The Cinderella Romance Novels
[* Links connect to the Cinderella Bibliography's "Criticism and Analysis" Annotations]
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage Books, l977.
Christian-Smith, Linda K. Becoming a Woman through Romance. London & New York: Routledge, 1990.
Dowling, Colette. The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence. New York: Summit Books, 1981.
Mitchell, Karen S. "Ever After: Reading the Women Who Read (and Re-Write) Romances." Theatre Topics 6.1 (1996): 14 pp. On-line. Internet. 24 June 2002. Available: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theatre_topics/v006/6.1mitchell.html.
Modleski, Tania. Loving With a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1982.
"On Writing Romance." Eharlequin.com website. Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd, 2000. Available: www.eharlequin.com/harl/learntowrite/onwriting/22owrm11.htm.
Pace, David. "Beyond Morphology: Levi-Strauss and the Analysis of Folktales." Cinderella: A Casebook. Alan Dundes, ed. New York: Garland, 1982.
Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1984.
Yolen, Jane. "America's Cinderella." Cinderella: A Casebook. Alan Dundes, ed. New York: Garland, 1982.
The success of the romance novel industry is astonishing. Despite having been ignored and dismissed by "high culture" critics and academics as frivolous mass art, romance fiction accounts for a staggering 54 percent of paperback sales, according to the Romance Writers of America. Harlequin sold 158 million books worldwide last year in more than 100 international markets and in 26 languages ("On Writing Romance" n.pag.). Much of Harlequin's success may be due to advances in the publishing industry as well as aggressive marketing techniques on the part of the romance publishers (Radway 32, Modleski 35). However, there must be something about these novels that addresses real concerns and, to some degree, fulfills its audience's desires. What is it about the novels that makes women read them again and again, when they already know the essential plotline? The happy ending and temporary hope are the obvious answers. The ease of the language makes the novels accessible to everyone. The "flight from reality," which Radway addresses in her seminal study, Reading the Romance (1984), is one possible answer, although her argument may also apply to other genres. But there must be more to it. What deep desires are addressed in these novels that keep readers, particularly women, coming back for more?
One reason these novels are so popular might be because they draw on fairy tale conventions. Both the obvious parallels between both genres, as well as the coded symbols, serve to address issues that often occur in adolescence (Bettleheim 236). A compelling sub-genre of romances is the collection of novels that closely follow the Cinderella story, highlighting certain themes that are common in adolescence: appearance, inferiority, conflicting emotions, budding sexuality, and sibling rivalry. In reading fifty-nine such romance novels, mostly written in 1990 or later, all with "Cinderella" in the title or somewhere on the back cover, I have been able to track these themes and begin to correlate the popularity of romance novels with that of the fairy tale. Of course, I can only make claims for the specific genre of "Cinderella romances," but my speculation is that these claims can be extended to include all romances, Harlequin or otherwise, since they share many of the same themes, even if they are not explicitly labeled and marketed with fairy tale associations. In addition, I have been able to compare, to some degree, older novels to contemporary novels to come to several conclusions regarding the desires that these novels address.
Components of the Cinderella Romance Storyline
Cinderella romance novels usually follow the fairy tale closely. Most other popular romances will have at least some elements of the Cinderella storyline. The reader, of course, already knows the story before she reads it (Modleski 32), just like in fairy tales. The main shared components of the Cinderella story and popular romances are:
1. Cinderella: age 19-35, kind, good, honest, hardworking, spunky, strong, stubborn, and sometimes innocent. She may be an "ugly duckling," a "plain Jane," or beautiful but somehow displaced.
2. Cinderella's dislocation is revealed: a death in her family, an unkind stepparent, poverty, adolescence (in young adult fiction) or a lingering adolescent issue.
3. Cinderella grieves, becomes depressed, disillusioned, and confused.
4. Some agent (a kind of fairy godmother) appears to encourage her through transformation, or she may simply decide to transform herself. Her transformation, whether it is a makeover, a new dress or some other change, helps to build her confidence.
