Review – Blue Jasmine – Violet Winspear (1969)


, , , , , ,

Originally published in hardcover in 1969 by Mills & Boon, Violet Winspear’s category line classic Blue Jasmine, had three Harlequin Romance line reprints by 1976. If there was to be a romance canon, Blue Jasmine might make the list.

But it’s impossible to review Blue Jasmine without the foundation of E. M. Hull’s The Sheik. It’s like trying to discuss Samuel Johnson without mentioning James Boswell. And really, why would you want to?

Blue Jasmine Violet WinspearE(dith) M(aude) Hull’s (1919) The Sheik is, in fact, an even surer ringer for the romance canon (again, if such a thing existed). The Sheik’s Ahmed Ben Hassan was played by Rudolph Valentino in a 1921 film adaptation to audiences who just couldn’t believe it. As a romance subgenre, it’s a long-time market win.

The two novels are similar enough in storyline and character development that I’ve had students argue Blue Jasmine is plagiarized. I say instead that Blue Jasmine is a worthy tribute that imitates to flatter.

Take as a goose-pimpling example the scene when the heroine realizes she’s trapped in a tent with the sheik, surrounded by his loyal entourage in the middle of the desert, and there’s no escape from his animal spirits…

In The Sheik by EM Hull:

Why have you brought me here?” she asked, fighting down the fear that was growing more terrible every moment.

He repeated her words with a slow smile. “Why have I brought you here?” Bon Dieu! Are you not woman enough to know?

And in Blue Jasmine by Violet Winspear:

I have no need of your money, so I fear it cannot buy your freedom. There is only one thing that can, and you are a surpassing innocent if you don’t know what it is.”

She stared at him, her eyes like bruised flowers in her pale, shocked face. “I don’t know,” she whispered.

“Really?” His eyes flicked over her. “With your unusual looks, you tell me you don’t know what a man means when he brings you to his tent. Ma belle femme, I think you do know.

the sheik EM HullBoth The Sheik and Blue Jasmine present typical Winspear heroes. If you remember, Winspear presents heroes who “frighten but fascinate…the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be alone in the room with.” Winspear, however, likely wouldn’t have loved Ben Hassan. Sadly, Diana, the heroine of The Sheik, is raped off-scene, repeatedly, and for several months (until she falls in love, as any woman would).

Although Blue Jasmine‘s sheik, Kasim ben Hussayn is a  Mr. Angrypants of the first order, heroine Lorna is yet spared rape. A Winspearean hero, a product of his time, would threaten, but never follow through (unless he was a captain of a sailing vessel).

Blue Jasmine first cover

original 1969 cover of Blue Jasmine

As for the heroines, Blue Jasmine‘s Lorna is independent, saucy, up for adventure. Diana in The Shiek is presented as all these things, but, in addition: boyish and unfeeling, an interesting corruption of womanhood that in the first quarter of the twentieth century might demand correction more so than by the late 1960s. But, of course, both heroines fall for their captors, succumbing (in similarly described pivotal scenes) on a far side of the enemies-to-lovers trope continuum.

After all is said and done, Winspear’s heroine, like Hull’s, is revealed (thank the Almighty Christian God) to have fallen for a European. Today’s popular romance market might not balk with singular voice at a bona fide Arab hero (and all of our gods please bless this guy), but in 1919 and 1969, a sheik had to look like a Princeton man.







Time to visit SWAN BAY…

Did you enjoy Wolfe Island? Go ahead and read it, if you haven’t already. And then read its sequel: Swan Bay. (Also available in paperback.)screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-2-07-53-pm

Simon Low is a rake. His name travels across New York on whispers and titters. Owner of a luxury department store in Manhattan, it’s his job to create desire. He makes women want things. At least, that’s what Chloe Swann’s brothers tell her. But her brothers must have the wrong man.

