Old Time Romance

I was searching for the title of an old school romance I must have read over ten years ago that I really enjoyed, despite the outlandish plot. It was about a pirate or a highwayman who seduces the heroine and then later ends up marrying her while disguised as a portly, older gentleman. To our surprise, she eventually falls in love with him as the less attractive fellow. (I still haven’t found it)

While searching for this title, I was reading blurbs from historical romances from the 90s and late 80s and started feeling wistful. There were so many wild adventures to exotic lands then – Sioux country, the Caribbean, Scandinavia. The desert, the high seas, the jungle. Sure those settings are still about today, but it seems that they’ve taken a back seat. The market has become tame and sensible with Regency England and the occasional Scottish medieval.

Then and Now

Don’t get me wrong! I adore reading Regency and authors are continually finding clever twists and variations within those confines, but at times it starts to feel like different actors moving about the same stage set. The painted backdrops all look the same, the props are rearranged.  The lines change, the characters switch around, but in the end, it’s all so familiar.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Grayson’s Moon in the Water and I’m just swept away with her descriptions of St. Louis and steamboat life in the 19th century. There was a whole culture along the river and I’m pulled in and immersed in it, from the colorful characters working on deck to the Indian attacks along the shores. I even enjoy reading all the navigation techniques they would use. If they had to navigate in the dark, they’d float rafts in the water with candles upon them to outline a safe path. Fascinating!  It made me realize I missed being swept away like that into an unknown world.

In-the-Masters-Bed-CoverThat’s not to say that sort of book doesn’t exist today. I loved Blythe Gifford‘s In the Master’s Bed and its exploration of 14th century university culture in England. But is it just me, or is that sort of book now the exception to lords and ladies and the ton? And I wonder how well this book would have been received if it didn’t take place in jolly old England.

Nowadays there’s deeper exploration of the heroine and hero’s psyche. The heroines are more empowered and independent. The old, stale bodice-ripping tropes are laughed at or frowned upon. These are good developments, for sure. But did we have to do away with the grand adventure? Just a little bit of passion-swept romance, please? The heroine’s bosom isn’t supposed to heave anymore, but I still want to be left breathless.

As the old song goes:
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock ‘n roll


  1. Kate Pearce
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 10:30:39

    I agree with you. I miss those big fat sweeping historical settings. I’d love to see them return. What is weird though, is that when I read the actual ‘romance’ sometimes I find myself cringing over the dominating heroes and the doormat heroines. I must have missed them the first time around 🙂

  2. Felicia Holt
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 12:04:58

    Oh man, that first cover… Johanna Lindsey is totally to blame for my love for romance novels. I miss those big, sweeping historical settings too. The Novels of Olde were like big sundaes with whipped cream and hot fudge compared to the elegant macaroons of today! Yum!

    In general, I would so like to see a lot more variation in the settings of historical romances. I love Regencies too, but there are so many other wonderful potential settings! I was going to say where are the Tudors and the non-European romances, but then I realized the company I was in… LOL!

  3. Stacia Kane
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 12:58:52

    Oh, I totally know what you mean. I miss those books too. I miss those old clinch covers too, where the characters looked like dramatic giants swept away by passion.


  4. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 13:13:54

    Kate – I know what you mean about the doormat heroines and jackass heros. But at the same time, the books seemed to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. I’d love to see the genre allow a little more of that back in, but I know the market as a whole has shrunken.

    Flicka – I love your analogy. Pure delicious fun.

    Stacia – There’s something so unapologetic about a clinch cover. Okay, some of the were WAY out there. LOL.

  5. Dara
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 21:34:57

    I’m all for sweeping, exotic locales. If anything I prefer them!

    Here’s hoping your books open up a whole new realm. 🙂 I’d love to see more of Asia.

    Oh and India too! After my two current WiPs are done, I’m moving west to India–or a culture similar to it since it’ll be fantasy based 🙂

  6. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 08:03:32

    I’m seeing more and more books set in India. I had a discussion with an editor about how it may be tied to a larger trend with the popularity of movies such as “Slum Dog Millionaire”. People want to open up and learn about the cultures of the friends and neighbors that live beside them. The planet’s getting closer in the digital age.

    On the other hand, I do see more readiness for this in literary fiction and fantasy than in mainstream romance.