A Brief History of Bodice Rippers

blogdimenovelHello all & Happy Saturday! It’s still miserably hot & humid down here in Dixie Land, but I saw my first flock of pretty lemon yellow butterflies this morning, so the end is nigh. The end of Summer, I mean. No Doomsday prophecies here, folks. Just glad tidings about butterflies & a very brief history of the romance genre.

By the way, in case you’re curious about the yellow butterflies, harbingers of Autumn, they’re called Cloudless Sulphurs. These butterflies migrate South every year toward the end of hot weather. They don’t get in a big hurry & you may see a host of them as late as December in the South. My heart is gladdened every year when I see them floating gracefully through the air, because I know our days of miserably high temps are winding down.

Moving right along, let’s touch on the history of the romance genre, also known as bodice rippers. I’m not sure that I’ve actually read a book about a bodice being ripped, although chances are that I have at some point in time. Nowadays rape is basically a taboo subject for romance books. But back in the day when Sweet Savage Love, The Flame and the Flower and others of their ilk were published, it wasn’t uncommon for  a heroine to be taken against her will and thoroughly ravished by the hero before they fell in love and lived Happily Ever After. It seems likely that our sexy but male chauvinist heroes did rip a few bodices.

FYI: The Flame and the Flower, by Kathleen Woodiwiss, was the first single title romance published and sold as an original paperback in the US.

Mills and Boon, sold in the US by Harlequin Enterprises, published “category” romances and sold through direct marketing to readers as well as mass market outlets. These books were considered “escapist fiction” during the 1930s when they first appeared. Despite all of the old sayings about life back in the Good Old Days, if you stop and think about it, women didn’t have it all that good. They didn’t have most of our modern conveniences like dishwashers, microwaves or central heat and air. No wonder they wanted to escape!

But the history of the romance genre goes back further than the 1930s. Way back in 1740, a man named Samuel Richardson wrote and published a novel titled “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded.”

Pamela is a maidservant whose mistress dies and shortly afterwards, the young master begins trying to seduce or rape her. She manages to escape several of his predatory plots to deflower her and eventually realizes she’s in love with him and as he reciprocates her affections, they marry and live HEA. It sounds like an exciting story although a member of the gentry marrying so far beneath him stretches credibility.

In the 1830s, paperback books named “penny dreadfuls” were all the rage with Victorians. These were usually sensationalized, highly illustrated stories and were much loved by the citizenry of that era. Penny Dreadful romances were often shared and passed from hand to hand by female readers who would anxiously  await the next installment in the serial type novels.

In the 1890s, books called “dime novels” came into being. These covered several genres including cowboys, mystery and suspense, detective stories and romance.

From Samuel Richardson’s Pamela to Brontë’s Jayne Eyre, Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice and of course an old favorite written by E. M. Hull, The Sheik, (if you haven’t read this one you should) on up to famous romance novelists such as Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Jayne Ann Krentz and many others….romance books appeal to a broad segment of the population worldwide. It has been said that the romance genre is the most popular and least respected of all. This might well be true.

But we don’t care what anyone thinks about romance books, do we? If you’re like me and adore reading a good love story, not to worry about what some of the more highbrow people in your social circle might think. Romance novels are the most widely read of any, so you’re in good company if these books are your genre of choice.

Happy reading!

 

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