Unreal But Not Untrue
Is true love real or fiction? Is romantic love in fiction unreal but not untrue? How do romance novels play with fiction and reality, and how do some other disciplines explore similar questions in their own fields? Guest: Dr. Eric Selinger
Is true love real or fiction? Is romantic love in fiction unreal but not untrue? How do romance novels play with fiction and reality, and how do some other disciplines explore similar questions in their own fields? Guest: Dr. Eric Selinger
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- Routledge Companion to Romantic Love edited by Ann Brooks
- Deakin University’s Concepts in Popular Genre Fiction Conference
Andrea Martucci: So if we start with basically romance novels circle around this idea of is romantic love real is true love real, where I would come to at the end of through that that is that there is no useful distinction. It's the wrong question
Eric Selinger: The situation's a lot more nuanced than that.
Andrea Martucci: yeah, it's actually a lot more nuanced than that.
Eric Selinger: one possibility. It's an either word distinction. That's not it. Another possibility. Well, it's a continuum, right? There's like the purely real over here, the purely fake over here. It's not really that either. It's, they are inextricably linked with one another, the fake one doesn't work and doesn't convince us, except in as much as it connects with real desires, real feelings, et cetera, et cetera. The real is inchoate and hard to parse what is it that I am feeling except via the various scripts that the culture gives us. It's like these two, the ratio can vary from instance to instance, but they are always have to both be present.
There is no completely unscripted, a cultural experience of love because emotions are cultural experiences as well as biological facts. And similarly, anything that's a purely cultural representation, the purely fake representation just crumbles except in as much as it connects to some kind of emotion that is connected to the real.
That's why looking at some account of love or representation of love, that's from a culture that's completely foreign to you or from a time that's completely alien, you look at it and you say but that has nothing to do with love. If you think about Dante and Beatrice, I have absolutely no sense of what Dante feels for Beatrice is love. He keeps saying this word. I do not think he knows what that word means. I'm not thinking it means what he thinks it means. To me, the idea of saw you once across a crowded church when I was nine years old and had this experience just doesn't parse.
Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories in fiction across media time and cultures. Shelf Love is for the curious and open-minded who joyfully question as they consume pop culture. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and today I am joined by Dr. Eric Selinger, to discuss romantic love in fiction. Is it unreal, but not untrue? How do romance novels play with fiction and reality and how do some other disciplines explore similar questions in their own fields?
The first part of this conversation is the 20 minute version of a podcast paper that we created for Deakin University in Australia's Concepts in Popular Genre Fiction Conference. This virtual symposium was convened by Dr. Jodi McAllister and Dr. Helen Young earlier this month in December 2021. I was thrilled to collaborate with Eric on this project. And as a reminder, if you haven't heard one of our previous [00:03:00] conversations on Shelf Love, eric Murphy selinger is a popular romance scholar, executive editor of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, aKA jeepers, and is a Professor of English at DePaul university.
We had to murder a lot of darlings while cramming a lot into the 20 minutes that we were allowed to have when we submitted our podcast. So, because this is my podcast and I make the rules in the second part of this episode, I'm going to take the sweepings from my little dust pan, some excerpts from the cutting room floor that go into some more detailed examples from texts. I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Andrea Martucci: conceptions of popular romance fiction tend to assume the texts, its readers, and its writers believe in romantic love as a truth rather than a fantasy. Why then do so many romance novels draw our attention to love, not just as something holy and true, but also as something scripted, confected and unreal? And how are these explorations interpreted when viewed through the lens of literal scripted fiction?
In this conversation between myself, Andrea Martucci, and Eric Selinger, we are going to explore some ways authors of romance texts investigate questions of romantic love on the page. What is fact and what is fiction and how do other disciplines explore these questions in complimentary or challenging ways that shed additional light on the broader discourse and contexts that readers and writers live in?
