In this essay I argue that the 1950s and 1960s formulations of the American "romance" by such critics as Richard Chase and Leslie Fiedler were inflected by the simultaneous debasement in those same years of the term "romance" with respect to women's commercial fiction. I go on to consider how Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850), which of course includes the author's famous definition of "romance," has helped to prop up and perpetuate a cultural hierarchy premised on the derogation of narratives of heterosexual women's desire. I argue that in his search for a modern privatized authority, Hawthorne begins The Scarlet Letter by embracing antebellum tales of women's love and sexual passion. His subsequent rejection of these tales enables the hierarchization of genres that allowed twentieth-century critics to draw iron-clad distinctions between American romance and women's romance.

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