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REVIEW: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss

Dear Romancelandia.

This is the book. This one started…well, that’s up for debate. It certainly started a new type of romance. Yes, there were romances before TFATF. There were bestselling authors who unabashedly wrote romance, even in the same style as TFATF: The Sheik (1919), Gone With the Wind (1936), Rebecca (1938), Forever Amber (1944). The 1960s was the age of the Gothic. (Apparently an editor looked at the steady sales over 25 years since the publication of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and wondered if there were an untapped market. In 1960 Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn was published and Gothics took off.) But the 60s were turbulent times and the sexual tension without the actual sex of the Gothics stopped being titillating.

The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen WoodiwissIn the early 1970s, Woodiwiss’s first novel was rescued from the slush pile by editor Nancy Coffey. Coffey couldn’t put it down and threw the not-insignificant power of Avon’s paperback marketing machine behind the novel, releasing it as an Avon Spectacular, a paperback original. Initial print run was 500,000 in 1972 and it quickly went back time and again for reprints. In fact, in 39 years, it’s never been out of print.

Avon quickly received other manuscripts from other authors, most famously Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love, famously addressed only “To the editor of The Flame and the Flower.” In 1974, then, they published SSL and Woodiwiss’s second novel, Wolf and the Dove. Bodice rippers then ruled; Gothics disappeared.

At this point I’d like to bring up the plot of The Flame and the Flower. Heather is 18 years old, reduced to drudgery by her aunt-by-marriage who is jealous of Heather’s stunning beauty and upset by her Irish ancestry. From this she is rescued by the aunt’s brother, who takes Heather to London to find a place for her as a teacher at a finishing school. This is a ruse, of course: he wants to rape Heather and then install her at the brothel he is part-owner of. Heather rescues herself — in fact, she thinks she’s killed the aunt’s brother. She runs away…and is mistaken for a prostitute anyway and dragged aboard a ship to slake the sexual lusts of Brandon Birmingham, captain of a merchant ship just put into port. Heather is unable to escape this time and Brandon rapes her. She escapes in the morning instead, goes back to her aunt’s house and works as a drudge again until her aunt figures out what Heather cannot: she’s pregnant. Brandon is blackmailed into marrying Heather by the friend of Heather’s father who threatens to impound Brandon’s ship and put him in jail. But in a fit of pique, Brandon vows not to bed Heather again, to treat her like a servant. This is more torture for him, because he can’t bring himself to bed anyone else if Heather won’t have him. Heather doesn’t understand what she’s missing, so she’s perfectly happy with the situation, if it weren’t for Brandon’s unpredictable foul moods.

They sail to America and settle at Brandon’s house, confronting Louisa, the fiancee he left behind who won’t leave him alone. Brandon and Heather slowly, achingly, and frustratingly find their way to each other, despite too many interruptions to count and the machinations of Louisa. A mystery raised in the last 100 pages is solved, Heather and Brandon declare their love for each other, and all live happily ever after in idyllic (slave-run) happiness.

Reaction as a reader? Heather and Brandon act like children. They’re both Too Stupid To Live. They both flounce off in fits of pique. I wanted to slap them both and tell them to sit down and TALK to each other, OMG. They don’t have any conflict that they don’t manufacture themselves. The sexual tension is maintained by interruptions of their hesitant attempts at sex, which is the mark of a very young writer. The pacing is positively glacial. The mystery and suspense also arise because Heather won’t talk to Brandon and tell him all the secrets of her past. The historical details are awful: waltzing in American in 1800?! Men wearing colored coats with embroidery in 1800? Women without any underwear at all?!

Seriously, y’all, I have to take a sidebar here to talk about the underwear. There are no corsets, no pantalets, very rarely a chemise, nothing on under the dresses the women wear. In 1800, even with the much more slender silhouette, women wore substantial corsets, with layers of petticoats and other undergarments. In this book? Nothing. Women are frequently bending over and showing EVERYTHING to the people in front of them. It drove me nuts.

And also? The baths! OMG, the baths. Everyone in this book has a bath every time they turned around. There were more baths in this book than I’ve ever seen. The servants and the heating that must have taken is staggering. Baths on ships! Baths at inns! Baths at home! Baths at the drop of a hat! Water was ALWAYS ready, servants always happy to oblige. Baths baths baths!

All in all, it’s a pretty wretched book. Now. It’s a pretty wretched book by modern standards, 39 years after its publication, and mostly it’s wretched because Woodiwiss was a first-time writer. I’m interested in reading both Wolf and the Dove and Shanna, which I’ve heard are much better than TFATF.

However! That plot summary demonstrates one thing: TFATF is NOT your “typical” bodice ripper. Oh, there’s bodice ripping, don’t get me wrong. Literally. But Heather has the Glitteriest of Hoohahs and Brandon can’t bring himself to do the nasty with anyone other than Heather after he has her the first time. Seriously, he has sex with an untried virgin twice, then doesn’t have sex with anyone again for an entire year, until she’s ready to try it again. And Brandon’s Wang is indeed Mighty: it gets Heather enjoying sex too, clueless as she is. Sure, Brandon rapes Heather, but it’s NOT the brutal, multiple raping and pillaging of typical bodice rippers, they’re together for all but 50 pages of the book, and they don’t ever have sex with anyone else. Rosemary Rogers might have taken the sexual tension and the rape of TFATF, but SSL is an utterly different book and I think lumping them together has done the romance genre a disservice for the last 40 years.

I’ll admit: it was a struggle to get through this book. I could not have done it if I hadn’t been reading it for academic purposes. I can read the most godawful stuff if I’m reading to analyze, rather than for pleasure. And trust me, this wasn’t nearly as awful as Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809) by Hannah More, that I read three times for my dissertation. TFATF is a book by an untried writer. Except for the initial rape, it’s sweet and tender, if frustrating.

