Yet Cohen changes the narrative, both in its imagery and in its plot. First, he turns the image of a masculine bull into a mare: a shift that does as much to Westernize the parable—the soul is represented as feminine in most Western traditions—as his displacement of the story to an idyllic American setting. As the song begins, the cowboy is injured, and his loss makes him solitary and repenting: a motif familiar from the songs I have discussed so far. Now the clasp of this union who fastens it tight?
I was sitting in a sunny room, watching the motes of dust, and accepted their graceful invitation to join in their activity and forget who I was, or remember who I was. I played it for a couple of brother monks and sister nuns and they said it was better than sesshin —a seven-day session of intense meditation rpt.
The light coming into this room makes little particles of dust visible and, in a moment of enlightenment, the singer sees them dancing in the air. Genesis —and thus gives meaning to his existence. The soul depicted is in the state between two worlds: the primordial darkness of creation and the secular world. The window symbolises the threshold between the two worlds. Matthew and Mark In both cases, we can see the song as describing the return of the soul to the body as something painful and difficult.
The singer then pleads for Love the Saviour to come and gentle this suffering soul, but Love, too, is described in bewildering series of ways:. O chosen love, O frozen love O tangle of matter and ghost. The book is, in reality, a manual for a young adept who embarks on a spiritual journey. Here, it is apt to mention the masculine and feminine qualities of the G-dhead. Jewish, Christian, and even Islamic mysticism in general speaks about the nature of G-d as both masculine and feminine. The soul is urged to climb on its suffering like a rose which climbs on its thorns before it blooms.
Its contemporary notion stands obviously for passion and the fire of love. However, most importantly, it stands for life and death as it implies annihilation in love and rebirth. The rest of the stanza indicates that the purified soul will be returned back into the flesh. This process is never ending because love triggers continuous rebirth, even as each individual instance of rebirth each syllable in the stutter also ends at some point. In the slaughter house of love, they kill only the best, none of the weak or deformed.
Barks In the above analysis of a few songs lyrics we have seen how Cohen portrays the union with G-d through various religious systems and how he uses symbolism coming from these religions in order to describe this divine phenomenon, which is not normally to be expressed in words but revealed to the initiates in sacred rites. Such is the case with the attainment of the new name, which, every time after being bestowed, stands for a renewed life which is one step higher than the previous existence.
The next part of the essay will focus closely on the soul, its bodily sojourn, and the metaphor of its ascent through the imagery coming from the Kabbalistic and Alchemical teachings. Leonard Cohen has dedicated a great deal of work to portraying a man whose self and soul are divided and tormented, struggling against one another. This theme appeared in full in the book of psalms called Book of Mercy. In psalm III, Cohen offers a parable in which his [End Page 8] soul is singing against him and the effort of the self to reach that singing soul is painful and in vain:.
I heard my soul singing behind a leaf, plucked the leaf, but then I heard it singing behind a veil. I tore the veil, but then I heard it singing behind a wall. I broke the wall, and I heard my soul singing against me. I built up the wall, mended the curtain, but I could not put back the leaf. I held it in my hand and I heard my soul singing mightily against me.
Comfort and reassurance comes in those few psalms that show Cohen on more amicable terms with his suffering, willing to accept the fact that the preparation of the soul entails an almost unbearable degree of solitude and seclusion. Bind me, ease of my heart, bind me to your love. This level allows the human soul, still perceiving itself as a soul, to receive the Divine spark and leads it to the most profound state of existence. According to Gareth Knight,. It is the gateway to what is called Nirvana in the East, and thus represents the point where a soul has reached the full stature of its evolutionary development, has attained perfect free will and can make the choice between going on to further evolution in other spheres or remaining to assist in the planetary Hierarchy Wolfson quotes from Robert Charles Zaehner, a British scholar of Eastern religions, who describes the path of the mystic and his soul in terms of a bride who is annihilated in love of her Lord.
Zaehner describes the soul of the mystic in relation to the divine as the bride who passively receives from the masculine potency of God. Both of the above quotations seem relevant to the work of Cohen, who in employed an engraving from an alchemical tract called Rosarium Philosophorum published in Frankfurt in for the cover of his album New Skin for the Old Ceremony.
The tract describes the alchemical process of transmutation of the human soul and the concrete picture depicts the union between the King and his Queen, or symbolically between the seeker and his purified soul. The original engraving was adapted by Teresa Alfieri. The whole tract contains 20 engravings and an accompanying text describing the process of spiritual transformation by the means of the physical union.
Paul D. However, Cohen, by using the eleventh picture of the series for his album cover, suggests that he wants to go further. Hand in hand with this, Cohen portrays two angelic figures which are not going to undertake physical coniunctio because the Queen does not allow the King to lie between her legs.
Although naked and lying on the top of one another, no penetration seems implied; rather, they seem primarily a reflection of one another. Eros in the picture is transmuted into another form of love, characterised by quenching bodily desires and nourishing the spiritual ones. Both represent the harmonic relationship between the purified soul and its reborn body. With all of this in mind, the title and cover image of New Skin for the Old Ceremony become available for a variety of complementary meanings.
