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Gimme Shelter


Note: this is the third part of a series I’m doing on the current popularity of what I’m calling Extreme Romance Novels. Part One can be found here, and Part Two here. I do think the first two installments are best read in order, but you can easily start with this post and then go back, if you are so inclined.

When we talk about the origins of genre Romance, certain books consistently come up: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and even Wuthering Heights. As I noted last week, though, scholars like Pamela Regis draw the genre’s roots back even further, in part to the mid 18th C and books like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. And certainly, the 18th and 19th centuries saw a lot of books written in the sentimental and sensational modes, which took as their subjects the romantic adventures of young women. As I noted earlier, these books were read and discussed widely by women, who understood the importance of negotiating social rules, including (and perhaps especially) choosing as well as they could in marriage. Very broadly speaking, sentimental fiction provided them with a number of moral exemplars, while sensational fiction was a bit more off the rails. So if Samuel Richardson was writing books to give young women (and men) moral guidance, Hannah Webster Foster was writing The Coquette more as an example of what not to do.

But here’s the problem: whatever these authors and books intended – overtly or by implication – the texts often took on a much different life once they made their way through the public sphere of readers. Take Foster’s The Coquette, a story about a young woman (Eliza Wharton) who, given a choice between a somewhat sedate but stable and morally upright suitor and an exciting but wholly dissolute admirer, chooses the guy who excites and challenges her, which sets off a series of disastrous turns for Eliza, including unmarried pregnancy, miscarriage, financial destitution, disease, and, ultimately, death. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the choice Eliza makes –- for personal happiness above duty – comes from such a potent place, the reader can never really leave that behind for the boring but dutiful alternative, just as Eliza could not:

I recoil at the thought of immediately forming a connection, which must confine me to the duties of domestic life, and make me dependent for happiness, perhaps too, for subsistence, upon a class of people, who will claim the right of scrutinising every part of my conduct; and by censuring those foibles, which I am conscious of not having prudence to avoid, may render me completely miserable. (Letter XIV)

It is difficult to read Foster’s novel without feeling sympathy for Eliza’s choice, and because the novel was written in 1797, real women were actively struggling with and debating these issues, thanks to Enlightenment theories of individual freedom, political shifts that gave American women, particularly, more political and economic mobility, and a growing number of women writing novels for other women, novels full of love, adventure, macabre elements, and plenty of melodrama – novels that were consistently slip-sliding between embracing limiting societal norms for women and shattering them completely. And the novels that were the most sensationalistic were often those that enjoyed the most popularity.

One of the most interesting things about looking at the history of women’s writing is the extent to which there have always been elements of social subversion developing alongside those of moral conformity. Take Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, for example, written in 1688, as the story of a white European woman traveling in Africa, recounting the experiences of an African prince who eventually becomes enslaved in Surinam. While the novel reinforces many blind prejudices a wealthy, white, European woman would have at the time, it also represents an interracial relationship, as well as figuring of Oroonoko as a clear romantic hero. Oroonoko is a story that represents the phenomenon I discussed in my last post, namely the simultaneous reinforcement and challenging (the hiding and revealing) of social norms. Behn’s work is part of the genre of “amatory fiction,” which, as its name implies, is a largely female-driven genre concerned with romantic love.

Behn’s work is important to genre Romance in many ways, only one of which is the theme of love in her work. A novel like Oroonoko sits at the crossroads of several genres, one of which is the captivity narrative, which itself has numerous subgenres. One of those is the so-called Indian captivity narrative, which I view as at least as important to the development of genre Romance as books like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Pamela.

Captivity narratives were to Colonial and post-Revolutionary America as Romance novels are to today’s reading public – massively popular bestsellers in Europe and America. They were attached to real estate pamphlets to attract new settlers to the colonies, went through multiple editions (Mary Jemison’s narrative, for example, went through more than 30 editions between the 1820s and the 1960s), and helped launch other genres, especially the Western and the sentimental novel. Mary Rowlandson’s 1682 Indian captivity narrative, widely credited as the first of the genre, was outsold only by The Bible, and it might have been even more widely read.

Some of the most popular narratives feature white, female captives (or male captives, like Daniel Boone, who seemed to acclimate easily to indigenous societies) and Native American captors. The overt project of the narratives was largely to justify colonization, religious conversion, and expansion of the European territories. They are full of problematic images of indigenous nations as “savage” and “uncivilized.” The captive — especially the female captive, represented civilization and its vulnerability at the hands of the “savages,” but also its spiritual, cultural (and eventually racial) superiority. Captives were ideally ransomed or rescued back to their original society (Rowlandson), but some stayed and married within their adopted society (Jemison). Not all the narratives were based in fact, but the most popular were perceived to be authentic narratives, and the American colonies had a surprisingly difficult time keeping redeemed women and children from fleeing back to the indigenous people with whom they often spent months. Some captives were kept as political prisoners, some as adoptees to replace fallen members, and consequently their treatment varied, but in most of the narratives there is an acculturation process that occurs, often based on the pure necessity of survival, but sometimes based on sympathy and respect. Rowlandson, for example, goes from being repulsed by the food she is offered to finding it “savory” and “pleasant” (food – and all it represents — is a HUGE issue in these narratives, with lots of narrative being devoted to food preparation, type, and consumption). Jemison, who was adopted by the Seneca, recounts her escape from a white scout who was trying to “rescue” her from the tribe, and consistently refers to the Seneca as “our Indians” and to “the Americans” as people of a different (often enemy) nation.

