilight quickly became the New York Times best-seller and even though the author never admitted any direct inspiration by other books she does admit herself to be an “obsessive Jane Austen fan” (Grossman; 10 Questions for Stephenie Meyer). This is visible mainly through the repressing of the sexual in the novel:
It is presumed that readers of Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ enjoy the sexual tension between Bella and Edward; a tension that remains unresolved until the couple are married. This very traditional solution to the couple’s carnal desires is just one of many ways in which the novels adhere to the conventions of romance writing for young people. Readers know what to expect and their expectations are satisfied. (Kokkola 165)
Even without the controversy of Fifty Shades of Grey, Meyer managed to create a successful teen romance that got converted into five movies. And now, ten years later, she published a new novel called Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined which tells the same story, but with reversed gender of the characters. The vampire series became what readers wanted at its time, and Christine Jarvis argues that “one reason for Twilight’s exceptional success may be its capacity to provide fantasy resolutions to some of the intense conflicts and contradictions girls face growing up in the twenty-first century” (101). The unreality of the romantic relationship which evolves in it is what makes the Twilight series one of the most popular contemporary romance novels. This romantic relationship, as many critics claim, is in many ways similar to the one in Pride and Prejudice.
Traditional romances are definitely not in the centre of attention nowadays. New elements are added to the original love stories, and although imitation is acceptable, it does not stand in the way of explicit sexuality or fantasy motifs making the stories more attractive. Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and Twilight series are the two examples of widely popular novels which gained their popularity by recreating the famous love stories; the former sharing similarities with Pamela and the latter with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
1.2 Pamela, Pride and Prejudice and the Popularity
It was in 1740 when “the Pamela media event” started with Samuel Richardson publishing his novel Pamela for the first time (Warner 295). At the time when the novel was at its rise, this book became so successful that the second edition needed to be published a year later and its controversial content divided the society into two groups: “Pamelists and Antipamelists” (Watt 175). While the former group believed in Pamela being the virtuous character, the latter did not, and this controversy of the believability of Pamela as a character resulted in other writers’ reactions such as Fielding’s Shamela or Haywood’s Anti-Pamela (Warner 295). However, that did not stand in the way of the novel becoming “the first best-seller” (Lewis 48). Ian Watt ascribes this success to female readership:
Pamela’s success . . . was largely due to its appeal to the interests of women readers: and before proceeding any further it is perhaps necessary to consider briefly the grounds for believing, not only that women constituted a sufficiently large pro-portion of the novel reading public to make this success possible, but also that Richardson himself was in a position to express their distinctive literary interests. (157)
“To please feminine taste” was Richardson’s aim and although when published, Pamela was called a “dilated novel,” as Watt suggests, “the treatment” of the “amorous episode” “was on a scale much closer to that of a romance” (Watt 171). Based on the definition of the ideal romance by Radway along with the fact that the novel was mainly read by women, it can be said that Pamela is a romance novel as the story focuses on “a single, developing relationship between heroine and hero” (Radway 122). However, what was and still is striking about this novel is the duplicity of “a work that could be praised from the pulpit and yet attacked as pornography” (Watt 179). The controversy which this novel started and the reactions it raised resemble the ones Fifty Shades of Grey is provoking now with its pornographic BDSM content.
Unlike Richardson’s popularity which was happening mainly in the eighteenth century, Austen’s, according to Juliette Wells, “began to surge in 1995, thanks to the release of several screen adaptations of her novels” (2). Pride and Prejudice was one of them with television mini-series being made based on this novel at that time. Ten years later a movie Pride and Prejudice was made which only helped increase the popularity of this novel. However, the most interesting proof of the immortality of this story is the variety of novels inspired by Pride and Prejudice written; The Other Mr. Darcy, Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, Compulsively Mr. Darcy and others. Goodreads shows a list of 277 books inspired by Pride and Prejudice. The situation two hundred years after the first publication suggests the strong impact that this novel has on its readers. In 1813, when the novel was published, it was praised for its descriptions of feelings and characters, but also criticized, for example by Charlotte Brontë, for “no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck” (Langland 43). Pride and Prejudice, in its choice of a topic, resembles Richardson’s Pamela. This may partly be because Austen was a reader of Richardson’s novels (Halsey 25).
One of the reasons why Richardson was interested in the marriage topic was that at his time, marriage was becoming “much more important for women than before, and at the same time much more difficult to achieve” (Watt 158,142). Although this choice of a topic seems more natural for a female writer, Richardson created a novel which was widely read by many women and became an inspiration for many other writers including Jane Austen, whose Pride and Prejudice is by some now considered “the best romance novel ever written” (Regis 8). Even though Pamela is not the “mass-market” romance known today as Pride and Prejudice is, the stories of both these novels and their appeal to female readers is what makes them a precursor of the genre and an inspiration for writers of contemporary romances.
1.3 Why Women Read Romances
The four romances already introduced share one significant feature; they all are known for being immensely popular and although critics do not enjoy reading this particular genre, the general public does. Women, in particular, read romances repeatedly, and according to Radway it is because:
. . . the experience itself is different from ordinary existence. Not only it is a relaxing release from the tension produced by daily problems and responsibilities, but it creates a time or space within which a woman can be entirely on her own, preoccupied with her personal needs, desires and pleasure. (61)
Although this answer is satisfying enough, what remains unresolved is the problem of contemporary female readers giving preference to novels which promote inequality. On one hand, it is understandable why women in the eighteenth and nineteenth century were reading novels about marriage; at that time, marriage was one of few things women could achieve and one of the most important issues for them, which means that readers could relate to the problems of the heroine. As Watt suggests, women at that time “had much more leisure than previously” and they spent it reading. He also says that “fiction was the main reading of younger girls” and “the novel-reading girl” was “an established comic type” (157). On the other hand, it is difficult to determine why this trend still attracts the attention of women today when they no longer have as much free time and marriage is not their only future prospect.
