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Bodice-ripper "rules"

Posted by ESC on July 05, 2000

In Reply to: Bodice-ripper "rules" posted by ESC on July 05, 2000

: : Bruce wrote...

: : On a scale of 1-3, a PORNO PATCH would be at a low level, the BODICE RIPPER at the next one and a BONKBUSTER near the top.

: : Bruce, I take it that a true "bodice ripper" is not simply suggestive, but has a graphic-description element to it. But it sounds like the "patch" would be graphic, too.

: Here's a definition from the "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, A-G" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994. "BODICE-RIPPER n. a fast-paced romantic novel, set typically in England in the 18th or 19th C., that includes scenes of sexual passion and usu. a female first-person narrative."

: I think there's more to it than that. More "rules." For example, in the books I remember, the heroine wasn't "responsible" for any sexual activity. She was either swept along by overwhelming passion or physically overpowered. (Kind of like the women in the old 1950s True Confession and True Love magazines -- they always lost consciousness right before the act.) And it seems to me that author Barbara Cartland had her own rules that the whole affair had to end in marriage.

There's an extensive paper about bodice-rippers, gothic novels, etc., at It says, in part, ".Rosemary Rogers. Rumor has it that her book, WICKED LOVING LIES would never have been read, except that an editor was going away for what she thought would be a boring weekend and took the fattest manuscript from the slush-pile to keep her company. 'It's junk,' she reported the following Monday, 'but I couldn't put it down.' The publisher bought it and the result was amazing. 'It was like printing money,' the overjoyed editor said.
That was the beginning of what in the trade are called bodice-rippers, and they account for the condition of the historical romance today. They are so successful that they crowd most of the other romances off the shelves. A bodice ripper is five parts sex to one part history...and terrible history at that. One of them was shown to me by an editor because it was set in the Regency period. The author did not know the difference between England in 1810 and England in 1210. In the opening scene, two warring clans were facing each other across a stone dining hall, the men -- so help me!-- carrying bows and arrows. The ingredients of a bodice ripper are instantly recognizable. The cover illustration shows a bosomy female whose bodice is being ripped. It has to be fat (what is called in the trade a good read), and I think some editors require that the heroine be ravished every ten pages. The emphasis is on plot rather than character, the action is movement without motivation. The books infuriate feminists, who understandably object to females being repeatedly ravished and often enjoying the ravishment, yet the market for them is amazing and insatiable. The women who read them are avid readers who devour several a week. These are the most successful romances (with the possible exception of the contemporaries, which I'll describe anon.)."