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Introduction To Reading The Romance By Janice A. Radway

2550 words - 10 pages

Janice A. Radway

Janice A. Radway teaches in the literature program at Duke University. Before moving to Duke, she taught in the American Civilization Department at the University of Pennsylvania. She says that her teaching and research interests include the history of books and literary production in the United States, together with the history of reading and consumer culture, particularly as they bear on the lives of women. Radway also teaches cultural studies and feminist theory. A writer for Chronicle of Higher Education described Radway as "one of the leaders in the booming interdisciplinary field of cultural studies." Her first book, Reading the Romance (1984) has sold more than 30,00 copies in two editions. Her second book, A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire appeared in October of 1997. What follows is a topic-outline of the introduction to the English version of her first book.

Reading Reading the Romance

1. introduction

I am writing a new introduction to the English edition (1987) of Reading the Romance (1984), in which I study the particular nature of the relationship between audiences and texts. My theoretical claim to be doing something new will seem odd to a British audience. Nevertheless, my book takes up questions that British feminists and cultural studies scholars have tackled. I would like to discuss those questions, and so say something about the political implications of Reading the Romance (p. 62).

British readers will note that the argument is directed to American Studies scholars working in the USA, who have been preoccupied with the following question: What can a literary text be taken as evidence for? This focus may seem oblique to people who have read the book as a contribution to feminist scholarship or to communications studies theory (pp. 62-63).

American Studies

In 1977, I was hired by the American Civilization Department, University of Pennsylvania, which by the way had a reputation for challenging an earlier American Studies orthodoxy. That orthodoxy, formed in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, developed as a reaction to the hegemony of New Criticism in American English departments. Disturbed by the preoccupation with formalist criticism, some students of American literature demanded that the study of classic American literary texts include the study of the historical context in which they were conceived. American Studies programs grew out of this movement. At this time, most scholars still believed that the most reliable record of the American past could be found in the country's "greatest works of art" (p. 63).

The American Civilization Department began to elaborate a critique of the assumption that works selected on the aesthetic criterion would be representative of the larger selections of the population that had never read such books. These scholars argued that "elite" literature might be taken as evidence for the beliefs of only...

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