Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature
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Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  227 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Originally published in 1984, "Reading the Romance" challenges popular (and often demeaning) myths about why romantic fiction, one of publishing's most lucrative categories, captivates millions of women readers. Among those who have disparaged romance reading are feminists, literary critics, and theorists of mass culture. They claim that romances enforce the woman reader's...more
Paperback, 306 pages
Published November 30th 1991 by University of North Carolina Press (first published 1984)
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Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy OrensteinThe Purity Myth by Jessica ValentiReality Bites Back by Jennifer L. PoznerFeminism Is for Everybody by Bell HooksThe Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
Women & Gender Studies
8th out of 88 books — 18 voters
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Nonfiction About Romance Fiction
6th out of 9 books — 1 voter


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MightyMaeve
Ms Radway believes the romance novel (heterosexual; from the '70s and '80s) is not truly a novel; rather, she says, it is a myth. Like Joseph Campbell's hero monomyth (The Hero With a Thousand Faces), she attempts to track the path of the romance monomyth. She separates her analysis into two section: the act of reading the romance and the narrative structure of the romance.

One major theme Radway presents centers around the idea that a reader not only enjoys her escapism, but she receives import...more
Jessica
Dec 07, 2007 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: bodice rippees
Shelves: chicklits
It's possible this is so dated by now as to be nearly irrelevant, but it's still very, very dear to my heart, by which I mean this vulnerable, untamable organ thumping passionately beneath my soft, pale, untouched, perfectly rounded breast.

This book made the point awhile ago that the pantsuit-wearing masses don't just passively consume popular culture, but actually do create their own meanings in ways that aren't always immediately obvious to the fancy-pantser degree holders who think they know...more
Christina G
Nov 10, 2011 Christina G rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: romance readers, because I want to hear their reactions
Really interesting and nuanced study of Midwestern romance-reading housewives in the 1980s. Radway examines their reading habits, traits of successful and failed romances, and how readers view their experiences. I was expecting a feminist defense of romance, but her conclusion was much more complex than that. She concludes that romance is a way for women to take time for themselves and form community with other readers, which is sort of a feminist act. But this is tempered by the texts themselve...more
Leslie
Oct 10, 2008 Leslie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Leslie by: read for Pleasure of the Text class
There were illuminating moments, but I felt distracted by how absolutely dated it must be. The writing seemed poorly edited; it was a real effort to slog through the chapters. Written in 1984, this ethnography studies the reading habits of a group of women in the suburbs of a Midwestern metropolis. These women (aka the Smithton readers) were predominantly young and middle-aged stay-at-home moms who obsess over romance novels to escape the demands of motherhood/wifedom. Radway conducted focus gro...more
Sarah
Radway's study is a treat among academic books. Her style is highly accessible, and she presents her findings in a sensitive, interesting and engaging way.

Reading the Romance presents the results of Radway's study of a group of female "popular romance" readers. From her discussions with them, and their responses to questionnaires, she pieces together their likes, dislikes, and motivations, presenting a surprisingly interesting insight into why "popular romance" is so popular. She also offers a...more
Anika
Let's just begin with the often mentioned phrase that this book is outdated. It certainly is. Or at least I definitely hope so. What I found striking is that I didn't find it very critical. The conclusion seemed to be the most critical part of the book. I would have preferred more criticism throughout the individual chapters. Also, I kept waiting for a more general approach to the whole topic. The inclusion of the Smithon women was alright, but not enough in my opinion. What is a romance? I stil...more
Kara
A brilliant read. It is rather dated--it was published in 1984--but nevertheless has incredibly important things to say, and its main social and political points are still relevant today, especially regarding a woman's role in society. (My edition had a 1995 updated Introduction by the author, which was very helpful.) Radway makes it clear that everyone's position matters, and her ethnography on female readers of romance books brings that point home. I could go on and on about this book, but suf...more
Carly
I think I suddenly understand why Twilight is so popular...

This was a fascinating book. Romance isn't a genre I particularly enjoy reading, but since I'm writing a paper on Seventeenth Summer and Why We Broke Up(neither of which are quite romances according to the definition that Radway develops), I thought that it would be negligent of me to not read this. And I wasn't disappointed!

Radway details a case study that she did of a small(ish) group of women who are heavy romance readers (multiple no...more
Matt
I'd been wanting to read this book since I read a chapter from it in a Feminist Theory class in grad school, so when I came across a used copy, I nearly raced to the checkout counter to buy it.

But when I finally read it, I wasn't as tickled as I'd hoped I'd be. I found Radway's writing style to be, if not precisely dull, sort of lacking in the kind of flourishes and flashes that make you want to read more of her.... I'd finish a paragraph, and then find myself needing to recommit all over again...more
Sarah
This paper was for a class and a little more academic than most of my reviews, but it's still a book review, so it's getting included here.

