The Flame and the Flower (Flames on the Sides of my Flower)
Four romance reading friends embark on a romance history reading project, based on a BookRiot list, and in this episode, two of them — Leigh Kramer and Hannah Hearts romance — have Flames on the Sides of their Face when talking about the Flame and The Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. To keep things interesting, we talk less about the book itself and more about questions of reader reception and the relationship between the 1972 text and the romance texts that followed. Have we come a long way, baby, or are we still wallowing in the same whirlpool of sludgey emotions?
Four romance reading friends embark on a romance history reading project, based on a BookRiot list, and in this episode, two of them — Leigh Kramer and Hannah Hearts romance — have Flames on the Sides of their Face when talking about the Flame and The Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. To keep things interesting, we talk less about the book itself and more about questions of reader reception and the relationship between the 1972 text and the romance texts that followed. Have we come a long way, baby, or are we still wallowing in the same whirlpool of sludgey emotions?
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Discussed: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
The BookRiot list that inspired the project: https://bookriot.com/most-influential-romance-novels/
Hannah Hearts Romance
Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Are we gonna run out of settings to colonize with our romantic fantasies?
Hannah: Oh gosh.
Andrea Martucci: Is that what you're saying?
Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape, desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode I'm joined by romance enthusiasts, Leigh Kramer and Hannah Hearts romance to discuss The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, which Hannah and Leigh recently read as part of their romance history buddy read project.
Thank you both for being here. Can you introduce yourselves? Hannah, let's start with you.
Hannah: Hi. Thanks. I'm really happy to be here to talk about this infernal book.
Andrea Martucci: This is your second time on Shelf Love.
Hannah: It is, I guess technically if we want to think through it, there were, I think two times prior to being an official guest that I had like a sound bite included way back in the early days of Shelf Love. But yes second time as an official live interactive conversation guest.
But I am Hannah of Hannah Hearts Romance.
I am a romance reader, an enthusiast, and sometimes reviewer depending on how much attention span I have. And I am mostly on Instagram right now. But I've been reading romance for, oh goodness, pretty dedicatedly since college with some gaps in between. But prior to this current romance history project had been mostly reading romances of the current time.
Andrea Martucci: Cool. Leigh, what about you?
Leigh Kramer: So I got into romance when I was a freshman in high school because my friend Jane lent me her mom's romance novels as one does, and I would hide them under my dresser so my parents wouldn't know. But then Jane got in trouble and so then I didn't really come back to romance until my mid twenties.
And it was dipping my toes in here and there, and then became like a dedicated romance reader in early 2016. It's basically like drinking from a fire hose now. I just can't get enough.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah it sounds like you both mostly have been reading books that are a bit more contemporary to when you are reading. Like when Jane was sharing novels, were they books that had come out around that time?
Leigh Kramer: Yes. Yeah. So that would've been like early to mid nineties. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Okay, cool. So you both had not quite dipped back into the beginning of, let's say the modern romance era, which began around the 1970s. And so can you tell me more about this romance history project that you've embarked upon?
Hannah: I feel like how far back do we want to go because the sort of is the second buddy reading project that we have undertaken along with our friends, Charlotte and Vicky, starting during the height 2020 lockdown. We got together and started reading [00:03:00] Laura Kinsale's entire back list.
We are Laura Kinsale Stans.
Andrea Martucci: Laura Kinsale-ians?
Yes. And that was a lot of fun. And at the completion of that project, we were like, this has been great. What else can we do? And I think it was Leigh who found a list on Book Riot of the, was it like 50 most influential or most significant romance novels of
Leigh Kramer: The most influential romance novels of the last 100 years.
Hannah: That's what it was.
And so we looked through that list and thought to ourselves, Hey, wouldn't this be interesting to read romance through the ages and see for ourselves the evolution of a genre across time and context? And we did edit some of the things, like things that we had all already read, or things that we weren't necessarily interested in subjecting ourselves to, which is relative. Considering that
Leigh Kramer: we're still subjecting ourselves to a lot.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Leigh Kramer: But there are, I feel like there were a few books on the list that we didn't think were quite as influential as the list thought they were. So those were not, we're not interested in those. But we are still putting ourselves through the ringer on the others, at least on what we've, we are only, so this Flame and the Flower was our seventh book, so we're still fairly early in on this endeavor.
Andrea Martucci: Did you create your own criteria that was separate then from the lists? So for example, if they were saying over the last hundred years, what was their criteria for romance?
Hannah: They seem to be sticking pretty good to romance as we currently understand it, in as much as it's available at these different times. So the first one on the list, and the first one that we read was The Sheik which was from,
Andrea Martucci: gonna assume it was the Sheik. Yeah.
Hannah: 1919 I
Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm.
Hannah: is when that came out. And it's a terrible book in many ways, but you could certainly argue that it adheres to the structure of central quote unquote love story with a optimistic ending. And I would say for the most part everything we've read so far does stick to that kind of basic concept as opposed to like having a tragic ending or whatever else.
I think what we have had a lot of discussions about is what it means for a book to be influential. And it seems like a lot of the books that were chosen for that list were more commercially influential as opposed to like within the genre itself or like insular readers of the genre itself.
So things [00:06:00] that had wide acclaim or commercial success. So like The Sheik was turned into a movie a couple of years after it came out and it was like an international bestseller. Another one we read is The Lord Won't Mind, which is a queer romance gay romance again, quote unquote. That's another really terrible book, but that
Leigh Kramer: we don't recommend.
Hannah: No, absolutely not. That one was like a New York Times bestseller for a while, and that came out in 1971, I think it
Leigh Kramer: was, maybe. And it had two more books in a, it was like a trilogy. So it had a lot of success. So this is two years before The Flame and the Flower? Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Are you going in order chronologically or how did you decide on the order of how you would take the books?
Leigh Kramer: yes. Chronologically
Andrea Martucci: So you're starting at the oldest working your way up. So you embarked upon The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. And what had you heard about this book prior to cracking it open for the first time?
Leigh Kramer: Just that the hero, male main character rapes his love interest. That's all that I knew about it.
Hannah: I'd heard it was very rapey, but also that I was aware of it in reference to a lot of conversations that have been had in the last few years within the romance community. Of it's the book that all of the think pieces that we all get really mad about. point to is like bodice, rippers and things like that.
So I was aware of it in that sense, and also aware of it because so many people that I know or that I have talked to about it, mention it as the first romance novel that they ever read.
Usually at a really inappropriate age from finding it under grandma's bed or something like that. But a lot of people have a very clear memory of this was the first paperback romance that I discovered and read.
So I was aware of its existence and the problematic content of it only in the sense of how people have been looking at it in retrospect, and in a very vague sense.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Okay, so full disclosure. So The Flame and the Flower I first read when I was about 16, which is 20 years ago now. And speaking of commercial success, the way I picked it up, because my mom, nobody in my household read romance novels. I volunteered at the library book sale.
And now if you have a bestselling book now, think about like 50 Shades of Grey today. It's bestselling and then a lot of those copies end up at, used book sale locations, right? I'm volunteering at this book sale. There's a lot of romance in there. This is not the first romance I read, but it is one of the [00:09:00] earliest romances I read, readily available, like on the shelves, many copies of it.
I was like, oh, this must be a popular book, right? And I definitely read it several times, maybe not cover to cover. I read it cover to cover and then probably dipped in and out of it just reading my favorite parts over the years. I have not read it, cracked it open really in probably more than 15 years though.
So my memories of this book are faded and they are heavily contextual, meaning they're like from the brain of, a 16 year old or like a young person who a doesn't have a huge background in romance texts at that time. And my knowledge has grown on top of that, which colors my memory of it, but also didn't have a huge context for life.
So I can be the stand-in for that person in this conversation because that was totally me and my experience. And you know what's really wild when I think about it is, so this book came out in 1972, so when I read this in probably around 2002, this book was 30 years old. And now this book is almost twice as old.
