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Scholarly and Scandalous

I do not at all pretend to be scholarly and I am way too boring to be scandalous, but I’ll use these words to write about what has captured my interest these last couple of days.

First, take a look at this article in the New Haven Register, They’re Teaching a Romance Novel Course at Yale But It Is Not What You Think

The course is being taught by our Regency Pals and Yale alumni, Andrea DaRif (Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott) and Lauren Willig.

Description of the course from the college syllabus: The Regency romance tradition from the works of Jane Austen to modern permutations of the genre. Discussion of novels in textual, historical, and sociological context through examination of changing tropes and themes.

The romance community has known about this course for some time (follow links in Andrea/Cara’s website), but it is fun to see it getting wider press. A Google search shows that lots of sites are picking up on the Register article.

Sarah at Smart Bitches mentions the course, as well as a documentary film in progress about the making of romance novels being made for PBS’s American Experience (Can’t wait to hear more about that one!).

One of the things I love about the Yale course is that it is focussing on REGENCY Romance, which I think is a first in the small but growing trend to include study of romance novels in Engligh programs. It is the first Ivy League school to have such a course. Apparently 80 people tried to sign up for the course, which only had 18 spaces.

I was an English major in college and I would have loved to take such a course. I always thought reading my way through my major was the cushiest way to earn a degree, but it would have been even better to read what I loved. Even more, it would have been a delight to discuss the books I love in a serious, scholarly way.

We’ll have to check in with Cara and Lauren at the end of the course to see how it went.

While we are on the subject of academia, I also learned about a blog by a George Mason University Jane Austen scholar about Grace Dalrymple Elliot, the subject of Jo Manning’s wonderful biography, My Lady Scandalous. Moody both lauds Jo’s achievement, yet is dismayed by the book’s title and presentation, which seems to me to be designed for popular consumption.

Moody particularly objects to the use of the word “scandalous” in the title, making the point that it depreciates Elliot as a strong woman of her time by defining her in terms of her sexual history rather than her own achievements. I’m sure I’m not representing her opinion accurately, but it was an interesting blog and and interesting debate with Jo Manning in the comments section.

I do think it a truth that women of the late 18th-early 19th century who wound up as courtesans were considered scandalous at the time. Freedoms we modern women take for granted – being able to leave destructive marriages, having the freedom to have a sexual life, the right to earn a living and keep custody of our children – were not available to women in Regency times. Yet strong women like Grace Elliot still existed and managed to live amazing lives.

If you were designing a course in Regency Romance what authors would you have the students read?

Do you have a pet peeve about how historical women are viewed by us today?

Visit Risky Regencies this Saturday, Feb 6, when our own Cara King returns to tell us about her Regency Ball!

Check my website for my latest news, like the fact that The Wagering Widow, re-released in a double book, Regency High-Society Affairs Vol. 12 (free shipping from Book Depository and a discount, too). Plenty of time to enter my contest for a chance to win two copies of The Marriage Bargain, my Diane Perkins book.

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cara elliott
12 years ago

Diane, Thanks for the lovely mention!

Lauren and I are having an amazing time teaching the course at Yale. We started with Austen and Heyer, and today we are doing Woodiwiss’s “The Flame and the Flower” which should spark some very interesting discussion!

It’s been really heartening to see how serious the students are about examining Regency romance as a serious literary genre. And we are having such fun telling them all about the Regency world . . . Almacks, Bath, Prinny’s Pavilion, curricles and quizzing glasses! (But lud, I had forgotten how much work school is! I spend a LOT of time preparing for class.)

Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches and Carrie Feron from Avon have kindly agreed to come speak with the class later in the semester about the genre, so that will be a wonderful experience for the students.

Lauren and I look forward to making periodic reports on how things are going in New Haven—and we’re also going to try to share our syllabus and supplemental reading list if the powers-that-be give us their blessing to make it public.

So please stay tuned!

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Cara/Andrea! How wonderful to hear the course is being well received, but I never had ANY doubt! I know I have always loved scholarly discussion of the genre, one of the reasons I love to listen to our WRW’s Kathy Seidel.

I have taught courses in my distant past and well remember how much work it was to prepare. If they continue the course, though, the work will be less for you and all you’ll have to do is make improvements where necessary and additions as the romance writing world changes.

Please do keep us at Risky Regencies informed!

Jo Manning
12 years ago

I want to thank all of my Regency romance sisters for their support on the recent heated discussion in the blogosphere started by Ellen Moody’s comments on my book, My Lady Scandalous. I appreciate all of your clear-headed contributions on this issue.

And, for any on this Risky Regencies listserv who are in London the latter part of May, I am scheduled to give a presentation at Dr. Johnson’s House on the evening of the 20th, which is a Thursday.

I took all the research — and there was plenty! — from My Lady Scandalous on the 18th-century art world and put together a story on three of the most prominent portraitists of the time (Reynolds, Romney, and Gainsborough) and their relationships with their favorite sitters (all of whom were actresses and/or courtesans).

