英语学习杂志 2014-12-25 13:32





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By Palash Ghosh

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The other morning on my subway commute I sat next to an attractive young blonde woman who was reading something on her iPad.1 She was very well-dressed, carrying a Prada bag with tastefully applied make-up—indeed, she exuded an unmistakable air of affluence, material success and even authority.2 I suspected she worked as a highly-paid Wall Street attorney or stockbroker or something of that ilk.3 So, I was curious to see what she was poring over4. The Wall Street Journal perhaps? The New York Times? The Economist?5

Quite the contrary; rather, she was mesmerized by a romance novel—I could tell because I spied a few paragraphs written in the sentimental, florid style of that genre.6It occurred to me that the relative anonymity of an iPad (i.e., in place of a paperback featuring an absurdly cartoonish cover illustration of a muscular he-man embracing a beautiful ingénue) spared her any embarrassment over her choice of reading matter.7 After all, romance novels fall into the same sordid category as soft porn, violent comic books and anything written by Stephen King in the realm of literary “guilty pleasures.”8

Then I realized that I have known many women who devour these romance novels—smart, attractive, successful, “liberated,” modern females who nonetheless find some kind of deep satisfaction and vicarious thrill from delving into hyper-romantic, contrived and extremely unrealistic tales of handsome, manly heroes falling in love with virginal women, enduring a series of adventures, then inexorably ending in a happy resolution.9

These “romance” stories are to literature what hot dogs are to cuisine—quickly made, tasty, filling, temporarily satisfying, but with no nutritional value whatsoever.10 Yet, the genre remains enormously popular.

Consider some of these sobering statistics from the good folks at the Romance Writers of America (RWA):11

*More than 9,000 romance titles were released in 2012, yielding sales of about $1.44 billion (more than triple the revenues generated by classic literary fiction), making it the biggest portion of the U.S. consumer market at 16.7 percent.12

*Some 75 million people in the country read at least one romance novel in 2008, but most are long-time dedicated consumers of the genre.

*More than 90 percent of the market are women (okay, that’s not at all surprising).

*Readers are typically women between the ages 30 and 54 who are themselves involved in a romantic relationship (betraying the stereotype that only lonely women long for these tales of love and adventure).13

*Almost 40 percent of romance book consumers have an annual income of between $50,000 and $99,900 (placing them firmly in the middle class and even upper middle class).

I had thought that romance novels accounted for a very small fringe corner of the literary market—so I was quite surprised that this segment has such enormous popularity.14 Now that books are transitioning from the dying hardback and paperback forms to e-books, romance novels have made the change effortlessly;15 in fact, they represent the fastest-growing parts of the digital market, far ahead of general fiction, mystery and science fiction, according to Bowker, an industry research firm.

The most famous purveyor of romance novels is probably Toronto-based Harlequin Enterprises which generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually from book sales.16 The most well-known romance writer might have been Dame Barbara Cartland, the English woman who died only about twelve years ago at the age of 98. Throughout her long life, Cartland produced more than 700 novels which have reportedly sold as many as one billion copies around the world, which would make her one of the most prolific17 and successful authors ever.

Although Dame Cartland had a rather messy personal life herself, she nonetheless applied Victorian-era morality to her books—that is, only a chaste kiss between the protagonists, and generally no sexually explicit scenes.18 Princess Diana19 herself reportedly devoured Cartland’s tales of innocent romance. Granted, the contemporary romance genre has moved far from Dame Cartland’s squeamishness about sex, with female lead characters who are strong, independent and hardly virginal—but at their core, they remain true to her original vision of simple love stories that always lead to happiness.20

But I must wonder why so many women—forty years after the women’s liberation movement—continue to indulge in the fanciful tales of females so unlike them who live in fantasy worlds light years removed from their reality?21