But, one way or another, it IS the book that launched a thousand others. One only has to read the messages in the condolences book after Woodiwiss died to see the joy she brought to this world. I dare you to read that with dry eyes.

Grade: C- on its own merits; A for influence.

Best regards,

BTW, if you want to hear more about Mistress of Mellyn or about my theories about The Flame and the Flower, there will be a presentation on each at the conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance this Sunday-Tuesday, June 26-28, in New York City. Please register and join us!

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Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.


  1. joanne
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 12:19:59

    I’ve never, ever understood WTF kept this book at the top of romance reading lists.

    Ms Woodiwiss wrote The Wolf and The Dove, a romance that was set during the Norman invasion, and it far surpasses the writing in The Flame and The Flower. The history was more authentic, I think, and the emotions truer, the romance more romantic.

    That’s just my personal opinion but I hate thinking that her career in writing is judged on TF&TF alone because she was so much more than a leader in bodice ripping.

    Nice review, thank you Dr F.

  2. Karen Erickson
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 12:31:17

    I haven’t read The Flame & The Flower in years and was going to read it again here soon. I reread The Wolf & The Dove last summer and though it does a lot of things that we’re told as romance authors never to do (head hopping galore for one), I enjoyed it.

    Great review! Almost makes me not want to reread it.Sounds kinda awful and my memories are of loving it…

  3. Jayne
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 12:36:05

    @joanne: Except for the potatoes that get thrown at Aislynn when she goes to London with Wulfgar.

    But seriously, I cut my romance reading teeth on TWATD and reread it a few years ago to see what I’d think of it after so many years. It was still pretty darn good.

  4. ms bookjunkie
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 12:44:37

    Great review. It’s been a few years (and hundreds of books) since I read TFATF, I wonder what I’d think of it today…

  5. Kerry Allen
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 12:48:00

    I remember Shanna the best of Mom’s Woodiwiss collection.

    What I best remember is fervently hoping Ruark would push that lying, manipulative, spoiled harpy off a cliff before she got him killed and find himself a decent woman.

    In other words, regardless of whether Shanna is a “better” book (certainly more memorable to me, at least), don’t expect it to be less frustrating than TFATF in terms of character maturity and rational behavior.

  6. Angie
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:04:42

    I read Flame and the Flower when I was… twelve, or maybe thirteen. Somewhere in there, it was definitely in the first 20 or so romances I read. I loved it. I didn’t know from the history, I loved the characters, I loved the storyline, and I read it over and over. I’m sure if I read it again now, at 47, I’d see all sorts of problems with it. Thirty-some years later, in the more cynical, gender-issues-aware 21st century, there are certainly aspects of it that are problematic. But for its time it was a great book, and certainly less problematic on an Issues level than many others of its era.

    Sweet Savage Love is a perfect example for comparison. There’s nothing at all sweet about that book, and Ms. Rogers went on to write the same book with the same characters twice more — characters are hot for each other and are more or less in love, characters have a big misunderstanding, partially engineered by Evil Others, characters cuss and hit and screw each other wildly (while cussing) for the next couple hundred pages, characters clear up the misunderstanding and are in love again, the end. Or at least, once more, and then the third book started up exactly the same way — yet another Big Misunderstanding that had the couple who were happily in love three paragraphs ago spitting and cussing at each other — at which point I bailed out and never read a Rosemary Rogers book again. I think I was fifteen or so when that third book came out, and even then I was eyerolling.

    Calling what happened between Heather and Brandon that first night on the ship rape seems laughable when compared to what Steve and Ginny got up to. To say nothing of a number of other books of the seventies, where the middle four hundred pages seemed to be there just so the woman could go jaunting across three continents, getting raped at every stop by some new stranger. Heather, sheltered little dimwit that she was, thought the cops were on her trail as soon as she fled from “killing” her aunt’s brother. When Brandon’s crewman decided she was a cute enough working girl for the captain and brought her to Brandon, Heather thought she’d been taken into custody and therefore went quietly. Heather thought Brandon was a senior policeman and Brandon thought she was a prostitute. She wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about his advances, but then, IIRC, she didn’t think that fighting this cop who was taking liberties would be a great move, either.

    Compared to the many books of the era where the woman was literally knocked around and forcibly raped, FATF was incredibly tame, and more of a misunderstanding-based dubcon than anything else.

    Shanna might be better written (I’d have to reread both with adult eyes to say) but I loathed the title character. Shanna is a self-centered bitch who lies and breaks promises without a second thought, and I was rooting against her the whole way. Roark could’ve done much better.

    Re: clothing, I wish 21st century cover artists would get with the program regarding underwear. [eyeroll] How many books are out right now where the woman is half-wearing a dress that looks like it’s trying to be Regency, but it’s hanging mostly off her shoulders and is completely open down the back (we won’t even talk about period gown construction or fastening) and she’s clearly naked under the dress. Chemise? Corset? Corset cover? Petticoats…? [headdesk]


  7. Angie
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:06:14

    @Kerry Allen: LOL! Right, what you said. :)

    We need to start a Push Shanna Off A Cliff club. :D


  8. TaraL
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:18:24

    I really liked the Woodiwiss books when I was a teenager, but kind of grew out of them. I did re-read TFATF about a year ago and found I was still able to enjoy it, even though the enjoyment was more from a nostalgic point of view and required a lot of skimming.

    My favorite KW books were Shanna and Ashes in the Wind (I was always a sucker for a spunky heroine who hid by dressing up as a boy) and I planned to re-read those as well, but haven’t quite gotten to them yet.

