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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

23 Comments

  1. ms bookjunkie
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 15:50:05

    My view tends to be that the term “bodice ripper”

    - is used correctly when talking about older romances of yesteryear that contain themes of forced seduction, alphole heroes, cipher heroines or sassy spoiled heroines you-totally-want-to-smack etc. and covers that are bodacious (also, fabiolicious) and that the genre has moved on and the name does not apply to books of today

    - is a derogatory term used to refer to the whole romance genre by ignorant people who don’t respect it or read it

    - might be sometimes used of any romance, published any year that contain those wonderful themes of alphole hero, forced seduction etc.

    I would prefer the term “throwback” or something else be used of newer books with these themes and that the term “bodice ripper” –in all it’s uses, since it is so often misused and derogatory– be allowed to sink into the annals of history, never to be heard again.

    (That is my view at this moment. My view might change.)

  2. Jane O
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 16:26:14

    When I’ve heard the term, it has almost always fit the first definition. I have encountered the second usage, readers referring to older romances, but in those cases it has also had a negative, derogatory connotation.

    I wouldn’t mind a bit if I never heard it again. I’m not convinced that reclaiming the pejorative is a successful technique.

  3. DS
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 17:03:57

    I’m actually kind of fond of it.

    Like the terms “Smart Bitches” and “Trashy Novels” I would prefer to own it.

    However, I know that I have heard the term used prior to the romance genre coming into existence to refer to the racy adventure novels that tended to have cover art featuring a woman in a bodice with a ripped white chemise- frequently being menaced by a figure in historical costume waving a whip or a sword. They also tended to have titles such as Vixen’s Earth– a real book I own with a picture of the heroine holding a vixen to her chest to keep her torn chemise decorous.

    This wasn’t even limited to PBOs (Paperback Originals, the lowest of the low in the view of many in publishing in the 20th century) but books that were perfectly respectable in hard covers would get the bodice ripper treatment when they moved to mass market paperback– probably because, like the retro clinch covers, the reader had some assurance that the book would be contain the type of story that the reader wanted.

    I won’t deny that bodice ripper is used as a derisive term toward romance fiction, but that is pretty low down my list of things to get worked up about.

  4. Clothdragon
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 18:45:51

    I always thought it was the romances published with a woman with ripped dress on the cover, once as popular as the headless man seems to be now.

  5. Carin
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 19:35:30

    I know it’s used in a negative way (a derogatory term used to refer to the romance genre by people who do not respect it or read it), but I’ve never really thought of it like that.

    I certainly never thought of it in a “forced seduction” or rape type way. I guess I think of scenes where the h/h are so carried away that buttons go flying, shirts rip – and not just in historicals. Usually that’s a moment I enjoy. :)

  6. library addict
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 19:44:53

    What Jane O said.

  7. sabrinadarby
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 19:52:43

    How funny–I’ve been working on an entry about this for my Wednesday post over at RomanticInks.com. Interesting to read these comments.

  8. Ros
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 01:42:35

    I’ve always associated it with historicals – but not just any historical. They do have to be the kind that have sex, usually written with embarrassing metaphors and cliches.

  9. German Reader
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 05:51:40

    “fabiolicious”

    LOL

    I don’t think there is another male cover model with such a high recognition factor.

    ( I do remember in ’90 seeing catalogue pictures of a memorable young blond male model – a couple years later I saw my first Fabio book cover and instantly knew that he was the same model from the catalogue page I had ripped out)

  10. RStewie
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 07:07:43

    I think “bodice-ripper” is always a derogatory term, but, at the same time, it doesn’t really bother me to hear it, and I’ve used it on occasion. I think a lot of Old Skool romances earned the title of bodice-ripper, and the clinch covers certainly added to that.

    I don’t consider the newer romances that I read to be bodice-rippers, though, so when it’s applied to the entire romance genre, it can be annoying.