In the next section we will see how Cohen acknowledges his own desire for the female body and what happens to love when he succumbs to it. Love portrayed by Cohen has for the ultimate goal to reach Divine union. However, he does not attain this union only through the spiritual exercise, but also through the sexual act. However, the work of the singer has not been consistent with this theme, as the spiritual exercise and sex interchange one another in a regular, cyclical way.
I studied religious values. The story goes that Jenifer Warnes was walking with Cohen one day around his neighbourhood and they were discussing the fact that people would not stop making love with one another. Several weeks later he finished the lyrics and Warnes recorded the song for her album Famous Blue Raincoat in Nadel However, in this song a longing for physical [End Page 13] union and the longing for union with G-d do not exclude each other and, if our supposition about the rebirth of the soul is right, we see a circle of constant purification and rebirth of which the sexual act might indeed be the first step.
The song is explained in this way through two accompanying videos. It depicts, in a rather disconcerting manner, a woman who comes to the hospital to say the last goodbye to her male lover, played by Cohen himself. In the last part of the film, as Cohen sings, the woman disappears behind her shroud, as though breaking the bond of desire that held the singer to her, freeing him to move on to the next stage in his ascent. Inviting these two contrasting visual interpretations, the song itself can be seen as portraying both divine and physical love, as though there were no necessary contradiction between them.
On the other hand, Cohen has criticised unrestrained human love that does not lead to the purification of the soul and which is characterised by inordinate lust and satisfaction of the basest instincts. We do not know what happens later, whether the end will be revelatory or whether it will be a fall to an even profounder mire of bodily desires.
Although he is better known as a songwriter, poet, and novelist, Cohen was also a visual artist. These hearts stand as opposites to each other and are mutually dependent. One points to the Heavens while the other one points to the Earth. This motif first appeared on the cover of the collection of Psalms Book of Mercy.
The front cover of the Book of Mercy Therefore, the whole image represents the profane and sacred form of love at once blessed by the priest and proving that Cohen saw their intersection as the place where the Divine is made manifest. More than twenty years later in , when being interviewed by Stina Lundberg Dabrowski, he commented on the full realisation of the human existence in love and the possibility that it reconciles the opposing forces of our selves and paves the way to the liberation of the soul:.
We have seen that Leonard Cohen portrays receiving of divine love through solitude and meditation and sexual intercourse. Love thus attained has the power to purify the soul and reunite it with its body in a greater spiritual existence. With the help of religious and mystical motifs, Cohen attributes sacred qualities to the Divine as well as Human love and, finally, consecrates it in his seal. Love portrayed in such a way has, of course, been the subject of many medieval mystical books and appeared even visually in alchemy.
Therefore, the male and female beings are the image of G-d because He is male and female at once. The Christian mystics refer to the same verse and some of them even go so far as to give preferences to the feminine atributes of G-d, such as Julian of Norwich in her book Revelations. Muslims do not assign a gender to Allah. We should keep in mind that although the religious texts often address G-d with the use of masculine pronouns, verbs and nouns, G-d is regarded as gender and sexless.
In Sufism they avoid using the grammatical gender by using the words Hu or Huwa to speak about the One. The death of Jesus brings fruit in the form of a new life multiplied by the number of grain on the ear: a metaphor for his followers. Leonard Cohen, Accessed 14 May HarperCollins, Burger, Jeff. Chicago Review Press, Jeffay, Nathan. Julian of Norwich: Revelations, Motherhood of God. Edited by Frances Beer, D. Brewer, Khalil, Atif. Leonard Cohen. Lumsden, Suzanne.
Accessed 1 July Matt, Daniel Chanan. Harper San Francisco, Meier, Allison. Accessed 19 April Nadel, Ira Bruce. University of Texas, Thomas Nelson, Accessed 12 April Wolfson, Eliot R. New Skin for the Old Ceremony. Leonard Cohen, John Lissauer, Dear Heather.
Vinyl recording. The Future. The Killers occupy a contentious place in contemporary music. Both their visual and musical styles underwent a notable transformation for their second album, striving to evoke a Springsteen-esque Americana. They have continued to dabble in various genres, notably arena rock in recent years, thus preventing their music from settling into a secure niche Plutzik, paras.
While Flowers himself appears to espouse this attitude in some public statements, in others he seems to apologize for work by the band that he finds subpar. They are, in short, a musical entity in a state of constant fluctuation, contradiction, and evolution. One such evolution comes in their treatment of love and romance. By the release of their fourth album, their subject matter had evolved to focus heavily on love, with a particularly notable concern for love in long-term relationships. Yet with their fourth LP, Battle Born , The Killers focused conspicuously on romance, a turning point away from their previous work.
The album explores romantic relationships with a maturity that is both unusual for often youth-centered rock and a departure from the images of the bewildered and rejected young boys on Hot Fuss. Brightside character to move on from the woman he cannot have. Their fifth studio album Wonderful Wonderful focuses more personally on marital relationships, specifically that of Flowers and his wife Tana. More generally, the shift also participates in the critically well-established ability of rock music to explore and challenge masculinity via songs about love and desire.