For early Puritan narratives, it was very important that the female captive demonstrate that she was not sexually involved with her captors, either willingly or unwillingly. However, the most popular captivity narrative – measured by longevity and numbers of editions – is Mary Jemison’s. Her life, as represented in a narrative written down by a white male (many of these narratives were “edited,” either because – like Jemison – the captive could not read nor write English, or for informal “vetting” purposes), is full of hardship (she lost two Seneca husbands), but it has also become an iconic image of female captivity. Jemison’s editor, James Seaver, stubbornly tries to portray her in the sentimental tradition – she’s a good wife, a good mother, domestically focused and competent – while her narrative recounts endless acts of violence perpetrated on the Native American nations and myriad details that would be thoroughly “foreign” to the English or American housewife.

And that’s a huge part of the appeal for these narratives. Like Eliza Wharton, whose experiences would be radically different from – and undesirable for – the vast majority of readers, Rowlandson and Jemison and the hundreds of other female captives (some narratives with male captives, like Daniel Boone’s, served as foundational stories for genre Westerns), fictional and not, were incredibly appealing as characters. Check out this passage from Rowlandson’s narrative to see the mixing of familiar and unfamiliar references:

During my abode in this place, Philip spake to me to make a shirt for his boy, which I did, for which he gave me a shilling. I offered the money to my master, but he bade me keep it; and with it I bought a piece of horse flesh. Afterwards he asked me to make a cap for his boy, for which he invited me to dinner. I went, and he gave me a pancake, about as big as two fingers. It was made of parched wheat, beaten, and fried in bear’s grease, but I thought I never tasted pleasanter meat in my life. There was a squaw who spake to me to make a shirt for her sannup, for which she gave me a piece of bear. Another asked me to knit a pair of stockings, for which she gave me a quart of peas. I boiled my peas and bear together, and invited my master and mistress to dinner; but the proud gossip, because I served them both in one dish, would eat nothing, except one bit that he gave her upon the point of his knife.

The Philip she’s referring to is King Philip, as Rowlandson was captured in Massachusetts by the Narragansett in 1675 during King Philip’s War. She is primarily a political prisoner, but note the way she continues to talk about herself in domestic terms, even though she now has to use some different tools. One of my favorite parts of this passage is the bit where she insults her “mistress” for being a “proud gossip,” irritated and almost jealous-sounding that the woman would not eat the food she made. It’s remarkable how Rowlandson narrates this incident as if she were holding a nice dinner party for her neighbors, despite all of the references to her captivity. Also note the way Rowlandson relates a series of economic exchanges in which she participates, mingling what she would characterize as “civilized” and “uncivilized” resources. As much as Rowlandson wants to mark her difference from the Narragansett, she is also clearly chronicling her acclimation and acculturation – simultaneously rejecting and adopting what her narrative is superficially characterizing as “other.”

In Captivity and Sentiment, Michelle Burnham argues that “cultural exchange” in these captivity narratives “produces a supplement . . . the production of cultural difference,” which is represented, in the reader, by “the process of sympathy, which requires a crossing of the boundary between reader and text.” In other words, when the reader becomes sympathetic to the characters (ideally the captive, but other characters can inspire sympathy, as well), she becomes an interested and engaged observer, still separate from the action of the narrative, but connected to what’s happening through a sympathetic link with the characters and/or the story. This process should look very familiar to readers of genre Romance, who often judge the success of a novel by the extent to which they find the heroine and/or hero sympathetic.

Captivity narratives, while preceding sentimental and sensational fiction, were also published simultaneously with other genres of women-centric (and authored) writing, and critics like Nancy Armstrong (and me) see strong links between Indian captivity narratives and sentimental fiction (which, in turn, gives rise to genre Romance, among other literary types). As Armstrong points out,

. . . sentimental fiction borrowed from the following cluster of narrative ingredients from its New England cousins: 1) a long heroine whose self-determination and cultural value are under assault from members of a tribal culture, 2) an individual who manages to hang onto her values and identity by transcribing personal experiences under extreme circumstances, and 3) a written account that testifies to the captive’s unwavering desire to return to an English home. (373)

So is it any surprise that genre Romance loves the captivity device? Think about how Romance often puts the heroine through a trial of extreme circumstances, takes her out of her comfort place, disorients her and creates a sense of “otherness” with a different culture, part of society, or with the masculinity of the hero. Or just start with how many Romance novels contain a version of the captivity device: books by Judith McNaught, Judith Ivory, Mary Jo Putney, Anne Stuart, Susan Johnson, Sandra Brown, Cassie Edwards, Catherine Coulter, Julie Garwood, Linda Howard, Jo Goodman, Elizabeth Vaughan, J.R. Ward, Christina Dodd, Anna Campbell, Christine Monson – the list is just too long to enumerate. RT has compiled a list of forced seduction Romances, and readers on the Amazon forums have been compiling a list of m/m captivity Romances. From Erotic Romance to Paranormals Romance to Historical Romance to Romantic Suspense, and beyond, captivity is one of the most fundamental devices in the genre. Whether it’s sexual captivity (the forced seduction/rape fantasy), physical captivity (hostage/prisoner/protection), legal captivity (marriage of convenience, especially against the heroine’s will), meta captivity (BDSM play), or some other variation, the process by which one protagonist is often perceived to be held in captivity until she becomes captivated enough to fall in love with the captor-protagonist has become shorthand for drastically intensifying the emotional and physical power imbalances between the romantic protagonists and playing them out in a way that illustrates the tension between captivity and captivation, and the way love theoretically transforms the nature of the relationship to one based on free choice and mutual happiness.

In my next post I’m going to talk about the captivity device in Romance, especially as it intertwines these issues of cultural “otherness” with sexual and gender politics, beginning with Edith Hull’s 1919 novel, The Sheik, which I would argue is the first modern Romance novel. I’d also love it if you can think of any Romance novel titles that feature the captivity trope and note them in the comments.





isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. Patricia Eimer
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 06:13:55

    I officially feel smarter now. And before my cup of coffee so wow.