  11. Terisa Wilcox
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 08:22:35

    I’ve always heard the term used in a derogatory sense. And most who use it have never even read a romance. It is actually quite annoying when I get that response from a person when I tell them I’m a romance author. I always ask them how they can say that if they’ve never even read one before. They tend to give me the pat answer that they read one once when they were teens and that’s what they thought. So of course, the next question is “have you read one recently or was the last one you read in the 70′s?” I get quite defensive and annoyed at them. Don’t put something down when you have no clue what you’re talking about! It’s unfair and demeaning to those who write romances as well as those who enjoy reading them!

    Terisa Wilcox

  12. Monica Burns
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:37:34

    Bodice Ripper for me denotes negative images of romance from the 70s when romances were filled with forced seductions. I believe they’re totally associated with historicals, because those were a dominant subgenre in the 70s.

    I don’t think women realized how “twisted” (for lack a better term coming to mind) these books were. It was a different mindset back then, and while feminism was gaining strength, it hadn't really filtered into the general female population. Don’t get me wrong, I read Woodiwiss and loved her writing. I can’t read those stories now. I’m better informed and educated.

    I get really tired of seeing the term used for personal and professional reasons. It is a derogatory term in my mind, and it also ticks me off royally when the news media uses it, because it's sloppy journalism. Having started out in a journalism program at VA Tech (I later switched tracks because of sensational journalism trends), I know the media hasn't done its homework well when they use the term. INFORMED journalists would know that today's romance deals with sensitive subjects in honest ways without being demeaning. They would understand that the term doesn't really apply anymore.

    But since I view most media sources as more about entertaining that about honest, straight-forward news reporting I'm never surprised by the term's usage. However, I do find it even more appalling when it's a female journalist uses the term (recent Time article). And then there are the folks who say, “Oh, I don't read those bodice rippers, I love Nora Roberts.” CLEARLY they’re uninformed as la Nora is one of the great definers of the romance genre.

    Ok, nuff of the rant. I just really despise the term.

  13. HaloKun
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 13:31:14

    I was just telling a friend of mine that I’ve never read a romance where the bodice was actually ripped. I’ve read pulled down but not ripped. Maybe I haven’t read enough historicals, lol.

  14. Lisa
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 20:22:33

    @Monica Burns

    I have been reading romance since the 70s and I’m a bit frustrated by comments that romance back then was somehow “twisted” and if I were just more informed and educated I would realize that old skool romance is not acceptable (unless it’s Heyer). Every genre has its good, bad & ugly and as with all fiction it’s subjective and not a measure of one’s intelligence or ignorance.

  15. Kat
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 23:02:55

    @Carin: That’s exactly how I’ve thought of the term, and I think I’ll keep my definition. :-)

    I don’t care if it’s used in the media, because I do believe it’s in the vernacular and that most people don’t mean anything more than a kind of morbid fascination with romance books and its readers when they use it. I’m not sure I’d classify my reading preferences as a subject sensitive enough to warrant that much…sensitivity.

  16. Monica Burns
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 07:24:02

    @Lisa

    Perhaps my POV is based on a perspective that is unusual then. Woodiwiss, Rogers and a couple others (names escaped me) had heroines raped by heroes. That’s not heroic IMHO, particularly since I was date raped at 19. My perspective to view those particular type of romances, and there were a number of them, as “twisted” is definitely influenced by my experience. And as always given the limited means of electronic communication, my choice of the word “twisted” was a bad one that if we were in a face-to-face conversation and I'd been able to read your reaction, I could have clarified my use of the word.

    It was considered “okay” in numerous places that a man had the right to take what he wanted. That when a woman said no, she didn't really mean it, particularly if she were dressed in a certain way. I firmly believe that the “fantasy” relayed in the big bestsellers of the 70s simply reflected the thought processes that were in place at the time and which were left over from earlier generations.

    There were definitely other books that were sweet romances (Cartland, all of the HQ I read) but when it came to sex in books, the “bodice rippers” that stand out in my mind were definitely that. They were the hero raping the heroine and then the two fell in love.