Simon is the most awkward man Chloe has ever met. When Simon visits his brother’s grave at the cemetery managed by Chloe’s family, he refuses to touch her. He can barely look at her, let alone seduce her. What in the world could he make her want?

But Simon has a secret. He and his twin shared an extraordinary connection, one that was lost when the two were separated during a storm. He’d always felt that connection. And then, with the single gulp of the river that had swallowed his twin, had not. Until he meets Chloe.

Now, Simon has the devil of a time telling her the truth…that he can feel her from the inside out. But he’d better tell Chloe soon, because, with the job of writing epitaphs for headstones, and a reputation as the Angel of Death, she’s used to telling people good-bye.

Set against the lush and gilded American landscapes of rural Northern New York and Manhattan in 1893, Swan Bay continues the story begun with Wolfe Island.


Review – The Wife Sharers – Arthur Adlon (1963)

I couldn’t pass this one by when I saw it in our local used book store.

Yes, the Main Street in my town still has a used book store. Aren’t you jealous? Good. Hold onto that feeling. Because jealousy is the quixotic principle that drives The Wife Sharersthe wife sharers

The story opens with Howard in his next door neighbor’s pool with his next door neighbor’s wife, Serena, while he hears his own wife’s laughter over the redwood fence separating them from his own house party next door. The opening scene of this pulp novel is its best.

Swimming noiselessly as a pair of otters in the darkened pool, Serena and Howard could hear the drowsy chatter of the Lowes’ barbecue party…Howard Lowe could hear Enid’s shrill laughter on the other side of the fence…Most of the party hounds were trying to drink themselves cool this oppressive California night. That bearded goat, Mal Wenk, or some other tipsy oaf, had probably pinched Enid where she liked it. At the moment, Howard could not have cared less.

It’s California in the early sixties. There’s a lot of drinking. A ton of it. So much you worry about the characters’ health and safety. Especially Howard, who with his size, is really putting a strain on his heart.

The cover headline promises, “They agreed to share wives.” In point of fact, they didn’t agree on anything. It’s all a big con. A heretofore committed couple is convinced that their respective spouse wants what’s on the other side of the fence, and each is persuaded to let it happen.

Howard is smart (he’s a technical writer for an aerospace firm). He’s well-built. He’s chided as a “big ape,” a “caveman,” a “big brute,” but his stomach is flat (in spite of a lot of pancakes and steak), and he’s handsome. He’s rich and drives a jag. He’s the hero, I guess. At least the reader is led to believe he’s the preferred protagonist.

I’m like Enid and Serena. I adore big men. In spite of it, this is the most depressing HEA I’ve ever read. Of course, it’s not an HEA. It’s a work of pulp fiction, written by a man in 1963. So an HEA is not the point. I’m wondering, really, what was the point. The cover might give it away – a work of commercial fiction, the point was to sell books. Something this cover would have done in spades. Hell, I bought it, and for ten bucks.

Serena is the woman next door who problematizes the neighborhood barbecue by finding Howard more attractive than her common law husband, Mal Wenk. She is “the kind of girl a man dreamed about – too terrific to be true…sex ultrapersonified.”

Does the author really believe that women walk around naked and play with their nipples while waiting for a man like Howard to show up?

Mal is described as a ponytail poet with a beard like Maynard G. Krebs and a pot belly. A beatnick Pan. Mal sleeps each night on a straw mat on the floor of of the dining room. He is unredeemable. In the end, Mal’s beard is removed by Howard’s lithe and loving wife, Enid, while he’s asleep.

His shearing is a punishment for his writing a book about Enid. He is using their swap as a way to see into the life of a mousy housewife. Her removal of Mal’s beard is Enid’s symbolic “other side,” the finale of her character’s arc.

Husband Howard on the other hand doesn’t get through to anywhere. He spins in place. Howard loves Enid, from beginning to end. That’s a point in his favor. But he sleeps around, almost addictively, and collects phone numbers from waitresses across the city. His cheating is childish: his logic is flawed, and his lovemaking half-hearted. He ends up in bed with Enid’s best friend, falling drunkenly to sleep after fighting off her advances, until he wakes up at dawn inside her.

