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The hero is one of the main defining elements in the romance novel.
Falling in love with him is the story. Without the hero, there would be no story.
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The hero, in other words, moves the plot of the romance novel forward. As in other types of narratives in genre fiction, the romance novel produces characters that are identifiable by professional critics and audiences as key to the genre.
The occurrence of one typical element of a genre will […] trigger a complex set of expectations concerning the kind of characters to appear, the situations they encounter, the themes they are likely to be confronted with, their conception of flat or round, or static or dynamic, and typical constellations with other characters. Many aspects of the main characters of any given genre fiction, then, can be expected, even before one starts to read the text.
Not only that, but also each of these characters is expected to have a certain function in the plot Eder et al In a typical heterosexual romance novel, the characters of the hero and heroine are expected to fulfil or enact distinctly delineated masculine and feminine roles in order to achieve their happy ending. Tania Modleski defines the function of the hero and heroine in the romance novel as follows:.
By the end, however, all misunderstandings are cleared away, and the hero reveals his love for the heroine, who reciprocates. Besides giving specific features for the hero and heroine of romance, Modleski outlines the ways by which they behave and interact with each other according to traditional gender roles, where the man holds more power than the woman. This unequal distribution of power leads to the submission of the heroine.
Robyn Donald explains that unequal distribution of power between the hero and heroine is an essential part of the love plot in the romance novel. This challenge, according to Catherine Roach, helps women:. Therefore, a number of feminist scholars have turned their attention to criticizing the romance hero for performing the traditional gender role of the dominant man. This type of hegemonic masculinity is normalized and idealized in the romance novel.
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The character of the romance hero, then, is not only problematic because it puts the female character into submission, but also for the kind of masculinity it represents. This article participates in this body of research that questions the character of the romance hero and the type of masculinity he embodies. Therefore, the role of the romance reader as a co-producer of the genre, and the implications of taking this participatory role, have not yet received significant attention in romance studies.
Despite the rigidity with which the character of the romance hero usually appears in the romance novel, it is important to note that fictional characters are not finished products; they continue to live, and sometimes develop and change, with the audience.
As Mary Springer explains:. This must make perfect sense since the story, unlike the picture of the wall, moves across time — we must turn the page in order to find out what else there is to know about the character, what new actions and choices there may be to expand or modify our knowledge, what decisions we are to make about whether the character is fixed or in change, individual or antithetical to another character, minor or main.
A clear example of the continuity of acquainting oneself with fictional characters can be found in fanfiction.
The alternative scenarios presented by fanfiction allow characters to transform, develop and embody different codes of behavior. For example, the alternative scenario in fanfiction can force characters to take decisions that they were not forced to take in the source text, which reveals them in a different light.
This change, Springer notes, brings us closer to knowing the character:. In fanfiction, one can find various examples of how readers fill the gaps that need to be explored in characters, examine potentials in the characters that go unexplored in the source text, and bring them to the fore.
We can witness how characters exceed the limits of the genre and, by doing so, bring more flexibility and dynamism to its form. As they spread, these flexible forms serve as paratexts to source texts. What is more, Gray notes that paratexts are not only industry-created but audience-created as well. This study argues that the romance genre cannot be adequately understood without taking into account paratexts created by readers, which, as discussed above, have the ability to invade, interrupt and challenge the meanings of the source text and become part of it.
A good example of this diversity can be found in discussions of Twilight , which are generated by three discrete groups: Twihards fans of Twilight ; Twihaters antifans of Twilight ; and Twilight nonfans those who have a neutral position in relation to the text.
This variation adds to the diversity of the paratexts created around the source text. Gray distinguishes between fans and antifans, and explains how the practices of each of these groups are different depending on how close they are to the source text.
Fans, according to Gray, can certainly be categorized as close readers who analyze the text in order to derive its hidden meanings.
These different types of activities make fan-produced work a rich material to use for the investigation of the afterlife of the romance hero. Compared to studies of fans, however, Gray notes that there is little work on either antifans or nonfans. Neglecting these groups, he argues, limits our understanding of how media messages are received and used by audiences.
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Lack of close reading, however, does not mean that antifans are not engaged with the source text. Asking readers about their opinions of and position from the text is not helpful either because the aim of this study is to build a theoretical position from what is found on the internet; remaining open to influence rather than imposing a predetermined theory or questionnaire from above.
Therefore, this study explores samples from what appears to be practices of different groups of readers, each of which, as argued above, bring different meanings and challenges to the romance hero.
Examples of these different practices can be found in fanfiction and image-macro memes. While this study does not assert a certain position to the producers of any of these practices, this range of practices reflects different levels of engagement with the source text.
While fanfiction reflects close engagement with the source text, image-macro memes reflect an anti-fan attitude towards it because of their satirical tone. Moreover, the jokes found in image-macro memes are built on each other, i.
Twilight is a suitable text for the investigation of the romance hero as a dynamic and participatory construction because of its huge popularity that is in direct relation to the hero. The paradox of the character of Edward Cullen stems from his portrayal, which represents an intersection of two movements: the move toward the domestic vampire and the move towards the alpha male.
