Posted: November 8, 1993


                         Dan Thomas
                      Wartburg College

                        Larry R. Baas
                    Valparaiso University

   Abstract: The astonishing popularity of Robert James
   Waller's recent bestseller, _The Bridges of Madison County_,
   raises anew a long-standing curiosity and concern about 
   romantic fiction and the reach and roots of its appeal
   among readers.  Embodying a wide assortment of alternative
   approaches, literary criticism of the popular romance genre
   has, heretofore at least, foundered in its quest to develop
   a cumulative body of scholarship on such matters.  Indeed,
   scholarly assessments have failed to this point in even reaching
   consensus on what it is that romance readers are experiencing
   when they partake of the "complex social act" of reading a love
   story.  Against the backdrop of contending approaches and
   dramatically conflicting conclusions, we marshal the case for
   fortifying reader-response research through an application of
   Q technique and its methodology.  Based on a reader-response
   case study of Waller's phenomenal bestseller, the research 
   reported here demonstrates not only that readers' subjective
   experience of the same text can vary dramatically but how it
   is that naturalistic representations of the reading experience 
   are amenable to public inspection and reliable measurement at
   the same time.  In the course of the case study, the "con-
   vergently selective" character of the appeal of Waller's
   romance is addressed in light of the four alternative con-
   structions that we uncover for the novel.  Finally, impli-
   cations for further research, with respect both to the
   case at hand and popular romance fiction more generally,
   are discussed.

   *Prepared for delivery at the ninth annual meeting of the Inter-
national Society for the Scientific Study of Subjectivity, Stephen-
son Research Center, School of Journalism, University of Missouri,
Columbia, Missouri, October 7-9, 1993.  The authors would like to
acknowledge, with appreciation, the assistance provided by four
individuals in particular: Cheryl Jacobsen, for bibliographic advice,
and Marriane Beck, Nancy Davis, and Jane Layman for assistance in data
collection.  We owe our reader-respondents a personal debt of grati-
tude as well for their willingness to share of their time and
subjectivity in providing Q-sort representations of personal reading
experiences.  Without such help, quite obviously, it would have been
impossible to pursue the kind of "literary criticism" contained in
this paper as we would have been, literally, without readers willing
to share responses.  Of course, any remaining errors of omission or
commission are ours alone.
          Reader Response and Popular Romantic Fiction

     Students of popular culture and literary critics alike have 
come recently to recognize a common and compelling interest in
that portion of their shared scholarly border with which we are
here concerned: the phenomenon -- and phenomenology -- of the
popular romance novel.  To account for this interest one need
look no further than to the immense commercial success enjoyed
by the mass-produced and -marketed examples of this genre --
namely, the Harlequin, Gothic, Regency, and Silhouette romances --
annual sales for which are estimated at somewhere between 33
and 40% of all paperbacks sold in this country (Gilbert, 1984). 
Adding impetus to the genre's interest among scholars, and also 
serving to attract the attention of feminist and women's studies
critics as well, are two further, allegedly interactive, facets of
the phenomenon: one demographic, the other semiotic in character.
Aside from its sheer size, the most striking characteristic
of the commercial market for romance literature is that it consists
almost entirely of women.  By even the most liberal estimates,
males represent no more than 1 to 2% of the readers of popular
romances (Hovet, 1986).  While interesting in its own right,
the fact of female readership has given rise, quite reasonably,
to a virtual cottage industry of literary criticism aimed at
deciphering the defining elements of narrative structure in the 
romance that earmark it as, essentially, a "woman's story" (Hazen,
1983; Miner, 1984; Modleski, 1982; Mussell, 1984; Radway, 1984).
    The body of scholarship produced in consequence of this 
semiotic search  -- i.e., for answers to the question of what 
romances mean to their readers -- is by no means of one piece.
Indeed, the research is marked by a rich diversity in both
methodological orientation and substantive conclusion.  Yet,
since we seek her to demonstrate a methodology appropriate to
reader-response inquiries of a single text within the popular
romance genre, it is worth the effort to locate our work within
the context of relevant research.  In doing so, we draw upon
Hovet's (1986) fine bibliographic essay devoted to the analysis
of five exemplary contributions to the field of literary criticism
of the popular romance genre.(1)  What unites all five authors is
their common concern with "explaining the popularity of romances,
be they Gothic, Regency, Harelequin, or other."  Moreover, all
"address the centrality of the seduction/rape in these books and
even commonly agree that fantasy and imagination are their terri-
torial imperatives.  Similarities cease to exist at this point,
however, for the critical approaches they use span the continuum
from textual analysis to reader response and the voices they 
adopt range from reasoned, academic presentation to outrage" (p.

      Various forms of textual analysis -- critical scrutiny of
the narrative structure by the critic herself in search of meanings
given and hidden -- are employed by all five authors, though
only in a supplementary sense by Radway, the lone proponent of
a reader-response approach from this group.  Mussell's _Fantasy
and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women's Romance
Fiction_ typifies the textual deconstruction strategy deployed
more commonly by the critics.  From her scrutiny of several texts
taken as "representative" of the genre, she finds common plot and
character elements that "ultimately center on the moment in the
heroine's life when she is 'given' an identity by her male suitor"
(Hovet, 1986, p. 51).  The structure, therefore, of the romance
narrative is inseparable from its function within the psyches of
its readers no less than within patriarchial society more broadly.
And there is no small measure of irony in the mix: women readers
turn in such big numbers to romantic literature as an escape from
the felt limitations of their lives as women by partaking of fan-
tasies that, in the end, reaffirm the very limitations from which
they try to escape.  That women readers nonetheless do so repeatedly
is ascribed by Mussell to the apparent need that such readers have
to gain vicarious validation for their own choice of identities,
confining and subservient though they may be.    

    The contributions of Miner and Modleski go further in their 
respective efforts to locate the appeal of romances in what they
consider to be the submerged as opposed to the surface plot con-
tained in such stories.  In each case the textual analysis that
uncovers the "story beneath the story" is one that is heavily for-
tified by psychological theory.  For Miner, the theory of choice
here -- as it is, though in a more modulated manner, for Radway --
is Nancy Chodorow's conception of female psychosexual development
contained in her much-heralded _The Reproduction of Mothering_ 
(1978).  As summarized by Gilbert (1984), Chodorow's theory holds
that "little girls never manage a complete separation from their
pre-Oedipal dependence on the mother, so that the 'ego-boundaries'
of the adult woman are more 'permeable' than those of the grown-up
man, and are accompanied by a special need for nurturance that life
rarely grants her except through the surrogate activity of nurturing
her own children" (p. 11).  The popular romance novel "works" for
women readers, then, on an unconscious level by sumblimating primi-
tive childhood fantasies in the submerged plot.  The idealized
tender loving care of the mother is symbolically extended to women
readers of the romance as the fantasy of male attentiveness that is
always accorded the heroine in such stories.

    In _Loving with a Vengeance_, Modleski too finds roots for the 
commercial success of romantic fiction in the fantasies of female
readers.  Rather than fantasies of infantile reunion with the mother
imago, however, Modleski sees in the submerged plot or counterplot
of romance narratives an expression of psychological resistance or
unconscious rage on the part of readers.  Instead of reaffirming
the values of patriarchal society and thereby sublty contributing 
to the persistence of petrified and powerless sex roles for women,
the popular romance is saying something very different.  Indeed,
by Modleski's reckoning, the real message of the romance to women
readers is very much the opposite of the surface meaning if by 
that it is meant that women learn that they have value and power only
in so far as they are valued and empowered by men.  How does this
work?  It does so when, for example, "the heroine in the dominant
plot of a seduction story avoids the seducer's advances though she
(as the reader knows) longs for him; in the submerged plot she coun-
teracts her powerlessness . . . by bringing him to his knees before
she acquiesces to his proposal" (Hovet, 1986, p. 52) .  The 
fantasies activated in this way are pleasing to readers because
they offer women a means of localizing their diffuse and general 
sense of powerlessness vis-a-vis men.  Moreover, as readers know in
advance the plot outcome they feel more power than the heroine herself.
    Helen Hazen's _Endless Rapture: Rape, Romance and the Female
Imagination" bears only a superficial resemblance to the foregoing 
accounts.  Without pausing to marshal supporting evidence, Hazen
simply posits a dichotomy at the outset between the brutal violence
of real rape, on the one hand, and imaginary rape on the other.  
Seeing the latter as natural and healthy, and as a response to
biological destiny, Hazen seems more interested in provoking and
irritating her feminist cohorts than in developing, let alone
defending, her own highly contentious account.  "With apologies
for stating the obvious," she writes after noting the obvious 
difference in importance of the romance for men and for women,
"I must say that it is the primary purpose of all animals to per-
petuate themselves and it is the reponsibility of the female to
see to it that the job gets done.  Every cell in her body is 
attuned to this charge, and, as with all the truly big things in
her life -- birth, growing up, death, and so forth -- intelligent
beings have a need to ritualize the impulses that their cells,
nerve endings, and hormones so disturbingly thrust upon them.
The ritual [that is, the romance] merely lends grace to the task
and disguises the enormity of its truth" (Hazen, 1983, p. 13).
From this vantage point, to speak of romance novels and their
readership as semiotically implicated somehow in the perpetuation
of patriarchal culture is to utter sheer nonsense.  If nothing
else Hazen's book, when placed alongside the three examples of
textual analysis discussed above, bears testimony to both the
complexity and difficulty of inferring message and meaning from
the romance's mass-audience appeal without directly interrogating
members of that audience.
    It is this curious neglect of the reader herself that Janice
Radway's (1984) _Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and
Popular Literature_  was in part intended to correct.  As Pro-
fessor Radway herself explained: "If we wish to explain why
romances are selling so well, we must first know what a romance
_is_ for the woman who buys and reads it.   To know that, we
must know what romance readers make of the words they find on
the page; we must know, in short, how they construct the plot
and interpret the characters' intentions" (p. 12).  Toward this
end, Radway consulted a group of forty-two female aficionados
of the romance genre and solicited their own understandings (via
questionnaires and intensive interviews) of their reading habits.
The result is both more and less than a thorough-going reader-
response analysis.  It is more in the sense that it moves well
beyond the renditions of literary likes and dislikes expressed by
her "Smithton" key informants.  In her own construction of her
readers' constructions, Radway employs "Proppian analysis" to dis-
cover the common ingredients of narrative structure that spell the
difference between what her readers deemed to be among the "best"
and the "failed" exemplars of romantic fiction.  Her broader account
of the "complex social act of reading" is also heavily informed and
influenced by feminist social theory and, as in the case of Miner,
by Nancy Chodorow's (1978) adaptation of psychoanalytic object-
relations theory to the study of distinctly female patterns of 
self-identity formation. 

    We shall return to our claim that Radway's research represents
less than a full-fledged reader-response effort when we take up
the issue of methodology as it pertains to the investigation to
follow.   For the time being, however, suffice it to make two final
points about _Reading the Romance_: In the first place, Radway's
normative assessment of the act of romance reading is -- in rather
direct contrast to the plaintiff, lamenting tone taken by most
feminist critics -- neither one that condemns it as an entirely
pernicious form of popular entertainment nor one that applauds it
as an inevitably enriching endeavor.  In her view, the chronic
romance reader is drawn to the repetitive rituals depicted in such
fare by finding meanings that ambivalently and at the same time
"confirm and covertly counter the patriarchal context in which both
romances and their readers are situated" (Davidson, 1985, p. 526).
Finally, it bears mention that Radway's volume, now nearly a decade
old, is widely regarded as the closest approximation to a definitive
piece of work as is available on the cultural significance of the
popular romance.  While it has not enjoyed universal critical acclaim
(see, e.g., Lamb, 1985), it nonetheless has received -- and continues
to receive -- widespread commendations; and in no small measure, it
is for reasons of methodology that Radway's research is held in such
high regard (Davidson, 1985; True, 1985; Tuchman, 1985).

         Reading Waller's Romance: _The Bridges of Madison County_

    The present research is designed as a reader-response investigation of
a single novel, _The Bridges of Madison County_ by Robert James Waller.
Hence, the focus on the single text, if nothing else, sets our study apart
from other efforts along these lines, as can be seen from the foregoing
look at representative works bearing at least an indirect line of kinship to
our concerns.  As we have seen, previous efforts to appraise the cultural
significance of the romance novel along with its psychic returns to the
reader have produced, both in method and substance, a very mixed bag of
scholarship.  And while it may belabor the obvious to do so, it nonetheless
warrants emphasis that our research neither promises nor presents any
findings pertaining to either romance readers as a class or popular 
romances as a literary genre.  Methodologically, we believe, our research
carries potential for application well beyond the case at hand; in terms
of substance, however, we confine our attention to one book and the
rather dramatic reception it has engendered among its readers. While
we cannot consider Waller's novel as necessarily representative
of the mass-produced forms of the popular romance genre(2), there can be
little doubt that this is a book that is both romantic and popular.  For
reasons that should become self-evident as we proceed, we consider the
novel initially not as one, but as two "stories": one involving the story-
in-the-novel, the other encompassing the story-of-the-novel.

