Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political Fiction

Author: Vivanco, Laura


164 pp in PDF. 5 illustrations. 

Recommend to your librarian

A scintillating introduction to how romance fiction produced in the United States can be understood as political fiction

The dominance of popular romance in the United States fiction market suggests that its trends and themes may reflect the politics of a significant proportion of the population. Pursuing Happiness explores some of the choices, beliefs and assumptions which shape the politics of American Romance novels. In particular, it focuses on what romances reveal about American attitudes towards work, the West, race, gender, community cohesion, ancestral “roots” and a historical connection (or lack of it) to the land.

Romance novels considered include Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess (1996), a novel which suggests that a man’s status in his community owes a great deal to his ability to work, and the type of work he is able to perform. This American work ethic may be deemed to set the US apart from other countries. Ruth Jean Dale’s Legend! (1993) and Ruth Wind’s Meant to be Married (1998) reassess the history of the American West and critique its violence. How the past continues to affect the present is shown in contemporary Americans’ narratives about their “roots”, discussed in chapter 5. Other writers considered include Suzanne Brockman, Beverly Jenkins, Karin Kallmaker, Nora Roberts, Sharon Shinn, Linnea Sinclair, and LaVyrle Spencer.



About the author

Laura Vivanco is an independent scholar of romance fiction, including both modern popular romance and mediaeval Hispanic literature. She has a PhD from the University of St Andrews, and is the author of Death in Fifteenth-Century Castile: Ideologies of the Elites (Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2004) and For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance (Humanities-Ebooks, 2011). She is a member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and a regular contributor to Teach Me Tonight (http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/) an academic blog devoted to the study of popular romance novels. 

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Review Comment

 "Pursuing Happiness explores the ways that popular American romance novels engage such matters as US gender roles, attitudes toward disability, the myth of the frontier, individualism and community, and racial violence and discrimination. A thoughtful study with a refreshingly topical focus.” — Prof. William Gleason, Princeton University, co-editor of Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom?


Pursuing Happiness is an insightful and entertaining look at the inherent, often invisible, politics that underlie America’s most popular genre of fiction.”— Isobel Carr, romance writer.

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