Serena J. Cavanaugh :: Blog

August 3, 2009

Literary Flings & Affairs, Episode 2

Filed under: Cultural Rants, Literature — Tags: , , , , , — serena @ 5:24 pm

Bodice Ripping Romance

I read my first bodice-ripping romance at fourteen. Don’t judge me: I did mature early, blooming into a full fledged reader a couple years prior with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind and Grapes of Wrath secured tight under my belt. So I was ready and willing.

Imagine the intrigue when I found, at the home of the children I babysat every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, a ten foot closet shelf double packed with paperback novels. The covers depicted hard muscled men literally tearing the bodices off voluptuous women, all in historic costume.

 Being a strict Catholic, I almost turned from these promises of enlightenment. But what can I say? I’m a daughter of Eve. The first book I chose was Eden’s Embrace, (the cover pictured above) and the intense passion of a Viking lord and his captive Saxon princess unfolded.

  I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: the guilty pleasure of sneaking into the spare room, slipping the tantalizing novel out of its place, and spreading open its secret pages, or the guilty pleasure of getting lost in the mystery of love and romance. I was almost too embarrassed to read the kiss scenes, but I did. And the grand finale, the deflowering of the princess, pages and pages of intricate detail, made sex ed, my own imagination, and the Playboy magazines of my male peers seem like child’s play. I felt naughty and dirty and hungry for more. Let’s just say that like a typical romance heroine, I became insatiable.

 But after a pirate, a cowboy, a railroad builder, a southern gentleman and a Native American brave, I was no longer lost in the passion – I was only bored with the conventions. The men always had shoulders that blocked the sun, a sardonic raised brow, and a jaw tensed with reigned in strength. The women always had masses of untamed hair, saucy tosses of the head, creamy skin, and full lips that trembled.

 But what bothered me most, even at fourteen, was how every hero had a fit of jealousy in which he comes to despise, humiliate and hurt his true love. And then by the end, the heroine just forgives him and all is well.

 Well, she might have forgiven him, but after five novels, I didn’t anymore. I despised the books for just settling into the rhythm, going through the motions, for deflowering me again and again only to leave me curiously dissatisfied.

 So I closed that closet. Like the heroes, I needed something more fulfilling and deeper than mere spice. I needed some intellectual connection. The classics, I found, had been waiting all along with their innocent sensuality. Sure, I had abused and deserted them, but they were willing to forgive and forget their wayward reader.

 I still stray once in a while. I know it’s chauvinistic, hedonistic – you name it – but I am just a reader and my biological instinct is to sew my oats; that is, read, read, read, read absolutely everything. You know what they say, once a slut…

 What I am Reading Now

 Never Change by Elizabeth Berg   






Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse  by Stephanie Meyer


A Great and Terrible Beauty  and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray  





  1. I think my first was some pagan warlord with a Saxon girl as well. :) All I remember now is that he was blond, and she had a catamite servant. (Probably because at the time, I had no idea what a catamite was - so the word stuck with me.) I moved on from there to a succession of Scottish lairds who seemed completely unable to listen to reasonable suggestions from their ladies, so I second your frustration.

    And if I never hear the term “spitfire” again…

    This really made me laugh. :)

    Comment by Rachel — August 30, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  2. Certainly there is something (obviously) intriguing about blond warlords and princesses…
    Glad you got a chuckle out of it, Rachel!

    Comment by serena — August 31, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

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