The Story-in-the-Novel

     Set in Madison County, Iowa in August, 1965, BOMC is the story of
four days that changed forever the lives of the two principal characters.
The hero in the story is fifty-two year-old Robert Kincaid, a world-traveling
photographer for _National Geographic_, who has driven his pickup truck from
Washington state to rural Iowa to shoot a series of pictures of the
area's quaint covered bridges for a forthcoming issue.  Temporarily
lost in the country-side, Kincaid has a chance encounter with a local farm
wife, forty-five year-old Francesca Johnson (the heroine), who unaccountably
finds herself volunteering to accompany Kincaid in locating a particular
bridge.  As it happens, Francesca is all alone on the farm for four days,
her husband and children having left home to attend the Illinois State
Fair.  It also happens that Mrs. Johnson, who had come to Iowa twenty
years earlier as an Italian war bride, had for some time felt "compromised
and alone" within the confines of her quite passionless marriage to her
husband Richard.  For his part, Kincaid was a man with few attachments
(married once and divorced years ago) other than to his craft, his
photographic equipment and his pickup; in short, his commitments extended
basically "to the road," and these his career permitted him to follow
rather freely.  What transpires between Robert and Francesca in the
wake of their chance encounter is, if nothing else, the stuff of which
indelible romance is made (and, for that matter, sold). 

    What follows in Waller's story-in-the-novel is his description
of the actual affair that takes place between Robert and Francesca
while her family is out of town, along with Robert's "proposal" that
Francesca leave behind her unfulfilling life in Iowa and run away
with him to places far and wide, a proposal that is entertained but
ultimately turned down by the heroine.  Instead, Francesca places
duty and fidelity in front of passion and romance, choosing to live
out the remainder of her days on the farm outside of Winterset, Iowa.
During one day in August for every year thereafter, however, she would
would gather props and remembrances and pay ceremonial homage to
her romantic interlude by staging a solitary fantasy ritual recalling
the orignial seduction.   Over the course of those two and one-half
decades, Mrs. Johnson attempted to locate Kincaid only once, and 
then unsuccesfully, after the passing of her husband.  Two final points
are in order about Waller's telling of the story-within-the-novel.
The first is that, notwithstanding the brevity of the actual affair
of Robert and Francesca, Waller leaves little doubt that theirs was
much more than a fleeting romance or momentary concession to impulse.
As Robert said upon learning that Francesca must stay with
her family, "In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty 
comes only once."  (By this point in the story, such utterances are
entirely in character for Mr. Kincaid, whose mystical mix of New
Age sensitivity and Marlboro Man machismo Waller gives ample ampli-
fication relative to the largely ill-defined character of the heroine.
"I am the highway and the peregrine and all the sails that ever went
to sea," Waller has Robert whispering into Francesca's ear.)  The
last point worthy of underscoring here is the framing device used by
Waller in telling the story.  Waller's reconstruction of the romance
is portrayed as a truthful re-creation that he, as the teller, was
able to piece together from a letter Francesca left for her children,
recounting the affair, that they read only after her death.  Remarkably,
and yet apparently of great importance in establishing the story's
credibility among readers, Waller agrees to tell the story of Robert
and Francesca only in response to an invitation from the late Francesca's

The Story-of-the-Novel

   Quite apart from its literary merits or shortcomings, it is the story of
BOMC's popular reception that begs the attention of analysts of popular 
culture, not to mention market researchers in the publishing firms which
produce and sell such books.  BOMC was released without fanfare in April, 
1992 and quietly yet fairly quickly found a market of enthusiastic readers.
By August, BOMC was atop the New York Times Bestseller List, where it has
remained virtually nonstop for over a year.  In June, 1993 BOMC was named
the "all-time word-of-mouth bestseller" by the editors of Publisher's
Weekly.  Not yet out in paperback, the book has presently sold well over
2 million copies and, by the end of this year, some 3 million hardcover
copies will be in print, leading to predictions that it will become the
all-time leading bestseller for a hardcover novel.  Paralleling the 
astonishing commercial success of the book is an ongoing saga of another
sort, one that supplies anecdotal shape to the entire BOMC phenomenon.
This is nowhere more apparent than in Winterset, Iowa, the chief town
in Madison County, where Waller's story was set.  So great has been
the enthusiasm of BOMC's vast readership, that droves of fans --con-
vinced of the authenticity of Waller's account -- daily descend from
all parts of the country on the small south-central Iowa town in search
of the farm where Francesca Johnson lived (which does not exist) and
the covered bridges Kincaid was there to photograph (which do exist).

   The entire phenomenon shows few signs of abating: In August, 1993,
Waller-the-author became Waller-the-singer as the album entitled _The
Ballads of Madison County," marketed as a spinoff from the book, appeared
in both music and book stores. The video accompanying the CD was airing
on VHS-1 within the week.  Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg, who purchased the
movie rights to BOMC, has reportedly received a commitment from Robert
Redford to play the Robert Kincaid character for the screen while the part
of Francesca is said to be sought after by at least a dozen of Hollywood's
most prominent actresses.  Both reflecting and further fueling all of this
interest, national media have added to the play of the story-of-the novel.
Waller and BOMC have been featured in stories appearing on CBS and NBC,
in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago
Tribune, Time magazine, US News and World Report.  Oprah Winfrey filmed
an entire installment of the Oprah Winfrey Show at the entrance to Roseman
Bridge, a site with romantic connotations among readers of BOMC, Ms.
Winfrey included.  The theme for the program was "long lost loves," and
Waller himself appeared, reading a passage from the novel and singing
one of the songs to be recorded for the Ballads album.  As a final
register of just how prominent a place Waller's fiction has already
come to occupy in the kaleidoscope of American popular culture, Gary  
Trudeau devoted an entire week of Doonsebury to a spoof of the novel.

     The latter parody is both playful and pointed in its caricature of
the characters of Kincaid and Francesca.  To Trudeau, the hero of Waller's
romance appears as model of narcissistic excess, more enamored of himself
and his manifestly elevated prowess as a photographer-philosopher than
of the heroine herself.  For her part, Francesca is portrayed as a
caricature without a character, lamenting in the final frame of the
strip, "If only I had a personality."  Trudeau's satire is not the only
voice of reservation with the underlying message of the volume.  Yet,
as John Leo (1993) has observed recently in a US News and World Report 
column on the phenomenon: "Critics of popular culture have been notably
slow to to take a whack at explaining the book's success" (p. 23).
While few in number, however, when placed against the plaudits that
largely define the story-of-the novel, the critical exceptions which
have appeared to this point can hardly be termed playful.  Leo himself
concludes that BOMC's popularity is "written proof of people's private
desperation," promoting extramarital affairs as a risk-free antidote
to the boredom born of fidelity to spouse and family.  Other critics
have found even less wholesome messages behind the appeal.  In a
review appearing in the Los Angeles Times, free-lance writer Pauli
Carnes (1993) makes the case that BOMC is "pornography for yuppie women."
Chicago Tribune columnist Jon Margolis (1993) condemns the book as
"an insipid, fatuous, mealy-mouthed third-rate soap opera with a 
semi-fascist point of view."  And Frank Rich, drama critic for the
New York Times, echoing concerns about the theme of an empty, ill-
defined woman waiting around for a godlike man to supply her life
with meaning and purpose, sees BOMC as a "backlash book, celebrating
narcisssistic hit-and-run flings for men and pointless marital
misery for women" (cited in Leo, 1993). How is it possible that 
the same piece of literature can elicit such vastly divergent, yet
so strongly felt, subjective reactions?  In large part, it is this
question which prompted the present investigation.
           Q Methodology and the BOMC Concourse: Romantic Narrative,
   Convergent Selectivity, and the Operant Subjectivity of Reader Response

   Our principal purpose in this research is twofold: In the first place, we
want to probe the breadth and depth of reader response to Waller's novel in 
search of clues for the immense popularity of this particular piece of roman-
tic fiction.  Second, and not altogether separate, we seek by exemplifica-
tion to extend the case, advanced initially in papers by Stephenson (1972,   
1980b) and by Brown (1977, 1990), that Q is not simply compatible with the
purposes of reader-response research but also suggestive of a harmonic con-
vergence of the concerns of the humanities, on the one hand, and the methods
of science, on the other.  Given our focus on the dynamics of reader
response to a popular piece of romantic fiction, our research bears -- at
least at the level of purpose and principle -- closest resemblance to the
work of Janice Radway noted earlier.  As indicated above, Radway's book
was based on . . ."the fundamental premise of reader-response criticism
that literary meaning is not something to be found _in_ a text.  It is
. . . , rather, an entity produced by a reader in conjunction with the
text's verbal structure" (pp. 10-11).  Earlier, we proposed that it is
possible to regard the approach and the product of Professor Radway's
efforts as constituting both more and less than a thoroughgoing reader-
response investigation.  A brief explanation for this latter claim will
serve also to highlight an important point of distinction between the
approach to reader-response taken here as compared with that of Radway.
    Professor Radway's proposal to investigate real readers of romance
novels grew out of very deep misgivings on her part with the prevailing
text-based accounts of the genre's popular appeal.  Founded on overly-
simplistic "consumptive" conceptions of reading as no more than ingesting,
such efforts served only "to petrify the human act of signification, to
ignore the fact that comprehension is actually a process of making
meaning. . ." (pp. 6-7).  It is both instructive and ironic that Radway
introduces her argument for an alternative approach to understanding
the appeal of romantic fiction by citing examples from the comments of
real readers that show "that these readers do not understand the books
in the same way" (p. 4).  If different readers are responding to the
same text in different ways -- or, in effect, actually construing or
constructing different texts from the same work -- then it becomes
increasingly untenable to insist on one and only one construction of
a story's meaning as privileged over the alternatives.  And yet, says
Radway, that is precisely what practitioners of text-based literary
criticism do, in the process dismissing alternative interpretations as
specious figments of a kind of "false consciousness."  What Radway is
referring to in noting the crucial fact of diversity in subjective
interpretation is what Blumer (1955) defines as _convergent selectivity_
(see also Stephenson, 1967).  At issue is a divergence in underlying
perspective and motive in what appears to be the common behavior of 
a mass of individuals.  Applied to the phenomenon of romance reading,
convergent selectivity implies, simply, that different readers will
find appealing different aspects of the same story, or possibly even
read different stories from the same book.

    What gives irony to this point is that Radway's recognition of the 
importance of convergent selectivity (though not labelled as such) as
a matter of principle is quite strikingly contravened in practice as a
consequence of the particular kind of reader-response methodology she
employs.  Specifically, Radway administered questionnaires to her 42
romance readers and taped some 60 hours of intensive interviews with 
her key informants, all in an effort to construct a "composite Smithton
Reader".  Furthermore, since her informants were compulsive readers of
romances, Radway sought their advice on the difference between "failed"
and "successful" romantic narratives.  But rather than take the 
reflections of her readers as the raw material for analysis, she elects
to employ "Propperian" techniques in an effort to discern the common
elements of plot structure that distinguish good from bad romances as
judged by her readers.  By reputation, the Radway volume still ranks
as the authoritative, if not definitive, account of the romance
narrative from the point of view of the reader.  Nearly a decade 
after its initial appearance, it remains the most frequently cited
work among scholars and literary critics working within the popular
culture/romance fiction field.  In our view, this reputation is
not unearned: _Reading the Romance_ is, on balance, both ambitious
in scope and carefully crafted.  And while the "methodological"
point of departure taken by Radway's work -- the focus on real
readers' experience of the romance novel -- has won wide praise 
among reviewers, her research has not escaped criticism altogether.
Krentz's (1992) recent compilation of reflections by fifteen
authors of romance novels, _Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women_,
contains repeated references to Radway, and while not all of the
commentary is critical, a good deal of it is. Of the latter, a con-
siderable portion takes issue with the character of the reader's
construction of romance literature as construed and reported by
Radway.  In the view of more than a few writers of such romances,
Radway simply got it wrong in her account of the actual experience
of romance reading by real readers.  Such claims and counterclaims
as to what constitutes an authentic reading experience by real
readers are, we believe, symptomatic of the rather crude condition
of extant methodology for gauging reader response.  As long as
the "partition" between a literary critic and her reader-informants
is marked by such obtrusive measures as questionnaire items, for
which identical responses may carry very different meanings, there
will be contention over what real readers really meant when they
are queried as to their reading experiences.  
    Following Stephenson (1972, 1980b) and Brown (1977, 1990), our 
approach begins with what actual readers have to say about their
reading of Waller's romance.  In the parlance of Q methodology, the
volume of subjective commentary on such issues is referred to as
a _concourse_ (Stephenson, 1980a), from the Latin "concursis,"
meaning "a running together."(4)  As one might expect for a volume
proclaimed as "the all-time word-of-mouth bestseller," the communi-
cation concourse growing out of the vast readership of BOMC is
itself of massive proportions.  As we have noted above in referring
to the "story-of-the-novel," BOMC has spawned a virtual avalanche
of commentary as an accompaniment to its astonishing record of 
sales.  The breadth and depth of such commentary are themselves of
such magnitude as to defy capsulized characterization.  Suffice
it to note that included within the BOMC concourse are statements
expressing reader reactions of a very diverse form and focus.
Ranging in source from formal reviews by literary critics to off-
hand comments by ordinary readers in informal conversations over
cocktails, the "population of sentiment" surrounding the novel spans
a wide gamut of topical concerns while reflecting similar diversity
on the question of literary and/or cultural merits and significance.

