‘Fess up. We’ve all got some genre we read with guilty pleasure. Romances are mine1. None of these romances you can take home to leave where impressionable children might see them but the sultry bodice ripper type; you know: the kind with a buxom heroine bent over the arm of a muscular hero setting up for a kiss at the very least and ravishment to come. I think the more general term is “historical romance”, but in any case we’re not talking the kind of book you read for plot, character development or historical background and accuracy, such as Anya Seton’s Katherine.
There are, of course, some common elements to proper (improper?) juicy bodice ripper romances, to the point that one might draw up a menu of plot devices, tropes and elements. The heroine may be golden maned or raven tressed with eyes of flashing sapphire blue, emerald green or jetty black, the hero a tall muscular buccaneer, nobleman or gunman for hire and the setting the bounding Spanish Main, a London awash with rakes and roues clad in silks, satins and laces or the desolate desert of the American West, preferably during a gold/silver rush. There is, however, always a misunderstanding between the hero and heroine slated to form a relationship with one another, possibly a case of mistaken or secret identity and a case of ravishing.
Carolina2 Lightfoot, daughter of a Southern U.S. landowner, is sent off to school in London for a bit of polish and to keep her away from the local crop of bounders and roues…only to fall in with the London dissolute rakes. She is seduced by the current bad boy, not realizing that he can’t concentrate on any given girl for more than a few days or weeks before being distracted by the next coy glance or revealed ankle. She sneaks out of school dressed as a boy one night to search for her lover, reportedly making time with Subsequent Girl, and is caught in a House of Ill Repute at a dicing table by the Mysterious Nobleman in Grey Velvet. Keep an eye on him: he turns out to be the third son of an otherwise dissolute family, masquerading as the Master Buccaneer of the Spanish Main in order to support his family. Something like that, anyway. Great fun if you’re not expecting much character development or plot continuity.
Valerie Sherwood’s Lovesong‘s not bad for a bodice ripper romance, if you excuse a typo or two (but then I’ve read Modern Serious Literature with more than this book had) It had all the necessary elements: golden-maned impetuous buxom heroine, hero who combined “mysterious English Nobleman” with “Rapacious Buccaneer dominating the Bounding Spanish Main”, sunny tropical islands/seas and dark clammy London fogs. Sea voyages (both intended and involuntary), heaving bosoms, misunderstandings between the man and woman destined for one another, this has all the elements I look for in proper bodice rippers, combined with a mildly plausible plot to boot. There’s even a sequel to this book, for those who wondered what happened next, not to mention Valerie Sherwood’s other books.
Just please don’t tell the romance subset of the publishing world that I’ve called this kind of book a “bodice ripper”? I think the term’s a bit outre these days.
1well, one of them anyway.
2her sisters include Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and Florida