Much of the scholarship on this relationship concerns more popular, more aggressive, or conspicuously harder rock acts. Male focalizers are also standard and can be reasonably assumed in many, if not most, songs performed by men in the rock and pop genres, further supporting a link from masculinity and maleness to such music. With regards to masculinity, personal focalizers are especially embedded within lyrical music, which implicitly creates the masculine figure through a gendered human voice.
In her model, hegemonic masculinity is understood as a socially prescribed set of images and practices which men are expected to exhibit publicly. This revised study rejected the former premise of an automatic subordination of women but maintained that gender hierarchies are still powerfully in place Musical masculinities have indeed evolved to include performances that defy traditional criticism or that fluidly fuse characteristics of traditional understandings of gendered expression.
What can be found in their work, however, is a negotiation of these spheres of musical masculinity that alternately upholds and challenges rigid critical classifications, beginning at one extreme murder and ending at what here serves as its thematic opposite, husband-and-fatherhood. The Murder Trilogy blends rock aggression with less masculine-coded emotional sensitivity to depict the most extreme reaction to rejection. The act of strangulation is particularly aggressive and dominating, requiring applied physical force over a prolonged period in order to ensure death.
In both songs, it is only when the focalizer becomes angry or is threatened with the revelation of his crime that Flowers emotes. His desperate pleas for Jenny to reconsider before he murders her compromise the smug dominance that he otherwise displays. The song instead reveals the inner paranoia and envy of a male focalizer observing the woman he desires with another man. The self-identified Mr. The music video further establishes this removal, as Flowers appears as a nervous but smugly flamboyant dandy in contrast to the older, more emotionally collected Eric Roberts in their battle for the girl.
Here we return to Mr. The paranoid boy of the first track has grown into the man who has granted himself the power to leave the scene of his rejection. Accordingly, the frenetic, club-friendly dance-rock of its predecessor is replaced by a smoothly building rock ballad.
Yet, in keeping with the masculine destructiveness of Hot Fuss , the song closes with doublespeak suggesting a bad and bitter end for one of the pair. Brightside, now shifts to Mr. Brightside as a distinctly separate entity speaking to his younger self. As the song fades out, a final verse describes Mr.
Brightside with images that imply assault:. While some subsequent songs have addressed failed relationships, none have ended in death or emotional raving. Ambiguity and ambivalence, however, persist, and the post- Hot Fuss era can be romantically characterized by focalizers at war with their own emotions. These songs, as well as those referencing romantic relationships on Sawdust , withdraw from the violent passions of Hot Fuss but do not replace them with other forms of romantic or sexual desire.
Indeed, some songs suggest a cynicism about love. The love-centric songs on the album do not repeat the motifs of spurned suitors or ambivalence; instead, many of them relate the perspectives of focalizers who navigate established and prolonged relationships. The couple soon wish to escape from their new roles. We used to look at the stars and confess our dreams Hold each other til the morning light We used to laugh, now we only fight But baby, are you lonesome now? Yet it does participate within a critically undefined group of songs in which a romantically committed man rediscovers freedom not through leaving or murdering his partner but through roaming away from the family home.
Here, the focalizer reminisces about the early days of a romance but finds the relationship has soured. The chorus subsequently questions whether or not the couple will be able to salvage their love. The focalizer is almost painfully vulnerable in his nostalgic desire, with Flowers crying out the chorus and eventually vocalizing in falsetto. A final crash and a sustained chord on the synthesizer emphasize a sense of narrative finality. This song in particular, Flowers relates to NME , served as a bonding experience for him and his wife, as it brought him to a better understanding of her long-untreated condition Reilly para.
The first is the musician himself: here, Brandon Flowers outside the public eye, the man, husband and father, composer, and primary lyricist for The Killers. The second is the star: here, the Brandon Flowers who appears onstage and in paratextual materials. As a practicing Mormon who now abstains from alcohol and drugs, Flowers is an unlikely rock star. He has since committed himself to his wife and children and prioritized them over music; their inclusion as focalized subjects and performers on Wonderful Wonderful provides musical evidence of an increasing thematic prioritization.
Although Springsteen has dealt with sexuality more frankly than Flowers, his focalized women whom are frequently named Mary are undoubtedly colored by Catholicism Moss Rolling river of truth, can you spare me a sip? Yet The Desired Effect sees a brief return to early form. However, these songs are not permitted to carry the narrative theme of the album.
As Flowers has admitted in multiple promotional interviews for the album, the focalized woman is literally his wife. Music critics still contextualize the band through their early interest in murder. As part of his stated commitment to his family and church, he appears to be extricating himself from his early image and thematic interests. However, it is through their journey from murder to marriage that we may find a particular negotiation of the expectations of masculinity within rock — and where it intersects with themes that have been more artistically and critically neglected in the genre, such as marriage, fatherhood, and a more explicitly conservative spirituality.
