In my first BN.com post about romance fiction – just before I presented at the Princeton romance scholarship conference -- I wrote of how I’d rethought my position on waving the “We’ve got authors from the Ivies” flag in front of folks who don’t read or know much about romance, especially academics and literati. I’d begun to feel doing so baldly suggests romance authors whom attended Really Good Schools somehow raise up the collective value of the genre and its readers.
Yet I've certainly tossed around the “smart women read and write romance” line. Sure, I've written/said it to convey pride in the quality of genre content/fan base. But sometimes using it it simply was about trying to keep intact my Brainy Girl self image after admitting affection for romance books -- sometimes to other romance fans. But when we set up a kind of hierarchy of writers/readers based on perceived intellect, it feels to me as though we’re suggesting romance is okay now because smarty pantses exist who write/read it. And I wonder whether it hasn’t helped spawn that troubling mantra of “Romance is so much more sophisticated than it used to be.”
None of this negates the facts that Very Good Schools are vitally important and turn out great thinkers/doers – and their English Departments traditionally don't allow romance fiction near the lowest rungs of their heirarchies of literary legitimacy. It’s for those reasons you should care a Very Great Deal about this stunning news:
Bestselling romance authors Cara Elliott and Lauren Willig have broken the Ivy barrier with “Reading the Regency Romance,” the romance-fiction course they created and will teach in January at their alma mater, Yale University. It’s a first in the Ivy League!
Their seminar begins with Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” moves through Georgette Heyer and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, looks at changing attitudes towards sexuality and heroism in a variety of authors over a thirty-year time span, then continues through Regency paranormals to chick-lit.
Elliott and Willig believe the panel of Yale faculty and students to whom they presented their class proposal for acceptance came away thinking of romance as less of, as Willig puts it, “just a monolith known as ‘Oh, romance novels,” and instead, a serious literary genre and collection of sub-genres, “each with its own traditions and trajectory.”
Elliott’s and Willig’s ground-breaking course places Yale and the Ivy League among universities and colleges in the United States and worldwide already offering courses in romance fiction.
Why do you think it’s important that Elliott and Willig are teaching a course in the Ivy League? What are some of your favorite novels of Elliott (writing as Andrea Pickens) or Willig (Pink Carnation series)?
Cara Elliott’s new Circle of Sin trilogy debuts in March '10 with “To Sin with a Scoundrel .” Lauren Willig’s latest Pink Carnation series novel, “The Betrayal of the Blood Lily,” drops in January '10.