Sorry, I'm saying almost twice as old like, I don't know how math works, but like another 20 years has gone by, which in the scale of modern romance publishing history, it's a big deal in terms of how much has changed and, just the number of things that have happened in this industry.
Time is weird.
Leigh Kramer: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: What were your thoughts on this book? Did you love it?
Hannah: Oh my God. Loved it so much.
Leigh Kramer: Woo. It was I'll start by saying,
So I didn't know a lot about it, but I was really shocked by how prevalent rape and sexual assault was throughout, and it's not just Brandon who rapes Heather, like every, basically every male character in the book like, wants to have sex with her regardless of her interest. So I was really surprised that it wasn't just like a, maybe a couple times with Brandon. It was just like, like you cannot escape.
And the other thing I was shocked by is that he is an enslaver,
Like it set on a plantation. And I don't know if someone had mentioned that, and I forgot because it was like, I'm never gonna read this book, so I don't need to, I don't need to retain that information. Or if people just don't mention that fact or don't remember that fact, but there is no escaping how problematic it is from that lens as well. Yeah, it, it failed in every way that it possibly could for me.
Hannah: Yeah. It, if there is an ism that exists, it exists in this book. Yes. Sexism ableism, ableism, ageism.
Andrea Martucci: Fat phobia, which doesn't have ism at the end of it, but yeah.
Hannah: I can't necessarily think of like specific instances. (Leigh: slut shaming!) Oh my gosh. Blaming, like
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Hannah: just, [00:12:00] I can't really think of specific instances of homophobia necessarily, but also it's so aggressively just cisheteronormative and wouldn't surprise me if I just blocked those specific instances from my memory, or it has been lost in a sea of problematic ness because everything was so awful.
And the thing that I think particularly shocked me, cuz again, going in, knowing people have said, oh, it's a rapey book and it's super problematic, and all of these things, people say that about other books that I've read and I go into those books and usually it's more like dubcon-y rapey stuff of heroine saying no because she's shy and innocent, but this veil hero comes and shows her like, actually she does want a thing.
Andrea Martucci: Her lips say no, but her body says yes.
Hannah: Exactly, which is a whole other podcast episode, honestly. But in this book, it is incredibly aware that what it's doing is rape. Yes. Every single character calls it rape and somehow is made okay throughout the course of this book
Andrea Martucci: Hannah, what makes it okay? By the end, what makes her actually want to have sex with this guy?
Hannah: I, that is a layered,
Leigh Kramer: layered question. Yeah. I would say resignation, she just gives up, decides to make the best of bad situation.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. Sorry, what? What does the text say changes things?
Hannah: Should we run quickly run through an overview of the plot?
So basically through the course of the book, like they meet because Heather, the heroine has run away from her evil, not uncle.
Leigh Kramer: Uncle in-law.
I don't know.
Hannah: She thinks she has killed him, but he has given her a dress that is reading between the lines a slutty dress and a couple of sailors find her by the docks and bring her back to their ship for their captain
Leigh Kramer: thinking she is a prostitute.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Leigh Kramer: And she never, she just, she thinks she's gonna get in trouble cuz she thinks she murdered this man. So she doesn't really speak up. She thinks that they figured out somehow. Heather's not that bright. I feel like that's worth saying.
Andrea Martucci: also, how old is she again?
Hannah: 17. So She's 17 at the start of this book.
Andrea Martucci: 17.
Hannah: She's 17.
Andrea Martucci: Think about yourself at 17,
Hannah: it makes it very clear that she is 17 years old. It's like the very first paragraph of the book. I think I remember highlighting it and going oh no, I have, I highlighted so much in this book. Normally when I highlight books [00:15:00] a lot, it's because I love them and I think the prose is beautiful and these quotes jump out at me.
This was highlight so that I could make like stream of consciousness notes of Oh, yikes, and expletives and what a fucking bastard and all of these other things. That's what my reading experience is like. Anyway, so their relationship starts with him very explicitly raping her and telling her, get used to it because I'm gonna keep doing it.
Andrea Martucci: Because he thinks she's a sex worker.
Leigh Kramer: even once he realizes that she's not a sex worker. He still rapes her again because now he's decided that he wants to keep her.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Leigh Kramer: And
Andrea Martucci: Well now she's not a virgin anymore, so
Leigh Kramer: so it doesn't matter. Yes. I forgot about that.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, you gotta get your head in the logic of this world. Yeah.
Hannah: So then she gets pregnant as a result of this rape and they have to get married because as you do, and then when they get married, Brandon decides that he is not going to have sex with her ever again as a punishment because he's mad at her, which is framed in a very confusing way because he also very much still desires her because she is young and with a teeny tiny waist and inhumanly beautiful and sweet and innocent.
Leigh Kramer: And very white.
Hannah: Yes. So of course that would sucker any man into having these intense urges. But he's decided that to punish her, he's not ever going to have sex with her again. She, on the one hand, is very much okay with never having sex with him again because her only experience of sex was when he raped her pretty violently.
But then she also is like, well, I'm his wife and isn't this supposed to happen now? And so for a huge chunk of the book, there is this very bizarre push and pull between, he really wants to have sex with her and she feels like him refusing it as a reflection on her somehow and that
Leigh Kramer: she doesn't want him to have sex with another woman. Like so there's like a thread of jealousy, like intense jealousy on both of their parts because he also doesn't like any of the men that pay attention to her, not enough to like actually keep her safe or anything like that. That would be ridiculous.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Hannah: And so by the time they do have sex again, it is set up that basically Brandon his blue balls are just getting to be too much to bear. And he tells her, I'm gonna have sex with you.
I don't wanna have to rape you, but I [00:18:00] will if I have to. And then he walks out of the room leaving Heather to sit there and think this is gonna happen either way, so I could fight it or I could put on a sexy nightgown and lay there and think of England.
And that is the next sex scene where he comes back in. The other thing I found really interesting is this book was billed as being so big and influential because it was a sexy book or like that it somehow,
Leigh Kramer: like it took women's sexuality seriously.
Andrea Martucci: Just outta curiosity, where do you think you heard that from?
Leigh Kramer: Everywhere that was like, that would, I would say that's the other thing that I heard about the book, like that, it was rapey, but also like it took women's sexuality seriously, which is like a hard, like really hard things to hold intention with each other.
Andrea Martucci: this, so this is like the myth of the book though, right? Like how people talk about it as because it is told from the perspective of a woman because the author is a woman and the perceived audience is a woman and the main character is a woman that any discussion of sexuality must therefore be taking women's sexuality seriously, regardless of like the substance of how sex is portrayed in the book.
Leigh Kramer: Yeah,
Hannah: I guess I expected from the way people talked about it for, even if the sex scenes weren't great examples of good consensual sex, I expected them to have a little more sexual content to them and they were vague. Maybe my threshold is just way high from reading, all of the erotic romance over the years that I have read, but I was surprised at how almost fade to black they were.
Leigh Kramer: Yeah. The rape scenes were more explicit compared to the actual supposedly consensual sex scenes, which I was surprised by for sure. And they don't really focus on how they're experiencing pleasure, which is what I was expecting.
If it's saying that it's focusing on taking women's sexuality seriously, then I feel like that should be a big component of it. And I never felt, it was always, I don't know, maybe in some vague way she's oh, orgasm. But it's not,
Yeah it's hard to contextualize too, because this is 50 years ago at this point, but I still would've thought that she would've been like, oh, this is everything. This is what I was meant to experience but it's never, I didn't ever feel like that was on the page.
Andrea Martucci: So I mean like the point at which she does experience pleasure, even if not bodily, but I guess emotionally and mentally the first transition I, if I remember it correctly, is that she loves him, but he doesn't love her back. And so it's like this, like tortured, like I do want him to touch me because I love him, [00:21:00] but if he doesn't love me back ugh, I still feel conflicted about this.
But then the ultimate resolution is he loves her back. And it's, again, in my recollection, that is the point at which she is allowed to experience pleasure more bodily because she's married the emotion with the physical, with the reality of being married to this person. So like the Holy trinity has locked into place and now she can enjoy it.
