Thursday, March 7, 2013

Favorite Author and My Guest Today: Romance Icon and NY Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Blake - “In Defense of Bodice Ripper Romances”

Welcome, Jennifer, to my blog!  And to all those commenting: one lucky winner will receive Jennifer’s 2-book boxed eBook set, Royal Princes of Ruthenia, that contains Royal Seduction (a Bodice Ripper!) and Royal Passion, so be sure I have your email.

 And now from Jennifer:
   
My thanks to Regan for allowing me to take over her blog today. Having read a few of my romances that one could classify as “Bodice Rippers”—and she tells me, loved them—she asked me to do a post in defense of those romances that feature a forced seduction or semi-rape by the hero. Regan tells me there’s even a Goodreads group dedicated to finding the best ones. Somewhat reluctantly, for I know it can be a controversial subject, I offer the following:

Accepted wisdom in publishing since the 1940s has been that “Sex and violence sell.” This always held true in the mystery, suspense and thriller genres of the time, not to mention newspapers and magazines, but romance novels were the exception that proved the rule. That was until the 1970s and the advent of the “Bodice Rippers.”

Yet there was much more to these books than that cynical philosophy. They were stories that went deeper into the male-female sexual dynamic than any fiction had ever gone before.

The “Bodice Ripper” was perhaps established by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss with The Flame and the Flower in 1972, which by 1978 had sold 4.5 million copies. It was a direct descendent of the Gothic novels of the fifties and sixties in which the hero often figured as a nominal villain. It also owed a strong nod to stories of women’s free-spirited adventure such as Forever Amber by Kathleen Windsor. These were one-woman, one-man tales, which featured the development of a relationship from a difficult beginning.

Their basic theme was there is no “fate worse than death,” and that women were not devalued by forced seduction—a softer term than rape, the latter being a brutal assault not seen in the Woodiwiss books or the majority of “Bodice Rippers” written by others. They illustrated the essential truth that women can and do survive and triumph over a nonconsensual sexual initiation.

Rosemary Rogers, with her Sweet, Savage Love, put a different spin on the genre by providing the heroine with multiple lovers and a more turbulent story. The basic theme of the Rogers type of historical romance was the ability of women to survive against all odds, while bringing the men who wronged them to their knees.

To truly understand the genre in the early days, however, you have to remember they were written for a different generation, for women knee-deep in the feminist and sexual revolutions. For those born in the 1920s through the 1950s, the idea that women had a right to sexual pleasure both in and out of the marriage bed was a shiny new concept. The age-old “burden of consent" was very real, and its removal—at least in fiction—seen as a positive relief. These women understood, in a way that's obscure to the present generation, that the heroine's silent sensual pleasure in her first sexual experience was actually her victory.

Added to that, the forced seduction scenario presented the greatest possible obstacle to the traditional HEA (Happily Ever After) of romance that has ever been invented. A distinct part of it was that the hero had to atone for his act toward the heroine. (Regan uses the word “grovel.”) Toward that end, he suffered direct physical pain as punishment, becoming a surrogate for every man who ever wronged a woman. He often lost the heroine after he'd come to love her and was forced to desperate lengths to find and be reunited with her. His impassioned declaration at the end of the book signaled his complete surrender to her as a mirror of her initial surrender to him.

That these books have been devoured by millions upon million of women all over the world indicates something profound about how they were viewed at the time, and are still valued today.

A charge often leveled against the stories was that their heroines are too passive, too easily accepting of what happened to them. Yet how strange it would be to make every detail accurately reflect historical times but give the female characters unlikely modern attitudes. The hard truth is that a woman who had sex without marriage during the patriarchal period was “damaged goods,” a creature fallen from grace regardless of the circumstances. She often had no choice except to accept her situation. 

In my first historical romance, Love’s Wild Desire, the heroine Catherine, who is really a strong woman, is convinced by her mother and the censure of society that her only option is to accept the offer of the man who took her innocence.

Melanie in Tender Betrayal also accepts an honorable proposal, but her motive is private and personal revenge for both the hero’s act toward and his part in the death of her grandfather.
In Royal Seduction, book 1 of the “Royal Princes of Ruthenia” duo, Angeline’s family abandons her to the tender mercies of Prince Rolfe who holds her captive.

Eleanora, heroine of The Notorious Angel, is stranded in war-torn Central America, and remains the mistress of Colonel Grant Farrell because the alternative is to become a camp follower left prey to all.


Julia from The Storm and the Splendor accepts her position because it’s the only way she can achieve her dream and return home again.
In these Bodice Ripper stories, for the heroine to make the best of what was happening to her, at least on the surface, was the intelligent course; to fight it tooth and nail would have been exhausting and even dangerous. The heroine who could enjoy sex while keeping her deeper responses and emotions hidden actually had the upper hand; beyond maintaining her pride, she became that ultimate fantasy figure, a woman able to arouse a desire so powerful the hero would go to any lengths to have her. Meanwhile, her grace under fire, new-found internal strength and inviolate personal honor changed him. At the point where she began to feel she cared too much, she usually escaped from the relationship, even at grave risk. 

Cases in point are Embrace and Conquer, in which Félicité escapes Morgan only to wind up in a pirate stronghold, and Golden Fancy where Serena is left vulnerable to a madman who kills women.