  9. Cathy Leming w/a Catherine Scott
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:28:25

    I’m undecided as to whether it is bravery or stupidity that has me responding to this albeit late but timely (for me) review of THE FLAME & THE FLOWER … Certainly it is loyalty and nostalgia. I read TF&TF years after it was originally published. I’d read SHANNA first, it having arrived on the bookshelves about the same time I was allowed to wander the mall without an adult. SHANNA remains in the top five of my own Desert Isle Keepers, as does THE WOLF AND THE DOVE. I have re-read SHANNA (several times) over the years and still find it a satisfying read on many levels, while taking note that preference for deep third-person POV makes the sometimes omniscient POV seem dated and distracting (But only because I’ve been since trained otherwise). However, I assert that it is the sense of high-adventure, the harkening back to some of our earliest and therefore deepest emotions about acceptance and love that made SHANNA and TF&TF excellent reads that continue to sell millions of copies.

    It’s not so much the actual events in TF&TF that hit home, I think, but the themes … Most people have regrets, especially from their teenage years, about sex and partners and decisions they’d made. When Brandon finally accepted Heather, and indeed had fallen in love with her, many readers may have felt the triumph of love following rejection and being ill-used by a ‘boyfriend’. Who can’t relate to having been dumped ceremoniously and publicly and then a year or more later to receive a call/visit/letter from said-same bf begging forgiveness and to be taken back? No matter how liberated we’ve become, we give our daughters/nieces/friends the same encouraging advice: “He’ll come to regret this.” Well, I do. Along with: “What feels like loneliness now will, in time, feel like freedom.” Only our 19th Century counterparts probably could not have appreciated the latter.

    In my opinion, some of what happens in TF&TF harkens back to those primitive emotions, and I think it’s a sign of maturity to be willing to relive those feelings. I doubt I’ll go back and read TF&TF, but what I do miss from those earlier romances is the sigh-worthy sense of wishing and dreaming, which sometimes can only be infused into a novel by tapping those immature emotions.

    In fairness, reading about the Bridgertons can give one a case of the “I wish a viscount loved me,” but whatever happened to the sense of higher adventure? It’s given way, maybe, to readers who have a harder time suspending disbelief. When was the last time you wished your man would beat-up the pirates who kidnapped you away from your idyllic Caribbean Island life as the 19th century version of Paris Hilton, and he becomes the pirate captain himself, claiming you as his to all, while making mad, passionate love to you every spare moment he gets? (a la SHANNA :)

    However unlikely that scenario, I remember, vividly, how I felt after finishing SHANNA. And I swear, SHANNA’s hero, Roarke, seriously raised my standard in men and found me seeking higher love. (I may revise later)

  10. Mari
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:29:17

    I’ve never read anything by Woodiwiss, but maybe I should – if only for the historical value?

    While historical inaccuracy is annoying, I wonder if we shouldn’t cut the pioneers in the genre some slack. Resources and information are so much more available today, and feedback from knowledgeable authors and readers easier to receive – and yet authors still make mistakes, and not necessarily for lack of trying. Woodiwiss didn’t have online resources to draw upon, library research was more difficult, and she couldn’t even take the shortcut of reading within the genre to get a sense of the period, because there was basically no genre to read. Now, I realize that some authors were able to do truly impressive research despite this (e.g. Dorothy Dunnett – I can’t imagine how much work went into the Lymond/Niccolo books). But for a first time author who I assume was not an experienced researcher, I’m willing to forgive some mistakes.

  11. Christine Rimmer
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:37:10

    Thank you, Joan/SarahF! This review made my day. Sooo funny. And exactly right. Now, I think I’ll go take a bath, after which I will put on a corset. And then bend over.

  12. Cathy Leming w/a Catherine Scott
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 13:58:12

    You did, however, make me wish I was available (and had earlier notice) for IASPR.

  13. dm
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 14:35:53

    I’ve reread a lot of books from this period recently. Most disappoint on a technical level, some are better researched than others, many use rape as a device to allow the heroine multiple partners, but all put a woman at the center of the narrative, and I’ve always believed that was the source of their power.

    Our entertainment is still dominated by narratives aimed at men. The feminist discourse that condemned the romance novel in the 70s failed to take a wider view of popular entertainment. Germaine Greer famously assumed women liked romance novels because they were cherishing the chains of their bondage. She missed the fact that no other genre or medium put women front and center. This hasn’t changed in much in the last forty years. Read the latest Celluloid Ceiling report, or try the Bechdel Test on this year’s top box office films.

    That said, not many of these early titles hold up well. There are better books that can provide that same experience. But your first romance–the first book you encounter in which (gasp!) the world of the story revolves around a woman–can be a revelation. Even if the book itself isn’t well written, tightly plotted, or peopled by convincing characters.

  14. elaine mueller
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 15:15:34

    although i bought F&F first, probably sometime in 1973, i didn’t read it until after I had bought and read W&D, which was when it first came out in 1974. i then bought and read Shanna (1977), Ashes in the Wind (1981), A Rose in Winter (1982), and Come Love a Stranger (1984) as soon as they were available.

    but neither woodiwiss nor her books were my introduction to historical romance; and in many ways i found her lacking. it wasn’t just the historical research or the baths or the underwear, though those were enough to roll my eyes right out of my head at times. it was the sheer stupidity/infantility of the women. (Aislinn in W&D is a bit better than most.) None of them were worthy to hold the petticoats of Camilla Baglione (Prince of Foxes) or Lola Montero (The Infinite Woman) or Jane Gordon (The Hepburn) or even Garnet Hale (Jubilee Trail).

    but what Aislinn and Heather and Shanna DID have was the HEA that had been denied to Scarlett and Amber. i read GWTW at age 14 long before i ever saw the movie and i never read it again because it was such a monumental waste. this was no love story; scarlett was a malicious stupid selfish fool, a tease, and a dozen other things i wasn’t old enough to know about. i couldn’t stand her and she certainly didn’t deserve rhett; he was well rid of her. winsor’s amber was no better (though Bruce, if i remember his name correctly wasn’t such a prize either).

