Kathleen Woodiwiss (real name: Kathleen Hogg) invented the steamy historical romance ...the bodice ripper. Before Woodiwiss there were thin, Harlequin-type romances and a smattering of nurse novels. After Woodiwiss there were thick historical novels packed with sex and purple prose.
What interests me most is the purple prose. Woodiwiss wanted to write about idealistic, passionate people and over-the-top sex scenes. She rightly figured that these would sound ridiculous in modern narrative English, so she put her stories in the past and cast about for a style that would fit. She obviously read books like "Gone With the Wind," but I'm guessing that she really hit paydirt when she discovered the swashbuckler style used by Raphael Sabitini. Sabitini was the Sergio Leone of his day. I picture her boldly updating and expanding on Sabitini, pushing the style farther and farther till she had something new on her hands.
Fleming was a great genre writer, but he didn't have to oppose the style of his time. Woodiwiss was forced to come up with a whole new style (or a drastically new take on an old style) and thrust it into the inhospitable world of the 1970s.
"You bade me wait and cool your heels till you sailed this one last time, then you return and gift me with your wife! You present this common slut to take my place after you've played the round with my affections! Damn you, you crusty bull!" Brandon spun her around and caught her by the shoulders , almost lifting her clear of the dock. "Be warned, Louisa," he stated slowly. "She is my wife and carries my child. I wronged you, true, so wreak your vengeance upon my frame, but never--ever lay one hand upon her head!"
This was written in the early seventies. I wonder what the hippies thought of it.
Just so I don't disappoint, here's a Woodowiss sex scene...no, wait a minute, I'll save that for a separate "blue" post. In the story above, let it suffice to say that Captain Brandon Birmingham "probes the depths of Heather's full womanhood!"
BTW, I'm no expert on romance novels. I'm a guy and they're just not my thing, but I can appreciate the expertise that goes into them as well as the spirit. I admire romance readers because they won't be put off by ridicule or the hostility of the literary establishment. They want romance and adventure in their lives and if they can't have it in real life, then they'll have it in fantasy.
These are the kind of women who, regardless of their sedate exteriors, are somewhere deep inside ready to risk everything, including life itself, for the man they love. They have guts and conviction. In the Ice Age they were the women who would confront a sabertooth tiger with a tree branch in order to save their baby. They were the women who, with dagger drawn, would stay with a wounded husband through the night in a dark and menacing forest full of wolves. These women are the salt of the Earth. You can build a civilization around people like that.