Discover The Feminist Underpinnings Of The Romance Novel In ‘Love Between The Covers’: BUST Review

by Madelyn Sundquist

In Love Between the Covers, viewers are thrown into the world of the most popular fiction on the market—romance novels. Surprised? Maybe not, considering we’re now living in a post-Fifty Shades of Gray society, which, despite the thundering criticisms, is one of the best-selling book series of all time. I thought I knew the whole story of these romantic fictions, often condescended to by fans of “high literature” like myself; however, I was totally, totally wrong.

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The great thing about this documentary is that it puts the romance novel in a broader social context, focusing on the historical exclusion of women from the realm of authorship and writing. Between entertaining shots of cover shoots for an Eloisa James historical romance and fans eagerly shaking Nora Roberts’ hand at a romance convention, any pretension around our own reading habits is shaken down. After watching this film, I felt that I gained a much fuller understanding of just why the romance novel is so condemned (its market is predominantly women) and what makes the genre still so intensely popular.

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Through interviews with people such as Beverly Jenkins, a woman who has pioneered the genre for women of color, and Radclyffe, who did similarly for gay and lesbian readers, much of the popularity comes from the simplicity of the H.E.A., or, Happily Ever After. Both authors make the point that there is joy in the love lives of black and lesbian women—not every story must be heart wrenching, a story of struggle. To bring joy and the belief that an H.E.A. exists for marginalized groups is a strong motivator for purchase and reading. This goes the same for all other women; love doesn’t have to end like a Shakespearean tragedy—we deserve to live and be loved.

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Radclyffe working away on another book. 

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Beverly on the right with a fan.

The bonds between such popular writers, Nora Roberts for one, and their fans are simply astounding, bringing down the detached, lofty ideas of the publishing world and famous writing. Beverly, for example, has taken a group of other women of color on historical tours for years now, creating a community around sharing love stories and others scratched out of the history books of African American heritage. Seeing just how important romance was to bond these women together surely shaped my perspective on the romance genre as a whole more positively, seeing how, unlike other genres, it has a foundation of female support systems.

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Romance authors Susan Donovan and Celeste Bradley toast over a new collaboration.

One stark issue I saw with this movie, despite Beverly and Radclyffe’s importance to the making, was that the vast majority of authors and readers were still cis, white women. Basically, I’m wondering, where are all the queer POC out there? I know y’all are writing romance just like the rest of us! I craved a response from another side of the LGBTQ spectrum, not just from the pioneer of the lesbian and gay corner of the genre, but from the gender-benders, trans, and polyamorous folks—especially those who are not white. Perhaps this was an honest lack of material for the film, but it left me feeling like the two to three authors from minority groups were tokens.

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Fortunately, Love Between The Covers does succeed in exposing the kind of communities fostered over romance novels, which overall offers viewers who are non-romance readers a distinctly new perspective on a genre oft forgot. Scenes like the cover shoots, where corset-glad women practice the “almost kiss” pose with shirtless men, and personal anecdotes about coming out and growing up make the movie highly entertaining. Feel-good, uplifting, and affirming, I think anyone who has an interest in feminist writing should give Love Between the Covers a go—I guarantee you will learn something that will make you smile!

The movie is available now via Amazon—check out the trailer below!

Images courtesy of the production team.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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