The Flame and the Flower
It was with some trepidation that I began The Flame and the Flower. On one hand, I had heard many readers say that their love of the romance genre started when they read this book. On the other hand, I had heard people talk with scorn about “those romances of the seventies.” Since I was two when it was published, I can’t really comment on the effect it had at the time. The question I sought to answer was whether The Flame and the Flower could still resonate with the modern reader. All I can say is, we’ve come a long way, baby.
We’ve come a long way from …
… The Rapist Hero. When the book begins, Heather, the heroine is toiling away for her aunt, a woman who is virtually identical to Cinderella’s stepmother. Then she is taken to London and nearly raped by her aunt’s brother, a man who is obese and thoroughly repulsive. I kept wondering why these villains were so over-the-top and cartoonish. Then I realized, they had to be completely loathsome so they could be distinguishable from the hero. After Heather escapes the rape attempt, she wanders the docks and is delivered to Brandon Birmingham, the hero, who does rape her. I have read a few books with heroes who have raped in the past, but this one was the most despicable. He rapes the heroine brutally and repeatedly, and he’s not even sorry! But I guess this rape was okay, because after all, Brandon was handsome.
… Age Disparities. Brandon is 35, a seasoned man of the world. Heather is 17. It would have been easier to forget this icky scenario if Brandon hadn’t kept referring to Heather as a “little girl.” What 35-year-old man would find a “girl” attractive? I don’t think I want to know.
… Trembling Heroines. Heather spends two-thirds of the book shaking. There are variations; sometimes she quakes, sometimes she’s aquiver. Mostly she trembles. At one point she “seeks solace in a blissful faint.” She refers to herself as a “pluckless female,” but I thought she was more like a bunny rabbit.
… Hyper-Alpha Heroes. Brandon is so Alpha, he almost belongs in a category by himself. He is brash, loud, fierce, and angry. He spends most of the book yelling, scowling, threatening, snarling, and throwing things. Heather may be seventeen, but Brandon is younger mentally. His tantrums would put a toddler to shame.
… Pseudo-Shakespearean Soliloquies. Both Brandon and Heather like to talk to themselves in little monologues that sound like Shakespeare gone bad. My personal favorites, replete with purple prose, come near the end.
Brandon— “I’ve known wenches here and abroad. Why does this simple one strike wisdom from my skull and make of me a bumbling fool? I’ve bade the most haughty spread their thighs and gladly they complied as if the greatest favor in the world I did them… This Heather, this tiny purple flower from the moors, has dined upon my heart and now it grows within her…”
Heather— “I would have never seen this land, this house, these kind and gentle souls I’ve met had not fate declared my maidenhead should be the price! I’ve but to make the best of it and when this child has come and I regain my former worth, then I shall ply my woman’s wiles to gain my husband.”
… Giggle-Inducing Purple Prose. The purple prose is just plain silly. A couple of my favorite lines—
“You privy wench,” he leered. “With your high-curved breasts and your rosy butt, you tempt a man even when you’re asleep.”
“With our play we’ll make that old bed tremble like it’s never done before. Oh, tonight—tonight I will take her again and my monkish ways will end, for I will play a lusty song between her thighs and know the sweetness of being born again within her.”
Is there anything redeemable in The Flame and the Flower? Well, Brandon and Heather cut down on the snarling and trembling in the second half, which is a profound relief. And they are pretty much together for the last third, so at least we don’t have to listen to them fight until the bitter end. They seem to grow up a bit in the course of the book, becoming a bit more likeable in the process.
Eventually I found myself getting into the campy spirit of the novel. After all, it is kind of fun in a melodramatic way. But I don’t usually read books for their camp value. The Flame and the Flower resembles modern romance in the sense that cro-magnon man resembles the homo sapien. It is a true prototype, complete with ripping bodices, raping heroes, and lush, dramatic prose. In fact, every negative stereotype I’ve ever heard about romance is right here in this book.
It is easy to see why someone reading it would dismiss the entire genre. Romance has come a long way since 1972.