Let’s Talk About Bodice Rippers & Neo-Bodice Rippers
Do modern bodice-ripper books exist? And what is one, exactly?
Bodice rippers are inherently trashy, “they,” say—the “poor woman’s” version of pulp fiction. Admittedly, the trashiness is part of their charm. Detractors have said they are anti-woman, a relic of a bygone era, and promoted terrible values.
We don’t see it that way. These romance novels are intense and fun and nothing to be ashamed of.
It doesn’t surprise us that the subgenre resonates today with a segment of readers. Modern neo-bodice rippers do crop up from time to time.
While many still use the phrase bodice ripper as a catch-all term for historical romance or the romance genre, the actual definition is narrower.
A bodice ripper is a specific type of historical romance that originated in 1972 with the publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. These romances essentially ceased to exist as a sub-genre somewhere in the mid-to-late-1990s.
Julia Quinn Does Not Write Bodice Rippers
That’s what we said. And we’ll repeat it.
Bridgerton is NOT a bodice ripper.
There has been much brouhaha regarding consent in one scene which first appeared in The Duke and I. The heroine, Daphne, doesn’t let her husband Simon pull out–as he usually does during sex, to prevent pregnancy.
A social media frenzy ensued after this was depicted on-screen.
Journalists and shocked viewers referred to this scene as rape. Or, at the very least, it was problematic.
Sweet Savage Flame’s Stance On “Offensive” Ideas
We at Sweet Savage Flame understand the sensitivity behind this topic, but as hardened readers of genuine hardcore bodice rippers, all this hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, and gate-keeping seems performative. And absurd.
Fiction exists to explore a forbidden realm that the “real world” can’t–or shouldn’t—dare. What happens in a book or on screen is not reality.
Moreover, we are staunch opponents of censorship. Book banning is anathema to us–from all sides. Erasure of the written word is a phenomenon not limited to one group or mindset.
All that said, we reiterate: Julia Quinn does not write bodice rippers.
So What the Heck Is Or Isn’t a Bodice Ripper Romance?
Historical romance authors like Lisa Kleypas, Courtney Milan, and Sarah MacLean do not write them, either.
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 to what one is than most of today’s typical historical romances.
However, an “Alpha” hero, a virginal heroine, and titillating sex scenes alone do not constitute a bodice ripper.
Add a historical setting and viola!
That is now a retro historical romance.
Yet those are not the only qualities inherent in a ‘ripper. They can include numerous tropes or plot points, as these stories vary greatly.
I Know A Bodice Ripper 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. They don’t really exist anymore in the publishing world, with a few exceptions.
While relatively rare, a handful of modern authors have made efforts over the last twenty years to capture that old style. These authors write what I call “neo-bodice rippers.”
The Neo-Bodice Ripper
What is a neo-bodice ripper?
First, it is a historical romance novel. Thus, it is a 21st-century written romance set at any time in history before World War II.
These books usually incorporate “forced seduction,” or at least force is possible. The hero must be dominant, while the female resists his advances.
So these books usually (but sometimes don’t) include non-consensual sex between the hero and heroine.
Other men might rape the heroine. She also could have willing intercourse with a partner other than the hero.
The plot develops in a classic bodice ripper over many months or even years. The protagonists might travel to various destinations.
Characters who display historically correct mindsets are a bonus but not a requirement. Nevertheless, history plays a pivotal role in the novel.
Most important is the power dynamic the two human sexes engage in.
A bodice ripper is an epic love story. The central theme is the physical and emotional struggle between man and woman to find a complementary love–one for the ages. It must also thrill and resonate; titillate and shock; arouse and offend.
A neo-bodice ripper should capture those aspects.
While modern bodice ripper novels are few and far between, they exist. These are not mainstream.
Thankfully the self-publishing boom has seen some new variations of the old-school genre.
And as we are all about old-school, let’s look at some notable ones.
Examples of Modern (or Neo) Bodice Rippers
Tell Me Lies
Claudia Dain’s 2000 Leisure romance debut, Tell Me Lies, features a pirate who captures and ravishes the heroine.
It was pretty controversial at the time, as many readers and critics argued that the romance genre “had moved past that sort of thing,” whatever that meant.
Claiming the Courtesan
Anna Campbell’s first book was Claiming the Courtesan. Claiming the Courtesan was published by Avon in 2007. Critics hailed it as “Regency noir.” It had both fans and detractors upon release.
The story of the Duke of Kylemore’s single-minded pursuit of his mistress Soraya/Verity indeed held bodice-ripper aspects. This dark romance is undoubtedly an example of a neo-bodice ripper.
The Duke’s Captive
Adele Ashworth’s 2010 The Duke’s Captive, another Avon release, has been categorized by some readers as a bodice ripper for its dubious consent scenes between the hero and heroine.
Spoil of War
Phoenix Sullivan’s 2011 Spoil of War told the Arthurian tale of Guinevere’s parents. The male protagonist holds the heroine hostage. Several times men–not the hero–violate her. Depictions from medical life are rough and not pretty.
Spoil of War seems to be out of publication, however.
A Viking’s Love
Indie author Carolyn Kairns’ 2012 outing, A Viking’s Love, was an unapologetic modern bodice ripper. A Viking named Joran the Hard-Hearted falls for his captive, Allisande.
This book has literal bodice-ripping, dubious consent, evil villains aplenty, and much more.
There is a sequel, A Viking’s Promise, but I have not read that one yet. According to reviews, it does not appear as violent as its predecessor. Still, it may be worthy of a look.
Italian author Nina Pennacchi’s Lemonade is an intense romance from 2015. Pennacchi wrote it in her native language. This book contains thoughtful, excellent writing.
However, it has ignited many fiery discussions due to the hero’s forceful and vengeful ways toward the heroine. He rapes her during one brutally intense scene.
Virtue and Vice
Another 2015 release, Kimberly Brody’s Virtue and Vice, might qualify as a neo-bodice ripper novel. It’s been controversial for its erotic scenes, violence, and lack of consent.
We haven’t read it, so we can’t confirm. Reviews are mixed.
How the Warrior Fell & How the Warrior Claimed
Author Nicole Rene’s sexually-charged outing, How the Warrior Fell, from 2016, and its 2017 sequel, How the Warrior Claimed, both take place in a fictional Ancient World.
The books have strong-willed Alpha heroes who pursue their heroines with intensity and lust. The men come close to violence with their furiousness.
Is either one of these a neo-bodice ripper? We think they might be. They’re worth a look.
Your Thoughts on Bodice Rippers & Neo-Bodice Rippers
Have you read any of the books listed here, and if so, what are your opinions on them? Or have you come across a new historical romance with a hero who’s crossed the line from overbearing alpha into “true” bodice-ripping territory?
Do you think authors today are afraid of taking chances to write those kinds of stories? Or do those types of books repel them?
As readers, what are your thoughts on contemporary authors writing old-school-style books? Does the thought intrigue you, or would you prefer to read something else entirely?
Please, drop a comment and let me know what you think about neo-bodice rippers!