Recent years have witnessed important new initiatives in the study of popular fictional modes of writing. At one time the field could have been described with reasonable accuracy by two traditions: one that analyzed the production and distribution of popular fiction as commodities; and one whose proponents regarded popular fiction as the negative which offered definition to the exposure of the positive - the ‘great’ canonic literary tradition. Generally, then, popular fictions were to be ‘evaluated’ according to the institutionalized norms which had been established as common sense practice around literary studies.
The decade of the 1970s, however ushered in a bewildering range of theoretical debates - a crucial gain was establishment of interdisciplinary courses in communication, cultural and media studies, providing a network of contexts within which serious analysis could evolve and progress. Responding to a fundamental challenge from feminism, a primary objective of this book is to propose that all narrative and its reading are intrinsically inflected by sexual politics.
Various approaches represented here demonstrate problems of confronting the gendered pleasures of reading. Questions about self, sexuality and identity within specific historical formations are raised. The objective is to frame, describe and unearth the notion of ‘men as readers’ as a project rather than as the usual, unquestioned normative procedure.
Drawing eclectically upon Marxist, psychoanalytic and discourse theory, the essays set out readings of popular texts and genres – the Western, the sentimental novel, detective and crime fiction, political thrillers and horror and science fiction – in the interest of provoking other readers to see the critical study of popular fiction as unthinkable without gender as a central concern.
Introduction: Reading Popular Fiction Derek Longhurst 1. West of Everything Jane Tompkins 2. The Political Unconscious in the Maternal Melodrama: Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861) E. Ann Kaplan 3. Sherlock Holmes: Adventures of an English Gentleman 1887-1894 Derek Longhurst 4. The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of: Masculinity, Femininity and the Thriller David Glover 5. The Masculine Fiction of William McIlvanney Peter Humm and Paul Stigant 6. Rewriting the Masculine Script: The Novels of Joseph Hansen Roger Bromley 7. The Divided Gaze: Reflections on the Political Thriller Tony Davies 8. Gorky Park: American Dreams in Siberia Barry Taylor 9. Bodily Symbolism and the Fiction of Stephen King Verena Lovett 10. Popular Writing and Feminist Intervention in Science Fiction Sarah Lefanu 11. Science Fiction: The Dreams of Men Derek Longhurst