Leigh Kramer: That could be true. I think I just, I think there's like some part of my subconscious that just fully rejects that idea that like she couldn't experience pleasure until he loves her back, which is just so enraging cuz he's a monster.
Andrea Martucci: Again, I mean this is like what the text is, you don't have to buy it.
Leigh Kramer: no,
Hannah: I sadly did buy this book. I spent $6.99 or whatever it was on the ebook, cuz I couldn't find a decent copy anywhere else.
If I remember correctly, you'd think I would remember better having read it more recently than 15 years ago. But at that point where he tells her like, you can take this or I'll force you. Two things in that. There's one moment where she's thinking about it and it makes very explicit, like that's his right as her husband, which at that time in the United States, it absolutely was legal for a husband to rape his wife.
But I think it still implied that Heather enjoyed it. So I do think that marrying of emotion with the enjoyment of physical act was still happening on her part. So it's not that she didn't experience sexual pleasure until Brandon reciprocated emotions because the romance hero of it all is that he doesn't really acknowledge or tell her that he loves her until her life has been imperiled seriously in some way.
The book wanted us to buy that A, she fell in love with him at all. B, that her being in love with him makes any sort of sex with him, pleasurable in any sense. And C, that by her essentially being this receptacle for him, then he learns to love her also.
And that is a really hard pill to swallow in 2023. I honestly, was it that easy of a pill to swallow in the 1970s?
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So do you know what book I just read recently?
Hannah: Dreaming of You?
Andrea Martucci: it was Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas written over 20 years after this book came out. And do you know what [00:24:00] beats it hits exactly?
Hannah: All of them. I got so excited listening to those episodes this week, because almost everything y'all were talking about, both you and Jodi e and on Whoa!mance were things that I was like, there is a direct line between this book and these books that still are not new in 2023, but that are held up in a way that the books from the seventies are not.
And when I initially wrote my review of The Flame and the Flower, Derek Craven was a hero that I specifically mentioned as you can draw a direct line between Brandon and Derek Craven because they are exactly the same kind of misogynistic, tortured, can't love, but somehow fall for this sweet, innocent woman.
I don't know that a 17 year old is a woman, but moving on and every, everything y'all were talking about with Joyce and this idea of the Villainous ex happens in The Flame and the Flower.
And it's almost just that by the time we got to the nineties, all of those tropes and all of those themes were still happening, but there was a certain amount of awareness of, oh, maybe we should make that implicit instead of explicit in the way that it is in The Flame and the Flower, because Woodiwiss all but wrote ugly fat people are evil and promiscuous. Women will get raped and murdered, and the only way to find love and long life is to marry a rich white man and have his babies.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Down to every man wants the heroine, every man is basically trying to rape her constantly. You can't rape a sex worker. Evil other woman. Man who has no emotions until he falls for the sweet, innocent, guileless, endlessly forgiving sort of heroine. There's so many echoes.
And also interestingly enough, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss wrote the cover blurb for Dreaming of You. Yeah. Yeah.
Leigh Kramer: Oh, wow. Okay.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And this is like an early-ish Kleypas novel. Which it, I guess to be fair, like she had been writing for almost a decade at that point. But early in the scheme of her career The Flame and the Flower was Kathleen Woodiwiss's first published novel, and I believe the first novel she ever wrote as well.
So yeah, I think I'm constantly asking my question like, by the nineties, what had evolved? And Hannah, you said, making the explicit implicit, and it's like, yes. And I think there was also a slightly an evolution in the heroine having a bit more autonomy and backbone. A bit. And like a bit more interesting.
But I found that so much of the romantic beats in that were not shown to [00:27:00] us, they were told to us and they were without substance.
What shows us the audience that Derek Craven and Sarah Fielding are in love? He stole her glasses and put them close to his heart? But we don't actually know why they're into each other, right?
But it's just these like archetypes of like masculine, emotionless man, highly virile and sexual, like super cis heterosexual man. Gender essentialist stuff, up the wazu.
Mirror that for the heroine for the feminine ideal. There you go. Romance. And that penis in vagina sex is like the epitome of pleasure for a cis woman that like, if she is in love with him, that just feels good.
Leigh Kramer: Right.
Andrea Martucci: that, in particular I feel like in some ways more contemporary romances, that is romance is written now, whether they're historical or contemporary romances, acknowledge that there are more sexual activities outside of that, that people find pleasurable. However, I do think that in and of itself is something that very much is still with us.
That if you have a cis het romance that like, 99% of heroines in cis het romances orgasm from penis in vagina sex, and you look at any stats with like real people and I wanna, I could find the stat, I wanna say it's 30% of cis women can orgasm from penetration. Yes, exactly.
So there's something that even in 2023, I think we are still buying. Like even romances that we think of as oh, there's no rape, there's less gender essentialism, there's less of that sort of like Mary Sue innocent heroine and like super violent, misogynistic hero.
I think that there are still tendrils in everything we read now.
Leigh Kramer: It's the template. It's, it still is whether we want to admit to it or not, and those ideas are they're pernicious, they're very hard to remove because it all depends on, number one, what the author's personal experience is and what their education is around sex and gender and sexuality.
But then it also depends on what they've been reading, because romance is such an iterative genre and one author write this one thing like how tearing condoms open with your teeth, it's still a thing even though you should not do that.
Andrea Martucci: Hannah's like rocking to like comfort herself right now, like
Hannah: It is the I can let slide many other things about romance novel sex because it is, on a certain level, it is fantasy, and Apart from that, every person with a vagina can orgasm from penetrative sex, something so basic, right? It's just such a huge pet peeve of mine that like everything else, like we've talked about birth control, we've talked about safe sex, [00:30:00] and then someone has to go and ruin it by opening the packet with their teeth and roll it on with one hand.
That is not the way you do it, people just fyi, if anyone in their real life is doing that please contact me. I will reeducate you. I don't know, look at the diagram in the Trojan box. It's just such a simple little thing and it takes me out of a sex scene every single time. So anyway.
Leigh Kramer: But I, no, I think it does illustrate something because I think a lot of authors and readers should think, oh, this is sexy. This is just what happens in romance. Not understanding that there are people that will read that and think, oh yeah, that is how you do it.
And no, it's not how you do it.
And I think we, yes, there can be a fantasy element to the books that we're reading, but I also think that we owe each other better than that too, especially with something so easily rectified.
Andrea Martucci: Which begs the question. And you had asked the question before, do we buy this in 2023? And okay, this is, it's a fantasy.
Why is it that the fantasy, if we're saying, that like this book is held up as taking women's desire seriously, or women's sexuality seriously, why is it that, quote unquote women's fantasies, that's complicated, this is what people say.
Why is it that women's fantasies focus on this extreme cis heteronormative, like centering male desire fantasy, quote unquote, and " have we actually evolved on that in this genre?" is a question I ask myself all the time.
There is this really interesting study done on comparing, Reading the Romance's findings on how romance readers of the day in the early eighties essentially were thinking about romance compared to readers in 2016 by Maleah Fekete.
And I'm probably butchering her name. I'm so sorry.
And what it found was like the biggest difference between readers in the 1980s and readers in the twenty teens was that there was this desire to explore the emotional relationship between people. What had changed was wanting to see explicit sexuality on the page and wanting to see more explicit sexual relationship dynamics on the page.
And so I think if you if I think about the books that were written really in those first two decades of the modern romance novel where you are seeing sex on the page, it is way more fade to black and way more purple prosy than we're used to now, if you read books with like on page sex and them, but comparatively compared to what else was available then that was like, oh my God.
And I remember being 16 being like, oh my God, like sex. Ooh, it was titillating because what I was used to was [00:33:00] none of that at all.
There's this documentary called Where the Heart Roams, it's filmed in the eighties and they're like on this train with all these romance readers and writers, and they interview people, like people who really love Janet Dailey. And the readers are like, oh, I really like Janet Dailey, but I don't wanna read too much explicit sexuality.