    what woodiwiss did was put together all the good pieces and parts — exciting adventure in exotic places, hot sex with no apologies, a female protagonist (though oftentimes severely TSTL) and a gorgeous male, and the HEA ending even if it was implausible — in one package.

    by 1989 or so when the long awaited So Worthy My Love finally came out, i couldn’t read it. it was one thing for her to have come through nancy coffey’s slush pile and sell a bazillion copies with poor writing but a good story in 1972, but as a reader i was offended by the lack of editing to SWML in 1989. i never read anything by woodiwiss after that. i tried, but it wasn’t worth the effort.

    coffey’s gamble paid off for avon and woodiwiss, and avon and other paperback publishers rushed to fill this “new” market with new writers like mcbain and rogers, busbee and deveraux. but avon also pulled out for republication roberta gellis’ Knight’s Honor (1964) and Bond of Blood (1965). Sergeanne Golon’s Angelique series began publication in 1956, and ran through the nine titles by 1976, overlapping the F&F breakthrough. Winston Graham’s Poldark series of 1951-55, gained enough new popularity through the resurrection of the historical romance genre that BBC proposed a television series and Graham wrote additional volumes beginning in 1973.

    i don’t mean to take away from woodiwiss’s influence, because much of what happened in the historical romance fiction market after F&F might not have happened without it. but i also think it’s unfair for anyone to take away the impression that F&F was something brand new, without literary (or at least popular fiction) precedent.

    i’m always a bit amazed, and more than a bit appalled, at those analysts who trace the ‘genealogy’ if you will of the woodiwiss-and-beyond historical romance in a direct and undiluted line from the 20th C. gothics and sentimental romances of the 19th century. scratch a late-20th C author of bodice rippers, female swashbucklers, whateveryouwannacallems, and i’ll bet you’ll find more of sabatini and dumas running in their veins.

    woodiwiss just got lucky.


  15. Karen
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 15:22:15

    So, am I the only one whose favorite was “So Worthy My Love” or is there someone else out there? ;-)

  16. Janine
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 15:30:08

    I didn’t care for TF&TF even when I first read it at fifteen, but I did like The Wolf and the Dove a great deal at that age, as well as A Rose in Winter. Shanna wasn’t as good as those two IMO, and Ashes in the Wind bored me. I can’t recall if I read any others… the purple prose issues started getting to me after a while. But TW&TD and ARIW entertained me greatly back in the day, and there’s no denying that she had a tremendous influence on the genre.

  17. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 15:55:57

    @Cathy Leming w/a Catherine Scott:

    And I swear, SHANNA’s hero, Roarke, seriously raised my standard in men and found me seeking higher love.


    He was some kinda wonderful. I’ve never read his equal.

  18. jmc
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 15:57:57

    I feel as if I lack proper romance-reader credentials: I’ve never read Woodiwiss or Rogers’ Ginny & Steve book. Your review, which is funny and charming, does not make me want to rush out and buy a copy of either book, even though they are seminal to modern genre romance.

    I did, however, read and love a great many of Victoria Holt’s gothic novels, early in my romance-reading career. And I associate Phyllis Whitney with gothic-type novels, as well. I’m not sure how most (all?) of the Holt books I loved as a teenager would fare with adult me, but this review of TFATF has me thinking it’s time for a re-read, assuming I can find Holt’s backlist.

  19. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 16:01:34

    So, now that my Ruark* swoon has concluded:

    SHANNA was my first bodice ripper. I loved it. Loved him, didn’t love her so much, but even though I was a dumb tween, I could see her arc and where she finally cracked on the pirate’s island in the middle of a thunderstorm. Boy, was that an awesome moment. “Love me, Roarke.” “I do.”

    WOLF & DOVE came along a teensy bit later. Also on my DIK shelf, but this time for Aislinn because she was so damned honorable and dignified. (Sometimes too much so, but what the hell, we’re going for idealistic here, right?) I wanted to be that. I tried. I failed. I am who I am, but boy did she leave a mark.

    Weirdly, I never really cared for anything else Woodiwiss wrote, and I even re-read TFATF a couple of years ago. It was as meh then as it was when I read it the first time as a teen. And, like Janine, I found ASHES IN THE WIND just boring.

    *happy sigh*

    *I can’t keep my Ru(o)arks straight. Ruark Beauchamp, Howard Roark. That’s one reason I never picked up a JD Robb book. The last thing I need is a third Roark to mess with my head.

  20. Mary Anne Graham
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:00:47

    I haven’t read it for years, but “The Flame And the Flower” holds a permanent spot as my favorite romance novel ever. Of course, my attitude about these things is a little different.

    I think that in the writer’s reality events can be adjusted. Every author has the freedom to build, rebuild or rearrange the world their characters live in. If the writer wants to abandon all undergarments – I’m fine with that.

    Frankly, I care more about the emotional reality. In this one, Brandon puts Heather through some really bad events. Then Heather and fate combine to re-pay the Karma.

    You know what? I find it exciting when the hero lusts after the heroine for quite a few chapters. When the pair finally put aside their differences, I’ve been rooting for them long enough to enjoy the sex right along with them.

    There are lots of great ladies writing romance today, but I doubt any of them will ever replace Ms. Woodiwiss in my heart. Of course, one of my biggest flaws – and I have a truckload of ’em – is loyalty stretched long past the point of rationality!!

  21. Darcy Burke
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:03:14

    What a lovely stroll down memory lane! I read Ashes in the Wind first (pilfered from Mom’s shelf), which is probably why it remains my favorite. Shanna’s a close second, which still surprises me given the thorough unlikeability of the heroine. But like others have said, Ruark just makes up for her in spades. I think one of the reasons he’s so delicious is because he put up with her and somehow managed to find the decent woman beneath all the bitching and deceit. I know I’ve reread Shanna countless times solely for the Ruark swoon factor.