Eric Selinger: The concept of romantic love is so central to romance novels that you'd think it would be central to the scholarship about them too. We do have scholars who've looked at how historically the type of love that counts as true has changed in romance fiction. It's become more sexualized, more psychologized, more grounded, in what David Shumway calls the discourse of intimacy or relationship dynamics, as opposed to the older, more idealized tradition he calls the discourse of romance, and so on.
What hasn't been studied as much so far is how romance novels do their thinking. And in particular, how a genre that's often assumed to be unequivocally sincere when it comes to true love, actually offers, not always, but often what Eva Illouz calls an ironic structure of romantic feeling. Even if the ironies involved are more poignant and playful and tender than what we find in other genres.
So one way to think of ironic structures in popular romance is to think about how love in these novels gets conceptualized through some ratio of what Illouz calls, following Faber enchanted and disenchanted accounts of what love is, how it starts, how it feels, how it should be expressed. A second way is to use a phrase that novelist Jennifer Crusie borrows from Max Luthi. [00:06:00] Romance novels she says, tell love stories that are quote "unreal, but not untrue." Where the irony lies in the interplay between the truth and the unreality."
Maybe the best place to start though is with one or two of the many enduring plots and tropes in the genre that invite us to think about the relationships between the unreal and the real, the fictive, the real, the romantic, and the real and so on.
Andrea Martucci: Yes, let's start with tropes. Tropes are recurring themes or storylines within a genre and often are in conversation with other uses of the theme across pop culture, but also in conversation with the lived experiences of readers and writers in the quote unquote real world. The endurance of particular tropes are an indication that there's something both rich and fascinating to explore.
I personally love the trope of fake dating. It explicitly explores the performance of a cultural script of romantic love and forces the characters to grapple with that blurry line between unreal and real love.
So fake dating is when both main characters knowingly on page determine that they are going to date each other in order to solve some sort of external issue. They are in on this together, but deceiving others about the reality of their relationship
And usually what happens because it is a romance novel is they actually get to know each other and fall in love. And by simulating a fake relationship, they actually create a real relationship.
I think that the fake dating trope is really interesting to think about because not only does it serve these plot reasons, like you get the forced proximity of two people who would not date each other under other circumstances, and they're spending time together and they have this opportunity to fall in love.
But I think it also serves a meta reason as well. It nods to the romance reader who is also in on the idea that this is a romantic simulation .
But what I think is really diabolical about this trope when done well, is that it actually ends up reinforcing that there isn't really a difference between acting like you're in love and actually being in love. Over the course of simulating their relationship, they actually end up experiencing love and they would not have had that opportunity if they had not engaged in this unreal relationship.
So the fake dating trope then is engaging with this idea of the relationship being unreal, but not untrue. And that helps us the reader past our resistance and skepticism that we have as modern readers, because we're aware that this is a trope, but this book assures us, the author lets us know that they also know that this is a trope. We are all in on an even the characters are in on it.
And yet we all believe by the end of the novel that this is a real relationship. And if we believe that then the trope is successful.
So these explorations are [00:09:00] not limited just to literary studies. And it's a topic that scientists, philosophers, sociologists, semiologists, et cetera, have been talking about in various other fields for ages as well.
For example, social psychologist Amy Cuddy studied embodied cognition, which is essentially turning our understanding that our embodied experience influences our minds and asking well, can our mind also influence our body? And what she tested specifically was related to power poses.
She and her colleagues found that people who embody poses that are associated with power actually start to feel more powerful, and others perceive them as more powerful. Essentially the performance of power creates power.
The biological explanation for this is that the power poses increased testosterone and decrease cortisol. And these hormones make people feel more powerful and more risk tolerant.
So this brings me back to fake dating. Fiction explores the idea that you can really fall in love if you spend time around somebody and b y being physically close to them and cuddling with them. And so other studies have found that cuddling releases oxytocin, which is sometimes known as the love hormone, because it makes you feel bonded to somebody else.
I mean, even your dog. Cuddling with your dog releases oxytocin.
So romantic fiction explores this dynamic through the fake dating trope and social psychologists may study this idea with a study on embodied cognition. So perhaps these cultural scripts or tropes or ways we perform or express romantic love are not overdone because of their repetition, but instead they're repeated- albeit with varying levels of hyperbole -because they all stem from and contain an element of truth.