  2. Ros
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 06:50:48

    Fascinating, as always. I had no idea that the captivity trope had such a long history. It is not my favourite, because it skews the power dynamic so much in favour of one person that it’s hard to see how the relationship can ever recover to become one of equals. I guess I always have Stockholm Syndrome murmuring in the back of my mind when I read this sort of story. I do, however, love marriage of convenience stories but I had never associated them with captivity stories before. I think because they can be more balanced – both parties get something out of the marriage. One gets money, the other gets status, for instance. One gets security, the other gets an heir. They can both have some bargaining power.

    Some examples:
    Sara Craven’s The Innocent’s Surrender (my review here)
    Sarah Morgan’s The Sicilian’s Virgin Bride (I love the way Morgan plays with the trope in this one)

  3. Jane
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 06:51:34

    This is so fascinating Robin. I had no idea captivity narratives went back so far or were so popular. I don’t really have anything to add other than, wow, this is so interesting.

  4. Katie
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 07:41:54

    This post, and entire series, are so very awesome and smart. Thank you!

    My favorite part of the Rowlandson narrative is when she eats bear meat for the first time and she thinks something like, “the bear made me tremble.” As if in taking it inside herself it controls her. As if the bear meat is sentient. Really, everything about food in captivity narratives interacts, as you say, with English vs. non-English domesticity distinctions, otherness, exoticism, etc.

    I’d be curious to see what you think about the romance legacy of the 19th C version of the captivity narrative: the slave narrative. Particularly in women-authored slave narratives (and I’m thinking now of Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), the sentimental narrative structures argues that slavery is wrong because it denies the nuclear family and home to enslaved women. In Jacobs, we see her deciding to enter into a consensual relationship with a white man in order to avoid being raped by her master, yet she is chided by her grandmother for trespassing against morality for engaging in pre-marital sex (and for eventually becoming pregnant). After escaping slavery, when she reunites with her children in Boston, we get all these details about their house, as if the restoration of the family and the restoration of the home are the same thing.

    Obviously contemporary romance is really uncomfortable with representing black/white racial difference in the nineteenth century and with representing outright slavery, but the sentimental restoration of the home, dispossession, etc. are big motifs. So maybe the latter day captivity narrative, the slave narrative, has a legacy too.

    In terms of captivity in contemporary romance, they aren’t proper captivity narratives for sure, but I think it’s fascinating that in 50 Shades of Gray and The Siren, the innocent, non-BDSM characters (Ana, Wesley) go to live with the BDSM characters (Christina, Nora). They aren’t being held captive, sure, but they’re visiting an unfamiliar culture and are held there by love. Anyhow, I think you should call your inevitable article on this Bound by Love.

  5. Carrie G
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 08:28:04

    Thank you for the history lesson. The “forced seduction” trope in romance novels makes more sense when seen as part of this continuum.

  6. Anachronist
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 08:51:53

    Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. Captivity is such a great excuse for any moral and prudish heroine to behave differently with a clear conscience and universal approval. A great essay and yes, it rises your literary IQ without a cup of coffee. Thank you!

  7. Diane Dooley
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 09:57:33

    What a very interesting essay.

    I was thinking about the ‘Mars needs women’ trope in science fiction romance recently. In these stories an alien species kidnap Earth women, usually because something awful has happened to the female of their species and, if the men don’t breed, they face extinction.

    These are not usually my favorite type of stories, but I was thinking of them in relation to captivity narratives, particularly the story of Eunice Williams, as told in ‘The Unredeemed Captive” by John Demos.

    Eunice is taken captive by the Mohawk as a young child, is adopted by them, eventually grows up to marry and have children with a Mohawk man, and firmly resists being returned to her natural family and Puritan culture. The Mohawk at this time were attempting to recover from a period of population decline (decimation?) from imported diseases. Eunice’s adoptive Mohawk family “would sooner part with their hearts than the child.”

    “Mars needs women” and “Mohawk kidnap females” struck me as very similar, and done for similar reasons. What a strange and powerful position for a captive to be in, though, offering, as they do, the hope of survival for a people or species.

  8. Kate
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 10:23:34

    I’ve always thought of Beauty and the Beast as a captivity narrative, and even though it’s my favorite fairy tale, I’m always aware that Beauty is held against her will.

  9. Sunita
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 10:28:26

    Fantastic post. I also had no idea how far back the captivity narrative went. I’ve seen a fair amount in English literature that focuses on the Raj, most of which is from the mid 19thC onward, but some of which flows out of the harem novel and Islamic contact literature. I’d love to see a comparison of the two “Indian captivity” literatures!

  10. Janine
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 10:56:37

    Oh man, this op-ed comes at the perfect time for me. I’ve always been fascinated by captivity narratives. They can be horrible or wonderful. And currently I’m rereading one of the best, S.U. Pacat’s Captive Prince, which I discovered last week.

    This is an amazing work in three volumes, only two of which have been published. It’s an m/m fantasy romance about a prince who is captured during a coup and sent to an enemy country where the discovery of his true identity could lead to his death. He is given as a slave to the person who has the most reason to hate him.

    Throughout both volumes, we are immersed in the captive character’s unreliable POV. His perceptions color the reader’s, but gradually they begin to shift — and shift, and shift, and shift.

    The best description I can think of for the reading experience (especially in volume 2, which is where Captive Prince gets truly amazing) is to say that it is kaleidoscopic, because new configurations keep forming in our minds, and in the hero’s.

    It is such an amazing book, filled with political intrigue and adventure, and eventually (because it is very slow to develop) a heart-stopping romance.

    Having said that, the first half of Volume 1 makes for uncomfortable reading, with violence both sexual and non-sexual, and other squick factors as well. And it’s not until I got to Volume 2 that I realized that none of that had been gratuitous, and that it was all vitally necessary to the story.

    Overall though, both volumes together are astonishingly good. The way the author uses her hero’s blind spots and the acculturation process that begins to open his eyes is mind blowing.

