Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The books, they are a-changing...

My CP gave me a copy of The Flame and The Flower to commemorate our first in-real-life meeting. (I, being a total doofus, did nothing for her. I’m ashamed.) I’d heard of this book before but never read it. Since TF&TF was such a favorite of so many people, I sat down to read it with great expectations.


Heroine in a bad situation—great.

Heroine’s situation gets worse—excellent.

Heroine shows some spunk in getting out of worse situation—very good.

Heroine gets in another bad situation that takes her to the hero—I’m there.

Hero is quite alpha—woohoo.

Hero rapes Heroine multiple times even as he's shocked to find her a virgin---WHOA, back the truck up. Are you kidding me? WTF?

I thought this was a romance! Hel-lo, kind of hard for me to like a hero who not only rapes the heroine, but shows little, if any, remorse for the act. The heroine, who is forced to marry the hero when she turns up pregnant, spends much of the first half of the book scared to death of him. Yet they fall in love and live happily-ever-after.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the book. Oddly enough, I did. It’s just not what I’d expect to pick up off the shelf and call a romance. Rape seems like a bad thing to build a relationship on.

Now TF&TF is the same age I am—thirty-three. And, for me, it’s a prime example of how much romance has changed over the years. I wonder if this book would fly with readers today (if it wasn’t already a “classic”)?

I grew up reading steamy historicals—Bertrice Small, Johanna Lindsey, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught—and there are plenty of rather forceful seductions in those. Call me a hypocrite, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Seductions—okay. Rape—not okay.

It would be an interesting sociological project to look at how romance has changed as women’s roles in society have changed. How did the same women who put TF&TF on the bestseller list also change the view of a woman’s “place” and raise daughters who wouldn’t put up with that kind of crap for any reason? The same women who liked their heroines virginal and timid now want heroines who show some spunk and fight back—and they don’t have to be virgins when the hero enters the picture, either.

Literature changes as society changes. The style of writing changes (compare the fabu Jane Austen with any modern author—literary or commercial), but the characters and content change as well. Books get dated very easily when changes in reader expectation occur. I wonder what tastes will be like 30 years from now. Maybe the heroes will have to be virgins :-).

My mom, after listening to my mini-rant, wants to re-read TF&TF. I’ll be interested to hear what she thinks. I’m also eyeballing my keeper shelf wondering what I’d see if I picked up some of those books I adored as a teenager.

My CP hoped I’d enjoy the book—and I did, really. But it gave me a lot to think about and sparked some interesting discussions, which is also good. So I thank her for two things.

Have you ever gone back and re-read a favorite only to find that it’s just not as good as you remembered for whatever reason?



Sabe said...

Funny you should mention The Flame and the Flower -- that book put me off romance books for a very long time -- for the reasons you listed. And this was years before I became a rape crisis counselor. I didn't find rape romantic then anymore than I do now. Books like that probably did more damage to women than anyone will ever know, because they reinforced the myth that women secretly long to be raped. No wonder romance and "trash novel" were considered one and the same. It wasn't until someone introduced me to LaVyrl Spencer's "The Hummingbird" that I discovered romance had grown away from acts of violence and turned to acts of love. That book is still a personal favorite and I take it down from my keeper shelf and reread it from time to time. One thing's for sure: romance has come a long way, baby!

Playground Monitor said...

I'm new to reading romance -- only started about 5 years ago except for the odd Danielle Steele or Phyllis Whitney that my mom would read and toss my way. But rape is never romantic and I'm glad books have moved away from this. I can't say there's a book I've re-read and found lacking because I rarely re-read a book.

You mentioned virgin heroes and I actually have read a book where that occured. HIS MOST SCANDALOUS SECRET by Susan Crosby (Silhouette Desire July 1998) has a virgin hero. It was the first book by Susan that I read and she's become a favorite author of mine. She's moving to the NEXT line next month and I'll be sorry to see her leave Desire.

Linda Winstead Jones said...

We've come a long way, baby. :-) In an age of increasingly strong heroines, this would never fly. Thank goodness.

Ever read The Sheik? The original The Sheik? I have a copy I'll let you borrow, if you'd like. Same scenario. Different style.

I had a virgin hero, once. Cinderfella. I've always preferred nice guys to bad boys, which is probably why I don't write what you'd call ultra-alpha guys. I read all of KW's books, including TF&TF, but that was so long ao it never occurred to me until now that maybe that's why. I did enjoy the books. I loved The Wolf and The Dove -- and now I want to go back and read it again to see if I remember it correctly. Then again, maybe I don't want to go back and read it again. :-)


Maven Linda Howard said...

Ah, psychoanalyzing books! Some folks would say that the "forced seduction" in KW's early books was because that way women got to enjoy sex without being responsible for having it. Maybe. I doubt KW ever consciously thought about it that way, though. In The Wolf and The Dove, which LJ remembers as loving, the hero raped the heroine. He was a Norman knight, she was a Saxon. Of course in the book they were attracted to each other from the beginning, but still -- he raped her.

I don't have a clue why so many of the historical romances from the seventies featured rape, but most of them did. Maybe the writers saw the depiction as historically correct, because there was no such things as women's rights back then. Women didn't have rights. They were property.

Several years ago and picked up The Flame and The Flower to re-read, and hated it. Not because of the rape, because I already knew it was there, if that makes sense. What I didn't notice the first time was that the heroine, Heather (very improbable name!) was so stupid her nickname should have been "Duh." Likewise, I didn't care for "The Hummingbird" (sorry, Sabe!) because these two people seemed incapable of knowing what they wanted. I remember Jesse doing some mean things, unnecessarily mean. At least, I think Jesse was his name. Not certain about that, because this wasn't a keeper for me.

