Conference Report: ‘Love Across the Atlantic’

Love Across the Atlantic: An Interdisciplinary Conference on US-UK Romance
University of Roehampton, June 16 2017. In conjunction with New College, University of Alabama

Continuing our conference theme, we are delighted to feature two responses from June’s Love Across the Atlantic, an interdisciplinary intervention exploring cultural and political resonances of the ‘special relationship’ across literature, film and television. The event was supported by Women’s Film and Television History Network.

With Karen Randell, in a fascinating keynote, Professor Alexis Weedon explored novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn’s relationship to America. Below, she gives us a flavour of its intriguing complexities alongside some other highlights regarding film, television and literature from the conference.

And Fjoralba Miraka reflects on the timely nature of the papers, whether focussed on contemporary or historical subject matter.


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Love Across the Atlantic: June 2017 © Roehampton University

Alexis Weedon writes:
Creating a keynote between us for a conference linking institutions as far away from each other as Roehampton and Alabama brings into focus the benefits and pleasures of cross-disciplinary conferences.

Deborah Jermyn, author of a recently published book Nancy Meyers, was the convener in the UK and her colleagues Catherine Roach, Ted Trost and Barbara Brickman from USA provided a forum for studying transatlantic romance through the frame of the political, economic and military undertones of such a special relationship.

She kindly invited Karen Randell and myself to present a keynote on Elinor Glyn, an author, filmmaker, business woman and glamour icon of the 1920s who crossed the Atlantic many times in her life. Glyn’s love affair with America was publicised in the magazines, in the cinema and on radio. As the novelist Arnold Bennett wryly observed in Books and Persons  it was a historical watershed, referring to ‘the distant past … before America and Elinor Glyn had discovered each other’ (1917, p.289). She was not alone in this affair, traveling in 1908 on Mauritania after the success of her romantic novel Three Weeks, she was one of millions crossing the Atlantic recreating themselves in the New World. We used the link between Glyn’s book and popular silent film Six Days (1923) and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (1997) to demonstrate the differences in wealth and fortune of those who travelled as well as the likelihood of realizing their dreams. In Hollywood Glyn made personal and romantic friendships, and became deeply invested in the movie adaptations of her books offering her own insights to the stars and directors on what constituted the accurate psychological portrayal of love on screen.

Glyn, I soon found, was not the only novelist featured in the conference who had a transatlantic passion.  A session on literary authorship across the ocean featured novelists as diverse as P.G Wodehouse, Lisa Kleypas, Maya Rodale.  Presenters Finn Pollard, Immaculada Pérez-Casel and Veera Mäkelä made the point that in their fictions America is only defined in contrast to England and therefore the countries’ identities are interdependent. Pérez-Casal saw in Kleypas’s romance a nostalgia for a mythical Englishness. The lure of this was so strong it alone could unite American couples. While in Wodehouse, argued Pollard, both nations have to be involved before a romance can be fulfilled.

Alice Guilluy’s study of the British reception of Sweet Home Alabama also revealed national differences in audience’s readings of film. William Brown’s amusingly entitled: ‘Bridget’s Jones’s Special Relationship: No Filth, Please, We’re Brexiteers’ looked at Bridget Jones’ Baby. He critiqued the marketing of love through the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the fictional ‘Quantum Leap’ dating site Jones uses.

As Deborah Jermyn said in her round up, there were also many absences, and in each lacunae lies a story of underprivilege. For academics interdisciplinary work requires a breadth of ambition. Like the creators of the films, TV shows and novels, as academics we must journey beyond the shores of our comfortable home disciplines and transition.

Fjoralba Miraka writes:
In view of the turmoil created after two of the most significant political events in recent years – Brexit and the Trump Election – the conference came as a breath of fresh air, attracting interested scholars from both sides of the Atlantic, who wished to reflect on the much-discussed and multifarious special relationship between the US and the UK.

The range of themes presented and discussed was wide, covering disciplines as broad as literature, film, and politics, among other. Similarly, the idea of transatlantic love was examined by Manuela Ruiz, who argued that film representations of love across the Atlantic can be best examined and understood under the prism of cosmopolitanism, whereas Jay Bamber’s presentation focused on the Working Title comedies – closely related to the Heritage Film genre – and explored how the genre’s space is a setting in which Americanness and Englishness can become contested identities. In the same vein, Anna Martonfi utilised The Ghost Goes West (1935), starring Robert Donat and Jean Parker, to interrogate how this transatlantic romance designated Americanness as a kind of ‘Ignorant Other’, reflecting the social and political context and Anglo-American relations of the time.

In a panel to explore very contemporary political concerns, Shelley Cobb took a historical perspective to explore political special relationships between Thatcher and Reagan and proposed these two be seen as a powerful ‘celebrity political couple’, cementing a pattern for the two countries’ future relations. Hannah Hamad explored representations of Tony Blair and George W. Bush as a now infamous political ‘bromance’, resonating with this popular film genre and its representation of male intimacy. Neil Ewen focused on the current putative bromance between Trump and Nigel Farage, and highlighted its place within the general context of a populist turn on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the role of the media in elaborating this special relationship.

The final session included discussion of the cultural nuances and sensitivities revealed through forms of transatlantic adaptation and the functioning of time in narrative media. Overall, the thematic of love generated a breadth of historical and cultural material which led to illuminating exchanges on very contemporary theoretical concerns.

Alexis Weedon is Research Professor of Publishing at the University of Bedfordshire and co-author with Vincent L Barnett of Glyn as Novelist, Moviemaker, Glamour Icon and Businesswoman (Ashgate 2014). With Karen Randell, she co-authored ‘Reconfiguring Elinor Glyn: Ageing female experience and the origins of the ‘It Girl’ in Deborah Jermyn and Su Holmes (eds) Women, Celebrity and Cultures and Aging: Freeze Frame (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Fjoralba Miraka is a Ph.D student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on the postclassical melodramatic imagination in the Hollywood Renaissance period. She is currently working on a chapter for publication on male melodrama and Scorsese’s early films. She is also writing an entry on the history of Feminist Film Theory for the first Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication, scheduled for publication in 2019, as part of the ICA series of the Sub-disciplinary Encyclopaedias of Communication.