In 1972, Avon Books published “The Flame and the Flower,” by Kathleen Woodiwiss — a hefty historical romance that traded chastity for steamy sex scenes. It arrived in the thick of the sexual revolution, and readers loved it: It was an instant bestseller that’s credited with birthing the modern romance genre.Here, a dozen people — authors, editors, agents, cover artists and one mononymous male model — recount how the modern romance industry came together and took off.
A genre is a category of artistic composition such as writing. Historical romance is a popular genre that has been the mainstream of romance novels for many years. It’s a broad category of fiction set in various centuries, which was first popularized as early as the nineteenth century by Walter Scott who wrote such books as Ivanhoe.
The genre’s popularity started with a flame, which over the years flickered into near obscurity. Articles were being published asking if the genre was dying a slow death, when it once dominated the market. Recently, interest in the genre has been refueled because of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series on Netfix. I’m happy to report its given the genre a resurgence of popularity, although not as many bodices are being ripped as in the past.
In today’s modern era of writing, historical romance can be categorized from the ancient world up to 1950 (per Romance Writers of America). A few of the favorite time periods on bookshelves are:
- Medieval Period
- Viking Age
- 17th Century, including:
- Scottish Highlands
- American Eras, including:
- Colonial America
- Civil War
- Georgian Era
- Regency Era
- Victorian England
- Early 20th Century up to WW2, including:
- Edwardian Era
- Roaring Twenties
- 1930s and 1940s forties.
During the 1970s, the genre took off and was affectionately known as the “bodice ripper” years, which led to mass-market paperbacks.
Kathleen Woodwiss’s historical romance, The Flame and the Flower, published in 1972, literally set the genre on fire, followed by steamy romance covers of domineering men and women melting at their touch. Today The Flame and the Flower might raise eyebrows with readers because there are scenes of non-consensual sex and captivity. It was the time of book covers displaying scantly dressed Fabio, along with women in dresses that fell off their shoulders. The covers were an art form from mainstream publishers. Today those covers would throw you into what’s called the “erotica dungeon” on Amazon and make advertising on Facebook impossible because of guideline violations.
Since that time, the genre has remained relatively the same until recently. The onset of the me-too movement has begun to change some weak-willed, easily seduced female characters into spunky and spirited ladies. In addition, the publishing world has called for more diversity in authors and stories, which is long overdue. Readers do not seem to mind these changes even though there may be a deviation from the norm of the time period.
There are many well-known traditionally published authors in the twenty-first-century, such as Mary Jo Putney, Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Sabrina Jeffries, Tessa Dare, and Julia Quinn, just to name a handful. In addition, there are quite a few independently published authors in the genre who are making a name for themselves on the Amazon best-selling charts.
Historical romance immerses readers into different centuries. They are a great way to learn and enjoy history, especially if it was not your favorite subject in school. I like to think it is a welcome change from contemporary romance and problems that we deal with day-to-day. It gives us an opportunity to live vicariously in other time periods, with different values, ways of courtship, and lifestyle.
Yes, authors do romanticize centuries that were fraught with their own challenges. Nevertheless, a knight in shining armor, a Scottish highlander, or a duke to sweep us off our feet and make ravishing love to us might be just what you need to get your mind off twenty-first-century challenges and recent woes.
Enjoy your next historical romance novel! Take your choice of a brawny Viking, kilted Highlander, English aristocrat, a handsome military man, or a cowboy on the wild west plains of America. It’s a world of romance, waiting just for you.
What’s so great about Regency romances anyway?
Another interesting article – Blame Jane! “The lack of realistic options for writing interesting heroines is where the Regency loses a lot of authors. The choice can feel stuck between anachronism—planting a modern sensibility into an historic setting—and gender politics that leave modern readers cold.”
An in-depth article on what makes a rake in historical romance books.
One thing positive about Bridgerton, it may give the historical romance genre new readership.
If you need a few good rakish reads, below are some suggestions.
Today, a rake is common archetype for the witty hero of a historical romance novel—hence why the word appears in so many titles. Explains why Simon is the ultimate “lovable scoundrel.”
Another article. What do you think? The debate continues. Frankly, I think it’s come to a point that it needs a bit of rejuvenation on many levels. For me, it’s more than a love story – it’s a life story. I love historical romance because I love reading about lives in the Regency and Victorian eras.
Are you bored with HR? What do you think is needed to spice it up?
Here is the article below.
|Goddess Fish Virtual Book Tours|
Holly Bush was born in western Pennsylvania to two avid readers. There was not a room in her home that did not hold a full bookcase. She worked in the hospitality industry, owning a restaurant for twenty years and recently worked as the sales and marketing director in the hospitality/tourism industry and is credited with building traffic to capacity for a local farm tour, bringing guests from twenty-two states, booked two years out. Holly has been a marketing consultant to start-up businesses and has done public speaking on the subject.
Holly has been writing all of her life and is a voracious reader of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, particularly political and historical works. She has written four romance novels, all set in the U.S. West in the mid-1800’s. She frequently attends writing conferences and has always been a member of a writer’s group.
Holly is a gardener, a news junkie has been an active member of her local library board and loves to spend time near the ocean. She is the proud mother of two daughters and the wife of a man more than a few years her junior.
What a loaded question that happened to be on the Internet today. A blog post was contributed by Jane Litte, the founder of Dear Author entitled, “We Should Let the Historical Romance Genre Die.” A flash flood of comments were posted either agreeing or rebutting the idea. The article was re-posted on one of my favorite sites, The Passive Voice, which generated many comments as well. It was a hot topic between readers and writers whether our Mr. Darcy-type characters are doomed to fade away into the distant past.
I commented on The Passive Voice that I don’t think the genre will ever really die, though the interest may wane because of the current trends in the marketplace. The vampire rage has paled, being replaced by the kinky millionaires and sex slaves in the bedchamber. Perhaps one day readers will want to return to the good old days for a bit of swashbuckling romance. I think new generations who fall in love with Austen’s work will want to read Regency-era stories. Of course, that genre is a bit cleaner than the 21st century, unless we start tying up and spanking Mr. Darcy for pleasure.
Frankly, authors need to make their stories more interesting, reach out to those readers who want that type of novel. Keeping a genre alive is a responsibility of not only a reader, but the author as well, who should have the incentive and imagination to bring a new flavor. If the target audience is getting bored, there must be reason behind it. Perhaps authors are just churning out too many cookie-cutter stories with not enough emotional impact to keep readers interested.
I had an after thought, too, that historical romance is no easy gig for any author. It’s one thing to write contemporary romance, sprinkled with a bit of research. It’s entirely another daunting job to jump into a historical era and learn all about the speech, customs, dress, beliefs, and attitudes of the day. Without research, historical romance is bland and just a story. You can also get crucified in reviews from staunch protectors of the faith if you dare to vary from the historical norm. I don’t mind research, because I want to develop my characters in their true surrounding. After all, some of the research is interesting! I always thought French letters were just that — letters. Little did I know…
Well, I assume that in a few days another controversial post will pop up somewhere in blog land. In the meantime, what do you think? Is the historical romance genre dying a slow death? If so, what can we do to spice things up a bit, without making it raunchy in content?
I’ll leave with you another wonderful photo of a period dress to ponder upon while you’re thinking of your answer. I think women must have felt so feminine and beautiful. Believe me, my jeans and sneakers just don’t do the trick.
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
|Purple wool, velvet and lace two-piece Worth dress, c. 1890|