    I read Cartland, Victoria Holt, Jane Aiken Hodge, Woodiwiss and Rogers, and many others. And even though Cartland was pretty sedate the hero was arrogant and authoritative and when I look at them now, the man treated the heroine as a child unable to think for herself. What I remember of a Jane Aiken Hodges book was a scene where the hero doesn’t even remember having sex and when she gets pregnant, he accuses her of infidelity. That still works for me on some levels, but on others it doesn’t. But in all of these books, as much as I loved them then, and as much as I still have favorites among them now, a large majority of them reflected a mindset that is no longer acceptable because the population at large *is* better educated and informed about what is right or wrong about sexual abuse. About what the difference is between the “fantasy” of forced seduction scene and what isn't the fantasy.

    I also need to point out emphatically that I understand and support the fantasy that is forced seduction. It’s the forbidden with the HEA. It’s a type of role-playing, which can be cathartic, but I don’t want to read it. It’s too painful, and my perspective is *most definitely* colored by it.

    I truly believe that women in the 70s didn’t see the forced seduction scenes as fantasy, those scenes were just the way it had always been, except authors gave the reader a wonderful story AND a HEA. It’s the HEA that makes the difference, because sexual abuse doesn’t have a HEA between the survivor and the abuser as far as I know or have experienced.

    My upcoming book Kismet was originally written with a forced seduction scene because there were huge discussions ongoing about it at the time. I thought that if anyone could write a *fantasy* forced seduction scene, I could. I could make it sensitive, put it into a perspective where the hero would be heroic and still make the heroine love him in the end. I failed. I failed miserably, and it created a major backlash on me that brought up a slew of memories that I’d never dealt with. I was forced to do so at that time. It took me another year to go back and rewrite the book. While I have concerns that I will be slammed for one scene in particular in Kismet, I wrote what came out of me, and the book is the better for it.

    I apologize if someone thinks I believe them “twisted” for enjoying the books with forced seduction in them. I am *not* stating that it is unacceptable for a reader to read them. I am saying that the “old skool” romances were written in a time period when women were only just beginning to realize that it was *more than acceptable* to say no, and that no meant exactly what that.

    @ Lisa directly
    My apologies that my choice of word implied something other than what I meant, and that you were offended by it. It was not my intent. However, I have to stand by my statement that if readers had been better educated and informed as to “their right to say no” (and this small piece might have made a difference in your interpretation of my comment), the books would have been written differently and they would have been *even more* ground-breaking than what they were.

  17. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 08:07:55

    Perhaps my POV is based on a perspective that is unusual then. Woodiwiss, Rogers and a couple others (names escaped me) had heroines raped by heroes.

    Actually, it’s really very common, possibly second only to the “imaginary lover” fantasy.

    At the time those “old skool” romances were published, Nancy Friday had also come out with her compendia of female sexual fantasies, and even she was shocked at the proliferation of the rape fantasy.

    What bugs me is that because what some (A LOT) of women like is now un-PC, people are trying to sweep it under the rug as if it never existed and/or must be stamped out of existence. I had a person tell me (in outrage) that SHE didn’t like that device and so *I* shouldn’t, either.

    I am saying that the “old skool” romances were written in a time period when women were only just beginning to realize that it was *more than acceptable* to say no, and that no meant exactly what that.

    No. They were written in a time when second-wave feminism was at its peak, and women STILL had this fantasy. It was so post-Friedan by then, so the Feminine Mystique was in the national consciousness, Erica Jong had made her splash in 1973, Dworkin hadn’t come along yet to tell us that all sex is rape (Intercourse, 1987), and I sure don’t have to ask what Camille Paglia would think of it.

    It’s my reading kink. If that makes me sick and twisted, well, so be it. Far be it from me to sneer at others’ reading kink.

  18. Monica Burns
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 08:48:19

    Perhaps my POV is based on a perspective that is unusual then. Woodiwiss, Rogers and a couple others (names escaped me) had heroines raped by heroes.

    Actually, it’s really very common, possibly second only to the “imaginary lover” fantasy.

    I think you misunderstand. When I state that my POV is based on an unusual perspective, I am saying that as a survivor of sexual assault, I am naturally predisposed to no longer enjoy the “old skool” romances and now view them in a different light. Intellectual commentary or observations aside.