    Having compiled well over one hundred statements from the BOMC
concourse as of April 1993, our first task was to devise a means of
sampling from this commentary in such as way as to produce a reasonably
representative replica of the larger "conversation" about the book
while reducing the size of the statement sample to manageable propor-
tions and avoiding redundancy at the same time.  In doing so, we
made use of the provisional sampling schema portrayed in Figure 1.
The design in this case is a 3 X 3 balanced factorial, with statements
classified according to two dimensions, each with three levels, implicit
in the larger BOMC concourse.  The first dimension denotes evaluative
assessment and subsumes three categories, running from (a) positive-
affirming to (c) negative-critical with intermediate (b) mixed or null
in appraisal.  The second axis  -- or "main effect" in experimental
design terms -- pertains to topical focus and also houses three
types of references.  The first (d) is for comments centered on the
characters of Robert and Francesca, the lovers whose story Waller
recounts in the pages of BOMC.   The second (e) category incorporates 
references to non-characterological aspects of the narrative such
as plot and setting as well as possible literary intent by the author.
Finally, level (f) is reserved for commentary that speaks to the
novel's overall appeal and/or effect on the reader without specifc
mention of particular plot or character ingredients included.  Con-
tained in this last category, therefore, are a number of statements
that address what we have earlier designated as the "story-of-the-
story" of BOMC.  Cross-classifying these two three-leveled dimen-
sions produces a nine-celled framework for ordering, on a strictly,
pro tem basis, the vast welter of commentary spawned by the Waller

               Figure 1: Factorial Design for BOMC Q-Sample
    Main Effects                    Levels

A.  Evaluation           (a) positive    (b) mixed/null    (c) negative

B.  Topical Focus        (d) characters  (e) setting/plot  (f) symbolic

Note: Each of the nine A X B combinations was replicated with four state-
ments of that type for a total Q-sample of N= 36 statements.

   Each of the nine cells in this design was fitted with four statements
of that particular combination of focus and feeling, resulting in a
final Q-sample of N = 36 items.  In statement 1, for example, we find
the positive/character-based mix of sentiments that define cell (ad):
"Both Francesca and Robert seemed like real people to me.  I found my-
self identifying with the both of them."  The contrasting negative/
character-based combination of (cd) can be found in item 27: "Much
of the book is pure baloney: quasi-mystical talk of a shaman-like
photographer overwhelming the modest Mrs. Johnson with his "sheer
emotional and physical power. Such trite and sexist stereotypes
are out of place--even in mid-1960s Iowa."  Of course, not all of
the commentary growing out of the countless conversations, still
continuing, about this book are quite so riveted on the principals
of the story-in-the-novel.  Hence the provision in our statement-
sampling template for references to the story-of-the-novel, as
the following exemplars for cells (af) and (cf) indicate:

   (31) In all honesty, the book's brevity has to be ranked 
        high among its virtues.  Waller took few long detours,
        stuck pretty close to basics, and was not overly
        anxious to impress with stylized prose, and that I
        liked.  (af)

   (33) I can't for the life of me figure out what all the 
        fuss is about this book.  As far as I'm concerned,
        all the hullabaloo is much ado about nothing.  It's
        simply not that big a deal! (df)

   At the risk of redundancy, it bears underscoring that our use of this
particular design framework is entirely provisional and heuristic: its
derives solely from the confidence it engenders that our final Q-
sample is indeed a reasonably representative and balanced facsimile of
the massive concourse from which it is drawn.  The crucial point is that
the classification scheme upon which it is based does not constitute -- and
should not be taken to signify -- any claims to the effect that statement
X or Y stand as "measures" in an a priori sense of viewpoints or perspectives
the meaning of which exist independently of readers' understandings
of the same.  (The entire Q-sample, including statement-cell assignments
for each item, is available upon request from the authors.)
      Fifty-eight persons served as subjects in this research.  Obviously,
it is impossible to argue that our sample of readers stands as a necessarily
representative microcosm of the massive readership for this book.  As
with any reader response study, the population of available participants
is almost by definition subject to clear self-selection effects: Composed
of persons interested enough in a book to have purchased or otherwise
gained access to a copy and willing to invest the time and energy to read
the novel in its entirety, such a pool is likely to overrepresent segments
of the population inclined to regard the work favorably.  Moreover, since 
Q-sorting is very much a labor-intensive procedure that requires of sorters
considerably more time and concentration than, for example, filling out a
questionnaire, securing subjects is sometimes difficult and frequently 
depends on word-of-mouth solicitation.  The present case is not untypical
in that regard:  Despite some success in locating respondents through
posting to the USENET rec.arts.books group and from a description of the
research appearing in Valparaiso University's newsletter for English
Department alumni, most of our respondents were secured via word-of-
mouth communication.  And in that enterprise the persons acknowledged
in the prefatory note were of invaluable assistance.  Overall, our 
sample appears to fit, with perhaps one exception, the demographic
profile for readers of romance novels generally.  The exception pertains
to gender: whereas men comprise only 1-2% of the traditional market
of romance readers, they comprise 22% of our sample.  Our sample
is, overall, very highly educated: fully 94% of the participants had
completed college degrees, with 33% having a Master's degree or 
its equivalent and 21% earned doctorates (Ph.D.'s or Ed.D.'s). The
mean age was 45, with 45% of readers in their 40's, 30% in their
50's, 12% in their 30's, 7% in their 60's and 6% in their 20's.
Occupationally, the field of education accounted for 53% of the
respondents, with an additional 29% from business careers of various
kinds.  Finally, our sample was comprised generally of persons who
are not strangers to reading for enjoyment: 73% reported having one
or more "favorite authors" whose works they try to read and 87%
reported having completed at least one other book since they finished
BOMC.  On average, the sample spends 4.6 hours a week in reading for
personal enjoyment.

Q-sorting and the Operantcy of Reader Response

       Over the period from April through July, 1993 each of our readers
was supplied with a deck of the BOMC Q-sample with each of the N = 36
statements of opinion randomly numbered and typed one to a card.   Each
respondent was asked to model his or her opinion by sorting the state-
ments, in standard Q-sort fashion, according to the opinion continuum
displayed in Figure 2.  As in any Q-sample, the items comprising the
BOMC set are entirely subjective in the sense of being matters of
opinion rather than fact.  Moreover, as Q-sorting is entirely _self-
referential_ (items are ranked relative to one another in terms of
a particular reader's personal understanding and subjective preference),
the process is thoroughly hermeneutic:  Readers are modelling meanings
and interpretations as _they_ experience them quite apart from any
external standard or "privileged" deconstruction accessible only to
a select class of specially trained literary critics.  At the same
time, however, the subjectivity so modelled is not of the introspective
reflection variety.  As Stephenson (1985) has indicated, "the primary
step in understanding literature from the subjective standpoint is to
study it as immediate experience" (p. 236).  "If we enjoy . . .[a]
poem, for instance, the enjoyment is immediately presented and is
not a delayed result of our having introspected and discovered a joy-
ful feeling which we then report, as if the report and experience
existed in two separate realms.  . . . The expression is a part of 
the lived experience, not an introspective reflection on it" (Brown,
1990, p. 5).  What is at issue, therefore, in the readers' renditions
of their responses to a given piece of literature is not subjectivity
in some inaccessibly introspective sense, but communicability (Steph-
enson, 1980b; Brown, 1990).

              Figure 2: Opinion Continuum for BOMC Q-sort
Most Unlike                                               Most Like
My Point of                                             My Point of
View                                                           View
                        [Statement Scores]

-4      -3      -2      -1       0      +1      +2      +3       +4
(3)     (3)     (4)     (5)     (6)     (5)     (4)     (3)      (3)
                         [Number of Items]                     

    It is in light of these considerations that Q-methodologists intro-
duce the notion of _operant subjectivity_(Brown, 1980, 1990; McKeown
and Thomas, 1988).  Because subjectivity by its very nature is self-
referent, it follows that procedures for its measurement should aspire
to preserve rather than discard the personal point of view of the
subject whose subjective expressions are under scrutiny.  In scaling
theory, by way of contrast, measurement proceeds "from the outside"
as researchers seek to construct tests for locating respondents along
a predefined continuum in which individual variation in the reading
and understanding of test items is relegated to the realm of mere
measurement error.  Not so in Q where it is considered axiomatic 
that the only valid standard for ascertaining an individual's point
of view is the individual himself or herself.  Viewed another way,
operant subjectivity implies an important methodological desideratum
with respect to the partition between a literary critic, on the one
hand, and his or her readers as "key informants," on the other.  As
Radway has described this partition, "in formulating a hypothesis 
about the significance of romantic reading as an act, that hypothesis
will inevitably be a critic's construction of the reader's construction
of the import of her reading behavior.  This is an essential observation
because it suggests that the methodological addition of investigating
the ways real readers read cannot do away with the need for a critic's
interpretation or all the dangers that such an activity implies" (p. 9).
Of course, Q methodology harbors no pretense of rendering the need for
investigator-supplied interpretation obsolete.  But it does reduce the
weight of such constructions substantially by minimizing the partition
between respondents' own constructions of their reading experiences
(as modelled by readers themselves via Q-sorting) as against those 
supplied "from the outside" by the scholar/critic/analyst.

    The principle of operantcy is further preserved in Q as a consequence
of the mathematics deployed in the analysis of audience segments -- or,
in this instance, "classes of experience" as they relate to reading
Waller's romance.  As will be demonstrated below, factor analysis
affords a statistical means of discovering (and identifying the relation-
ships among) the various ways in which readers have understood or 
experienced the same romantic narrative.  What is key, however, is that
"these classes of experience are not logico-categorical (i.e., they
are not defined in advance on the basis of this or that trait or con-
sideration), but emerge inductively from the Q sortings themselves.

    Findings at First Blush:  Four Readings of Waller's Romance

    Each of the 58 completed Q-sorts was intercorrelated with the
others and the 58 X 58 correlation matrix factor analyzed via the
centroid method.  The seven unrotated centroids extracted initially
were then rotated judgmentally in the quest for "simplest structure"
(Stephenson, 1953).  Four robust factors survived rotation, and the
final rotated factor matrix, with loadings for each respondent on
each of the four factors, is presented in Table 1.  As a preliminary
matter, it is worth underscoring several features of the aggregate
pattern of loadings. 