Like they were really careful to say that they like, oh, I know that there's like a little bit of sex in here, but that's like not why I'm reading it.
And I kind of wonder on the one hand if that is actually how they felt? Did they truly internalize that or were they just extremely aware that if they acknowledged that publicly to their friends, to a camera, that they would be considered like, oh my God, what's wrong with you you pervert. Like you wanna read about sex between people in a loving relationship, you sicko?
There is totally an element of that where there's like this social censure that's complicated too, but like I think there's less relative social censure about wanting to read a book with sex in it in 2023.
And I can't discount how this kind of cultural ideas around that influenced even what sex you found in the page where if you think about it's not like women in 1972 didn't enjoy sex, but there is this cultural understanding that women are not allowed to enjoy sex unless certain conditions are present.
And so the book also has to mirror those cultural conditions where Heather can't enjoy sex until X, Y, Z is in place.
And so the readers of the time, they know it's rape, but they also understand the cultural conditions of the time they're living in and can read, there's like a filter, where they like, understand what's going on.
That's a very generous reading of this, by the way.
Leigh Kramer: Or maybe they feel like that's the best that they can hope for. I don't know. I read so many articles about rape in romance and rape in this particular romance, just trying to wrap my head around what, what were people responding to? And I think you're right that some of it is at least in the latter half of the book, that some of it was just like having sex in a romance at all.
Although I do want to acknowledge that the Lord Won't Mind was published two years prior to this and had a lot of explicit sex this is the male male romance. And so when people talk about The Flame and the Flower being the first romance to have explicit sex, it's like completely erasing the queer romance that came before it.
So just need to, it's not a good book. I'm not saying that anyone should go read it, but it is important to acknowledge.
But in terms of, I guess like male female romance yeah, maybe this was titillating at its time and maybe. I also just feel like this author, it's so hard to know for sure about her, but I think she had a very conservative point of view.
And she grew up in Louisiana. That certainly explains why she set this book on a plantation and had a lot of racist tropes in it.
But I also think that she [00:36:00] had very limited ideas of what women even in like 1970s when she was writing this of what women could or should have. And I think she wanted to keep everyone in the patriarchal box.
Andrea Martucci: Do you know what word I learned the other day? The kyriarchy. K Y R i a r c h y, which is essentially beyond just the patriarchy, which thinking about oppression purely on a gendered front. The kyriarchy is thinking about all of those things together, like capitalism, racism, misogyny, patriarch do you know what I mean? It's all anti queerness, it's essentially like the hegemonic power structure, but like everything combined. Anyways, I found that word. I was like, that's a good word,
Hannah: That's a great word.
Andrea Martucci: Cuz it encompasses everything.
Hannah: exactly. And we talk about that and anti-racism, educators are constantly trying to, Teach people about that, right? That all of these things we've labeled as the patriarchy and homophobia and all of that are also rooted in white supremacy.
And the other thing I'm thinking about here, when it comes to this box of women's sexuality within the kyriarchy. Interestingly, the sex that Heather gets to enjoy in this book comes after she has reached the pinnacle of womanhood, which is to become a mother.
And this book has a lot to say about how the purpose of a woman's life is to be a mother.
Thinking about Whoa!mance episode about Dreaming of You and boy moms, I think this book also has some influence on this idea of being a mother to a son because, Heather is compared in some weird ways to Brandon's mother.
She had two sons and was married to a man that we're told Brandon is very much like in the sense of he did not show emotion well and didn't understand emotion well. And so it was down to the matriarch of the family to be the kind and loving and welcoming and maternal figure in these people's lives.
And now that is Heather's responsibility because as the rich white Christian woman of the household, she is the one who is now the anchor for these other things. But that doesn't happen genuinely until after her child is born.
Andrea Martucci: You've just described the premise of The Consummate Virgin by Dr. Jodi McAlister, which is essentially about that idea [00:39:00] of how romance becomes acceptable for women to focus on, because it's centered on finding a life partner, procreating.
It's like the only acceptable female sexuality is procreative and moving towards this capitalistic family unit, right? This is how you are productive as a woman.
That's explicit in the book and also implicit in the book, that's so foundational to a lot of things in this genre. And I can't help but think, you were talking about not only being a mother, but being a boy mom. How many first children in romance novels, if you know that they have a child and you know the gender of the child, what percentage are male?
Leigh Kramer: Oh, you gotta have an heir
Andrea Martucci: I find it very interesting that in so many cases, particularly the earliest romance novels of this era, they're like, not just good because they have produced, but they produced an heir immediately. Like they're the best women. They had a male first, and then they can have a girl child or whatever.
And I think you see this, the more time goes on you see more first children as girls because there's then it's like more of this self-awareness and maybe rejection of that, but yeah.
Leigh Kramer: I think they just as often though, have to have some line about how they don't care that it's a girl like that. It's like it shows that they are, more evolved than others. But that's something that. I know a lot of men who only have daughters and they in real life, and that's comments they get from strangers. Oh, all those girls . There's still, this is like a societal issue still.
Absolutely. Gender essentialism is everywhere.
Hannah: Okay. If I may, because another thing I have been thinking about with this book and with books that clearly have been influenced by it, whether we admit it or not, in the conversation around whether or not romance is inherently feminist,
(nervous laughter from Andrea and Leigh, because are we going to go there?!) Again, if I may, one of the arguments is this idea that you have this unfeeling, unemotional man who has never loved, who very often. Epitomizes the idea of the ideal man within a white capitalist, cis heteronormative society.
So he's usually rich and can beat somebody up and owns his own home, maybe multiple homes, is a savvy businessman. All of those things, right?
So yeah there's this hero, right? And the work of the feminism in the romance novel is that he is brought low by love for the heroine or, and or by the heroine's love.
And that [00:42:00] is a challenge to the patriarchy that we live in, that we're challenging some toxic masculinity here by showing that this man can actually experience emotion and affection.
I'm thinking about that in terms of boy moms versus girl moms, or boy dads versus girl dads. Because in The Flame and the Flower, they have a son because I will also say the only female character who is allowed to be even remotely good in The Flame and the Flower is Heather. Except for the mammy character who is still a racist trope. And so there are certain limits to how "good" she is allowed to be within the view of the novel.
Andrea Martucci: She's not allowed to be like intellectually interesting. It's like a very simple maternal archetype. Like she's a simple, good woman, right? And that's all she's allowed to be
Hannah: She is the dictionary definition of the mammy trope.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Hannah: So in that sense, Heather has a boy, she has a son, and Brandon's very excited to have a son and they give him the most ridiculous future confederate soldier name.
It's the only thing that I managed to enjoy even a little bit in this whole book,
Andrea Martucci: What is it? What is it?
Hannah: Beuregard, I can't even say it loud.
How do you pronounce it?
Leigh Kramer: Oh, Beauregard.
Andrea Martucci: Beauregard
Grant is his middle name.
Andrea Martucci: Making that choice, like post-Civil War is a choice.
Hannah: Yes, it's incredible.
Leigh Kramer: Gone With the Wind was her favorite book. So it's, it's very clear
Hannah: For sure. But so like she has a son really to continue this narrative of that this one good woman is going to be the emotional anchor, right? So we're not actually challenging Brandon's misogyny. Heather is this entity that is bringing the maternal and domesticity into this man's life.
And so we don't need any other women to challenge that or to do anything in that sense for Brandon. And I was thinking about that, listening to everyone talk about Dreaming of You, because correct me if I'm wrong, at the end, they have a daughter, right?
Andrea Martucci: they do, but very similar sort of weird mother integration of the sexual and the maternal. But then also I love this child. What a surprise.
Hannah: But I think in some ways we, I could argue or postulate that there is some progression there that we're seeing, okay, we're gonna start giving these misogynist heroes daughters because we want them to continue to be around this feminine influence to continue [00:45:00] challenging this toxic masculinity piece because obviously no man who's ever had a daughter is a misogynist, right?