5. Cinderella goes to the ball. Her gown, shoes, and confident demeanor are signs of high class; she often is or feels that she is "posing" as someone she is not.
6. The prince recognizes her value, first her beauty, then her inner qualities. Or, in the plain Jane novels, he recognizes her inner beauty and then begins to see her outer beauty.
7. Some sort of conflict occurs-a misunderstanding or an argument. She (or sometimes he) runs away, often several times.
8. The conflict is resolved and the prince makes her see and believe in her own value. The promise of forever is symbolized by marriage, pregnancy, or a child.
There are many variations on these basic components. In more recent novels, the Cinderella heroine is not as innocent, nor as young as she typically is in earlier novels. Often she already has children, has been married and widowed or divorced. More often than not she is not a virgin, even if she has not been married. Her source of grief varies as well. The death of one or both of her parents is still the main source, as in the Cinderella tale, but sometimes it is the death of a lover or husband, a broken marriage, a past wrongdoing or hurt, poverty, or abandonment. Many times she will comment that her romance with the hero restores her faith in the world, her belief in fairytales and happy endings. There are also many instances where the hero has been displaced as well, by many of the same kinds of circumstances. Sometimes the central conflict actually surrounds him, as the heroine helps him work through his own issues.
The heroine's fairy godmother appears in all different forms as well. A best friend, a sister, an old aunt, an uncle, a personal shopper, a hairdresser, a kind stranger, and a shoe store clerk have all been fairy godmothers. Sometimes the heroine herself will initiate her own transformation, seeking out a new look, a new dress, or a new experience, and finds ways to make her dreams come true. In some novels, the fairy godmother and the transformation are absent completely. Sometimes the novels will allude to an empowering life change that happened before the novel starts. Fairy godmothers instill confidence in their Cinderellas by bringing forth their natural beauty and elegance, which has been hidden by their insecurities.
Romance Novels and their Feminist Critics
Some feminist critics claim that romance novels, instead of promoting patriarchy for which they have been previously criticized, actually serve as a mild protest against patriarchy (Modleski, Radway, etc). In addition, as the only genre written by women for women, it may be an extremely important mechanism for social change, much the same way some women's magazines were and continue to be (Modleski 71). Similarly, fairy tales have been used for centuries to educate and socialize children. Romances written in the late twentieth century tend to have much stronger heroines who may retain their financial independence at the end of the novel and encounter very different kinds of conflicts throughout the novel. I see contemporary romances as negotiating, or beginning to negotiate, the very often confusing terrain between marriage, family and an independent identity. As Radway suggests, "The Smithton women seem to be struggling simultaneously with the promise and threat of the women's movement as well as with their cultures' now doubled capacity to belittle the intelligence and activities of 'the ordinary housewife.'" (Radway 78). New questions are being posed by these recent novels: How can a relationship satisfy a woman when it has failed her in the past, through a previous divorce or death of a spouse? If it is possible to be married and retain her identity, what conflicts arise?
Romance novels, as well as various versions of the Cinderella story, have been harshly criticized by some feminist critics for promoting patriarchy by idealizing women's role as wife and mother and reinforcing traditional gender roles. Radway points out Ann Douglas' wariness of romance novels when Douglas says, "the coincidence of the romance's increasing popularity with the rise of the women's movement must point to a new and developing backlash against feminism" (Radway 19). Dowling suggests that women have been trained for dependency, and find the "wish to be saved" comforting. This is what she calls the "Cinderella complex." She says, "The psychological need to avoid independence-the 'wish to be saved'-seemed to me an important issue, quite possibly the most important issue facing women today" (Dowling 15). Yet, other critics acknowledge a deeper complexity. For instance, Linda Christian-Smith argues, "...that romance fiction is contradictory: it reconciles women to their social subordination while providing an escape from it" (Christian-Smith 6). Modleski observes that "The complexity of women's responses to romances has not been sufficiently acknowledged. Instead of exploring the possibility that romances, while serving to keep women in their place, may at the same time be concerned with real female problems..." (Modleski 37). These critics begin to articulate the tensions inherent in the romance novel genre, tensions that perhaps even reflect real issues in today's society. How can women fulfill their wish for marriage and family, and also their wish for an independent identity, when those two desires have never been compatible before?