                            Table 1:  Factor Matrix

   Factor loadings*                             Hrs   Fav   Oth   Disc    See
No. A  B  C  D    Gdr   Age   IA   Edu   Occ    Rd    Aut   Bks   Book   Movie
01  81-14-15-11    F     4     N   MA    educ   6-8    Y     Y     1-2     8
02  79 15-02 35    M     4     N   PHD   educ   1-2    N     N     5+      8 
03  78-06-04 07    F     3     Y   BA    educ   6-8    Y     Y     3-4     8
04  78 00-20 15    M     4     Y   PHD   educ   1-2    N     N     3-4     9
05  77 06 05 00    F     4     N   MA    educ   8-10   Y     Y     5+      7
06  76 01-16 21    F     5     Y   MA    educ   8-10   Y     Y     5+      9
07  76 20-15 13    M     4     N   MA    busi   2-4    Y     Y     0       7
08  74-24-07 27    F     4     N   PHD   educ   4-6    N     Y     3-4     9
09  73 27 11 16    F     4     Y   BA    educ   1-2    N     N     1-2     9  
10  73-08-02 05    F     6     N   HS+   cler   8-10   Y     Y     1-2     9
11  73 11 09-08    F     4     Y   BA    hswf   4-6    Y     Y     5+      8
12  72 14-13 09    F     4     N   BA    educ   2-4    Y     Y     1-2     9
13  70 19-26 32    F     5     N   MA    busi   ---    -     -     ---     -
14  69 23-08 25    F     3     Y   PHD   hswf   8-10   Y     Y     3-4     2
15  68 03-16 09    M     5     N   MA    educ   ---    -     -     ---     - 
16  68 09-08 28    F     5     N   MA    educ   4-6    Y     Y     1-2     8
17  66 18-30 04    F     4     Y   MA    educ   6-8    Y     Y     5+      9
18  67-11-04 15    F     4     N   BA    educ   4-6    Y     Y     --      -
19  66 28-25-09    F     3     N   BA    busi   2-4    Y     Y     3-4     6
20  66-07 05 12    M     2     Y   BA    busi   8-10   Y     Y     1-2     1
21  64 08-12-11    F     3     N   BA    educ   10+    N     Y     5+      2
22  64 17-24 05    F     6     N   MA    cler   6-8    Y     Y     5+      7
23  64 39-20-27    F     5     Y   BA    educ   4-6    Y     Y     5+      9
24  63 16-06 20    F     5     Y   MA    educ   10+    Y     Y     5+      9
25  63 17-21 31    F     4     Y   BA    educ   10+    Y     Y     5+      9
26  62 30-07 24    F     3     Y   MA    educ   4-6    Y     Y     5+      9
27  61 23-19-24    F     3     N   MA    busi   4-6    N     Y     3-4     3
28  59 11-06-10    F     4     N   MA    educ   1-2    N     N     1-2     9
29  59 28-22 20    F     5     Y   BA    hswf   8-10   N     Y     5+      9
30  59 14 00 08    F     3     N   HS+   hswf   4-6    Y     N     0       6
31  58 32-28 07    F     4     N   BA    educ   4-6    Y     Y     1-2     8
32  55-08 01 43    F     4     N   PHD   educ   4-6    Y     Y     5+      9
33  54 16-25 09    F     5     Y   HS+   cler   4-6    N     Y     5+      9
34  53 41-06 12    F     4     N   BA    busi   4-6    Y     Y     3-4     9
35  51-22 24-02    F     5     N   BA    busi   6-8    Y     Y     1-2     9
36  50 22-50 15    F     3     N   BA    busi   4-6    N     Y     3-4     7
37  47 08-02 06    F     3     N   BA    busi   10+    Y     Y     1-2     9
38 -29 75 28-06    M     4     Y   PHD   educ   1-2    N     Y     5+      9
39  12 69-13 01    F     6     N   HS+   cler   8-10   Y     Y     3-4     8
40  13 66 04 02    F     5     N   MA    busi   8-10   Y     Y     1-2     1
41  31 56 13 14    F     4     N   BA    educ   2-4    Y     Y     5+      7  
42  39 42-15 30    M     5     N   PHD   educ   4-6    Y     Y     3-4     2
43 -28 40 37 09    F     4     N   PHD   educ   2-4    Y     Y     1-2     2
44  40 65-05-13    F     5     Y   MA    educ   10+    N     Y     5+      4
45  49 52 17-02    F     4     N   MA    busi   4-6    Y     N     1-2     5
46  42 47 38-11    F     2     N   MA    busi   10+    Y     Y     1-2     2
47 -21-07 75 07    M     6     N   PHD   educ   ---    -     -     ---     -
48 -18 22 72-03    M     5     Y   BA    busi   10+    Y     Y     3-4     3
49 -22 12 51-10    F     3     N   MA    busi   6-8    Y     Y     0       3
50 -42 38 60-17    F     4     Y   BA    busi   2-4    Y     Y     5+      3
51 -47 07 60-06    F     5     N   PHD   educ   10+    Y     Y     3-4     2
52 -03 09-04 70    F     6     N   BA    hswf   6-8    Y     N     3-4     1
53  32 00-19 49    M     3     N   MA    busi   2-4    N     Y     3-4     7
54  37 23-36 45    M     5     Y   HS+   busi   8-10   N     Y     0       9
55  28 32-10 23    F     6     N   HS+   cler   8-10   Y     Y     3-4     8
56 -36 29 21 11    F     5     Y   BA    educ   10+    N     Y     5+      2
57 -30 19 19-36    M     4     N   PHD   educ   8-10   Y     Y     1-2     2
58  10 37 34-12    M     3     N   PHD   educ   4-6    Y     Y     0       1

*Two place decimals omitted. Age: 1=-20, 2=20-29, 3=30-39, 4=40-49, 5=50-59,
6=60+. IA: Y or N. Hrs. Rd: Per week for pleasure. Fav. Aut: Favorite author,
yes or no.  Oth Bks:  Read other books since BOMC, yes or no.  Disc. Book:  No.
of discussions about BOMC.  See Movie: Likely to see movie on scale from 0-9,
9 most likely.

    In the first place, the fact that there are _four_ factors rather 
than simply one serves to underline the importance we have attached
to the principle of convergent selectivity.  Recall that our rationale
for introducing the principle grew out of concurrence with Radway's
reservations with a problematic premise of textual criticism as practiced
by students of popular romance literature -- namely, her calling 
attention to the fact that, inconsistent with the viability of a
single, privileged interpretation of a text, different readers are
known to read the same text differently, taking different meanings
in the process.  At the same time, we argued, Radway's own research 
-- in particular, its construction of a "composite" Smithton reader
from among her reading-informants -- failed to maintain fidelity to
the view that relativism is part and parcel of the reading experience.
The idea of convergent selectivity is merely conceptual shorthand
for this relativistic alternative: converging, as it were, on the same
novel, different readers may select out (read, interpret, surmise)
different messages, themes, and even plots from the same pages.
The data displayed in Table 1 demonstrate with remarkable clarity
that interpretations of the same story do, in point of fact, vary.
Each of the four factors represents, in effect, a distinctive under-
standing, interpretation, or account of _The Bridges of Madison

    How is it that Table 1 reveals the presence of four different 
"readings" of the same romantic narrative?  On what grounds, in other
words, have we determined that four such perspectives define the range
of reader responses to the novel as opposed to any lesser or larger
number?  To address these questions, we need first to note that a
_factor_ in this context represents a group of readers who have 
arranged their Q-sort statements in essentially the same way, demon-
trating thereby their resonance with a common viewpoint toward the
novel and its construction.  When a given pair of individuals have 
sorted the Q statements in a like manner, the extent to which their
views coincide will be registered statistically in summary fashion as
a correlation coefficient.  Participants 1 and 2, for example, produced
Q-sorts modeling their subjective reactions to BOMC that were correlated
at .51, indicating a fairly substantial -- statistically significant at
p < .01 -- similarity in their overall viewpoints.  The correlational
phase of the analysis of Q-sorts repeats the same process involved in
assessing the association between these two sorts for every other pair
of Q-sorts included.  For a matrix of data supplied by 58 Q-sorts, the
number of pair-wise correlations calculated in this fashion is given
by the expression 1/2n(n-1) or 1/2(58)(57).  Hence there are, in the
case at hand, a total of 1,653 such bivariate correlation coefficients
to examine were we to conclude with the correlational phase of analysis.
Rather than doing so, however, we subject the 58 x 58 matrix to factor
analysis, a more sophisticated set of mathematical operations than 
simple correlational techniques, to be sure, but not all that arcane as
a matter of principle or purpose.  What the factoring process does is
essentially to comb the massive matrix of bivariate coefficients in a
search for major patterns of associaton, or clusters of similarly per-
formed Q-sorts.  While outside of Q-methodology, it is customary to rely
upon strictly statistical criteria in the determination of a given 
factor's significance -- and hence solve the number-of-factors problem
by mathematical means alone -- in studies such as this one, a mix of 
theoretical, pragmatic and statistical considerations come into play.

    In the present case, these trade-offs were not all that complicated; 
accordingly, the rationale for the four-factor solution can be rather 
tersely summarized as follows.  In the first place, factor analysis
performs the pragmatically and theoretically crucial service of 
reducing the initial pool of 58 separate readers' constructions to
representative yet comprehensive four-fold microcosm of principal
"classes of experience" (Brown, 1990) vis-a-vis the novel.  In this
respect, factoring provides operational expression for the principle
of _limited independent variety_ (Stephenson, 1953), which holds
that in a context of subjective complexity and controversy, not-
withstanding possible surface appearances to the contrary, there
will exist only a handful of truly independent perspectives on the
issues under consideration in the larger concourse.  What Q-sorting
affords at the individual level (and factoring preserves at the
interpersonal and analytic levels) is a means for ordering -- not
in some external, categorical fashion imposed by the analyst --
the vast welter of complexity on subjective specificities into a
meaningful, configurative whole.  Parenthetically, however, it
is likely that the transformation of Q-sorts to factors is apt to
elicit suspicion from some quarters, including perhaps individual
respondents themselves (at least initially) upon learning that
their own "take" on the BOMC phenomenon is neither as distinctive nor
idiosyncratic as expectations might have entertained.  Being built
out of actual Q-sorts, factors do not displace or distort the sub-
jectivity that individuals bring to the interpretive act.  Rather,
as noted earlier, factors are embodiments of _operant subjectivity_
and, as such, represent "composite Q-sorts" each of which stands,
in turn, as an exemplar for a particular class of reading-interpre-
tive experience.  As such, the factors so derived are not to be
confused with the alternative construction of a "composite reader"
supplied by Radway. Indeed, the pattern of findings depicted in Table
1 stands as strong testimony to the futility of an effort to locate
_one_ composite from among the readership of BOMC.  In contrast
to Radway's conceptual composite of the Smithton readers, the
composites of four readings of Waller's romance derive, as Brown
(1990), cited above, has noted, "from the Q-sortings themselves,
hence belong to the readers . . . [as] operant categories of literary
response" (p. 6).

      Returning to the rationale for the four-factor pattern, we note
next the distribution of factor _loadings_ contained in Table 1.  A
loading on a given factor indexes the degree to which a Q-sort is
"saturated" with the viewpoint represented by the factor.  A given
Q-sort is considered a _defining variate_ for a particular factor
when its loading exceeds statistical significance (+/- .40, p < .001)
on that factor only.   By this standard, it is possible to appreciate
why we regard the four-factor solution as optimal in this case.  Of
the 58 persons who supplied Q-sorts for this project, no fewer than
50 qualify as defining variates for one of the four factors extracted.
Phrased in terms of costs, we can say that one way of estimating the
degree of information-loss deriving from the transformation of Q-sorts
to factors is to observe that 14% (8/58) of our respondents' views are
unnacounted for by the four factors.  On the other side of the coin,
86% of our readers supplied Q-sorts for which one from among the quartet
of factors can be taken as a reasonable replica of the actual reader's
ranking of the statements.  Relative to comparative figures from other
Q-studies, these are impressive percentages.  If anything, however, they
underestimate the adequacy of the four-factor solution since they fail
to note that within the group of 8 Q-sorts not qualifying as defining
variates, only 3 such sorts fail to produce loadings reaching statistical
significance on _any_ of the four factors. Five such Q-sorts, in other
words, were "split loaders," having loadings at or beyond +/- .40 on
two or more of the factors.  Consequently, only 3 of our readers provided
Q-sorts whose perspectives on BOMC were sufficiently idiosyncratic in
character to elude altogether the themes and constructions brought to bear
in the four composites extracted by the factoring process.

     Respondents are arrayed in Table 1 according to the magnitude of 
their saturation with each of the four factors.  Hence Factor 1 is
far and away the most populous of the four "stories" of the novel, as
is shown by the fact that a total of 34 out our 58 readers produced
Q-sorts whose loadings met defining variate criteria (shown in bold-
faced type) for the factor.  Quite clearly, by our findings at least,
the point of view taken by these readers would appear to be the dominant
construction of _The Bridges of Madison County_.  While less populous
than Factor 1's construction, the remaining three factors are no less
consequential in defining the range of subjective response elicited by
this book.  Factor 2, as can be seen, is defined by the loadings of
Q-sorts from 8 readers, while Factors 3 and 4 are defined by purely
loaded sorts from 5 and 3 readers, respectively.  While we can make
no claims that the four constructions thus brought to light are
entirely exhaustive of all possibilities, we do contend that in
these factors and the schematics they embody are both cues and
clues not only to the range of reactions to BOMC among its readers
but its wide appeal as well.