Andrea Martucci: That's like the famous, like whenever something happens, some blow hard gets on social media and says something like, as a father of daughters or as a husband to my beautiful wife, there's some sort of like only being able to find compassion or humanity in women if they have some sort of close personal connection to said woman and before that they can't imagine literally seeing women as people.
Leigh Kramer: Or even being aware of issues that women face. Just like a general, I just read a romance yesterday I DNF'd a romance yesterday where they're both in academia and he has never thought of like workplace discrimination that women face. And I was like, how? And this is a book that like, just came out in the last few months. I was like, I can't respect this guy because you don't even know that women have to think about their appearance or how they request anything at work or how much punctuation they use in emails. Like I.
Andrea Martucci: Like you're a scholar. Not even just oh, you're in this workplace and you're oblivious. Like you are literally somebody who theoretically knows how to research and use your intellectual abilities to understand things. Like never no curiosity about that whatsoever.
Yeah. Okay, so people at the time theoretically enjoyed this book, right?
But you guys were talking about, the list you were reading, how the designation of being influential seemed highly based in how commercially successful the book was. Now Radway in Reading the Romance actually goes into kind of the conditions under which The Flame and the Flower became popular.
And it actually has a lot to do with just being the right time with the right conditions in place in the publishing industry for this to happen. Which is super interesting. And then I think Eva Illouz wrote a book about 50 Shades of Grey called Hardcore Romance, where she makes a very similar kind of case or thought about 50 Shades of Grey.
So these are books that were best selling, really popular.
There's a lot of derision around 50 Shades of Grey from culture. That doesn't necessarily diminish how popular it was, but it became such a cultural zeitgeist that people read it.
What is maybe like the biggest romance - we might disagree that this person is romance. Who is the biggest romance writer today? And what is she writing? I obviously have something in mind.
Hannah: You're thinking of Colleen Hoover.
Andrea Martucci: I'm thinking of Colleen Hoover.
Leigh Kramer: Oh gosh. I didn't know we were gonna go Colleen Hoover in this conversation.
Andrea Martucci: So Colleen Hoover is she writing romance? I don't know. Most people think she's writing romance, which I think is an important distinction here. Her books, if I understand them correctly, run that line between horror and suspense and I don't know, like they're like dark romancey and [00:48:00] romance and women's fiction ish.
Like they're not super focused on the romance, but there's like romance there, but there's also like all these horrible, terrible things happening, right?
Hannah: Full disclosure, I have never read a Colleen Hoover novel, and I'm also the kind of person that they have become so popular that I refuse to ever read a Colleen Hoover novel until maybe in another 30 years when we do another romance history reading project.
But that I have always heard them being grouped together, kind of dark romance adjacent. Part of why I haven't read them before is because I hear people talk about them in reference to like trauma porn.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Hannah: that just there a lot of terrible things happen to the characters and that they do terrible things to each other for the sake of drama.
And that is not my cup of tea. Like I have a high tolerance for trauma in romance novels and bad things happening. I love me some angst and some tortured people, but it's not personally my bag for it to be.
Leigh Kramer: Well, It's very emotionally manipulative. Like it's, it, she is trying to put her readers through a ringer. I read her, I would say maybe three or four of her books several years ago. And then I got to one that was so terrible that if I had owned it, I would've put it in the trash. It was a library book, so I had to return it, unfortunately. But then she became dead to me.
So it's been really interesting to see her rise and to be like, there are so many other authors that deserve the fame more than she, I feel that way about a lot of popular writers or romance writers, I should say who get the recognition.
And I would, I would put EL James in that camp too, of and I, this is, it's hard to say cause I don't wanna necessarily denigrate what other people have enjoyed. But I think there is like a quality of writing or a thoughtfulness of writing that is not there with a lot of these best sellers.
Although, I will also say that reading Flame and the Flower made me think, okay, I actually do wanna read 50 Shades now because I want to know just what I wanted to understand, what people were responding to in Flame and the Flower. I wanna know what people were responding to with 50 Shades, cuz I just don't, I just don't really see it. I read the excerpts of 50 Shades when it came out. Cause my friends were, a lot of my friends were reading it and I was like, I just can't do the writing. Like it just I would've been fine with reading what the kink, but like the writing, I was like, I can't do it.
But it's working. It's working for people. So what does it say that the general audience is responding to these stories? I think the titillation factor is big for all of them.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I can't help feeling like what these things all have in common is they're very titillating, emotionally manipulative, Leigh, like [00:51:00] you, we're talking about Colleen Hoover.
Leigh Kramer: And romanticizing abusive relationships. Because I think that is also the through line for all of those.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So first I guess I would say that what people enjoy about these books is probably not a hundred percent in line with what like "romance readers" are looking for in romance novels.
But when they reach this sort of like mass audience, we're not talking to people who actually like, have that sense of what a romance novel is necessarily. They're like, somebody told me this is a romance novel and I read it and I have zero expectations for what makes a good romance novel. I'm just gonna read it.
It's emotionally arousing. There's all this stuff happening. The Flame and the Flower. They go between locations and like every other page, she's almost getting raped. There's a lot of drama, which is a good way to describe a lot of these popular books.
And, Kathleen Woodiwiss in several interviews was like, look, I'm not trying to like impart some meaning in my books. It's just entertainment. I just want people to have a good time. I was interviewed for a vice article about Dark Romance that came out a few weeks ago
Leigh Kramer: Oh.
Andrea Martucci: and Woodiwiss came up.
The quote from me mentioned was talking about, but the quotes from various readers of Dark Romance: "I just enjoy it. It's how I relax."
I think there's a direct correlation, by the way, between what people enjoyed in The Flame and the Flower and like what people enjoy in Dark Romance.
I think you
Leigh Kramer: absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: There's a lot of similarities there. The desire for messed up male main characters who are extremely enmeshed in misogyny and violence, et cetera, who are saved by the love of a good woman who like somehow is the only person they can have emotional depth for.
What is that trope called in romance? Is it a morality chain or
Leigh Kramer: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: There's various tropes that kind of reference this, grumpy sunshine, which is almost always gendered with the sunshine being a woman and the grumpy being a guy.
That is still super present. But I don't think the expectation from these readers who are enjoying this stuff is that it's gonna give the same feeling that like you guys might be looking for when you think of, what is a good romance novel, right?
Like you're like, I want like a healthy relationship. And like I wanna see like why they love each other and everything. And these people are like, I love this thing that, I'm gonna call a romance, but their expectation is just that it's gonna just ping, excitement and that's relaxing, but like why is that an escape?
Hannah: Almost, I feel like someone must be looking into whether some of this stuff hits the same buttons for people as like the true crime phenomenon.
Andrea Martucci: yeah.
Hannah: And what I do wanna be careful of, because I think it's easy for us to like, I don't enjoy those kinds of books. I know Leigh doesn't enjoy those kinds of books, I do wanna be cautious of us, like sitting here and being haughty [00:54:00] about it, of we like real romance novels and remit novels that do this kind of stuff. Because I think all of us would say that we have read some. poorly written smut and very much enjoyed it before for other reasons.
But I think when we're talking about The Flame and the Flower and all of the books that have come out of that direct lineage, in this context, part of why I think we need to be talking about it in this way is because in one breath we'll have a conversation around it's okay to just read for entertainment. It's okay to just read some smut. It's okay if that is how people get into romance, blah, blah, blah.
But then on the other hand, we're trying to say that romance is inherently feminist merely by being romance and primarily written by women for women and that is doing some sort of work to deconstruct the very things that make those other books so titillating.
And there's some cognitive dissonance there that I just feel like as a reading community, we are having a real challenge, reckoning with.
Leigh Kramer: Because It completely depends on what kind of romance you're reading. Sure, there are some romances that I would say are more feminist, but not all of them.
Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm.
Leigh Kramer: wouldn't even say even like half of them. Like it's it's there are so many pockets, so many subgenres and I think that's asking romance to do a lot more than it is qualified for.