When he and Enid reunite in the end, there’s no triumph; it’s only a matter of course that he will continue cheating, continue to love her, and that they will both continue to be carried along on a current of booze and California swimming pools.

At least Adlon gets it. He knows his characters are depressing. That the lovemaking he describes isn’t really loving. That the sex he offers readers is sad, short-lived and unthrilling. This book isn’t meant to arouse readers like a woman’s HEA. This book was written for a man, a reader who believes in the addictive perseverance of marriage and the grotesque disappointment of what lies on the other side of that fence.

Folks, I’m not that reader. There’s still oodles of joy in the swims and the pinches.

Review – Arctic Enemy – Linda Harrel (1981)

Arctic EnemyArctic Enemy Harrel romance cover art by Linda Harrel (1981) puts journalist Sarah Grey on supertanker Arctic Enterprise during its the maiden voyage through the Northwest Passage, and earns my esteem by spelling ‘grey’ the right way.

The trip is perilous indeed. The Enterprise is designed to load up on liquid gas then nose its way through the ice of the ocean with its highly combustible cargo. Unfortunately, the book’s anti-hero has built the Enterprise with substandard materials, something breaks in the middle of the ocean, and our true hero – Captain Guy Court – must save the day. Which he does. But not before he and Sarah snowmobile out into the arctic countryside, get caught in a storm, and almost make love in an igloo.

It’s a standard hate-at-first-sight / he-thinks-she’s-sleeping-with-the-bad-guy plot line, seasoned with interesting arctic trivia. Did you know that icebergs “calf”?

But enough about global warming.

I’m developing book three of my Diamonds on the Water series, titled The Hard Dock. Yes, I’m really going to title a historical romance that I actually hope to sell The Hard Dock. Because docking can be hard, as anyone who’s ever tried it knows.

The Hard Dock‘s hero – Michael Low – is captain of a tugboat. The heroine – Dorrie Tremont – is a stowaway who gets herself into more trouble than Mick can manage alone. Together, they make a great team. In spite of his angry-man reserve and her counter-phobic pluck.

An actual hard dock is my preferred corner of the Thousand Island Region of Upstate NY, where this series is set in 1893. It’s a concrete dock in a busy spot of the river channel, from where I can swim, watch large freighters pass, and spy on hard-bodied youth as they hurl themselves, heads foaming with shampoo, from the adjacent wooden pavilion dock. The hard dock is less populated, more to my liking.

The point of this summer-nostalgic mawk is that I selected Arctic Enemy because I thought it would be valuable research for The Hard Dock.

Anyone who’s ever written a romance knows there’s no better introduction to scientific and historical fact than another romance author.

Alas, the sexiest moment in Arctic Enemy is when Harrel somehow channels Jean-Luc Picard six years before Next Generation launches its version of the Enterprise.


I wish.

Shot of Love: U.S. Romance Readers Outnumber Gun Owners

Robert McGinnis_Green dress

artist, Robert McGinnis

Did you know they stopped counting?

The last time anyone counted the number of romance readers in America was 2005, when marketing research group Corona Insights conducted a nationwide telephone survey for the Romance Writers Association (RWA).

The conclusion was that in that year 64.6 million Americans read at least one romance novel. In 2002, it was estimated at 51.1 million romance readers in America. In 1998, 41 million readers.

Ten years later, I predict that number has increased, based on the rise of self-publishing, the advent of the eBook, and the explosion of the erotica market. It’s been a big decade for reading in general, and romance has been a principal in the revolution.

Corona’s figures at the time were extrapolated by a definition of romance that adapted to readers. According to Kevin Raines, the CEO and founder of Corona who worked on the 2005 survey, although RWA had a strict definition of ‘romance’, survey respondents were allowed to self-identify the genre.