     We now turn to an examination of the viewpoints themselves,
beginning with the statistically prominent first factor.  In our
interpretation of this and the other factors we rely primarily upon
the factor score composites for each type -- i.e., model Q-sorts
produced as a weighted average of the contribution to each factor
exercised by each defining variate in proportion to the magnitude
of its loading on the factor it defines.  Also of use in this regard
are the insights of selected respondents themselves when asked after
Q-sorting to comment on their ranking of the statements.  Finally,
interpretation is also facilitated by reference to demographic and
individual-difference data that define members of the P-set and loom
therefore as possible correlates of the factor-viewpoints.  The
principal candidates here are considerations such as age, education,
occupation, pleasure-reading tastes and habits and, perhaps most
important in this connection, sex of the reader. 
   As noted in our review of prior scholarship on the popular romance,
it is a literary genre supported almost entirely by female readers.
Accepting as a given an audience that is almost exclusively women,
it should come as no great surprise that a good many accounts of the
appeal of romances turn inevitably on assumptions about the distinctive
way in which women read and resonate to key plot and character elements
in such fiction (Barlow, 1992; Kinsale, 1992).  Plausible though
they may be, such speculation is hard to refute in the absence of 
any evidence reporting cross-gender comparisons among readers of 
romances.  Indeed, given the miniscule fraction of the popular
romance market that is comprised of males, it has become a matter
of practice in scholarly discourse on the subject to refer to the
population of romance readers as exclusively women.  Of course,
the vast imbalance in reading preferences by gender _may_ itself
signify deeper differences in the reading styles of men and women,
but there is precious little by way of pertinent, systematic re-
search that demonstrates directly how it is -- and how dramatically
so if at all -- that men and women experience the same romantic nar-
rative in contrasting terms traceable to the prismatic power of
gender.  Typical of the market generally for romance genre litera-
ture, the readership of _The Bridges of Madison County_ is comprised
primarily of women.  But BOMC has nonetheless attracted many male
readers as well, many more than is apparently typical of the market
for the genre.  While women outnumber men in our own sample of 
readers 45 to 13, the proportion of male readers (22%) exceeds by
at least a factor of 10 the estimated fraction of the romance
market not constituted by women. In absolute terms, of course,
the subsample of male readers is hardly large enough to sustain
bold generalizations about the romance reading behavior of men as
a class.  With due allowance for these limitations, however, our 
data allow us to address -- tentatively, to be sure, yet more directly 
than has heretofore been attempted -- the proposition that men and women
do indeed read romantic fiction in different, gender-specific ways.

         Findings in Focus:  Reading Readers' Stories as Text

Factor A: "Swept Away"

   Of the four representations of the reading experience vis-a-vis
Waller's novel that are revealed by this research, Factor A affords
the sharpest illumination for the deep affection elicited among
so many readers of this romance.  As noted, this particular construc-
tion is far and away the most "popular" account provided by our
respondents, based as it is on the purely and significantly loaded
Q-sorts of some 34 respondents.  That nearly three of every five
readers in our sample embrace the sentiments found in Factor A --
when judged in tandem with the tenor of the sentiments themselves --
is, we believe, clear warrant for treating this as the "dominant
story" of reader response to _The Bridges of Madison County_.  And
while it is obviously not the _only_ such story, it nonetheless
invites close inspection as a possible "prototype" for the popular
"romantic imagination" both captured and stoked by the story Waller

    The story told by Factor A's rendition of the reading experience
is itself, like the story spawning it, a tale of romance.  Indeed,
it is not overstating it to say that readers reporting this pattern
of response are, quite simply, head-over-heals in love with this book.
Examining the more salient statement scores that distinguish this from
the other factors we can see rather quickly ample clues as to the
character as well as the roots of this romantic affection.  Consider,
for example, the three statements receiving the highest scores by
this factor. (Scores for A are shown to the left of each statement,
while for comparative convenience scores for Factors B, C, and D
respectively appear in parentheses following each item.)
    +4    (1) Both Francesca and Robert seemed like real people to
          me.  I found myself identifying with the both of them.
          (-4, 0, +2)

    +4    (7) As I read on about Francesca and Robert's affair, I
          found myself wondering what I would do if I were in their
          situation. (-3, +1, +1)
    +4    (11) Kincaid was an interesting character for the lead male
          role in a romantic story.  He seemed to combine the 
          traditional "cowboy" manliness from days gone by with a 
          New Age sensitivity seldom displayed by American men.  It's
          an attractive, albeit uncommon, combination. (-1, -1, +3)

Factor A's readers are clearly identified with the principal characters,
finding them both credible and authentic and, in Kincaid's case especially,
intriguing and attractive.  The personalized, romantic quality of Factor A's
reading experience is revealed elsewhere in the high rankings assigned
statements suggestive of being drawn in by the author's choice of setting
and framing device for the story:

    +3    (19) I suppose a part of me wanted them to run off together
          and live happily ever after.  On the other hand, I admired
          the strength and the courage they showed in not doing so.
          Francesca did the right thing by staying with her husband
          and family in Iowa. (-2, +1, -1)

    +3    (25) Could the same love story be set in New York, L.A. or
          Chicago?  I doubt it.  There's something about the unadorned,
          earthy beauty of rural Iowa that allows the natural and 
          honest character of the lovers' feelings to shine through
          so clearly.  (-2, -1, -2)

   The reference to the "honest character of the lovers' feelings" in 
statement 25 echoes sentiments that permeate Factor A's more general
appraisal of the novel itself.  Phrased negatively, it is the total
absence of duplicity, deceit, and insincerity that makes the brief
affair between Robert and Francesca the stuff on lasting romance.

     +2   (10) The appeal of the story is not hard to account for:
          People aspire to relationships defined by honesty and
          sincerity, by truth and beauty.  What Robert and Francesca
          found, if only for four days, was rare for its time and
          even rarer for ours.  (-1, +1, -4)

Elsewhere in the configuration of statement scores we find additional
evidence of the extent to which Factor A credits not only the characters
but the author himself with unblemished, altogether sincere motives in
creating the story.  Since many such items are even more salient in the
arrays of the other factors, however, we will postpone their presentation,
to avoid redundancy, until we turn to those intepretations.  For the
time being, let us note how the readers of Factor A respond to suggestions
that the Francesca character was guilty of behavior in the story that, 
at the very least, was amenable to interpretation in terms other than
such virtues as truth, beauty, honesty and sincerity.  It is worth
reiterating that the scores given individual items by particular factors
are never read in isolation, but rather in contextual terms -- taking
into account the ranking of each item relative to other items in an
array by the same factor as well as the comparative rankings of the
same item by different factors. Accordingly, it is the _configurative
pattern_ of scores for the following three statements by Factor A
vis-a-vis the others for the same items that shapes the image of these
readers "coming to the rescue" of the Francesca character with whom
they seem so closely to identify:

     -2   (12) Waller's depiction of Francesca's annual ritual com-
          memorating her affair--with the cigarettes, love letter,
          brandy, photos, and all--struck me as more sordid or per-
          verse than as tender or loving. (-1, 0, 3)

     -1   (23) Francesca's attraction to Kincaid is described in such
          mystical, soul-partner terms.  But might she have been fooled?
          I mean, she could simply have been lonely and bored with
          married life and with life on the farm.  (0, +1, +2)

     -1   (20) I felt sorry for Francesca's husband.  Though we're 
          supposed to admire--maybe even pity--her for putting family
          ahead of her impulse to join Kincaid, it's unthinkable
          that her husband was totally oblivious to, and unaffected by,
          her true feelings.  (0, 0, 0)

While the differences in individual statement rankings here are not 
always dramatic in every instance, the pattern of preference is suffici-
ently clear to convey the major message from Factor A.  In simple terms,
BOMC is a romance that "works" for these readers; it works in a way that
draws them into the story, through what appears to be a rather strong
identification with both the hero and the heroine.  Francesca and Robert
are "real people" to these readers; more than a few of them, in fact,
were willing to confess in follow-up interviews that they thought BOMC
was actually a true story and not fiction at all!(5)

   It is from the ranks of readers on this factor, then, that we are re-
minded just how fierce is the loyalty, how deep is the adoration that
this book has inspired among a vast segment of its readers.  As modelled
by our Factor A, the reading experience at the root of this loyalty is
one that is thoroughly personal and unambiguously pleasurable.  This is
not a book, in the minds of these readers, for which the "work" of
critical discernment need be or should be engaged.  Indeed, standards
of plausibility (for plot) or credibility (for characters) seem hardly
to have been invoked at all -- or so it seems.  Such standards may be
appropriate in taking stock of a piece of fiction; they simply don't apply
when the tale told is a true story of two real people, in a real place
in real time.

     As we turn to the trio of alternative versions of Waller's romance,
we believe that key elements of this dominant interpretation will, in
consequence of the comparative vantagepoint, take on a sharper focus.
Before we do so, however, there is one final feature of Factor A that
deserves consideration as a possible clue to the constellation of sub-
jectivity at the heart of reading and relating to a romantic novel. Of
the 34 persons whose Q-sorts qualify as defining variates for the first
factor, 30 are women and 4 are men.  Given the disproportionate numbers
of women in our sample of readers (45 of the 58 respondents are female),
reference to raw frequencies like these is apt to create an exaggerated
impression of Factor A as almost exclusively composed of women.  In point
of fact, sex of reader does bear a substantial relationship to "saturation"
on this initial interpretation of BOMC, though it does fall considerably
short of a one-to-one match.  Put in terms that more accurately reflect
that relationship, we can note that whereas two-thirds (30/45) of the
women readers load significantly on Factor A, less than one-third (4/13)
of the male readers resonate to this version of the story.  The
average loading of all 13 males for Factor A was .30; the mean for
all 45 women was .47, a difference that is clearly noteworthy despite
the fact that it falls shy of statistical significance (p<.10) owing
to the standard error for the male loadings on the factor compared to
the relatively narrow dispersion of scores around the female mean.(6)

Factor B:  "A Curious Phenomenon"

    For readers whose Q-sorts define the second path of experience for
this novel there is scant evidence of the deeply personal involvement in
the story and the characters that marked Factor A.  That is not to say
that Factor B's readers did not enjoy the story, however, as scores for
the following three statements make plain.  (Again, for comparative
purposes, the scores given each item for Factors A and B appear to the
left while those for Factors C and D appear in that order in parentheses
following the statements.)
 A   B
+3  +3    (4) Literary flaws or not, the story itself was gentle and
          kind, the two main characters were sympathetic and the 
          setting charming.  In all, it was a nice, pleasant book
          to read. (-1, 0)

 0  +2    (2) The story held my attention while reading it.  Since
          then, however, I can't say I've really thought about or 
          reflected on its deeper significance. (0, -3)

 0  +4    (32) I had a generally positive reaction to the book, but
          I couldn't really say what it was that I liked and dis-
          liked about it.  I just basically liked it, and I see
          no purpose served by trying to pick it apart after the
          fact. (-4, 0)
As we shall note subsequently in addressing consensus themes across the
factors, our readers are virtually unanimous in acknowledging the brevity
of the book as a virtue.  Numbering only 177 short pages, BOMC is a "quick
read," amenable to completion in one sitting for most of our readers.  The
statement calling attention to this is given a high positive ranking by
all four factors, but in no case higher than for Factor B which placed it
at the very top of all thirty-six items from the Q-sample.  Hence it is
that Factor B's "generally positive" reaction takes on the appearance of
a cost-benefit calculus: a pleasant, quick read, the book did not demand
much in the manner of a taxing investment of intellectual energy.  In
consequence, the measure of enjoyment extracted from this reading of
Mr. Waller's romance is of a perceptibly more reserved and much less
emotive character than is the case for Factor A.  Referring back to
the series of statements suggesting a strong psychological identifica-
tion with the characters of Francesca and Robert (especially items
1, 7, and 19), all of which were given high positive rankings by Factor
A, it can be seen that all are given sharply negative scores in the
array of Factor B's composite Q-sort: Item 1 (They "seemed like real
people. . .") earns a -4; no. 7 (". . found myself wondering what I
would do . . .") is given a -3; and 19 (". . .part of me wanted them
to run off together . . .") is in the -2 column.  And more so than the
other factors, Factor B expressed particular difficulty in conjuring
up a credible image of the hero of the story:

-3  +1    (21) I had trouble visualizing the Robert Kincaid character.
          Whether poor writing was responsible or not, he just seemed
          a little fuzzy or unusual, especially for 1965.  I can't
          wait to see who gets the part for the movie. (-1, 0)

    At the same time, despite a host of disclaimers disavowing any 
special insight into the remarkable reception given the novel, Factor B
does hint at a possible clue in the author's construction of characters
in middle-age rather than the more youthful lovers one usually encounters
in the pages of romantic fiction.

