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Episode 41 - The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

Ever get super horny for Alexander the Great, conqueror of worlds?  You will.  Join us as we get classical up in here with Mary Renault's 1972 The Persian Boy, a book about a traumatized teenager whose vast ambition centers entirely on jumping Alexander's bones.  Heads up - this book's got all sorts of traumatic historical stuff in it including but not limited to forced castration, rape, enslavement, and up close and personal war.
We are honored to have a special guest for this episode - John Kinard teaches English at the University of South Carolina, is a librarian at Allen University, believes in the ultimate triumph of the proletariat, and still thinks a great deal about Elisabeth Shue's coat/scarf combo in Adventures in Babysitting. 
He was kind enough to write us a piece for this post as well:
One of the things you’ll know about Courtney, if you know her as I do, is that she’s absolutely mad for poetry. Can’t get enough of it. If you see her out and about, throw a p…

In which Courtney wrote a paper

Happy not-quite-Thanksgiving, y'all!  We were going to do two episodes this month as usual, but we got so pissed off at these racist-ass Native American romance books that
a) we decided to do one SuperSpecial instead! and
b) Courtney wrote a paper about it.

Look for our Extra Awesome Thanksgiving SuperSpecial later this month, and enjoy the fruits of Courtney's research now!  (I've added some ridiculous covers to illustrate this bullshit.)

Hey y’all,

This episode is a monster! We read two different books and had originally planned to have an episode for each. But, after thinking about the genre of books we are examining as a whole we decided to combine them both into a Bodice Tipplers Super Special! Like the Babysitters Club but with a whole lot more sexual politics. While we had a great time discussing Kathleen Eagle’s Carved in Stone, we did not feel comfortable giving Madeline Baker’s First Love, Wild Love, the typical Bodice Tipplers treatment. The first book is a romance that centers around a Native American while the second book falls squarely into the Native American romance sub genre.  Our discussion of Baker’s novel is based largely on the information below. 
The information I am giving y’all deals with Native American or “Indian” romances. Let us be clear, this entire sub genre is racist; it is built on the backs of millions who were displaced or killed. These books are overwhelmingly written by white women romanticizing periods in history where a specific group of people experience very real world atrocities. White women do this with African Americans in Antebellum romance novels as well. Even those with “good intentions,” who do research are still giving readers the same formulaic experience. I am going to give you an overview of the sub genre, not to legitimize it but to place it into context.

Has this artist ever seen a non-white person?
Native American romance novels are often part and parcel with Middle Eastern or Desert Romances. Both of the books feature a white woman who falls in love with someone who is “Other.” In Jessica Taylor’s article, “And You Can Call Me Sheikh,” she notes, The men in these novels are “in between” figures. Dark and desirable but not too dark. Masculine and powerful yet willing to surrender to love. (Taylor, 1034)  This genre expands on the early premise of romantic heroes as being wild and untamed; only being civilized by the women that they love. In early novels featuring white heroes he often was described at the beginning as dark, only to be made pale and trembling, by love.  We are going to examine the issue of color in these books a bit further.
The Native American sub genre really begins with James Fenimore Cooper’s  The Last of the Mohicans. Written in 1826, it  is set during the events of the French and Indian War. The book’s central character Natty Bumppo, or “Hawkeye,” is depicted as a cultural hybrid. While purely white he can speak several native dialects and his adopted family, Chingachook and Uncas, are Mohicans. Hawkeye skirts the line of “Other,” while remaining socially acceptable due to his whiteness. There is further evidence of how color is perceived by looking at the differences between the Munro sisters. Alice Munro is, “surprisingly fair,” (Cooper, 378)  She is the stereotypical damsel in distress. She is described as being childlike in her innocence and is in constant need of rescue. Cooper says of her, (she is) “some beautiful emblem of the wounded delicacy of her sex.” (Cooper, 124). Alice’s older half  sister Cora is the daughter of a West Indian woman and is thought to be a “quadroon.”  She stands up to the Huron people and acts as her sister’s protector just as fiercely as the male protagonists in the book. This sets Cora and Alice up in direct contrast; light/dark, feminine/unfeminine, pure/tainted. Ultimately, Cora dies where Alice survives. In the novel Duncan, a white Southerner is in love with Cora. Described as “descended from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people,”(Cooper, 310)  it was impossible for Cooper to allow Cora and Duncan to marry as he was a native of a slaveholding region. To allow Cora to live and marry would have called into question the right to slaveholding but also colonist expansion which was responsible for displacing millions of other people of color. (Wardrop, 62). 