This still makes sense to me. What’s triumphant and pleasurable to some is not to others. If romance readers have learned one thing from their reading experience, it’s this.

So how do we extrapolate new numbers without cold-calling 1,200 Americans?

From 1998 to 2005, according to Corona’ s figures, the US population of romance readers saw an average annual 8% growth, a number too large to apply going forward at liberty.

In fact, based on revenue alone, RWA claimed in 2005 that romance fiction generated $1.4 billion in sales. However, that reported number has since dipped, with RWA reporting $1.08 billion in revenue in 2013, a 22.8% drop.


Robert Maguire, artist, I Prefer Girls

But it’s likewise not feasible to calculate the number of readers from the amount of money spent.

Perhaps this could have been possible when Harlequin dominated the market with paperbacks at 60 cents a copy. But, with the rise of both digital publishing and indie romance writers, and the birth of 99 cent and free marketing, any new calculation of the number of romance readers must take into account the format of the books we read — print, digital, or audio — and by extension, how much we spend.

RWA now also reports the frequency of consumption. In the first quarter of 2014, according to the Nielsen Romance Buyer Survey, 25.5% of readers read more than one book a week. The algorithm designed to extrapolate the number of romance readers with all these variables would be muddy indeed.

Statisticians counting gun owners seem more inclined to make a reckoning.

woman and man with gun 1950s

artist, Robert McGinnis

Guns are a lot like romance novels. People advocate on their behalf. Collect them. Buy them with variable frequency. Sometimes lie about the number they own. And, like romance novels, most guns don’t need to be registered.

Somehow, in spite of these vagaries, credible numbers are reported.

According to University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, the number of people who reported having a gun in their home in the 1970s averaged about 50 percent, the 1980s averaged 48 percent, the 1990s at 43 percent and 35 percent in the 2000s. Now, numbers are being reported at an all-time low of 30%. By my count, that’s 72.8 million American adults.

(I removed all minors from the calculation, because until they’re 18, they can’t vote, drink, or complete a Gallup poll. Yes, I know. They’re gun-owners. But they also read romance novels at as fast a clip as adults, so the populations cancel each other out.)

Based on the most recent numbers we have, and the arguable trend upwards in romance consumption and the reported trend downward in gun ownership, romance readers by now may actually outnumber gun owners.

That’s good news.

For centuries, moralists have cautioned women against reading too many romance novels for fear that we’ll all begin to love one another a little too freely.

titllated by reading

Titillated by reading. Artist unknown.

If you haven’t read Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote, try it as an example. And then the preface or front matter of any of the “seduction novels” of the 18th century. For something more contemporary, try this New Republic article, which suggests that romance readers are “bathetic and bromidic and brain dead”. The free love described is not the ruin of virgins by rakes, rogues and scoundrels. Ironically, it’s the plight of men this author now laments, and their “ninety minutes of torture” by female, middle-class (oh?) partners titillated by smut.

I’m on board with both logic statements. Romance leads to sex; guns lead to violence.

I advise therefore that all of us bathetic, bromidic and brain dead Americans keep reading until we can say with certainty the number of romance readers surpasses the number of gun owners.

Americans now choked by violence will breathe more easily, albeit with a little hitch and gasp of pleasure.

Review – The Little Nobody – Violet Winspear (1972)


, , , , , , , , , , ,

A Romance Canon, one as staid and firm (and stout) as Harold Bloom‘s should include Violet Winspear, whose corpus includes over 90 titles written for Mills & Boon. I love her name almost as much as I love Foyle’s War’s Honeysuckle Weeks.

The Little Nobody was chosen for the alpha hero lurking beyond it’s title.

Violet Winspear The Little Nobody

With a little nobody, a Big Somebody must be in there somewhere.

