Love is (Color) Blind: Race, Belonging, and Nation in 21st Century Historical Romance Fiction

Mallory Jagodzinski (Indiana University South Bend)

Session 11.2: Subversions of Race, Culture and History


This paper incorporates the space and place theme of IASPR 2018 by examining how three American authors — Theresa Romain, Meredith Duran, and Courtney Milan — utilize the British/Indian colonial relationship in their historically set romances (Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, The Duke of Shadows, and The Heiress Effect, respectively) to argue for a racially inclusive understanding of citizenship in the United States.

Within these novels, uncomfortable issues of the present are worked upon from the comfortable distance of the past. [Jagodzinski argues] that by incorporating racial justice into the emotional justice promised by the American Romance Writers Association’s definition of a romance novel, the authors discussed in this paper ask their readers to envision a society of greater racial equality, one where every individual is considered part of the national community.

In writing about interracial relationships between white women and mixed-race Indian/Indian men during Britain’s height of colonization, these American authors are working out and responding to issues of race and racism in the United States in the twenty-first century by displacing these issues onto a distant, yet somewhat similar, past. By writing a romantic pairing that is white/Indian, these authors and their audiences sidestep America’s legacy of slavery, which continues to be a point of contention 150 years after its abolition. For the majority of romance readers, slavery cannot be made romantic.

The novels studied here make the rules and norms of white supremacy more obvious by utilizing the colonial encounter to explore contemporary issues of racism. In effect, these American authors draw from a British historical past to create a historical fiction that then addresses an American present with regard to race. The authors of the texts presented in this paper look beyond patriarchal oppression to consider other ways traditional American power structures limit citizenship.


Books featured

  • Meredith Duran – The Duke of Shadows
  • Courtney Milan – The Heiress Effect
  • Theresa Romain – Secrets of a scandalous heiress

Happily ever after:

  • An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending:
  • In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love
  • Citizen = male
  • But only white male

Hard to have a HEA in US historical context. Work around it by using British colonial context

  • Three books with Indian descent heroes
  • It is the hero who has to consider the otherness
  • Look at concepts of citizenship


  1. Villains serve a purpose
  2. Whiteness must be specifically confronted
  3. Does it matter where/ how in society these interracial couples land at the end of their stories (she thinks yes)

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