Dowling goes on to say, "We have only one real shot at 'liberation,' and that is to emancipate ourselves from within....Like Cinderella, women today are still waiting for something external to transform their lives" (Dowling 16). Yet, do romance novels present the "prince" figure, literally an external character from the heroine, as a "savior"? In fact, in most novels, by the time she meets the prince, she has already been transformed. The prince's only function is to recognize her as a princess. He is one kind of mirror she can hold up and look at herself with. "I argue that their romance-reading provides not only a way of fulfilling romantic fantasies, but also an occasion for self-examination" (Christian-Smith 6). The prince provides the necessary external reinforcement that allows her to find her own identity, to overcome her patriarchal upbringing and to love herself, and to reject what Naomi Wolf calls the "beauty myth"-the myth that beauty is currency like gold (Wolf 12). "It extends from Jane Eyre to today's paperback romances, in which the gorgeous nasty rival has a mane of curls and a prodigious cleavage, but the heroine only her spirited eyes. The hero's capacity to see the true beauty of the heroine is his central test" (Wolf 60). At the end of the novel in Sign Me, Speechless in Seattle (Dalton, 1998), Tilly runs up to her prince. "She was Cinderella at the ball...She wasn't a nobody. She was a somebody. And Julian Rothwell loved her just for herself" (Dalton 249).
The prince himself is relatively unimportant, except that he provides the necessary recognition and acceptance; after all, the story is about Cinderella's journey, not the prince's. Through her interaction with the prince, Cinderella learns what social skills are needed to be accepted into the society in which she already lives. She also learns to accept and reject qualities that the prince possesses, based on her own values and preferences. She learns what of the prince's approving or disapproving gaze she agrees with, and what she will stubbornly refuse to change about herself. So, both socialization and individuation occur simultaneously in these novels. Instead of thinking of Cinderella's romance with the prince in terms of a patriarchal paradigm, recent romances envision a give-and-take relationship, one where each gains the acceptance they desire, but also retains their individuality. These novels begin with experiences that women know, and from there, move to improve that model of identity and relationship.
Another interesting point is which characteristics and values the Cinderella character already has, that allow her to be transformed in the first place, and then to be recognized as a beautiful princess worthy of love. These characteristics, and those that she acquires once she has been transformed, may reflect what women readers admire and want to aspire to.
Thus, [the fairy godmother's] task-both as the 'good' mother and as a force for justice-is to bring Cinderella's outward, cultural attributes into harmony with her internal, natural qualities.The Cinderella character in these romances is almost invariably good and kind, yet strong, independent, hard-working, spunky, outspoken, intelligent, determined, and full of life. What varies is whether she is a plain Jane, an Ugly Duckling, or already beautiful but displaced in some other way. With a few interesting exceptions, in earlier novels, she is almost always young, innocent, and submissive. In 1982, Modleski adds to and comments on Harlequin's guidelines for prospective authors:
The fairy godmother achieves this goal by transforming the signs which accompany Cinderella's low status (mice, rats, the pumpkin and rags) into signs of high status (footmen, horses, a carriage, and a gown). This transformation of cultural signs sets the stage for the general recognition of Cinderella's natural qualities (Pace 255).
Each book averages approximately 187 pages, and the formula rarely varies: a young, inexperienced, poor to moderately well-to-do woman encounters and becomes involved with a handsome, strong, experienced, wealthy man, older than herself by ten to fifteen years. The heroine is confused by the hero's behavior since, though he is obviously interested in her, he is mocking, cynical, contemptuous, often hostile, and even somewhat brutal. By the end, however, all misunderstandings are cleared away, and the hero reveals his love for the heroine, who reciprocates (Modleski 35).Since these 1982 guidelines were written, many changes have occurred. Among the novels I read, the ones I found most anti-feminist, Cinderella Nurse (Converse, 1967), Cinderella After Midnight (Burchell, 1967), Stubborn Cinderella (Riley, 1986), and A Cinderella Affair (Beaumont, 1991) all have heroines who are submissive and heroes who are very dominating. All the heroines give up their careers when they marry at the end. They are all written before the early 1990s. Although I do not believe that the wife/mother role necessarily conflicts with feminist ideals, the problem I find with these novels is that the women are basically forced or manipulated into that role. "A bad romance...is often characterized by a weak or gullible heroine" (Radway 102), and I certainly found that to be true, at least in my own personal reactions. Karen Mitchell quotes a romance reader from an interview, "'I don't like any kind of control of one character over another. Even simple things like grabbing her arm as she tries to walk away, to me that implies that he thinks he is in control...I have been known to throw a book across the room'" (Mitchell 3). Such strong reactions in contemporary readers help to explain the growing shift from the heroine's domesticity to her financial independence, and/or her wanting and choosing the mother/caretaker role before she even meets the prince character. With the incorporation of feminist ideals into society, romance novels have also assimilated these values, to some degree, and wrestle with the same tensions.
In Overnight Cinderella (Garbera, 2001), Duke is transformed into a happy, sensitive man through Cami's love. They are equally transformed by the experience of being in love with the other. In Cinderella's Shoe Size (Webb, 2001), Cindy overcomes a serious fear of dependency. In the end, she and Parker have an "all or nothing" kind of relationship (Webb 198) and need each other equally (Webb 224). Also, increasingly the heroine is the one who declares her love and initiates the discussion about it. In Cinderella for a Night (Mallery, 2000), Cynthia confesses her love for Jonathan before he does. He is scared and runs off. She pursues him, making him believe in love. It is important to note that often the hero is also transformed in important ways in more recent romances. He too may be bitter from past hurts and experiences and reluctant to give up his independence for marriage. Sometimes his character is portrayed much like the Cinderella character, undergoing some of the same transformations and wrestling with the same issues in changing times.
Protest Against Patriarchy
There are several ways in which romance novels, especially contemporary ones, protest patriarchal conditions. Although they may be set in the context of patriarchy, particularly historical novels, the Cinderella heroine herself is changing. She is older, more experienced, tougher, and she has dreams that she does not give up, even for her hero. She is angry. "The few analyses written about romances almost always mention the childish qualities of the heroine, but no one has noted the large amount of anger expressed by the child/woman, almost to the very end of the story" (Modleski 44). The heroine is dissatisfied; she is continually working toward a better future for herself and her children, if she has any. She is grieved and depressed for most of the novel, angry with those who have hurt her in the past and those who kept her down. She is angry that she cannot have all that she wants. Modleski goes on to say,
A great deal of our satisfaction in reading these novels comes, I am convinced, from the elements of a revenge fantasy, from our conviction that the woman is bringing the man to his knees and that all the while he is being so hateful, he is internally groveling, groveling, groveling (Modleski 45).Modleski's point is well-taken, if perhaps extreme. From my own research, I have found three ways in which romance novels protest patriarchy in tangible ways: (1) The heroine who retains her financial independence, as opposed to having domesticity and dependence forced upon her, (2) The presence of older and more experienced heroines who are portrayed as desirable, and as a result, the age gap between hero and heroine closes, and (3) The subversion of the beauty myth, which Wolf claims exists as the last major patriarchal hold on women. Though Wolf emphasizes the role of media in perpetuating the beauty myth, I argue that romance novels actually work to promote the value of inner beauty and de-emphasize outward appearance.
Retaining financial independence
These novels work to protest patriarchy by portraying a heroine who does not give up her career, especially if she has big dreams. Increasingly, the heroes encourage the heroines to fulfill their dreams, often sacrificing their own jobs to be with them, or finding a way to compromise. Of the fifty-six heroines in the novels I read that are geared toward adult audiences (the other three novels are geared toward adolescent girls), twenty-three heroines keep their job or gain financial independence. Seven of these heroines actually refuse to give up their job to be with the hero, resulting in his sacrifice or compromise for the happy ending to occur ( "Birthday Shoes," "Cupid Wears Combat Boots," "Heart and Soles," Cinderella Jane, The Cinderella Coach, Emma and the Earl, and Cinders to Satin). In fourteen of the novels, the novel's ending is ambiguous as to whether the heroine leaves her job or not. However, prior to eight of these ambiguous endings, the heroine already has an established career. In nineteen novels, the heroine quits her job by the end of the novel to devote all her time to being a wife and mother. Two of these are historical novels, and seven heroines' jobs are actually as the hero's hired wife/fiancée, including those that are posing as princesses. In addition, several heroines choose to be stay-at-home mothers before they ever meet the hero.
Cinderella Jane (Cooke, 1917) is a very progressive and unique precursor to the Harlequin romances. Although this novel does not follow all the conventions of the later Harlequins and the romance genre in general, it is a fascinating novel which begins to sort out how a woman can be a wife and mother, and also have a career, before this was even acceptable. In this novel, Jane argues with her new husband many times over issues of financial independence. She tells him she will go back to work to make her own money if he does not give her an allowance and allow her some measure of freedom. When she fulfills her longtime dream of writing and publishing a book, she argues that it is her right to deposit her earnings into their joint account. They argue over what is "women's work." She asks him to help out in the mornings so she can write, and he reluctantly agrees. In the end, he realizes that what frightens him is that "Jane was so sure, so true to herself" (Cooke 282).
We see these same themes of financial independence and career reoccur in more recent romances as well. In "Birthday Shoes" (Boswell, 1996), Jordan, Janessa's boss, gives her an ultimatum: be with him but quit her job, or keep her job but break it off with him. She refuses to quit her job, and they work in tension for a month before Jordan realizes his ultimatum was horribly unfair. In The Cinderella Coach (Denny, 1992), Jade, a half-Chinese, half-American orphan, rejects her grandparents' traditional values by refusing to marry the man they have chosen for her and continuing to pursue her dream career instead. She ends up falling in love with a man who will support her dreams and not hinder them. In fact, she saves his company instead of the other way around. In Cinders to Satin (Michaels, 1983), Callie overcomes much adversity to become the strong, independent, self-assured woman that she is. Against Byrch's wishes, Callie insists on earning her own income as a reporter, making a difference in the lives of immigrants like herself. In "Heart and Soles" (Miles, 1996), the central conflict is Julia and Spencer's breakup. Neither will give up their own career goals when Spencer's career takes him to a different state. Julia is sad but refuses to give up her own dream. Spencer returns months later with plans to transfer to a position where she lives, so he can be with her.
Some novels portray very supportive men. In Cinderella's Midnight Kiss (Browning, 2000), Cindy dreams of designing hats, a dream that starts to become a reality when Hitch encourages her to find a job in a department store. In The Cinderella Deal (Crusie, 1996), Daisy's marriage of convenience actually allows her the financial independence she needs to pursue her first love, painting. Their marriage, while just a business arrangement at first, is designed to allow each of them to follow and flourish in their chosen career paths. In Emma and the Earl (Harbison, 2000), the Earl supports and admires Emma's goals as a horticulturist.
Two comic and extreme examples of the heroine's wish to be a mother, independent of her relationship to the hero, are Mail-Order Cinderella (Jensen, 2000), in which Julie already knows she wants to be a mother more than anything else and actually subscribes to a dating service to fulfill her dream, and Cinderella's Tycoon (Cross, 1999), in which Susan gets artificially inseminated and then meets the father of her child by accident. In both examples, the heroines decide what they want and seek it out. The heroine enters into the wife and mother role on equal terms with the hero. She actually sees it more as a business deal at first. In other novels, the heroine chooses to give up her career, but the hero is not manipulative or controlling, allowing the heroine's choice to be completely her own.
Increasingly over the last twenty years, the heroine is older. Of the adult romances, the age range for the heroines, 1980 or later, is around ages 20-35, with the majority between ages 23-29. The age range of the heroes, of the same set of novels, is 25-40, with the majority between ages 30-36. The age gap between the heroine and hero has become closer. Of the forty-nine novels which were written after 1980 and are adult romances, the hero and heroine were the same age in four novels, 2-5 years apart in sixteen novels, 6-8 years apart in sixteen novels, 9-10 years apart in ten novels, and 11-13 years apart in three novels. This is quite a difference from the average ten- to fifteen- year age gap cited in 1982 by Modleski. The heroine is also often experienced, already having been married and divorced or widowed, or just hurt by past relationships. Often she or the prince character will already have a child.
Very strong heroines are common in recent novels. In Sign Me, Speechless in Seattle (Dalton, 1998), Tilly insists that the English duke, Julian, call her "Ms." instead of "Miss." She jokes that he thinks she is "the worst thing that's come along since the American Revolution" (Dalton 53), since she gives out feminist advice in her column. At the beginning of Mail-Order Cinderella (Jensen, 2000), Tyler is looking for someone who is polite, shy, moral, and genuinely interested in children and the domestic arts, which is why he marries Julie. But he finds out very quickly that Julie is not shy, has more backbone than he realized and has a "hidden spunkiness" that he greatly admires. In Princess in Denim (McKnight, 1998), Prince William tries to be a gentleman and pull her chair back, "not that she needed it. She was quite the independent woman, with a mind and muscles of her own" (McKnight 197). In If Wishes Were...HUSBANDS (Rawlins, 1998), Gina's foil, Jackson's pseudo-girlfriend, is described as "too much of a wuss" to be with Jackson (Rawlins 185).
In fact, contemporary readers seem to prefer a certain type of heroine who is no longer in keeping with the earlier guidelines. In a series of interviews conducted by Mitchell has found that
[T]his group of 1990s readers is less interested in the submissive, naïve, younger heroine and dominant, macho hero described by critics in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Cawelti, 1976; Modleski, 1980; Jensen, 1984) and more interested in liberated women seeking sensitive men as equal partners (Mitchell 3).Mitchell's research supports my own findings, which suggests that recent romances are changing to match their reader's desires.
Subversion of the Beauty Myth
Many of these novels subvert what Naomi Wolf calls the "beauty myth," the myth that "women must want to possess the objective quality of beauty and men must want to possess a women who embodies it" (Wolf 12). She argues that this myth is perhaps one of the last strong forms of patriarchal control that exists today. "As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground..." (Wolf 10) and it hurts women unjustly, whether they are beautiful or not. "Women's writing is full to the point of heartbreak with the injustices done by beauty-its presence as well as its absence" (Wolf 60).
Many of these novels contain instances or comments, which work to subvert this beauty myth. In The Cinderella Search (Gill, 1998), the "glass slipper" is an ugly old shoe, not a dainty glass slipper. In Cinderella After Midnight (Darcy, 2001), Cat poses as an English aristocrat to save her great aunt's house. Handsome CEO Patrick is "...intrigued. Not by the packaging, but by the motivation" (Darcy 15). In Plain Jane Gets Her Man (Wells, 1997), Sarah tells Jake's young daughter an original fairy tale about a plain girl instead of a beautiful heroine (Wells 47). When Sarah wears her contacts and puts on a little makeup, she blossoms before Jake's eyes, but because of her newfound confidence, not because of her new look. At the end of The Cinderella Game (South, 1992), Wendy tells Spencer, "I can forgive you for not being a millionaire if you can forgive me for not being a beauty queen" (South 131). In Cinderella Summer (D'Anard, 1992), a novel for adolescent girls, Anne's father defends her, saying she has more brains than most girls and uses them to accomplish things; she does not care only about clothes and boys (D'Anard 77). In fact, there is very little emphasis on the romance aspect of this particular novel; much more emphasis is placed on Anne's relationships with her mother and estranged father, and how much she learns about herself in the process.
Issues surrounding weight are also commonly mentioned. In The Cinderella Dare (Diamond, 1988), awkward Mary Ellen Spencer transforms herself into the elegant and beautiful Mariel, by losing weight and going back to school. When she is reunited with a high school friend, Skip, he tells her she was worth ten of those other girls in the past, but he was just too young and shallow to realize it. He tells her how much she meant to him back in high school, though she was heavier. In Cinderella's Secret Agent (Weaver, 2001), Del thinks Maggie "wasn't any svelte model-thin waif. No, she was all woman. Beautiful. Ripe. Desirable" (Weaver 70).
Many comments surround the heroine's makeup or lack of makeup. In The Cinderella Trap (Walker, 1989), the once chubby and awkward Patti becomes the svelte model Clea, who wants to get back at her brother's friend Matt for making hurtful comments to her years ago. However, he resents her preoccupation with her looks, even throwing all her makeup into a fire at one point. He asks her if she can recognize herself under all that makeup. Without makeup, he thinks her even more beautiful. He feels terrible when he realizes his hurtful comments long ago may be a source of her insecurities today. In Cinderella in Mink (Leigh, 1973), rich heiress Nicola poses as a poor runaway while she sorts through her complicated life. Hers is a reverse transformation; it is the first time she has not worn makeup in her life. Those few weeks are the happiest she can remember, and she feels free. In The Princess Gets Engaged (Sinclair, 1997), Prince Nicholas thinks Megan is "[a] real beauty...A woman who didn't need glamorous makeup to attract attention" (Sinclair 25). Later, posing as the princess, Megan says, "I'd still be me under all this goop" (Sinclair 69). In Cinderella at the Firecracker Ball (Kistler, 1993), plain old C.J. poses as Cinderella and catches Rowan's eye. By the end, however, he has figured out her real identity and tells her he actually prefers her without her "mask."
Several authors make an explicit point to highlight the fact that a woman needs to take her transformation into her own hands, and not the "makeover" part of the transformation, but her inward attitude toward herself, her confidence. In "Heart and Soles" (Miles, 1996), Julia's friend Wendy tells her that she must "...make her own magic. Clothes and makeovers can only do so much" (Miles 344). Julia shows up at the ball "...like a modern-day Cinderella in flashy platform shoes" (Miles 361), a far cry from delicate glass slippers. In The Cinderella Solution (Yardley, 2000), after undergoing a transformation to win a bet, Charlotte feels beautiful for the first time in her life. She falls in love with her friend Gabe. At the end, she knows that "he may have shown her how special she was, but he didn't make her special. She's special all on her own" (Yardley 362). In "Birthday Shoes" (Boswell, 1996), Janessa has always been the "smart sister," as opposed to her two "beautiful sisters." On her birthday, she receives a dazzling pair of black pumps. Wearing them, she feels more confident, which makes all the difference. In "Cupid Wears Combat Boots" (Buck, 1996), Kayla gets a pair of combat boots as part of her stay at a survival training school, which gives her confidence. Later, her friend asks, "'I was hoping you'd finally kicked off your goody two shoes,'" to which she replies, "'I'm into combat boots these days, actually'" (Buck 259). In all of these novels, the heroine's confidence is always emphasized over her appearance. Confidence seems to be the biggest source of strength and is what gives her the motivation to change, allowing her to stand up for what she believes in and who she wants to be.
Critics may argue that in many ways, romance novels are still not very representative of women today. Although there are more doctors, veterinarians, business owners, administrators, artists, and writers among the list of heroines' occupations, they are overwhelmingly the stereotypical teachers, nurses, child-care workers, librarians, actresses, waitresses and secretaries. The novels also do not reflect controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality. Instead, they present heterosexual relationships as the only ideal.
