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How is the ideal male represented through physical description in modern Mills and Boon literature?

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Introduction

How is the "ideal male" represented through physical description in modern Mills and Boon literature? Mills and Boon, the renowned publisher of romantic fiction for over 100 years, primarily targets a female readership. As societal attitudes have altered due to the rise of feminism and the success of equality for women, the portrayal of the female characters in these novels has also changed; the heroines now develop careers and are shown to eschew more traditional roles. However, the representation of the male characters is remarkably constant. In three Mills and Boon novels, published in the last two years, each hero is almost identical, tall, dark and handsome, with similarly guarded natures. As the novels progress, it is clear that a key characteristic identifying the "ideal male" is that of power and dominance, especially over the female protagonist. Each author employs similar linguistic techniques to establish the males as superior in relation to the females. In "Memoirs of a Millionaire's Mistress", the protagonists are property developer Cameron Black and waitress/artist Didi O'Flanagan. Cameron is presented, from Didi's perspective, through the clich�d hyphenated phrase "man-to-die-for" using the third person voice which complements the narrative conventions of the genre. This novel in particular falls into an erotic subgenre, which is demonstrated through the emphasis on physical masculinity. "The maroon and black tie's sheen accentuated his snowy white shirt, drawing her attention to a prominent Adam's apple and solid neck." ...read more.

Middle

There are only so many heroes one can have. The verb adjective "tousled" is tactile, appealing to the senses. The adjective "grey" in this context denotes sagacity, life experience and knowledge "But the penetrating, inky blue-black eyes were clear and discerning as he looked down at her." The use of the definite article in relation to Alexander's eyes in place of a possessive adjective serves to objectify him further. James uses a classic sexual innuendo, a common device employed in Mills and Boon novels which introduces the idea of sexual attraction into the novel very early on. The participle "penetrating" is of course highly erotic, and together with the descriptive triad creates a sense of emotional depth in the character. The rather clich�d compound description of his "inky blue-black eyes" is a thinly-veiled reference to Alexander's profession as a writer as well as suggesting intensity of feeling. Again, the subordinate clause "as he looked down at her" emphasises the stark height difference and his masculinity in contrast to the feminine and petite Sabrina, as well as implying that Alexander is superior both in stature and social status. "His voice was businesslike, strong and authoritatively resonant, and Sabrina couldn't help but feel just slightly in awe of him as he led her up the thickly carpeted stairs..." A triad of attributive post-modifying adjectives all belonging to the semantic field of power and strength is used in order to further stress Alexander's control over the situation. ...read more.

Conclusion

The pre-modifying adjective "wide", describing Case's shoulders, confirms his masculinity, strength and potency, attributes which are prized highly in a typical Mills and Boon hero. The semantic field of sex is continued with the description of Case's lips as "firm and sensual and full of promises". This triad is joined by two conjunctions rather than one conjunction and a comma, slowing the pace of the sentence. Maguire employs both sibilance and fricatives in this triad in order to mimic whispers, which creates an air of sensuality. All three adjectival phrases are themselves overtly sexual: "firm" hints at strong, stubborn masculinity; "sensual" is lexically very close to "sexual" and connects the basic anatomy of the mouth with more erotic interpretations; "full of promises" extends the triad more than a simple adjective would, consisting of both the adjective "full", which carries traditional sexual connotations, and of the abstract noun "promises", hinting at romance and matrimony. The three heroes of these stories are undeniably similar; all fulfil the traditional portrayal of a tall, dark and handsome charmer, both masculine and sensitive. Perhaps most noteworthy is the way in which the authors employ very similar pragmatic techniques in order to illustrate the power that these men exude over the heroines, sidelining the role of the women as primary narrators in the novel. This prioritisation of men allows them to become the focus of the novel, as the women are simply windows for the readers to peer through, imagining themselves in the story. ?? ?? ?? ?? Chiara Giovanni 12Y ...read more.

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