  11. Anu
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 11:06:44

    It’s interesting to compare captivity stories written by women vs. those written by men.

    Diane Dooley’s reference to sci-fi reminds me of Rape of the Sabines, which is part of the mythology surrounding Rome’s founding – kidnapping as social dominance. That reminds me of Persephone and Hades, in which kidnapping is necessary to maintain climatic order.

    Then there’s the Ramayana, the Hindu epic that has more in common with the Puritan captivity stories. In the Ramayana, villainous King Ravana kidnaps Lord Rama’s wife, Sita; the Ramayana is particularly concerned with Sita’s purity, whether she was compromised or otherwise sexually tainted by her time with Ravana.

    And, of course, there is Popeye’s Olive Oyl, who is constantly under threat from Bluto.

    In these stories, kidnapping of women is about the captivity’s political, moral, or social implications – it’s about order and the maintenance thereof. In the Ramayana, it’s also about Rama’s heroism and Ravana’s villainy. Establishing a sympathetic link to the captive woman is beside the point. It’s interesting to see how captivity stories written by women place *her* at the center and complicate the idea of captivity itself.

    Still thinking through the implications of Olive Oyl’s constant kidnappings, though.

  12. Katie
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 11:37:12

    Oh oh! Kristen Ashley. Where would Kristen Ashley books be without at least one, if not two or three, captivity experiences for the heroine?

  13. LauraB
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 11:40:16

    There were a bunch of novels in the 80s where the heroines were captured by various Indian tribes. In one if I recall, she was force to run the gauntlet and the novel also had a vivid description of the Iroquois game that eventually became lacrosse. I have no memory of the title. I may have to send this to Sarah at for a HABO to see if anyone recalls the title. Does this ring any bells for folks?

    Anyhoo, the Indian captivity trope was a favorite among “Old Skool” authors/publishers. I think Zebra pushed out one a month during the mid-80s.

  14. Jules
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 12:46:29

    This whole series is such an interesting read! I never knew pretty much anything written in this article. I look forward to next week.

    As for captivity stories, the first thing I think of is So Worthy, My Love by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. It’s been over a decade since I read it (it was one of the first romance novels I read ever), but the whole captive/mistaken kidnapping thing is the main focus, if I remember correctly.

  15. Janet/Robin
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 12:50:06

    @Ros: Even though I have a different take on the kidnap/forced seduction trope, I enjoyed your review of the Sarah Craven book.

    As for Stockholm Syndrome and whether it’s real/as common as thought, I find this article interesting:

    @Katie: LOL, I was thinking as I was writing my post that I didn’t want to touch issues related to slave narrative with a ten foot pole during this discussion, because I’ve already flattened out so many problematic aspects of the captivity narratives, while slave narratives are, IMO, really specialized, in large part because of the HUGE differential in power and social capital of the captive/slave. I definitely agree with you, though, that the sentimental paradigm into which Jacobs’s narrative is being shoved is fascinating, not only because it reflects the complexity of many of the feminists in the abolitionist movement (like Lydia Maria Child), but also because of the insider/outsider dynamics involved, and the way in which Jacobs is both racialized and de-racinated in the process. There is so much about her narrative that reflects the *figure of the female slave* and the second level of manipulation that occurred, often by abolitionist women, in using freed slaves politically. Then there is the person of Jacobs herself and all of the real issues around her slavery, around the collision of racial politics and national identity, around self-representation, freedom, self-expression, and self-determination, and all of the racial and sexual politics implicated in slavery and in the experiences and (often exploitive) representations of blackness, especially the black female body.

    One of the first slave narratives I read, way back when, was Equiano’s narrative, which, if you haven’t read it, is fascinating. It’s in many ways a Calvinist conversion narrative, which adds another element I didn’t really discuss here, namely the role of religion, and IIRC it was one of the first slave narratives published (in England, in the 18th C). Then we can get into the differences between male and female slave narratives…

    Oh, and I actually have written on some of these issues a number of times. Captivity narratives are kind of my thing, and I would definitely call many Romance novels captivity narratives, which is pretty much why I’m writing these posts. ;D

    @Diane Dooley: Have you read Eunice Williams’s father’s narrative? John Williams was also captured from the Deerfield settlement and wrote his own popular narrative (I think he was married to one of the Mather sisters, too, making him practically Puritan royalty).

    Like the Seneca, the Mohawk were members of the Iroquois Confederacy, which pretty much held the balance of power between the English and the French in northeastern North America until the end of the French and Indian Wars and the reduction of France in 1783. Rumor has it that we get our bicameral structure of government from the Iroquois, who did operate very much like the US government, with both national and confederacy level governance.

    But for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Iroquois nations was the extent to which they practiced adoption of captives as a way to replenish the collective spirit of their groups, with members being lost in battle, to disease, and by other means. Adoptees were given all the privileges, property, and family of the fallen tribal member, regardless of age, gender, etc., and for more than a few women (and especially children, who often spent their formative months or years with the indigenous nations), it was not an undesirable life. I hesitate to say things were “better” with the tribes, because there were incredible challenges to the native peoples during this period. But it was certainly the case that the propaganda spread by the colonial governments was revealed for the b.s. it was for many of those who ended up adopting and being adopted by the group that originally captured them.

    Colin Calloway has done some excellent work on European and Native American relations during this time. Dawnland Encounters is one of my favorite books of his, but I’d read pretty much anything he wrote: (he’s even written a book called White People, Indians, and Highlanders!).

    @Janine: Did that start off as slash? Or am I thinking of another book?

    @Anu: I love Reina Lewis’s Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity, and Representation ( for its discussion of the power dynamics of white women writing about other cultures. Although she’s not writing specifically about captivity, she does a fantastic job of talking about the layering of insider/outsider tensions in these narrative spaces.

