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The Glass Slipper

Women and Love Stories

Susan Ostrov Weisser

Publication Year: 2013

Why is the story of romance in books, magazines, and films still aimed at women rather than at men? Even after decades of feminism, traditional ideas and messages about romantic love still hold sway and, in our “postfeminist” age, are more popular than ever. Increasingly, we have become a culture of romance: stories of all kinds shape the terms of love. Women, in particular, love a love story.

The Glass Slipper is about the persistence of a familiar Anglo-American love story into the digital age. Comparing influential classics to their current counterparts, Susan Ostrov Weisser relates in highly amusing prose how these stories are shaped and defined by and for women, the main consumers of romantic texts. Following a trajectory that begins with Jane Austen and concludes with Internet dating sites, Weisser shows the many ways in which nineteenth-century views of women’s nature and the Victorian idea of romance have survived the feminist critique of the 1970s and continue in new and more ambiguous forms in today’s media, with profound implications for women.

More than a book about romance in fiction and media, The Glass Slipper illustrates how traditional stories about women’s sexuality, femininity, and romantic love have survived as seemingly protective elements in a more modern, feminist, sexually open society, confusing the picture for women themselves. Weisser compares diverse narratives—historical and contemporary from high literature and “low” genres—discussing novels by Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, Victorian women’s magazines, and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Disney movies; popular Harlequin romance novels; masochistic love in films; pornography and its relationship to romance; and reality TV and Internet ads as romantic stories.

Ultimately, Weisser shows that the narrative versions of the Glass Slipper should be taken as seriously as the Glass Ceiling as we see how these representations of romantic love are meant to inform women’s beliefs and goals. In this book, Weisser’s goal is not to shatter the Glass Slipper, but to see through it.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-8


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The original impulse to write this book came from teaching young women who face a peculiar double bind. These students consider themselves the most independent and self-determining generation of women in history, yet their expectations of love do not seem to match their real-life observations and experience of romance and marriage, and they’re not sure why. ...

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Introduction: Women and the Story of Romantic Love

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pp. 1-16

These words were tearfully spoken by rejected “Bachelorettes” in the ninth season of the popular reality TV show The Bachelor, in which dozens of beautiful women compete for “the heart” of a coveted male. This time around, The Bachelor: Rome (2006), whose overwhelmingly female audience numbered over eight million viewers a week, ...

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1. The Odd Couple: Mating Jane Austen with D. H. Lawrence

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pp. 17-34

On the surface, you’d be hard-pressed to find two major British authors at further poles than Regency-era girl-favorite novelist Jane Austen and metaphorically muscular twentieth-century writer D. H. Lawrence. The first is popularly associated with clichés of prim convention and the cozy comforts of traditional moral convictions, ...

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2. Why Charlotte Brontë Despised Jane Austen (and What That Tells Us about the Modern Meaning of Love)

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pp. 35-49

It’s a fascinating oddity of literary history that the great Victorian novelist of romantic love, Charlotte Brontë, despised that other great British chronicler of love, Jane Austen, and could not quite comprehend why Austen was valued so highly by critics in Brontë’s time. ...

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3. The True and Real Thing: Victorian and Modern Magazine Cultures of Romance

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pp. 50-69

Our stereotypes of the Victorian age lead us to expect certain sharp distinctions between nineteenth- and twenty-first-century views on the nature of love, gender roles, sex, and morality: namely, that Victorian women were corseted prudes, culture was genteel and moralistic, and love grew in the context of sweet, mannered, Austenish courtship. ...

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4. Victorian Desires and Modern Romances: Pocahontas on a Bridge in Madison County

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pp. 70-78

When scholars have studied contemporary romances, they have often viewed them as an opportunity to examine the conservative, if not regressive, view of gender in our society. More recently, they have been celebrated as implicitly feminist and subversive. But these are not the only ways to look at the modern popular story of love. ...

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5. For the Love of Mermaids, Beasts, and Vampires (and Ghosts, Robots, Monsters, Witches, and Aliens): Romancing the Other

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pp. 79-104

Who is lovable and who is not? What sort of person deserves love, and why? Many stories turn on the matter of whom we may love, which is often another way of asking what kind of love is forbidden or out of bounds. When love stories address these important questions, what they answer gives us a yardstick for how we readers measure up. ...

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6. Women Who Love Too Much . . . or Not Enough . . . or the Wrong Way: The Tragedy and Comedy of Romantic Love in Modern Movies

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pp. 105-129

In the Victorian era, angels were in, and “in” meant in print in full force. There were angelic young heroines in novels, such as those by Charles Dickens, who were at once the reward for the hero’s pluck and compensation for his undeserved trouble. ...

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7. Feminism and Harlequin Romance: The Problem of the Love Story

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pp. 130-145

Romantic fiction is irresistibly delicious to many women. And many academic feminists have not been happy about that, or at best have had a vexed and ambivalent view of the pleasure women have derived from this genre. There is a whole body of scholarship out there that analyzes the heterosexual narrative of romantic love as a popular form, ...

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8. A Genre of One’s Own: African American Romance Imprints and the “Universality” of Love

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pp. 146-170

When Harlequin Enterprises, the hugely successful company specializing in formula romance, began publishing the Kimani line of black romance novels in 2006, its general manager, Linda Gill, announced: “While the current tastes for African American fiction includes quite a bit of street lit, we’ve heard from black women they want to see more sexy and sophisticated love stories ...

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9. Is Female to Romance as Male Is to Porn?

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pp. 171-181

The pairing up of women with romance and men with pornography has a comfortably familiar ring in our society. And yet, as the anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner wrote asked about the close association of women with nature in a famous article from which I take this chapter’s title, “What is our evidence that this is a universal fact?”1 ...

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10. Modern Romance: Two Versions of Love in Reality/“Reality”

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pp. 182-205

Victorian magazines often featured manufactured anecdotes and stories that were presented (if only with tongue in cheek) as true. Our modern culture, in ironic reversal, presents filmed stories of actual people in a simulacrum of reality. Similarly, the relatively recent explosion in memoir presents its own challenge to the idea of truth: ...

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Conclusion: If the Glass Slipper Fits

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pp. 206-212

Romance is often treated as generic narrative because we all know the popular mythic stories of love such as Cinderella. But historical and social conditions change the stories’ meanings for us, and not infrequently their themes as well. Though their characters or plot points may appear the same across the ages, ...


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pp. 213-228

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 229-230


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pp. 231-236

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About the Author

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pp. 253-254

Susan Ostrov Weisser is a professor of English at Adelphi University. She is the author of A Craving Vacancy: Women and Sexual Love in the British Novel, 1740–1880, editor of Women and Romance: A Reader, and co-editor of Feminist Nightmares: Women at Odds.

E-ISBN-13: 9780813561790
E-ISBN-10: 0813561795
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813561783

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2013