Janice Radway received her BA (with highest honors) in and 1971 and her Ph.D. in English and American Studies in 1977 from Michigan State University, and her M.A. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. When Reading the Romance was published in 1984, she was an associate professor in the American Civilization Department at the University of Penn...more
Alexandra Michaelides
A very interesting look at a genre I'm not too familiar with. The book is mostly recounting the opinions of a group of well-read romance fans. Not to discount Radway, but in a way I wish she had written a different book. I would have loved a more in-depth discussion, using multiple feminist perspectives to frame and give a greater context to the responses of the sample audience. Especially I wish Radway had spent more analysis on the issue of rape in romance novels, especially when the 'hero' is...more
Sarah
I found this a very interesting approach to the analysis of what women get from romance novels. It's certainly flawed in the sense that it surveyed a very small sample of women whose opinions were probably dominated by the leader of their group, but the questions as asked seemed likely to yield results that take the romance readers' opinions seriously. Of particular value is the notion that just because a romance publisher publishes a book doesn't mean that the audience, having bought the book,...more
Gwenyth
This book is an ethnography of romance readers in the earlier 80s. The author doesn't come out and say so, exactly, but my impression is that these are women who were reading, like, crack-addict levels of books.

It's great. The author gets into why they were reading, what they liked and didn't like, what the romances were potentially giving them in terms of enabling them to interpret and negotiate their own marriages and kids, etc.

I love it so much. I don't even know why. I love that it takes t...more
Amanda Hamilton
"The romantic narrative demonstrates that a woman must learn to trust her man and to believe that he loves her deeply even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. The fantasy's conclusion suggests that when she manages such trust, he will reciprocate with declarations of his commitment to her.

...sound familiar? ;)

Just checking her Wikipedia page, the author is still alive and now I'm curious what she would have to say about the paranormal romance genre or even the BDSM boom brought on b...more
Patrick
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
H
Apr 27, 2013 H added it
Shelves: theory-criticism
(UNC Press 1991 reprint)

What the psychoanalytically based interpretation reveals is the deep irony hidden in the fact that women who are experiencing the consequences of patriarchal marriage's failure to address their needs turn to a story that ritually recites the history of the process by which those needs are constituted. They do so, it appears, because the fantasy resolution of the tale ensures the heroine's achievement of the very pleasure the readers endlessly long for. In thus reading the...more
Lucie
When I was assigned this book by my thesis supervisor, I didn't dare to hope that it will be very much readable or enjoyable. But it was! Even though this book was disussing reading habits of housewifes in the 80s, I found out that I read many of the books discussed there in my teens. Radway thorougly examined the Smithton women's reading habbits and provided many an interesting analyses of the novels and their impact on the said readers. I could do without the psychoanalyses detour, but I guess...more
Remy


The first chapter was about the history of genre books and publishing in general, and I found it utterly fascinating. After that, not really, and I skimmed quite a bit.
Amanda
Really interesting book about romance books and the readers. Very formulaic process but really provides a great means of escape.
Katherine
Radway's interviews with a group of avid romance novel readers reveal that, rather than being passive consumers of mass-manufactured culture, romance readers are actively engaging with their books and inviting stories to play a role in their lives. Radway also examines the act of reading and the economy of books to illustrate how romances speak to their readers' hidden yearnings.

An interesting companion read to Madame Bovary!

Reading the Romance could use some updated spinoffs, like Reading Chick...more
Cheyenne Black
Very dated and limited but if you are engaging in lit crit of the genre, this should be included.
Lizabeth Tucker
Subtitled "Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature".

I found the book interesting, but there was an undercurrent of snobbishness. The author "tries" to be "fair and understanding" to romance books and readers. However, the underlying theme I got from this study was "I only read these books for my thesis, I would NEVER personally enjoy them!" which is a great pity. This is a book that is interesting to read for the background and analysis contained within.
John
Read only part of this for a course. An ethnography of women in a fly-over state who read romance fiction. Looks at why they do it, why romances, how they use reading as a way to cope with patriarchal relationships and expectations. Some of the conclusions are iffy, but a milestone text for ASKING people why they do what they do, rather than ASSUMING you can figure it out because you're such a smarty-pants intellectual.
Judine
It loses a star because it's a theory book -- with all that implies. However, the detailed examples of various women who read romance novels make it much more engaging in the middle than the average thoery text. The last 20 or so pages were a bit tough to slog through because the conclusion was necessarily repetitive.
Bobbi
a book of research on why we all read a romance......not really so interesting after the first third. Rather read the romance then why I read the romance!
Jenni
This monograph is a bit ho-hum in 2011, but I can certainly see how it was groundbreaking in '84! A full-blown ethnographic study on reading romance novels? Far out.
Sarah (Say)
I don't read romance, and I don't plan to, but this book was AMAZING! It also calls into question many "high literature" assumptions regarding romance novels.
Kristen
She raises a lot of important points, but she could/should have been less condescending towards romance novels and their readers.
Jessica Robinson
Extremely dated and obnoxiously Freudian, but still an interesting reader survey analysis on a controversial genre.
Niki
helpful as early fan studies, but irritating in the way she continuously dismisses romance novels
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