  22. Catherine
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:26:33


    I don’t remember SWML. Who were the protagonists?

  23. Catherine
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:31:28

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Did I spell Ruark’s/Rourke’s name wrong? May I be kidnapped by pirates if I did. Hey, wait, there are real pirates off the coast of Somalia, and they are dangerous. Forget that little dream

  24. Na
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:53:16

    I have read other Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s novels, just not this one. I have been meaning to and I still think I will. I really enjoyed Ashes in the Wind and I hope it delivers the same feel, not the same story but to invoke some sort of emotion. I want to see what all the fuss (good or bad) is about!

  25. Darlynne
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:56:02

    SHANNA: “When the scales of blindness were lifted from my eyes …”

    Gah! and Argh! Even in 1978, I knew this was the stupidest, over-the-top line I’d ever encountered, so much so that it’s stuck with me for more than 30 years. This is how Shanna confesses that she realizes she loves Ruark. In a worst-line-ever contest, this would be my top pick.

    I did love those books, though, particularly The Wolf and the Dove. Thanks for bringing back good memories.

  26. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:57:49

    @Catherine, I did at first, and was correcting my own stupid mistake, hopefully before anybody saw. *blush*

  27. Jennie
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 17:58:32

    This was one of the first “classics” I read after getting into romance (“Outlander” was my gateway drug, and it took me a while to realize that most genre romances were a slightly different beast). I was horrified by how awful it was. The writing was awful, Brandon was awful, Heather was a nitwit. I hated it. I haven’t tried Woodiwiss since, and I don’t think I can bring myself to in spite of the assurances I’ve seen that other of her books are better. I think from that era of my reading (which gosh, was probably somewhere between 15-20 years ago at this point), I think only my one Catherine Coulter stands out as worse (I’ve blocked out the name of it; all I remember was that it featured a female skald and a hero who made Brandon look cuddly and sensitive.

    It’s not like I had no tolerance or taste for trashy, bodice-rippery books then, either – I remember reading a number of books by Brenda Joyce and enjoying them (while being able to acknowledge that by most measures, they were kind of bad books). I really can’t remember all the bothered me about TF&TF, though I think I recall the rape scene as being more brutal than others here do. Maybe I just wasn’t used to that type of thing at that point? Not that I ever really got inured to rape scenes in romances. But I recall Brandon being so utterly callous and unconcerned about Heather, whether he was hurting or humiliating her – it bothered me.

    Actually, now that I’ve gotten rolling, I *think* one of the things I recall bugging me about TF&TF and some other books of the era was that the “hero” only bothered to treat a woman halfway decently once he realized he was in love with her (or in some of these books, once he realized she wasn’t a slut but actually an innocent virgin – though in TF&TF I think Brandon didn’t really care that Heather was a virgin; he was still extremely callous towards her). I can handle jerk heroes, but I need them to have motivation and growth, and for me motivation isn’t “I hate all women” and growth isn’t “except for my special schmoopie, who is different from the rest of all of those sluts out there.” The strong streak of woman-hating in 70s and 80s romances (there are weaker echoes of it in romances today) puzzles me, given that they were written by women for women.

  28. Cassiel Knight
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 18:00:26

    Oh, that brings back memories! The Wolf and the Dove and Shanna are two of my favorite books even now. Even though, I think I couldn’t read them now (my writing HAS changed), they have such a fond place in my heart I almost want to buy them again.Such viril men! Such lovely women! Both Aislynn and Shanna are such feisty heroines of the time and that’s why I loved them. The heroe’s are perfect for them and I must have read the books five or six times during the heydey and after before I stopped. Ah, the nostalgia!

    Now, for another bout of nostalgia, I want to read Janell Taylor’s Moondust and Moonbeams, the first futuristic romance I ever read. I tried to several years ago (more fond memories) but just couldn’t. I have to say, though that was released years later, Wolf/Dove and Shanna are far superior in writing.

    Okay, I’ve got to get Wolf/Dove again. Thanks for the memories!

  29. EGS
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 18:04:31

    I don’t read romances written during the 70s and 80s because there is so much rape and abuse of the heroines. I don’t care if it was a product of the time – it doesn’t make the scenarios any less unpalatable and, to be honest, horrifying. Woodiwiss’s works have never held any interest for me, although I can see sort of why she would be considered a pioneer of the genre.

  30. Evangeline Holland
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 18:21:19

    @jmc: I’m with you! I went from gothics to traditional Regencies to 90s historical romances when I discovered the romance genre in the early 2000s.

  31. pamelia
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 18:25:18

    TFATF was my first ever “adult” romance I read and I was about 12 years old and it was 1982, so I was hooked and I loved it and every time I re-read it I can’t hate it even with the ass-hattery and BIG Misunderstandings and TSTL and all because I have put it firmly in my nostalgia love place. I also loved Shanna (yes she’s annoying and spoiled and callous, but she’s supposed to be that way and she does grow up some in the course of events, so, not so bad) and TWATD and Ashes in the Wind (which is a very cool mash-up of Gone With the Wind and Rebecca) and A Rose In Winter too. Woodiwiss’s later books don’t do it for me. Newer books along the same lines make me crazy and put me in a book throwing mood (Whitney My Love being the worst of the worst IMO). But Woodiwiss holds a place in my heart that won’t be shaken even as I get older and wiser.

  32. Kate Pearce Pearce
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 18:59:15

    I just don’t think later readers can understand the impact these books had on our impressionable teenage minds back in the day LOL (They were a bit like that moment in Star Wars when the spaceship flew in over your head at the movie theater and you knew you were in for something extraordinary.) Those early books were just so different, and exciting, and unique and about women and gorgeous rakeish men… they just stirred parts of me I’d never even realized I had. They combined all the best bits of reading and then added sex and a happy ending. I just knew I was hooked. Looking back, I can see why some of the topics make us squirm, and not in a good way, but at the time, believe it or not they felt curiously liberating. :)
    Thanks for the review. Wolf and the Dove is still my favorite Woodiwiss.