The song shares some similarities with the trilogy; like the fictional Jenny, Jodi was murdered by her boyfriend. However, in response to public backlash, the band did not release any official recordings of the song. It cannot, therefore, be counted amongst their standard catalog or the Murder Trilogy. However, he currently lacks the wholesome family appeal and light pop of, for instance, the Osmonds. His continued adherence to Mormonism, which he has affirmed to Rolling Stone in September Greene paras.
After coming out as gay in , Glenn has spoken openly of his ostracization from the church and a sense of separation from God. Astor, Pete, and Keith Negus. Bal, Mieke. Narratologie: Essais sur la signification narrative dans quatre romans modernes. Klincksieck, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. University of Toronto Press, Beaumont, Marc. Accessed 15 Sept. Biddle, Ian. Bosman, Chris. Accessed 1 Aug. Connell, R. Stanford University Press, Crider, David. Edwards, Leigh H. Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity. Indiana University Press, Flowers, Tana. The Mormon Women Project, 16 Jan.
Frith, Simon. Frith, Simon, and Angela McRobbie. Greene, Andy. Accessed 13 Sept. Griffiths, Dai. Moore, Cambridge University Press, , pp. Hawkins, Stan. Ashgate, Houston, Taylor Martin. Accessed 31 Aug. Leonard, Marion. Madanikia, Yasaman and Kim Bartholomew. Accessed 30 June McCarthy, Kate. McLean, Craig. Moore, Allan F. Moss, Pamela. Plutzik, Nate. Reilly, Nick. NME, 15 Sept. Reynolds, Simon and Joy Press. Harvard University Press, Rhodes, Carl. Stern, Marlow. Sutton, Matthew. Accessed 12 June In this paper, I examine arranged marriage slash fiction — a sub-genre of fanfiction which focuses on same-gender relationships and is widely acknowledged within the online [End Page 1] fanfiction community to be a close cousin of, and share readership with, Regency-setting romance novels, particularly those featuring marriages of convenience.
Using theories of meaning creation in fanfiction to show the intertextual relationships between arranged marriage slash fiction and marriage of convenience romance novels, I explore differences and similarities between the two, with particular reference to sexual consent in the often unequal arranged relationships they portray. I use the theoretical framework of emotion work Hochschild to understand the development of the relationship between the main characters in marriage of convenience romance novels and arranged marriage fanfiction stories.
I argue that by focusing on relationships which involve disparities of social standing and often financial dependence of one partner on the other, arranged marriage fanfiction stories explore marriage as an institution which reproduces and amplifies inequalities. This exploration includes the legal and formal aspects of marriage, as well as the social and emotional ones. As a result, they cast the practice of marriage consummation — and sex within marriage more generally — as an at least potentially coercive practice.
Furthermore, while arranged marriage fanfiction stories retain some key elements of the romance genre, notably the Happily Ever After HEA ending and the sex scene often the marriage consummation scene which doubles as the emotional climax Roach, Happily Ever After , they also make key changes to how the relationship between the main characters develops, particularly how the emotion work necessary to make the relationship work is divided between the partners. It is these changes which allow arranged marriage fanfiction stories to challenge dominant discourses of sexual consent within marriage and propose an alternative view of how consent within unequal relationships can be made meaningful.
This practice within the fanfiction community indicates a dissatisfaction with elements of the marriage of convenience romance novel, particularly how issues of power inequalities in romantic relationships are handled. Fanfiction provides a space where this dissatisfaction can not only be explored but the perceived issues set to rights. Mainstream romance novels have historically focused on heterosexual relationships culminating in monogamous marriage, although dedicated queer presses have published lesbian and gay romance since the s, and more recently we have seen a proliferation of the LGBTQ romance sub-genre facilitated by digital technologies which enable low-cost electronic publishing and small print runs Barot.
Research on the romance genre often focuses on how it relates to — and enables its readers to relate to — patriarchy and gendered power structures in society. This argument is worth quoting at length:. The romance thematizes the activity of interpretation and reinterpretation for a very good reason, then. In suggesting that the cruelty and indifference that the hero exhibits towards the heroine in the early part of the novel are really of no consequence because they actually originated in love and affection, the romance effectively asserts that there are other signs for these two emotions than the traditional ones of physical caresses, oral professions of commitment, and thoughtful care.
As popular romance studies has evolved as a field, such accounts have increasingly been questioned and complicated through engagements with both romance novels themselves and their audiences. In A Natural History of the Romance Novel , Regis challenges pathologising approaches to romance reading, highlighting instead the complexity and variety of works that fall within the romance genre and establishing clear generic links between works commonly considered part of the literary canon and more contemporary mass-market romance novels.
This process takes a heroine who is already bound and frees her. Regis does concede that freedom for the heroine is provisional and constrained, unlike freedom for the hero, which is total and absolute More recent approaches have returned to centering audiences alongside texts. Roach, for instance, has examined both the genre and its readers in an auto ethnographic study Happily Ever After. She returns to the question of the relationship between romance and patriarchy, and picks up on the Beauty and the Beast themes of taming and healing present in many romance novels.
