When Jane Austen warmly defended the romance novel in Northanger Abbey, she was working in a literary marketplace in which fiction aimed at women were stereotyped as trifling, silly, and potentially dangerous. Over the past 200 years, literary fiction has risen to the status of high canonicity, but fiction aimed at women is frequently parodied and dismissed as “chick lit.” This course traces a long history of popular fictions, “bad” romances, and pulp novels that focus on courtship and sexuality, from medieval Arthurian romance, to the tawdry seduction tales of Aphra Behn and sappy sentimentality of the Romantic era, to contemporary works like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. We will discuss how love stories, particularly those written by women, circulate in our culture and how they influence our notions of gender, sexuality, and class. We will learn to delve beyond our own involvement with the pleasures of fiction and consider what love stories can tell us about society and the literary canon. Assignments will include in-class presentations and discussion questions, weekly close-reading responses, a short research essay, and a longer project. Readings may include Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lady Audley’s Secret, Evelina, Love in Excess, as well as feminist theory and secondary works such as Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance. Assignments will include in-class presentations, weekly close-reading responses, a research paper, a creative project, and a final exam.