1970s: No such thing as political correctness. Women’s Lib completely missed this boat.
First romance I ever read: BRIDE OF ZARCO, Margaret Rome
I started reading romance novels in the mid-70s, starting with this tiny tome-ette. It was my mom’s. One evening, I just picked it up and started reading. Next thing I knew, I was halfway through (which wasn’t much considering how lean these books were). Before, I had tried, but could not connect with the text. I read it again to see what made this one different than the others I had tried to read. I think… I just… liked the plot.
Maybe, the year that I read it, my mind was finally ready. I know I was reading a ton of books that year from my school library. Yeah…maybe it was just time. Gorgeous dress on the cover. Shitty logic. Zarco told the heroine that she was too beautiful to be a nurse. Let the plain women be nurses because they could not hope for better. What’s worse – I was all like, “yeah, whatever”. I didn’t question the logic. Shame on me. I know better now.
So I went through my parent’s closet – they had bookshelves in their closet – and one by one, pulled them down and read practically everything mom had, specifically the Harlequin Presents® and a handful of basic Harlequins®. I also went through her stash of Barbara Cartlands. She had the early Pyramid series of books – first editions! Then I happened upon a Bantam series book at school, THE CRUEL COUNT, which I “took”. Man, I could go through two or three books on a Saturday or Sunday and keep up with my reading from the school library. It was ON! I read so many books by English and Canadian authors that I started to sound different from my friends.
Most of the Harlequin Presents were by Commonwealth authors: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, in addition to the many English authors; even from South Africa. They were very good about including words from French, Italian, Greek – depending on the man’s background. ZARCO contained some words from Portuguese as that was his nationality. As I was already reading/writing/speaking Spanish, it was no problem to pick up the tidbits of all these other languages.
It’s funny because one would think that romance novels have nothing to offer the intellect. They don’t now, but back then, I dunno. It wasn’t the racket it is now. Harlequin has not only jumped the shark, it has kicked it onto the shore where it gasps vainly for breath while people hack it open with rusty butter knives. But back then, in the 70s, there were glamorous descriptions of far-away places and all those languages, and people doing interesting things. That the men were assholes for most of the book, well, that was still considered normal. If I had a penny for every description that included “arrogant”, “autocratic”, “wealthy”, and “domineering”, I could buy one of their mansions. I was shocked when, little by little, books were being written where the man was NOT an asshole. It was like, “Wow! I like this SO MUCH BETTER!”
Towards the end of the 1970s, especially once Janet Daileycame on the scene, the men’s attitudes were toned down considerably. They were still brooding and insensitive, but not as mean or vengeful. In Anne Mather’s SPIRIT OF ATLANTIS, the story was really sweet and sincere. There were a few old-school holdouts: Charlotte Lamb, Carole Mortimer, Violet Winspear. Lamb and Mortimer, especially, seemed to have a thing for barely-legals hooking up with men about two generations older. That’s like… 1800s old-school.
This one, while being a very good story, did have a “forced seduction” in the beginning of the story. A near-rape, if you will. “Forced seduction” is, roughly, when a woman’s natural responses to sexual stimulation are used against her, to take away her power or her will. Not nice at all. But FS is used to sell a billion books a year.
Under siege. I liked this book when I read it in 1979, but now that I think about it, Big Brother Valdez was an asshole. He tried to force the heroine to marry his brother because supposedly she was responsible for the accident that crippled him. Oh right. Like he can just take someone’s life away like that. AND be in love with her. THIS is the kind of BS that was being phased out at the end of the decade.
Rape. Some traditions die hard. The “hero” thought the heroine was her slutty twin. Then he sees the birthmark. Oops, my bad.
They, among a few other die-hards, did not catch up for a while. No, Janet Daily was, I think, the first American to really change Harlequin and its protagonists.
She wrote a novel set in every state. I’d say about half the men were assholes…
and half were not – the later half.
This was a big deal to me! Men did not have to be horrible to be interesting. How about that! Another thing that changed was that they did not have to be European millionaires with pedigrees. What a relief! It was fun and all, but those types are like space aliens. It was nice to see a man who was a local business owner or an explorer or even a rancher. Rachel Lindsay and Robyn Donald wrote lovely stories with lovable, adorable men.
I read, not knowing what I was in for, some appalling historicals where the ingenue was raped then fell in love with her rapist. That’s just sick – and not in a good way. Not only that, but she had to sleep with men on every continent before she found her way back to the rapist/first love. Nauseating. Truly.
This book was very frustrating because it may have been the first book I read where the hero and heroine did not have immediate access to each other. They were apart more than they were together and I remember thinking how aggravating it was. And of course, the woman having so many lovers was agitating and frustrating. I kept thinking to myself, “this can’t be right!”. When I would re-read the book, I would give it the “Princess Bride” treatment and only read the “feel happy” parts. As I got a bit older, I thought the whole living-without-each-other stuff together with the whole sleeping-with-Europe angle was stupid so I threw it away.
Oh My God! This novel, along with SKYE O’MALLY by Bertrice Small were the perfect examples of 1970s long-format historical romance novels. Rape, kidnapping, abduction, pregnancy, no marriage, gang rape, overseas adventures to be raped and/or seduced by men on three continents…it’s all so nauseating! This is truly an appalling book, but damn this style was popular back in the day. I remember grimacing every time I saw it on the shelf. I read it two or three times over the course of three or four years, hoping it…or I…would change, but it never happened. Eventually, I threw it away. Relieved to have its evil funk out of my home.
I’m surprised that I liked this book. I loathe tropical weather. Just hate it! And this was nothing if not tropical. All those references to heat and moisture just irritated me were the reason I did not read this more than twice. One, it is too damn long, and then the aforementioned heat and humidity were getting in the way of my enjoyment. Same thing with SAVAGE SURRENDER. They never went anyplace cool, like Switzerland.
I read more than these, but they represent what I was reading when I wasn’t reading Harlequins or Barbara Cartlands. I never read any Rosemary Rogers books. I went straight to Johanna Lindsey, but Lindsey was more an 80s thing. As the 1980s began, you could see a pattern of evolution. Characters and plots were using more domestic backgrounds. The industry was exploding. Then in 1982 there came…Silhouette Desire®…