Eric, how has Roland Barthes engaged with this idea?
Eric Selinger: There's a wonderful passage in Barthes' A Lover's Discourse which I've been thinking about since I was in my twenties which is a lot of decades now. He says "anguish wound, distress, or jubilation: the body overwhelmed" paraphrasing now, by emotion.
And yet when I actually look into myself to see what's going on in my mind and in my heart, I realize that what I'm doing is repeating a quotation. That these intense bodily affective experiences are not somehow outside the world of signs and cultural scripts, that they are inextricably bound up in them.
For Barthes that scriptedness often seems to be a source of embarrassment. He talks about love as a citational emotion. You're not getting something that is unmediated and beyond culture, what you're getting is a whole stockpile of tropes and rhetorical moves [00:12:00] and all of the signifiers of love are there to be drawn on and put into action.
So potentially the scriptedness of love can be a source of embarrassment, of chagrin, of self-consciousness, of irony in a really negative sense. This is something that we see sometimes Barthes talking about, "obscenity of sentimentality" is his phrase for it. We see sociologist Eva Illouz talking about this, when she says that in the postmodern world romantic love has an ironic structure of feeling.
And she means that as something that undermines love, that undermines our ability to wholeheartedly feel passion, desire, affection, connection, et cetera, because we're hyper aware of how scripted all of this is.
And partly we're starting with Barthes because in one of my favorite romance novels, Glitterland by Alexis Hall, one of the heroes, Ash Winters at moments of emotional intensity and vulnerability with Darian, the other hero - he will often try to control the situation or deal with this overwhelming emotion by flipping into analytical mode. He's very well educated and he'll begin quoting Roland Bart hes to the effect that, of course, we're just falling into this empty set of signifiers and so on and so forth.
And he has to figure out how to get past that undermining version of irony. That's not the only kind of irony that's out there though. You can have an ironic structure that is playful, that's poignant, that's tender, that's amused. And I think that version of irony is much closer to what it is that the romance novel often traffics in.
Yes, we know it's a script. The scripts are what we have, we can't not be aware of it, but being aware of it doesn't stop us.
Umberto Eco has that famous bit about the postmodern condition being like a hyper educated man trying to court a hyper educated woman. And he can't say, "I love you madly" because that's the kind of thing they say in cheesy romance novels. So he can say, "I love you madly as Barbara Cartland would say."
I think the whole genre of the romance novel is to the reader as that character in Eco is to this person he's courting. The whole genre keeps saying to us, " Love madly as Barbara Cartland would say." And we know that there's a game and the author knows it's a game and that we are then playing it together.
And that opens up this space for connection, for affection, for emotion and so on.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. So this brings me to Baudrillard my favorite philosopher. I think that Jean Baudrillard and the work he did in Simulations provides an interesting way of thinking about the self-awareness of an audience who is bringing in their own skepticism of media and how hard it is to distinguish between a convincing fake and the real thing.
Jean Baudrillard discusses the idea of the hyper real, which is symbolically like reality without having an origin in reality. [00:15:00] It's a simulation of reality that is more real than real.
And he discusses how our consciousness is fundamentally unable to distinguish between the hyperreal, as a simulation of reality, and reality.
He uses the example of Disneyland, which is a fantastical exaggerated simulation of America and American ideologies that visitors knowingly lose themselves in while acknowledging it as a land of fantasy.
Baudrillard says, and this is a quote from Simulations, "Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the real country, all of real America, which is Disneyland, just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety and its banal omnipresence, which is carceral." End quote. Baudrillard is a real barrel of laughs.
He continues. "Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real."
So we can maintain our idea that the real world exists as separate from the fantasy world when we immerse ourselves in these hyper real worlds. The ironic mode that you described earlier, Eric, is an example of the texts themselves acknowledging that they are hyper real, which nobody would dispute because they know that they're reading a book.