Violet Winspear is known for (notorious for at one time) her alpha heroes: angry, incomprehensible heroes and our future bodice rippers. In 1970, she explained:

I get my heroes so that they’re lean and hard muscled and mocking and sardonic and tough and tigerish and single, of course. Oh and they’ve got to be rich and then I make it that they’re only cynical and smooth on the surface. But underneath they’re well, you know, sort of lost and lonely. In need of love but, when roused, capable of breathtaking passion and potency. Most of my heroes, well all of them really, are like that. They frighten but fascinate. They must be the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be alone in the room with.

The category line Winspear helped to launched has pervasive arm-gripping, angry kissing, and even spanking. Still, she got a little flack for that.

The Little Nobody is only #15 in the original Harlequin Presents line (of thousands). A more recent Harlequin line of the same name has the same mission as the original:

You want alpha males, decadent glamour and jet-set lifestyles. Step into the sensational, sophisticated world of Harlequin Presents, where sinfully tempting heroes ignite a fierce and wickedly irresistible passion!

The little nobody is Ynis Raiford. She is newly arrived on a dark and stormy night to a gothic castle on the Cornish Cliffs (Cornwall, England) called the Sea Witch.

Her name – Raiford – is not even hers. It’s borrowed from her stepfather, a con man serving time as a result of his designs on the hero’s fortune (a part of it at least). The hero – Gard St. Clair – is a former maestro whose arm was injured by a freak storefront accident, and then severed from his body at the shoulder by a surgeon, unaware he was operating on a famous conductor because Gard’s wallet had been stolen from him by a pickpocket while he was still unconscious and bloody beneath the shattered pane of glass. So, when Ynis’ petty thief stepfather was caught trying to steal from Gard a couple years later, our hero was still a little touchy and unforgiving. Ynis ventures to the Sea Witch to persuade maestro Gard to drop the charges, but finds the hero a tad embittered by pickpockets, his missing arm, and, presumably, the bad weather.

The bad weather is important, because after Gard declines Ynis’ request to free from prison the only family she’s ever known, she runs out into the dark, stormy night and is deservedly hit by a car. She awakes back at the Sea Witch with amnesia and a ring on her finger. Gard claims she’s his fiancé.

Readers of this line are given no insight into the thoughts and feelings of heroes beyond their actions and smoldering looks of incomprehensible rage, but we can assume the hero feels guilty, or something.

So there we have it. Add another woman – “his old love, the beautiful actress Stella Marrick” – and the set-up is a typical 1970s Mills & Boon pretzel-plot.

Of significance…Ynis has been living in a convent for the better part of her life. Though the Reverend Mother tried to convince Ynis to take orders, instead Ynis wants to see the world. She’s at her hills-are-alive moment when this book begins.

What the heroine’s convent background provides is a nice dose of virgin envy. Yes, it’s a real thing. And Winspear knows how to work it.

He didn’t care a rap she found him more fearful than fascinating. He seemed to her to enjoy the fear which she felt. ‘There are certain terrors known only to a girl,’ he said. ‘The fact is fascinating to a man, and that’s the bare truth.’

Virgin envy. I’m green with it.

Review – The Queen’s Captain – Margaret Hope (1979)


, , , , , , , ,

The Queen’s Captain by Margaret Hope arrived in a box from my mother’s attic. A huge box filled with Masquerade Historicals and Harlequin Romances when they were prized at 60 cents.

The Queens Captain

Consider this a reading case study. I’d call it an auto-ethnography, but, ew.

Phase I. I find the book in a box of books. They’re all vintage, which means all cock-blockers. There will be no sex, and if there’s any kissing to speak of, there will be no tongue.


Phase II. I find this particular book and read the inside flap.

Get to work, lad, or I’ll whip you.

