Throwback Thursday: An alternative view of bodice rippers

Back in 2009, I had a bit of an epiphany about a genre of literature that I had previously derided. Mainly, I now think, I sneered at it because my mother had loved it, and my teenage rebellion against all things that she liked carried over to my prejudice against her favorite fiction genre.

I'm talking about the romance novel, of course. Those were the books that, as I grew up, were typified by the well-thumbed paperback with Fabio, or a Fabio look-alike, with torn shirt, or no shirt, on the cover. 

As predictable as the covers were, the plots were even more predictable: Innocent, beautiful, usually poor girl meets experienced, handsome, usually rich man who falls helplessly in love with said girl, and all sorts of stumbling blocks must be overcome before they eventually fall into each other's arms and live happily ever after.  

I think the genre has grown up a bit and become somewhat more sophisticated over the years and perhaps our view of genre literature has grown also, but romance novels still struggle for acceptance among serious critics and serious readers of fiction. Of course, none of that is a barrier to their popularity among millions of (mostly women) readers. Can all those readers be so wrong? In our rush to prejudge the whole genre, are we overlooking some of the benefits that those readers derive from their favorite books? 

After reading a particular essay on the subject in 2009, I had to acknowledge that maybe I had been a bit hasty in my judgment, and on December 30 of that year, I wrote this blog post in which I finally conceded that maybe mother knew best after all. My own mother would probably have smiled knowingly at it.


An alternative view of bodice rippers

My mother was a lover of romance novels, perhaps because there was so little romance in her own life. In her later years, when she finally had the time to do so, she devoured these stories of female characters constantly in trouble and usually rescued by some strong male figure. I think they gave her a lot of pleasure and entertainment. I, of course, disdained them.

Romance novels, in my view, were for the unenlightened. Educated women and feminists most certainly did not read them. I thought that all romance heroines were weak and I wanted no part of that. The novels, I believed, were thinly disguised porn for women. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

In view of a recent thoughtful essay on the subject in the Daily Kos, of all places, I may have to revise my view of the genre. The essay was written by Laura Clawson, obviously a very smart woman (with an Ivy League PhD) who says she is a life-long feminist - and she reads romance novels.

One by one she debunks the myths about romance novels and her conclusion is that romance novels are demeaned by the literary world and by otherwise knowledgeable people as a way of demeaning women and women's interests. Why should a love story be any less legitimate than a spy novel, a mystery, or any other genre? It's the writing that counts and if the writing is good, it will shine in any genre.

Even teenage vampire novels?

Hmmm...I may have to give this whole issue of what is good literature and what isn't a rethink. Perhaps Mother knew best, after all.


  1. I like paranormal romances and well-written historical fiction romances, though I definitely prefer spy novels, historical fiction, and thrillers.

  2. Heather Graham is my go to author for paranormal romances; Susanna Kearsley is my favorite author for supernatural-historical fiction-romances.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations. I haven't read either of those authors. There's a whole world of books out there just waiting for me to discover them. What an exciting thought!

  3. Well, Heather Graham kind of describes things, but Susanna Kearsley doesn't go into it at all; she is very classy.
    To read things as hot as they can get I think Nora Roberts is a good go to. I had a phase I was into her books, and there's good back stories as well; it isn't just the explicit angle.

    1. Not Fifty Shades of Grey then? That's a good thing, I think.


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