I’m not sure if the immense popularity of romance novels represents a kind of “repudiation” of the women’s lib movement, but clearly something is missing in the lives and experiences of tens of millions (maybe even hundreds or millions) of contemporary ladies.22 An anonymous female reviewer at goodreads.com said of the genre: “Romance novels offer an escape from daily life with the belief that true love really exists.”23

A romance author named Donna Hatch who focuses on the Regency period (early 19th century Britain) explained the appeal of such books this way:24 “Regency men were civilized and treated women with courtesy. When a lady entered the room, gentlemen stood, doffed their hats, curtailed their language, offered an arm, bowed, and a hundred other little things I wish men still did today.25 But they were also very athletic26; they hunted, raced, fenced, boxed, rode horses.27 They were manly. Strong. Noble. Resolute28. Honorable. And that is why I love them!”

Mrs. Hatch may have expressed the secret (or not-so-secret?) desires and attitudes of untold millions of her peers—that is, in the early 21st century, have women grown tired of the burdens and expectations that the “freedoms” they have gained impart29 upon them? Is this a rejection of modern feminism? An expression of distaste of the hippie culture which essentially destroyed all traditional forms or behavior in the western world?30 Do women long for days of old when men were masculine gentlemen and women were feminine and protected as precious treasures and regarded as possessions?31

Perhaps most women (even the ones who get lost in romance novels) do not want to go all the way back—but it is obvious, they are unhappy with how the world has turned out in the contemporary era.

Still, I would suggest that if someone is enamored with romantic novels, one should perhaps eschew the contemporary books and read the beautiful, deep and moving works of 19th century women authors like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters—they combined romanticism with cold hard reality and profound insights in humanity.32


1. commute: 通勤,往返交通;blonde: 金发女子,浅色头发的女人。

2. 她穿着入时,拎着普拉达的包,略施衬托出品味的粉黛——不可否认,她浑身上下散发出富有、物质成功以及桀骜自恃的气场。Prada: 普拉达,著名意大利时尚奢侈品牌;exude: 散发出,流露出;affluence: 富裕。

3. Wall Street: 华尔街,美国纽约市下曼哈顿的一条街道,现在已经是美国经济最具影响力的金融市场和金融结构的代名词;attorney: 律师;stockbroker: 股票经纪人;of that ilk: 同一类型的。

4. pore over: 专心阅读。

5. 文章中依次提到的报刊分别是:《华尔街日报》、《纽约时报》和《经济学家》,均是经济政治社论领域的严肃报纸。

6. mesmerize: 使……入迷;spy: (尤指经过寻找)突然看见,突然发现;sentimental: (故事、书等)故作伤感的;florid: (语言、音乐或艺术)修饰过多的。

7. 这时我忽然意识到,iPad毫无个性的封盖成功掩盖了她正在阅读的内容(也就是说,他人无法看到她正在阅读一本平装书,封面突显了滑稽可笑的卡通式插画——一位肌肉发达的健壮男子怀抱着一位美丽无邪的少女),她不必为自己所选择的书感到羞愧。anonymity: 无个性特征,无特色;paperback: 平装书,简装书;he-man: 〈幽默〉肌肉发达的健壮男子;ingénue: 天真少女,少不更事的初出茅庐者。

8. sordid: 猥亵的,龌龊的;soft porn: 软调色情,指商业上含有色情成分的照片或电影,稍少一些性暴露成分;Stephen King: 史蒂芬·金(1947— ),一位作品多产的美国畅销书作家,以恐怖小说著称。

9. 然后,我意识到自己竟认识不少如饥似渴地阅读言情小说的女性,她们都是聪明、有魅力、“得到了解放”的现代成功女性,但却在这些超级浪漫、情节矫揉造作且极为不现实的故事中找到了某种深深的满足和感同身受的刺激;这些故事都在讲述英俊、勇敢、强壮的英雄们爱上了贞洁的少女,他们在经历了一系列的磨难后毫无悬念地获得了圆满的结局。devour: 如饥似渴地阅读;liberated: 被解放的,获得自由的。此处指在女权主义运动之后获得更多自由与权利的女性,她们在生育权、受教育权、性别歧视等方面获得了更多的话语权;vicarious: 感同身受的,产生共鸣的;delve: 探索,探究;contrived: 不自然的,矫揉造作的;virginal: 处女般的;inexorably: 不可阻挡地,不可更改地;resolution: 解答,解决。此处指故事的结局。

