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Overall, I enjoyed this recent article in the Atlantic: Beyond Bodice Rippers: How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism.  But is this really news?

The article quotes Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels: “Bodice-rippers are typically set in the past, and the hero is a great deal older, more brutal, and more rapetastic than the heroine.”

I never did read any books like this when they were coming out in the 70s and early 80s, but I’ve read some recent reviews of such. Here’s one that had my eyes rolling back in my head.  Feel free to indulge your morbid curiosity if you wish: Purity’s Passion by Janette Seymour, a Review by Redheaded Girl.

purityspassion

As a child, I read my mother’s Regency romance novels. I only started reading longer, sexier historical romances when I followed authors like Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley and Loretta Chase as they moved to writing longer books. Except for being set in the past, there’s no resemblance between their historical romances and the description above. The romances I like have heroes and heroines who worked through their conflicts emerging as equals, despite a historical backdrop where gender roles were more rigidly defined.

srainbows

So maybe I missed something but it seems to me that the romance genre has been moving away from the abusive hero/submissive heroine setup for decades and it isn’t a “new generation” of writers who are inventing this.

I’m woefully ill-read—life has done that to me—so I haven’t read most of the books mentioned. Did I miss another shift? The article implies that the new feminist romances subvert the stereotype. Does this mean heroines can now be as selfish and abusive as the heroes used to be? Actually, I doubt it, knowing some of these authors.

So help me out.  Is something really changing in the genre or is it a continuation of the shift to strong heroines and more equal relationships that began decades ago? And did you ever read of those Bad Old Bodice Rippers? If so, what did you think?

Elena


Several weeks ago when I had the good fortune to join Risky Regencies, I prosed on forever about Regency heroes, fictional and those appearing on cover art (not to mention GB). It is time I spoke about Regency heroines.

When I conceive a story in my head it almost always starts with the hero. Heroes are so much easier for me. Apart from the obvious reason that I love to fantasize about dishy Regency guys, I think it is because the men in those times were able to lead such interesting lives, while the women had very few options, unless they were willing to risk social ostracism or give up on respectability altogether and live in the demimonde.

In some ways I love to explore women who were willing to risk being shamed (Morgana running a courtesan school in A Reputable Rake, for example; Emily gambling in The Wagering Widow; or even Maggie, a total imposter, in The Improper Wife ). I like even more to imagine what life would be like for those women outside of respectable society (Maddie, the ruined girl, in The Mysterious Miss M). My next Mills & Boon features a singer as the heroine, and in my next Warner–now called Hachette–the heroine is a con artist.

All of these heroines require a mindset quite different from today’s woman, and it is sometimes hard to find that point where the modern reader can identify with the Regency woman’s predicament. Why be afraid you are going to wind up a prostitute? the modern woman might say. Why not just get a job?

The reality was, the Regency woman could not just get a job. She had to have references, even for such lowly positions as house maid or shop girl. And once ruined, any respectable employment was denied her.

There are plenty of weak, victim-like Regency heroine stereotypes – governesses, servants of any sort, impoverished vicar’s daughters, ladies companions, abused wives – but I think today’s reader wants the heroine to be strong, not a victim. I truly believe there have been strong women in every era of history, certainly in the Regency as well. I like to explore how women of the time period rose above their constaints and refused to be victims.

You know what else? It is hard finding reasons for Regency heroines to engage in “intimacies” with those hunky Regency men. I think the Regency woman’s mindset about sex had to be quite different from our own. She’d worry about pregnancy each and every time, no doubt. No respectable man would want a society girl if she went and had sex with another guy first.

I’m rambling because I need to write proposals for my next two books and I don’t know who the heroines will be! My next Mills & Boon has a marquess for the hero and the next Hachette will be Wolfe’s story. I want to devise strong heroines for these two men, both of whom I know down to the birthmarks on their—
(nevermind)

So! What kind of Regency heroines do you all like the best? Which ones are you tired of? Do you want that sexy read or doesn’t it matter?

Cheers!
Diane

Posted in Reading, Regency, Writing | Tagged | 16 Replies

My post today is inspired by Elena’s topic yesterday about digging deeper into Prinnyland and it’s also something that’s been on my mind for a time. With no exceptions, everyone who wrote to me about Dedication said how much they liked the older hero/heroine—people seemed to love the idea of a pair of lovers who’d been around the block. And it got me thinking about how fiction treats the, ahem, older generation. The pic here is of the Wife of Bath. I’m not sure how old she was, but the average age during Chaucer’s time, thanks to warfare, the plague, and other rigors of medieval life, was in the early twenties. Aargh. Imagine a world where major decisions were made by fratboys.

First to Emma, where Mr. Woodhouse is described as being not old in years, but embracing the role of elderly hypochondriac with passion. Emma is twenty-one. So is my daughter. Mr. Woodhouse could be younger than me. Oh. My. God. (as we say in blogland). Now certainly, for women at that time, if by a certain age you hadn’t snapped up a husband, you threw in the towel, grabbed an unbecoming spinster’s cap and descended into middle age—just like Miss Bates. And, as I’ve mentioned before, Miss Bates could be the same age, or younger, than Mr. Knightley, who because he is male and rich is far above her on the status scale. Mr. Knightley’s single state is admired, not despised, because it’s seen as an act of generosity toward the nephew who will inherit his estate.

In Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford Miss Matty is described as an old lady. She is fifty-five. No comment. Again, she’s damned by gender, income and circumstances.

So how do older people fare in romance? As you’ve gathered by now I’m not that well read in the genre. I appreciate that we don’t want to read about sagging flesh, wrinkles, gray hair etc. etc. But Sean Connery gets just, well, hotter as he ages (note extraneous pic of Mr. Connery in his prime). I once pointed out to someone in a critique group that her heroine’s wise, loving, cookie-baking, homely mom came of age during Woodstock. (Was there a special ingredient in the cookies to provide the appropriate feelgood warmth of category romance?)

A big hand to my friend Stephanie Feagan whose heroine (named Pink) has a 50-something mom who sports sexy black bras and has trouble with her A/C—the A/C repairman visits. A lot.

Prinnyland, as I remember it, is full of gracious, loving matriarchs who obsess with planning their offsprings’ lavish weddings—strange in an age where most weddings took place in the drawing room and took about ten minutes as far as I can tell. Fathers are too often dead, or if alive, embarrassing (if not to the heroine, certainly to the reader) buffoons, who invariably have screwed up the family finances or have expensive and eccentric hobbies. There also seem to be far too many Lady Bracknell knock-offs. Please, set me straight. Tell me about the many, many exceptions. Where are the hot, older men? And hot, older women?

Oh, and my next book has a subplot featuring the hero’s widowed mom and her wild fling. Her eldest son is thirty. Do the math.

Janet

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