    What bugs me is that because what some (A LOT) of women like is now un-PC, people are trying to sweep it under the rug as if it never existed and/or must be stamped out of existence. I had a person tell me (in outrage) that SHE didn’t like that device and so *I* shouldn’t, either.

    As I stated in my previous post. I support anyone's right to read or write what they want, even if it's something I find distasteful and/or IMHO demeaning. Just because I have an opinion about something doesn't make me right or a differing opinion wrong. It is what it is. Opinion. It is also based on what one is exposed to at the time of forming an impression or opinion.

    The names you mention were not in my scope at the time “old skool” books were being written. And even if they had been, I doubt I would have made the intellectual connection between the stats and the type of romance I was reading at my age. Nor were these names in the vocabulary of my friends or even the older women who surrounded me. My mother and grandmother were prolific readers, but if they read any of the writers you mentioned, they were never discussed openly with me. My mother didn’t even know I was reading Woodiwiss and Rogers. I was hiding them from my parents AND the school teachers.
    Sex was still not an open subject with a great many women, BASED on my perspective. I was given a book to read, and had a talk, but there wasn't a lot more than that, and my mother was considered progressive in her thinking with regard to sex by the rest of the family. The discussion here is simply a matter of perspective and the experiences that shapes us. None of it makes either of us right or wrong.

    It’s my reading kink. If that makes me sick and twisted, well, so be it. Far be it from me to tell others what I think of their reading kink.

    And I reiterate. I would not tell someone what they should or shouldn't read, nor would I begin to think that a writer should or shouldn't write a particular type of work. Although I might take issue with really bad writing. *grin*

  19. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 08:52:20

    I am saying that as a survivor of sexual assault, I am naturally predisposed to no longer enjoy the “old skool” romances and now view them in a different light.

    Now, this I understand. Completely. If you said that before, I missed it or glossed over it, so I apologize. :)

  20. Monica Burns
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 11:46:49

    @Moriah Jovan:
    Considering I wrote dissertations in the comments above, I can see where my initial mention of being a survivor could have been easily missed. I hesitated even mentioning it at all, but I felt it was relevant to clarifying my initial opinion on the subject as I didn’t give a complete picture as to how and why my opinion was formed. My experience is not a topic I hide from, but it’s not something I throw willy nilly into a conversation either.

    Apology accepted. *smile*

  21. Lisa
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 16:15:49

    @ Monica & Moriah

    Good discussion. Thanks for clarifying your thoughts Monica. There are times it’s frustrating to feel like I have to defend old skool romance because it’s considered unPC. Like Moriah says everyone has their kink and the forced seduction/rape is pretty prevelent. I think that is why we see the popularity of a lot of BDSMlite in erotica. A lot of readers seem to assume if you like that situation in fiction you must approve of it IRL. Personally I like the dominant alpha in fiction BECAUSE I wouldn’t tolerate it IRL. I get to try it on without buying it forever.

  22. Monica Burns
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 16:51:58

    A lot of readers seem to assume if you like that situation in fiction you must approve of it IRL. Personally I like the dominant alpha in fiction BECAUSE I wouldn't tolerate it IRL. I get to try it on without buying it forever.

    Ahhh….you should hear some of the questions I or the DH get asked about our sex life. It is annoying.

    As for alpha males…I write them because I love how a strong heroine can turn them around and make them into tamed tigers. However, I’d be in jail for homicide if I were involved with one. My DH, bless him, has been married to one for quite sometime. I’m surprised he’s not smothered me in my sleep. *grin*

    And as for the Try in on without buying it….well, that’s the beauty of erotic romance as far as I’m concerned. Whether I’m reading or writing it. I get to put it down and walk away the minute it puts me out of my comfort zone.

    And your right Lisa. It has been a good discussion. Now I HAVE to get back to the WIP. I’ve a deadline to meet, and I’m not close to be in done. *sigh*

  23. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 17:23:17

    @Lisa and Monica

    Same here. I love it, I write it, but couldn’t live with it IRL.

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