What began as a playful “wouldn’t it be funny if…” between two bestselling romance-author friends sharing some pretty good wine and a couple of laughs comes to fruition January when Cara Elliott and Lauren Willig present at their alma mater, “Reading the Historical Romance Novel,” the first seminar on romance fiction taught at Yale University and within the Ivy League.
According to Willig, author of the popular Pink Carnation series, the class is tailored around the Regency romance. “We didn’t do this only because we both write it and men in knee breeches are always a Good Thing,” said Willig, “It provides a self-contained field through which we can track the development of a genre in a comprehensive way.”
Beginning with Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” Elliott and Willig plan to examine some of the tropes and changes which are unique to the Regency romance, and those which, according to Willig, “mirror developments in the romance community as a whole.” From Austen, the course moves through Georgette Heyer and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, looks at changing attitudes towards sexuality and heroism in a variety of authors over a thirty-year time span, then continues through Regency paranormals to chick lit.
Elliott’s and Willig’s course syllabus and formal proposal to the University wended through a rigorous application process which culminated with their presenting both to a panel consisting of Yale faculty and students. While they describe the experience as “a bit surreal and incredibly invigorating,” it’s clear their academic creds and innate understanding of all elements of the romance fiction genre quickly won over panel members. Elliott – who’s written award-winning Regencies as Andrea Pickens, and an upcoming Circle of Sin series "as" Cara Elliott -- says panel members were “Incredibly enthusiastic, even the men!”
To that end, one of Elliott’s and Willig’s memorable moments from the interview came when they were asked whether they expected only women to register for the course. When they explained both male and female academics study romance fiction – indeed, that a man is among those at the forefront of the movement in the United States – the group took notice.
“That was a really interesting moment,” recalls Elliott. “You could see something click in both the men and women [on the panel]. The question had been asked half in jest, but I think the answer made them think—and in a very good way.” Elliott and Willig believe – and their proposal’s having been accepted seems to suggest – the Yale panelists came away thinking of romance as less of, as Willig puts it, “just a monolith known as ‘Oh, romance novels,” and instead, a serious literary genre and collection of sub-genres, “each with its own traditions and trajectory.”
Elliott’s and Willig’s ground-breaking seminar places Yale among the many universities and colleges in the United States and around the world which already offer romance fiction courses.
Exclusive: Laura Kinsale kicks off her "Lessons in French" cyber tour here at RBTB Jan 6! Win a copy of the read that's well worth the 5-year wait, and check out Laura's hot-button topic.