Love and Money

BridesGuidePhoto3If you’re a regular here, you might remember my post from last October about slogging through the rain in Portugal.  A high point of the slogging was meeting a fellow romance reader and Georgette Heyer fan, Helen Fordham, amid the academics.  Helen was kind enough to send me an article she and her colleague Barbara Milech wrote together, “Romance, romantic love, and ‘the want of a fortune.'” I enjoyed it so much that I asked Helen if they could condense it to be a blog.

barbara_milechHelen and Barbara (whose short bios are tucked in at the end) came to write this paper because they share an abiding interest in love, romance and women’s literature. The genesis of this paper was a conversation about love and relationship formation in contemporary society and a musing over how accurately this was depicted or distorted in television shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and The Farmer Takes a Wife [an Australian reality show that has been cloned in the US].

Welcome, y’all!  Please share your observations about romance and its economic underpinnings.

We begin with a confession: we are closet viewers of reality television programmes like The Farmer Takes a Wife, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. The latter two of these programmes, now, respectively, in their seventeenth and nineteenth seasons, present the adventures of youngish men and women finding true love – all staged to formula, all recorded on camera, all geared to a (paltry) $250,000 reward for finding love.

UnknownWe connect our closet addiction to life-long reading of bourgeois romance in all its forms – from high-class iterations like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ([1813] 1995) to popular ones like Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage ([1934] 2013). The connection between the two – Austen and Heyer – is telling. For popular romance is a potent contemporary genre that traces its origins to the rise of the novel in mid-eighteenth century when it emerged as a key expression of the concerns and assumptions of a rising middle class and as a reflection of the changing status of women.

prideandprejudice2Implicit in novels like Pride and Prejudice is the idea that even women are full individuals possessed of inalienable human rights, and thus marriage is a compact between consenting partners. What we did not always track when reading these romance novels, however, is how thoroughly romance fiction’s representations of women’s lives, loves and sexuality are tied to economic considerations – or, as the opening line of Pride and Prejudice ([1813] 1995) elegantly put it early on: ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a wife’.

In our article published in the August 2014 issue of the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture we explore the connection between how romance represents individual female lives, loves and sexuality, and how they function to sustain bourgeois capitalistic social structures. Our sense is that bourgeois romance in its formulaic iterations obscures the mighty tensions between those two imperatives, even as it seeks to reconcile them.

19148pstrRepresentations of idealized love have changed over time in response to evolving social and economic conditions. Medieval or courtly romance, which imagines ideal love as a heterosexual relation comprised of intense physical attraction, deep emotional communion, and enduring personal love emerged at a time when such individual “needs” were unlikely to be met by a spouse because marriage was firmly anchored in dynastic and power arrangements.

This ideal of love gave way to a bourgeois notion of ideal love which Christopher Grau defines as an expression of a human yearning ‘to be loved in a way that transcends our properties’ (2010: 252). This is a love that is imagined as a heterosexual passion that is transformative, unbreakable, and beyond reason. Yet, at the same time (and especially within eighteenth-century constraints when women still needed to marry in order to have some form of independence), romance novels connect this ideal to an economic imperative to marry to gain social acceptance and status. And romance fiction is rather brilliant at negotiating the resultant tensions.

bouquet-of-red-roses-10040119In contemporary society the narrative of romance is played out in a variety of different formats and genres, including reality television series like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.  The generic formula is familiar: a woman finds true love (in marriage) against all odds. Yet the dual imperatives of romance are clear in the penultimate episode of each programme, the proposal scene that follows the last rose ceremony, and delivers the hero or heroine a quarter of a million dollars.

It is easy to find this performance of romantic love risible, if only because it so blatantly ties romantic love to its economic underpinnings. However, these performances are also instructive precisely because of their popularity and transparency in regard to the imbrication of ideal love and economic considerations.  In the dream of love represented in The Bachelor and The Bachelorette true love (personal happiness) is reconciled with finding security in marriage (procreativity in the context of economic security).

In this contemporary dream, marriage is both severed from but tied to economic well-being. Thus, like all good social dreams, romantic fiction serves to reconcile the conflicting, often paradoxical demands on women: true love is selfless yet passionate; it is caring yet beyond reason; it is transcendent yet anchored in marriage, economic security and community; it gives each partner full subjectivity and sexuality yet expresses a traditional femininity.

