In a sense, the semantic slippage performed by the title is also performed by the texts under consideration: sexual aggression does take place, but is constantly framed as a pleasure that exists outside of rational modernity. Vikings, as noted above, also have their origin in the Middle Ages. However, early chroniclers also evidence admiring fascination with the Vikings: for example, with the exoticness of their ships and their perceived attractiveness to English women Frank In fact, Vikings might have been the first counter-culture heroes, an example of the commonly expressed sentiment that monsters of any kind exert powers of attraction as well as powers of repulsion: an idea that clearly underpins the entire paranormal romance genre.
Of all the characters that history presents us with, there would be few, if any, better suited to represent both brutal, masculine danger and desire than Vikings. It is in the middle: its function is to define and validate the two bracketing periods. The ongoing cultural impulse to represent Vikings as an irrational pre-modern people allows us to compare ourselves favourably against them and be more certain of our rational modernity.
I note that an aspect of the berserker legend has always been the possibility that they were actually shape-shifters, an example of the blurring between historical fact and supernatural fantasy that I explore in more detail below. More specifically, the chivalric romance usually centres around gender and sexuality as well as adventure, and features the idea of courtly love longing for an object that remains forever out of reach. Importantly for the argument I present here, the medieval romance often featured supernatural creatures and events.
The medieval romance genre that Heng cites above postdated the Viking age by several hundred years, but nonetheless the flattening of the Middle Ages that allows or perhaps invites superstition and the supernatural to colour its representation is also apparent when we consider how Vikings are represented across time. This elision between history and the supernatural turns up again in the contemporary fantasy novel Wolfsangel. Story and history slip in and out of each other from earliest records. The boundaries between historical events of the Viking age and Viking mythology are shown to be porous, tinged with a particular complexion of the supernatural: dark, menacing, apocalyptic.
What we see, then, is a privileged relationship developing between brutal pagan masculinity and the paranormal, and it is this relationship that provides an engaging dynamic for the contemporary Viking romance novel. It is interesting to note that complementing these traditionally published novels is a thriving subgenre of Twilight fan fiction that reimagines Edward as a Viking, and Isabella as his thrall. The Viking, like the vampire, is bound by a different set of cultural rules and expresses a different and dangerous set of drives.
It is beyond the scope of this essay to examine these fan fictions as well, not the least reason being that paradoxically nothing paranormal takes place in them. But what this intertextuality between Viking romance and Twilight fan fiction may point to is the enduring popularity of romance that features submission, domination, and forced sex, and some of the generic conventions that can make those things more palatable to a twenty-first-century audience. A great deal of scholarship of romance fiction takes as its objects past iterations of the genre.
Given the romance genre, like all genres, is contingent and constantly shifting, criticism can easily become outdated Vivanco As Luther has written, the standard trope of the rapist turned true love became far less common after the eighties and nineties n. In many ways, these stories represent feminist values, and they do it quite naturally and smoothly: there is no sense that it is uncommon for twenty-first-century romance fiction to operate in this manner.
However, the trope of ravishment is central to the erotics of every story. In each case, male aggression is presented as uninvited and insistent. The volume of scenes across this genre that operate as these do supports the idea that male sexual aggression is a key pleasure of the genre.
The acknowledgement that reading pleasure is gained from representations of forced sex presents an undeniable conundrum for readers and theorists. It is framed as a response in anticipation of the feminist censure that attends representation of rape fantasies, and fantasies of domination and submission.
Salaries may be better than in decades past and the cabinet and Congress less choked with testosterone.
But in the bedroom? In this discourse, clear discomfort exists around the idea of male aggression as pleasurable to women. The genre of Viking romance fiction, then, creates a more comfortable space for reading pleasure by projecting rape into the past, and obscuring it with the veil of the numinous. The genre uses a number of observable moves, related to the pre-modern and the paranormal, to manage the transformation of a potentially guilty reading pleasure into a less-encumbered reading pleasure. Essentialised sexual difference is a key feature of this genre.
Vikings represent an unreconstructed masculinity that is almost fetishized, and which is presented as impossible for modern men to attain. Are the men of this place demented? Do they not know how ridiculous they look? The modern man is not associated here with sexual aggression, rather with femininity and flaccidity. He is no sexual threat; in fact, he is barely sexual. Even the modern day alpha male pales in comparison to the authentic masculinity of the Viking. Climb the highest mountains.
Race cars. Jorund, by contrast, finds the idea of seeking danger for empty reasons puzzling.
Within a few weeks, Jorund has instigated a physical activity program to help rehabilitate his fellow inmates, particularly employing the pre-modern activities of sword fighting and rock hurling as a way of helping these modern men reclaim their masculine agency. The hypermasculinity of these characters functions to heighten the contrast between male and female characters. This eroticization of sexual difference is often focalised through the female viewpoint. Female characters in these scenes seem to lose control of thought and rationality when confronted with the erotic potential of this contrast.
