Love Be­tween the Cov­ers

LOVE BE­TWEEN THE COV­ERS, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Molly Boyle

For years, Mary Bly led a dou­ble life. By day, she was an English pro­fes­sor and Shake­speare scholar with de­grees from Har­vard, Yale, and Ox­ford. She also boasted a lit­er­ary pedi­gree, as the daugh­ter of poet Robert Bly. By night, she be­came Eloisa James, block­buster best­selling au­thor of steamy Re­gency ro­mance nov­els. She closely guarded her se­cret iden­tity, fear­ing that her aca­demic over­lords would not grant her ten­ure if they knew of her un­seemly other ca­reer.

The smart, fun doc­u­men­tary Love Be­tween the Cov­ers delves into the quirky world of ro­mance novelists, neatly sum­ma­riz­ing Ms. Bly’s quandary with its open­ing salvo, which de­clares that this is a story of pride — and prej­u­dice. That pride is pal­pa­ble through­out the film’s in­ter­views: As Al­bu­querque res­i­dents and writ­ing part­ners Ce­leste Bradley and Susan Dono­van put it, “We pay the bills for all of pop­u­lar fic­tion.” In­deed, ro­mance has proved it­self as a genre with time­less ap­peal, one that evolves and thrives through e-book, so­cial-me­dia, and self-pub­lish­ing in­no­va­tions. Sev­eral women in the film cite ro­mance as a safe space, the only lit­er­ary genre to guar­an­tee that women’s sex­u­al­ity will be treated fairly and pos­i­tively. Ti­tan ro­mance nov­el­ist Nora Roberts stresses that as a reader, she needs and de­serves her H.E.A. (hap­pily ever af­ter, in ro­mance par­lance).

The film of­fers a trove of fas­ci­nat­ing lore, div­ing into the ex­treme back­lash the genre has met with since its ori­gins in the do­mes­tic fic­tion and mar­riage plots of the late 19th cen­tury. Nathaniel Hawthorne, jeal­ous at its sales fig­ures, dis­missed the bur­geon­ing genre as a “damned mob of scrib­bling women.” Black au­thor Bev­erly Jenk­ins and les­bian nov­el­ist Len Barot em­pha­size their at­trac­tion to ro­mance as an in­clu­sive world in which they are cel­e­brated for telling sto­ries out­side main­stream fic­tion. The ef­fect of ghet­toiz­ing the genre is to cre­ate strong ties be­tween its cel­e­brants. In scenes from the an­nual Ro­mance Writ­ers of Amer­ica con­ven­tion that spot­light the friend­ships cre­ated by shared pas­sions, the sheer de­light that comes from rev­el­ing in th­ese tawdry tales is ev­i­dent and mov­ing.

From Amish ro­mances to BDSM bodice-rip­pers, time-travel tales to shape-shifter sex, the genre’s cre­ative breadth is im­pres­sive, as are its sales fig­ures (and cover photo shoots). Yet th­ese au­thors still go to great lengths to de­fend their craft. Af­ter Bly got her ten­ure at Ford­ham Univer­sity, in 2005, she came out as Eloisa James to her sup­port­ive friends and col­leagues — and penned an op-ed in de­fense of ro­mance in The New York Times.

An in­spi­ra­tional thread of fem­i­nist ide­al­ism runs through this film and the genre it­self. As one in­ter­vie­wee puts it, ro­mance devo­tees are stuck on hav­ing and cre­at­ing their H.E.A.s for a self-ful­fill­ing pur­pose: “To imag­ine a world in which women can win, in which their de­sires are front and cen­ter, takes a great deal of en­ergy — and it’s ac­tu­ally a kind of utopian en­ergy.”

Sexy scrib­blers: Eloisa James, far left, and fel­low au­thors

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