Romances

Journal: 049

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My favourite romance of all time, well, like everyone else, it’s probably Pride and Prejudice. But my favourite romance which is just mine is Beau Ideal, one of PC Wren’s Beau Geste trilogy. A nice young American boy discovers that Isobel, the English girl he secretly loves, has married her childhood friend John Geste who has run off to join his brothers in the French Foreign Legion, and he must go and bring John back. I seem to remember that to secure John’s release he agrees to marry an Arab dancing girl – as in the dramatic picture above – only to be saved at the last moment when it turns out that his father and the girl’s father … But no spoilers!

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These are some of the PC Wrens I collected and loved in the 1960s. PC Wren suited and no doubted moulded my view of the world, that idea of doing the right thing. Not that that was enough to protect Fancy from my raging 17 year old hormones, but that’s another story. I tried. And have always had a romantic and no doubt idealized idea of women, probably due to the misfortune of having no sisters.

Since Fancy, I have had girlfriends and wives and girlfriends. In fact there was always someone I could call my girlfriend as far back as primary school – you’re unlucky I couldn’t dig up a photo of me and Helen Sporn as minature debs in 1960. It often strikes me reading Romance Fiction that young lovers never seem to have any of those almost relationships that precede the just right one, or maybe that’s just me. After the failure of my marriage to the Bosomy Beauty a decade or so ago I tried online dating with RSVP. And don’t say what about Milly! It was her idea, to stop me hanging around. I met some nice women, one raving lunatic, and the Shy One with whom I and Milly and her sisters are still friends. But she was ready for marriage, as is every woman on RSVP, and I was not, I just wanted someone I could go out to dinner with.

Melanie/Grab the Lapels asked me recently to explain my attraction to the romance novels of Georgette Heyer. My father as a young husband bought Georgette Heyers for my mother and as soon as I was old enough I read them all. Years later Gee, my daughter having read them all too – and baggsed them in mum’s will – began a collection of her own so that we all three of us now have comprehensive collections.

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Georgette Heyer’s romances are all slightly ridiculous, girls of good fortune running away with childhood (boy) friends, rescued from lifelong shame by handsome rich single gentlemen who inevitably marry them. I realise I haven’t given a single reason, but I love them. And yes I enjoy Regency Romances and Chick Lit. But not Bodice Rippers. Novels, written mostly by women, in which the premise is that if the guy treats them rough the gals will fall down in love, don’t turn me on at all. I like the boy and the girl in any novel I read to have a happy ending, and get anxious if the boy comes over all jealous and starts to spoil things – looking at you Maurice Guest!

In the truck this last trip I listened to the end of Jane Eyre, about which I will write a separate post, some general fiction of the American thriller variety, and to Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) by John Cleland. Talk about happy endings!

In each of the three C18th novels I’ve read over the past few months – Moll Flanders, Tom Jones and now Fanny Hill – the woman’s point of view has been put so strongly that I wonder to what extent the stated (male) authors had female assistance. Fanny Hill, said to be the first long prose work of pornography, is an astonishingly erotic work with graphically described sex in every chapter (read this to Nick, Melanie!).

I went through a stage where I read, and even wrote a little, erotic fiction – Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell. James Joyce and DH Lawrence are Literature rather than Erotic Lit but before Fanny Hill, Lady Chatterley’s Lover contained the most explicit passage I had read and the ending of Ulysses the most erotic.

Fanny Hill probably tops them. Fanny, an innocent 14 year old comes up from the country when her parents die. She ends up in a brothel where, while the madam waits for a customer who will pay handsomely to deflower her, she is put under the care of and shares a bed with Phoebe who very quickly initiates her into the joys of woman on woman sex

her lascivious touches had lighted up a new fire that wantoned through all my veins, but fixed with violence in that center appointed them by nature, where the first strange hands were now busied in feeling, squeezing …

Phoebe teaches her about the birds and the bees by showing her a hiding place where she can watch the madam taking her pleasure with a young customer, and another hiding place where she and Phoebe watch a young couple until they are forced to retire to satisfy their raging desires with each other. Before she can be sold, Fanny meets a young man of her own, Charles, and escapes with him to be his mistress. They spend a few happy months before Charles is tricked by his father into boarding a ship leaving immediately on a two year voyage to the South Seas, and Fanny is on her own again.

