Whispering ‘K’nights and the Like
Some days back I decided to treat myself by going book shopping. I did my book shopping but what I saw in the bookshop brought back memories of high school and college. Whole shelves and shelves devoted to the genre of books that are rather euphemistically termed as ‘romance novels’. It is those books which most girls grow up reading and which most boys will never admit to ever having read. I am talking about the Mills & Boon, Harlequin, Historical bodice ripper kind of romance.
The Dim and Distant Past
In days of yore, these books were distinctly staid, where the girl is always the unkissed virgin. He may sweep her into a passionate embrace, and she will almost swoon in pleasure, but that would be at the end when they are about to walk off into the sunset and certainly not before love is declared and all is well. What now passes for romance is often a little better than soft porn or at best erotica.
I firmly believe that the Bronte sisters are responsible for the romance novel’s emergence, because of Pride and Prejudice and because of Wuthering heights. Darcy and Heathcliff are the archetypal romantic heroes: dark, handsome, brooding and sardonic (this is not a word that I have ever come across anywhere outside the pages of these novels).
The mantle was then taken up by Georgette Heyer
and Barbara Cartland (did you know she was the step grandmother of Diana,
Princess of Wales?).Barbara Cartland: Her Heroines were perpetually swooning. Either in delight or horror.
Nurses and Secretaries: No Feminism in Sight
These early romance books, especially the Mills and Boon had heroines who were nurses and secretaries. There used to be a whole ‘Doctor and Nurse’ series, which, perhaps because they realized that women could be doctors too and not just nurses, was changed to ‘Medical Romance’.
To be a romance hero, the guy always has to be a male chauvinist pig and treats the girl like crap, but she still, mysteriously and inexplicable falls in love with him. He is always older and experienced (that’s polite for philandering tomcat) and she is young and naïve and innocent.
The bodice ripper genre (AKA ‘historical romance’) is even worse, where the brutish hero consistently mistreats the heroine (perhaps even slaps her around a bit seeing at this was supposed to be in the dim and distant past). I wonder how I lapped up all that drivel!
The women of course still had to be pure and innocent and men continued to be sardonic and experienced.
There is also an underlying racism in these books. They are always about white Caucasians. At a stretch they may include an Arab sheikh or two, (look at that pic: the name of the book is “For the Sheikh’s Pleasure”, good grief!) but only if he had a white mother or something and even then he had to be royalty or head of state at the very least.
It’s OK if you are North American, English, European or even Australian. You certainly can’t be black or Asian or something, that simply wouldn’t do!
So tell me how many of you have read these books and will admit to having read them!