It’s a very personal talk but I think I manage to impart a good deal of information on the period and the people for a general audience and also for aficionados of the late 18th-early 19th-centuries.

Last August I gave this a trial run at the Bass Museum in Miami Beach and it was well received. I hope some of you will be able to stop by!

Jo Manning
12 years ago

Ladies, thought you’d be amused by this, from an English colleague, on the Ellen Moody kerfuffle:

“Well done you on standing up to the academics!”

Too bad all academics are not like Lauren, Cara, et al., who don’t look down their noses at Regency (and other) romances.

Am thrilled about this course they are teaching at Yale! Wish I could take it.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Jo, I had not really thought of these two things as opposite issues on the academic spectrum! Let us hope that courses like Cara and Lauren’s, and the publicity they generate, will change distorted perceptions of the romance genre.

I am, by the way, all envy at those who will be able to hear your talk at Dr.Johnson’s house. Dr. Johnson, artists Romney, Reynolds and Gainsborough, and you–what could be better!

Tessa McDermid
12 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tessa McDermid
12 years ago

How thrilling to hear about the courses being taught on romance. Like many of you mentioned, I took literature courses in college and would have loved to study the books that I was reading. Instead, whenever I mentioned certain authors, I could almost see the noses lifting in the air.

I’m currently giving talks around the area about writing and I’ve had to convince a couple groups that writing is writing, whatever the genre. I’m gaining some ground.

And, yes, class preps are challenging! I start a course on “Writing for Publication” this week. The good news is that I’ve taught the same class for the last few semesters so all I need to do is tweak.

Thanks for all the lovely books on the Regency period!

Jane Austen
12 years ago

I LOVED Jo Manning’s book and I thought that it was great for all sorts of readers. I read a lot of books about courtesans because they fascinate me and I really felt Manning did a good job at getting the information out, but also adding bits for people not so familiar. The thing that always gets me about courtesans is they are will to sell their bodies or sex for power. That’s what these women had and while you can say that they were powerful for other reasons, the truth is one of the main reasons they had real power when women couldn’t is partially because of the sex.

I would love to take the Cara Elliott and Lauren Willig class.

Jane Austen
12 years ago

PS Jo Manning’s book inspired me to come up with an exhibition of paintings of Scandalous women. Now I don’t work in a museum so I can’t use it anywhere, but it was a fun project to work on. Thanks for the inspiration Jo. In my opening paragraph I site your book as my inspiration. (I hope that’s okay).

Valerie L.
Valerie L.
12 years ago

Jane, remember the Tea With Jane Austen program we did in the library? Everyone came to it expecting to be bored. We talked about the role (and limitations of that role) of women in Regency times. Instead of being bored, the audience (paltry in numbers as it was) was fascinated. If only academia would be more open to this blend of literature. Kudos to all academics who try to open students’ minds with more than just the classics.

Jane Austen
12 years ago

Valerie, remember the guys loving the selling your wife at market bit? They made me laugh since they were listening, but hiding on the fringes. And the turn out may not have been as big as Cara and Lauren’s, but for UPT it was okay. And it was how my persona came to be.

Cara King
12 years ago

Ooh, I *so* wish I were taking that class!!!

BTW, Cara, is there any chance that you might share your reading list? I’m dying of curiosity to know which Heyer you chose, and which other books… (Pretty please with sugar on top???)

Cara

Cara King
12 years ago

Oh, and to answer your original questions, Diane:

If you were designing a course in Regency Romance what authors would you have the students read?

Hmm… Certainly Austen and Heyer, and possibly Orczy (as I think for a long time Regencies tended to be either Austen or Orczy inspired…certainly Heyer’s did!) And then perhaps Joan Smith’s SWEET AND TWENTY (as an example of the very verbal, witty Regency), something by Carla Kelly (to show how Regencies could be gritty, realistic, and angsty), Barbara Metzger (to show the genre’s farcical side), and then on from there… But I know there are ton of other authors who would equally well represent the different sides…

Do you have a pet peeve about how historical women are viewed by us today?

I think we underestimate how much hard work went into just about everything…

Cara

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Tessa, I agree with you! I’d have taken Cara and Lauren’s course in a hot minute! I’d be bummed if I was number 19 and didn’t make it in.

JA and Valerie, what a fun program. I went to a Smithsonian talk on the world of Jane Austen once, given by a University professor from Georgetown or GW, I forget which. It was well attended! Very funny that the men were listening but didn’t want anyone to know.

JA, you remind me of all the portraits using Emma Hamilton, the “pin up” girl of the day, who was, of course, a kept woman.

Cara, read Cara/Andrea’s comment (the first one). I think they need Yale’s permission to publicly release the course’s syllabus. I put a bid in for us to hear it when they can share.
(can’t wait to hear about the Regency Ball)

Megan Frampton
12 years ago

I wish I could take the course, too! I like many of Cara (King)’s suggestions for reading, and I would add Julia Quinn, Loretta Chase and Liz Carlyle. But definitely Kelly and Metzger.

