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.
I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
|Review Date:||August 25, 1998|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
One of the reasons this book was so successful was because it depicts sex in what was then a fairly explicit manner. And the sex is frequent and passionate. That is not to say it isn’t morally reprehensible, because it certainly is. But love scenes were pretty much ‘fade to black’ up until that time, and so this was pretty revolutionary for the era. I read it as a teen when it was first published and hated the rapey stuff. But, I was a teen and sexual imagery and content were still pretty taboo (the internet was decades away, after all) back then, so I was fascinated. It seems plenty of women of all ages were also fascinated.
As for the age difference, I knew even then that very mature men often married women still in their teens in those days. They wanted heirs and very young women are more fertile. So that part didn’t bother me. It would bother me a great deal in a contemporary romance, but it was a commonly accepted practice back then.
But, this book ultimately drove me away from romance for many years because of the rape and abusive attitudes in it. I started reading Elizabeth Lowell in the late 90s and that was how I rediscovered the genre and I’ve been pretty happy here ever since.
Yep! Pretty much the Forever Amber/Valley of the Dolls effect; people used to pass around highlighted/dog-eared copies with passages underlined.
Well… based on this review and the plot summary I do NOT plan to read this book ever. However, I must say that, even if the cover is kind of silly (nice shoes etc in the snow), esthetically is is quite appealing. Also, for some strange reason, I like the title. It must be my personal reaction to the still horrible modern covers cover with the two MC ripping each other clothes, or the obnoxious titles that include cinderellas, dukes, movies parallels, etc.
I really agree with this review! Your site has a different review of this book giving it an “A” grade. I was fiddling around with the search function trying to see which books had been given the best reviews and stumbled on that one first. Oh how I wish I had read yours first!
I hated the characters in this book. I somehow found it both boring and deeply disturbing to read.
I got about halfway through it before I just gave up, the book was really insufferable!
I hope you might be willing to take that other review down, this one is much much much better.
We don’t take down older reviews because, if nothing else, they’re an interesting look back at how tastes have changed – don’t forget, AAR has been around for over twenty years, and as others here have said, romance novels and romance readers have come a long way in that time..
Shanna by KEW was my first romance. Serialized in a weekly German magazine. I was 14 or so.
When I tried F&F a couple years later, I hated it. Never finished.
Wolf & Dove, Ashes in the Wind: loved them.
At that time, that was great stuff and revolutionary.
No, it has not aged well.
But I am still grateful for those books, they were the ( necessary?) foundation for us all happy romance readers today.
At the same time, thank you for the review, it puts that old old foremother into perspective, and in a lovely funny way.
I never really took to any of KEW’s books; they’re so cardinally old skool that they put Steve and Ginny to shame, but at least Rosemary Rogers threw in some lush travelogues to keep people entertained.
I find The Wolf and the Dove readable and interesting in its portrayal of the era. But this book, the writing alone is a no go.
However, we once gave it an A. #notfakenews
Oh man, it’s been years since I tried that one – I think I read it when I was fifteen or so. Need to at least give it a glimpse; I know it’s still in my local library.
I’ve never understood the love for this book. But, people do love it. It’s a 4.5 star read from over 600 Amazon reviewers. Go figure.
Me either, but Joanna Lindsay has thousands of happy customers.
Please enjoy Brandon’s soliloquy re-imagined as Hamilton rap lyrics.
“I’ve known wicked wenches and bewitching bawds
here and abroad.
This one makes me flawed
Strikes wisdom from my skull
I lose my cool
She makes 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…
Heh. When I did them.
This Heather, this tiny purple moor-flower
Fills herself with more power
She has made my heart her dinner
and now it grows within her.”
STANDING OVATION <3
I don’t want to do my real work so here’s Heather:
“I would have never seen this land,
these kind and gentle souls I’ve met
had not fate not set
my maidenhead as the price!
My fool’s paradise
My faith, I’ve tested it,
I’ve but to make the best of it
and when this child has come, this after birth,
Will deliver me my former worth,
then I shall ply my woman’s wiles
Pile on pile my crocodile smiles
Groom a man
to gain my husband.”
These are hilarious!
Hard to believe I wrote this review over twenty years ago.