She argues that romance novels and the readerly and writerly communities around them provide — within the limits of the tropes and conventions of the genre — a safe space for imaginative play where predominantly women can think through the challenges posed by patriarchy Paranoid readings emphasise and expect negative affect, and seek to expose the underlying negative assumptions and effects of texts.
By contrast, she proposes a reparative reading mode, where rather than expecting and seeking to expose negativity, a reader approaches a text with hope, open to surprise, regardless of whether that surprise may be positive or negative. It is this hard work, which Roach identifies as such a central element to the romance narrative, that I want to investigate further in examining how fanfiction readers and writers approach the romance trope of arranged marriage or marriage of convenience.
Emotion work was first proposed by Hochschild as the work involved in managing feelings to bring them in line with societal norms and expectations. Hochschild identifies three techniques of emotion work: cognitive attempting to change ideas or images in order to change the feelings associated with them ; bodily attempting to change physical signs of emotion ; and expressive attempting to change expressive gestures, such as smiling or frowning, to change how one feels. Umberson et al. With regards to emotion work and sexuality, Umberson et al. Such expectations, often framed in the language of romance, facilitate certain courses of action and subject positions while making others unavailable.
This further underscores the power of the romance discourse within and outside the romance novel to influence not only attitudes but actions. It is in fact a combination of her womanly sensuality and mothering capacities that will magically remake a man incapable of expressing emotions or admitting dependence. Regis also acknowledges the taming or healing dynamic through not only emotion work but also domestic work.
The arranged marriage trope in fanfiction parallels the marriage-of-convenience plot in romance novels, such as the one described by Regis above. The courtship in this variation of the romance novel genre occurs after the marriage and culminates in a declaration of love Regis Similarly to other romance novel plots, however, the heroine still often needs to tame the hero, using her beauty, charm and grace — that is, her emotion work — to soften a man known for gruffness or even cruelty.
However, the romance novels studied by Radway, Modleski, Regis and, to a lesser extent, Roach are highly heteronormative. Investigating the arranged marriage trope in slash fanfiction is further complicated by the fact that the characters are of the same gender. There is a tradition in fan studies which argues that slash erases inequalities between the partners e. Yet fanfiction writers frequently incorporate and explore inequality in the relationships they write about, and the arranged marriage trope is shaped by such inequalities.
In this case, however, they arise from factors other than gender, although some may nonetheless have gendered connotations. Fan studies has a history of approaching fan communities and fanfiction as social practices e. Jenkins; Bacon-Smith; Kustritz , but also of looking at fanfiction as literary text using textual analysis e.
Derecho; Stasi. In addition, the field has a tradition of auto-ethnography e. Jenkins , as many fan studies scholars are also fans themselves. These traditions are reflected in my approach to the arranged marriage fanfiction trope. My involvement with the fanfiction community as a reader and writer predates my choice of it as a site for research by decades.
I therefore bring to my research a dual perspective: that of fan and that of scholar. This is reflected in my approach to both data collection and data analysis. To select stories for analysis, I followed the path any fan new to a fandom, trope or pairing may follow to find stories that are considered good or impactful by the community at large, a path I myself have followed many times as a fan.
I used the technical features of the Archive of Our Own to search, sort and filter stories of interest, and immersed myself in them. Finally, in line with fan studies best practice and to protect the privacy of individual fans and fan authors, I have not provided complete URLs for fan works. To investigate the arranged marriage trope and how readers and writers of fanfiction use it to explore issues of consent, I have chosen a small selection of stories from the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom, centred on the relationship between Loki and Thor.
The trope is popular for Thor and Loki, as in the originary works the two characters, although not related by blood, are raised as brothers and therefore are an unlikely romantic pairing. I then narrowed my selection down to two complementary stories for in-depth analysis: Bride themantlingdark and XVII stereobone. These similarities and differences are worth summarising here, as key elements of my readings of the stories arise from them.
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This is a common depiction of Loki in fanfiction, incorporating elements of Norse mythology not present in the MCU version, though they are to an extent present in some of the Marvel comics. It is the structure of the marriage arrangements that makes these two stories a complementary pair for analysis.
Conversely, and unusually for this pairing, in Bride it is Thor who must leave his home to marry Loki. As in many other [End Page 7] Arranged Marriage fanfiction stories, these marriage arrangements, alongside other factors, give rise to significant inequality between the partners at the start of each story. In the next section, I explore how the institution of marriage in its legal, social and emotional aspects is constructed in these stories. I focus in particular on how the marriage arrangements relate to the inequalities between the partners in a range of gendered and non-gendered ways, and what these inequalities mean for sexual consent.
I then explore how the power imbalances are addressed through emotion work, and finally analyse in detail the consummation of each of the marriages and how sexual consent in the presence of power imbalances is handled in these stories. Marriage as a social and legal institution has a history of constructing and legitimising gendered social inequalities. One mechanism for this is through the legal structures which codify marriage, for instance, the historical doctrine of coverture Donovan 3 or exemptions for marriage in rape law e. Smart; Donovan. Yet despite extensive reforms of the legal institution of marriage, changes in the material circumstances of women have been slower and more difficult to achieve Smart Discourse, and the subject positions it makes available or inaccessible, may account for some of this discrepancy, as Gavey argues:.