Phase III. I remember a thread on Goodreads. One of those threads where a reader looks to the group for help to remember a title. The title this reader wanted to remember had a delicious scene where the heroine, disguised as a man, gets flogged by the hero. Flogged. Right there on the deck of the ship. The ship’s crew knows she’s a woman, but has been keeping the secret from the captain. They watch her flogged, unable to do anything about it, because there is no mutiny on a ship. The captain reigns supreme in only the way a captain can. (Note to self.) Then, when the captain discovers the man is a maid, the laments that follow are sweeter for the beating.

I think I’ve found that book.

I was so excited, it took me a few weeks to pick it up. When I did, I put it down again. Another week before I picked it up again. The anticipation bordered on dread. I was that titillated.

Phase IV. I forget utterly that this is a Harlequin line from 1979. It wasn’t until the heroine had escaped the ship unflogged that I’d realized my mistake.

What follows is an altogether different reading experience than I’d hoped for, but one I would recommend nonetheless. Margaret Hope may not have allowed her captain to flog the heroine, but she did so much research that I learned a few things about the Defeat of the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Gravelines.

Plus, Hope’s sentence structure is outstanding.

Review – To Tame a Vixen – Anne Hampson (1978)


, , , , , , , , , ,

In honor of the launch of Hollywood’s iteration of Fifty Shades of Grey, and my aching, silent love affair with Mr-Grey-will-see-you-now Jamie Dornan, I’ve found a vintage Harlequin romance that spanks.

They’re in Africa growing citrus. Three orphaned cousins at the finegaling of their aging uncle abandon their fiancées for a year to the old man’s farm. Because he doesn’t trust the boys they’ve chosen, he will withhold their inheritance if they don’t farm for a year.

Oddly enough, if, after the year, they return to their original boy-choices, he will still withhold their inheritance. But ah, well. Harlequin plots have seen less tenable bargains.

And this one promises spanking. On the back cover.

To Tame a Vixen

Beth couldn’t forget or forgive the humiliation.

An illustrious beginning.

Ten years before, Chad Barret had put Beth across his knee and spanked her with her own leather sandal.

Hmm. 1978. What might it have been? A huarache? A Bass Sunjun?

In any case, the heroine was twelve, and it happened off-screen. Bugger.

Worse, when it happens on-screen, it’s absent of everything we want in a hard, perverted slap on the ass.

When at last he held her from him she was ready; her hand came up and fetched him a slap across his smiling, triumphant face. He caught her hand, twisted her arm and her body at the same time. She gasped disbelievingly at the swiftness of the manoevre that brought her across his uplifted knee. He actually moved her dress before the beating began.

Well, actually, that was kind of hot.

But I had to delete the several sentences that follow. They’re outside a social club, and really. There’s been very little threatening build-up. No lip-biting or drafts of contracts promising titillating pain. It’s only page thirty. No more spanking follows. Only bruising kisses and upper arm bruises.

Chad is a brute, and Beth is a shrew. He calls her a bitch several times throughout the book. We know nothing about why he’s always threatening to bruise her, why he can’t just let his lips graze every so softly over her mouth.

Only that he’s dominant, domineering, manly. And doesn’t look good in black or beige.

It’s not a very good book. About it would seem on par with Fifty Shades, which after only a few hours in the theaters, has garnered little support from the masses, with 1 1/2 stars on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, can I go see him now?

Regulating Romance (and its byproducts)

A guest post on RomanceAndSmut.comRomanceAndSmutLogo

Even when they are accompanied by an alpha hero with parliamentary obligations, politics are rarely sexy. But this past year, in both the UK and the US, politicians lost sex appeal, utterly.

The UK added a list of ten sexual acts to the regulatory ban for UK-made pornography, including (but, oh, not limited to) spanking, squirting (female ejaculation), and facesitting.

Facesitting was actually deemed life-endangering, much to the chagrin of my husband, who had no idea he has been putting himself at risk. If you think the list is arbitrary and bizarre, many have agreed with you.

Facesitters protested the new regulations outside of Parliament. The US marches on Washington are sorely Puritanical in comparison.

