Tag: Sex and gender

The Hero, the Heroine, or the Love Story?

love cherish me

When you read a romance novel, what are you reading it for? The romance? The heroine’s journey? The hunky hero? Or something else entirely?

The Placeholder Reader

Recently, I came upon a quote by author Laura Kinsale. Rather than add it to the Kathleen E. Woodiwiss page, I thought it would make for a good conversation piece. In her essay “The Androgynous Reader” in Jayne Ann Krentz’ book, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, Kinsale cites the heroine of K.E.W.’s Shanna as proof that the average romance reader does not identify with the heroine, but rather, s/he imagines her as a placeholder for themselves to be with the hero, for:

“[A] sillier and more wrongheaded heroine than Shanna would be difficult to imagine… Feminists need not tremble for the reader–she does not identify with, admire, or internalize the characteristics of either a stupidly submissive or an irksomely independent heroine. The reader thinks about what she would have done in the heroine’s place.”

I agree and disagree with Kinsale’s assessment. As a woman, I do not internalize a foolish heroine’s poor decision-making. When it comes to reading romance, unless feminism is an explicit theme of the book, that topic doesn’t enter in how I judge the story.

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Neo-Bodice Rippers

The True 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 much more narrow. A bodice ripper is a specific type of historical romance that existed starting in 1972 and more or less came to a halt 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.

Fifty Shades of Gray is closer in essence to what a bodice-ripper is. However, 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 many tropes or plot points that they can include and bodice rippers can vary greatly.

In the 1964 United States Supreme Court Case that dealt with obscenity, Jacobellis v.... Read more “Neo-Bodice Rippers”