Rolla by Henri de Gervex (1852-1929) in the Musee Beaux-Arts, BordeauxUninhibited sexual pleasure in the city of love during the 19th century could cause a 21st-century woman’s cheeks to blush.  Prostitution and brothels were at their heyday, and they served a purpose to meet the needs of men both rich and poor. After all, marriage was an institution for producing children; prostitutes and mistresses were for pleasure. The brothel was a place of relaxation for men and accepted as normal practice in society.

How many prostitutes were there during this time period? Brothels or mansions of tolerance, as they were called, housed 15,000 prostitutes in 1883. Between 1871 through 1903, approximately 155,000 women were registered card-carrying ladies of pleasure. Women were required to register at the Bureau of Morals if they wished to work in the profession.  Afterward, they received a huge laundry list of regulated behavior for their conduct indoors and outdoors. During that time period, 725,000 were arrested by the police for suspected prostitution because they failed to register with the Bureau.

Jobs were scarce for women and the survival of the poor difficult. Even married women participated in prostitution. There were roughly 125 Paris brothels in business during the 1870s.  Brothels were considered a cleaner and more regulated system of pleasure, keeping individuals from sexual perversion by giving them an alternative to the women on the streets. Women willing to give satisfaction to the male population were rampant on every corner, and like any other morally questionable practice, it carried consequences.

We tend to romanticize all this into lovemaking in historical romance novels without penalty, except perhaps a baby or two out of wedlock. Unfortunately, all those pleasures carried risks, especially contracting syphilis.  How many had the disease? You might wish to sit down. Fourteen to fifteen percent of deaths were attributed to sexually transmitted diseases. Some reports carry it as high as 17%. One-tenth of the population contracted syphilis. You may think that’s not many, but one-tenth of the population equated to four million people. Syphilis was attributed to 40,000 stillbirths yearly, when gone untreated, progressed into a dastardly end. Half of the cases were contracted between the age of 14 and 21. As one report put it, young people could not wait to dispel their chastity.

Treatment for syphilis was inadequate and understanding by the medical community of the disease somewhat lacking. There were hospitals and clinics set up to specifically treat the disease, but many found it embarrassing to seek treatment. Effective treatment really didn’t arrive until approximately 1910 with the onset of better antibiotics. Earlier, Mercury and Potassium iodide were used.

Nowadays, we’re probably a bit more sophisticated when it comes to sex and STDs. After all, we’ve evolved, right? We can insist on blood tests before we hop in bed with a man or use methods of birth control and protection. I guess social progression does have its trade-offs, but I have a sneaking suspicion with the number of historical romances sold each year women would rather fantasize in another century with handsome aristocrats and take their chances. After all, it’s just fiction and not reality.

ViacomCBS agreed to sell the 96-year-old company in a deal that potentially creates a megapublisher.  A spokesman for Bertelsmann said Penguin Random House had lost market share in recent years and cited Amazon as a competitive threat to the overall book market. The combination of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would be “below 20 percent,” the company said, citing data from the Association of American Publishers, an industry trade group.

Source: Penguin Random House to Buy Simon & Schuster

What does this mean for readers and authors?  Some of your favorite historical romance authors who are under Penguin contracts are Evie Dunmore, Mary Balogh, Amy Rose Bennet, and others.  From Simon & Shuster are Julia London, Meridith Duran, and others.  The pricey eBook prices from these two traditional publishers of $7.99 and up are no doubt competing with the lower-priced historical romance novels from independent authors on Amazon.  The competition for readers is fierce, and the industry is changing to survive.

Look, everyone loves Jane Austen. The clothing, the tea, the socially awkward and emotionally withdrawn yet extremely wealthy bachelors… it’s all very good. And Austen’s novels have inspired many, many other wonderfully written romances set…

Source: 11 Historical Romances To Pick Up Instead Of Re-Reading ‘Pride And Prejudice’

Ah, the dictionary — it gives me the exact words to describe this post. RUT – “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”  Thank you, Google Dictionary.

Already, I sound a bit snarky. However, historical romance has definitely fallen into a few ruts along the road, and I question whether we need a change.  You may discover that I’m a rebel at heart.

This morning while scanning the bestseller list of Victorian historical romances on Amazon Kindle, I counted 39 out of 50 covers that consisted of one thing – a woman in a flowing dress.  Seven covers added a male alongside the flowing dress.  Two covers had a male and no female. The remainder – one with a ship on the cover and one with multiple women (a box set of brides for historical western).