She finds other situations involving lots of sex, graphically described. I thought at one point she was pregnant but then nothing more was said. Eventually Charles returns, Fanny is now 18 and for some reason I forget, wealthy, and the two live happily ever after. So even Fanny Hill contains Romance.

 

Recent audiobooks 

PK Dick (M, USA), The Penultimate Truth (1964) – SF
Linda Howard (F, USA), Cry No More (2003) – Crime
Linda Howard (F, USA), Kiss Me While I Sleep (2004) – Crime
Linda Howard (F, USA), Cover of Night (2006) – Crime
Shane Gericke (M, USA), The Fury (2014) – Crime
Ray Hogan (M, USA), Soldier in Buckskin (1996) – Biog. Kit Carson
Lisa Jackson (F, USA), Innocent by Association (2011) – Crime
Haruki Murakami (M, Jap), 1Q84 – Lit.Fic.
Robert Dugoni (M, USA), My Sister’s Grave (2014) – Crime
Charlotte Bronte (F, Eng), Jane Eyre (1847) – Lit.Fic.
John Cleland (M, Eng), Fanny Hill (1748)

Currently reading

Patrick White, The Cockatoos
Majorie Barnard, Miles Franklin
Flannery O’Connor, Complete Stories

 

33 thoughts on “Romances

  1. Oddly, I had a conversation with a friend last week about reading romances and how they shaped our view of boys and relationships – I said, quite seriously, “I reckon the decisions I made in relationships were largely based on what I read in Sweet Dreams romances.” Fellow Gen-Xers are either nodding their heads in agreement or are horrified that I still think about Sweet Dreams romances!

    Anyway, my friend, who has a 16yo daughter, lamented the fact that there is not a current prolific author or series that is written for the teen romance fan – Heyer was prolific (and I read many as a teen), and Sweet Dreams had hundreds of titles in the series (I estimate I read approx 70) – of course, nothing stopping teens reading these books but I have wondered why that has happened…

    As for your erotic fiction Bill – you never fail to surprise me!

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    • The point of telling stories has always been to inform others how to act. Truck drivers tell endless stories but you can see in each of them, this is the right way to do things, this is the wrong way. American movies have long been disturbing because they so often say that problems can only be solved with guns, and in the last few decades, by circumventing the rule of law. And there can be no doubt now that that has informed the way American society acts and believes.
      So yes, I’m sure you and I were formed by the books we read, by the types of books our parents put in front of us – and the books my father started me on were old fashioned and slanted towards Empire. I put some thought into the books I buy for my grandchildren but of course I am in blissful ignorance of Sweet Dreams or Sweet Valley High and indeed even of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. My daughter greatly restricts the amount of TV they see, which is an excellent thing, but I must say I have never thought of books which might positively influence them.

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      • Anne of Green Gables had (and still has) a deep impact on my female friendships – the notion of finding ‘your kindred spirit’ is very ‘Anne’. In retrospect, I wonder how much this meant that, as a teen, I valued friends above boyfriends? I was never the girl that had to have a boyfriend – I would rather be single than in a relationship that wasn’t good. And how did these values inform my adult years? Friends are central in my life (family, yes, but we don’t choose them!), and I still have my ‘kindred spirits’.

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      • We discussed this in connection with The Weekend. I don’t have those sort of lifelong friends, and so didn’t really understand the dynamics Wood was writing about. I’ll have to think about if I read books about loners as a boy – my idea of “mates” was probably more influenced by Lord of the Flies.

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    • Sweet Dreams – PS I love You – oh you just brought back a lot of 14 yr old memories Kate!