Disssenters have complained that the regulatory list takes aim at pointedly female pleasures. I’m inclined to take up the feminist hue and cry and ague for a similar ban of male ejaculation. But squirting is odd. I’m loath to walk beneath its banner. And whatever would we do with our ejaculate, if not spray it all over the Internet?

The hilarious show of solidarity among sex workers outside Parliament made me imagine what we might do in reply to the most recent campaign in the US against, not porn, but popular romance. Romance hit the U.S. House floor (not a euphemism) when U.S. Representative Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill (also not a euphemism) this past summer proposing to prohibit the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from funding the Popular Romance Project…or any similar project relating to love or romance.


Part of a larger effort to cut spending, Salmon called for the termination of the $914,000 Popular Romance Project even before he officially proposed to cut the NEH’s $154 million allocation altogether. He didn’t take aim at biogenetics, cloning, or stem cell research. A traitor to his English Lit degree, Salmon set his first sights on romance novels. Romance. Novels.

There are numerous ways into this discussion. And none of them are as fun or sexy as a face-sitting protest. We can say, rightly: Academic researchers should have the ability to study what they choose. But this speech isn’t free. The NEH is funded by U.S. taxpayers.

The NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have been on chopping blocks before. Regularly, in fact, since 1989 when Sen. Jesse Helms got wind of Andres Serrano’s NEA-funded Piss Christ. But, if we agree to fund the NEH, then we agree to fund the NEH. And the NEH is about the democratization of ideas. Even something as low-brow as the popular romance is worthy of academic attention, right? Bloody well right.

Well, then maybe the prohibition on the popular romance has to do with its revenue stream. (No, still not a euphemism.) Perhaps low-brow is acceptable, but market viability is not.

“A $1.4 billion private leisure industry obviously doesn’t need federal assistance,” says Matt Philbin, managing editor at the Media Research Center. Excellent. Then we can have our tax dollars back from Time Warner, Disney, Sony and the Motion Picture Association of America. Private leisure industries receive in total billions of dollars in corporate welfare tax credits.

Hmm. Then that must not be it, either. Follow the puppet strings of the Republican representative from AZ, and you may find the same people who, in support of family values, argue against any depiction of violence or sex. If-then statements read: Kids play video games with the goal of killing zombies, and, when the game is turned off, they pick up dad’s gun and find the nearest 7-Eleven.

I myself have always bought into the idea that narrative – textual, visual, or other – does guide our behavior, our actions and what motivates them. Don Quixote swung his sword at windmills after reading “too many” stories of French chivalry. At age 15, after reading “too many” category romances, I expected to marry the ingenuous boy who took my virginity. (It was Bantam Book’s Loveswept line, if you must know.)

Rather than to pass it off as worthless, artless, wasteful, or pointless (three out of four adjectives used by Rep. Salmon), wouldn’t it instead be valuable to understand the power of romance? Unravel the everyday outcomes of regular, chin-soaking draughts of happily ever after?

Stories of romance are falling from the sky in buckets. And there was a bill on the US government floor not to study the rain. Not to study the air we breathe, nor the water we swim in. Why ever not?

I think we know the answer. It has to do with the fact that 84% of romance book buyers are women. And the percent of romance authors who are women is likely comparable. The same answer solves for why Viagra is U.S. government-subsidized, yet there’s no drug on the market to keep me wet while my estrogen wanes.

No wonder squirting made the list.

REVIEW – Dangerous Marriage – Mary Wibberley (1980)


, , , , , , , ,

Dangerous Marriage by Mary Wibberley (1980)

Dangerous Marriage coverHarlequin Romance #2364

I’m not all about the sex. I’m not. Don’t believe me?

I’m reading The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston (1987).

Reading The Romance Revolution, it occurs to me just how smart women had to be in the academy in the 80s to be taken seriously. This book is rich with research and insight. Each chapter is a book unto itself by today’s standards.