My favorite book? Outlander. Difficult books in content, sometimes -- btw, the hero is a virgin! -- but the hero and heroine are both intelligent, and they aren't mean. They sometimes have to do difficult things, but they aren't mean.

Linda Winstead Jones said...

Gee thanks, Linda, for bursting my selective memory bubble. :-)

In cases of invaders and the conquered, this could be considered historically correct, but to fall madly in love afterwards -- not so much.


Kathy said...

KW's books were historically accurate. While no one condones rape of any kind, things like that happened. Women were deemed chattle, property. No thought was given toward happiness. Women were married off to solidify alliances. That was a woman's purpose in being, to reproduce and raise children, during times of war and peace. Sadly, in order to be historically accurate, stories often stemmed from that truth. And in order to make sense of a horrible situation, earlier romances combined the hero's guilt, infuation or obsession, with the heroine's growing respect of the hero's strength, honor and loyalty plus the hero and heroines capacity for forgiveness and acceptance, qualities that kept women alive and earned them protection.

Most women lived in loveless marriages arranged by their fathers. To find love in any situation, to make that love blossom and grow out of hardship, those were trails so many women faced. Therein lies the romance. To come face to face with circumstance, to burst from the coccoon and alter destiny like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

Historical figures doesn't glamorize rape. IMHO the old romance novels didn't either. No, circumstances plunged the hero and heroine together. The human heart conquered the rest. (Consider the Sabine women.)

I have all of KW and Julie Garwood's books. I have Hummingbird, too. Classics all. But though women have changed since the 70's and 80's, and what is deemed appropriate has changed, the past cannot be changed. While we can investigate it, romanticize it and try to justify it, that changes nothing. Finding the good in historical circumstances does. Will that sell books today? Probably not. But fact is fact.

I'm glad I'm alive today and I'd like to think love was found by women who came before us, women who found themselves thrust into horrible circumstances but were strong enough to break away, get past the pain and humiliation to find their HEA.

For me as a woman, a heroine's strength gives me hope. Hope that I can overcome whatever befalls me.


Angel said...

Ah, I knew Kathy would have a lot to say on the subject (she's a historical writer and loves the research!).

Personally, I don't know why the older historical romances included so much rape, but I enjoyed them a lot as a teenager. But I was naive enough not to really understand all the implications of what was happening. The word "rape" never occurred to me. Now it is harder for me to suspend disbelief or forget the emotional impact of the act of rape.

The problem I have with book conventions is that they become so ingrained in the industry that you can't seem to publish a book without them. Take the strong heroine of today, for instance. Publishing a book with a heroine who starts out weaker or makes mistakes and learns what she needs to throughout the book is considerably harder than with a book whose heroine kicks ass from the beginning. The problem for me with these heroines is that they almost have no where to go, nothing to learn. The character arc for them is less dramatic. And I want my characters to GROW.

I certainly don't want a stupid heroine, or one too weak to make something of herself. But sometimes the ability to pick yourself up comes through the circumstances you face.

And editors always claim they are looking for "new and exciting" but really they have certain expectations you must meet in terms of plot, whether consciously or unconsciously.


Maven Linda Howard said...

LJ, cheer up; in the Wolf and the Dove, it wasn't the forceful rape of The Flame and the Flower. It was coercion, involved drugs (though if I remember correctly, wasn't Wulfgar the one who was drugged?), and in general consisted of pressure rather than force. By today's standards, that's still rape. Like you, I liked TWTD much better than TFTF. Heather just got on my last nerve. I kept hoping Brandon would put a pillow over her face.

PCCP said...

I think part of the enduring legacy of those historicals of the '70's is that the H/H relationship always started under the absolute worst of conditions. Somehow they managed to overcome everything that was thrown their way and found the best in each other and their HEA.

Rosemary Rogers wrote as a contempory to KW and I never liked her books. The rape was always definitely rape (not a case of mistaken identity or any other such device). Her men were brutal and cruel. I think I gave up on her stuff after two books, but at the time she was enormously popular.

Although the first encounter in TFTF is definitely rape, there are endearing qualities about Brandon that made me want to forgive him and root for him---and I still love him today.

I gave TFTF to PC because it was the book that started me on my romance with romance.
Would it move me so much today? No.
I would never think of rape as an appropriate plot device anymore. But back then, I wasn't offended by it. I just shrugged it off as a reality of how women were treated in that era.
My tastes have changed now. I want my characters to be on an equal playing field. I'm on the sixth book of the Outlander series and have found a couple whose spunk is well matched and I need that now.

BTW--(spoiler here on THTD)I think in TWTD, Ragnor was the one who tried to rape her and was drugged. I think she told her mother she would go willingly to Wulfgar's bed---she just didn't realize he understood her language:-)

Problem Child said...

Was Rosemary Rogers the one who wrote the "Steve and Ginny under the wagon" book?

I'm not slamming historicals--I love 'em. Always have.

Just opening up a dialogue here... it's my nature as a English major to discuss and analyze books.

Anonymous said...

I'd thought about maybe reading TFTF some day but after reading all this talk of rape, maybe not.

PCCP said...

Yeah, Steve and Ginny under the wagon!!! I'd forgotten who they were, but that's them! I don't remember the name of the book, though.


PC's Mom said...

If I remember correctly, "Steve and Ginny under the wagon" was in Sweet Savage Love. And I remember it as being very seductive and HOT!! As in really HOT!!

I wonder if I would still find that to be true? I may have to find a copy and re-read the book.

However,I also remember the sequels as being a little overdone.

But, "Steve and Ginny under the wagon" - hubba hubba!!