Men did not like skin-and-bone females…. Often, this eroticised difference between men and women is extended imaginatively to signify not just contrast, but conflict. Even when not playing out actual physical resistance and domination, aggression infuses the language around lovemaking. These tools of battle create a curious mix of responses in the female protagonist. The playing out of surrender and conquest is invariably shown to be pleasurable.
The pre-modern is the particular place that these pleasures of sexual aggression can go because of the long-held association between Vikings and rape. In these novels, the impulse to ravish is shown to be cultural for Vikings, part of their inbuilt drive to dominate by force, and an essential aspect that makes them who they are. The texts bear this essentialism out in the frank acknowledgement about forced sex in Viking culture.
The Viking lovers are often shown contemplating rape. He could lift her by the waist and toss her over his shoulder.
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Nonetheless, the sex acts in these novels at the very least redefine widely held notions of what constitutes appropriate consent, and their pre-modern protagonists allow that perceived grey area of consent to be played out in a way that least offends modern sensibilities. Sitting between the more realist style of the family sagas and the full-blown mythological retellings of the Eddas, the legendary sagas share with these Viking romance novels the blurring between realism and the supernatural.
The Viking erection affords a connection between the hypermasculinity associated with the pre-modern and the rejection of realism associated with the paranormal. It is a clear mark of a superheroic body, a mythical giant phallus associated more with fantasy than with realistic representation. Note that he ties his belief back to his pre-modernity, citing the harsh environment he is native to, and his belief and faith in pagan gods rather than secular rationality.
The paranormal is another way that rape is projected out of the here and now in these novels, making it safer or more comfortable to imagine and gain reading pleasure from. One way the paranormal is employed is to set the context of the story well beyond the realm of consensual reality.
Jorund is transported to the modern world by a killer whale. The modern readers who belong to the same present are, by extension, implicated in a culture in which the irrational is punished by imprisonment and diagnosed and treated with medical science: law and medicine being two significant symbols of modern rationality. In a later scene, Jorund [End Page 9] breaks out of his straitjacket, a feat of superhuman strength that demonstrates the powerful dispositions of the pre-modern and the paranormal to erupt through the strictures of rational modernity This dynamic of attempted modern control being usurped by overwhelming Viking power is echoed in sex acts in the texts.
Such eruptions of the pre-modern are presented as patently at odds with consensual reality, and so the sex acts too are projected outside the real, and into the realm of fantasy. Another way that the paranormal works to consign the issue of rape to the outside of serious contemporary discourse is to play up the risible nature of the paranormal elements. A killer whale with bad breath? Many of the paranormal elements of the romance genre could be seen as ridiculous or laughable if removed from their context.
As I have argued elsewhere, one of the ways that genres work is that those on the inside readers and writers accept the reality presented within the texts without question: supernatural activity makes sense in the genre. When Maggie teases Jorund by comparing time travel to Santa Claus, Hill allows the possibility that the supernatural conceit is faintly ridiculous The erotics of the text, then, may also be framed as frivolous, a bit of harmless fun.
The possibility that the supernatural elements allow the texts to occupy a space outside serious discourse is apparent in reader reactions as registered on sites such as Goodreads. Moreover, the paranormal elements can be seen as linked intrinsically to the erotic elements. As I wrote above, the Viking erection is the most obvious symbol of the conflation of pre-modern and paranormal with erotic pleasure. Elienor has prophetic dreams, which she tries to hide because they open her to accusations of witchcraft, a crime for which her mother was executed.
Sweet Jesu—that face!
As well as their paranormal potential, dreams for Elienor have erotic potential. In this example, unsought sexual contact is allowed to occupy the same place as patently non-real and paranormal prophetic visions. To paraphrase: in reality, how could imaginings of rape and sexual violence be considered more than fantasy to a reasonable person?
Once again, sense and reason markers of the modern are presented as things in opposition to the paranormal and in opposition to the sexually aggressive erotics of the text. Vikings rape. It is one of the things that modern culture understands about Vikings, whether or not history supports the notion with detailed evidence. Vikings also share a privileged relationship with the paranormal. Popular blog-site Jezebel , for example, lists the term as one of its most frequent tags. Viking romance fiction, then, is the perfect genre for fantasies of forced sex to comfortably be represented.
These scenes are patently not real and patently not of the here-and-now, and thus can function as a safe zone for pleasurable, imaginative fantasies about male sexual aggression.
Aronson, Pamela. Bellows, Henry Adams, trans. The Poetic Edda. Bonomi, Amy E. Dowd, Maureen. Fradenburg, Louise. Frank, Roberta. Gill, Rosalind. Gravdal, Kathryn.
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