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Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women’s Writing
Saturday 11th June 2016, Sheffield Hallam University
‘…It would be at best grossly incurious and at worst sadly limited for literary critics to ignore a genre that millions and millions of women read voraciously’ (Pornography for Women is Different, Ann Snitow, 1979)
Almost forty years have passed since Snitow’s ardent defence of the importance of recognising and examining the romance genre, however critical consideration of the romance remains limited. Some have suggested that this could be a result of a snobbery associated with romantic fiction, or perhaps even more startlingly due to a general lack of interest in the literature women write and read (Light , Philips  and Radway ). Critic Emily S. Davis states ‘Romance…does not get much love in critical circles…it is no coincidence that the areas most frequently dismissed as inconsequential…are precisely those identified with disempowered groups such as women and queers.’
Although there remains an overall absence of criticism the importance of women writers’ relationship with the romance and the effect it has on women readers has been acknowledged, particularly in relation to feminism. In ‘‘Returning to Manderley’ – Romance Fiction, Female Sexuality and Class’ Alison Light acknowledges that romances are ‘…often seen as coercive and stereotyping narratives which invite the reader to identify with a passive heroine who only finds true happiness in submitting to a masterful male.’ In contrast the most well-known and acclaimed critic on the genre, Janice A. Radway, stressed ‘Romance is being changed and struggled over by the women who write them.’ Indeed, contemporary women writers from the Booker Prize winning Margaret Atwood to the self-proclaimed ‘chick-lit’ writer Sophie Kinsella have written novels which use the romance genre and/or focus on romantic relationships and could be seen to be part of a re-writing of the genre.
Given the significant links between the romance, women writers and women readers, conversation around the presence of the genre in contemporary fiction is crucial. This symposium seeks to encourage this discussion.
Topics may include yet are not limited to the thematic list below:
The presence of romantic relationships and the use of the romance genre in contemporary women’s writing
The relationship between the romance genre and feminism
The perception of romance as a low-brow genre, and the extent to which this perception offers critical and intellectual insights into debates about how we define women’s writing and cultural contribution
The future of the romance genre within contemporary women’s literature
A 250-word abstract for 20-minute papers including a brief bionote, should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 8th April 2016.