The Epic Journey of Romance Writing … by Nancy Brophy

When I first announced to my family that I was writing fiction, they were thrilled. But when I added the words ‘romance novels’ my brother asked incredulously, “You’re writing bodice rippers?” And while the rest of my family did not second his opinion publicly, privately they may have thought it.

The phrase ‘bodice ripper’ just won’t die. When I hear it, the one thing I know for sure is the person using it hasn’t read a romance novel – ever. Today’s novels are not the ones your mother read. And the major difference is the heroine.

We still have historicals, although the pirate book has lost favor. But one day someone will write a good pirate story and suddenly they’ll be hot again. But we will never go back to the virgin heroine whose first encounter with sex was to lose the ‘no, no, no’ fight – a woman portrayed as a victim of men, society and Puritanism.

How did those novels ever gain acceptance?

I think it was two things. One was a backlash reaction to the free love generation of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The paradigm shift from ‘you can touch my left breast, but not my right’ morality to ‘sex is great with whomever you want anytime you want’ was more difficult for a lot of women than reported. And the second was that as authors writing about sex we utilize knowledge from our own histories. If the writers were at least thirty years of age, their experience came from an earlier time. A time when pre-marital relationship were okay if the woman didn’t really consent.

Women have changed. On television, we’ve gone from June Cleaver, housewife with pearls, to working single gal, Mary Tyler Moore. Claire Huxtable was a mother and a lawyer, married to a doctor (how proud her parents must have been) to Carrie Bradshaw a sex columnist (what do you suppose her parents thought?).

In real life we gone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jacqueline Kennedy. From Margaret Thatcher to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

Romance novels have kept pace with the times. The new heroine is never a victim and she doesn’t need a man to save her. In fact a lot of times a man is in her way. These women are tough. They’re raising kids on their own. They work, some own businesses. Many have impressive kick-ass skills. Every one of them has attitude and spirit.

Men have to work harder now because their duties have morphed from meal ticket and protector to partner, lover and friend.

Many of today’s authors have had previous careers as lawyers or medical researchers or scientists. As women have grown and changed so has the industry, offering sub-genres from the supernatural to the assassin. From historical to futurist. From erotic to religious. And everything in between.

And yet we still have romance novels. In fact the percentage of their market share has increased. Maybe because it is escapist literature. Maybe because we all need something that has a guaranteed happy ending. Or maybe because through it all, love endures.

Either way, I’m proud to be romance writer. And if anyone asks, my brother can now claim to have read more than one romance novel and he never uses the words ‘bodice ripper’.

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Posted on May 27, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great post but I have to say that, unfortunately, the no no no, yes is still alive and well today. It’s just not quite as visible as it once was but it’s out there and it’s still well-loved by a segement of readership. But you know, for all the disaparaging of those bodice rippers, they formed my love for romance and I’ll forever be grateful to them and the authors that wrote them. I’m sure I’m not the only one but I have to say, I’m okay with being associated with them. Even as romance has changed (in a large part, thank goodness), they are the reason romance is so big now. Do I think we could have gotten where we are today without them? Maybe. But that doesn’t lessen the impact they had on me. I will never forget them and it was fun to be reminded of them. Thanks Nancy!

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  2. Good article, Nancy. And thankfully the “bodice ripper” covers have pretty much gone by the wayside.

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  3. Romance stories are so SOOTHING. And who doesn’t need to be soothed these days? It’s a way to fight the chaos of the real world. The same way mysteries give us relief that a crime can be solved and killers put away, romances give us relief to think love, kindness, and gentleness exist and can still triumph.

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  4. Here, Here! I’m so glad times have changed. Like many romance readers I began my genre reading in the 70’s and 80’s in Science Fiction and Mystery. This was because the heroines of romance did not fit my idea of women and the choices they could make. As the industry has changed, so have my reading habits. I can now get my science fiction, mystery and suspense, within a romance novel. This gives me the best of both worlds, a great world-building backdrop with the importance of relationships. Even Historical Romances written today do not follow the “bodice-ripper” tropes of yesteryear. Instead, women are portrayed as strong women who made difficult choices and kept their families and fortunes together. (As many women did historically).

    There’s a reason romance is the number one selling genre. It’s because it presents a good variety of situations, worlds, and opportunities for readers.

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  5. Gina Fluharty

    Kathleen Woodiwiss used to be my favorite “bodice ripper” writer, but you’re right. We’ve evolved from that and there’s no going back. It’s a relief, really. When I lost my virginity, because the romance of the time was of the ‘no,no,no’ variety, I actually felt a certain amount of guilt for saying ‘yes, yes, yes!’ Awesome post!

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  6. That was an excellent post today. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed it very much.

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