Saturday, February 10, 2007

Where the Heart Roams (1987)

Showing signs of age but still interesting as a document of a cultural phenomenon in its infancy, Where the Heart Roams centers around the time when the Romance Novel began to come out of the shadows and become a cottage industry. It follows several authors and wannabes as they tour America on the (I'm not making this up) "Love Train," an Amtrak special moving cross country to bring its occupants to a Romance writer's conference.

The film is ultimately too respectful to be campy fun and too clinical to be anything else. Only really when E. Jean Carroll is on screen is there any hint of irony, and she is careful to diplomatically let those aspects of the industry or writers that she finds ludicrous or contradictory speak for themselves.

Janet Dailey offers the following:

A romance novel an excitement. It deals with feelings. The feelings of a she feels when a man pays attention to her, how she feels when, when, he kisses her, when he makes love to her. The things that she feels and the things that are important to her, things that are very difficult to verbalize, but it's a writer's responsibility to write them.

It's about "things" and "feelings" are definitely one of the "things" it's about. Check.

There's some cursory examination of the business aspects of the industry that I would have liked to have heard more about--an editor tries to give one aspiring writer a set of guidelines about how the series she is seeking to contribute to is arranged, but these are writers who are clearly attached emotionally to their subject matter in ways that make editing painful.

Also of interest might have been conflicts between the first and second generations of writers. Both seem to agree that women want the Romance as a means of escapism, fueled in part by their entrance into the work force. There is also this insistence that the whole enterprise is vaguely feminist in its insistence on allowing women to chose and pursue what they want, but although we are told anecdotally about the corporate businesswoman who runs a conglomerate by day and fills her nights with bodice-rippers, the women we see mostly appear to be domestics who see the chance to write as more comforting than liberating--participating in the formula creates a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Trendsetter Barbara Cartland was not yet too old to participate, and her accomplishments earned her tribute from her followers even as they largely ignored her advice and she denigrated their work as soft porn. Not since Samuel Richardson wrote Pamela has there been an author so openly instructional about how to get your man:

Then I get an enormous amount [of letters] from married women saying I've helped their marriages enormously, because they've realized that they're not giving enough love to their husbands, they're not making things beautiful enough for him. And they're beginning to understand that if you want to keep a man--to keep him faithful--you have to work at it very hard and you have to make his prison, which is his home, really attractive for him. Otherwise he breaks out, and that's the trouble with the divorces today, it's because women are not doing their job.

According to Wikipedia's biography, Cartland was divorced at least once, amidst charges and counter charges of infidelity.

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