The Federation Press

Compelling Engagements

Feminism, rape law and romance fiction

Overview

After decades of rape law reform, it is still being argued that the criminal justice system fails rape victims, that too few cases are prosecuted and too few prosecutions result in conviction.

Compelling Engagements is a ground-breaking work which investigates the narratives of rape law and of romance fiction, and explores the outmoded and strikingly similar depictions of their normative female subjects. These are women who are not only vulnerable but also evidently worthy of the protections or rewards promised: punishment of the rapist or the hero’s love.

Larcombe’s analysis explores:

  • the definitions of “rape” in the criminal law and “romance” in Harlequin Mills and Boon fiction;
  • the feminine subjects represented in the texts of rape law and romance fiction;
  • the feminised subject positions the texts produce: the rape complainant and the romance reader;
  • particular fictionalisations of the rape complainant and the romance reader: the false rape complainant and the ideal romance consumer; and
  • how these fictionalisations serve the interests of the criminal justice system and the romance publishing industry.

Larcombe shows how the legal construction of gender and subjectivity in rape law is still working to disempower victims. She suggests feminism’s failure to accommodate women’s investment in heroines of romance fiction has limited their effectiveness in transforming rape law.

Compelling Engagements is an original and engaging analysis, and fascinating reading for anyone who deals with rape as part of the criminal justice system.

Reviews

In this thought-provoking work, Larcombe uses traditional tools of feminist literary analysis to give us new insight into the hoary feminist topics of rape law and romance fiction. ...
In Australia, this kind of textual analysis is rare indeed, and this work should be valued for that reason alone. Larcombe, however, also offers some significant new contributions to feminist criticism of these areas. ...
... this book more than starts the juices flowing. It demonstrates the value of multidisciplinary analysis, and brings a fresh perspective on to two tired subjects. It should be in any law library with a commitment to feminist criticism. - Australian Law Librarian, Vol 13 No 2, Winter 2005

Table of Contents

Introduction: feminism, rape law and romance fiction

Section I: Enduring Stabilities

Consent and intent: gendering subjectivity in rape law
Desire and love: gendering subjectivity in Harlequin Mills and Boon fiction

Section II: The Fortitude of Heroines

Victims and the dis/qualification of rape complainants
Heroines and the in/security of romance readers

Section III: Fear and Hope

False complain(an)ts and other legal fictions
Preferred readers and other romances

Conclusion: compelling engagements
Works cited

Of interest...