Opening a romance novel is like walking through the gates of Disneyland. Intellectually you know that you're stepping into a fantasy because you bought a ticket to get in. Some romance novels are the equivalent of Cinderella's castle, which is a blatant fairytale. And others are like Main Street USA, which are just a little more exaggerated than your lived experience, but simulate places you may actually go every day.
Eric Selinger: There were some books where the imaginary, or let's say the explicitly fictive is presented as a fantasy so that we will believe that the rest of love is real. Jeannie Lin's The Lotus Blossom does this incredibly well. We get this world of ninth century Tang dynasty, love, culture, poetry songs, elegant flirtations, and all of that is the fictive romance against which, or within which, some truer love based on tiny gestures of intimate care plays out for our protagonists and also for our hero's parents in ways that he has to learn to recognize.
But, of course, both of these loves are living in the fiction of the novel and the second one is just as scripted as the first, it's just a different script. What David Shumway calls the discourse of intimacy as opposed to the discourse of romance. So that's very much in line with Baudrillard.
On the other hand, we also get novels where the fictiveness of love is played up precisely to get us thinking about how inescapably the fictive and the real are interwoven in every kind of love, including out here in the world outside of books.
These are books that teach us to deploy what Michael Saler calls a mindset of disenchanted enchantment, where we [00:18:00] are enchanted, not deluded by the tropes and the scripts in the books and those that we live by. Books like that are doing Baudrillard in their own small way.
They're guiding us to think multiply and playfully and provisionally about love and also how to use that extravagant language that convention has bequeathed to us as a way to enoble and deepen and get more joy from a world that might otherwise look kind of mundane.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And I think Baudrillard's work is explicitly asking us to flip our cynicism around the other way. What if instead of focusing on the fictive nature of fiction, we turn our attention to our lived experiences and question to what extent we are constantly filtering our experiences through a collection of familiar storylines and considering what's possible based on where we think we fit in the narrative.
So rather than questioning to what degree do romance novels present real love versus fantasy or manufactured, scripted love. What if we ask to what degree am I living my own life according to a script? Or with an awareness to that script of romantic love, or even in defiance or resistance to that script.
Once you acknowledge that your own experience is heavily influenced by the narrative that you're familiar with, you're able to see that the truth of romantic love is not carved in stone: it's clay, and you can mold it and reform it. And that can be re-imagined to your specifications.
And that frees you to ask, what do I want for myself? What can I imagine for myself?
And I think it's helpful to come back to the reason why we love stories and how stories serve a practical function. Fictional narratives generally can be understood as a way for audiences to explore other ways of living that are outside their own experience. In popular romance fiction, specifically, when they focus on exploring the process of falling in love and share a vision for what they believe romantic love looks like and use narrative and rhetorical choices that present some visions of love as desirable and others as undesirable, they're presenting fantasies that are a way for the audience, real people, to try out another way of being in a safe space, where they can consider how they feel about it before committing to it.
In the Truman show, a movie that engages with Baudrillard's ideas of the hyperreal, the creator of Truman's hyperreal existence says, "we accept the reality of the world with which we're presented."
Romance novels can present alternate worlds of romantic love that we can then accept as possible or viable realities. It makes a lot of sense to me that portraying romantic love, even knowing it's a fantasy, can be a practice of manifesting real outcomes of love in one's own life. Even if it's not specifically or exactly the script you want in your own life, the script just becomes one more in your repertoire that you can draw on.
I think this segues nicely into the work that Eva Illouz has [00:21:00] done on cultural scripts of romance.
Eric Selinger: As a sociologist that is interested in the history of the cultural scripts that make up our sense of what is, and is not a romantic experience or what is, or is not romantic, how these emerged, how these are tied up inextricably with the emergence of a particular modern version of capitalism.