10. cuisine: (精致的)菜肴,烹饪;filling: (食物)使人感到饱的;temporarily: 暂时的;whatsoever: 丝毫(用于强调否定句)。

11. sobering: 使人警醒的,令人清醒的;Romance Writers of America: 美国言情小说作家协会,美国一个非营利组织,目标是支助言情小说职业作家,并为他们提供社交机会。

12. title: (书的)一本,一种;yield: 产生,产出;revenue: (公司、机构等的)收入,收益。

13. betray: 背弃;stereotype: 模式化的思想,旧框框。

14. account for: 占(一定数量或比重);fringe: 边缘的,非主流的;segment: 部分。

15. transition: 过渡,转变;hardback: 硬皮书,精装本。

16. purveyor: 提供者,供应商;Harlequin Enterprises: (加拿大)禾林出版公司,全球最成功的浪漫小说出版商,被称为“出版界的麦当劳”。

17. prolific: (艺术家、作家等)多产的,作品丰富的。

18. messy: 混乱的,麻烦的;Victorian-era: (英国)维多利亚时代,即英国维多利亚女王的统治时期,被认为是英国工业革命和大英帝国的巅峰。维多利亚时代的道德观念支持性节制,不容忍罪恶,主张订立严格的社会守则;chaste: 纯洁的,不带性意味的;protagonist: 主角,故事主人公;explicit: (描绘性或暴力的语言或画面)清晰露骨的。

19. Princess Diana: 威尔士王妃戴安娜(1961—1997),英国王储、威尔士亲王查尔斯的第一任妻子。

20. granted: 诚然,的确;squeamishness: 易受惊,神经脆弱。

21. indulge in: 沉迷于;light years: 遥远地。

22. repudiation: 拒绝,否认;lib: liberation的缩写。

23. anonymous: 匿名的,不留真名的;goodreads.com: 美国一家图书分享型社交网站。2013年由亚马逊公司收购纳入旗下。

24. Regency period: (英国的)摄政时期,大约指1811年至1820年间。这一时期的欧洲发生了许多影响重大的历史事件,例如拿破仑战争的结束等,工业革命也与此时在英国持续展开。这一时期亦是英国著名作家简·奥斯汀作品的创作背景,使摄政时期在西方文学史中有着特殊的地位;appeal: 吸引力。

25. doff: 脱帽致意;curtail: 削弱,限制。

26. athletic: 强壮的,擅长运动的。

27. race: 赛马;fence: 马术障碍赛;box: 拳击运动。

28. resolute: 坚决的。

29. impart: 赋予,给予。

30. distaste: 厌恶,反感;hippie culture: 嬉皮士文化,最先是用来描写西方国家20世纪六七十年代反抗习俗和当时政治的年轻人,用流浪的生活方式来反映出他们对民族主义和越南战争的反对。他们的外貌特征是留长发、大胡子,常穿色彩鲜艳的衣着或不寻常的衣饰。

31. masculine: 男子气概的;feminine: 女性气质的;possession: 所属物,财物。

32. 尽管如此,我还是要建议那些迷恋于言情小说的读者们,或许她们应该抛开现代小说,转而去读简·奥斯汀和勃朗特姐妹等19世纪女性作家的那些文笔优美、寓意深刻而动人的作品——她们把浪漫主义与冷酷现实相结合,并提出对人性的深刻见解。enamored: 喜爱的,迷恋的;eschew: (有意地)回避,避开。

(来源:英语学习杂志 编辑:祝兴媛)



















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