ID-10011919In the space of this contradiction romance fictions like the The Bachelor and The Bachelorette provide spaces of pleasurable instruction, spaces to speculate why some behaviours and attitudes are rewarded by love (or by society) and others are not, spaces in which to compare fictional characters and choices to personal situations and options —spaces for both compliant and critical engagement.

Thus viewers of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette find, not only something to laugh at, but also Artistotle’s ‘pleasure felt in things imitated’— a pleasure related to imaginative rehearsal  of what one is prepared to do for love, and how one might reconcile the conflicting expectations of women embodied in the genre.

Perhaps, then, the appeal of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette lies not so much in a fantasy of finding transcendent love, but in the way in which romantic fiction serves as an intimate laboratory for individual readers to rehearse how they will be in the world.

(bouquet of roses by twobee, champagne flutes by m_bartosch, both from

Helen Fordham researches in the area of Media, Communication and Cultural Theory and is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Public Relations at the University of Notre Dame Australia and Professor Barbara Milech is an Adjunct Professor at Curtin University (Perth, Western Australia) and her research interests fall within the areas of literature, gender studies and creative writing, and draw on narrative, cultural, feminist and Lacanian studies.

Do you watch The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or The Farmer Takes a Wife?  If so, what role do you think money (or fame that brings the potential of money) plays in motivating contestants? Do you enjoy marriage of convenience stories, romances based purely on passion, or something in between?  What was the last romance you read in which money played a role in getting the h/h together?

Tell us your thoughts or, if you have a question for Barbara and Helen, fire away!

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  • Jane says:

    Hello Nancy,
    I don’t watch any of the programs that you mentioned, but I’ve seen clips of the Bachelor and Bachelorette on The Soup making fun of the contestants. I do think some of the participants are in it for the money or either the exposure for those seeking fame. I do enjoy marriage of convenience stories. Many of them are historicals, but I’ve read and enjoyed a few of them in contemporary settings.

    • Jane, congrats on snagging the Golden Rooster!

      I like marriage of convenience stories, too, and i think it’s interesting when an author manages to make one work in a contemporary setting.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Some of those bachelors appear very callous to me, but I’ve only watched bits and pieces here and there.

      I do wonder where they get all those beautiful women and (not always so) handsome men!

  • Amy Conley says:

    Yes, I watch both Bachalor and Bachorlette series, but .ostly to see the places they go. I’ve found by watching it appears the men’s last 2 women are more the “right” one, and the one with the boobs. Whereas the women are much more discriminating in their final two. And if you notice, more of the women marry or at least stay with the person they chose much longer.

    • Helen says:

      Hi Amy, Thanks for your comment. It is interesting that you observe that the Bachelorette mate selections seem more genuine than the Bachelors. One of the things that Barbara and I really noted with the TV series is how the relationships appear spontaneous and unscripted yet many of the contestants talk about how heavily orchestrated the segments really are and that some of them take on almost caricature roles – good woman, vamp, ingénue. The popular narratives is that women are supposed to care about relationships and intimacy more than men so it is probably reflected in the production of the Bachelorette.

      • Helen, I’ve also heard that editing on reality shows makes a huge difference in how people come across.

      • Jo Robertson says:

        And don’t we usually find that men are more attracted by visual element and women with other senses, like smell and sound?

        I wonder if it’s part of our evolutionary development that women choose for practicality and men choose whatever looks good lol.

    • Amy, those are interesting observations. I’ve heard not many of those couples ended up together, and it’s such an artificial environment, that I think that’s understandable.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Boobs? Seriously, Amy, these men are choosing women based on bra size. Oh. My. Goodness. How shallow.

      • Amy Conley says:

        That’s why they only last a month. Men ARE different. My hubby willing admits he choose me because of breast size, but it really was more since I had a breast reduction and he’s kept me.

  • flchen1 says:

    I don’t watch any of those, but admit that sometimes it’s really fun to read marriage of convenience stories. I think it brings a different twist to watching the characters find common ground 😉 Thanks for the intriguing post, Helen and Barbara!

    • Helen says:

      HI flchen1, I am glad you enjoyed our blog and I think you are right. The economic arrangements that underpin arranged marriages or marriages of convenience are another form of common ground. I also think it is interesting that countries like India, which still has a tradition of arranged marriages, also has a thriving romance fiction market. For me it seems to confirm the idea that women are conscious that when they read romance they are reading fantasy.