And how the fact that a set of images, a set of experiences, a set of tropes, if you will, circulate so widely through advertisements, through films, through TV, through mass media, I think her phrase is " semiotic oversaturation." That we are so inundated by these images that it's very hard to remain unaware that when we are out on a particular kind of romantic date or are traveling and going to a tropical paradise, et cetera, et cetera, it's not really authenticity because what we're doing is playing out what we've seen on TV shows, movies, have been invited to experience by ads and so on. So when Illouz goes and talks to well-educated upper middle-class folks in the nineties, what she finds is a tremendous sense of hyper-awareness on their part, that they know that their romantic lives are culturally scripted.
They know that those scripts are part of the mass market. They feel as well-educated members of the upper middle-class that they should have somehow be beyond or above that kind of cultural programming, And yet are unable to escape it. Every escape into authenticity has already been anticipated and presented to them in a media format.
I think Illouz is interesting because what you can see in romance novels from that same period from the mid to late nineties you and I are both fans of Jennifer Crusie.
Jennifer Crusie comes into the romance world in the mid to late nineties. Her novels are filled with characters who are experiencing are familiar with that issue of semiotic over saturation. The manifesting idea that you were talking about, for example, comes up in a really interesting and nuanced, and I think emotionally affected way in Crusie's, novel Bet Me.
Where Min Dobbs our heroine can't allow herself to quote unquote, believe in the fairy tale.
And when she finally has a kind of long heart to heart with her friend Bonnie, who is the representative in the novel who does believe in the fairytale, it becomes clear that believing in the fairytale is not a stupid or mindless proposition.
It is a way of allowing yourself to think if there were such a thing as a happy ending what would mine look like? And having envisioned that Bonnie says, okay. Now that's the hard part. That was the leap of faith part, everything after that is reason. Everything after that is logical concrete step. But when she is asked that question Min's first response, as she begins to [00:24:00] articulate what her happy ending is, she cuts herself off. She says, Oh, this is stupid. This is such a cliche.
One thing I think that we are getting at, you and I here, is the idea that there are a lot of disciplines out there that think and talk about and investigate romantic love that have developed interesting and elaborate vocabularies for thinking about love.
Often I think what we find is a much more kind of equal conversation between the genre and the surrounding intellectual culture, that ideas in the air in all of these academic disciplines are already there, already being thought through in the novels and are manifest in the novels through plot structures, fake dating or forced proximity and so on.
And Crusie doesn't just document that it's out there in the air. She uses her novel to think it through, weaving it into dialogue, plot structure, figurative language, allusion, right down to the sentence level. And she's not the only novelist to do this.
My sense in fact, is that a lot of romance novels can be read doubly both as love stories and as full-blown novels of ideas, including some very interesting ideas about love. Now by this, I don't mean those are the only romance novels worth reading, the ones that work with concepts in this stereoscopic way. And I think we're on the same page about that.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, when studying romance novels, also really important to remember that at the end of the day, most consumers are reading romance novels for a feeling.
You can't just wink at the audience and hit the beats of the tropes without actually investing our hearts or our feelings in it. If you want to show me through the course of this story, that despite modern disenchantment, I can have true, real love, you're not going to convince me if your argument doesn't actually engage my emotions because that's really what makes a successful romance novel.
Eric Selinger: What popular fiction does, what novels do, is allow us to have a kind of affective relationship to ideas. They let us experience the feeling of, or the emotional impact of, or the stakes, the emotional stakes of what in a philosophical text can seem like very dry or arid or abstract concepts. A romance novel that is simply theory by another name probably will not satisfy in the way that a romance novel that hits me both in the heart and the mind will do.
Andrea Martucci: Whew. I think we covered a lot of ground there and there is really just so much to dig into in more detail. So here are a few excerpts from our full conversation. Where Eric and I explored how some [00:27:00] of these ideas crop up in specific texts. Also as a side note, Eric wrote a few chapters in the recently published Routledge Research Companion to Romantic Love edited by Ann Brooks. And the essay that he and I make mention to here is chapter 30 Disenchantment and its Discontents, Modern Love and Irony in Popular Romance Fiction.
Eric Selinger: Have you ever read Looking for Group by Alexis Hall?