+2  +3    (22) One thing I found appealing was that Robert and Fran-
          cesca find one another at a point in life approximating
          middle age.  It's a warm thought that such feelings and
          experiences are accessible, and at such depths, for folks
          in their 40's and 50's. (-1, +1)

Even so, the principal feeling state that seems to run through the
second construction of BOMC is one of perplexity at the phenomenal
response the book has engendered.  In a sense, then, Factor B's con-
struction is one that is much less focused on the story-within-the-
novel -- which, as noted, is so dramatically the case for Factor A --
than on the story-of-the-novel as it continues to unfold.  In this
respect, Factor B's own story of this latter story is, as we shall
see, not altogether distinct from Factor C's in its sense of bewil-
derment at the phenomenon BOMC has become.  The convergence here
is revealed clearly in the first pair of statements we report below
in discussing the third intepretation given the book and its popu-
larity.  Whereas Factor B, notwithstanding the few exceptions noted
above, is largely agnostic on the issue of accounting for the commer-
cial success of the volume, Factor C is not.

Factor C: "A Bridge to Begrudgement"

       The third construction of _The Bridges of Madison County_
is far and away the least friendly of the four representations of the
reading experience we have uncovered for this novel.  Indeed, it
conveys a critical tenor toward the story and its status as a best-
seller that borders on caustic if not hostile.  As indicated already,
the story from Factor C is one that begins, at the end of the reading
experience, with the same feelings of bewilderment at the novel's
success expressed by Factor B.

 A  B  C
 0 +2 +3  (8) I've been surprised by how many of my friends and
          acquaintances have read this book.  It's become something
          of a conversation piece--on the order of the weather or
          maybe politics. (+1)

-2 +4 +4  (33) I can't for the life of me figure out what all the
          fuss is about this book.  As far as I'm concerned, all
          the hullabalo is much ado about nothing.  It's simply
          not that big a deal! (-4)

In all likelihood, the identical score of +4 given by Factors B and
C to item 33 derives from a subtle difference in the meaning attributed
by each to the same language.  To be sure, the breadth and depth of
readers' affection for the volume is a source of bewilderment to 
both.  Beyond this, however, additional evidence suggests that
Factor B is expressing a fairly straightforward sense of perplexity,
as if to say, in a perhaps charitable spirit, that it just "didn't
quite get it" as an admission of its inability to tap into the deep
wellspring of warmth running through other readers' responses.  For
C, this is not quite enough:  For persons of this sensibility, the
act of reading requires more than the willful suspension of disbelief
so as to enhance, if only for the duration of the story, the enter-
tainment (possibly escapist) value of the experience.  An engaged
reading experience, for a romantic novel no less than for a complex
philsophical argument, inherently invokes a "caveat emptor" (let the
reader beware) and therefore instinctively critical frame of mind.
The unwillingness of Factor C to disengage critical capacities in
approaching a work of fiction is revealed clearly enough in its
rejection of statement 32 (see above), an item that is found on the 
exact opposite side of the factor array for B and hence reveals the
core contrast between the rival approaches to pleasure reading at issue 
in these two accounts.  

    This is not to say that Factor B is entirely uncritical in its
appraisal of the book.  Indeed, we see in the identical scores given
a pair of items below hints of a shared reservation -- which remains
partial for B -- with the quality of Waller's writing and the purity
of his motives in crafting the story:

-4 +2 +2  (3) Mr. Waller depicts the "mating dance" of Francesca and
          Robert in plodding detail, but he fails to develop them as
          believable characters. (-1)

-1 +3 +3  (18) While reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder
          whether Waller was being honest in the setimentality or just
          marketing mushy feelings out of hard-nosed commercial cal-
          culations. (-1)

     The full force of Factor C's critical wrath cuts a much wider
swath than might be surmised from these concerns alone.  Put politely,
_The Bridges of Madison County_ has little to recommend it as a contri-
bution to American Literature.  Its astonishing commerical success is
therefore a source not of amusement to these readers but deep irrita-
tion and lament.  One reader on Factor C went so far as to correct
one of us upon referring to Waller's "book," insisting that it did
not deserve to be so labelled.  Instead, she preferred to call it a
"publication."  Even employing more charitable criteria appropriate
to a first novel does not soften the bite of condemnation for the
quality of the work as a whole.

+1  0 -4  (16) In all honesty, I liked this book a lot more than I 
          thought I would.  (+1)

 0  0 -4  (17) Granted, this is hardly a lasting contribution to
          American literature.  But, for heaven's sake, it's only
          Waller's first novel.  And for a first-time effort, it's
          a pretty decent piece of writing. (+1)

-4 -2 +4  (15) A truck named Harry and a dog named Highway?  If this
          is all it takes to write a best seller, maybe publishers
          should start combing the local Junior Highs in search of
          the next crop of literary stars! (-1)

But it is for matters more fundamental than even the quality of writing
that Factor C voices its loudest indignation.  In the minds of these
readers, BOMC is flawed in concept, dangerous in message, and very
possibly malevolent or, at best, suspect in intent.  The large bones
of contention can be seen clearly enough in the rankings earned by
the following statements:

+1 +1 +2  (26) The story-line is almost completely implausible. A
          world-class mystic/photographer and war-bride/Iowa farm
          wife magnetically drawn to one another in a chance en-
          counter?  Unlikely, yes; but isn't such almost always the
          case with love, when we pause to think about it? (-3)

-4 +1 +4  (27) Much of the book is pure baloney: quasi-mystical talk
          of a shamanlike photographer overwhelming the modest Mrs.
          Johnson with his "sheer emotional and physical power."
          Such trite and sexist stereotypes are out of place--even
          in mid-1960s Iowa. (-3)

The relatively mild differences between the rankings of statement 26
by Factors A, B, and C serve as a reminder of the importance of con-
textuality in the process of advancing interpretations for the classes
of experience (and meaning) made manifest by the factors.  Were we
to look only at this statement, and examine it not as part of a
larger configuration of meaning but as an isolated index of Factor
C's regard for the novel, we'd very likely assume an equivalence
of meaning across Factors A through C and conclude a near-equivalence
in judgment toward the plot and its plausibility. But when we examine
it contextually, particularly in tandem with the ranking of statement
27 by these factors, it is quite clear how untenable such an assumption
and inaccurate such a conclusion would be.  Taken together, these
statements and their scores suggest that the two-part item 26 is
being read and understood differently by the persons on these three
factors.  Factor C is responding affirmatively to the first and
second sentences and, quite probably, the initial part of the third
in the entire expression.  Factor A, by way of contrast, is most
certainly discounting the initial sentence by accenting the third,
especially the final part that pulls the critical punch delivered
in the opening line.  Hence it is that relativity of meaning, so
problematic for investigators armed with questionnaires and scales,
is acknowledged and addressed in the course of Q-studies.  In any
case, the depths of indignation with this book on the part of C
are captured pretty clearly in the contents of statement 27:  In
the eyes of these readers, Waller's romance is not simply a case
of a commercial jackpot for a poorly written yet shrewdly packaged
but ultimately harmless little fantasy of unrequited love.  It is
a deplorable book principally because its implicit messages --
about feminine ideals, about marital fidelity, about the nature of
romance and honest intimacy between men and women -- are neither 
harmless nor wholesome.  On the contrary, this viewpoint finds
Waller striking a chord with a vast segment of the fiction-reading
public by serving up what is, beneath the veil of New Age, quasi-
mystical talk of peregrines, Dimenzion Z and the like, a rather
stale, reactionary recipe of sexist malarky.  Finally, our third
factor exceeds the others in the extent to which it finds in all
of this suspicious signs of a commercial calculus in Waller's choice
of middle-aged lovers for the chief characters:

 0  0 +2  (9) The ages of the star-crossed lovers--older than is
          typical for this fare--made me a little suspicious.  Was
          this written with a target audience in mind, namely, a
          vast cohort of baby boomers now approaching fifty? (-2)
Factor D: "A Hallmark Card for Unrequited Love"

     The fourth and final stance taken toward Waller's novel is defined
by the purely loaded Q-sorts of only 3 of our 58 readers and so, to the
extent that our modest sample is representative of the huge readership
for this book, it would seem that its particular take on the reading
experience may not be all that widely shared.  Given the nonrandom com-
position of our reader sample, however, caution is in order in enter-
taining speculation of this sort.  To reiterate, our factors constitute
varieties of the reading experience for this book, and our concern is
to understand them as rival patterns of subjectivity vis-a-vis the same
literary stimulus.  Our interest is in the understandings themselves
and not in the question of how many readers in precisely what propor-
tions subscribe to each of the four.  Accordingly, ackowledging that
our fourth mode of responding to BOMC is, as a statistical aggregate,
built from the Q-sorts of only three readers is not to suggest that
this understanding is any less meaningful, coherent or important than
are the other three.  In fact, Factor D's version of the story strikes
us as every bit as compelling and coherent (in its own terms, of course)
as its more populous counterparts.

     Factor D readers can generally be said to have liked the book.
In this respect, they are closer in overall appraisal of the novel 
to Factor A and B (though less so to the latter) than to the highly
indignant and critical Factor C.  Even so, there are important dif-
ferences in the way the story is construed -- and appreciated --
by those whose surface, global assessments are favorable.  Recall
that Factor A readers were literally swept away by the story, having
been drawn in by deep attachment to and identification with the
characters.  While persons on Factor B enjoyed reading BOMC, their
pleasure was, in a sense, of a lesser order of magnitude than that
of the deeply moving romantic experience enjoyed by Factor A readers.
To B, the experience was pleasant enough but much more removed
(in psychological terms) and reserved than for A, leading those on
Factor B basically to muse out loud, so to speak, on the mysterious
nature of Factor A's deeply romantic reaction to the story and
especially the characters.  In Factor D we find yet another mix
of generally positive sentiments the configurative character of
which adds further testimony to the relevance of convergent selec-
tivity in understanding literary response.  Consider the three
statements receiving a +4 score in the composite Q-sort for Factor
D.  (The scores appearing in parentheses following the items are,
again to facilitate comparisons, from Factors A, B, and C respec-

  +4   (13) The way the author introduced the story, I found myself
       believing that it was all true, that Francesca and Robert
       were real people and Waller was sharing their story with
       the world for the first time. (+1, +2, -3)

  +4   (14) One reviewer tabbed this novel as "Hallmark card for
       all those who have loved and lost."  I suppose I'd have to
       agree: it's a sweet, though very trite, little love story.
       (-1, +1, +1)

  +4   (34) I see this less as a love story than as an account of
       Francesca's choice in the face of a classic moral dilemma:
       whether to honor her commitment to her husband and children
       or selfishly give in to impulse.  What makes her such an
       admirable character is that she made the correct--and more
       difficult--choice.  (+1, -2, -2)

Not only do these three statements appear together under the most
extreme "agree with" column for Factor D; in so doing, they rather
stikingly distinguish D from the other factors.  Factor D's liking
of the story can be seen to stem, in substantial measure, from the
way in which Waller frames the story.  More so than the readers
from the rival accounts, Factor D readers are willing to concede
that they found themselves thinking that this was quite possibly a
true rather than fictionalized account based on the way the book
is introduced.  Even so, these readers do not find themselves 
being drawn in and caught up in the romance in the same fashion
as Factor A readers. In fact, BOMC is not principally a story of
romance at all, but an account of "Francesca's choice" in deciding
to do what, from the vantage point of this factor, is the right 
thing in remaining in Iowa with her spouse and family.  As a romance,
the novel is on the order of a "Hallmark card" in quality: sweet
but clearly unexceptional.  The -4 ranking of statement 10, cited
earlier in connection with Factor A's celebration of the story's
honesty, truth and beauty, offers an instructive accent to the
message in statement 14:  what Robert and Francesca found in one
another, for the period of four days, is hardly deserving to be 
treated as the stuff of a timeless, lasting romance "for the ages."

