|...but make sure you "make him want you more!"|
While the Cinderella tale has existed for centuries, the Glass Slipper trope is of more recent origin, Weisser argues. In Western society before the Victorian age, marriage and passionate romantic love were not typically linked. Earlier conceptions of marriage as a value exchange (women give attractiveness, domestic labor, and breeding rights to their husbands in exchange for economic provision and social status) had begun to shift during the eighteenth century, toward the companionate marriage, or "love match." But the "love" portion of the "love match" meant something far different to late eighteenth-century society than it does to our contemporary one. As Weisser notes, both conservative Jane Austen and radical Mary Wollstonecraft "devalued 'romantic' views of love as flighty, inimical to the importance of rationality and judgment, companionship, sensible affection, education and culture, and admiration of good character in marriage" (37). The Romantic movement revivified an earlier vision of love, one linked to "sexual desire, intense and all-consuming" passion (38), but it would take the Victorians to domesticate this heightened emotion, working to control it by placing it within the bounds of marriage. Much of the master narrative of our contemporary romance narratives relies on this historically specific linkage of passionate love to monogamous marital relations, with a late 20th century addition of female sexual empowerment.
Two powerful paradoxical visions of love coexist in the minds of Weisser's students, and in much American discourse about romance, both legacies of past views of love. First, "the mystery of passion" and second,
the knowledge and control that allow enduring affection to thrive in a permanent and primary relationship. We blithely live with these paradoxical convictions: on the one hand, the prevailing wisdom is that you "have to work at relationships," while on the other, love relationships are "meant to be" in some mysterious way. There are whole sackfuls of clichés that support each of these ideas. My sophisticated students will readily mouth both unquestioningly; oddly, they may sneer at "fate" as an overly romanticized causal explanation, yet say that a particular relationship was "not mean to be" to justify or console themselves after a breakup. (9)
|Passion & companionship? One then the other?|
Or are the two at odds?
Though I admired its close readings, I found the book's Introduction and Conclusion to contain the most food for thought as a scholar and writer of romance. Weisser's overarching argument—our ideas about love are "not timeless or universal" or "the pure expression of primitive desires" but rather "historical representations of social issues" (206), representations that change in response to historical and social change—is incredible helpful both for scholars approaching the study of the genre, and for fiction writers wishing to interrogate or question the universality of contemporary romance's depiction of love. Its corollary—that older models of love persist, despite social and cultural changes that would seem to negate their purpose, often surviving in ambivalent tension with newer definitions—urges scholars and writers alike to think about the multiple discourses they might discover or draw upon in their texts.
I especially appreciated Weisser's call for further study of the genre as a whole:
Romance has become a formidable part of contemporary Western culture because it is an easy response to genuine confusion over love and gender, aided by media and profit. We ought to think more carefully about romance, embedded as it is in a multimedia society that is increasingly complex and shifting in its gender values. In particular, we need further analysis of love that neither indicts nor trivializes what is so important to so many women in modern times, one that both appreciates women's needs and is clear-eyed about the price we pay for fulfilling them. (211)
Here's to more works like Weisser's, scholarship that both appreciates and analyzes the books romance readers so love.
Go Girl: High Heels and Hot Flashes blog
Cosmopolitan cover: Wikipedia
Passion and companionship: Slate