      • Helen, that’s an interesting point about India. I would hope most women realize romance novels are a form of fantasy, but I’m sure some people are holding out for an idealized relationship.

    • Fedora, I like marriage of convenience stories, too.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I like the marriage of convenience stories, Fedora, because in real life we often have to make compromises to survive. I think in other generations women have had to make greater compromises or sacrifices than we do today.

      • flchen1 says:

        Yes, I really do think that’s part of it, Jo–I think that in some ways, in the modern day, some people really think that there’s some sort of magic that makes relationships last–and it is true that a working relationship is its own special magic–but I think that there is the reality that there is work and communication and building a shared life that really underpins it. I think that the marriage of convenience scenario often forces that to the forefront of the couple’s issues, and I like seeing that given more attention 🙂

  • Helen says:

    Hi Ladies

    Very interesting post 🙂

    I don’t watch any of these shows actually I don’t watch much TV at all I have way too many romance books to read and yes I love romances with marriages of convenience in them and all of the troupes and I have read fair few billionaire stories as well but in the end I don’t think it was the money that drew the heroine to the hero it was love.

    Have Fun

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Helen. I still watch the Bachelor and Bachelorette programs, even after writing the paper with Helen, tho writing about such things can “get it out of one’s system.” I think my continured viewing (and the programs’ popularity)
      may have to do with something you say–“I don’t think it was money . . . it was love.” I say so because, however scripted these programs are, I am intrigued by the “interviews” of losers at a rose ceremony who speak with such apparent sincerity about their disappointment, because they had joined the program to find love. However scripted, I can’t imaginie there are those many women who can cry on cue. Maybe it has something to do with the social “scripts” in our head…

      • Barbara, I may be overly sentimental, but I tend to think everyone wants true love. Sure, finding it with a lot of money attached would be handy, and fame (or notoriety) is maybe a consolation for some people, but I’d like to think that disappointment you mention is genuine.

    • Helen, I’d be very disappointed in a romance novel if the h/h actually chose each other on the basis of money alone. I read one romance wherein the heroine turned up her nose at the hero because he was working class. She eventually came around, but I wasn’t loving her.

  • Shannon says:

    Like others, I don’t watch much television, and I’m not a fan of the first two programs you mention. For me romance is not the pursuit of some individual. It is also not about adapting to attract the love interest, something that seemed to be a part of the game. Of course, in real life we do present our best side when courting, but this seems exaggerated.

    I like my romance about one person being attracted to another, with the occasional story of two people interested in a third person. But I do like the layering of the idea of love and the five tensions you list.

    Thus it is obvious that I’m a fan of arrange marriage or faux engagements (one on one). Other tropes that work for me are friendship into love (including childhood companion), beauty and the beast, Cinderella, road trip to a destination but love becomes a factor. Oh, I give up–I like romance in my fiction. (May be not the secret baby.)

    As for the academic research into romance, there’s a conference on romance novels at the Library of Congress in February. It’s a shame you’re too far away to participate; however, they are going to release a documentary on the subject. With luck they will have a distribution system for it after the conference. Alas, I have too many obligations to attend.

    • Shannon says:

      Oh the money in romance question. In my last novel read, Say Yes to the Marquess, both characters have some money. Spending lavishly, on a house and a wedding, is a constant theme. On the house, there’s a riff on a dozen or more pillows on a bed. On the wedding, there’s a scene involving wedding cake that delicious. (pun intended). The part about wedding flowers and the language of flowers left me laughing hysterically.

      • Barbara says:

        Thanks Shannon! I just posted a response to Helen, saying that I think we have powerful romance/love scripts in our heads that are about how important it is to us (as independent individuals) to find a love connection that is life-long. I think you might be saying something like that in your first post.

        And then in your postscrip, with its great list of the ways romance fiction entangles money with love (big house, great furniture, good job) you remind me of the contridiction Helen and I were so intrigued by.

        Jane Austen, so long ago, made her joke about the contridiction, when she has her heroine, Elizabeth, say to her sister Jane’s question “When did you fall in love of Darcy”(I paraphrase)–“I think it was when I saw Pemberley” (paraphrase from memory again).

        Thanks too for the notice re the Library of Congress conference!

      • Shannon, that book sounds like a lot of fun!

    • Shannon, we like many of the same types of stories. I’m also not a huge fan of the secret baby plot. it has to be set up very carefully for me to find it both believable and not off-putting.