     There is thus a tone of skepticism in the voice of Factor D
as it reflects upon the plausibility of what is has read.  And
even in its self-presentation, Factor D makes it plain that it
does not check its critical capacities at the door in reading
fiction.  Nor does it complete a novel and think no more about
what was written.  Statement 2, cited above in connection with B's
reluctance or inability to mount a critical-reflective exercise
in the wake of its reading of BOMC, earns a -3 score for D, showing
thereby the willingness of these readers to invoke critical re-
flection as part of entertainment reading.  Statement 29 extends
these sentiments, revealing as well the pride that Factor D
readers take in reaching their own judgments on such matters
quite apart from the influence of so-called experts.

   +3  (29) Okay, so this isn't a landmark in literary achieve-
       ment.  What so-called literary critics say about it, pro
       or con, is merely opinion passed off as expertise any way.
       Frankly, what critics do or don't like about it is of no
       interest to me. (0, +1, 0)

     So, if these are readers whose self-presentations suggest that
they are not about to have the wool pulled over their eyes, or be
taken in by an implausible story-line, what is it that trips their
critical trigger in Mr. Waller's romance?  For the most part, it is
Francesca herself that for Factor D is key.  Whereas Kincaid is
considered to be a credible, though unusual, character for the male
lead (see above discussion and scores for statement 11), the same
cannot be said for the heroine:

   +2  (23) Francesca's attraction to Kincaid is described in such
       mystical, soul-partner terms.  But might she have been fooled?
       I mean, she could simply have been lonely and bored, both 
       with married life and with life on the farm. (-1, 0, +1)
   +3  (12) Waller's depiction of Francesca's annual ritual commemo-
       rating her affair--with the cigarettes, love letter, brandy,
       photos and all--struck me as more sordid or perverse than as
       tender or loving. (-2, -1, 0)

To these readers, then, Francesca's behavior raises questions about
the purity of her motives and the soundness of her judgment in entering
into the affair in the first place.  Moreover, despite the fact that
Francesca's decision to say goodbye to Kincaid and remain in Iowa was
the proper one for these readers, her compulsive reenactment of the
initial scene of seduction is, in the absence of sufficient attention
to defining elements of Mrs. Johnson's internal make-up, enough to
raise serious questions about her emotional equilibrium and possibly
even her sanity.  In follow-up interviews with two of three persons
whose sorts were purely saturated on Factor D, both of whom happened
to be grandparents, unsolicited reference was made to the sacredness
of the marriage vows and sorrowful fact that such vows are so frequently
forsaken in our society.  Not that divorce is always wrong or that
extramarital affairs are always inexcusable; at issue here is not an
inflexible, intolerant morality based on adherence to moral absolutes.
Instead, the impression left by these readers is rather more accurately
referred to as allegiance to old-fashioned "traditional values" that
are too often and too willy-nilly discarded at the first temptation in
our culture. And these readers are not entirely convinced that Francesca
is entitled to the reader's admiration for her role in the affair,
short-lived though it may have been.(7)

                        Consensual Assessments

     Taken in their entirety, these findings speak to the wisdom of a
key premise of reader response approaches to literary criticism:  Clearly,
at least in the case at hand, not all readers are experiencing quite the
same thing in reading the same piece of fiction.  From accounts furnished
in the form of Q-sort representations, four principal and very different 
versions of the same story have been discovered.  And it is worth reitera-
ting that these four "stories," themselves generalized representations
of 58 different readers' experience, are sufficiently robust to qualify
as statistically significant approximations of the actual reading experience
of 50 of those readers.  Having drawn attention to the important differences
that define these accounts, it is of interest to note before concluding
our treatment of factor scores two items which earned consensus rankings
across the four factors.

 A  B  C  D
+2 +4 +3 +2   (31) In all honesty, the book's brevity has to be ranked
              high among its virtues.  Waller took few long detours,
              stuck pretty close to basics, and was not overly anxious
              to impress with stylized prose.  It was a quick read, and
              that I liked.

-3 -3 -2 -4   (30) The writer's technique and style--the movement back
              and forth in time, for example--made it hard to get into
              the story.

That there is agreement of this nature and magnitude embedded among 
viewpoints that in other respects show scant signs of consensus may
point to a piece of the puzzle in explaining the book's vast commercial
success.  Notwithstanding sharp differences in appraisals of the book's
literary merit, readers appear to share a "hedonic calculus" in con-
nection with the time and energy required to complete the book.  Viewing
the reader-text relationship as analogous to an interpersonal one,
BOMC is an undemanding Other, asking little of readers and, except 
for those with a Factor C sensibility, granting a measure of subjective
pleasure that is, on balance, a windfall given the minimal investment 
involved.  There may be more involved, to be sure, on the pleasure and
play side than such cost-benefit considerations acknowledge, but an
obvious implication, mundane though it may be, is that BOMC's status
as a quick, non-taxing read has contributed in no small way to its
stature as a record bestseller. 

            Popular Romance from the Reader's Point of View:
                      A Bridge to a New Beginning

    What are we to make of these findings?  Viewed against the remarkably
mixed record of previous research, what (if anything) does this under-
taking contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of reader response
to popular romantic fiction?  And what, if anything do our findings suggest
by way of an explanation for BOMC's extraordinary popularity over the year
and one-half since it first appeared?  Formidable enough in their own right,
these questions comprise but the tip of the interpretive iceberg as chal-
lenges to critics interested in romance fiction as a class and BOMC as a
case.  By the same token, the four classes of experience delineated here
by our readers' response are themselves merely the tip of the hermeneutic
iceberg insofar as the deeper dynamics of literary response are concerned.
Such understatement, we recognize, will hardly be satisfying to readers
in seach of the secret to BOMC's vast commercial success.  Nor is it apt
to elicit much enthusiasm on the part of those looking for proof positive
on the question of whether romance reading is either a wholesome or a
harmful indulgence in its net effect on readers.  In light of the foregoing,
by way of illustration, can we conclude that the mere fact of BOMC's
popularity is grounds for profound cultural concern, given the thinly-
veiled and retrograde message it conveys about the alchemy of intimate
relationships between men and women in our age?  Indeed, we _could_
countenance such a conclusion _provided that_ we accept as privileged
the stance toward this novel taken by Factor C.  But we are not ourselves
presently prepared to do so.  While a host of recent critics have shown
no such reluctance, we are not convinced that the representation
that this stance accords to accounts other than its own is a fair
facsimile of subjectivity it does not share.  Certainly from its own
vantage point, Factor A would hardly endorse Factor C's regard for its
lack of literary taste in resonating so deeply to the story and 
characters of Waller's fiction.  The fundamental premise of this re-
search is that explorations of reader response should adopt the stand-
point of the reader and remain faithful to that standpoint to the 
fullest extent practicable.  The point, after all, is to understand
another's subjective experience, insofar as possible, from the other's
own frame of reference -- unencumbered (and hence uncontaminated) by
categories or valuations imposed on that experience externally by the
    When we look back on the dramatically equivocal record bequeathed
by literary critics of romance fiction, we ought not really be all 
that suprised.  As noted earlier, about the only common denominator
in all of it -- aside from an opening acknowledgment that readers'
understandings of what they read are essential to informed speculation
about, let alone explanation for, the genre's popularity -- is the 
practice of promoting the critic's own interpretation as privileged.
In consequence of inattention to the real readers' accounts of their
reading, is it really so alarming that the resulting accounts have 
arrived at such contradictory assessments?  To Mussell (1984), for
example, romance reading displays qualities of an addiction for women
who turn chronically to such works in search of escape from the con-
fines of subservient identities imposed by patriarchal culture.  The
irony is that in doing so, women readers are supplied with recipes
for romantic fulfillment laden with latent yet powerful messages that
Mussell sees as perpetuating the very limitations of feminine identity
from which women seek escape in the first place.  For Miner (1984),
in contrast, reading a romance offers women a route to empowerment,
affirming the female's nurturant qualities by telling a tale of triumph.
In the end, it is the hero who is vanquished, having been taught how 
to love by the only character capable of delivering such instruction:
the conquering heroine.  In our view, such antithetical assessments of
the cultural significance of the romance novel are themselves telling
on the importance of relativism in the reading experience.  Were Mussell
and Miner to serve as participants in our own project, we would expect
their Q-sorts to appear on different factors, with Mussell most likely
joining members of Factor C and Miner resonating to Factor A.  For our
purposes, however, a much more interesting possibility is posed by a
different question: What if Professors Mussell and Miner had prefaced 
their own readings of the "romance rohrschach" with an approach such
as that taken here?  Were they to have done so, we believe, they would
have likely found what we have found: that their own readings of the
romance and its psychocultural signfificance are but one of a series
of possible, and plausible, accounts that are culturally available;
and, in light of such hermeneutic variety, it is highly problematic
to proffer only one interpretation among many as legitimate.

  Our intent here is not to dismiss out of hand the kind of literary
criticism practiced by scholars such as Mussell and Miner.  Efforts
to explain the cultural signficance of popular literature, romantic
or otherwise, are of doubtless interest and entirely appropriate. In-
deed, it is fun to speculate on why such-and-such a book or class of
books is popular; whether framed in the high-brow sophistication of
scholarly discourse or in the colloquial lexicon of a friendly chat 
over coffee, the subjectivity at issue is, in some ways, the very staff
of life.  At the same time, however, there is a certain sense in which
the scholarly efforts to address romance reading and its psychocultural
wellsprings and effects are stalled out as no more more than a series
of provocative yet subjective assertions that are often very difficult
to document and even more difficult to refute.  In short, the current
dissarray within the scholarly literature on romances is in no small
measure due to either the outright neglect of real readers or, in cases
where readers are consulted, resort to research techniques ill-suited
to preserving the inherent subjectivity of a reading response.
In our view, if literary critics have an adiding interest (if not an
obligation) to raise questions about the broader cultural significance
of a particularly popular piece or class of reading material, they
are not entirely free of obligation to consider the alternative ways
that such material might be understood within the ranks of its readers.
It is within this context that we offered to cautionary remarks appear-
ing at the outset of this conclusion.  For, based on the foregoing re-
sults, we find ourselves now positioned, for all intents and purposes,
at the _beginning_ of a genuinely grounded attempt to locate  _The
Bridges of Madison County_ within the larger cultural landscape.  For-
tified by the four-fold pattern of interpretation and meaning supplied
in the response of our readers, that effort is in fact currently under-
way.  To close out this necessarily preliminary phase of our project,
while also illustrating lines of inquiry that subsequent research might
pursue, we conclude by referring to but one of the many possible themes
and issues raised from the results reported above.
    Until recently, an unchalleged premise in the critical literature on
popular romances was that the women readers who are drawn to such fiction
are drawn into their narratives by virtue of identifying with the lead
female character -- that is, the heroine -- in the story.  That women 
readers would put themselves in the place of the leading woman, seeing
themselves in her character and thereby experiencing affirmation for
qualities of their own which they see in the heroine, is taken as an
indisputable article of faith by all of the major analysts whose
treatments of the romance genre were reviewed at the outset of this
paper.  As a result, a good deal of the controversy surrounding the
psychocultural significance of the romance turns on the question of
what this identification with the heroine actually entails for readers.
Hence the conflict between Mussell and Miner, noted above, can be re-
duced in its essentials to contrasting constructions of this dynamic
-- with Mussell stressing the passive-submissive aspects of the
heroine's need for the hero, and Miner accenting the feisty-indepen-
dent qualities that the story's hero finds attractive in the heroine.
But the assumption common to both -- that readers are identifying
psychologically with the female lead -- has encountered strong challenge
of late from among those in a seemingly good position to know: the more
reputable writers of romantic fiction (Krentz, 1992; Barlow, 1992; Kin-
sale; 1992).  Developed most completely in an essay by Kinsale (1992),
entitled, "The Androgynous Reader: Point of View in the Romance," the
argument entails more than a debunking of the conventional wisdom that
women readers most certainly identify with women characters.  To Kinsale,
herself a celebrated, best-selling author of several historical romances,
not only are Radway, Mussell, Miner and Modleski all wrong on this score;
they also fail to appreciate that in truly successful romantic fiction
it is always "that man that carries the book" (p. 36).  For support,
Kinsale cites results from a survey of readers (Thurston, 1987) in
which 70% expressed a desire to read "more stories written from the
hero's point of view."  Corroborating evidence included letters con-
taining the testimony of Kinsale's fans as well as her own experience
as a writer and reader of romances.  "Within the dynamics of reading a
romance, the female reader _is_ the hero, and also is the heroine-as-
object-of-the-hero's interest (the placeholder heroine).  The reader
very seldom _is_ the heroine in the sense meant by the term 'reader
identification.'  There is always an element of analytical distance"
(p. 32).  For Kinsale, "a novel that works, in which reader identifi-
cation takes place, is a methodical realization of elements of the
reader's innermost life."  Therefore, to a female reader "identifying
with a fictional hero is quite a different thing from wishing to be a 
real-life male or trying to control one, because this fictional man
is altogether within and part of the reader herself: a vigorous, 
living aspect of her personality.  He may be fictitious with regard
to genuine males (and only the most oblivious of women wouldn't know
it), but he exists nevertheless" (p. 37).