Andrea Martucci: I think that the reason it gets branded at all as feminists and why people claim that it is, is because I think there's like this identity politics confusion around if it is for women or if it is by women, and if it is about sex, then therefore, like we were talking about earlier, it must be portraying this feminine idea of sexuality. Which I would reject the idea that there is such a thing.
I would say that anything that centers like okay, like I wanna center Andrea's ideal sexuality, it should actually center what actually feels good for me, not just mirror exactly what society tells me should feel good for me.
That's a dead giveaway that it's not actually doing the thing is oh, it just conveniently adheres completely with the hegemonic idea of what should feel good to me as somebody with my identity.
But yeah, I mean, like this idea that it is a good thing, it is a step forward just because you can read sex on the page written by women where like a heroine is we [00:57:00] are told enjoying sex. That is liberation, that is feminism. And it's not always, sometimes, maybe.
Leigh Kramer: And what does it mean for asexual readers who are not going they would maybe prefer like a chaste romance or a closed door romance? Like the books that they would want to read are, could still be just as feminist, like it can't just come down to the presence of sex.
Hannah: I think we do need to acknowledge that when people in what we are talking about, the people who talk about romance being feminist, they do tend to be talking about that sort of second wave women's liberation feminism more so than the kind of feminism that we should be practicing more of today that is intentional and intersectional and inclusive for all.
Because all of those kinds of things of women's sexuality, women's pleasure still taking place in a very particular kind of set up is very second wave feminism.
Andrea Martucci: No, but it's like the whole like bra burner idea of feminism, which like, in and of itself is not the substance of those things.
Guess it just feels like, on the one hand, I think it's a very good thing, obviously to be critical of what these texts are actually doing, and like what you guys are doing. This project is fascinating to me because especially since it sounds like, all four of you in this project did not necessarily read these books like prior to this point. Like you entered the genre you didn't go back to earlier books.
You were okay, here I am, and you moved forward and now you're looking back and you're seeing kind of the influence on the genre and like that is a fascinating project. I think that's super interesting and worthwhile, obviously.
I think that like my biggest beef in romance "discourse" or like the discourse about it in the media is always trying to paint it with a broad brush, either positive or negative, completely without nuance whatsoever.
It is totally worth unpacking why do we think that romance should be feminist? Or why do even lovers of the genre want to claim that it's feminist, and why do they make these claims that can't really be backed up with any substance? Those are all really interesting questions to me.
But we have to be able in the process of that kind of look at these books and be like, yeah, there's like some horrible messed up shit that happened in these books and people, including women, still enjoy them. Maybe in a different way from how we think about the three of us in this conversation might think about what we enjoy about romance novels.
But I think we do have to ask what are people enjoying about this? Because they are, and I don't disbelieve them and yes there's probably some internalized misogyny the way that all of us have internalized the culture that we live in.
I think it's a little bit easier for us 50 years on from when this book was published. I think what we have removed [01:00:00] ourselves from is the cultural conditions in which this was written. And it's not to say that the echoes of that don't still exist, which is exactly why the echoes of this book are still present in books written in 2023.
There's a lot of similarities, but there are some differences and I think it's like really hard to get the same sort of enjoyment that a reader in 1972 would have from the text.
I don't know, I'd be really curious kind of if they had podcasts in 1972 and you had a conversation of a few critical readers reading this text, what they would say about it.
Cuz I don't think it would be a glowing review, but I think that maybe they would acknowledge that some things were titillating and interesting that are not titillating and interesting to us cuz we're just like not in the zeitgeist,
Leigh Kramer: It's really hard to say because Flame and the Flower still has an over 4.0 rating on good reads and there are still people reading it, coming to it for the first time now who are giving it five stars, which it's hard for me to wrap my mind around because I feel like there are so many issues.
Even if there is some part of them that they can get past, like the rape side of things, like you still have the enslavement on the other side. And so I'm like, I don't know how you could, I don't know how you can handle that. Unless you are like a very particular kind of white person, which is another issue that we still have in Romancelandia.
Like there, there's a lot of sides still.
Andrea Martucci: Leigh, you gotta let people enjoy things. (Leigh laughs) you can't yuck somebody else's yum. You gotta let people enjoy things, and you gotta let people have the right to oppress other people if it feels good for them.
I am, of course, making reference to Plantation Gate, which happened, what, two years ago?
Leigh Kramer: I think, no, I think it was three years at this point. I think it was like the summer of lockdown I think that's why it got so intense. Cause we were all home.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So so case in point there oh, we would never have a hero who owns plantations now in the 2020s, and yet we do, and not isolated to like random little pockets of self-published work, you know?
Leigh Kramer: Major publisher. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Leigh Kramer: I can never remember the actual name. We just call it Colonial Bride.
Andrea Martucci: They changed the title too.
Hannah: Yeah, they did. After all of this. I just really like that first of all, none of us can remember the actual original title because mm-hmm. we call it something different now, but also that at least in certain circles, all you have to say is Plantation Gate, and everybody knows exactly what you're talking about. And colonial and plantation weren't even in the book's title or description or anything.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. But okay. And yeah, that it would be a whole other episode to unpack the racism and Gone With the Wind-ness of this book. But I think you can definitely make the argument that there is a [01:03:00] romanticization romanticism towards the, oh my God. What is it that southerners called like their way of life or I'm thinking of a particular phrase that is escaping me at the moment.
Hannah: Have not been southern long enough,
Andrea Martucci: yeah,
Hannah: Probably don't really have time to get into the racism of this book, which is deep. But I thought about that too. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss growing up, being born, living a good chunk of her life in Louisiana. And one of my very dear friends spent a good chunk of her youth in Louisiana, and she is a well-educated person who we're very much on the same page with a lot of social justice issues.
And I had to read her the articles of succession to prove to her. That the Civil War was fought over the right to have slaves because she had literally grown up in a state and in a system that taught people, no it's state's rights broadly.
Like I, yeah, maybe slavery was in there, but No, it was like, state's rights we're not evil and that was, we were post-graduate school and that was the first time she had even actually read part of the articles of Secession.
And I think about that with lovely Kathleen, that she also was existing at like the height of, the KKK and the, what was the organization with the Daughters of the Confederacy.
And so you see exactly that happening that, oh, like all of the slaves here are so happy except for the people owned by the Evil X. But Brandon's so nice to his "servants" because they're never called slaves. The ones who are enslaved to Brandon
Leigh Kramer: The ones he enslaves.
Hannah: Yeah. Our "servants" who get Christmas presents. And that was, I just screamed that sort of " oh, but there were nice slave owners and not all slaves were unhappy or treated badly. So it's not actually that bad," skating over the whole part about that you're owning other humans and making excuses because you've decided that the color of their skin means something.
Andrea Martucci: Cuz it's bought into the mythology of the culture in which the author was raised in, or the culture of a place or whatever. It's an uncritical acceptance that's the way things are. It's obviously revisionist history, but there's a reason that idea has been promulgated, right?
Because it's very beneficial for certain people to change the narrative about what was going on. And then we have that idea repeated in pop culture which further reinforces it.
Leigh Kramer: That it's also similar to Georgette Heyer and her idea of the Regency. That is what we see in a lot of England Times romance, if [01:06:00] not all of them is based in anti-Semitism and racism and xenophobia. And that's, it is I feel like some people love Georgette Heyer still and have no idea that that's what she's about.
Because a lot of publishers have maybe edited out some of the more problematic passages, and we don't have any context for any of these things. Like publishers are still, like Avon still publishes and releases new additions of The Flame and the Flower and there's no introduction to set the tone or to explain like what readers are about to encounter.
And so this just gets passed along as not just a bodice ripper, but it is a formative book in romance. And we don't ever get to really critically engage with any of it unless you have a romance history project with friends that are willing to really go deep and discuss these things.
But we're just four people we don't work in the industry, so I can write a review and I can hope that my followers will see it, but I don't know what kind of impact we can actually have.
Andrea Martucci: I would speculate that there is not really a hunger for critical engagement and contextualization of these things because it would reveal the issues with the books being written today. In the nineties and early two thousands, westerns were really big Western historical, like American romances were really big.