  • catslady says:

    I’m not very practical and I know they say you can love a rich man just as easily but I guess I just can’t put money first. I can’t believe those shows are about love but more for the fame of it all – their 15 seconds lol.

    • Catslady, I think putting the money first would be a recipe for longterm disappointment. What if the money evaporated, a la Downton Abbey? Then the other person is stuck with someone s/he may not really like very much.

  • Interesting piece –

    I don’t watch the Bachelor & Bachelorette shows because they are not reality. They are scripted. I think it’s foolish to believe that constant TV cameras, the beautiful locations, a monetary prize and that everlasting Cinderella dream don’t impact the contestants. They are living in a bubble – so it’s not reality, it’s fiction presented in a “make believe it’s real” visual format. I think the tears of the “losers” are legitimate as they’ve fallen victim to the Cinderella dream, even if they entered the fray with eyes wide open, they hope they’ve hit the jackpot. The tears of someone losing a high stakes poker game are just as real. 🙂

    It’s interesting that the concept of romantic love is unchanged since medieval times, while the concept of marriage morphed to include r

    • Donna, I also think the environment of those shows, scripting aside, is a bubble and not a sample of how a relationship would weather actual life. I suspect that’s why so few of those couples stayed together.

  • jcp says:

    Marriage of convenience is my favorite theme in romance novels

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Good Morning, Ladies! Welcome to the Lair! What a great post. Very thought provoking.

    I’ve caught the odd episode of these programs, just to see what the fuss was about. It ususally makes me shake my head and laugh because, as others have said, its so scripted and “directed” as to be unreal. If anyone DID find love in this envoronment, I think it would be the exception rather than the rule. I think the TV Time and exposure on national media is more what ALL the participants are after. Grins. Can’t blame them – it’s a great platform if you’re an actress or a model.

    I’m much more fond of the Millionaire Matchmaker. In fact it usually makes me shake my head even more that some of these guys think the woman SHOULD be in it for the money, then despise them if they are. And they wonder why they’re single? Snork!!

    Still, your research and presentation were fascinating. Grins. I like a marriage of convenience story, usually historical b/c it’s awfully hard to pull off in contemporary. Like Nancy, I’m not fond of the secret baby trope. Honesty compels. But it’s all interesting, that’s for sure!! Glad you could be with us today!

    • Jeanne, I get what you’re saying about fame and potential stardom, but I don’t see that happening for any former contestants–though that may be because I don’t pay enough attention.

      I’ve noticed the inconsistency you mentioned in The Millionaire Matchmaker, too. If you go to a dating club for millionaires, you gotta expect the potential matches to be aware of your money. Unless all matches are among millionaires.

  • Fascinating post, ladies! I haven’t watched those shows in years. My Mom watches them, but she sees them for what they are – entertainment. Any actual love connections made are purely an accident. LOL

    Everyone, even men, want to be loved for who they are – faults and all. We all spend so much time dancing around the expectations of society, our peers and others that we miss that point entirely.

    And unfortunately, today’s media spends a great deal of time telling men and women that sex is love. The emphasis is on “hooking up.” Sorry, folks, but the only thing I hook up is my television to the DVD player or a horse to a cart. Neither is terribly romantic and neither is a basis for a lasting relationship of equals.

    Love may start in the groin area. But if it doesn’t move anywhere else it isn’t love and it remains a juvenile thing, retarded in its growth and destined to whither and die or worse morph into hate.

    Of course romance novels are fantasy. But it doesn’t negate the things one can learn from reading them. Perhaps the stories are idealized, but the lower one sets one’s standards, the more likely one is to live a life of quiet desperation.

    Oprah said she didn’t feature romance novels in her book club because they give women unrealistic expectations of love. Really? I rather think they show women what might be and even more important, they teach a woman not to settle.

    I may not get Mr. Darcy, but I am worth more than Mr. Bring Me a Beer on Your Way Out to Work While I Sit at Home Unemployed.

    Romance novels teach women to set the bar high. You may not get Mr. Darcy, but perhaps if you learn what real love is and that you deserve it, you won’t end up with Mr. Wickham!

    • Louisa, I love your Darcy/Wickham comparison. I remember that comment of Oprah’s, and while I do think romance novels present idealized versions of relationships, I’ve also seen scholarly studies describing them as the literature of female empowerment. I kinda like that.

