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Romance and Mahy

September 21, 2015

Just some thoughts from Anna Lawrence-Pietroni on romance and genre in Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover and The Tricksters… She wrote (20 years ago):

“…the subtitle of The Changeover parodies its own apparent categorization, as the text proceeds to undermine the very genre to which it claims to belong. The subtitle “A Supernatural Romance” illustrates the problem of categorizing this book: it turns on the cultural ambiguity of the “romance” tag, signifying both the literary genre of which the Arthurian quest, with its connotations of nobility and tradition is only a part, and the less-esteemed genre of the sentimental love story, seen more as a formula than as an art form. The qualifying “supernatural” suggests yet another location for the novel.” (pp.34-35)

Lawrence-Pietroni also points out that Laura also ‘denounces’ Sorry’s taste in literature (i.e. Romance) and “fails to recognize the place and function of the text in a wider social context (the book itself is only part of the reading experience). Sorry’s reading becomes an analogue for their relationship, as Laura lacks knowledge of the practices of sentimental romance both in and outside the book.” (p.35)

“While in The Tricksters the relationship between two of the main characters is mediated in the protagonist’s mind by fairy tales, which draw attention to the status of this relationship as an event in a book, love and sex are seen to be drained of meaning in The Changeover. Kate explains that “when people make love they get a rest from being themselves. Just for a few moments they can become nothing and it’s a great relief” (119). What might be seen as the supreme act of union, the most meaningful act possible, is in fact an attempt to reach a state of non-signification. Of course, that Kate speaks these words at all indicates that, while the act itself might not hold any fixed and intrinsic meaning, it has a wider, socially imposed significance, which prompts her need to excuse herself to Laura. The sexual act holds no value or meaning itself.” (p.36) [Lawrence-Pietroni doesn’t emphasise the undermining of Romance as a genre here, but I find that point interesting!]

Similarly, describing Laura’s kiss with Sorry (quoting Mahy at first): “It reminded Laura of the soft but heavy kisses Jacko used to give when he was just learning to kiss, and she found it very disturbing, for it seemed as if he kissed her for Jacko in the past, himself in the present and for another unknown child somewhere in the future” (155). Sorry runs into Jacko, and time dissolves into the moment, while Laura is mother, sister, and lover in the giving and receiving of one kiss.” (p.36) Again, this is an interesting undermining of certain generic expectations of romance.

But then again, is it? We are talking about adolescent fiction here, so can adolescent romance better acknowledge imperfect romantic experiences? …approach them differently? hmmm

Does sex or love move the plot forward in these books? does it do so differently in romances that might be more ‘typical’ of the genre?

Lawrence-Pietroni also discusses sex and romance in The Tricksters… it might be an old article, but I’d say it’s worth thinking about more (and placing the points in comparison with other adolescent fiction).

Ref: Anna Lawrence-Pietroni ‘The Tricksters, The Changeover, and the Fluidity of Adolescent Literature’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 21(1)1996, pp.34-39

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