This is still amazing omg
Caroline, your lyrics are BRILLIANT!!
My, my, haven’t we come full circle! From this one to E L James in 40 years. Let’s face it, some people liked reading this sh#t. It sold hugely. I read it when it first came out and thankfully wasn’t left permanently impaired by doing so but from a purely historical POV, it’s interesting to see how times change (not)! We still read titillating crap and it still sells like hotcakes. Everyone is entitled to deviate from time to time but most of us see the folly of this sort of thing and seek out more pleasing pleasures!
I completely agree with the comparison to EL James as a way of explaining how/why Flame made it onto/has remained on so many “best of” lists. And I’m glad there are people reviewing it as Blythe has above. I do believe we are making (sometimes slow) progress. I do believe that review sites like AAR (that allow people to review/comment/question what we’re being offered to read) is making a difference in the quality of titles/writing/stories that are available. Not that bad stuff has gone away – it never will as long as too many people support it – but I do think more good stuff is finding a market.
I was so frustrated when ELJ was all over the bestseller lists, and it turned out to be such a poor example of the genre. People regularly question my reading taste (romances) but think nothing of gorging on equally poorly written mysteries or (pick your favorite genre/best selling author) or even quite a lot of literary fiction IMHO.
I’ve also noticed quite a few authors lately whose work is being “graduated”/”sneaked” onto (literary) “fiction” shelves rather than put readers in the position of acknowledging that they like the occasional romance by forcing them back to the one stack of romances hidden at the back of the store (I’ve found Georgette Heyer, Jasmine Guillory, Helen Hunting, Christina Lauren, and even some of Kristan Higgins’ romances on general fiction shelves recently.). And don’t get me started on the fact that everything Nicholas Sparks has ever written, and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project have always been found on fiction shelves. I guess I should be grateful that some independent bookstores are at least back to stocking a few romances.
Ok, end of rant :-)
We have a reading group in our village. I joined it when we first moved here but discovered they were reading “literary fiction” exclusively and could not be persuaded to try biography or history (I was reading Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad at the time). I read the first 3-4 books they chose, enjoyed none of them and resigned. I love history (I have an MA) and read a lot of biography, social history, military history, etc. However, I avoid most (but not all) literary fiction like the plague. I read the book reviews every week in two major national newspapers and every time think: Why should I devote my leisure hours to stories about dysfunctional families, drug/alcohol addicts, potential or actual suicides, seriously unhappy people, turgid prose that you need a hammer and chisel to dismantle, blah, blah. I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall shortly before its BBC serialisation and nearly vomited. It was the worst thing I’ve read in years though fans and critics poured over the most incredible praise and worship on it. And don’t get me started on her personal POV on most things when she is interviewed – someone I would NOT like to have lunch with. I’ll stick to romance and historical fiction when I want to read for pleasure. The thing that annoys me more than anything else, though, is that I do have a sense of shame about it – or feel I SHOULD have a sense of shame – because of all of the carping on about it by the literati who, mostly, would kill for E L James’s sales figures! And those friends in the reading group here in my village probably read what they consider sh#t on the QT but would NEVER admit to it unlike me. Hoist on their own petard? Really, we should have a good discussion about this again.
I’m in two book groups. In one, we read literary fiction seriously. In the other, we only read books written by women, under 500 pages that, when you’ve finished, can’t make you feel terrible. Both groups recently read Where The Crawdads Sing. In the we-take-books-very-seriously, the conversation began with all the things people didn’t like about the book and, by the evening’s end, however, all but two people confessed they really enjoyed reading it. In the other book club, the conversation began by how much fun everyone had reading the book and while, as we discussed over the evening, there were flaws, sure, all in all, it had been a very rewarding read.
Perception is everything.
I totally agree with the review above. I wonder about an authoress who has such a commitment to boobs almost falling out of dresses, boobs that drive other women and men to distraction, bobbing books in numerous baths, a man and woman who can think of little more than sex and call it love, a snarling, miserable man who provokes fear in everyone at one time or another, and a woman who is frankly that stupid. With all of this going on for ever and ever and ever, others are loyal to this spoiled brat because of his looks, wang and financial status. Doesn’t say much for morality or intelligence..
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