I read Surrender of a Lady recently, and as I read it, the heroine’s past really stuck with me. For those not familiar with Tiffany Clare’s debut, it centers on a heroine sold into slavery in a Turkish harem. Her owner runs a pleasure garden, and the girls are expected to entertain the men who bid on their favors. This heroine is no faux courtesan; she really does have multiple partners including her owner and various men who have bid on her favors over the years.
While the fact that our heroine was no virgin harem girl caught my eye, what really stood out to me was the manner in which the author differentiated her encounters with the hero as opposed to her encounters with other men. The first chapters of the book show readers how this woman came to live in the harem and we learn that she was expected to spend her first year there as the partner of her owner, having sex with him and learning the ways of the harem. We then see references to her having relations with other men thereafter. However, no real details are given in any of these scenes. It is not until the hero enters the picture that we see any truly explicit sex scenes.
At first, I wondered if this was yet another example of the sexual double standard. After all, while we sometimes just see mentions of heroes having a mistress or ten, anyone who’s read a number of historical romances has probably seen at least one scene(usually before the h/h meet) where the hero is lollygagging in bed with his mistress. Almost immediately after I thought this, I stepped back a little. It’s easy to simply assume the old double standard is in place since it seems to be there in plenty of other romances. However, this particular book challenges that double standard in ways and so I wondered if the lack of detail about the heroine’s sexual past was by design for another reason.
As I got further into the book, I saw that the author’s choice to reserve sex scene details for the hero and heroine’s relationship could also serve another purpose. By showing only this relationship in great detail, the author may not be adhering to a cultural double standard but instead showing readers that this is the relationship that actually matters. The heroine and hero may each have a past, but it is their relationship with each other that will actually have the greatest importance in their lives, and the explicit details of every past encounter just aren’t needed.
I don’t know which interpretation was intended by the author when she set up her story this way, but it certainly does make one think. And it’s something people grapple with outside of romance reading as well. Any casual glance through women’s magazines or relationship sites will yield articles talking about how much one should tell one’s partner about sexual pasts or whether one needs to give a specific number of past partners, etc… For myself, I like it when an author doesn’t flinch from revealing that either one of her lead characters has a past, but I can see why readers wouldn’t need to relive every last gory detail. How about you?
– Lynn Spencer