And I read a lot of them. I collect romance, so I found a lot of these like western romances from the nineties. And without fail, within like the first 10 pages, like I swear to God, like a hundred percent of the time the "hero" is like, "I came out west because they wouldn't let us have state's rights in Louisiana. And I was
Leigh Kramer: a soldier
Andrea Martucci: " and I fought to save my home. And this is the only place I can come to be a man because, the south tried to emasculate me." But there's this whole narrative that is very clearly apologia about the Civil War.
And I think that at some point, I do think that there was a resistance to that, especially, there was a lot of the Native American bullshit books that were published also, like the "sexy savage" quote unquote type books. Where, and it's always like he's he's half white and he's half Native American, and like so many. It was a whole thing.
And I think that like at some point people were like, oh, maybe we shouldn't do that anymore. And then the focus shifted to like Regency England because they didn't have slaves in Regency England.
But you know what they did have? All of those lords for, first of all, they have like house servants who are essentially paid so little. I watched this it must be like some BBC series, but they were basically talking about what it was, basically like class, the class system and like house servants in, oldie Days, England, where basically they were paid so little, basically room and board.
There was like no hope that they could ever save enough money to do anything [01:09:00] else. Because of that they were incredibly deferential and, they weren't allowed to have their own opinions about anything, right? I don't wanna call it slavery, but it's a very exploitative system, right?
If you just wanna ignore that for a second about these regency romances where like all the like, oh, this is like a nice servant. Okay, you're paying them a pittance, like even if you're like super generous.
That's not even getting into, where are all their investments? Probably, like the colonies or the triangle trade. Like any ship captain -Katrina Jackson alerted me to the fact that any, blacksmith would essentially be engaged in the slave trade in some way because, where are they gonna get those shackles from?
Leigh Kramer: Yep.
Andrea Martucci: every single thing. Like not, I don't wanna just say just historical romance, but I think you definitely see this move from oh, let's not write about the heroes on plantations in the American South anymore. Let's go west. Ooh, maybe we shouldn't write these like former Southern Confederate soldiers and, or savage tropes anymore.
Let's go to England. And then we have, I think that there's like more conversation now about like England isn't like blameless in all these things, or exploitation. That's to say nothing about all of England's colonial activities. There's more there.
Where are we gonna go next? Where is the next safe place where we can have our fantasy and not have to deal with the cultural exigencies of the history? It just feels like, let's just keep moving until we don't have to deal with this stuff anymore. And we can still have our like privileged characters.
Leigh Kramer: Just have our fun.
Andrea Martucci: Just have our fun. Yeah.
Hannah: But even that, I'm thinking, a couple of things that I'm thinking about. I have been reading some more KJ Charles recently, and I think her books are the only ones I have read. She has a series that are set in England Times in the Regency, and they,
Andrea Martucci: Thank you. thank you for continuing that.
Hannah: isn't that what everybody calls it? Like when I say England Times, everybody listening knows exactly what I'm referring to.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Hannah: But she has a series and she writes primarily romances in England during times of history when it was very illegal to be gay.
Andrea Martucci: if you were a man
Andrea Martucci: Saphic love wasn't necessarily criminalized because it was just unthinkable that it would happen.
Hannah: There were laws against sodomy guess it was. Which I guess if
Leigh Kramer: it's just gals being pals.
Andrea Martucci: Just Just there weren't enough beds.
Hannah: But one of, one of the things that I have read in KJ Charles's books that I'm not sure I've read in any other England Times romances is all the stuff about sedition laws and the crackdown [01:12:00] on anti-government speech and revolutionary talk and all of these things that could literally get you at least life in prison, if not actually hung as a traitor.
And this was all happening shortly after the American Revolution winning independence. And so then you had all of these people of the working class in as much as I know about this period, because I am certainly not remotely an expert, but you have this period in the early 18 hundreds when all of these working class people who are used to being completely destitute because the Lords and ladies are making all of their money on these exploitative trades.
And now people are saying, Hey, actually that kind of sucks.
Andrea Martucci: and if you complain about being raped, they can just turn you out without a reference letter and, or, even if you don't complain about being raped, do you know what I mean? Like it's, every card is stacked in their favor, right?
Hannah: Exactly. And so the people in power, i e, the Lords and Parliament, put all these laws into place, making it illegal and extremely punishable to say anything against the government that is run by these powerful people, these high class people, depending on your definition of class. But I think it's the only time I have read about those kinds of struggles.
Every single other regency era romance novel that I've read, like maybe there is some discussion around the plight of the working class or the middle class or some acknowledgement of those kinds of inequalities and injustices. But there is very little acknowledgement beyond oh yeah. It wasn't entirely perfect.
Like we still very much have the rose colored glasses on when we do that.
Leigh Kramer: Hey, I wanna say that the Waspish Widows book that Olivia Waite wrote. I feel like that got into it, but that's also a saphic historical romance. I feel like queer romances being more willing to engage with a lot of these issues.
Which is not, that's unsurprising.
Hannah: Yeah. And even Andrea, when you were talking about like where do we move next to keep everything nice? The we that we're talking about are the primarily white cis het women that are writing, reading, consuming romance who maybe aren't ready to reckon with all of this stuff, because there are plenty of other readers who are like I, how many Black readers and authors have I seen who are like, Hey, where is our, like historical romance from Africa?
Where are our fantasy romances with influence from the Caribbean? And those books do absolutely exist because there are writers who are trying to make that happen, but they don't get the attention [01:15:00] that the, white England timesy romances do. And maybe it's gonna have to come around at some point because we're gonna run out of white dominant spaces to write in that are "safe."
Andrea Martucci: Are we gonna run out of settings to colonize with our romantic fantasies?
Hannah: Oh gosh
Andrea Martucci: Is that what you're saying?
Hannah: The, I suppose the appetite of colonialism knows no bounds, but I like to think that maybe at some point we are going to collectively decide, you know what, we can't do this anymore and we're gonna reckon with this and we're gonna deconstruct some things. And
Leigh Kramer: Or else there's just gonna be a splintering and there truly will be like kind of two sides of romance.
There already, it is, maybe there's like more than two sides, but.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I guess I just can't help feeling like, okay, Beverly Jenkins has been writing for a very long time now, and in the time that she has done that, how many Black authors, like even let's just say, have attempted a historical American romance featuring Black people like Alyssa Cole? I think Rebel Carter wrote a few self-published. Alyssa Cole obviously was traditionally published.
Leigh Kramer: Piper Huguley?
Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yep. Piper Huguley.
Okay. So anyways, it's like a very small number of people. Oh, you know what, sorry. Katrina Jackson, although she's not writing super old historicals. She did write a historical from I think the 1970s, which she will be very adamant, is a historical romance.
Although that's probably not gonna ping what most people are thinking of with historical romance.
Very few people. And I think that a lot of people, especially those writers would tell you, I was heavily discouraged from doing this. I was told it wouldn't sell. And then there becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy of either, either lack of publisher support or lack of audience truly for these books.
And I think it is because readers and I would not limit this readership to just cis het white ladies. I think a lot of readers have a real hard limit when it comes to putting their fantasy in a place that is going to confront things that they don't think belong in their fantasy.
Leigh Kramer: Yep. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And and it's all based on these like myths we have of these times.
Not like the reality of these times or not like where a book could take you. I think that the more the place exists as a place of strife for the reader, the less willing they are to be like, oh, I can descend into this fantasy. Oh, I know that the American South had slavery and whatever my identity I'm aware of that.
And that sounds like a place I don't wanna go in my fantasy. Therefore, I'm no longer interested in that as a location, as a setting. No matter how made up the setting is like no matter how disconnected it is from reality.
Leigh Kramer: It's so interesting to contrast that, [01:18:00] to take it back to Colleen Hoover with it Ends With Us, which is about intimate partner violence, and people are eating that book up. So what is it about violence against women that is easier for readers to take than a book that is set in during the Civil War and dealing with the real and focusing on the Black characters, not the white plantation owner or the person fighting for the union?
