Sunday Musings: Guilty Pleasures
My recent gaming adventures have involve many hours invested in Dragon Age Inquisition. One of my favourite moments features a companion character named Cassandra Pentaghast, whom the main character catches during a moment of downtime. Cassandra happens to be reading a copy of Swords and Shields, a romance serial, and talking to her about it leads into the sidequest, “Guilty Pleasures.” Cassandra reacts with guilt at being caught, mainly because she’s indulging in something so selfish and frivolous when there’s an apocalypse to stop. But, as other characters pop by to express their opinion, she finds it necessary to defend her choice of literature as well.
It’s a pretty common reaction.
This is what authors Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan explore in their book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. It is an extension of the website, Smart Bitches; Trashy Books, and sets out to prove “…that while some romance novels are silly — maybe even tawdry — they can also be intelligent, savvy, feminist, and fabulous, just like their readers!”
My first foray into romance was at a very young age. My siblings were over a decade older than me, and my brother had the greatest influence, introducing me to Star Wars, comics, cyborgs, dinosaurs, and more. But I was still curious about my sister’s interests even if she and I did not have much of a sisterly relationship to speak of back then. So I snuck into her box full of books and found this:
CAPTIVE TO HIS SAVAGE PASSION…
A moan escaped Jana Greyson as this strong, handsome stranger invaded her lips with his demanding kisses. He had stolen her from her world, made her his prisoner, and now enslaved her with the trembling rapture of his hunger… igniting a white-heat that melted her will to resist.
SLAVE TO HER OWN DESIRE
Commander Varian Saar had come from a place beyond imagining and claimed Jana for his own. His powerful hand left a fiery trail across her ivory skin, his cobalt eyes possessed her with their unrestrained longing…and now her fate rested in his quicksilver grasp. Forbidden partners …forbidden love…and soon their mad, tumultuous union became a pledge as boundless as the universe itself, a promise to seek their future among the glittering stars.
THEIR LOVE BURNED BRIGHTER THAN THE STARS
Trust me to pick up what was probably the only science fiction novel within the collection. At that age, I might not have understood everything that was going on (he put his what in her where??), but I could totally understand spaceships and aliens and treachery.
I don’t actively seek out romance novels, and prefer the erotica that one might find in Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy series that begins with Kushiel’s Dart.
In the case of Cassandra Pentaghast, she is a woman of nobility, of honour, strength, and perseverance. She is a woman of passion when it comes to her beliefs and her duties. For her, Swords and Shields represents the passionate pursuit of an ideal and she asks, “What’s not to admire in that?”
There are many reasons why people choose to read this kind of literature, and considering how popular the genre is, there are many people reading — and writing — this kind of literature. Period. So why are we hiding?
I’ll blame the Victorians for our ruin.
But times, they are a’ changin’. For better or for worse, books like Fifty Shades of Gray have made erotica a little more mainstream, and I’m sure the movie will spike that interest. But people have been reading erotica and romance long before that. It’s just another form of entertainment among many. So it’s about time we get over our shame and judgment and just enjoy a good read.