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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.


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.


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?


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—

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?


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.


There were four-and-twenty virgins come down from Inverness

And when the night was ended there were four-and-twenty less…
trad. rude song
As long as the plots keep arriving from outer space,
I’ll go on with my virgins.
Barbara Cartland
This topic started off as a conversation with my buddy Pam Rosenthal as part of our meanderings on our workshop at the 2006 Beau Monde Conference. (Yes, the workshop is called Pam and Janet Evening. It’s on writing erotic historicals.)
A dime a dozen in romance-land.
Granted, they were around. Virginity was by implication an important part of the business deal that upper-class marriage was even in the Regency period–the groom wanted to be sure that his heirs would truly be his, and not the in-laws’ third footman’s. Yet we still have extraordinary plot twists to ensure that the heroine is untouched when the Big Bang occurs–virgin widows, husbands who had to rush off to take part in Waterloo (sorry, honey, not before the big game), couples who didn’t want to marry and so therefore didn’t want to…you know. Or the hero turns out to be her first and last, with diversions in between (guilty as charged). And not just in historicals, where the concept of a virgin heroine is justified, but all through the genre.
Consider also the typical defloration/consummation, where after some minor carnage, the heroine gets to Nirvana with very little effort (and snorts of disbelief from me)…and despite the bloodbath, they keep doing it. Or, we’re told, if she has had previous partners, there (1) weren’t many, and (2) it wasn’t that good, so therefore she holds blank slate status.
Yes, I know these are huge overstatements and I can come up with exceptions too, but why do these conventions exist? Is it the only way we can show that this is IT, the Real Thing, the Big Banana?
Despite the boom in erotic romance and erotica, why are we still so wary of a true depiction of female sexuality?
Thoughts, anyone?

A few days ago, I was having dinner with some friends who are also Janeites, and we talked about the Jane Austen movies. Specifically, the Pride and Prejudices–1995 and 2005. One of my male friends made the comment that the ’95 Lizzy was obviously much prettier than Jane, thereby making the fact that everyone considered Jane the “famous local beauty” puzzling (an argument I’ve heard before). To modern eyes this is probably true–Jennifer Ehle is quite lovely, maybe more obviously so than Susannah Harker. But I do think Ms. Harker was a good choice for the part. She has very “classical” looks that would have appealed in the Regency period (she looks almost like a Grecian statue). Plus I thought she captured Jane’s serenity and sweetness (and slight dimwitedness) well.

In the 2005 P&P, it is more obvious. Rosamund Pike is so angelically pretty that it’s clear why she was so acclaimed in the neighborhood. Keira Knightley is also stunning (she was recently on the cover of Vogue twice within four months!), but in a more contemporary, angular way. It’s easy to see why she would capture Darcy’s fascination, but also why she was slightly overshadowed by her sister.

It’s so fascinating how each period has its own concept of “beauty,” and how and why those ideas change and evolve. I recently read a thesis that said “beautiful” equates with whatever is high maintenance. I.e., in the Renaissance, when food was scare and most people worked outdoors, “zaftig” and pale was In. Now, very slender and tan is in, when it costs money and time to join a gym and buy bronzer to combat our office-bred pallor and softness. Of course, there are always a few women who transcend whatever the fashion is and make their own style of beauty. And there are many (like myself) who will never be happy with their looks, and yet always will be searching the cosmetics counters for that “miracle in a jar.”

Here are a few quotes I found concerning women of the Regency who were renowned, in one way or another, for their style:

Lord Byron on Lady Caroline Lamb (who had a very “modern”, Keira Knightley-style beauty, being very slim and elfin): “The lady had scarcely any personal attractions to recommend her” and her figure “was too thin to be good” (from Benita Eisler’s “Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame”

A Swedish diplomat on Emma Hamilton (seen in the portrait above): “she was the fattest woman I’ve ever laid eyes on, but with the most beautiful head”
And Lord Fitzharris: she is “without exception the most coarse, ill-mannered, disagreeable woman I’ve ever met”
An Anonymous observer: “She is indeed a Whapper: and I think her manner very vulgar”
(from David Howarth’s “Lord Nelson: The Immortal Memory”)

Madame de Remusant on Josephine Bonaparte: “her limbs were supple and delicate, all her movements easy and elegant”
Another Anonymous: “young and charming face, surrounded by a profusion of light hair, with a pair of large dark-blue eyes, and exhibiting altogether the image of the most graceful of sylphs”
(from “Josephine: A Life of the Empress” by Carolly Erickson)
Napoleon about Josephine: “…full of graceful charm–a woman in the fullest meaning of the term” (from Evangeline Bruce’s “Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage”)

Mary Tickell (Sheridan’s sister-in-law) on Dora Jordan: “little she is and yet not insignificant in her figure, which, though short, has a certain roundness…which is very graceful”
Harriet Bessborough: “she is terribly Large, but her voice and acting still delightful”
And Leigh Hunt: “she was neither beautiful, nor handsome, nor even pretty, nor accomplished, nor a lady, yet was so pleasant, cordial, so natural…had such a shapely leg withal..that she appeared something superior to all those requirements of acceptability”

And Lady Spencer, her mother, on Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, one of the most famous beauties of her day: “Without being very handsome or having a single good feature in her face, she is one of the most showy girls I ever saw” (thanks, Mom)
Horace Walpole: “without being a beauty; but her youth, figure, flowing good nature, sense and lively modesty make her a phenomenon.”
(from Amada Foreman’s “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”)

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