Sunday, December 20, 2009

Exclusive: A(n Ivy) League Of Their Own: Elliott/Willig Bring Romance To Yale!

By Michelle Buonfiglio

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.


Becke Davis said...

What a great post! I've read one of Lauren's books and several others are in my TBR pile. Looks like I'd better start reading faster!

Cara, your book looks great. I'm excited to read!

amy kennedy said...

Oh, this is marvelous. We'll want a semester update, I'm sure, with class participation. Brava to both of you, first -- for the idea, second -- for following through, and third -- for getting it.

Anne said...

Lauren and Cara, this is so exciting. I love it that finally an understanding of romance is being taught, not only in a prestigious university, but by people who *really do* understand it.

Caridad Pineiro said...

Absolutely wonderful! I wish I could attend the class.

Sissa said...

Wonderful post! I've been wanting to read Laura's new book since i saw the cover. I'm rather looking forward to it now. ^^

I do wish i lived close enough to attend the class. That would be on uni class i wouldn't mind going too. ^^

The Reading Frenzy said...

I haven't had the pleasure of reading Lauren (will now though) and I've read one of Cara's books.
Great article, I think it's a great idea to teach a course like this, maybe it'll open doors for contemporary and paranormal next. Who knows right.

Tiona said...

Hey, how cool is that? I know, I think it's so awesome that a major Ivy League school like Yale has a class like that. I wanna go! I would definately study hard, hehe.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the comments. I have read the other books of Lauren and really like them. This one has been added to my TBR list.

Melanie Murray said...

Wonderful post, Michelle! This is such a great thing for romance and I won't surprise any of you in applauding the historical nature of the course!

I am a huge Lauren Willig fan and have the new book, THE BETRAYAL OF THE BLOOD LILY, in my hot little hands as we speak. (Well not as we speak. Or as I type. But it is on my desk and I'm reading it this week!)

I can also vouch for Cara/Andrea's books. They are great reads for anyone who loves accurate doses of history and very capable female characters.

I kind of want to read all the books on the syllabus along with them!

Anonymous said...

This is great news. Always good when univeristies around the world have courses taking romance writing seriously. Hope there is lots more of it,

Becke Davis said...

I hope you'll be back to keep us updated!

cara elliott said...

Thanks to Michelle for such a great write-up, and Melanie for the kind words. And thanks to all the commenters for their encouragement. Lauren and I are really excited at the opportunity to share our passion for historical romance with the students. We do hope to keep you all posted on the progress of the class, so stay tuned!

Lauren Willig said...

Thanks so much, all! It's thrilling to have a chance to explore these books that we've all read and re-read in a new way. And because it's such a new field, there's so much out there to parse and analyze and discuss. I really can't wait till January!

Diane Gaston said...

This is so exciting, Cara(Andrea) and Lauren! I absolutely love it when romance is looked at in a scholarly and intelligent manner. I'm eager to know how your students respond.

Eva Gale said...

How fantastic! I'm so happy for both Cara and Lauren! I can't wait to hear how it goes, so please come back and tell us!

reid said...

I wish I could attend. If there is any written material available from the course I would love to read it, or a pod cast of one of the lectures.
Thank you and best wishes in New Haven