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Michèle Roberts and Romance

By Emma Parker


This is an electronic version of an article published in Women: A Cultural Review, 2008, 19 (1), pp. 21-36. Women: A Cultural Review is available online at: www.tandfonline.com/openurl?genre=article&issn=0957-4042&date=2008&volume=19&issue=1&spage=21.Since her debut novel, A Piece of the Night (1978), the first new book to be published by the Women’s Press, Michèle Roberts has produced literary fiction that is avowedly feminist in impulse. However, her twelfth novel, Reader, I Married Him (2004), appears to mark a transition from feminist to feminine fiction, a form of writing epitomised by chick lit, and one preoccupied with femininity, ‘the dark “Other” of feminism’ (Hanson, p. 16). As the cover of Reader (approved by Roberts) indicates, the novel self-consciously draws on the conventions of chick lit; it features a cartoon-style drawing of a woman sporting the contemporary signifiers of patriarchal femininity, a handbag and high-heeled shoes. Alluding to the text that spawned the genre, one reviewer even describes Roberts’s middle-aged protagonist as ‘a menopausal Bridget Jones’ (Ajay Close, p. 30). Like the re-publication of her third novel The Wild Girl (1984) as The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2007) in the wake of Dan Brown’s bestselling religious mystery The Da Vinci Code (2003), this apparent shift from feminist to feminine fiction (from a focus on ‘wimmin’ to ‘girlz’) could be interpreted as a cynical bid for commercial success. However, I propose that Roberts’s latest novel expresses concerns central to her work – namely, a critical preoccupation with romance and a desire to challenge boundaries. Focusing on Reader, I Married Him and the three novels that precede it - Fair Exchange (1999), The Looking Glass (2000) and The Mistressclass (2003) - I argue that Roberts rewrites romance in order to stress both its perils and disruptive potential. Further, I propose that by highlighting the subversive appeal of romance, she recoups a denigrated feminine genre and the women who cherish it. Finally, I suggest that by drawing on literary and popular forms of romantic fiction, Roberts confounds the categories that structure the literary marketplace, rather than attempting to shift her position in it. [Taken from the introduction]Peer-reviewedPost-prin

Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1080/09574040801919955
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9789

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