*Alcaly Bodian Fellow*
"Whose London? Migration and Multiple Identities in K.J. Charles’s Queer Historical Romance Novels"
London has played a starring role in literature written in and outside the United Kingdom for centuries, and since 1909, in mass-market romance fiction, in both the historical and contemporary sub-genres. It is the backdrop to tales of love, mimicking BBC-drama versions of London as often as documenting reality, almost a chronotope more than the actual city. But it also functions as an active agent of geopolitical history, a setting that forces confrontations with Britain’s colonial past and the ongoing impact of late-capitalist cultural imperialism. The chronotopic vision of London, however, is linked to the current debate about fair racial representation in romance, since authors and characters of color are marginalized or absent in it. This erasure, especially in a cosmopolitan setting like London, feeds into xenophobic and white supremacist sentiments and has been critiqued. In response, some romance authors (POC and non-POC) have started to write against this white-washing tendency, centering characters of various ethnicities and immigrant histories. In addition to the matter of London’s multicultural identity, the economic face of romance’s London has changed over time, with the pre-World War II presence of working-class and middle class Londoners being replaced after the War by wealthier denizens, and the colonial base of this wealth made invisible. But following the 2008 financial crisis, a different London has emerged again, a Dickensian vision marked by the financial striving of economically marginalized people, indicating an indictment of late-capitalism’s roots and results. The changing portrayals of London in romance are therefore especially worth examining at this time. Through a close-reading of the depiction of London in the queer historical romance An Unseen Attraction (2017), I aim to illustrate the abovementioned phenomenon, with the intent to show how popular culture can fall in with conservative ideologies but also subvert them.
Dr. Jayashree Kamblé is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College. Her research focuses on mass-market romance fiction and romance narratives in other media. Her first book was Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemolog [palgrave.com]y (Palgrave, 2014). She recently co-edited a book collection for Routledge titled The Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction [routledge.com] (2020) and published an article on women, transculturalism, and citizenship in romance in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies [jprstudies.org]. She is currently working on her second book (on romance fiction heroines) as well as articles on the racial geographies of historical romance novels (supported by the ARC Fellowship) and the history of American romance fiction (supported by the William P. Kelly Research Fellowship). She is a Vice-President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance [iaspr.org] and often discusses her research on podcasts such as Shelf Love [shelflovepodcast.com].