Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fairy Tales and Romance Week: Jennifer Crusie

February is here which means Valentine's Day is not far away, a week from today actually. There aren't many words that are used so often in conjunction with romance as the phrase "fairy tale." So I felt I would be remiss to not offer up several posts about fairy tales and romance, using a variety of approaches to the topic. Or so I plan. We'll see how it goes.

To start off this week, I will focus on one of the most maligned genres in publishing, which is of course, romance. I myself have mixed feelings about the genre, from the straight pulp I find unreadable to much better writing from some writers than I have read in other genres, including and sometimes especially literary fiction.* I grow more and more hesitant to denigrate any genre over the years, especially a genre that is dismissed as "women's fiction" which in so many ways is what happens to fairy tales over time as they are dismissed as children's and or women's fiction and thus made third-class cousins to "more important" literature. With romance fiction still practically the only area of publishing that is managing to be recession proof, it merits more understanding and respect. (Harlequin after all started during the Great Depression and still thrives today as one of the publishers that appears to be adapting and experimenting with new technology faster than its competitors.)

So I am sharing a link to an article, This Is Not Your Mother’s Cinderella: The Romance Novel as Feminist Fairy Tale by Jennie Crusie. Crusie has been selling under the romance category as well as the almost defunct chick lit moniker. She has a definite apologist approach to discussing romance and fairy tales. I am not in complete agreement with everything she wrote in the article, after all my background is different and supports other theories, but I consider it one of the stronger articles, lucid, well-researched and definitely a solid source for inspiring further thought and discussion.

Times are grim for the Brothers Grimm: feminist revisionists keep messing with their fairy tales, trying to expunge misogynism while holding on to that elusive something that makes the tales vibrate in the reader’s mind, that aspect that makes the fairy tale, in Max Luthi’s words, “the universe in miniature” (25). And nowhere is that elusive something more sought after than in romance novels; a genre that relies heavily on the tradition of the tales even while requiring their revision for reader satisfaction. Of course, fairy tales bear a strong similarity to all genre fiction in their certainty about life; as Luthi defines them, fairy tales “aim for clarity, exactness, positiveness, and precision. There is no ‘if’ and no ‘perhaps’” (57). But the similarities between fairy tales and the romance genre in particular are deeper than the tidiness of the universes with which they deal. There is something in the fairy tale that resonates in the romance even though the tales must be extensively revised to satisfy their female audience.

This is just the first paragraph of a lengthy article, so please click through, read and come back here to discuss if you wish.

And while we're here, I will also share my favorite Crusie novel, Bet Me. A SurLaLune reader recommended it to me several years ago and on a whim I picked it up off a bargain table and was entertained for a late night's reading. It doesn't reinterpret any specific fairy tale, but plays with many of the motifs with humor and self-awareness that is charming. If you have no tolerance for romance, don't expect this one to change your attitude. If you enjoy occasional forays into the genre or are an avid fan, this one will entertain, even if you aren't a Crusie fan. (I admit I have tried more of hers, but this one is the only one I've ever kept on the shelf or reread again.)

Finally, I have a rather hidden page on SurLaLune of fairy tale related romance novels at Fairy Tale Romances. I will discuss it more tomorrow since I've already taken up so much of our time today.

*I admit, that if anything, I find myself prejudiced against literary fiction these days, finding much of it pretentious and unreadable.


  1. i came your way via magpie's fancy and will admit i came over because i'm a big crusie fan. i just picked a new one up today. i love her sense of humor in her writing. i find myself liking the ones that she wrote solo rather than the collaboration books, like agnes and the hitman.

  2. The problem I have with this analysis of JoAnn Ross's The Prince and the Showgirl is that it misses the most obvious thing about it: she re-wrote Cinderella into Catskin.

    Or so I would deduce from the description given:
    1. She's persecuted by her father and another male figure.
    2. She has to leave her home.
    3. She finds work for royalty.
    4. The prince is aware of her existence prior to the ball.
    5. Still, she goes to the ball and impresses him.