Meanwhile, other publishers were piling on; seemingly every company decided to launch its own category line. Dell had Candlelight Ecstasy, whose covers alone are enough to tell you these were sexier, more explicit reads. Berkley launched Second Chance at Love.
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Bantam had Circle of Love, which, judging by the ads, were sweet enough to make your teeth hurt. Fawcett made a crack at the model with historicals sold as Coventry Romance. You get a category romance line! And you get a category romance line! Everybody gets a category romance line!
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The fight was vicious but brief. In , Harlequin purchased Silhouette. By the late '80s, several competitors had folded RIP, Candlelight Ecstasy, your covers were too fine for this world. In , president David Galloway was back to trumpeting the company's 75 to 80 percent "series" romance market share to the Financial Post.
The "romance wars" of the '80s this is a real term adopted by the business press to describe the bitter industry brawl, it is not my coinage fragmented the market into a million bosomy pieces.
Silhouette, now a Harlequin subsidiary, still retained substantial independence. Bantam's Loveswept had survived the reckoning, as did Zebra. Avon had emerged as a major single-title publisher and exerted increasing influence over the genre. With so much more competition, things got interesting again. For one thing, the Americans had stormed the gates, and they wanted to experiment with new characters and plots and settings and dynamics.
Nora Roberts, talking to Para-Doxa :. When Silhouette opened in , looking specifically for new American writers to tip at the Harlequin format a bit, it opened a new era for romance and offered an entire generation of writers a chance….
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This is the primary reason, I believe, that category romance, and the entire romance market, has grown and evolved over the years. The American market was poised for the change, for stronger heroines, less domineering heroes, for more contemporary themes. For myself, and many of the writers who started during the early 80s, we were readers of the genre first.
We knew what we wanted to read. So we wrote what appealed to us. And it worked. As Roberts describes, this maligned corner of the business—so often treated as the same book over and over and over—turned into a laboratory for innovation. So you could put in a book that was a little wacky and see if it worked. Categories also became the place where many big names got their start. Women like Roberts, Dailey, Linda Howard, Sandra Brown and Elizabeth Lowell, who'd go onto tremendous success, launched their careers in categories, in the midst of the change prompted by the romance wars; later writers like Lori Foster and Jennifer Crusie would follow the same path.
Another development in this period: Harlequins weren't so chaste anymore. The world had changed since Mary Bonnycastle was handpicking doctor-nurse romances. Peyton Place was published in ; Woodstock happened in ; Deep Throat hit theaters in Other romance publishers were getting raunchy, too, and this is where the "bodice ripper" comes in. Though I hate this snotty term, it's useful as a way to point to a different strain within the romance genre—a type of book totally distinct from Harlequins.
The term sprang from the sweeping, sexed-up historical romances of the mid-to-late s, a boom that kicked off when Avon editor Nancy Coffey fished Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower out of the slush pile.
These books were the farthest thing from innocent, chock full of bedroom scenes. Honestly, I find some of them tougher going than the syrupy doctor-nurse romances of the s, because they traffic heavily in "forced seduction. But they featured a feistier brand of heroine, they were more overt and, increasingly, explicitly tied sexual pleasure to the happily-ever-after. Take this passage from Woodiwiss's The Wolf and the Dove , published in , which follows the post-Conquest travails of dispossessed Saxon Aislinn and conquering Norman Wulfgar the very first romance I ever read :.
Her heart trembled under his demanding passion. It touched a quickness deep within her, a glowing spark that grew and grew until it seemed to shower her with burning embers. A thousand suns burst within her and spread their surging heat in ever flooding tides to the very limits of her senses. With a gasp she rose against him, her eyes widening and staring in amazement into the gray ones bent upon her.
Purple as hell, sure, but unmistakably an orgasm. Did I mention at one point the hero chains the heroine at the foot of his bed, where she sleeps in a pile of pelts?
The result was ultimately more empowered heroines and more frank, unembarrassed sexuality. Unfortunately, within Harlequins—at least at first—this more liberated sexuality was less often claimed freely by the heroine than taken forcibly by "heroes" who sometimes read today like simulacra crafted from used condoms and wadded-up guitar tabs for "Blurred Lines.
They didn't necessarily go over so well at the time, either.
In Reading the Romance , published in and one of the better-known academic texts on the genre, one of the interviewees complains: "I get tired of it if they [the heroes] keep grabbing and using sex as a weapon for domination because they want to win a struggle of the wills. I'm tending to get quite a few of these in Harlequins and I think they're terrible.
But the long history of Harlequin does a lot to explain why "no no no OK actually yes" became such a popular trope. It's very easy to forget how hard women had to fight over the course of the twentieth century to feel they had a right to sexual pleasure. And so, while romance is often treated as a static genre, I prefer to think of it as a sprawling, decades-long intergenerational discussion sometimes polite, sometimes a bare-knuckle brawl among women about what constitutes love, how one finds a partner that's worth putting up with the occasional tantrums and dirty socks. Scenes that disturb the modern reader nevertheless paved the way for the more sex-positive genre we enjoy today.
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There are also critics who put the dynamic into context. Dixon, for instance, argues that:. This dovetails nicely with romance novelist Sarah MacLean's feminist theory of romance as a broader genre. Which provides another way to read the novels of the 70s and 80s as products of their time: "You're in the heroine's head, even though it's third person, and the hero is closed off to her. She has to break him open, like he's a world she can't be a part of," said MacLean. They unlock the 'female' part of him," and "when she's doing that, she's imbuing the hero with femininity. She's saying, it's OK for you to love.
It's OK for you to care. Starting around , Harlequins suddenly look a lot more modern. Heroines have careers and ambitions and personalities. They're older, and even the young women no longer seem quite so wet-behind-the-ears, so helpless. Maybe the hero's still ultimately forgiven for being a dick, but the text is likely more self-aware about the fact that he's being a dick.
While you'll still find Alphamen roaming free in the romance aisle generally and the Harlequin display specifically, outright brutishness increasingly had to be curbed or explained more convincingly or capped off with a really good grovel—or all three. You get the sense that bad behavior is deployed in the service of eventual emotional catharsis, rather than excused. With the company occupying a plum position in the marketplace, Harlequin's array of offerings multiplied at a dizzying rate in the late 80s and into the 90s.
Lines divided and subdivided. Within various lines like SuperRomance and Silhouette Intimate Moments, they began carving out thematic series, denoting what was inside with stickers like "Count on a Cop" or "Hope Springs. There was the great romantic suspense craze, which survives in the form of Harlequin Intrigue, and then the paranormal boom, which inspired the creation of Harlequin Nocturne. That wild diversification was enabled, in part, by the advent of computers.
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You're not going to spring butt sex on somebody who's been reading Harlequin Presents since ; that requires the creation of a new line. But if readers wanted more mystery, or more babies, or more vampires, well—coming right up. And I'd say, well, the trends come from you guys," said Macro. Today the company's offerings are so diverse it's well-nigh impossible to generalize. When I called Regis, one of the first things out of her mouth was a warning that, "Almost any statement you make is going to have to be qualified.
You like it hot! Harlequin Blaze stories sizzle with strong heroines and irresistible heroes playing the game of modern love and lust. They're fun, sexy and always steamy. Harlequin Kimani Romance stories feature sophisticated, soulful and sensual African-American and multicultural heroes and heroines who develop fulfilling relationships as they lead lives full of drama, glamour and passion. Harlequin Medical Romances are stories about dedicated and delectable professionals who navigate the high stakes of falling in love in the pressured world of medicine.