Last semester in a class on film genres, the authors we read grappled with the contradictions of doing post-stucturalist genre theory. Repeatedly, authors called for an attention to history in order to unsettle monolithic claims about genre creation and use. Radway’s book, as an example of genre criticism, is an impressive example of historical research. She generally avoids universalism by reminding us that readers and texts operate within larger systems material and discursive production. However, her research is so well situated within a historical moment, that I wonder how to relate her research to a different time and place? I’m not asking how her theories apply to contemporary romantic form (though that is an interesting question), but what kind of theoretical work do we need to do in order to ask that question.
Romance reading is serious business for both Radway and her readers. The readers’ emphasis on the seriousness of reading is one strategy used to defend a devalued cultural act. Romance texts employ “literary” techniques in order to inject seriousness into the textual level. The readers report different kinds of pleasure that they get from the act of reading. However, the over the top register of the romance was not one of them. Do romance texts foreclose camp readings? What is at stake for the readers to disclose finding pleasure in exaggeration of the form? Is there a Harlequin equivalent to the fan fiction genre of “crack!fic,” where the success of the story rests on its ability to consciously manipulate and expose the conventions of more “serious” fan production?
Reflecting on my enthusiastic reception of Reading the Romance, I think that one of the reasons I like the book as much as I do is my affection for Dot and the Smithton readers. By the end of the book, I felt close to these women. Is it possible to view Dot and the other women, not as informants, but as fictional characters? How is Dot’s character constructed? What strategies does Radway use to foster emotional investment with these characters? Does this process parallel the techniques used by realistic novels to ensure identification and “affective reaction?” (196)