The Queen of Erotic Historical Romance
Life and Death of Bertrice Small
Bertrice Small was an erotic historical romance pioneer and bodice ripper trailblazer.
Small was born Bertrice Williams in Manhattan, New York City, NY on December 9, 1937. She was married for almost 50 years to George Small.
A Native New Yorker, she lived on eastern Long Island for 30 years, in the oldest English settlement in New York, the town of Southhold.
She passed away on February 24, 2015, at the age of 77 due to kidney failure. She was in the midst of writing her final book. Sudden Pleasures, a contemporary romance was finally released in June 2021.
Her husband predeceased her in 2012. Small left behind a son named Tom, and several grandchildren.
Her first two books were published by Avon. 1978 saw the release of The Kadin. This book was unique in that the heroine shared her hero with other women in a harem. The story was less a romance than the historical saga of Scottish-born heroine, Janet Leslie/ Cyra Hafise.
This was followed by Love Wild and Fair, the tale of another Scottish beauty, Cat Leslie, and her lover Francis.
Small’s next several books, including her most famous, Skye O’Malley, were contracted to Ballantine.
It wasn’t until she published the third entry in the O’Malley saga, A Love For all Time with Signet Books, that Small’s cover art would be as distinctive as Johanna Lindsey’s.
This cover–designed by the great Elaine Duillo–was rather controversial and some stores refused to sell it. Why? Look at heroine, Aiden, as she holds her hand to her breast. Some people thought she was pinching her nipple in excitement, and that was too much for booksellers.
With Elaine Duillo’s cheeky sensuality, who knows? To me, it could go either way.
After the controversy over this gorgeous cover, Small’s books would almost exclusively be designed by Duillo.
Small maintained a lifetime friendship with the artist. She purchased much of the original cover art for her books and decorated her home with the beautiful paintings. Duillo’s final cover before retirement was Small’s 2003’s Vixens.
Erotic Romance Pioneer
Not only was Bertrice Small one of the original dames of the historical romance genre, but she was also one of the most graphic erotic romance writers. She would earn the moniker “Lust’s Leading Lady” from her many fans.
Despite her penchant for euphemisms and prose so purple it made you think about real purple parts of the body, Small knew how to write some kink. She upped the ante in explicit sex in romances and introduced terms like “manroots,” “honey ovens,” “love-grottos,” and “love juices.”
Many of her early works involved a stunning, perfect heroine falling in love with her hero, then somehow getting separated from him via capture/enslavement/forced marriage with another man. She would be seduced by an exotic lover to new realms of sensual delights and then later reunite with husband #1 in eternal sexual bliss, or some variation thereof.
Small’s books would span all time periods, from ancient Rome and Constantinople to medieval Wales, and from Tudor and Stuart England to India under the Mughal Khans.
Later in her career, Small wrote mostly books set in Scotland, Renaissance Italy, and a paranormal series about a world of fairies, Hetar.
My Bertrice Small Experience
Although, as a fellow Long Islander, I have lived most of my life not too far from Ms. Small’s home, I only discovered her works later in my romance reading days, somewhere in the late 1990s. Up until then, I had not appreciated how groundbreaking she was in the genre’s history.
My personal favorites were the over-the-top Skye O’Malley, its sequel All the Sweet Tomorrows, and the Roman-era Beloved.
Bertrice Small’s Legacy
Her books may have been controversial, but Small had a fiercely devoted following.
Bodice ripper lovers cannot deny the lasting effect Bertrice Small left in the world of erotic and historical romance.
“Your being contains mine; now I am truly part of you. Together as one, we form an unbroken circle of love.”WILD JASMINE