Sunday, November 29, 2009

Speaking of Romance: Harlequin Covers Hit the Big Time

If you're going to be in Las Vegas anytime soon, you might want to check out the exhibit at the Paris Las Vegas of Harlequin romance novel covers. "The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949-2009" is, as the L.A. Times article calls is, "a small, intellectually provocative display in a town incessantly struggling with its portrayal of the fairer sex." I think the key word in that statement is the last word.

The L.A Times article says that the curator of the display never read any of the romances but studied the 60 years of Harlequin covers and determined which ones would be in the exhibit by the quality of the art. One of the other conclusions she came to was that many times the covers displayed female fantasies of a professional nature, rather than a sexual one.

The article says:

"For example, the covers of doctor-nurse romances of the '50s and '60s showed workplace lovers chatting as equals, which might be linked (as another placard tells us) to the frustration of women who 'felt sequestered in the domestic realm of postwar suburbia.' In exotic-locale tales of about the same period, women were the doctors, though only in foreign and often tropical destinations.

....A decade later, women apparently dreamed of romance amid danger. In 1959's "The Yellow Snake" -- one of Semmelhack's favorite covers -- a gun-wielding, professorial man and a blond woman in pearls gasp at (as the placard helpfully explains) an 'overtly phallic snake.' "

I don't know. Something about deconstructing these covers rubs me the wrong way. (Excuse the pun.) Even the curator admits that when these covers were created, it's not like anyone at Harlequin was really thinking about the woman's place in society at that point in time. "I don't think anybody sat back and thought it out," the curator said.

So why do it now? These covers were created to sell books, not start a revolution.

As a side note, way way back in the early 90s, for a short time I dated a guy who ended up being a Harlequin cover model. He fit the role perfectly: chiseled face, killer body....actually, as I look back on it now, I think his looks were rather bland. Just like the Harlequin models. But, in real life, this guy was no hero. Which is why we dated only for a very short time.

Anyway, check out the article.


Barry Traylor said...

Wow! If this woman ever sees any of the covers from pulps like Horror Stories, Terror Tales or Dime Mystery (the latter pulp the ones from the 1930's weird menace ones) her head might implode. :-)

Walker Martin said...

One of the favorite themes of Horror, Terror and Dime Mystery covers back in the 1930's was hunchbacks, freaks, or old geezers whipping nude girls. I'd like to see the Harlequin cover commentator discuss these insane covers. One of the original paintings on auction just went for $40,000. I thought it would go even higher.

JerThom said...

Unfortunately, 99.9% of all the people who try to claim they know the inspiration behind other peoples work are only giving us their skewed interpretation, not the actual artist or writer's.

Lana Gramlich said...

Trashy or not, there are some aspects to those romance covers that I can examine at length & appreciate from an artistic standpoint.

Laurie Powers said...

Barry and Walker, yeah, we know what was on those covers. God help us if an academic decides to deconstruct those sometime. Or maybe it's been done already??

JerThom, very true. That's what made me crazy when I was in college.

Lana, thank you for saying that. Just like pulp covers, these have artistic quality that is overlooked too often.