      But then my next brush with teen romance? was with Virginia Andrews’ series – Flowers in the Attic – thankfully it doesn’t seem to have had any impact on my ability to form healthy adult relationships though 😀

      Thankfully mum also had a stack of Catherine Gaskin books, so I got my romance and historical fiction fix in one hit with books like Sara Dane, Fiona and I Know My Love. I also snuck in a read of Peyton Place.

      Sadly I’ve never read a Heyer, but given my love of Holt/Plaidy, I’m sure I would have loved her too. One day Bill….

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      • I don’t think we think enough about how books and film and no doubt games influence children’s life long attitudes. Very early on a mate showed me a stick figure game on his Apple which involved US helicopters shooting Vietnamese peasants. He was a Filipino computer programmer but I don’t think he had ever given any thought to either the racism or the militarism implicit in the ‘game’.
        Anyway, I’m glad we generated some happy recollections. And I know even children have built in deconstructors to last the nonsense.

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  2. Romance hasn’t ever formed part of my reading life even as a young girl. Nothing against them, I just never got into them. Too busy reading awful black magic stories (can’t imagine why that was since I hate anything occult or other worldly).
    Now you’ve gone and astonished me with your love of Heyer and Wren; are all the covers as cheesy as this one?

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    • i couldn’t resist the cover at the top of the story because it fitted in so well with ‘romance’ and PC Wren, but it’s not one I’ve ever seen before. And I’ve not seen any Beau Geste movies to know to what extent they play up the dancing girl side (in the cantinas outside the forts). My one book with a dustjacket has the standard picture of a Legionaire standing at arms.

      I tried Wheatley when I was a teenager, mainly because the black magic involved sex, which was endlessly fascinating at that age, but it must be a very long time since I read one.

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  3. Haha – I like how you’re “looking” at all those books, which have dared to wrinkle the traditional romance motif or been problematic or memorable in some particular aspect. Also, what a well-loved shelf of Wren novels. And one with a dust jacket: was that a lucky find, or do you prefer them that way? (The first thing Mr. BIP usually does with a book he’s about to read, is remove the dust jacket, unless it’s a library loan, of course.) It was the romance that secured my interest in many a classic which I threatened to stall in. And as a teenager, I fell for that genre too (along true-crime, horror, sci-fi, though). Part of me still longs for a “good old-fashioned happy ending”, even though part of me recognizes how problematic that is too.

    Your collection of Georgette Heyer reminds me of an episode of “A Good Read” a podcast/broadcast on BBC, in which two guests bring a favourite book to the panel along with host, Harriet Gilbert, books well-loved enough to re-read. Gilbert did choose a Heyer once, too, but the first time that I remember Heyer figuring on the show, it was recommended by a fellow who didn’t seem the Heyer type at first inkling either. (I’m sorry I don’t remember his name, as they’re all from the U.K., I don’t very often recognize their guests, who are sometimes writers and sometimes celebrities. But you’re in the same fan club, for sure!)

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    • The big grey books were published that way on paper as thick as cardboard. The one with a dust jacket was a gift from my father when I was 20 (interesting, because we didn’t talk that year, being in dispute over my involvement in the anti-war movement). It has a sticker from a second hand bookshop in Geelong (outside Melbourne) and contrary to what I said to Karen, the picture is of a legionnaire sitting on a rock in the desert.

      I’m always barracking for the couple in the books I read to fall in love/stay in love. I have no idea why that is the case, but I guess it explains my attraction to Georgette Heyer.

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      • Dad was in Burwood Teachers College Library for a few months while sitting out an appeal against his promotion (in 1967) and all our dust jacketed books got protective brown paper and plastic covers and are all still perfect to this day.

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      • His promotion to inspector was conditional on him being ‘awarded’ a BA. (Like most teachers he had a Dip Ed). He finished his degree the previous year but the awards ceremony wasn’t till April. So no, it was just a blip in his climb to the top.

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      • Ah, makes sense. Librarians were like that too. By my time we all had degrees. Those without were, and I think still are if they come through TAFE courses, library officers or library technicians. It was painful though for those who qualified as librarians in the 50s and 60s, only to find us 70s cohorts coming in over them.