  33. becca
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 19:04:03

    I started out reading Georgette Heyer, but didn’t consider them “romances” so much as historical novels – my gateway drug to romancelandia was Nora Roberts (Montana Sky), and I tend to compare all subsequent authors to her standard, which is unfortunate. I, too, tend to avoid 70s and 80s romance, because of all the rapey stuff. Unfortunately, when you tell people you read romance, that’s what they think of.

  34. DS
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 19:17:38

    Between Woodiwiss and Rogers I was cured of romance from early 70’s to 1989. I was thankfully already a fan of DuMaurier, Dunnett, Gellis, Golon and Heyer before TFATF came out.
    ETA: Sorry, sounds like I was being totally snarky about romance. I do thank the person who reintroduced me to romance in 1989, but I never liked the rapey stuff from the 70’s and 80’s, even when I went back and read some of it– I wish I had brain bleach for some of the stuff published during that time.

  35. Claire
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 19:20:41

    I’m glad you included the A for influence. I don’t think I could read it now and enjoy it but back in 1980 I read it in high school- without any teachers telling me to stop -and I loved it.

  36. Virginia C
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 20:14:04

    It seems to be the game of choice these days to denounce Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. However, no one who tries to tear her down will ever come close to achieving her amazing accomplishment in the world of romantic fiction. Many of her attackers have jobs due in part to her influence in the industry that she helped to revive, reinvent, and reinvigorate. The subject of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and her work is too wide in its scope to be fully covered in this blog space. I will never support any writer who denigrates women, and I don’t believe that Ms. Woodiwiss ever wrote a heroine who was “too stupid to live”. As far as the writing of Ms. Woodiwiss, the quality of her overall body of work far outshines anything negative in the collective content of her work. One of the things that I love most about “Ashes in the Wind” is how she portrayed the true horrors of the Civil War. While the hero was not a perfect man, he was a man of great compassion who did not see the blue or the gray. He was a surgeon who saw wounded human beings in need of skilled and caring medical treatment. Over the last two years, I have really tried to stretch my reading muscles, and I have purchased some highly-hyped, heavily marketed “romance books” which unfortunately did not live up to their publicity. Hype may sell books, but it does not give a writer skill or worth as a storyteller. Many of these books were denigrating to women in sexual content, and the language was ludicrous. There are so many expressive words in the English language that are not profane.

    A word on the “against her will” issue. Both the book and the film version of “Gone With the Wind” are considered classics, and they set the standard for many books and films which have followed their release. One of the most memorable scenes from the film involves Rhett sweeping Scarlett off her feet at the bottom of the stairs and then carrying her up that long staircase to their bedroom. She pummeled him and protested all the way, but the next morning she was glowing and singing in her bedroom. The way she first looked at Rhett that morning was the look of a woman sexually in thrall with a man. We all know how that story ended! There are many other things about the book and film versions of “Gone With the Wind” that people may find offensive, and they may be well justified. People repeat the same patterns of behavior over and over again throughout history. The only way to learn from our mistakes is to recognize why we persist in bad behavior that is hurtful to others, and that is one of the reasons why I love historical romance. People never have been, and never will be, perfect–not the characters in the books, or the people who write about the characters in the books. Read and learn.

  37. MarieC
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 20:26:06

    Funny, I re-read this book last year and I still loved it. Yes, there are are moments of WTF-ery, but overall still a good read.

    Of her many books, however, I still love ‘Ashes in the Wind’ and ‘A Rose in Winter’ the best.

  38. theo
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 21:07:56

    I’ve never read The Flame and the Flower. The only book I’ve read of Woodiwiss is A Rose in Winter which I still read every 6 months or so because I love it. And FWIW, I still have an original of Mistress of Mellyn. It was the first of Holt’s that I read when I was about 9 (don’t ask) and she was my choice of romance for many, many years after that, and though I was too young to get the “gothic”, I got the stories.

  39. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 21:29:29


    And FWIW, I still have an original of Mistress of Mellyn.

    Me too. Adore the book and it’s on my DIK shelf with seven other books.

  40. Grace
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 22:00:54

    Shanna might have been more technically sound, but I HATED the heroine. Like others who have commented here, I was praying Roarke would quit wasting his time with the obnoxious twit and find himself a woman who had emotionally progressed beyond the terrible twos.

    I read Shanna and TFATF in my tweens and teens. I also read Ashes in the Wind. It is the one Woodiwiss book I’ve read again recently that I still like. If I was to recommend a Woodiwiss title to a reader unfamiliar with her work, it would be AITW.

  41. SAO
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 23:38:47

    I’ve wondered to what extent the epidemic of rape in 70s romances reflected the experience of women. I don’t think the laws against sexual harassment had been enacted. What was there to stop a boss from asking for favors from his secretary who couldn’t afford to quit? Or was it a way of giving a woman a sexual past that matched reality while confirming to the norms of social expectation that nice girls were virgins?

    I do think there are several kinds of rape in those old romances: rape as a way of giving the woman the sex she wanted without her having to be a “bad girl” and consent to it and more violent, less consensual rape. And then of course, there was the Rosemary Rogers rape.

  42. Kaetrin
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 03:19:44

    I first read TF&TF when I was a young teen and I remember loving it. I re-read it a couple of years ago (some 25 years later) and, while I noticed the rape when I hadn’t really originally, I still loved it. I still love Brandon Birmingham and the scenes where he’s tending to her when she’s in a fever on the ship and when he’s giving Louisa her comeuppance. And, there’s “Madam, you will ride this night after all” (Cheese!!!) but I love it.

    I love Shanna too, but mostly for Ruark. The Wolf & The Dove was also very good (as well as Ashes in the Wind) but my favourite was/is A Rose in Winter – it’s a Beauty and The Beast story and I love it to bits.