Jane Austen
12 years ago

Diane, that Tea With Jane Austen was how I came to be JA. I came as her and then later I was asked to do some high school classes. Then I had to do a blog and thought I’ll be JA.
I also think it was nice you defended Jo Manning, but think the woman who wrote the blog is quite unfair and wrong. You can’t press 21st century ideals onto a 19th century woman. Elliot was around when the idea of feminism was just beginning, but it really wasn’t fleshed out yet. And she was scandalous. There’s no denying that. I would love to type that onto Ellen’s blog, but I can’t because when I tried at work I got a virus and now my whole system doesn’t work and porn pops up every 20 seconds. It’s lovely. But really I am quite fired up by that blog. Grrrrr……………

Jane Austen
12 years ago

PS I’d add Allison Lane. She was my first Regency and I can read her books again and again. I do too. I love her characters….I relate to them. I feel for them and she has yummy heroes.

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

I am green with envy that these 18 Eli are taking the course and I can’t! I know it will be fantastic! Hope they let you broadcast the syllabus!

A few of the things I think people would find interesting about the Regency is the education necessary for a peer and/or a peer’s wife to do what was required of them. I think people often see them as the idle rich, but many were highly educated and smart businesspeople. A duke basically had to know how to run a small to medium business, an agricultural endeavor and a small kingdom all at once. A woman had to know how to run a large household, organize entertainments and do charitable work. Many of the things and people we might see as frivolous today had more far reaching effects than we can imagine.

I would definitely have them read Austen and Heyer, but I would also include the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe and perhaps even the works of the Bronte sisters.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Megan, I agree that Julia Quinn should be on the syllabus. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not read Loretta Chase and Liz Carlyle.

And the other suggestion.

I’d also add Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake and the Reformer and Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm.

JA, isn’t that awful that you got a virus from trying to respond to Ellen Moody! Imagine her surprise when Jane Austen herself spoke her mind!

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

And if the subject is courtesans, you can’t go wrong with The Divine One’s The Mysterious Miss M and Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan, two of the premiere novels with courtesan heroines.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Awwwww, thanks, O Doggie One!

Cara King
12 years ago

Thanks, Diane, I missed that fact!

But does that mean that a university has the copyright on an instructor’s syllabus? Sad! My hubby’s university doesn’t do that to him, at least. Though they may share in any patents… 🙂

Cara

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

I don’t know, Cara….

Tessa McDermid
12 years ago

I agree with all of the Regency author suggestions and now have a hunger to read some. But I’m in the middle of a contemporary proposal and that could change my tone. I did splurge and watch the new PBS version of Emma last night.

Interesting comments about the syllabus! I’ve been in a discussion about whether teachers should be able to sell their ideas and who owns them. I’ve sold teacher activities for years and published a book of my teacher plans – all were developed on my own time, though, with my own resources. Also, the districts had a specific policy dealing with who owned the rights.

A hot topic in public education right now.

Keira Soleore
12 years ago

Diane, I was so pleased to read this post about the groundbreaking work AndreaP/CaraE and Lauren are doing for raising the stature of romance. This and the folks at TeachMeTonight blog are the only ones that are most vocal about their work on towing popular romance into academia.

Keira Soleore
12 years ago

Oh, and Jo’s book is brilliant. Those stiff-rumped folks objecting to the title or cover or what-have-you forget that Jo took an obscure character and introduced her to many via mainstream fiction.

For the course I designed, I would also include: Laura Kinsale (for historicals), Nora Roberts (for contemps, Jodi Thomas (for westerns). The Smart Bitches Guide is indispensible!

Kim Lowe
Kim Lowe
12 years ago

Thanks for an excellent article! It was my privilege to have coffee with Andrea at RWA/DC last July. She was preparing to meet with Lauren, who joined us in the coffee bar. I could feel their excitement. As a more recent reader of romances, I feel as though I am behind the power curve with the classics that Andrea and Lauren are teaching. Sadly, it is too long to commute from Honolulu to NYC. Perhaps Andrea and Lauren can share at a workshop during RWA/Nashville.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Keira! (waving madly) I didn’t know about the Teach Me Tonight blog. It looks great!
And I think your point about Jo putting information out there for the mass biography audience is well taken. She’s provided a wide audience information about what an amazing woman Grace Elliot was.

Kim! (waving madly) How exciting to be there with Andrea/Cara and Lauren in the formative stages!! I think a workshop is a great idea.

cara elliott
12 years ago

Hi all,

Just wanted to chime in late and announce that we have “official” permission to share our syllabus and supplemental reading list with everyone, so I will have it up shortly on my website for download.

The choice of books was agonizingly hard. We tried to pick examples that were representative of “types” even if they weren’t our personal favorites. We could easily have put a hundred books on the list (but the students would have rebelled!) So we added a supplemental list for them to choose from for their book reports, Even that is missing great books, as I am sure many of you will point out! It’s a WIP, so feel free to offer suggestions

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Whooo Hoo, Cara!!!!!

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