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Topic: Judging Historical Romance by today's standards

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Subject: Judging Historical Romance by today's standards
Date Posted: 11/30/2011 10:44 AM ET
Member Since: 6/18/2007
Posts: 72
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Lately I have been thinking a lot of how many readers get very upset by a romance book set in a historical time period - what they consider today as rape or abuse. I even saw one review of the Lion's Bride by Iris Johansen get upset by "child labor". It is only the last 25 years or so that the thinking of  "date rape" has been acknowledged (for lack of a better term at this moment). I don't mind that they don't like the books or knock off a star for it, but I don't understand trashing the whole book because an author tried to be true to the time period. I was just wondering what others thought of this.

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 10:56 AM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2008
Posts: 2,207
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I always think of the time & place when a book was written. So many are un-PC in this day and age but I don't judge them against today's attitude. Also, being historically correct can be a turn-off for some readers but history is history, we cannot change it, we can only move forward with positive changes.

I'm old enough to have read more than my fair share of the older generation of historical romances (or romances in general) that I remember when they first came out and no one raised a fuss over them. We've come a long way, but personally I don't think it's fair to judge or trash a book because of what it contains when it was written 'way back then'. We have the option of not reading or finishing a book if it offends us, and we have the right to review it negatively but I often think that it's unfairly judged against today's standards. Just my opinion.




Date Posted: 11/30/2011 11:23 AM ET
Member Since: 2/24/2006
Posts: 5,498
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I'm with Gail. I think it's unfair to judge a book simply because YOU disagree with the content. 

For example, I recently saw a review on a sci-fi romance where the reader was upset about how gay sex was portrayed.  Whether I agreed or not, the point was that A) the author is entitled to her opinions and B) the story was set in a futuristic timeline in a somewhat conservative land.  So it fit the storyline.

Another example:  it's only been in the last 75 years that "most people" , and I say that conservatively, weren't church goers.  Church and God were a big part of your life, it's just a simple fact.  For someone to review a book and say it was preachy or "why did they have to bring in the religious element"  is a waste of breath. 

I'm not a fan of the uber young heroine (less than 19) but the world is different nowadays.  My own grandmother got married at 13 and no one thought a thing about it. 

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 11:29 AM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2006
Posts: 6,436
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I appreciate it when an author can successfully reconcile the different worlds/eras. For example, many people hate The Marriage Bed by Laura Lee Guhrke because the hero commits adultery. But she not only shows that he considered himself entitled to do so (accurate for the period) she also has him learn a lesson from it (appealing to the modern reader) without sacrificing the accuracy.

Mary Balogh also often does that. Her heroes may treat women like crap because they look down on them, but then they learn from it, making the happy ending plasuaible.

What I don't like is defense of the indefensible in a book because supposedly "it was like that back then." It's not reasonably historically accurate for men to be psychotically mistrustful of women.

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 11:47 AM ET
Member Since: 8/12/2010
Posts: 335
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Personally, I can only take so much historical accuracy in my romance novels. If I wanted total historical accuracy, I would pick up a non-romance specific historical novel or non-fiction work. I mean...child labor, rape, adultery, racism, classism etc. are all historically accurate but I don't really want it shoved down my throat in my escapist literature. Like the Cheryl Holt novel where the "hero" was trying to arrange a marriage between his ittle daughter and a known pedophile because he didn't think she was really his kid anyway and pedophilia was something that was often overlooked in high-ranking and wealthy people as something distasteful but private.  In historical novels where slavery is discussed or present, although it was common for slaves to be treated cruelly, raped, etc. I really don't want my heroes or heroines engaging in it. 

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 12:59 PM ET
Member Since: 10/31/2007
Posts: 7,667
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This is why I avoid Civil War or plantation romances.  They always have happy, smiling slaves and the Yankees are usually the bad guys.  Irks me no end.

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 1:48 PM ET
Member Since: 6/18/2007
Posts: 72
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I don't like the civil war romances either, for those reasons. I also don't care for historical romances to be so PC, although there are some things that will ruin it for me - I don't like the hero to physically abuse the heroine in any way.  