  43. Babs
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 04:59:39

    Oh Lord, I read this when I was about 11 (over 30 years ago…) — I think my mother left it out and I snapped it up. I loved it then but what did I know? I am pretty sure if I try to read it now I would be horrified…so I’ll keep my rosy memories of my introduction to the ‘bodice ripper’ genre (my mother actually referred to them as ‘horny gothics’) and stick to newer authors that I enjoy!

  44. Cathy Leming w/a Catherine Scott
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 07:35:27

    Cookie-cutter heroines bore me after about an author’s fourth book. Since we’re on KEW, I’ll use her heroines as an example of not being cookie-cutter … Heather (TFATF) was an innocent; Shanna (S) was haughty and spoiled; Aislinn (WATD) was honorable, sensible, a survivor (ok, she was a great heroine); Alaina (AITW) was weary but plucky. I couldn’t read about an Aislinn over and over. Shanna’s “bitchiness” (am I allowed to write that here) added to Ruark’s charm, and made him a very sigh-worthy and memorable hero … “Take me as I am … it may mean you have to be a better man … ” You see, even liberated song writers get it :)

    This was a good discussion. But also, let it stand that a writer/author should always strive to improve, take craft higher. There is an argument that, while inherently talented, a trailblazer, KEW did not. I don’t believe I read anything after SO WORTHY MY LOVE.

  45. RebeccaJ
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 07:37:27

    This is one of the first romance novels I’ve ever read–I think I was about fourteen–and it totally got me hooked on the genre. Now I can’t handle fourteen seconds of a ‘hysterical’! But it was rather comical to read your review because I can’t remember much about the storyline.And of course, when you’re fourteen, you don’t notice things like a lack of underwear….LOL! Thanks for the blast from the past.

  46. mdegraffen
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 08:47:54

    I can’t impress on younger readers how revolutionary this book was. I picked it up when I was 24 when it came out. This book was the first that I had read that didn’t do the fade to black at the bedroom door. Unless you were there you cannot appreciate how new and different this was. Was it badly written? You betcha! But it was also a big wow. I also must agree that Woodiwiss’ writing greatly improved and reached it’s apex in Ruark. So swoonworthy! TFATF was a starting point. Everything evolves. I stopped reading romances for a long time after the mid’80s and picked up a Liz Carlyle in 2004 on a whim. I’ve been an avid reader of historicals since then.

  47. Karen
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 09:16:47

    @Catherine SWML was with Maxim and Elise–It was set in Elizabethan times and he kidnapped her to a castle in Germany. She was definitely one of those feisty heroines, but it worked for me.

  48. Tina
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 09:26:52

    @Kate Pearce Pearce:

    Oh I love that analogy. That is exactly how it felt.

    Count me in as one who preferred The Wolf and The Dove. It was my very, very first historical romance novel ever. I used to read harlequins, but I remember when I was about 14/15 years old going to Waldenbooks almost daily to browse books and seeing those Day-Glo covers on KEW’s books (TF&TF was Purple, TWaTD was Bright Red, Shanna was Bright Orange etc.) I was so intrigued and yet so intimidated!

    I really wanted Shanna the most, but I figured it would probably make my 15 y.o heart thump too much so I got TWaTD first. Oh, man I loved those books. I still have my original ones 29 years old and in mint condition!

  49. Cathy Leming w/a Catherine Scott
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 10:10:30


    I though SWML was about an English lady living in Czarist Russia? I don’t believe I read the KEW book set in Elizabethan times. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t.

  50. elaine mueller
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 11:52:40

    @Cathy Leming w/a Catherine Scott:

    cathy, i think you’re thinking of “Forever In Your Embrace.”

    i couldn’t read that one because the heroine’s name was “Synnovea” and all i could think of was synovial fluid in joints. eeeeiuw.

    the writing errors in SWML really brought home to me that it felt as if woodiwiss was being published without editing, because the publisher knew people would buy her stuff regardless. it was all about the money, with little regard even for woodiwiss as a writer.

    with SWML it was little things that kept shoving me out of the story, like elise having a conversation with her great-grandmother and the author not making any observation of how old the woman had to be. i read the book, but it left a huge disappointment behind.

    that’s why my contention is that it was less woodiwiss’s genius than it was coffey’s ability to put the promo behind it. winsor’s Forever Amber had done the same thing F&F did, but it met with public disapproval that probably kept other publishers from putting out the same kind of stuff. avon in 1972 was able to do more.

    oh, and if my records are correct, rosemary rogers’ first book published by avon wasn’t SSL, it was The Wildest Heart, which is not part of the Steve & Ginny saga.

  51. Karen
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 14:49:00

    @elaine mueller

    I tend to get sucked into the story and overlook blips unless I am looking for them!

  52. Nat
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 21:36:14

    The hero rapes the heroine. ‘Nuff said. I would never read it. The hero sounds awful. It’s bad enough that he would treat any woman this way, even if she wasn’t the heroine. I read many romances published in the 70’s and 80’s, but the moment I read a rape scene (as a teenager) that was obviously meant to be part of the ‘romance’ I have never, ever read another book with a rape in it. That’s how badly it affected me. What’s romantic about that?

  53. GrowlyCub
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 22:24:19

    I’m kind of curious, Gellis published Roselynde and follow ups and many other Medieval rom books in the 60s. Do you not consider those romances? I never read Woodiwiss so maybe that is why the idea that she’s the originator of the genre really makes me scratch my head. Maybe she started the bodice rippers, but not hist rom, that was written before and better too, it seems.

  54. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 00:41:54


    And let’s not forget ANGELIQUE (1958).