What is that about? I feel like we still have a lot of internalized misogyny to, to work through.
Andrea Martucci: Think it's verisimilitude, it feels real, like whether it is real or not, it feels real. I mean we don't really know what was happening in the Regency period. Like all of my understanding of the regency comes from Jane Austen adaptations and romance novels. However, if a book keeps giving me that okay, this feels real based on my understanding of the time.
Okay. Then I guess it's not forcing me out of the world by making me being like, that's not how that is.
The reason intimate partner violence doesn't take us out of the world is because I think we all understand that as being part of the world we live in.
And so it feels " oh yeah, that could happen." And so we don't get taken out of the story. So to me it feels like almost the more the world presented aligns with our own understanding of the world, which includes all of the isms and the kyriarchy, the more it becomes a setting for fantasy. Because it's not challenging our worldview at all.
Leigh Kramer: Yeah. Ugh, that's really sad.
And there's so much to discuss. This is such a huge, it's a huge topic and there's so many different avenues to go down.
I do read some Dark romance and so I did find it really interesting to see this as like Flame and the Flower as like the foremother, shall we say.
But what I like about Dark Romance is that it is just honest about what it's about in ways that I think that something like Dreaming of You maybe, which I haven't read, or a Flame and the Flower, or just any of the current books like Tessa Bailey, anything in our genre today that's perpetuating a lot of these really harmful ideas are just not honest about it.
They're just saying I've given you the happy ending, so that means it's all okay.
When it's not, they're not showing like an earned happy ending or it's not an intersectional, inclusive world that they've built. And Dark Romance, it's not all created equal. There's not, I don't read all of it, but it is at least exploring something real. And they're being honest that this is like a toxic messed up relationship. People who read Dark Romance aren't going into it thinking like, yes, this is something I want in my real life, but there is something that is coming out of it [01:21:00] that does light something up inside. I don't know what it is even for myself, but there are times that I'm just in the mood to be like, yeah, I wanna see some people do some really messed up shit and see how the author can actually still make me believe and root for this relationship.
Andrea Martucci: Interesting. Yeah, so it feels more honest to you?
Leigh Kramer: Yeah. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Interesting. I've never thought about it that way.
Leigh Kramer: Whereas I feel like Flame and the Flower was not honest about it. They, Heather calls, calls him out for raping her. And they laugh about it in the end because he was gonna kill some guy if he wasn't already dead, cuz he was gonna rape Heather and no one can rape his wife but him basically.
And so she's kinda oh, what do you deserve because you raped me. And he is like, well, I, I deserve you as my wife. Like, she's why are you the rapist? Okay, but this other guy. Who I think was actually disabled too. So there, that's a whole other issue of the disabled villain trope.
Like why did, was that guy in the wrong but you, Brandon are not, and he never has to learn anything from it. Whereas I think in Dark romance there is this core piece, even if it's just morality chain where the main characters do have to learn like what is okay and what is not okay in their relationship.
Even if it starts from a really fucked up place,
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Interesting. Okay. You've given me food for thought Leigh, I'm gonna think about that. I like it.
Hannah: I think if nothing else, like having read monstrosity books, like The Flame and the Flower and some of these others as it's we all talk a big game about like, we've come so far and the books are so much better now and all this stuff, but we'll all pick something up published this year and be like this is really popular.
And we, like to point the finger at those old books and be like, yeah, they're related, but like we don't talk to racist Aunt Kathleen anymore.
Leigh Kramer: Like how many of those editors are still working now. The call is coming from inside the house.
Andrea Martucci: Yep. Totally agree. Yeah. I don't think romance is any better than it used to be. I think it continues to mostly just be a reflection of the time we live in and it's the water we're swimming in currently, and so it doesn't stand out as being particularly problematic.
We're like, yeah, yep, that's it. That's the world we live in now. Or we're like, yep, it's not racist cuz I don't live in a racist world now, or whatever. That's not true either. But I personally, that's what I feel like the biggest difference is, is that people read The Flame and the Flower and it's not like they didn't know it was rape.
It's not like they didn't clock what was happening. It's more like it didn't stand out to them as being particularly egregious because it was just very much in line. Like it stood out maybe cuz they were like, oh my god, like sex on the page. But like the cultural sludge was their cultural sludge.
We've been talking for a while. Hannah's phone is about to die. Thank you both for, thank you both for coming and talking about this book with me.
I thought this was [01:24:00] a really interesting conversation
Hannah: we could have gone on for four more hours. Honestly. There is,
Andrea Martucci: I think so. What is the book you're reading now or the next book that you're gonna read in the project?
Leigh Kramer: The next book is Janet Dailey. We're getting to contemporary No Quarter Asked. Yep. 1974.
Andrea Martucci: Cool. All right I will be looking for your Good Reads reviews or your Instagram Reel rants. Looking forward to that. Thank you for both, for being here. Hannah, why don't we start with you? Where can people find you on the inter web?
Hannah: I am Hannah Hearts romance on Instagram, and I'm also on Good Reads. I think you can find me under Hannah Hearts romance, but the link is in my Instagram bio, and that is primarily where I am at these days.
Andrea Martucci: Cool. What about you, Leigh?
Leigh Kramer: My website is Leigh kramer.com. That has links to all of the places, but I'm on Instagram at Leigh Kramer and that's l e i g h.
Andrea Martucci: K r a m e r.
Leigh Kramer: Yeah, if you wanna spell the whole thing. Sure.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. Just, just cause
Leigh Kramer: The Leigh is the one that people usually get wrong, so
Andrea Martucci: That's true. Usually when I have to spell my name, I don't spell out Andrea. Just the Martucci. All right. Thanks ladies for being here.
Hannah: Thank you. Thanks.
Andrea Martucci: Hey, thanks for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out Shelflovepodcast.com for transcripts and other resources. If you want regular written updates from Shelf Love, you can increasingly find me over at Substack
Read occasional updates and short essays about romance at shelflovepodcast.Substack.com. Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month Patreon supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, and Frederick Smith. I have a great day. Bye!
Alyssa Cole, Amanda Allen, Amanda Cinelli, Amanda Diehl, Andrea Martucci, Andrew Piper, Angela Toscano, Arielle Zibrak, Ash Dylan, Becky, Bree Hill, Candice Ransom, Carter Sherman, Charish Reid, Christina Fattore, Copper Dog Books, Dani Lacey, Danielle Knafo, Denise Williams, Diana Filar, Dr. Margo Hendricks, EE Ottoman, Emma Barry, Eric Selinger, Erin Leafe, Esme Brett, Fangirl Jeanne, Felicia Grossman, Funmi B., Hannah Hearts Romance, Helena Greer, Hsu Ming Teo, Huike Wen, Jack Harbon, Jayashree Kamble, Jennifer Crusie, Jess, Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Jhen, Jodi McAlister, Jodie Slaughter, Joe Martucci, John Jacobson, Julie Moody-Freeman, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Kate Clayborn, Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, Kelly Reynolds, Kennedy Ryan, Kianna Alexander, Kini Allen, Kit Rocha, Leigh Kramer, Lucy Hargrave, Lucy Score, Lynell, Margarita Guillory, Margo Hendricks, Maria DeBlassie, Megan Erickson, Mia Sosa, Nicola Welsh Burke, Nicole Falls, Norma Perez-Hernandez, Penny Reid, Philippa Borland, Rebecca Romney, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Reformed Rakes, Renee Dahlia, Rosie Danan, Ruby Lang, Sandra Kitt, Scarlett Peckham, Sionna Fox, Sri Savita, Steve Ammidown, Suzanne Jefferies, Talia Hibbert, Tamara Lush, Tasha L. Harrison, The Swoonies, Tif Marcelo, Tina Benigno, Whoa!mance, Whoamance, antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fairy tales, fanfiction, fangirl jeanne, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematization, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, paranormal romance, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult
antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fanfiction, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult