Escaping the "Time Bind": Negotiations of Love and Work in Jayne Ann Krentz's "Corporate Romances"

Article excerpt

Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Mame and the Flower (1972)

"Do you think you could have remained chaste for long with the face and body you have, my sweet?" he murmured against her hair. "You were meant for love, and I am not saddened because I snatched you before other men tried you, nor do I feel guilty over the pleasure you've given me. Pray do not blame me for being infatuated with your beauty and wanting you for my own. It would be a task for any man not to. You see, in truth, m'lady, I am your prisoner, caught in your spell." (45)

Jayne Ann Krentz's Sharp Edges (1998)

"This is no way to resolve an interpersonal conflict," [Eugenia Swift] warned.

"You follow your theory of personnel management," [Cyrus Colfax] said against her mouth. "I'll follow mine." (223)

In Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women's Romance Fiction (1984), romance critic Kay Mussell describes Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower (1972) as "a story of sexual and exotic adventure or domestic melodrama in a heightened and exciting setting" (38). The uncontested favorite of Janice Radway's Smithton readers,1 this novel marked the development of the romance formula from "the purest and simplest romantic type" to the more plot-detailed and erotically explicit "bodice-ripper,'' epitomizing the archetype of romance fiction for contemporary nonreaders of romance. Epigraph I reveals a key characteristic of the conventional romance's formulaic construction of gender relations. Despite the fact that Captain Brandon Birmingham, the novel's hero, is literally holding the heroine, Heather Simmons, prisoner aboard his ship, and despite his enormous economic, political, and social power over the orphaned and impoverished Heather, he defines himself as her prisoner. What makes his language particularly ironic here is the context of its utterance. He has just returned to his quarters to find Heather tidying up: "needing some task to occupy her thoughts, she began putting order to the cabin, which was littered with clothing" (45). Although Heather Simmons is his captive, Captain Birmingham claims himself a metaphoric prisoner in his infatuation, surrendering himself and his ship, the space of both his home and work, to Heather's charm and conversion. The scene foreshadows the novel's inevitable formulaic conclusion: Heather domesticates Brandon by transforming him from a domineering rake to a man who values marriage and family above all else.

Epigraph II, a passage from Jayne Ann Krentz's Sharp Edges (1998), reveals that substantial changes have occurred in the romance genre in the twenty-six years that have passed since the publication of The Flame and the Flower. While historical romances remain popular among readers, the early 1990s marks the emergence of contemporary romances featuring ambitious working heroines with substantial economic power. As successful white-collar professionals who are collaborators at work yet lovers on the side, Eugenia Swift and Cyrus Colfax appear equals both professionally and personally. What is intriguing about their dialogue, as opposed to the mutual captive narrative of Brandon and Heather, is the absence of the rhetoric of home as haven. The language of the workplace is transferred, playfully and almost seamlessly, into the private space of the bedroom. Conflicts of feeling between lovers are to be resolved through theories of "personnel management," for in the novel's contemporary setting, distinct boundaries between the public and the private, or between work and home, begin to disappear.

In his seminal analysis on the development and significance of popular fiction, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (1976), John G. Cawelti notes that "when literary formulas last for a considerable period of time, they usually undergo considerable change as they adapt to the different needs and interests of changing generations" (4). …

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