Those discourses which are commensurate with widely shared commonsense understanding of the world are perhaps most powerful in constituting subjectivity, yet their influence can most easily remain hidden and difficult to identify and, therefore, resist With this in mind, it is worth examining how arranged marriage fanfiction stories depict marriage as an institution, including the possible inequalities it produces, reproduces and amplifies. While gender has historically been a key structuring element of marriage, it is not the primary source of power differentials in arranged marriage slash fanfiction relationships.
There are, however, gendered elements to how both Thor and Loki are presented and it is worth exploring those briefly, particularly as they relate to other inequalities and are reproduced and amplified by the marriage arrangements. Lamb and Veith argue that the primary effect of slash is to remove power imbalances from sexual and romantic relationships by focusing on same-gender relationships. They also note that in slash fanfiction, characters who are men — often extremely masculine men — in the originary work acquire androgynous characteristics This kind of androgynous characterisation is present for both Thor and Loki in all five of the stories reviewed, and particularly in the two chosen for in-depth analysis.
Thor is most obviously feminised in Bride , where even the title associates him with the feminine role in a heterosexual marriage. In this story, Thor is both younger and — unusually for fanfiction [End Page 8] about this pairing — physically smaller than Loki.
He is also forced to leave his home and join the family and household of his husband. Through the mechanism of side-by-side reading Derecho 73 , this gendering of the characters therefore clearly evokes popular romance novel tropes and sets expectations for the reader based on the generic conventions of romance novels many fanfiction readers are familiar with: by the end of the story Thor will have tamed Loki and transformed him into a loving and caring husband. Yet the characterisation of Thor as feminine heroine and Loki as masculine hero is complicated in Bride in two key ways.
Firstly, Loki himself is shown to have feminine characteristics as well as masculine ones. He is described as both beautiful and handsome. Secondly, on several occasions factors which make Thor feel feminine and vulnerable in the context of his wedding are shown to have gender-neutral or masculine associations in other contexts. When Thor balks at the expectation to be nude for part of the wedding ceremony, Frigga again re-contextualises this for him by pointing out that in Asgard Thor is frequently nude, for instance in public baths.
Such departures in turn are a key tool for fanfiction writers and readers to explore and challenge dominant discourses about power, gender and sexuality in romance novels. As Bride can be seen as part of three different archives — those of romance novels, arranged marriage fanfiction stories, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe — additional layers of meanings are created through other side-by-side readings, with both the MCU and other works of fanfiction.
More frequently, it is Thor who starts out as the more powerful partner in the relationship, as is the case in XVII : he is the heir of Asgard, with Loki having to leave his family and make a life for himself in a realm [End Page 9] strange to him. Yet it is Thor who is too nervous to eat at their wedding feast, while Loki is also described as muscled and a competent fighter.
Both Bride and XVII therefore rework their central characters — men in the originary work — into more androgynous versions of themselves, incorporating characteristics associated with both femininity and masculinity. However, far from entirely removing inequality from the relationship, as Lamb and Veith would argue , these stories use the arranged marriage trope and related romance novel conventions to introduce other power imbalances between the characters.
There are several other factors, both internal and external to the relationship, through which power differentials are established between Thor and Loki in the two stories. Differences in physical size and strength, for instance, are used to establish — and sometimes negate — power differentials between the characters. This causes him significant anxiety, as this extract from Bride shows:. Even in XVII , where Thor in many ways has the upper hand in the marriage arrangement, he is concerned about Loki being a frost giant:.
And they are cold. In addition to that, Loki is a powerful magic user, and often uses his magic and intelligence to get his way. Finally, differences in age and experience play a significant role in Bride. Conversely in Bride , while Thor has to leave Asgard and is somewhat dependent on Loki, his parents repeatedly reassure him that they will continue to visit and support him. Therefore the consequences of a failed marriage for Loki in XVII are much greater than those for Thor in Bride , which in turn exacerbates the power differential.
When read side by side with both romance novels and an understanding of the history of marriage laws and customs in Western cultures, these stories then clearly cast marriage as an institution characterised by and potentially reproducing and exacerbating inequalities. While Roach sees risk-taking in the name of love as a key element of the romance novel Happily Ever After 24 , the risks in arranged marriage fanfiction stories are often taken out of a lack of options instead, as the personal, social and legal repercussions of failure — a life spent in an unhappy and unloving marriage, social isolation, or loss of legal status and the financial means for survival — are simply too great.
They are caused by factors internal to the characters — physical size and strength, age, experience — as well as exacerbated by ones external to them — marriage customs and access to material and emotional support outside the relationship. While both characters are given androgynous characteristics, the overall picture of their relationship is still one of inequality: more specifically, inequality similar to that in marriage of convenience romance novels Regis The construction of marriage as a sexual relationship, as evidenced by the emphasis on marriage consummation I shall explore further below, puts additional pressures on the partner with less power.