I do remember one of my first romance novels by Janet Daily, I think it was Reap the Wind or something like that. The heroine is kidnapped by Mexican outlaws and stays at the "heros" house. He keeps away from her then he gets annoyed with her for not being happy about being kidnapped (the nerve!) and  basically rapes her. Even in my teen years I thought that storyline that when it was over it wasn't rape and she really liked it was a little thin. I still liked the book back then, but I don't think it could hold up at all today.

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 3:03 PM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2006
Posts: 6,436
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Oh yeah, the civil war ones are difficult... either they're offensive, or ridiculous. I'm also uncomfortable with all the Yankee villains. I thought SEP did a fairly decent job with Just Imagine. (post war.)

Date Posted: 11/30/2011 4:20 PM ET
Member Since: 4/7/2008
Posts: 15,690
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I don't like civil war romances either for the same reasons you guys mentioned. I have some on my iPad by Pamela Clare (which is an author I really like) but I haven't been able to read them.

Regarding the raping hero, I don't really know if that's historically accurate. Did all men really think they could force any woman under their power to sleep with them without having to confront any consequences? We know that this business of the 'woman as a temptress' is as old as Eve, so I'm sure a lot of women got raped and then had to marry their rapists because their family demanded it, but it is really accurate to say that most men would rape a woman of quality without fearing any retribution? Even if you didn't think the woman would take you to jail because she would never accuse you, a woman's honor was also her family's.  That's why they were so many duels fought about them.

And anyhow, one of the strange things about the raping hero is...if he forced the heroine, does he do that with every woman that crosses his path? In the case of the pirates...do they rape the young boys that work on the ships? (This happened in ships.)

So while I wouldn't object to historically accurate portrayals, I don't know that I'd like a man who forces a woman because I wouldn't find it realistic that if he did that with the heroine, he wouldn't do it with anybody else. And I can take a rough hero but not a evil one.


Date Posted: 11/30/2011 6:36 PM ET
Member Since: 6/18/2007
Posts: 72
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There are so many elements to making a great historical novel, I guess a lot of it depends on the skill of the author. A need to be somewhat "true" to the time period involved, trying not to make the hero unlikeable in the way he treats the heroine,  but not sugar coating the story too much and making it somewhat unrealistic. It also depends on the taste of the readers. I enjoy reading romances where the hero finally find redemption, but maybe not in every novel I read.

Date Posted: 12/1/2011 11:06 AM ET
Member Since: 9/21/2009
Posts: 1,179
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I'm having the opposite problem with a short story in "Lords of Passion".  It's just one sentence but I haven't picked up the book since. 

Stuart era; hero and heroine were forced to marry and then the hero ran off for a couple of years.  paraphrase-heroine asks why hero is being so "playful" with her(sexually and otherwise).  He responds "Sara, you're fourteen-I WANT to play with you-you should be PLAYING....". 

So NOT historically accurate-and I haven't gotten past it.  No, I dont want to read a nonfiction, day in the life type book-but the social mores of the era should be relatively(and some more than relatively) accurate. 

But historical authors have a tough road-not enough accuracy and people like me are screaming-get it right!-and too much accuracy and I won't touch it for being "too" accurate(Civil War era-and well as most it not all Native American historical romances-for me. 

Date Posted: 12/1/2011 1:07 PM ET
Member Since: 12/28/2006
Posts: 14,177
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I agree with alot of what's already posted.  Snarky reader reviews desiring cleaned-up & PC correct historicals *eyeroll* are just bitchy.  Modern novels in 'historical costume' are a major pet peeve of mine.  A total wallbanger for me was the story that opened with a single young woman of the ton out on a unchaproned date with a young man...literally, just switch the carriage for a car (and the costumes) and this was just another modern Harlequin.

Yes, I expect a certain amount of historical accuracy, and no I don't want to read 'historical drag'.  But then again, although I was raised on traditional bodice rippers I no longer find historicals romantic...lack of indoor plumbing, lack of bathing, poor food quality, unappealing social structures & mores...no longer my cuppa.  IMO if the author has to change/ignore/lie significant parts of historical society...maybe best to just invent a whole new world and write fantasy.