One of the major themes that emerges from Reader, I Married Him: Happily Ever After documentary is the jarring contradiction between fantasy and reality. The documentary goes back and forth between what a romance novel provides (fantasy and escapism for the reader) and how a romance novel gets published (cold, calculated, targeted marketing).
Underlying both is the role that addiction plays for both reader and publisher. In fact, throughout the documentary, you hear romance novels referred to as drugs (fix, sedative, and Valium) and publishers referred to as pushers.
What do you make of this co-dependency? Is there anything wrong in being “addicted” to reading romance novels? Is there something unethical about publishers who seek to leverage this addiction?
Thomas Sully. Thomas Jefferson. 1821. Copyprint of oil on canvas. Courtesy of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (216)
Thomas Jefferson was suspicious of novels that drifted too far into “fantasy,” and he referred to those that did as “trash”: “A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reading and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy…The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real business of life.” (Jefferson, Letter to Nathanial Burwell, Monticello, March 14, 1818).
How should we weigh Jefferson’s condemnation of the escapism women often feel when reading a romance with the more utilitarian view of why we should read?