Harlequin exhibit documents a woman's changing world

Mon Jun 1, 2009 2:13pm EDT
 
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By Nick Olivari

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Women's changing role in society and how they have viewed themselves since the World War Two is illustrated by a new exhibit of 60 years of Harlequin romance novel covers.

The New York exhibit, "The Heart of a Woman" Harlequin cover art, 1949 to 2009, celebrates the Canadian publisher's 60th anniversary and focuses on the shifts in female desire.

Often perceived as simple "bodice rippers", the women's fiction genre has always mirrored the aspirations and thinking of women, sometimes in graphic form, said exhibit curator Elizabeth Semmelhack.

The early covers in the exhibit, which runs from May 29 to June 12, depicted the sexuality and drama of what lay between the pages, said Semmelhack. But it was only beginning in the early 50's that Harlequin focused on romance and the covers were specifically aimed at women.

Women's changing role in society is evident throughout the exhibit. In the medical romance genre early covers show nurses displaying unrequited love for the doctors they work with, while the doctor's desires lay elsewhere.

"In the post World War Two era, where women had been nurses, they were being pushed back into the domestic realm but their desire to participate again is clearly evident," said Semmelhack.

But with the social activism of the 60's the covers show women beginning to again take a central role.

CHANGING ROLES AND TROPICAL LOCATIONS   Continued...