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Louisa!
      Helen and I also talked about the idea that romance fiction is, as Dr Phil would say, “a teachable moment” for readers. I like your idea that it encourages readers to “set the bar high.”
      And, re other threads, reckon the motif of cattiness/competition is part of the learning space provided by the genre from its beginnings in the 18th century (vs the medieval notion of romantic love). Think Pride and Prejudice!
      It’s neat to think of romance fiction as a space in which we reflect on “what would we do…”

  • Interesting post, Helen, Barbara and Nancy. Welcome to the blog. I admit that I don’t watch The Bachelor, etc., because I find the thought of going on TV to find love unrealistic despite the fact this is termed “reality” TV.

    I think Louisa pointed out something that really bothers me about these shows — the hooking up versus real love. But it’s not just the “find love” reality shows that bother me. With few exceptions (Deadliest Catch among them), reality TV just shines a spotlight on the negative side of humanity in a way — backstabbing, cattiness, glorifying ignorance or stereotypes, etc. I think there could be really interesting reality TV programs, but unfortunately they usually don’t go that route.

    • Trish, I think a lot of “reality” TV is not really very realistic. Unfortunately, I think you’re right that a lot of the shows out there highlight less-than-admirable traits. Conflict drives ratings, I guess.

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Trish, for your good post. You’ll maybe see from my comment re Louisa’s post that I was interested in your highlighting how part of romance fiction is a portrayal of “backstabbing, cattiness, glorifying ignorance or stereotypes, etc.” Also v. much appreciate your calling attention to how contempory romance fictions (e.g., B&B) rework the always-underlying sexual tensions of the romance novel from the 18th century onwards in terms of “hooking up.” Your observation made me think about the bits of B&B where, towards the end of the elimination process, the bachelor or bachelorette spend a night in an exotic locale with the last folks standing (lying?)–cameras coyly exiting. We are left to wonder…
      Thanks again–I hadn’t made this connection before. ..

  • Minna says:

    I don’t watch any of the programs that you mentioned, though they have shown The Bachelor and The Bachelorette here in Finland and there’s a Finnish version of The Farmer Takes a Wife (or a husband). And now there’s this new one, “First Date at the Altar.” Yeah, you heard me right. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Bachelor and The Bachelorette (and some other similar series) when I’ve been waiting for some better program to begin. And I think they are just horrible. Colour me amazed if anyone actually finds a real relationship from those shows.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    What a fascinating article, ladies. Thanks for joining us today.

    Certainly economic prosperity (or the prospect of it) is still important in 21st century love affairs. What parent has not objected to a daughter’s engagement to the struggling artist or writer? Marry someone who has a “future,” they advise, meaning a life in which their daughter will be taken care of financially.

    Uh, and that might be because the parents are eager to hand that job over to a son-in-law.

    • Jo, good point about parental perspectives. *g* I think most parents experience a budgetary upswing as their offspring rotate off what a friend of mine referred to as “the payroll.”

  • Jo Robertson says:

    To answer the question, I don’t watch reality shows. I know! I’m a wet blanket, but I find them annoying. Maybe because I have enough drama in my own life without watching other people’s.

    I love all kinds of romance stories, marriages of convenience and beauty and the beast being my favorites. I think I like the idea of love as a transforming force that changes a person’s life.

    • Jo, I like the same kinds of stories you do. We do watch some reality TV–Top Chef, Project Runway, Chopped–we tend to gravitate toward the ones where personality isn’t the deciding factor. Or at least isn’t supposed to be.

      I read for escape, and I want things to be upbeat. Romance does showcase the concept of love as a transformative force, and that’s one thing I like about it. Similarly, in A Wrinkle in Time, it’s love (of a different sort, of course) that holds the key at the end.

  • Joan Kayse says:

    I’m a firm believer in true love hence, since I myself have not found it yet, I have cats 😀

    I tell my patients “Prince Charming never showed up and if he came now? He’d need 4 times the money”

    As to those two shows B &B? Can’t STAND them. Give me Dancing with the Stars. At least you can pretend to be in lust…er…love doing the Paso Doble 😀

  • Helen says:

    HI Jeanne, I haven’t seen the Millionaire Matchmaker but is sounds like a show that r perfectly reveals the economic dimensions of marriage. Being a romantic though, I would find it very disconcerting to see the millionaire/s pragmatically accept that their desirability is primarily based upon their wealth.

    • Not all of them seem to feel that way, Helen, but there are times when some of them become frustrated about the women they go out with. Of course, that shoe has been on the other foot, too.