    @Katie: Ashley’s books were basically the inspiration for this series. ;D

    @LauraB: I think the Native American Romance is practically a subgenre, like Sheik Romances. You get into incredibly complex issues around representation, appropriation, exploitation, fetishization, exoticization, and the like, but I definitely think these narratives flow right out of the Indian captivity narrative, which likewise implicates all the above issues, but in somewhat different ways. In fact, as the captivity narrative developed, it became more and more romanticized (in the sense of becoming a metaphor & symbol created by white people, and therefore highly problematic), especially as the Native American populations were dwindling (largely thanks to the violence, disease, and general savagery of European and American settlers) and they became exploited figures of the “lost wilderness” and the like. James Femimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

  16. Evangeline Holland
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 13:09:23

    This post reminded me of a book published in the early 1900s by David Potter called “I Fasten a Bracelet”. Here’s a review on Redeeming Qualities:

  17. leftcoaster
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 13:17:13

    Can we add “The Spymaster’s Lady” to the list of novels containing a captivity trope?

  18. Janet/Robin
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 13:37:25

    @Evangeline Holland: Oh, thanks! I just found it on the California Digital Library download site:

    @leftcoaster: Sure! Definitely a good example, especially with all of the French v. English tension in the book.

  19. Janet/Robin
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 13:50:59

    @Diane Dooley: I forgot to mention that, IIRC. Eunice Williams was converted to Catholicism by the Mohawk, who were occupying territory which, at that time, was part of French territory. There’s a whole side discussion to be had about how different indigenous nations responded to Europeans (colonizers, conversion-oriented missionaries/Jesuit priests, settlers, fur trappers, troops, etc.), not only in terms of how native peoples were part of a conquest strategy (which reminds me, Edward Spicer’s Cycles of Conquest is a fabulous book on this issue) , but also in terms of how they responded and how points of transculturation, exchange, and cultural hybridity opened up (something that is important for the way Romance utilizes the captivity trope). Some nations, like the Cherokee, were incredibly adaptive (there were even quite a few slaveholders among the Cherokee), while other nations (for obvious reasons) wanted no part of what the intruders might be offering (or trying to force on) them. While the horrors of European colonization cannot be understated, inter-cultural issues and relationships were incredibly complex and multi-layered.

  20. LauraB
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 14:27:40


    I admit to never being a huge fan of either the sheikh or Indian captive sub-genres. I read a few in my early teens and never was caught up by the world-building.

    Here’s an interesting captivity narrative: John Smith’s account of his adoption into the Powhatan tribe and his “rescue” by Pocahontas.

  21. Isobel Carr
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 16:44:43

    Large parts of Johanna Lindsey’s oeuvre is captivity rom from what I understand. Certainly Fires of Winter (the only one I’ve read) qualifies.

  22. Janet/Robin
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 16:46:25

    @LauraB: Smith’s captivity is so fascinating, because it mostly seems to exist as his account, unverified by any other credible sources. His first written mention of it ( comes years after it supposedly happened, but the whole thing is pretty self-serving, including his mention of Pocahontas’s captivity as almost incidental (and the reference to her being in Europe is pretty ironic, given the fact that she was basically put on display there, like some exotic zoo animal). Of course the Pocahontas story has been hopelessly warped as it’s been passed down through the centuries, too.

    Your reference to Smith also reminded me of Hannah Dustan’s captivity, narrated by Cotton Mather, who pretty much revels in the fact that Dustan scalps her captors. It’s an astonishing piece of oratory, because Dustan flies outside of any expectations for so-called “civilized womanhood,” and yet Mather can’t help but seek Biblical justification for her actions. I really, really wish we had Dustan’s own account to compare to Mather’s, but unfortunately, no luck there. I think that’s one of the reason that Rowlandson’s narrative is widely considered the first of the genre — it’s told (at least in part) in her own voice, and it’s long and incredibly detailed.

    @Katie: I forgot to comment on your reference to Rowlandson’s first taste of bear. She says that “the thought that it was bear made me tremble,” which, as you say, makes it seem like she’s feeling controlled by it. And that’s especially bizarre, isn’t it, because she relates just before that the fact that English cook bear, too, even though she did not favor it. It’s one of those moments where you can see her needing to mark the “foreignness” of her experience, and the alleged horror of being outside what she considered “civilization,” and yet she won’t move completely outside the familiar and acceptable, thus pointing out that the English ate bear, too. I love those moments, too, because that’s where you really see her struggling with the awareness that her perspective is changing and yet her unwillingness to fully contemplate the implications of that, even as she’s constantly hinting at them. It’s like this unwilling subversion, and it’s just so delicious (heh, couldn’t resist the pun there).

  23. Fiona McGier
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 16:58:45

    “The Sheik” was the very first romance novel my Mom let me read. She said it was the hottest thing she owned. Now that she’s gone, I have her original copy, with the yellowed pages falling out and the real leather cover. I also have her copy of “Sons of the Sheik”, which also has a captivity theme. Note, one of the sons resembles his more “civilized” Mom, while the other looks like his father, who was of course, a Britishman, but who had been raised as a nomadic Arab prince, and looked the part. Mom used to pass these back and forth with her sisters and my cousins. We all read them repeatedly. I always objected to the forced seduction idea, but my Mom said it was necessary at the time, back when women weren’t allowed to express sexual desires of any kind. If pressed, she’d go into her lecture about how saving yourself for marriage was stupid, and she and her sisters all regretted that. I took her lessons to heart. And my books are all the kinds of books she’d like to read, since she hated books without any “pay-off” of good sex scenes. The only one she allowed to have no real graphic sex was The Sheik. All other books she’d drop-kick across the room and refuse to read that author again.

    And BTW, my copy says “E.M. Hull”, and Mom always insisted it HAD to be a woman who wrote it, though she had no idea if it was or not. Glad to find out after all of these years that Mom was right!

