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.
Historical romance covers can be beautiful artwork. I’ve seen some that take my breath away. When you look at the older covers from the bodice-ripping days, there are three major poses that come to mind. These are still, for the most part, on our twenty-first-century historical romance book covers. If it’s not the poses of the hero and heroine together, it’s usually the flowing dress of a single female character. Nevertheless, have a bit of a chuckle with me as we look at these rather awkward positions.
The Back Strain
This pose has the male bending the lady backward. You have to admit the older covers usually have the man grabbing one leg at the same time. I can imagine an ensuing backache and sustained neck strain if a shirtless man bent me over backward, while I lifted my naked leg up against his side. You have to chuckle at some of the faces of these ladies who appear to be in pain as they turn away from the overpowering male. To add to the commonality of the pose, the wind is always blowing through the lady’s hair. Do these covers make you go ouch at the thought of the dominant male seducing you as your spine cracks? Has the pose diminished in current historical romance covers? Not really. Backs and necks are still out of line, however, it’s hard to find the consistent leg up these days.
The Behind Approach
Moving on from the back and neck strain pose comes the opposite with the hero seductively approaching the heroine from behind. Not quite as popular as the frontal seduction, they still make up a large number of covers in the historical romance genre.
As you can see, the windstorm continues with flying female hair in a few of the scenes. The male domination remains as the shirtless, seductive hero clutches their female prey from behind. The ladies turn their heads backward, getting a good look at their seducer. One cover I discovered looks like a gymnastics movement, as the hero raises her in the air while clutching her hips.
The Reclining Lovers
From the back and neck strain to the grasping male from behind, comes the ultimate place most heroes are hoping to place their heroines — on their back.
After searching through the covers of past and present, this pose seems to be the least used in the variety of physical positions. Nonetheless, it serves to take the story to a satisfying conclusion, if you get my drift. I’ve posted a few goodies from the past on my blog page.
As much as I love the genre, you still need a little humor to brighten the read. I guess you could say that these classic covers and current covers is what defines the genre and gives it the heat. Of course, not all historical romance covers are risque, as the more pure Jane Austen-type-Regencies have their fair share of fully dressed characters in upright positions on the book cover. In addition, the heat index of covers has toned down as well, because if it’s too hot, author advertisements on Facebook and other platforms get rejected.
What is your favorite pose? The back strain? The behind embrace, or the laying in the grass with your lover? If I had to choose one, I’d probably take the embrace from behind. I don’t want my neck to crack or ants crawling in my hair, no matter how hot the guy is on top.
“Romance is having a moment. It’s trendy to swoon,” Tessa Dare, a bestselling author of historical romance, tells CNN. She says it’s been thrilling to watch “Bridgerton” become a worldwide phenomenon and prove what millions of romance readers already know: These kinds of stories are for everyone.
The continuing conversation that the Netflix series is going to give a resurgence to the historical romance genre and hopefully give it more credit than it has received in the past.
Bridgerton quickly became more than just an adaptation; it was also a challenge to destigmatize a genre that doesn’t wholly deserve the condemnation it’s received.
Now this article gets it right about what historical romance is all about. Great article and worth the read!
“By building a love story between the primary couple, one that is guaranteed to end ‘happily ever after’ or ‘happy for now,’ a romance novel not only provides escapism and the heart-pounding rush of vicarious passion, but a space in which to explore how romantic relationships can and should be, and how women can find fulfillment and happiness. And that means these stories have little to do with how the marriage market of Regency high society actually functioned; they’re about what readers — predominantly women — want to see in their lives today.”
A show based on popular bodice-rippers gives an industry often dismissed as tawdry a much-needed embrace. The success of “Bridgerton” couldn’t have come at a better time for the romance industry, which has been struggling to retain its power in the publishing world. Recent years have marked a steady decline in print and ebook sales of romance novels, which went from more than 98 million units sold in 2012 to 41 million in 2020, according to NPD BookScan, whose figures do not reflect sales of self-published titles.
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.”
When writing a book, authors are faced with decisions about what era to choose and what location to place the story. Since historical romance genre readers have their likes and dislikes, those decisions can influence sales.
If you do a quick perusal of today’s best-selling historical romance books on Amazon Kindle, the top forty-eight bestsellers are set in the following locations: Thirty-nine in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Ireland) and nine set in North America.
An interesting article was published in USA Today on July 6, 2016, focusing on the fact that historical romance set outside of England can be risky business.
Settings in England continue to flood the marketplace. Perhaps that is why we are drowning in dukes and other titled aristocrat-related stories. Why, however, are readers not as interested in other geographical settings? The British have apparently made such an influence on literature throughout history in their abundance of romantic poets and female authors such as Austen, Bronte, and Gaskell, that we rarely look elsewhere. Romance in England holds our fanciful interests more so than stories set in other regional settings. Perhaps it’s one place the empire continues to rule because it appears the sun never sets on the British Empire of historical romance.
The more I look at the trends of the genre, the more I become convinced readers and authors are stuck in a rut. Of course, if readers don’t support the authors who dare to cross country borders, a dramatic change in the genre may never occur.
Romance stories can be universal and not confined to one country. It’s “a book or movie dealing with love in a sentimental or idealized way,” says the English Oxford Living Dictionary. Nevertheless, let’s face it — there’s nothing to idealize in a story about falling in love with a farmer from nineteenth-century Poland. However, give us an English country estate, lavish lifestyles, a titled duke, and we’re more than ready to transport ourselves into the idealized romance of English life.
I’ll admit that with my English ancestry on my maternal side, I am more prone to read books set on English soil. On my paternal side, I’m Eastern European, but don’t seek out historical romance books set in Russia.
How about you?
Female power. The new “alpha feminist” has arrived in the historical romance genre, becoming the new archetype of heroines presented to readers. The former heroines of eras past are now given twenty-first-century feminist empowerment by authors who are frustrated with the modern day female woes.
Should such role reversals be found only in contemporary romance or is it all right to change the facts of historical romance in order to rewrite what we dislike about a woman’s place two hundred years ago? The bodice-ripping dukes may soon be replaced by the female dominant who acts quite differently than a woman in want of a husband would have done so during the Regency or Victorian eras.
What are your thoughts about rewriting the historical aspect of historical romance to satisfy our strong female egos of the current century? Are you tired of reading about weak-willed and submissive women? Do you prefer putting period clothing on a twenty-first-century role model and ignoring the norms of the bygone days? Since staunch reviewers often chide authors that their historical romance contains modern-day dialogue, are the modern-day attitudes going to be embraced regardless of accuracy?
The growing change of empowering female characters from the past will have a huge influence on historical romance. Nevertheless, readers will gravitate toward what suits them as they read toward the happily-ever-after ending in search of romance. It could be the typical dominant male hero that keeps your fancy or perhaps you’ll seek out the strong heroine who could care less what her place should be in the scheme of things. Historical feminism will definitely be arriving earlier in historical romance books, according to the article below.
What are your thoughts? Like? Dislike?
A rather interesting article on historical romance and the 1970’s term of Bodice Rippers, where books were all about sexually aggressive men taking weak women. The author has a point about the former ideals in the ’70’s and ’80’s with repressed sexuality and the excitement these books produced. Nowadays, putting any type of forced sexual assault in an historical romance book is pretty much taboo among readers. What are your thoughts?
“While historical romance remains a major part of the romantic fiction genre today, experts agree that bodice rippers describe a short and specific moment in American publishing history that lasted only between the early 1970s and mid-1980s. “