Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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7/1/11: Mary Bly ’95PhD

“A well-bred lady never ogles a man from behind her black veil, especially during her husband’s burial.”

If the widow in question were ladylike, however, she wouldn’t be the heroine of an Eloisa James story. James is a bestselling romance novelist whose book covers burst with naked torsos and shapely thighs. But some of the titles—Pleasure for Pleasure, say, or The Taming of the Duke—also hint at James’s not-so-hidden identity as a Renaissance scholar.

Under her given name, Mary Bly ’95PhD toils at her day job, teaching English at Fordham University. Outside the confines of the Jesuit-run university, she cranks out bodice-rippers that wink at Shakespeare and allude to Foucault and Eliot. Her 20 novels have sold six million copies, according to the Wall Street Journal, which adds: “Ms. James may be one of the few romance writers whose friends critique the ‘hetero-normacy’ of her plots.” (Bly, however, is no fan of the “bodice-ripper” convention, which robs female characters of their sexual agency: “my heroines,” she writes, “tend to do their own button-scattering.”)

This Friday morning, “James” co-leads a workshop at the annual Romance Writers of America conference in New York City. Sadly, the conference is sold out. But if you act quickly, you can get hold of Bly’s scholarly work Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage, published by Oxford University Press and available from Amazon for just $237.62. Sounds like it might have more in common with James’s work than you would think.

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