Today, I picked through boxes of romance novels. For the second installment of my on-going series about famous authors who broke The Rules (see prior posts with the label The Rules), I chose Jennifer Wilde's Love's Tender Fury. When I did my first installment (see "Famous Authors Who Broke the Rules, Part I"), I'd thought Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna was the first "bodice ripper" (I can hear the screams of outrage, but well, take a look at the cover) I'd ever read, but now I think it might have been LTF, as it came out the year before.
Before commenting on LTF, let me share something I remember about this book that I've never seen with another romance novel. It was advertised on television ... yes, you read correctly, it had its own television commercial. I can still see it in my mind--a beautiful, lush, red-head standing on an auction block with a dark, tall, and handsome man among the crowd of bidders below. But there are a few things about this book that I didn't remember, which now have my head spinning.
Here, take a look at this excerpt:
I lighted the lamp and took off my dress, hanging it up in the enormous mahogany wardrobe with its heavy door that never shut properly. MY GOD, IT'S WRITTEN IN FIRST PERSON! HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN THAT? I removed shoes and stockings and, wearing only a white muslin petticoat, took down my coronet of braids and shook them loose. Hair fell to my shoulders in abundant red-brown waves, coopery high-lights gleaming. Sitting in front of the mirror, I brushed it until it gleamed even more, and then I put the brush down and stared at the woman in the mirror. THIS IS THE 3RD PARAGRAPH INTO WHAT IS A 9 PARAGRAPH, 3 PAGE PIECE OF NARRATIVE ON PAGE 24. IN FACT, FOR SIX PAGES ALL AROUND THIS PIECE, THERE ARE ONLY 5 LINES OF DIALOGUE.
The petticoat was exceedingly low-cut, my breasts more than half revealed. The bodice was form-fitting, the full, flaring skirt adorned with row upon row of white ruffles. In this elegant garment, and with my hair falling about my shoulders in such rich profusion, I looked totally unlike the demure Miss Danver with her severe hair style and drab brown dress. Lord Mallory desired me. He would desire me even more if he could see me like this, I thought, and then I frowned, my blue eyes once again dark with concern. I left the dressing table and moved over to sit in the large, comfortable pink chair in front of the windows.
The sky was ashy gray now, and the world below was etched in gray and black and dim whites. The lamp was low, and shadows spread inside the room multiplying beyond its softly diffused pool of light. I thought about Lord Mallory, and there was a strange ambivalence that hadn’t been there before. I detested him, I told myself, yet I was undeniably attracted to him. JUST FOR THOSE READERS WHO DON'T KNOW, LORD MALLORY IS A MARRIED MAN. I remembered that kiss. I remembered his tall, strong body, his arms crushing me against him, and I remembered the sensations that had exploded inside me like tiny buds blossoming.
Recalling what he had said about my mother, I wondered, did I indeed take after her? I was a virgin, and I had never even contemplated sleeping with a man before. I was respectable and decent, yet, even though I hated him and everything he stood for, I couldn’t deny that I found Robert Mallory physically attractive. REPETITIVE. I knew that I would never willingly submit to him, but if he took me by force would I really be as distraught as I told myself I would be? IS THE HEROINE ACTUALLY SAYING SHE WOULDN'T MIND IF LORD MALLORY RAPED HER?
Could Tom Huff aka Jennifer Wilde sell LTF to a New York publishing house today? It's doubtful, I dare say. Yet, I can't deny LTF is riveting, as much now as it was in 1976. And why is it so riveting? Could it possibly be because Tom Huff broke The Rules in LTF?
By the way, I came across this on Wikipedia regarding Tom Huff: "His historical romances were noted for being written in first-person, from the heroine's perspective. Many of his books also featured multiple male protagonists, and the man who first captures the heroine's heart isn't always the one who ends up with it." These words strike a chord in me, but not with Tom Huff in mind. I can't help but think of Kelly Fitzpatrick, 2009 Golden Heart® finalist for Pleasant Lake, P.D. Kelly wrote PLPD in the first person, and the story has two heroes, the one who first catches the heroine's heart and the one who ends up with it. Wow, Kelly, you are in the good company of Jennifer Wilde.
For the author who introduced me to the world of the "bodice ripper," I have these words:
Requiescat in Pace, Tom
Excerpt from Love's Tender Fury © 1976 Jennifer Wilde. All other material © 2009 Madeline Smyth. All rights reserved.