The popularity of this type of fiction waned in time, done in by those who were so uncomfortable with the idea of feminine pleasure they labeled it “soft porn for women,” as well as those who considered any sexual event that occurred without the women’s enthusiastic shouts of “Yes, yes, yes!” as a heinous crime. Then, too, there was a declining interest of authors in the stories as the plot device became a cliché through overuse. Still, like a secret love child that spawned a new family dynasty, this much-reviled offshoot of the romance genre lives on in the bloodlines of today’s romance novels. And, Regan tells me she loves my stories that fall into this category.

What happened to those classic “Bodice Rippers” from the seventies and eighties? They are still out there, still being reprinted for a new audience, still being downloaded and read by hundreds of thousands. They seem to have an eternal life, proof positive that however much we may deplore it in the 21st Century, sex and violence still sells, at least when combined with a worthy heroine and a growing love on the part of the hero. So, too, persists the exploration of the sensual lives of women.

25 comments:

  1. This wonderful blog reminds me of "Dangerous Men and Adventurous Woman," which was written to portray Romance as a viable form of entertainment. Not to play the 'it was different then'card but it WAS different then. Put a woman's name on the cover of historical fiction and you automatically had "romance" generally with the appellation of 'bodice ripper' and 'near rape' Put a man's name on the cover, add in some rape scenes for titillation and you had a 'well researched look into the lives of the people of that time.'
    I think far too many of the negative comments came from, and come from, those writers upset by the juggernaut of Romance and they take every opportunity to denigrate some excellent writing.
    Thank you, Jennifer, for leading the way and continuing to hold the line with well written sexy books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree with you, Mona. Many thanks for the comparison to Jayne and the other authors of "Dangerous Men, etc." that's grand company indeed!

      Delete
  2. Hey Regan - thanks for hosting Jennifer Blake on your awesome blog today.

    This is a hot topic, and I'm glad to see the discussion.

    I enjoyed reading your post, Jennifer. Sex and violence sells - no two ways about it. I loved the examples you used.

    Great post,
    Paula Millhouse

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks much, Paula. I appreciate Regan's giving me this opportunity to sound off. More frank discussion might be beneficial in light of the effect the "50 Shades" books have had on the romance industry.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for stopping by Paula and for letting Jennifer know you liked the post.

      Delete
  3. Great blog, thanks Regan and Jennifer. I did not know, having never read one, the reasoning behind bodice rippers. I much appreciate the insights.

    RW Richard

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for tuning in, Bob, and let me suggest if you don't win the 2-book set, you might get one of those on the list I posted Monday that were marked "*" as bodice rippers by Jennifer. Her romances are amazing...so well written and researched.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  5. It's often seemed in the past that critics never realized there WAS reasoning behind them. I'm more than pleased that you take my points. Thanks for the comment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this post of yours, Jennifer, was a "reply" to RW Richard...no worries. I can let him know. He's in my local RWA chapter.

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This was a wonderful blog that gives very insightful reasoning behind what I hate calling thes novels "bodice-rippers." I understand the whys, just have always disliked that term. I think the reason why so many women and people in general look down upon this genre is that they don't understand the times in which the novels take place. We couldn't imagine not being allowed to walk alone with a man or go shopping without an escort. If people took the time to understand the mores of the Regency society, lets say, they would understand why women are portrayed as they are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very thoughtful comment, Nancy, and I'm so glad you stopped by!

      Delete
    2. Glad you found something worthwhile in it, Nancy. Unfortunately, it's easier to criticize than to study historical time periods, or even to think about them in a constructive way. I sometimes wonder why readers choose historical if they want modern mores in them.

      Delete
    3. Well said Ms Blake! I often wonder, where has the 'historical' part in the historical romances of today gone. All the characters (male or female, young and old) feel, sound and behave like 21st c. people (and not very interesting at that). Even the pets sound (bark, neigh, meow) 21st c. . End of rant.
      Marvellous article, btw.

      Delete
  8. Dear Jennifer, thans for this great blog. There are two things that really annoy me: First at all, I do not understand people who buy a Bodice Ripper at Amanzon and than complain that they have read a Bodice Ripper. I think it is sad that they cannot read a book under consideration of the time and environment it was written. The second thing that annoys me are publishers changing the beautiful original covers into something with flowers.

    Bodice Rippers are the kind of romance our mothers and grandmothers have read and I do not see what is wrong with that.
    Nicole F.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ditto, to both comments! Thanks much for dropping by.

      Delete
    2. agree completely! I just want to add one thing to that list. I hate when the original is made PC in the reprint or when it is digitized. The original was perfect the 1st time.

      Delete
  9. Thanks, Jennifer for appearing on my blog and providing us with insights into this approach to historical romance. I love your books!

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  12. When I read one of these "bodice ripper" books they feel more real to the times then some of the fluff that is written today. I love the historical romance genre all of it but I do prefer it to reflect those times then to have it sweetened for sensitive readers because then it is a modern book with a historical setting.

    Thank you for all your wonderful books, I have read many and loved them all. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. The point of a romance novel is arousal. Let's not dance around the issue, romance novels are to women what Playboy is to men. There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to get turned on in the privacy of their own bedroom, and if romance novels help you do that, then no one has the right to criticize their content. We're talking about fiction here, not reality - simple imagination, fantasy designed to arouse. Everyone has a right to fantasize about whatever turns them on, and since the "forced seduction" fantasy does just that for so many women, why on earth should they be ashamed of it, or intimidated by those who don't share their taste? No one is being hurt here - and if fantasizing about having one's clothes ripped off and being overpowered by a handsome stranger turns you on, it's nobody's business but your own - and self-riotous critics can go to hell.

    ReplyDelete