Does...does she really have to pee?
In 1884, Helen Hunt Jackson published Ramona, a fictional account of the mistreatment of Native Americans in California. Set directly after the Mexican-American War, Jackson wanted to raise awareness about the plight of Native Americans. She wanted to create something that would arouse public concern in a similar vein to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book was a sensation but audiences were less concerned about what was happening to Native people but more captivated by the vision of colonial California under Spanish rule. They loved the book’s adventure and tragic romance with Native American, Alessandro. (Browne Pop Culture Library, 2019). Ramona is described as beautiful with long black hair and blue eyes but several contemporary reviews dismissed the idea that she could be Native American. This was a race that was characterized as “dull, heavy, and impressionable.” (Stevens)  The book has never been out of print and was made into a film four times. 
The 20th Century saw many Western books portraying love between Native Americans and white settlers, From Zane Gray’s 1925 book The Vanishing American, to Nakoa’s Woman, which was published in 1972 the same year as The Flame and the Flower. (Browne Pop Culture Library, 2019) Nakoa’s Woman, by Gayle Rogers is summarized as, “the tale of a beautiful white girl who is captured by the Blackfoot Indian warrior Nakoa, and of their stormy relationship as she struggles against her growing love for her captor and he struggles against the customs of his people. A large cast of vivid characters surrounds the young lovers as they work out their fates.” (Rogers, 2002)  This format would become the common narrative for the Native American romance sub genre for decades after. 

Comanche Flame
This is ACTUALLY Fabio in a wig.
In her work, Jessica D. Spears discusses the acceptability of interracial relationships between white women and Native Americans and Arab sheikhs while relationships with white women and black men are not. Researcher Hsu-Ming Teo theorizes that black American men are not presumed to possess the same exotic cache and riches to sweep a woman off her feet. She also further explains  that white women will likely encounter black men, but the chances of meeting a sheikh are slim. Sean Nixon seconds this idea in his book, Exhibiting Masculinity. He discusses why Native American or Middle Eastern skin may be more acceptable than black skin. In examining men’s fashion ad campaign from 1985-1987  he suggests that the model’s ”light black skin expresses the hyper masculinity associated with black men but the masculinity or savagery is tempered or sanctioned by his fairness.” Light brown skin provides just the right amount of savagery or exotic. (Spears, 76) 

There is a lot to unpack here.
While the books themselves may feature an interracial couple, their covers generally do not. The hero is a white man with a veneer of exoticism. His skin has been darkened by a painter. Artist would even use well known models for their covers, such as Fabio, Steve Sandalis, and John DeSalvo. Essentially creating digital blackface. (Spears, 78)  One clear example of this is Madeline Baker’s Comanche Flame, which features Fabio on the cover. On Baker’s website she lists a number of the models she used for her books, none of them identify as Native American. One model who appeared on numerous Native romance covers was Steve Sandalis. In 1993, Penguin launched the Topaz imprint of romance novels. The marketing team chose model Sandalis to represent as the “Topaz Man.” He made in store appearances and had his own line of merchandise including calendars and bookmarks. Sandalis has been on the cover of over 700 books, often portraying characters in books about Native Americans.
Image result for steve sandalis cover
This is the cover for the 1994 Topaz Man Calendar.  I am absolutely serious.

This has been just an overview of this sub genre and the issue of race. There are writers who fought against this stereotype. Kathleen Eagle wrote an article in the 1986 “Romance Writers Report” warning writers of using stereotypes and the use of terms such as “savage.”  (Browne Pop Culture Library, 2019) It is upsetting to think that from 1984-1993 the Romantic Times gave an award for “Best Indian Romance.” The romance world has begun to change and more authors and readers are voicing their concerns about this genre which is still read today. Sara compiled a great list of Native writers in our post about Savage Ecstasy, and we will be sure to feature some of these on our social media. Representation matters, read responsibly.

Works Cited

Brown Pop Culture Library (November 2019). A Forbidden Savage Captive Love: Native Americans in Romance Fiction from Ramona to Savage Heart. Bowling Green, OH.

Cooper, J.F. (1984). The Last of the Mohicans. Lightyear, New York, NY. 

Rogers, G. (2002). Nakoa’s Woman. Sojourner Publishing Inc. Arlington, WA.

Spears, J. (2018). The Romance Novel Cover. CUNY Academic Works

Taylor, J. (2007). And You Can Be My Sheikh: Gender, Race, and Orientalism in Contemporary 
Romance Novels. Journal of Popular Culture, 40(6), 1032–1051. 

Wardrop, S. (1997). Last of the Red Hot Mohicans: Miscegenation in the Popular American 
Romance. MELUS, 22(2), 61-74.



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