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  4. I loved Georgette Heyer as a girl. The first one I ever read was a school prize… what were the nuns thinking?

    You make a valid point about books and films shaping attitudes: “American movies have long been disturbing because they so often say that problems can only be solved with guns, and in the last few decades, by circumventing the rule of law. And there can be no doubt now that that has informed the way American society acts and believes.” I think because Australians consume so much American media that some of these attitudes are creeping into our society too.

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    • My school prizes were books about Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur (2 French scientists, I wonder why that was). There is no doubt that Australia is influenced by American media, and I think we who watch the ABC and SBS or nothing don’t realise just how pervasive the American values of individualism and so on are becoming. Excellent article in the Guardian today about the US’s failure to persuade citizens to act jointly.

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  5. This post makes me so happy. Romances are brilliant. I’m with you that bodice rippers are a huge turn off (they feel so… gross and horrifying), but I love romantic adventures! There’s something so fun about everyone being perfect and always being saved at the last minute. I read The Scarlet Pimpernel earlier this year and it reminded me how much I love these books. I’ve added a few you mentioned above to my TBR, but I feel like I should read some Dumas first… can you believe I’ve never read him?!

    Wow! Did you have a long trip or just quite a few short audiobooks to get through? I’m impressed with your recent reads list. I look forward to your upcoming thoughts on Jane Eyre. I’ve never read it and no one says anything other than, ‘A great classic!’ so I don’t know if I want to bother yet, you know?

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    • The list of audiobooks reflects a) libraries are closed so I’ve been carrying the same books with me over 3 trips; and b) I forgot the last couple of times I wrote a journal to list those I had listened to to date. It’s a long time since I’ve read Dumas though I have them all, on a top shelf, leather bound, from my late father’s collection. And we all of us have well-known authors we’ve never read.

      I plan to post on Jane Eyre, in fact I planned to discuss it with my family and write it up this weekend, but other things, you know … But Jane is a far more interesting character than I remembered, so yes, read it asap.

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      • I can relate to having a collection of books in my possession for a long time due to the libraries being closed. I have 4 audiobooks and all of them are the second book in a series! I think that’s massively funny for some reason.

        Have you read all of Dumas’s work, then? I only really know the plot to The Three Musketeers and know of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask. I’d love a recommendation on where to start if you have one!

        Okay- Jane Eyre has risen on my TBR. I’m glad to hear it’s more interesting than you remembered — I’m quite looking forward to your review, Bill. 🙂

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      • I found at at the last moment before my current trip that the library was open again. All they wanted was be quick and leave contact information. So I have a new set of books for this trip. Currently listening to Evanavich Seven so that gives you an idea of their quality.
        Years since I read Dumas though they look very pretty on their shelf. I’d say start with The Count of Monte Christo.

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  6. Very educational post, at least for me.

    I discovered Georgette Heyer when other Anglo-saxon bloggers mentioned her but I never tried her novels and I’ve never seen them in French bookstores. (or maybe they’re on the shelves I never llok at.
    I’m not sure she’s for me.

    I just checked and her books are translated into French and published by a romance publisher, Milady. (even the publisher’s name is cheesy)

    I didn’t know this publisher and browsed through their website. They have a “Bit-Lit” section. Title in English, not translated. Add a E to Bit and you get “bite”, the French word for “dick”. Why they kept this English category is beyond me. Well.

    I also looked up Fanny Hill and from the illustration on the French cover I see why you mention “graphic sex scenes”

    Like you, I enjoy romance books occasionally and I read them when I want to turn my brain off. The last one I read is Penny Plain by O Douglas, a book I picked on Ali’s blog. It was predictable.

    My mother, who shaped my reading, was totally against romance. She found them unrealistic, stupid and prone to give young girls false expectations about love and relationships. I have to say that I can see her point. These books (like rom coms) are safe to read only with a solid suspension of belief.