People don't know this one as much, but I just, I love the this novel. This is one where the heroes meet because they're both players of a sort of World of Warcraft computer massive multiplayer computer game. So they need, and they begin courting and flirting and such in the virtual space. Then it turns out that they both live near to one another and they begin to meet and develop a relationship in real time.
And so, the novel is very much about what's the relationship between the virtual space, which is all codified. It's a game, right, there are rules, there are levels. Your level up by defeating these bosses and so on and so on. And real life, which is of course on the one hand, much bigger and messier and more complicated than a computer game.
But at one point one of the heroes, as he's reflecting on the fact that he's never dated a guy before, he's always thought of himself as straight, and he's thinking about his own life, he's thinking well, but on the other hand, how I've been living my life up to this point was just that sense of leveling up, okay, you're this age, so you do this thing this age, you start dating or this age to go to college or university. And what have you.
And he suddenly flashes on this insight of wait a minute. The real world, the real social world is also structured, like a game. There is nothing outside the game. And there's even one moment where, the characters are talking. And one of them says, oh shit. And you just made me remember the game. And that's like a whole thing going back to, I dunno what the eighties, right.
This idea that we're all playing the game. And the only way to win the game is to forget that you are playing the game and any time somebody reminds you that you're playing the game you've lost and you have to say out loud, Oh no.
I've lost the game. Which triggers other people remembering that they are in a game. Very similar concept, right.
That there's no, there is no real outside
Andrea Martucci: That makes me think that like I ended up part of your essay that I really honed in on is towards the end where you're talking about Bonnie in Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. And Bonnie says, "believing in the fairy tale is not irrational or ideological delusion, but rather a decision to think and act as if one's desires could be attained since only such thinking in this book allows one to articulate and act on them."
And what I wrote in the margins was Judith Butler and also the word manifest. And also, and what I was thinking here was like, bigger picture that I think you literally said this, like that irony is the [00:30:00] postmodern con. You said that, but I think you were quoting somebody, but irony is the postmodern condition.
And thinking about how our self-awareness of all of this is like a result or caused by the age we live in which we think of ourselves as products. And we are aware of the stories and we are aware of the discourse around things being real or fake. And so we are in this postmodern condition where, and again, this is like ringing very close to the conversation you and I had about Glitterland, and what's his faces like ideas around Love is that we are aware of the structures. We are aware that we are living in and we modern people can't look at a candle at dinner, like, you know, Illouz in Consuming the Romantic Utopia but talking about like the construction of our romantic ideals based on like capitalism and
Eric Selinger: Movie's advertisements, it's all trying to sell us something.
Andrea Martucci: And so we are aware that there is this system. And when we descend into these fantasies in order to relax and allow ourselves to go along with it, we have to believe almost that the author is also aware, like this is where the irony I think comes in.
Eric Selinger: For Eco, irony gives you access to all of this good possibility. That to me is very much like what Bonnie says, right? if the fairy tale were real. Only by proposing this as if right. If the fairy tale were real, then what would you want? Because only by asking the question that way, do you actually get access to what it is you want.
And, Min immediately was like, oh, it's stupid. It's a cliche, et cetera. She's like, shut up. What is it that comes out of your mouth when you propose this? If there were such a happy ending, what would it be? What's fun about that scene is that it's simultaneously giving you access to all of this sort of magical thinking and enchantment enchanted discourse of the fairytale.
But it's also a totally practical thing. And, for Bonnie, it's just the same as saying, if I could find the perfect couch, what would it look like?
Because then I have a template and when something matches the template, boom, I can buy it.
Andrea Martucci: The idea of manifesting is very much like that. Like you're not going to get what you want, if you can't define what you want.
And the practical side of manifesting is that once you have defined what it is you're looking for, then you have a much better idea of that, what's the template. What are the practical steps that I could take to do this thing? But first you have to allow yourself that permission to dream outside of what you believe reality is based on what reality is for you now.
And that's what fantasy is, right? It is believing in something outside [00:33:00] of your own experience. And so in order to change your experience you have a crappy couch now and you want to have a better couch. You have to allow yourself to dream about what a better couch would be. If you want to find a partner and you don't believe in romantic love, you have to allow yourself to be like, yeah, yeah, this is all bullshit.