However, perhaps the genre as a whole is trying to appeal to their largest audience, which probably is heterosexual. Perhaps the genre recognizes that certain issues, such as abortion, are currently too controversial to discuss, or they risk losing too much of their audience. The fact that this huge genre recognizes the polemics of women's issues perhaps makes a stronger case for why romances are so important for social change, and why the peculiarities of this genre are so fascinating. Though there are many aspects of these novels that are ambiguous and contrary-promoting the beauty myth while at the same time subverting it, promoting marriage while at the same time protesting patriarchy and advocating individual identity-this genre is extremely important in reflecting and relaying current and changing values among women, simply by the fact of its enormous popularity.
Many of these novels advocate independent heroines and are perhaps beginning to sort out conflicting messages and social values through their heroines. These novels accomplish these goals through the age-old model of the romance, perhaps to reach their readers, or perhaps in response to reader's desires and demands.
Each novel, as we saw, is as much a protest against as an endorsement of the feminine condition. Finally, not all of the female longings and desires expressed in Harlequins are regressive. Indeed, many of the contradictions ...derive from the attempt to adapt what for women are utopian ideals to existing circumstances. The desire to perform a disappearing act suggests women's suppressed wish to stop being seen in the old ways and to begin looking at their lives in ways that are perhaps yet to be envisioned (Modleski 58).By reading romances, a woman can sort through her conflicting emotions about being in a relationship and also being independent. "This fiction encourages them to believe that marriage and motherhood do not necessarily lead to loss of independence or identity" (Radway 102). She can start to imagine better relationships, without compromising her own identity. "For Dot [a romance book dealer] and her customers, romances provide a utopian vision in which female individuality and a sense of self are shown to be compatible with nurturance and care by another" (Radway 55). She can start to imagine the way relationships, specifically heterosexual relationships, could be, not the way they have been.
The characteristics that the Cinderella heroine possesses today resonate with the classic tale's values: kindness, morality, inner beauty, a strong work ethic, as well as a stubborn, strong will to be who she wants to be.
Poor Cinderella. She has been unjustly distorted by storytellers, misunderstood by educators, and wrongly accused by feminists. Even as late as 1975, in the well-received Womenfolk and Fairytales, Rosemary Mindard writes that Cinderella 'would still be scrubbing floors if it were not for her fairy godmother.' And Ms. Minard includes her in a sweeping condemnation of folk heroines as 'insipid beauties waiting passively for Prince Charming.' ...Cinderella is not to blame. Not the real, true Cinderella. Ms. Minard should focus her sights on the mass-market Cinderella. She does not recognize the old Ash-girl for the tough, resilient heroine. The wrong Cinderella has gone to the American ball (Yolen 297).Perhaps, as Jane Yolen suggests, many versions of Cinderella, as well as some romance novels, which present her in a passive way, have actually distorted the true, resilient, spunky, angry, and resourceful Cinderella, who is searching for her own identity in the only way she knows how. Her savior is not her prince, but her tenacity and her newfound confidence.
The novels themselves may even serve as a sort of fairy godmother, a venue in which vicarious transformation is allowed to take place. By reading a 1990's romance, a woman can recognize herself as beautiful and worthy of love, worthy of recognition by the societal prince, even if she is not young and innocent. She can start to imagine a relationship with a prince that, although it may still be within a patriarchal context, is equal, where she is closer in age, experience, and background to him, one where she has choice and individuality. She can choose to keep her career, devote her time to being a mother, or both. She can examine herself in her mirror and be confident in her abilities and her identity, a confidence every woman desires. This is something the romance genre can give her that reality sometimes cannot.
This project was an Undergraduate Research Internship at the University of Rochester during the summer of 2002 by English major, Erin McCrossan. Under the guidance and supervision of Professor Russell Peck, Professor of English and author of the Cinderella Bibliographies, Erin gained experience in literary research and web page design. Additional assistance was provided by Anne Zanzucchi, Rosemary Paprocki, and Alan Lupack, director of the Robbins Library.