I see frequent mention of the rapist heroes of old on the message boards, but I have encountered relatively few of them in my own reading. I think the first Catherine Coulter historical I read will be burned into my brain for ever and ever and I remember a particularly bad rape-deflowering from a Jennifer Horsman book, but most heroes I’ve read just didn’t cross that line. Then again, I first started reading non-YA romance in high school(early 90s) and those were almost all Harlequin Historicals, Harlequin Intrigue and Silhouette Shadows. The stories had sex scenes, but nothing like the rape-fests that were apparently all over the place less than a decade before.
When I came across this article at Jezebel, I have to admit that I was flat-out amazed by their description of this 1980s Penny Jordan novel. Literal bodice-ripping (or at least bathing suit ripping), a sleazebag hero who insults the heroine and then sleeps with her cousin before insulting her yet again on the way to that HEA, and a heroine who must be the most passive creature imaginable. Oh, and the fantastic silver tongue this man has: “No? I think you mean yes…In fact I’m going to prove to you that you do mean yes!” This book is apparently from an ongoing feature at Jezebel, so I’m guessing there are more of these princes just waiting to be featured. I know that some folks like the fantasy of a super-alpha hero, but rape and emotional abuse as romantic?! Perhaps the notion of having a hero who can be strong and dominant without being abusive hadn’t had its day yet. I’m not sure what embarrasses me more – the behavior of the heroes or that their heroines were subservient enough to accept it. Yikes.
I had vague notions about rapist heroes from blogs and AAR boards, and as I’ve read more UBS finds, I’ve certainly encountered some, but there’s something about these heroes from books of 20+ years ago that just seems to be from another world. Many heroes of the early 80s seem dated, and not just because of their fine, feathered hair. I’d like to say that I doubt a book written with an old-style rapist hero would fly today. Romance has come so far and has branched out into so many subgenres, and best of all, many of the romances I read give their heroines a positive voice rather than forcing them to be “tamed” or to cower in awe before the great mighty Supreme Alpha. There are certainly some doormats still out there who waive child support, keep thieves on the payroll because they don’t have the heart to actually exercise business acumen, etc.., but I can’t say that I often have to complain about running across the Love at First Rape plotline. And that’s a very good thing.
In addition to treating heroines with more respect, modern romance heroines(at least the best of them) have started taking charge of their lives more and more. I’ve been reading romances where heroines actually make their own decisions, kick butt in the vampire world, engage in battles of wit and act like adults – and equals. Though I would LOVE to see more variety in areas such as historical settings, we do appear to be seeing a great creative ferment of sorts in romance. Over the past few years, I’ve been seeing new types of heroines, new subgenres and authors trying things that push boundaries. It’s a wonderful time to be reading romance!
I have to admit to a certain sort of horrified amusement at some of the books from the 70s/early 80s that we consider romance, but I am very glad that we have moved away from those plots. There are still some trends I like more than others and some ways in which I think things should change, but when I look back at books such as the one profiled yesterday on Jezebel(not to mention Sweet Savage Love), it seems that a lot of progress has been made in twenty years. What would you like to see in the next twenty?