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    • I agree with all you say about romances, “safe to read only with a solid suspension of belief”, says it all, but I like millions of others, find pleasure in having a little corner of the world for a couple of hours where everything works out just as it should. But yes, I have probably proved your mother’s point about unrealistic expectations.

      Georgette Heyer wrote historical fiction as well as romance, so if you ever want to read the British side of the Napoleonic Wars she wrote some well-researched historical fiction (with only the bare minimum of ladies in low cut dresses).

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      • I’m not saying people shouldn’t read romance or that it’s not enjoyable.
        I just think it’s good to read it for escapism and know it’s like SF, the world of romance doesn’t exist and people live in the real world…

        It could be interesting to see the British side of the Napoleonic wars, thanks for the recommendation.

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  7. I know that what we read shapes us when we’re young, and I was reading all the wrong things! So much time wasted on those Sweet Valley Twins, just simply taught me that consequences don’t matter and it’s important to be tremendously smart or incredibly sexy. I’m also not a fan of bodice rippers because I want there to be a happy, even giddy aura about the characters when they’re not having sex and have basically realized the other person is a wonderful human being. I find romance in all the weirdest places, one of them being a character who keeps leaving a pile of dirt that she feels is art outside the door of an auto mechanic (the book is In & Oz by Steve Tomasula).

    I looked up Georgette Heyer on Goodreads and see that her novels are mostly the names of women. Is there a good one to start with, or should I go in order by publication year? I’m surprised that my library has so many of her books! Oftentimes, it’s hard to get novels you’ve recommended if they are by Australian authors. There’s even a new 2020 e-book called Georgette Heyer’s Classic Heroines, which has Cotillion, Faro’s Daughter, and Friday’s Child as one e-book.

    I’ve tried reading books with saucy passages to Nick, and for whatever reason, it’s awkward. I think the reason is I’m reading the words and not fully processing them until a moment after they come out of my mouth, so there’s a strange disconnect. My Lady’s Choosing was one such book.

    That first picture of books, I must say, make me worried. Do you see those spots? That’s not good!

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    • Those books have been in my bedroom for the greater part of my life, too late to move them now! You don’t have to read Heyer in any order, but be aware some of her books are historical fiction rather than romances. The three in the ebook would be a great place to start. Just don’t destroy our simple pleasures by analysing them too deeply.
      And like you probably, I look for romance in all my books though SF writers are very bad at it.

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  8. Ah, so you don’t like historical fiction, but you do like historical ROMANCE fiction! I love it!

    My favourite romances are, of course, all of Jane Austen’s novels because, of course, the romance is wrapped in such wonderful language and wit.

    I have never read Georgette Heyer nor the Beau Geste books but all my friends did. When they were reading those I was reading romances, but they were more contemporary – Nevil Shute (a little before my time but only just) and the South African writer I never hear mentioned, Joy Packer. I read all of both their books in my teens. Haunted libraries to get the next one. I guess back then – like you now perhaps? – I liked authors writing about their own times! Now, with a more sophisticated mind (ha!) I can enjoy well written historical fiction!

    I’ve read very little erotic fiction. Some erotica within a bigger story that is well-written and has some meaning that interests me is fine, but fiction all about erotica gets a bit tedious.. However, perhaps I haven’t read the right erotica?!?

    These days if I just want romance I go to a rom com (movie). They satisfy that urge without demanding too much of my time.

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    • I could say Georgette Heyer is not trying to tell me anything about the Regency period in her romances, which wouldn’t be fair as she was apparently quite meticulous with her details, and in any case I find her actual historical fiction useful and informative. The point is I don’t have a lot of English history so I’m willing to learn what I can. What I don’t like is people rewriting history I do have an interest in, like Americans re-writing their efforts in two World Wars. Or Brits pretending they were the good guys in India (or Africa, or North America, or the Pacific, or Australia, or Ireland).

      I went looking for Anais Nin and Henry Miller and couldn’t find them. I would have to re-read them before I could say anything meaningful about erotic fiction, so for the time being “well-written pornography” will have to do. I enjoy rom-com movies but if I stir myself to have an evening out I generally prefer art-house.

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