Even though these inequalities are only partially structural within the setting, they cast doubt on the ability of the less powerful character to give consent to sexual relations in a meaningful way. In the next section, I turn to the emotion work framework to examine how such power imbalances are negotiated within the relationships in the two stories, how the happily ever after ending is achieved, and what this means for sexual consent. The hero and the heroine have taken risks, worked hard, the heroine has tamed the hero, and they finally come together in [End Page 11] a mutually loving relationship, often a marriage.
In marriage of convenience stories, of course, the marriage itself has already happened, but it is transformed from a purely transactional arrangement into one of love Regis Emotion work is often gendered and the burden of it falls disproportionately on women, particularly in heterosexual relationships Erickson ; Umberson et al. Radway and Modleski both make convincing arguments as to why, rather than a transformation of the hero or the relationship, this development is actually a transformation of the heroine. In arranged marriage fanfiction stories, the Happily Ever After ending is retained as an essential element and generic convention.
It plays a vital role in negotiating the multiple and layered power differentials between Thor and Loki in both Bride and XVII , allowing them over the course of the story to create a more equal dynamic.
What distinguishes many fanfiction stories featuring the arranged marriage trope from more traditional marriage of convenience romance novels is who within the relationship performs this kind of work. The first time Loki performs emotion work in Bride is shortly after the wedding ceremony at which Thor and Loki meet.
At the wedding feast, Loki seeks to put Thor — still too nervous to eat or engage in much conversation — at ease:. Loki has kept his hands largely to himself. They danced, but Frigga had held Thor closer when she was teaching him the steps than Loki held him as they spun through the hall. It is, however, clear that Loki is making an effort to set at ease the younger Thor, who is also at that point experiencing culture shock. It is significant that Loki is proactive about making Thor feel more comfortable, as it shows that he clearly understands that Thor is feeling vulnerable and isolated.
The gesture of shape-shifting is intended to reduce that feeling of isolation. At the same time, this choice clearly makes Thor uncomfortable as he does not want to cause offence to his husband. He therefore retreats into language which can be seen as rather diplomatic and deliberately flattering, effectively passing the decision back to Loki. The fact that Thor declines to make a choice indicates that he may not be feeling safe yet to do so, and by extension to meaningfully give or deny consent to any sexual relations between the couple.
Conversely, in XVII it is Thor who performs the majority of emotion work, both in trying to read Loki and understand how he feels and trying to make Loki feel at home in Asgard, particularly early on in the story. At the same time, Loki is studying Thor and trying to understand him, but he makes no move to initiate conversation or work on their relationship. As Loki expresses a desire for safety and privacy, Thor gives him space by leaving their quarters during the daytime and bringing him food rather than making Loki join the family at mealtimes.
In effect, what she is trying to do in discovering the significance of his behavior by uncovering his motives is to understand what the fact of male presence and attention means for her, a woman. He is watching Thor carefully and testing out the limits of any freedom he may have in this new situation. However, where the heroine in a romance novel would then use any knowledge gained this way to provide emotional comfort and support for the hero, in XVII , Loki finds every wish he expresses respected and as much space is given to him as [End Page 13] the social and legal restrictions on both partners allow.
Thor also seeks to engage Loki in conversation and takes clues from his behaviour to find activities Loki might enjoy. As the relationship develops, the emotion work involved in deepening and sustaining it evolves to being shared equally between Thor and Loki, indicating that they have reached a level of mutual trust.
While the inequality of the marriage arrangement is never erased, and formally, Loki remains dependent on Thor, Thor repeatedly demonstrates that he views his husband as an equal. Thus, while the Happily Ever After ending is achieved, the process by which it is achieved, and how the obstacles are overcome, differs considerably between arranged marriage fanfiction stories and romance novels. For readers versed in romance novels as well as fanfiction, the arranged marriage fanfiction story becomes a part of both archives, and the differences in how emotion work is approached in each body of work become a key site of meaning creation.
In the next section, I explore what these changes to the romance novel generic conventions mean for sexual consent within the relationship. Marriage consummation is a recurring feature of arranged marriage fanfiction stories. Part of the reason for this lies in the generic conventions of slash fiction and romance novels, which often feature sex scenes. In the romance novel, a sex scene is often used to mark the Happily Ever After ending, with the couple consummating their relationship in a mutually loving and respectful way.
While this may not be the first sex scene of the novel, or even for the couple, this final, emotional sex scene is still nonetheless a popular feature of a range of subgenres of romance novels. Roach argues that part of the message here for the mostly women who read romance novels is that they are entitled to love and great sex in their relationships, and that their partner should be devoted to their sexual pleasure Happily [End Page 14] Ever After 87, emphasis added.
Yet it can be argued the questions raised by the romance novel premise with its unequal relationship around the meaningfulness of sexual consent are often not satisfactorily addressed in the genre, particularly if the transformation of the hero and the relationship has happened largely through the emotion work performed by the heroine.
Roach herself admits that the hero at the end of the romance novel is still embedded within patriarchy outside the relationship even if he does submit to the heroine within the relationship Happily Ever After Thus any re-negotiation of the power imbalance between them is limited and contingent at best.