    And I’m looking forward to your next installment of this discussion. You make me think in new ways, and I love that about this site!

  24. Janet/Robin
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 17:19:06

    @Fiona McGier: Ooh, ooh, have you read Violet Winspear’s Blue Jasmine? If you lay its characters and plot over Hull’s book, they’re like thisfar apart. It’s fascinating to see how much of Hull’s original Winspear only slightly adapted, and to compare what notable differences there are from Hull’s telling. Also notable (well, to me, at least) is the fact that the book was first published in 1969, exactly 50 years after Hull’s novel, and earlier than some of those historical epics people like to mark as the beginning of the contemporary iteration of the genre.

  25. Ann Somerville
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 17:38:35

    +1 for the title – I assume the Stones can’t sue over that! :)

    I love captivity stories, and have written a number of them. What I love is the way you can explore cross-cultural narratives, show bitter enemies learning to understand and love each other. I also love describing, as I did in ‘I was an alien cat toy’, how the two sides navigate language difficulties because language isn’t just about words, it’s about understanding the way the other side sees the world.

    I also think that a captivity scenario allows the issue of consent to be explored in depth between the two potential lovers. I mean, if one is dependent entirely on the other for survival in a presumably hostile environment, is consent even possible? I think it is, but you have to be careful that it doesn’t come off as a kind of Stockholm syndrome.

    I think the history of colonialisation, for all its many and undoubted evils, does offer many beautiful individual stories of the conquering nations learning from and accepting the cultures and thinking of the conquered. Indeed, if you look at the early British involvement in India and the influence of the Orientalists in Calcutta under William Jones of the Asiatic Society, there was a yearning to understand and merge with a culture they much admired. Ironically, the tendency to ‘Orientalise’ and intermarry with the local population came into heavy disfavour only once the advent of steamships meant it was possible and common for British men to bring out their Anglo wives. The ‘memsahibs’ clamped down hard on the fraternisation, which was a tragedy for the local society, and for the history of British/Indian relations as a whole.

  26. Kaylea Cross
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 18:22:22

    I’ve got a captivity rec! I read this book last year and it’s always stuck with me, because it’s so different from any other romance I’ve read. Plus it has military heroes in it, so I was already hooked :).

    It’s called Taken With the Enemy, by Tia Fanning. Here’s the Kindle link:

  27. Liane
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 18:30:37

    Georgette Heyer’s The Devil’s Cub, of course.

  28. Merrian
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 18:39:19

    Wondering if ‘Special Forces’ by Aleks Voinov & Marquesate counts as a captivity narrative?

  29. Fiona McGier
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 18:48:33

    Thought about this subject line all the while I was making dinner. I think what I dislike about the forced seduction theme is that the woman is not allowed to choose to have sex, or what kind of sex to have. Therefore she can still defend herself as “a good girl” because “he made me do it…he made me enjoy it!” My Mom brought me up with the idea that whatever I wanted to do was fine as long as I didn’t hurt anyone in the doing of it. I didn’t need a man’s permission to seek what I wanted.

    What I want to see is the heroine smirk at the hero and say, “Thanks for the sex lessons but you know what? Now that I know what I like, I don’t need you anymore. Every man I meet has what you have, so it’s my turn to get out there and have some fun. Buh-bye!”

  30. Diane Dooley
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 19:02:26


    I remember having a hard time getting my head around the fact that Eunice’s father seemed far more concerned about her converting to Catholicism than anything else.

    And thanks for pointing me towards Colin Calloway. I’m from Scotland and currently live in what was once Oneida territory. I simply have to read that Indian/Highlander book!

  31. Janine
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 19:19:47

    @Janet/Robin: It’s an original fic that started as a web serial. It is NOT based off of any other author’s characters but Pacat does have a community that has offered her feedback. The original serial has NOT been pulled, it is still up and can be read for free, here.

  32. Elly
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 21:43:22

    Desire’s Captive by Penny Jordan – a classic example of Stockholm syndrome :)
    Her Lord Protector by Eileen Wilks – and tons of other bodyguard type books
    Beware of the Stranger by Janet Dailey
    Taboo by Susan Johnson
    Kidnapped! by Jo Leigh
    virtually all those Anne Stuart Ice books.
    … There are way too many books where this plot is overt – I’m not even considering those books where the heroine is just a fish out of water in the rich, successful hero’s world, which would be at least half of the old school HPs if nothing else! :)

  33. Robin/Janet
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 23:15:05

    @Fiona McGier: That’s one reason I tend to focus on whether the reader gives consent in these scenes, on behalf of the heroine (

    But I also think it’s interesting that Kristen Ashley, who is regularly called “Old Skool,” often allows her heroines to take up with another man about halfway through her novels. Although none of the ones I have read end up having full-on intercourse with the other guy, at least one rounds third base on her way home, so there’s definitely sexual activity between her and the other guy. I find that pretty edgy, and not something you often see, even in authors deemed far more progressive.

    @Diane Dooley: You have to keep in mind, though, that Williams was a Puritan minister himself, and Catholicism was worse to them than the “uncivilized” spiritual beliefs of the indigenous nations. I suspect a lot of that was for narrative show, because these narratives were routinely used as part of the Puritan witnessing process, by which the captive would be readmitted to his or her home society. Williams had the added burden of being a spiritual leader and therefore an even more powerful moral and theocratic exemplar.

    @Janine: According to this article (, it’s designated as “original slash,” and has generated its own fandom, which is pretty interesting. Thanks for the link; I’m interested in the ways a work like this is distinct from P2P fan fic. Her comments about Dunnett are fascinating, too.

    @Elly: Great list! Taboo is one of the few older Susan Johnson books I haven’t read. I think I was a little scared by the forced marriage premise. But now I’m thinking I need to read it. Thanks.

