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six The Contemporary Sheik Romance Novel: The Historical Background Lighthearted escapism is the supposed raison d’être of the romance genre, so what happens when such novels are set in the present day, in a part of the world that we see on the nightly news? What is it that makes these swarthy princes of the desert so hot now, capturing the imagination—and dollars—of the American romance audience at a time when the Middle East seems more perilous than ever? cHrisTy MccullougH, “deserT HearTs” R omance fiction constitutes the largest segment of the American consumer book market today. In 2007, estimated earnings reached just under $1.4 billion. American publishers released around 8,090 titles that year, with fourteen percent of Americans buying twenty or more novels for themselves (RWA statistics, 2009). In 2008, one in four Americans—74.8 million people—read at least one romance novel, while 29 million read romances on a regular basis. Of these readers, 9.5 percent were men (RWA readership statistics, 2007). The statistics for turn-of-the-century sales of romance fiction outside the United States are just as remarkable. In 1999, Harlequin Mills & Boon claimed 32 percent of the paperback market in the United Kingdom, totaling eleven million readers, or four out of every ten women (McAleer 3). In Australia in 2000, 36 percent of all mass-market paperback sales were romance novels. Harlequin Mills & Boon sold more than five million copies in Australia that year, or more than 400,000 books a month: one-fifth of all paperbacks sales (www.eharlequin.com 2000). Sales figures were also high in non- « 194 » Desert Passions Western countries such as India—the largest market for Harlequin Mills & Boon outside Britain and North America (Parameswaran 1999: 84). The sheer size of this market, combined with the fact that readers often enjoy armchair travel and the “facts” they glean from romance novels set in exotic locations, means that we need to take seriously the Orientalist discourses reproduced in these novels (Mann 13, McAleer 99–100, 258). The Sultan’s Bed, The Sultan’s Bought Bride, The Seductive Sheik, The Sheik’s Revenge, The Sheik’s Reward, The Sheik’s Captive Bride, The Sheik and the Kidnapped Bride, The Sheik and the Princess Bride, The Sheik and the Virgin Princess, The Sheik and the Virgin Secretary, The Sheik and the Vixen, The Sheik’s Seduction, The Sheik’s Temptation, The Surgeon Sheikh’s Proposal, The Solitary Sheikh, Secret Agent Sheik . . . . These are just a few of the titles beginning with “s” on the “Sheikhs and Desert Love” website database of Orientalist romance novels published since the 1970s—a list that runs well into the hundreds. The contemporary romance fiction genre is divided into two forms: “category” romances, which are released on a regular basis, focus almost exclusively on the unfolding romance between hero and heroine and are sold under particular publisher imprints or series lines, such as Harlequin Presents, Harlequin Intrigue, Silhouette, and so forth; and “single-title” or mass-market paperbacks, which are longer and looser in plot, structure, and focus, and are marketed by the author’s name rather than the publisher’s category imprint (Frenier 5). In this chapter, I concentrate on category romances because the modern sheik romance is a phenomenon almost wholly within category romance fiction. Also, unless keywords such as “sheik,” “sultan,” or “desert” feature in the title, it is very difficult to determine which single-title novels are actually Orientalist romances featuring cross-cultural, interracial relationships , with one partner having a Middle Eastern background. There may well be other single-title romance novels featuring interracial couples of Islamic or Arabic descent that were published in the second half of the twentieth century, but I have not been able to locate them, and they do not appear on the websites devoted to Orientalist romance novels, which focus on historical and category romances. That the sheik romance novel should have enjoyed such popularity at the end of the twentieth century would have been unthinkable in the 1930s, when the modern-day desert romance petered out.The reasons for its decline have already been discussed in Chapters 2 and 3. Readers began to tire of the glut of sheik and desert romances produced throughout the 1920s, especially when these became the source of ridicule and satire in popular culture. The onset of anticolonial unrest in the Middle East made THe conTeMporary sHeiK roMance novel « 195 » it difficult to imagine the region as a...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780292739390
Related ISBN
9780292739383
MARC Record
OCLC
813844932
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-19
Language
English
Open Access
No
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