In arranged marriage fanfiction, the consummation scene too is a key generic convention. While sometimes it is used in the same way as the climactic sex scene in romance novels to indicate the Happily Ever After ending, it has a different function in many fanfiction stories. A closer look at the metadata around the stories and the construction of these scenes in arranged marriage fiction shows how they are used to examine complex issues around sexual consent, power and inequality in intimate relationships. One story presented consummation as an outright rape, and the other three, including the two selected for in-depth analysis, contained discussion of consent issues in light of the arranged marriage and inequality of the partners.
Consummation is presented as expected in these relationships, both through the legal structures surrounding the marriage arrangements and through the cultural expectations which construct marriage as a sexual relationship. Through both the metadata around the stories and key features of the stories themselves, arranged marriage fanfiction casts marriage consummation as an at least potentially a coercive practice. References to the range of different sources of power imbalances and inequalities in the relationship discussed previously are present throughout the stories and support this, keeping the issue of meaningful consent as a focal point of the works.
Where arranged marriage fanfiction departs from the generic conventions of romance novels is again in the distribution of emotion work between the partners. In stories where consummation is explicitly addressed as coercive or potentially coercive, another sex scene later in the relationship may take its place in establishing the Happily Ever After ending. XVII illustrates well the problematic nature of marriage consummation within arranged marriage fanfiction. In this story, when Thor meets Loki and finds he is not a giant, he is immediately sexually attracted to him.
Once the wedding feast is over and the couple are alone in their room, Loki makes it clear that he expects the marriage to be consummated even though he is not feeling enthusiastic about the prospect. When Thor refuses on the basis that Loki would clearly not be a willing participant, Loki is both confused and angry. He accuses Thor of making a fool of him and continues to be cold and hostile but eventually accepts that he has some agency within their marriage. There is a similar, though far less confrontational, conversation in Bride. This marriage was no more of my making than of yours.
I mean to keep my promises. I would not rob my husband of the pleasures of his wedding night. The status of marriage as a legal institution is a key factor which influences and shapes the practice of marriage consummation. In the Western legal context, there are consequences for non-consummation which may put one or both parties at risk.
It is therefore possible to read these stories side by side with the complexities of marriage law. This again highlights the risks of a failed marriage, particularly for the partner with less power in the relationship, and therefore the stakes for the characters in making the relationship work. Far from being a risk taken willingly and in the name of love Roach, Happily Ever After 24 , however, the risks here are clearly ones the characters are forced to take for lack of other options, and potentially at peril of death.
In Bride , the conversation between Loki and Thor once they are alone in their room quickly becomes an equal exchange, both of them working towards building trust and rapport. Their first kiss is triggered by a scuffle following a trip away from Asgard during which Loki is verbally assaulted by another character.
The look disappears once Thor pulls him upright and leads him to the bed. He made a promise before, and he means to keep it, despite the lust that grips him tight all over and threatens to drive him crazy. Here, Thor repeatedly performs the bodily emotion work Hochschild of controlling his own desire. As he is both the more powerful partner in the relationship and the one who so far has shown a greater desire for sex, this is a key indicator that he is actively thinking about issues of consent and looking to ensure that Loki has the space to deny or withdraw consent if needed.
This stands in stark contrast to the findings by Umberson et al. It and other arranged marriage fanfiction stories construct the partner who is more powerful in the relationship and desires more sex as the one responsible for the emotion work of managing their desire and of ensuring that any sexual consent is meaningful. Reading arranged marriage fanfiction in this way — side by side with romance novels, originary works, other fanfiction, as well as dominant discourses on consent — gives access to a range of meanings created through similarities and differences with aspects of these different archives.
Arranged marriage fanfiction retains certain key generic conventions of the romance novel: the Happily Ever After ending and the climactic sex scene. However, fanfiction stories employing this trope also directly address issues of power imbalances and inequalities in relationships, casting marriage as an institution which reproduces and potentially exacerbates them. This construction of marriage is built on both its legal and formal aspects, as well as the social and emotional ones. To resolve this conflict and retain the Happily Ever After ending, arranged marriage fanfiction stories also make key changes to the generic conventions of romance novels, particularly in the way the HEA ending is achieved.
Through it, inequalities in the relationship are negotiated, the playing field is levelled, and space for meaningful consent or the denial or withdrawal thereof is created. An alternative discourse then emerges where through emotion work and a conscious effort to negotiate and manage power inequalities, consent is made truly meaningful. A logged-in user can only leave kudos on a story once. The number of kudos on any given story is driven by several factors beyond quality or even popularity of the story: how long it has been available on the archive, how big the community around that particular fandom is, or even the format of the work.
Ranking by kudos is therefore a good way to find stories within a single fandom for a long time, but it may miss more recent stories. This method has significant issues when trying to compare the popularity of stories across different fandoms. He is a member of the Aesir, an extremely long-lived and god-like albeit human in appearance race who inhabit a world called Asgard. Avengers Assemble. Bacon-Smith, Camille. University of Pennsylvania Press, Barot, Len. Gleason and Eric Murphy Selinger, Routledge, , pp.
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