My question – what is it with dresses?  Why am I finding this trend monotonous?  Like the proliferation of dukes and Regency era stories, historical romance has carved out an obvious ongoing path that doesn’t seem to vary much beyond those boundaries in the top 100.  However, the path must be a popular one because these are the books that are bestsellers.

Historical romance is a far-reaching genre that includes eras, storylines, and cover scenes that can be just as interesting and romantic. Personally,  I would love to see this genre stir the pot a lot more to include anything other than a woman in a flowing dress to attract attention. I suppose we could blame the traditional publishing houses for continuing to proliferate that scene and those who follow to blend into the scenery.

To add to the problem, covers don’t always depict dresses that are historically accurate when it comes to fashions, i.e., Victorian bustles rather than the Regency empire waists. One of the most recent examples is Lisa Kleypas’s, Hello Stranger, in a modern gown released by Avon who is supposedly a physician in the Victorian era.  A bit of buzz has surfaced about the choice, but all of the gowns of that series appear out of place.  Thank goodness for great sites like Period Images that attempts to give more accuracy to fashions when it comes to cover models.

Well, in any event, this morning was a downer as my eyes were accosted by 39 covers of flowing dresses.  Is it just me in a state of perpetual boredom or do others share my views?

I suppose the old adage if it ain’t broken don’t fix it, but something tells me the longer we stay in the ruts we’ve created, the genre will never change as a whole. Hopefully, that doesn’t lead to a slump of interest in historical romance overall as readers burn out over repetitiveness.  We could be doing more damage than good.

Historical Romance Admin

 

The #metoo movement is hitting the romance genre. “Put another way, how does a genre commonly dubbed “bodice-rippers” stay relevant in an era when the ripping of bodices sounds more like cause for a lawsuit than a display of passion?” Read more below. Perhaps us ladies should start ripping shirts instead!

Writing a ‘trigger-free love story’ is dicey in the age of #metoo.

Source: No bodices were ripped in the making of this romance novel – The Boston Globe

BS1Let’s face it, ladies.  We are drowning in dukes!  This morning when I visited the historical romance best sellers on Amazon Kindle, that’s pretty much dominated the scene in the 100 top-selling books.  Even those books that don’t have the title “duke” on the cover, doesn’t mean there isn’t one lurking between the pages.  Most of these dukes are bad boys with a few charming ones thrown into the mix.

Here’s a quick sampling if you don’t think I’ve gone historical romance raving mad.

Blame it on the Duke
Kind Ella and the Charming Duke
A Beauty for the Scarred Duke
The Duke of Nothing
A Duke in Shining Armor
The Duke of Ruin
A Governess for the Brooding Duke
The Silent Duke
From Duke Till Dawn
The Desires of a Duke
My Wild Duke
The Lady, the Duke, and the Gentleman
Kissing the Duke
The Broken Duke…and on, and on, and on.

Once in a while, a lord, baron, marquis, and earl sneak in the bunch, not to be confused with the many rogues of the historical romance genre.  There are even duke series like Difficult Dukes, The Disgraceful Dukes, Girl Meets Duke and many more.  I guess I’m scratching my head on why we always have to fall in love with a duke.  Is there a hidden code that only best-selling romances must be duke focused?  Is this the only peerage that can sweep us away into the fantasy land of romance?

After doing some research, I’ve found a Goodreads Listopia entitled, “Dukes – Bring ’em on!”  If you Google the term “dukes in historical romance novels,” you’ll be smacked to learn the results.  There’s an interesting article on NPR entitled, “Put Up Your Dukes: Romance’s Favorite Rank.”

Perhaps authors and readers alike have determined that dukes are the sexiest and most desired of the English peerage. We prefer dreaming about becoming a duchess regardless if we understand why we should address him as His Grace or where he stands in the scheme of English peerage. Whatever the reason, I’d frankly like to see more historical romances that go beyond this narrow breed of titled men and even dare to focus on a man without an aristocratic title.

What are your thoughts?  Don’t be shy!  Start chiming in and enjoy the discussion.

If you want to learn about British peerage, there is a good article on Anglotopia, “The peerage: A primer on Understanding Lords, Ladies, Dukes, Earls, and More.”

What Happens Under the Mistletoe author Sabrina Jeffries shares seven reasons you should dive into a bodice-ripping historical romance novel.1. For the Fun Facts Did you know that during the early 1800s, women wearing drawers were considered

Source: Why You Should Read Historical Romance Books | POPSUGAR Love & Sex

 

Pick up a historical romance and you’ll find more than a pleasant read. Often, you’ll find a new connection to people, places and history– for example, the Battle of Waterloo, 200 years ago today.

Source: Don’t Know Much About History? Read A Romance : NPR