Confessions of a Harlequin Reader: Romance and the Myth of Male Mothers

  • Angela Miles
Part of the Culture Texts book series (CULTTX)


Like most women, I think, I have read one or two Harlequins over the years when nothing else was available. All I saw, at first, were sexist, predictable, often poorly written stories with boorish heros and embarrassingly childish heroines. They have a rigid formula which, unlike many other aspects, has remained unchanged over the years. In fact, the guide sheet for aspiring authors warns that the plot must not interfere with the romance and asks them to make their manuscript approximately (!) 188 pages in length. As one romance writer succinctly put it: “In the Roman rose the plot is always the same: attraction followed by repulsion; despair at the hero’s indifference; jealousy; reconciliation on the last page.”1 That means the last page, literally. Never earlier.


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    In 1982 Harlequin Enterprises sold 218 million books in twelve languages in 98 countries. In Canada twenty eight percent of the paperbacks sold were Harlequins. Romances of all kinds, taken together made up fifty percent of paperback sales in the U. S. From Margaret Jensen, Love’s Sweet Return: The Harlequin Story, (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1984), p. 34.Google Scholar
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    Lillian Rubin, Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working Class Family, (Basic Books, 1976): 40-41. The same deprivation and its link to romantic fantasy is evident in such other accounts of working class family and community as in Basil Henriques et al., Coal is Our Life: An Analysis of a Yorkshire Mining Community, and Meg Luxton, More Than a Labour of Love: Three Generations of Women’s Work in the Home, (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1980).Google Scholar
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    The theoretical study of women’s specific sexuality is less developed than the study of our specific relationship to the world and to power. But circumstantial evidence from a number of sources supports the implications from Harlequins that intimacy, nurture, and security are central to women’s erotic pleasure. When Ann Landers asked her readers “Would you be content to be held close and treated tenderly and forget about ‘the act’?” 72 percent of the 90,000 women who responded said “Yes” and 40 percent of these were less than 40 years old (Shere Hite, Women and Love: Cultural Revolution in Progress, [New York: Knopf, 1987]).Google Scholar
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    Some writers who rightly challenge the extremely negative stereotyping of Harlequin readers and point out that we are active participants in the process and not mere passive victims, have moved from this to a representation of Harlequins as more benign than I think is warranted. See, for instance, the defense of Harlequins and Harlequin reading in Margaret Jensen, Gail Hamilton, Tatiana Tolstoi, all op. cit.; and Emily Toth, “Who’ll Take Romance?” Women’s Review of Books 1, 5 (February 1984): 12–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© New World Perspectives, CultureTexts Series 1991

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  • Angela Miles

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