  34. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 23:18:21

    Someone mentioned Johanna Lindsey:

    Prisoner of my Desire and Once a Princess have a kidnapped virgin as the heroine.
    Though in Prisoner of my Desire, the tables are turned because the Alpha hero was kidnapped first, then escapes, then returns with his army and kidnaps the virgin he was forced to sleep with so that she’d produce an heir.

    In Once a Princess, the heroine is long lost royalty, only she doesn’t know it. Of course she’s dragged off kicking and screaming. The hero has a scar across his face, which made it a bit more interesting.

    Paranormal romance seems to love the kidnapped virgin tale also, but since most of the responses I’ve read on this thread deal with historical romance, I won’t list any PR titles.

  35. Janine
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 23:31:31

    @Robin/Janet: Well, the Daily Dot calls it “original slash” but the author describes slash as being different from what she does.

    DD: Do you think of Captive Prince as “original slash” or as “male/male erotica,” or are those two terms interchangeable?

    Pacat: To me slash implies some sort of dynamic that is being subverted, the queering of some pre-existing space. The buddy cops are lovers story. The hero and his sidekick are lovers story. These are subversions. But I think that the queer elements of Captive Prince are generated from the story itself and are not a subversion of something else. As a friend of mine said recently, there is no straight version of a prince and his male pleasure slave that is being ‘slashed’ by Captive Prince. In that sense, I think Captive Prince almost has more in common with the Japanese yaoi genre, in which the queer elements are free-floating, without referents, existing not as a subversion but for their own sake, because they are awesome. I wish there was a Western term for that type of story that didn’t come laden with the implication of seme/uke dynamics that accompanies the word ‘yaoi’.

    Regardless of whether the term is accurate, it’s an amazing work. I hope you read it.

  36. Robin/Janet
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 23:39:58

    @Janine: I don’t have any objection to fan fic or slash (nor am I particularly invested in how authors designate their own work ; D), but I always like to know where these texts come from, and how much they have been shaped, influenced, or otherwise built on fan communities. Do you happen to know if Captive Prince merely generated its own fan community, or whether it was also produced from within that community dynamic?

  37. Ann Somerville
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 23:41:13


    “the Daily Dot calls it “original slash” but the author describes slash as being different from what she does.”

    ‘Original slash’ is what later became known as ‘m/m’. In the early days when people who wrote slash moved to creating stories with original characters, but aimed very much at the same kind of reader, ‘original slash’ seemed the best way to describe it (since ‘gay fiction’ was still considered to be the stuff written and read by the gay community.) It had a ‘slash’ sensibility – which is something that only makes sense if you know what fanfic slash is like.

    Some (certainly not all) fanfic slashers got rather upset about this – I had one wannabe beta of mine flounce off and post an excoriation of me on her LJ for using the term – because they define slash the way Pacat does.

    Now m/m is written by people who don’t have a fanfic background, and has become a recognised genre (with a recognised name) the term ‘original slash’ is pretty old fashioned. However ‘The Captive Prince’ goes back at least to when I first started writing ‘original slash’ in 2003, so it’s old skool :)

    I wasn’t aware CP was a completed work. Glad to hear it. There are some great stories from that period (when almost all ‘original slash’ was up on line for free because no one would think of selling the stuff), including (to return to the topic) PL Nunn’s erotic (and sometimes very gory and violent) Bloodraven which is an almost classic captivity narrative.

  38. Ann Somerville
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 23:50:11


    “Do you happen to know if Captive Prince merely generated its own fan community, or whether it was also produced from within that community dynamic? ”

    I can’t answer for CP specifically, but I know that there have been women writing what we call m/m quite separately from fanfiction for a long time, that there are still people ‘discovering’ ‘original slash’ after reading good fanfic AUs and wanting more of the same, and that the early big names in ‘original slash’ like PL Nunn and Manna Francis did have fanfic connections, though in Nunn’s case it was with anime fandoms, and in Francis’s case, it was Blakes’ Seven.

    However, popularity in fandom back then was absolutely no guarantee of popularity in ‘original slash’ because (a) people were in fandom and read fanfic because of the canon characters and so original stories didn’t have the draw and (b) original work didn’t offer the same community feel as fanfic did. Fanfic authors were certainly not going to mention their origins if they tried to make it in ‘real’ writing.

    Of course now P2P is considered, sadly, so normal, that’s all changed, and harnessing your fannish fanbase for your original writing is considered de rigueur. But back then it was thought to be tacky as hell.

  39. Merrian
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 00:38:17

    @Robin/Janet: I believe it has generated it’s own community

  40. Janine
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 01:02:47

    @Robin/Janet & @Merrian: I have the same impression as Merrian, but I could be wrong about that. I also think I heard the author wrote fanfic before she turned her hand to writing Captive Prince.

  41. Janine
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 01:16:35

    @Ann Somerville: Thanks so much for explaining. I did not know that about the use of “original slash” to describe M/M.

    Captive Prince isn’t completed. There are two volumes published and the third and final volume will be out in 2014. But it’s so intensely satisfying even so. Volume 2 has the most rewarding, satisfying, fulfilling cliffhanger ending I’ve ever read, if you can imagine such a thing.

    The first half of Volume 1 is very disturbing — sick and twisted things happen. But once I reached the second half of Volume 2, I could see that every word of that had been carefully chosen and none of it was thoughtless or gratuitous. Volumes 1 and 2 must be read in order, as the first is setup for what happens in the second. The characterization is terrific and the plotting is dumbfoundingly good. Unbelievably good. But it really does take reading both volumes in order to see that.

    So, that’s my plug for reading it now, rather than waiting on the publication of volume 3, if you haven’t already.

  42. Amara
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 12:47:53

    Great complex and nuanced discussion and comment thread!