My favorite analysis of popular romance, until now, was Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance. But I prefer Thurston’s methodology. Both Radway and Thurston explore readers’ responses to romance, but Thurston’s methods include a comprehensive analysis of plot and character, the texts themselves. Where Radway’s work is an ethnography, Thurston’s is a discourse analysis, one that takes the reader beyond the often self-referential textual analysis of New Criticism.

I suppose I should be grateful that at my age, I’m still thrilled by academic discovery. But this discovery would have been more helpful when I was a critic. Not just scanning for sex scenes…

So back to that.

Thurston in her opening chapter “The Romance Novel as Popular Culture” outlines her erotic romance data set. The Harlequin Romance line, of which I have been reviewing in my last posts, is not included. That’s what I’ve been saying about this line. No sex.

Thurston reports that, “With a few notable exceptions…the character of male-female relationships portrayed in [this] line remains…the incomprehensible/cruel hero and the insecure/masochistic heroine”.

That’s it. Utterly incomprehensible. I’m relieved to know it’s not just me.

It’s not just the frustrating absence of erotica that excludes this collection of books from Thurston’s analysis. She reports that critics of popular romance as a rule disregard these “classic” romances and cites a Romantic Times (1985) writer: “One wonders when Harlequin will realize that this is not romance at all.”

I can’t agree or disagree. Romance is too subjective a notion to disregard anything outright as not romance. Instead, I’ll argue it either scratches your itch, or it doesn’t.

Take Vargen Gilev.

Yes, ladies. Vargen Gilev. It bears repeating.

Vargen is the “handsome island entrepreneur” who is Mary Wibberley’s incomprehensible hero in Dangerous Marriage. He is a “hard-eyed, hard-faced stranger,” alpha all the way. In spite of the Marimekko shirt he’s wearing on the cover.

The heroine, Shelley, has arrived on Avala to buy a hotel. Her domineering father has demanded that she do so. Vargen also wants the hotel – has actually already purchased it – but more than that, he requires the respectability a marriage will give him. He persuades Shelley to marry him.

Hey, wait. We have a marriage plot. Chin up. There might be sex because they’re married.

Shelley could have been a vindicated heroine, the trope described in Kiss of a Tyrant. But the reader is offered no feeling of vindication. Although Vargen is incomprehensible, he is not cruel.

True, he consummates their marriage while she’s still groggy from the Russian vodka he’s made her throw up fifteen minutes before. But the author Wibberley has more cruelty than Vargen. Vargen by my account is a hottie, and I’ve been duly revved. But their consummation is oblique.

She felt the hard bed beneath her and was aware of having been lifted and placed there, and she lifted her arms to him, to pull him down to her, to hold him as she had never held anyone before…There was only darkness, and movement, and two bodies that became as one…

Only darkness? Only movement? What about his penis?

The plot’s twists are a righteous yoga pose designed to explain the hero’s actions for the previous 180 pages. It’ll just confuse us both if I try to recap.

Shelly, after a lifetime of emotional and psychological abuse by her father, is skittish. When Vargen grabs her to keep her from falling over the balcony, she rages. The typical fist flailing against his hard, broad chest. Shelley almost falls off two balconies, cuts her foot, nearly drowns, suffers alcohol poisoning, and is kidnapped.

Through it all, Vargen is impassive, hard. Incomprehensible.

Until the final scene, when he rescues her from her kidnappers and melts.

 ‘I love you Shelley, I love you very much…,’ he groaned. ‘Oh, my dearest…’

And more like that. Some darlings. Some my loves. I prefer my reserved heroes to remain reserved. His softening at the end of a book feels like a betrayal. He can love her but still look mean. That’s the point.

I’m so done with this line. Where the hell is Avala anyway?

Up next…Harlequin Temptations. I remember stealing these from my mother and hiding them under my bed. They’re included in Thurston’s analysis of erotic romance, and a box has just arrived on my front porch – an accidental pregnancy after a few tipsy minutes on Ebay.