Let’s Talk About Bodice Rippers & Neo-Bodice Rippers
We’ve discussed what a bodice-ripper is several times at Sweet Savage Flame. Some use it as a derogatory term for romances. We don’t see it that way. Bodice rippers are intense fun and nothing to be ashamed of. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise us that the genre still has sway today. Modern neo-bodice rippers still appear from time to time.
The Bodice Ripper Defined
While many people still use the phrase bodice ripper as a catch-all term for historical romance, or for the romance genre in general, the true definition is more narrow. A bodice ripper is a specific type of historical romance that existed beginning in 1972 with the publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. It ceased to exist as a sub-genre somewhere in the mid-to-late-1990s.
Julia Quinn does not write bodice rippers. Courtney Milan certainly does not. Neither does Tessa Dare, although she cheekily has bodices ripped in a few of her books. Almost every mainstream historical author writing today writes “modern” historical romance, a completely different animal.
E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray is closer in essence to what a bodice-ripper is than any of their books. However, just having a domineering, “alpha” hero, a virginal heroine, and titillating sex scenes alone does not constitute a bodice ripper.
Add a historical setting to those factors and you have an old-school historical romance. The power play dynamic between the two sexes is a paramount theme. Yet that is not the only quality inherent in a ‘ripper. There are various tropes or plot points they can include as bodice rippers can vary greatly.
I Know It When I See It
In a 1964 United States Supreme Court Case that dealt with obscenity, Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart said the following about pornography:
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the medium involved in this case is not that.”USSC JUSTICE POTTER STEWART, JACOBELLIS V. OHIO,
The same can be said for the bodice ripper. I know one when I see one and they are hard to find these days. While rare, there have been a few attempts by some modern authors to capture that style in the last twenty years or so. They write what I call “neo-bodice rippers.”