The Cullen family in Twilight belongs to this new class of vampires. Furthermore, he is represented as a caring boyfriend: he carries her books, sings her lullabies, and completes her college applications and sends them for her.
On many occasions in Twilight , then, Edward Cullen represents a modified type of masculinity, where the man is emotional and caring.
We can say, then, that as an super-powerful vampire who is also generous and protective, Edward Cullen reflects features from different types of masculinity. Performing contradictory types of masculinity can partly explain the lack of critical consensus over whether the character of Edward Cullen is representative of hegemonic or more fluid forms of masculinity. The following analysis, however, shows how readers read between spoken and unspoken lines of the source text and use their interpretive power to challenge, undermine or reinforce the scope of the character of the romance hero and the type of masculinity he embodies.
It creates a version of Edward who deviates completely from the masculine role required by the romance genre and plays instead the role usually ascribed to the female protagonist. The oddness of having the male protagonist play the role of the female, and vice versa, reveals the rigidness of these two roles in the romance novel, that, in most cases, reproduces men in the position of power and women as submissive.
Butler argues that:. In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself—as well as its contingency.
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Drag performances reveal an important point about gender, which is that it comprises the illusion that it is authentic while it is not.
My focus in this article, however, is on the challenges presented to the role of the hero and his performance of masculinity. Nevertheless, Edwards argues that in Twilight , the power of the gaze is shifting between the hero and heroine. Like the female protagonist, then, the male protagonist in Twilight occupies both positions: the desiring gazer and the desired object of the gaze.
Nevertheless, as Dodai Stewart suggests, there is a distinction between the type of gaze directed at men in popular films and that which is directed at women. When Bella gazes at Edward in the source text, she usually talks about his powerful physical features and dominance.
This scene stands in stark opposition to the type of gaze directed at Edward in the source text, in which his physical power is emphasised. In Twilight , Edward rescues Bella from being struck by a van, from rapists, and from a murderous vampire. Indeed, because Edward is a vampire and Bella is a human, she is conceived as essentially weaker than the male to as even greater extent than in romances in which the hero is a mortal man, which increases her need for his protection.
Eva Illouz explains that the weakness of women is:. He is represented as a weak and fragile victim who is in need of constant watch and protection from the heroine. The fanfiction identifies several moments in the source text in which Bella is represented as a victim and Edward as her rescuer, and rewrites them with these roles reversed. For example, Eliza uses her vampire power to save Ben from a car accident.
Genderswap in this fanfiction thus emphasizes that power is enforced from the outside and can be exchangeable.
That is to say, associating power with vampirism, but not with masculinity, challenges fixed gender roles as represented in the source text and depicts them as inauthentic. Simultaneously, the forced and artificial gender-remapping in this fanfiction challenges essentialist notions of gender as they usually appear in the romance novel. Whether intentionally or not, this fanfiction mirrors important arguments against essentialist notions and definitions of gender and masculinity and presents them in a romance narrative.
It suggests that the hegemonic masculinity of the romance hero could be replaced by a more emotional and less oppressive means of being a man. Ben is not punished for challenging gender roles; on the contrary, Eliza approves of his version of masculinity and he achieves his happy ending.
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As discussed in the introduction, despite its manipulation of some aspects of traditional masculinity, Twilight does not present a real challenge to the conventional theme of male dominance found in most romance novels. It narrates a love story between Bella, a sixteen-year-old teenager, and her adopted brother, Edward, a twenty-one-year-old man. As her elder brother, and only guardian, he becomes responsible for her money, which allows him to interfere with her choices. He rarely let me be alone […].
Always hovering over me. He always questioned the friends I would hang out with. In Twilight , Edward refrains from sleeping with Bella until they get married, even though this is not her preference. His refusal to sleep with Bella is not only because he is worried that his sexual desire for her might evoke his desire for her blood, but also because he wants to protect their virginity until marriage. Despite his love for her, Edward will not sleep under the same cover with Bella. It portrays Edward as a man who, unlike the virgin Edward from the source text, has many sexual experiences.
Consider the following conversation between her and Edward, for example:. Promise me. I tried to control the gasping, at least. My ribs were throbbing. He put his hands on either side of my face and brought his face close to mine. His eyes were wide and serious.
Exaggeration, as a narrative tool, could suggest that the fan writer is attempting to transcend the patriarchal system operating in the source text by knowingly and consciously partaking in it. Creating and sharing image-macro memes on the internet are important ways by which readers participate in the construction of a dynamic romance hero.
I narrowed my search down to image-macros that responded to the character of the hero, Edward Cullen.
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The image-macro memes examined in this section are not representative of all the material produced on the internet. They are only examined as examples of the ways in which romance readers participate in the reproduction of a dynamic romance hero through their creating and sharing of image-macro memes.
Image-macros are multimodal memes, created by the combination of a picture and a text.