The author of Fifty Shades of Grey comments on the popularity of her novel by saying: “we have everything and it’s just hard work doing everything . . . sometimes it’s just nice to switch off and let somebody else take care of the stuff for a while” (Fifty Shades of Grey: Author Speaks). The ideal of a woman being taken care of, the feature shared by all four novels discussed, is apparently attractive for women who read romance novels. James’ possible explanation of the enormous popularity of such novels which promote the ideology of a feminine heroine controlled and protected by the hero – an ideology that does not reflect the reality - correlates with Radway’s who also suggests that the story in a romance novel is “different” from “ordinary existence” (122). It can be said that the reason why women read romance novels is not because they represent something they want to have in their own lives but because it is something they do not have. As van Reenen suggests: “women might harbour fantasies, wittingly or unwittingly, that are wholly incompatible with the feminist ethical ideal of recognising the true value of women” (226). This possibility is the reason why romance can still be so popular in contemporary world.
However, if talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, it is important to remark that its controversy also needs to be considered in order to determine what aspect of the novel is responsible for its popularity. While some women read the novel due to its erotic content, others despise it because of that. Van Reenen divides these people into two groups; the one that promotes “anti-pornography” movement which emerged during the “second wave of feminist activism” and the other that supports “sex-positive movement” also called “third wave feminism” (224). The latter was formed as a reaction to the former and “the tension between the two movements has become vehement and they are as divided as women everywhere on Fifty Shades” (van Reenen 226). Hence, the erotic content of this novel cannot be classified as a motif genuinely responsible for the popularity of this novel as it incites both the hatred and the admiration.
In this regard, Twilight can be understood as a counterpart of Fifty Shades of Grey; the sexual content of the former is almost completely abandoned unlike in the latter novel. Lydia Kokkola claims that Bella and Edward promote the “True Love Waits movement” because they are “willing to wait” (166). Despite that the story still gained tremendous popularity just as Fifty Shades. The fact that different approaches to sexuality do not affect the popularity of these two novels suggests that other aspects of these stories cause it. Such aspects are romantic features, emphasized by critics in connection with both; van Reenen discusses the familiar tropes of romance used in Fifty Shades trilogy as “the light side” of the story, Kokkola suggests that: “Much of the appeal of Meyer’s ‘‘Twilight’’ series arises from its conformity to the genre conventions of romance writing in general and teenage romances in particular; readers know what to expect and their expectations are satisfied” (van Reenen 226; Kokkola 178). Since the reactions to the pornographic content of Fifty Shades are not unanimously positive and the readers are indifferent to the absence of such content in Twilight, it can be concluded that the appeal lies in their romantic aspect. This can also be supported by the current popularity of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as the novel also introduces a romantic love story but suppresses its sexual aspect and yet inspires many authors and readers.
The popularity of the two contemporary romance novels analysed can be justified by Radway’s claim that the romance is “different” from our lives and that it offers a “relaxing release” (122). The same can be said about Pamela and Pride and Prejudice. Not only they offer a “relaxing release” because the story in both is predictable and ends happily, but the topic they are dealing with reflected the reality of the time when they were written only partly – the marriage was very important, but unequal marriages such as the marriage of Pamela and Mr.B, or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were not.
Additionally, when considering the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight in contemporary world, it is important to compare the different approaches these novels take when it comes to dealing with sexuality. Although one is explicit and the other rather restrained, their popularity is similar. This suggests that the sexual aspect of the story does not have a significant impact on the popularity of these novels. As Radway suggests in her description of an ideal romance, the “resolute focus” on the relationship is the most important aspect which makes the romance appealing.
2 Fifty Shades of Grey and Pamela
Among the descriptions that people give to Fifty Shades of Grey are some that consider it a “love story” or even a “fairy tale” (van Reenen 228; Luscombe 40). While the latter title may seem too exaggerative, mainly for the erotic of the novel, the former definition is more to the point; as van Reenen suggests, the “typical tropes” of “romantic comedy genre” can be found in Fifty Shades of Grey (van Reenen 227). This shows that the novel shares some similarities with other romance novels and due to that it can be perceived as a love story. However, the widely popular novel (and its two sequels) does not only lose its controversy and newness by being described as typical. The resemblance with Pamela, a novel published over two hundred years ago, is what makes this story less surprising and more conventional than a reader would think. This is what Helen Lewis argues when she gives the same definition of James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Richardson’s Pamela and calls both “a book about a young girl trying to negotiate her relationship with an older, richer, more experienced man” (48). Even though this is a description that applies to many love stories, the similarity between Pamela and Fifty Shades of Grey is more extensive than this simple definition suggests. The main characters, the narrative and main motifs are the aspects in which the similarity of the two novels is visible; they also show that the contemporary popular romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey is in fact a modern recreation of 18th century novel Pamela. These aspects are closely analysed in this chapter in two parts; the first part focuses on the narrative and main motifs and the second on the main characters.