    Just a few quick adds:

    Jane Eyre (as mentioned on twitter) – really, most stories of financial and/or social dependence sort of have this underlying idea. The heroine has no choice but to submit to this situation and then perhaps makes it work for her…an idealization of domestic ideology, in some ways.

    Also some recent ones….Sarah Maclean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name and Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure. Both include scenes of physical captivity…BUT in both cases, the heroine has a prior relationship of affection with the captor hero. AND sexual acts are clearly identified as consensual. (In Maclean’s Rogue there’s a moment that works very interestingly in this context…the heroine is being confined against her will and at some point comments on how one would expect such a situation to be more exciting.) In both books, the hero’s purpose for the captivity is financial/political…she’s a pawn in a bigger game he’s playing.

    On a slightly different note, in Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband, there’s no physical captivity, but there’s a lot of dubious consent and non-consent in sexual acts (really, it’s a theme in the relationship that, I suppose, shows the couple’s evolution in the end…they’re no longer “asleep” to each other’s true identities/desires/commitment).

  43. Kathryn
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 19:24:36

    This is a great post — lots to think about.

    Some other captivity romances — P.C. Cast’s Divine by Mistake where the heroine is forcibly transferred to another world and has to take the place of the missing Priestess/Goddess; Linda Howard’s Burn, where the heroine is forced by the hero to participate in a sting operation; Anne McCaffrey’s Restoree where once again a heroine is taken to another world that is locked in a struggle with the evil aliens who kidnapped her. Oh and perhaps Sabatini’s Captain Blood, where the hero is condemned to 10 years of slave labour and shipped off to Barbados. He meets the heroine there, then escapes and becomes a pirate. During his piratical adventures he accidentally re-encounters the heroine and holds her briefly captive. So a double captivity as H&H are at different points held captive in one way or another.

    And I think Bujold is playing with some captivity romance themes with the story of the courtship of Miles Vorkosigan’s parents, Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan found in Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Bujold offers readers an interesting take on why someone might choose “primitive” Barrayar over “civilized” Beta (besides personal love for an individual) — a deep desire to make Barrayar a better, safer, more honourable place so that the future generations will have a better life. And certainly that’s a constant theme that runs through many of Vorkosigan books — Barrayar has become a better place than it was when Aral was growing up. Thanks in no small part to Cordelia’s efforts and influence.

    Hoyt’s To Desire a Devil — although not a captivity romance per se seems to me also to draw upon elements of a captivity romance. Part of hero’s struggle is the ambivalent feelings he has about his Indian captors (especially the older woman who adopts him into her family).

  44. Merrian
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 21:27:41

    Rachel Haimowitz’ m/m books ‘Counterpoint’ and ‘Crescendo’ in the 2 book series Song of the Fallen are captivity narratives about humans and elves engaged in a generations long war. They centre on the situation of an Elf, Ayden captured by Humans and his captor Freyrik. Ayden suffers a lot and I think Freyrik’s naivety about his own world causes and exacerbates this. Their love is sweet and while in a slave and master situation Freyrik seeks Ayden’s trust and consent and is even ready to help Ayden escape when the realities of this world intrude.

  45. Sally
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 23:44:36

    Robin, here’s my list of “held captive” romances. 32 books. Could have sworn I’ve read more.

  46. Bree
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 12:18:11

    Hmm, the internets ate the comment I posted yesterday. I can’t remember everything I wrote, but I do know that the captivity narrative gets used on contemporary heroines in a way that readers can accept it through:

    1. “For her Own Good/Safety” Kidnapping – this is usually used in romantic suspense – the good guy takes the fiesty/confused heroine hostage to protect her from harm (usually harm he’s put her in). This gets glossed over by lots of fun verbal sparring and a few intense moments before they catch the baddies and have amazing sex and live HEA. The first one I remember reading was Night Magic by Karen Robards – a romance writer ends up kidnapped by a spy. He was a jerk, but the reader is supposed to excuse that because he’s the good spy saving her from the Russians.

    2. Accidental Time Travel. This usually ends up a double captivity – not only is the heroine unwillingly in another time period, but since it is usually the past, some historically accurate autocratic male takes her captive for her protection/ suspicious interrogation/good looks. She invariably uses modern know-how to impress him, and amazing historical sex ensues, so she chooses to stay in his time period or bring him back with her. I can’t remember any exact romances that use this theme, but the Outlander series is built on this, although Claire ends up with Jamie instead of his uncle.

    In both cases, the initial captivity is never really addressed. It’s all glosed over by sex, lots of intense moments and a HEA.

    And the mother of all captivity sagas is Stormfire, by Christine Monson. I furtively read that book as a young teen, stolen from the stash of books my mother inherited from her late aunt. It made such an impression that I hunted it down a few years ago to see if it was really as mind-blowing as I remembered, and it was all that and more. There was plenty I had forgotten/blocked out.

  47. Zann
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 22:45:45

    It started out as a Xena uber fanfic story, but I’ve always liked Redhawk’s Tiopa Ki Lakota (

  48. cleo
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 14:33:45

    Interesting. I remember reading and loving a YA version of the Mary Jeminson story a long time ago.

    Some SFR examples –

    walking on the moon by susan sizemore. The heroine is accidentally kidnapped by soldiers from the future and is captive on their spaceship. And then she helps them win the war.

    Blind Space – mm by Marie Sexton.

    Incursion by Aleksandr Voinov kind of counts, although it’s not clear who the captive is until the end.

    For sheer WTFry, there’s The Battle Lord’s Lady by Linda Mooney. A relatively recent post apoc romance that reads like an old skool 80s captivity romance with mutants and zombies.

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  50. I is for American Indians, Native Americans, First Nations, Indigenous Peoples, Etc. | Olivia Waite
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    […] in-depth depiction is the opposite of what we see in the captivity narratives identified by Janet at Dear Author as part of the romance genre’s foundations, where a white heroine (it’s […]

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