But what if I pushed aside the candelelit dinners and the roses? What is a person I'm sitting with on the other side of the table? Who are they? What would that look like? What would a non-cheesy version of that?
And Crusie has so many of those like bad date scenarios where her character is just like, you suck.
Eric Selinger: And often it's when the couple or one person in the couple is trying to make it happen by working from the outside in. We're going to go to this fancy restaurant and therefore she will be impressed with me and so on and so forth as opposed to moving from the inside out, which is going to go to this restaurant that we actually like, even though it doesn't seem that romantic and the chemistry between the people transforms the experience into something that is in fact closer to the script, or it's a matter of different scripts in that case.
Andrea Martucci: Or we're going to sit in a bed after having sex and eat dumplings.
Which is how Jennifer Crusie's characters always handle that. Is they never have a nice dinner outside. It's always like in the intimate sphere
Eric Selinger: Or it's at Emilio's. which is the version of that. It's also like a version of the romance genre. I think. The one thing that I'd add though, and this is something that I don't see Illouz really talking about. I don't know if Baudrillard talks about it.
And there are two related thoughts. One is I think that this kind of as if thinking more doubleness and so on when it comes to love is probably almost as old as the discourse of true love itself. In other words, I think it's probably a fairly short time, certainly in the Renaissance, maybe even in medieval lit and I don't know medieval lit well enough to say so, but certainly in the Renaissance you've already got this kind of playful ironic stereoscopic approach to what is and is not romantic.
Fake dating is just a modern version of what happens to Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, where each is fooled into thinking the other one's in love with them. And then they end up in love with each other, where it's a lie that gives access to something true or creates something true.
Or even in Jane Austen. Austen is famously an ironist, but often when people talk about Austen as an ironist, they make it seem like she's being simply ironic about true love. And I think any romance reader would say she's being doubly ironic about it. She's being ironic about t he conventions and how they can screw people up or lead people astray, or just be extravagant nonsense, her characters, Lizzie Bennet, can see [00:36:00] through that kind of stuff. She's a very clear eyed, clearheaded heroine. And yet precisely because of that, she gets to have this incredibly romantic scene, for example, or romantic relationship with Darcy, which is never, his proposal was never represented on the page.
the one text that I feel like somewhere needs to be mentioned in our discussion here, because I think it's really relevant, is The Princess Bride, because I feel like The Princess Bride is one of these texts that is playing that double game where simultaneously we laugh at the Bishop and a "Mawwidge is about Twoo Wove," we are being invited both to laugh at the extravagant discourse of true love and at the same time that because the text is acknowledging our kind of adult irony and knowingness about "Twoo Wove" it also then opens up the space in which we get to be like the kid listening and getting drawn into the story and actually believing in the power of true love while simultaneously not believing in the power of true love. We know that it's all a story and yet the story gives us access to something real. That's why people care so much about that movie.
Arguably the novel overplays, the irony side, and that's why the novel isn't as iconic as the film. The novel is trying harder to be funny and ironic and ends up being a lot less emotionally engaging than the movie is.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, and I wonder if part of that too, is because of just the differences of the medium, and I think that as Jayashree Kamble has talked about in Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction talking about the differences between showing emotions and telling action and vice versa, is if you think about a romance novel, as she talks about, it is a unique form because showing emotion in a romance novel, there's always going to be a certain amount of that extravagance, right? Like it is the nature of the format. And if you were watching two actors make moon eyes at each other on the screen, it's a lot easier to sort of buy the emotion, without them saying anything or without hearing their interiority or whatever.
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Need help this holiday season, or are you looking for ways that you can give back? Hi, this is Andrea Martucci from Shelf Love Podcast. And I'm here to let you know about Romancelandia Holiday Fairies, a mutual aid effort launched in 2020 that connects gift givers directly with people who could use some material help with gifts for themselves or loved ones this season.
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