Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Romance Novels, Then and Now

Romance novels were, and still are, in some circles referred to as "bodice rippers."
Early romances often depicted pirates, or other invaders capturing unsuspecting females, and taking liberties with them. Despite their obvious mistreatment, for some odd reason, the captives fell in love with their captors.

Governesses were swept off their feet, and readily succumbed to the advances of the Lords of the Manor.

In those days, dark, brooding Alpha heroes dominated the romance scene, and the poor weak heroines didn't stand a chance against their animal magnetism.

Along with the growth of women's rights, romance novels underwent a change. Spunky, clever heroines are now in, no matter what their stations in life. Vapid, helpless ones somewhere along the line evolve into strong, thinking women.


Those who are inept in some ways often possess special talents to compensate for their flaws. A case in point is Zoe, my heroine in Her Handyman. She's a klutz in some departments, but her secret life as a famous artist more than compensates for her ineptness.

Jake, a handyman, may be behind Zoe on the social scale, but she's attracted to his Beta tendencies. He's a hard worker who puts others first, and would rather give than take.

I invite you to share another example, either from one of your own books or someone else's, illustrating old or current romance novel tendencies.




Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

34 comments :

  1. My female lead in Breaking Faith is innocent and ill-educated, but very intelligent and needs only freedom to elevate her. There is s ex and an alpha male, but it is Faith who leads the story and overcomes the barriers. In my sci-fi novelette, The Methuselah Strain, the female lead is a genius scientist and engineer who has definite ideas and is definitely not about to be told what to do by any man. I like writing strong female characters, they're far more interesting and challenging than some soppy lass who's there just to provide titillation. So, I've made my lead females in my forthcoming fantasy trilogy strong and independent as well.

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  2. Stuart, your examples are a great case in point showing the current tendencies in romance novels.

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  3. I still see 'bodice rippers' littering the floor of my wife's car ... I try not to take it personally.

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  4. Sounds like you're a bit insecure, Christopher!

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  5. This is an interesting perspective on the evolution of romance, Morgan. Makes me think of my grandmother, rocking in her chair by the fire up at the lake each summer, reading a Harlequin with a little smile on her lips. I thought they were all sweetness and innocence—until I read one. GRANDMA!!! At least I knew why she was smiling...

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    1. And, depending on the line, today's Harlequin novels are even racier than your grandma's time!

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    2. Actually, traditional romance mostly had very strong female leads - independent women who converted the rakes. That's a typical equation for popular Regency romance anyway.

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  6. In my award-winning historical romance THE CHEVALIER, the heroine is young and inexperienced, but she is gutsy as well. Today's readers still love a strong Alpha male but the heroine must be able to stand up for herself.

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    1. I do like an Alpha male, but sometimes a Beta one will come across with hidden Alpha tendencies and vice versa.

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  7. Yes, they have evolved. I only began reading romances around 2002, but shunned some because of the bodice ripper type covers. I did read a few--can't remember the author, and got caught up with the characters. Very soon, though, I realized I didn't like the personalities of either the hero or heroine. I love a flawed hero who desperately needs saving. So, I guess I have it all backwards. I enjoyed this.

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    1. Yes, the flawed hero with lots of angst is compelling!

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    2. The man candy on the covers almost always puts me off a bit - I'm particularly offended when the faces of the models are cut off. Or when the pants are practically falling off. Talk about sexual objectification! Sheesh.

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  8. I got started with the old bodice rippers, but I hate helpless females. I'm glad they've evolved. I like feisty heroines who aren't afraid to stand up for themselves. And I like wounded Beta heroes.

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    1. Yes, a helpless female makes you want to shout at her to wake up and stand up for herself. And the wounded Beta guys can melt a reader's heart.

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    2. I haven't read many romances in the past year with an insipid heroine - not sure what you're reading that gives you that idea, Morgan! Here's a Wiki page that has all kinds of interesting information about the genre. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel

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  9. I read many a bodice ripper and all of Barbara Cartland books. I blame them for my first marriage. I like complex stories where the relationship is a layer,not the overall story problem. I like the Castle/Beckett relationship for instance.

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    1. Hahaha. I confess, I've never read a Barbara Cartland romance. Is this one of the authors who gives the romance genre a bad name?

