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Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature Paperback – November 30, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0807843499 ISBN-10: 0807843490 Edition: Revised Edition
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Editorial Reviews


A consistently absorbing and often brilliant analysis of [romance novels] and their eager consumers.--Sandra M. Gilbert, New York Times Book Review

A superb analysis of a contemporary phenomenon and an intelligent and moving depiction of how the women who consume these novels see their lives.--Journal of Communication

Explores not only the conventions of the romance novel but also the ways in which both these novels and their readers defy certain stereotypes, usually proliferated by people who don't read the books themselves. Radway's study is a fascinating and controversial bit of sociological literary criticism.--MetroMagazine

[Reading the Romance] is in a class by itself. It set[s] a standard for cultural studies, scarcely ever matched in subsequent work, of testing theories about the effects of mass culture with close study of the people presumably under its influence.--Journal of American History

About the Author

Janice A. Radway is Walter Dill Scott Professor of Communication and professor of American studies and gender studies at Northwestern University and author of A Feeling for Books.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Revised Edition edition (November 30, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807843490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807843499
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Lee ( on March 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
Janice Radway does a terrific job of crossing and blurrign the lines of academic critical writing. Never before have I read a book that looks critically at a literary reality but manages to do it in a personable, friendly way. By the end of the novel, I felt as if Janice, Dot, and the other ladies of the reading group were my personal friends. As a graduate student in literature whose focus is feminist literary studies, I have often found my choice in studies at odds with my passion for reading romance novels. What a pleasure (and relief) to see someone who has taken the desire and need to read popular literature seriously. Often, studies on popular lit, particularly romance novels, are often critical of the preferences of non-academic individuals. What they tend to forget is that the purpose of reading is most frequently for the purpose of pleasure. I recommend this book to both "academics," potential writers of romance novels (a great way to learn what your audience is really thinking) and to those of us who just need a little ammunition against those who critique our choice in reading!
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Weaver on July 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
An interesting book and a pretty good read. With the exception of the first chapter, which is an enlightening but pretty dry history of book publishing, the author writes with an enganging and personable style that's highly unusual for an "academic" book. I picked it up thinking that I'd browse through it and found myself reading it cover to cover. There's a bit of the usual feminist/critical studies rhetoric but it's neither bombastic enough nor pervasive enough to dampen the book's accessibility nor its credibility.
What keeps the book interesting is the author's ongoing engagement with a smallish group of midwestern romance readers. The group makes up the core of her study and she cites interviews with these readers as well as statistical results from a questionnaire. An undercurrent which runs through this book but which Radway doesn't directly address is her conflicted relationship with this group. On the one hand, she is seems to respect them a great deal and doesn't want to dismiss them the way many romance readers have been dismissed as mindless and passive women. Indeed, part of her analysis is that the romance novel is a complex response to power relations between men and women and that it does not simply reinforce the status quo. On the other hand, she seems to suggest that the readers she's interviewed aren't entirely aware of this agenda--that they simply read to escape.
Radway refers over and over again to the idea that the women she's interviewed read romances in order to experience vicariously what they are missing in their lives. She makes a pretty interesting case, but it's significant, I think, that she never asks the women about whether or not they think they are missing anything in their lives.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Thorn on March 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
I was disappointed to see that an earlier reviewer found the book condescending. I think it is true that when the book was written, for a largely academic audience, back in 1984, she probably felt she had to bend over backwards to have her work taken seriously by academics, so she couldn't have written "as a fan." But condescending? I really didn't think so. This book was inspirational to me when I was trying to find a way to approach the material I study (and personally enjoy), Japanese girls' and women's comics. I don't know if Janice (whom I know and admire) is a fan of romance novels, but I know she has always enjoyed popular literature, and that she really tried, in this book, to see romances as their readers see them, and to convey that point of view to academics and feminists who have always looked on romance with contempt. But think about it: if she had written the book from a "fannish," "gee-aren't-romance-novels-great" point of view, it would have ended up as a book by and for romance readers, and wouldn't have contributed to helping non romance-readers understand the genre. I would recommend this book to A) anyone who has always considered "genre fiction" to be pap, B) feminists who want to break out of the "feminists vs. non-feminist women" paradigm, and C) romance readers who would like some ammunition in defending the genre to others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sarshi on September 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Ambivalence is the name of my game here. I find Radice's points interesting, but at the same time I cannot but find issues with her reasoning and method. Also, if you want to read it you should be warned that this book is dated, being written in the social context of '84, which is different from the social context today.

To comment on the title: the 'women' are only a certain category of women; the 'patriarchy' is indeed a central theme of the book; and 'popular literature' refers strictly and entirely to romance, except in the beginning where others are mentioned. It isn't a bad title, but it might mislead.

The most interesting part, for me, was learning how the romance novel came to be such a popular form. I was unaware of the marketing or of how it was distributed to readers. In fact, the history of publishing at the start of the book is quite fascinating.

The actual study, however, felt lacking for a number of reasons. The sample of women asked about their reading habits was small - 41 - and unvaried - all women from Smithton of pretty much the same background - which leaves room for quite a lot of error. I feel that a better study would have been achieved if she had encountered a larger number of women from different other places and checked to see which are the homogenous and which the heterogeneous traits of these readers.

The point is, mostly, that these women would read romances to 'escape' from too much external pressure from their families into a world where they can identify with the heroine that is the center of the attention of the manly, nurturing hero and thus they extract from books the pleasure and spoiling of sorts that they can't get in real life.
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