  55. elaine mueller
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 07:20:30

    @Moriah Jovan:

    re: Angelique — see post #14. ;-)

  56. Jaci Burton
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 09:15:16

    I picked up TFATF when I was a teenager and at my older sister’s house. This was in the late 70’s, and there just weren’t books out like this at the time. I had never read romance, and the book made me swoon. I didn’t care about historical accuracy, all I knew was I had found a genre I loved. Woodiwiss had me hooked, and I was hooked for years with every subsequent book she wrote.

    As others have said, if you didn’t grow up in the time, you simply can’t understand what it was like to meet these books then. To be young and have this kind of over the top, bedroom door open kind of romance was magical.

    Woodiwiss was a trailblazer, and for that I’m so grateful. Her books have a spot on my keeper shelf forever and ever. I do take them off the shelf and reread them periodically, and they take me back to that time in my life when I was in awe of finding that magic.

    Are they perfect books? By today’s standards, of course not. But to a young girl in the 70’s, they were perfect to me.

  57. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 09:34:26

    Elaine, I am so sorry!!! I totally missed your whole wonderful post!

  58. elaine mueller
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 13:32:46

    @Moriah Jovan:

    oh, moriah, you are so very heart-ily forgiven! i found a complete set of angelique about 15 years ago on a ubs bargain table. price was something absurd like $1 for the bundle and i couldn’t pass it up, but then never got a chance to read them. they are high on the priority list.


  59. Kelly McClymer
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 09:36:20

    I feel a need to defend KW. I read her first when TFaTF made the rounds of my freshman dorm. I had already read a slew of HQs from the library and everything Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt had written, so I was utterly shocked, appalled, horrified, and intrigued when KW threw the bedroom door open wider.

    The book was a keeper for me, and I have read it twice more in the 30+(!?!) years since. I credit Woodiwiss with teaching me that writing is more about story than craft (not that I want to produce bad craft, but even more I want to produce good story *and* good craft).

    What many women younger than me miss about the early Woodiwiss readers is that we got a *very* mixed message: the commercial that a woman could “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan” …and the hard reality that, if you learned to type, you were going to get offered the secretarial position even if you were an engineer!

    Being a woman in charge of her own life in the 70s was about enduring in a man’s world without surrender — KW showed how a variety of women not only endured, but triumped in that male-dominated environment. I don’t see the stories as “immature” as much as primal (A Rose in Winter is my favorite to this day).

    I have always been bothered by the rape scenario in romance, but I never found that KW romanticized it like some other writers did (I stopped reading those writers, so I can’t say if their writing changed or not).

    It has always seemed to me, that in TFaTF, KW uses the initial rape as an overriding primal metaphor for the male-female balance of power. Men are stronger and more free to take what they want; they can rape with impunity.

    It is more interesting to me what KW does after that — when the rapist does not rape again (despite Heather’s bedazzled hooha :-) Instead, he learns to admire her, and respect her — and recognizes in a concrete way that she is the one who holds the power and choice over how she uses her own body.

    That was a *very* powerful and primal message for a 70s woman, whether she was 17 like I was, or in her 30s and already married.

    I wish to thank the commenter who jogged me into realizing that Shanna was KWs way to give Scarlett a happy ending. LOL. I was glad Ruark stuck with her, but I sure wouldn’t have.

  60. Laurie Ferger
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 15:14:54

    10 years ago I was at a horrible job and a collegue recommended I read TFATF as escapist therapy. I had been a devoted fan of Jane Austin, but had never read a “romance novel”. This book totally hooked me on the genre and a year later I was reading a couple of romances a week.

    I hate rape as part of the plot so I don’t think I could read it and like it today, but there were enough elements of modern romance to hook me. I found Garwood, Lindsey, and McNaught shortly after and I’ve never stopped reading.

  61. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 15:56:32

    @Kelly McClymer:

    I heart you.

    And elaine mueller, I am a brilliant neon green right now over your Angelique score.

  62. Heather Calaway
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 18:54:19

    My name obviously reflects the influence of this book on my mother. :) I read the book many years ago when mom thought I was finally old enough to read it. I have to say I don’t hate the book, and I almost feel that I should give it a rave review for the impact it has had on my life personally. I think it is worth reading.

  63. Sue
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 22:49:42

    It was one ofmyfavorites as a teenager and I’ve reread it since that time and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s an excellent read compared to the template-generated books on the market today. I haven’t read a decent romance in years; they’re all so cookie-cutter. It has many good elements and your review wasn’t very good ( especially when I noticed you are a college professor).

  64. Jacquie
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 00:10:04

    The Flame and the Flower is ten times better than 50 shades of grey. (I read the F&F many many years ago!)

  65. Judi
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:41:07

    My older, married sister gave me TFATF after she had read it (I was ) and boy was I hooked. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have read it. I loved the TWATD just as much. I haven’t read them in years but I think, even though they may seem dated, they still hold a place in my heart. As others have said, romance books were so much more innocent then and KEW’s books had a bit more heat.
    I don’t read romance for reality, I read it for emotion. Woodiwiss and Jude Deveraux will always be my favorites. I’ve added Colleen Hoover and E.L. James as well. I just love a good story.
    P.S. Heather Calaway: My sister named her oldest daughter Aislinn and her second daughter Brianna Heather so I think that it was a trend!

  66. Heather
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 15:29:43

    For what its worth, this book was a big hit in England. My mother is from there and in August of 1973, 1 month before I was born, she was reading it. She didnt have a name for me yet and when Brandon and Heather got married and she said “Heather Brianna” my mother knew that would be my name. All the aunties in England called her after reading my birth announcement and asked where she got the name from, because they were reading the book too. Pretty funny.

  67. Heather Brianne
    Feb 14, 2014 @ 12:54:06

    I’ve been telling everyone my whole life I was named after a character in my mom’s favorite romance novel. I’m now almost 30 and decided to google it, this is the book. I guess I should read it after all of these reviews. :) It’s fun to see other girls named after Heather Brianna too.

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