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    2. I like Castle and Beckett, too. :-)

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    3. I've been catching up on the Castle shows, and have plenty to go. Fortunately, my service provider has plenty On Demand and ongoing episodes for me to watch. I love the way Castle puts on that puppy dog expression at times, and Beckett really knows how to stand her ground.

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    4. It's been a while, but I seem to recall Barbara Cartland's novels were kind of like fairy tale romances. Sweet, helpless, young thing falls for the rich, Alpha male hero who rescues her from her sad, little life. Often, a Cinderella aspect is also involved where she's transformed with fancy clothes, etc., and he comes to realize her true beauty.

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  10. I didn't start reading romance until the "bodice-ripper" had gone out of style. In fact, I thought I was writing a mystery, but my daughters told me it was a romance, so I thought I'd better read one (or ten). Today, the genre labelled "romance" is all-encompassing, and not restricted to the color-coded Harlequin "Garanimals". Jinx, my hero in my newest release, Dangerous Connections, ends up in a situation he's not really qualified to handle, and it's Elle, the heroine, who has to lead the way.

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  11. The earliest romances ala Barbara Cartland were on the "sweet" side and seldom had graphic sex. Then came Kathleen Woodiwiss with her historical romances that opened all kinds of doors. This was in about 1972, and there were three or four other writers who were writing pretty steamy stuff for the times. Most of the heroines were weak and at the mercy of the hero. That is about when I met Laura Castoro, who wrote as Laura Parker for her historical romances and contemporary romances. Her first, Silks and Sabres, featured a heroine who went toe to toe with the man who tried to abduct her. I remember Laura saying she was tired of the women who were so weak and wanted a strong, capable heroine in her novel.

    In my romance novel, Play It Again, Sam, the central character, Samantha, learns how to be strong in her own right before entering into a new love relationship after her husband of 25 years dumps her. I think my sense of how strong Sam needed to be came from knowing strong women like her, as well as reading books about women that I could admire for their abilities.

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    1. I must have read all of Barbara Cartland's books. Though they tended to follow the same formula, I loved them. I read so many historical romances I grew tired of the sub-genre. Now my favorites are romantic suspense or romantic comedy, unless it's a great author who can make me forget it's a different genre than I usually read.

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  12. The desire to read a story where you know despite everything, that things will end happily ever after will never go away.

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  13. Forty-five or so years ago, I read some books by Harold Robbins. Probably they helped fashion my current feelings about sex on the printed page. His works were a bit risqué, as I recall.

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    1. I never tried a Harold Robbins book. It took me years to read any books by male authors, except for Dick Francis.

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    2. Dick Francis is one of my favorites. I don't necessarily recommend Harold Robbins. The 2 books of his I recall reading were A Stone for Danny Fisher (an Elvis Presley movie was based loosely on this story) and The Adventurers, which is more graphic than I would ever write or read now.

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    3. Another good post would be about male romance authors! I haven't read many, but have The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson on my reading list. Has anyone read it? Since my male protagonist took over, I've become ever more curious about the male perspective. I suppose reading some books by male romance writers might give me a clue or two. Who are some others?

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  14. "Pride & Prejudice" is and probably always will be my favorite romance novel. It has that old fashioned charm, but Elizabeth is by no means a weak and helpless heroin, nor is Mr. Darcy what I'd call a seductive alpha male. In a sense, "Pride & Prejudice" is both a modern and a classic romance.

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    1. Pride & Prejudice has always been one of my favorites as well.

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  15. I definitely prefer the stronger females of today except I like when they aren't all super strong I can do anything myself types, but strong enough to accept help when needed and to give help. Does that make sense? I do, however, like the older cover art that was done in art and not in bare male chest photos. That turns me off, too (as a reader). I want story complexity. Bare chests tend to say it's probably just focused on that..

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  16. The stronger heroines of today are of course more appealing, as long as they don't go so far as having to all be snarky and so independent they don't have to ask for help. I like real women in romance. I do, though, like the older book covers done in artwork that actually set the scene much better than photos of bare males. When I see that, I figure I'll get more "bare" than full and complex story. May not be true, but that's how they come off.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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