     What do our own findings suggest on this controversy surrounding
the dynamics of reader identification?  The issue seems most clearly
implicated in the sentiments of the predominantly female Factor A.
Recall this this deeply romantic account displayed clear signs of
identification by readers with the characters of _both_ Francesca and
Robert, while sharing with Factor D a particular affection for Kincaid
(see scores above for Statement 11).  Such a combination seems quite
consistent with Kinsale's position on this matter.  Moreover, it fits
the description she provides of the truly successful cases of romance
fiction: "[T]he reader does not typically _become_ the heroine in the
way she often _becomes_ the hero as she reads, although the closer she
moves toward spontaneously identifying with both hero and heroine the
more the rich and rewarding the romance is likely to be for her.  When
placeholder and reader identification merge, the experience of the 
story is utterly absorbing and vital; analytical distance recedes;
the book becomes, as Janice Radway (1984, p. 64) has suggested, 'not
merely the events of a courtship but _what it feels like_(emphasis
Radway's, pp. 35-36).  In this light, the difference between our
Factor A and Factor D readers can quite plausibly be traced to the
greater analytical distance maintained by the latter as a function
of Francesca's status for D as a placeholder rather than an object
of genuine identification.  (Recall that D had definite reservations
about the purity of Francesca's motives and the quality of her judg-
ment in entering into an extramarital affair with a virtual stranger.)
Kincaid's character does not elicit the same reservations for members
of D; indeed, he appears to engender the same kind of affection among
members of the fourth factor as those on the first.

    To draw attention to the compatibilities between our findings and
Kinsale's counter-intuitive claims on the dynamics of reader identifica-
tion is, to be sure, insufficient cause for considering this controversy
closed.  Even if it were, it would leave unaddressed an important aspect
of the matter raised by the presence of male readers in the case of BOMC.
Though still in the minority, male readers are nonetheless sufficiently
plentiful to raise questions about their inclinations, if indeed they
exist, to identify with the leading man in the story.  Is it a foregone
conclusion that male readers would find themselves identifying with 
Robert Kincaid in this romance?  In the absence of a good deal more
evidence on the question, we cannot be sure.  However, as an interim
assessment, drawn from still on-going interviews with persons representing
the four stances toward the novel, we think it feasible to consider
that the kind of cross-sexed identification which Kinsale observes for
women readers and male characters may well apply for men (albeit, of
course, in reverse).

   This possibility, it is important to note, is raised for us solely
through the comments of but one of the four male readers to be found
among the defining variates for Factor A.  By his own admission, Mr.
A (as we shall call him) identifies more closely with the character 
of Francesca than with Kincaid.  We cannot be sure at this point 
whether what our key informant considers "identification" is
not actually closer to Kinsale's "placeholding" -- denoting an ex-
perience of "riding along with" and/or partaking of the same actions
as opposed to _becoming_ and _feeling_ the character as oneself --
but it is clear that Francesca's experience becomes for him the gate-
way to a self-described "fantasy" level of enjoyment of the novel.
That Mr. A very much enjoyed this book is indicated by his membership
on Factor A.  Yet his own account of the "deep chord" the story struck
in him displays a measure of analytic detachment that seems almost
foreign to the warm sentimentality that permeates the feeling state
for the factor.  Be that as it may, his articulation of a "second-
order" interpretation for his own deeply romantic response strikes
us as authentic as well as insightful.  According to Mr. A, Francesca's
character is key because for him she shows that it is possible to,
in effect, have your cake and eat it too.  Through Francesca, one
taps into the fantasy (which A considers more common than most
married people are willing to admit), fueled in part by the near-
certain prospect that all persons will at some point experience at least
some unhappiness within marriage, there is an antidote available in
the form of a cost-free extramarital affair with an idealized romantic
partner.  For Mr. A, BOMC both fuels and feeds on the fantasy that
"somewhere out there is a true eternal love that you will stumble
upon sometime . . .  [And the affair] would be a quick one like this
. . . one that would not disrupt your normal living too much . . It
would allow you to meet an important need in having your one true love
affair, but spare you the lingering effects of oppressive guilt and
self-recrimination . . . since you resolve the moral dilemma by doing
the right thing.  You feel bad about it, but you resolve it all by
doing the responsible, moral thing in the end by staying with the
     Again, these are the thoughts of just one of more than thirty
people from among our sample of readers whose subjective reaction to
Waller's novel is clearly on the order of an affectionate, romantic
embrace.  And given our earlier cautions about treating as privileged
the interpretations of literature advanced by individual critics, we
are simply not prepared to claim that Mr. A speaks for others on his
factor, let alone those whose experience of this book is represented
by the other three factors.  Eventually, we expect, our extended inter-
views with key informants from all four factors will enable us to 
be less equivocal on the broader applicability, if any, of Mr. A's
own assessment of the wellsprings of Waller's romance.  In the interim,
claims to have solved the riddle posed by the immense appeal of this
romance are, accordingly, best viewed in a provisional, even skeptical
light.  In probing the popular romantic imagination for hypotheses
worthy of scrutiny, we can think of no better place to begin than 
with the experience of real readers.  And to the extent that Q metho-
dology affords a medium through which to arrive at naturalistic rep-
resentations of the reading experience, perhaps the present research
illustrates how this might be done.  Of course, if the ultimate goal
is to advance claims about the larger cultural meaning of a given
piece of popular fiction, work along the lines reported here can
stand only as a beginning.  But as a beginning focused on the kinds
of meaning drawn by different readers responding to the same work,
such an approach is a critical prerequisite to informed speculation
about psychocultural meaning in deeper and broader senses.  Having
made that beginning with reader responses to _The Bridges of Madison
County_, we find ourselves situated, with apologies for the metaphor,
at the foot of a bridge to cultural interpretation.  And before
crossing, it strikes us as worth remembering how we arrived at this
place and, consistent with the spirit and substance of a reader 
response approach, consult the very people whose maps of the reading
experience we have tried to follow.  In the course of doing so with
Mr. A, we have been supplied with a plausible suggestion on where
and how to build a bridge to cultural interpretation.  Pending the
same suggestions from other key informants, we conclude with the
comments of Mr. A:  "The appeal is tied to tapping into a basic
American myth about love and romance as well as how to satisfy
your needs and yet not change/give up what you already have . . .
There are some basic myths that all of us, or at least most of
us, share -- common fantasies, if you will.  And this is what 
Waller tapped into."     


1.  The volumes reviewed by Hovet all appeared in the period from 1982-
1984.  Nearly a decade later, these works still enjoy, with one excep-
tion perhaps, reputations as the foremost exemplars of literary criticism
for the popular romance genre.  See, for example, the ample reference
made to these volumes in the recent collection of essays devoted to
romantic fiction by Krentz (1992).

2.  While stereotypic characterizations of all popular romances as following
the same, well-worn recipe of plot elements and the like are no doubt over-
drawn, Barlow (1992) nonetheless maintains that "all romances share four
basic elements: a heroine, a hero, a conflict-ridden love story, and a
happily-ever-after ending" (p.47).  By their usual meanings, the last
two elements probably would not apply to the romance between Francesca
Johnson and Robert Kincaid.  As a story of unrequited love, BOMC does 
not end with the two lovers living happily ever after, together.  Nor
do Francesca and Robert undergo an extended, rather tension-filled
period in the brief duration of their time together; instead, their
attraction is almost instantaneous, mutual, and void of the kind of
conflict, doubt and tension found in the paperback series romances.
Radway (1984, Ch. 4) presents a distillation of thirteen common
plot elements in successful romance writing (drawn from her study of
voracious readers of the fare) and several seem variations of this
roller coaster quality in the relationship between the hero and heroine.
Again, these do not seem to apply in the BOMC case.  Finally, although
some readers of Waller's novel may argue this point, the heroine
Francesca seems quite a bit less feisty and independent than are
the leading ladies typically created.  There are other relatively
rare, if not totally unique, features that may distinguish BOMC
from run-of-the-mill romantic fare as well -- including the framing
device used to introduce the story, the unusual nature of the hero,
particularly his style of self-disclosure that, through Waller's
narration, gives more of the man's view of things -- but we leave
for others the task of sorting out their effect on the remarkable
reception accorded this book.

3.  The framing of the story as Waller's reconstruction of a real romance
between real people has left the impresssion among many readers (willing
to admit as much) that this was not a fictional account.  Confessions to
this effect were shared with us by a number of our readers and, as we
shall note, our respondents (like readers of romances more generally)
are on the whole very well read and highly educated.  Of course, the
droves of readers who have descended upon Madison County in search of 
Francesca Johnson's farm would hardly be doing so if convinced that
Francesca is only a fictional character.  Anecdotal evidence abounds on
the depths of disappointment and anger felt by readers thinking the
story was "real" upon their being informed that it was not.  And in
the defense of these readers, it should be noted that nowhere on the
cover or jacket for this book does the word "novel" appear.

4.  For fuller explications of the principles and procedures that dis-
tinguish Q methodology from the more conventional, positivistic approaches
to measurement of social-behavioral phenomena, see Stephenson (1953, 1967),
Brown (1980, 1986), and McKeown and Thomas (1988).
5.  Readers from Factor A were not the only ones convinced of the authenticity
of the story and the characters.  This was true also for Factor D.  Factor
B and C readers were apparently not confused on this matter.  As the
critical commentary on BOMC begins to accumulate, the issue of the book's
packaging as a nonfictional re-creation and the apparently sizeable fraction
of its readers who read it as such have received considerable discussion.
Salter (1993), for example, claims that it demonstrates how badly people
_want_ to believe in the truthfulness of the story as much as it signifies
the power of packaging.  It is also Salter's view that the "phenomenal
success of [BOMC] revaeals more about U.S. culture and character than 
you could pick up in four years of American studies at Harvard" (p. c6).

6.  The small number of male respondents coupled with the the diversity
the defines their response to the novel thus makes it difficult to sustain
any clear conclusions as to the effect of gender on reader response to the
novel.  Nonetheless, there are interesting trend lines regarding reader
sex and subjective response that are worthy of acknowledgment and close
attention as we are able to locate additional male respondents.  Comparing
mean loadings for men and women readers on all four factors, we see the

      Mean Factor Loadings                Men (n=13)  Women (n=45)
            Factor A                        .30        .47
            Factor B                        .19        .20
            Factor C                        .09       -.02
            Factor D                        .12        .08

T-tests gauging the probability of these differences all all shy of
conventional thresholds of significance (for reasons noted above);
still, it is possible to detect traces of evidence suggesting that
men and women are reading this novel in somewhat different, if
not completely distinct, ways.  When sex is treated as a dummy
variable (male coded as 0, female as 1), Factor A correlates with
sex at r= .20 (one-tailed p = .07) and Factor C with sex at -.16
(p =.10).  Obviously, reader sex is not explaining massive amounts
of variance in the reading/understanding process; yet there are
hints that women as a group are more apt to share the romantic
reading of Factor A while males are slightly more apt to resonate
to the critical reading of Factor C.  This latter observation is
subject to challenge, however, as we find that reader education
bears a robust relationship to Factor C as well (r = .27, p = .02),
raising the possibility that the bivariate association with gender
is spurious.  Finally, in the only other correlational piece of 
evidence to bear mention, reader age correlates with Factor D
at r = .20 (p = .06), a result that supports the interpretation
we shall supply this factor below.

7.  The resonance to "traditional values" in Factor D shows up in the
relative rankings given to statement 24 as well: "I'm fed up with all
these books about affairs.  Why can't we just have romance within marriage.
like it's supposed to be?"  Factor D's score for this statement was 0,
midpoint in the opinion continuum.  The scores given the same statement
by Factors A through C respectively, however, were -3, -4, -2.  Again,
factor scores for particular items are not viewed in isolation or in
absolute terms based on the rank value, but rather as pieces within a
larger mosaic of meaning, the pattern for which is revealed configuratively
and contextually. 


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