This doctoral thesis investigates popular romance, a mass-cultural genre with a large female audience. Popular romance is often considered ”lowbrow” and is referred to by terms such as ”porn” and ”garbage”. The female reader of this so called “sentimental trash” is often portrayed as naïve and unworldly. The thesis makes this derogatory view of the genre its point of departure, to investigate what cultural understandings of gender and sexuality the critique against popular romance entails. The thesis further investigates how these conceptions of gender and sexuality deviate from and challenge a culturally promoted and normative sexuality.The thesis consists of six chapters. The first chapter describes the selection of the empirical material and the theoretical and methodological framework. The empirical material consists of the three novels in the popular series Fifty Shades of Grey and the four novels and five films in the popular series Twilight. The thesis places itself within the field of feminist cultural studies and queer theory. It makes use of the concept of masturbation (both literal and figurative) as an analytical entry point and as a method focusing on the “here and now” of romance reading.The second chapter contextualizes the study by defining the term “popular romance” and by providing a brief historical overview of the genre. Previous research on popular romance is presented and discussed in relation to the derogatory view of the genre.The third chapter studies the Swedish media commentaries on Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight to define how the rejected romance reader is conceptualized, and how this romance reader is presumed to be reading. This “romance reader” is thereafter discussed in relation to the Western historical discourse on masturbation, “female illness” and (women’s) private reading. The chapter closes with a discussion on the form of reading that the romance reader is associated with. This self-immersed, excessive and over-invested reading form is defined as “masturbatory”.The fourth chapter explores the act of romance reading when defined as a sexual activity. The romance community is compared to the “second wave” feminism of the 1970s in order to demonstrate how the genre establishes a separatist female community where relations, positions, and identifications are in motion, revealing both homoerotic and autoerotic elements to this homosocial context.In the fifth chapter, a close reading of the material is performed with a focus on the “here and now” of the reading situation. The dichotomy of desiring subject and desired object is problematized in relation to looks and gaze. The thesis argues that the romance text uses detailed and intimate descriptions to instill a sexual charge and to freeze the flow of the storyline in order to make room for constant erotic contemplation. These “frozen moments” and the repetitiveness of the genre are discussed in relation to theories of queer temporality. The romance text constructs a room “outside of time” that privileges the overwhelming pleasures of the “here and now”. This liminal room is not only available for the heroine and hero of the story, but for the romance reader as well.The sixth and final chapter ties together the main arguments of the thesis in an overarching discussion on how conceiving romance reading as a form of masturbation challenges previous research on popular romance and the gendering of and contempt for mass culture.
HUMANITIES -- Other Humanities -- Cultural Studies (hsv//eng)
HUMANIORA -- Annan humaniora -- Kulturstudier (hsv//swe)