Books to the Sky

women found this sexy? or, the mystery of the old-school romance hero

Posted on: June 24, 2009

I recently picked up Beyond Heaving Bosoms, which I think I’m just going to carry around in my purse all the time, so that when people ask me why I read romance novels, I can point to the preface and say, “This! This is why!”

In the first chapter, the Smart Bitches define Old Skool and New Skool romance. The former encapsulates books published in the mid-80s and earlier, and often features one of my least favorite character archetypes of the genre: the Brutal Rapey Hero. They write:

These heroes aren’t just determined, assertive, and confident—they’re hard, arrogant, and harsh and the heroine is often afraid of him. He’s a punisher as well as lover and protector, but he hurts her only because he loves her so much. Baby. Punitive kisses were dealt with abandon, and the heroine, after stiffening up and resisting, would eventually soften into his kiss—after all, who wouldn’t love having their lips mashed hard enough to leave bruises? And speaking of bruises: grabbing the heroine by the arms so hard they lave marks was another earmark of Old Skool heroes.

This is on the list of things I just Don’t Get. Maybe I’m just not the target audience, but, you know, there’s very little that offends me, but I do react especially negatively to any kind of sexual violence. I’ve read plenty of novels with punishing kisses and heroines getting flung against walls or the hoods of cars, and I just sit there puzzled, because I don’t find rape sexy at all. Did women in the 70s and 80s? Why did this become a trend?

Jezebel is having a Worst 80s Romance Heroes Contest, however, so we can sit back and analyze the books. They describe their first contestant as “a rapey, manipulative former footballer with a will of iron!” Nice, yeah?

I’m working on a recap of a 1981 Harlequin, and the hero has thus far not exhibited any rapist tendencies, so that’s something, I guess. The hero and heroine also haven’t gotten a lot of alone time (the whole book takes place on a boat) so that may change.

Speaking of violent heroes, Salon has an article up today about vampire fiction. This is not really my thing—I tried the first Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse books and didn’t care much for either—but these books are making their publishers a lot of money. And, well, we do kind of love Laurell K. Hamilton here at Books to the Sky.

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1 Response to "women found this sexy? or, the mystery of the old-school romance hero"

I finally got Book 5! Woohoo! Now off to read Salon article.

Man, rape-y protagonists bug me something serious too. It’s possibly the most prevalent cliche in fan fiction, which is… okay, one of many reasons I hardly read it anymore. I cannot stand the idea that violence is supposed to be sexy. It should be a red alert!

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Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
--Arnold Lobel

From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
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