Adultery in a Romance Novel? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Some time ago I wrote an erotic historical novella where the plot went something like this: wide-eyed heroine is forced into an arranged marriage to afford her opportunities she’d otherwise never have. Heroine is determined to love her husband, but he’s a scum-sucking cruel SOB who physically abuses her. One night, after they’d been married a couple of years, he comes home drunk and tries to rape her. Wide-eyed heroine has had enough. She fights off the bastard, escapes into the night and moves far away. Four years later, our heroine has re-invented herself into a chic, savvy, cosmopolitan gal who enjoys physical love with dashing men of her choice but guards her heart against the emotional stuff. Naturally, this being a romance novel, the heroine does meet someone with whom she falls in love. She’ll need to confront the hellish SOB husband to demand a divorce (rare, but could happen – I did my research) so she can finally realize her happily ever after.
I pitched the novella around and received really positive feedback: editors liked the writing, the setting, the characters, the heat. There was just one teeny little problem – the heroine was still married. Well, yeah, she was. But how about the fact that it was an arranged marriage and her husband was an abusive bastard who tried to rape her? Who routinely abused her both physically and emotionally? Wouldn’t readers applaud her daring escape and subsequent transformation into an independent, passionate woman who makes her own choices in a male-driven world? They probably would, editors agreed. But then they’d bash you for the fact that she’s still married. Really? Even today? Yep, even today. So back to the drawing board I went.
I revised the story so that cruel SOB husband gets killed. Heroine still needs to escape and transform herself because the now-deceased husband’s horrendous brother is out for revenge and it’s the heroine’s pretty neck he wants swinging from a noose. So now she’s a widow instead of an adulteress and all’s well. My wonderful publisher, The Wild Rose Press, gave me a contract for it and it’s in edits as we speak. Release date tbd, but the title is Desire Rising.
I’m thrilled – of course – but the experience made me go, hmmmm. Am I cool with extramarital sex? As a rule, no. But my novella is in a historical setting, and although getting a divorce at the time wasn’t impossible, it was really really difficult. My heroine couldn’t just hop on the internet, download divorce forms, and start filling out papers like women in many part of the world can today. She was, for all practical purposes, condemned to a life of love-less, passionless misery. Can’t we see beyond the aspect of her technically being still married and cheer her brave spirit? Apparently not.
We’re celebrating this week the historical romance novel in all its glory, and this is something I can happily get behind. When I first started reading romance novels it was to the historicals I went, devouring like candy the works of Johanna Lindsey, Bertrice Small, Jude Devereaux, Virginia Henley and on and on and on. And, to no surprise, that’s what I started writing. My first two published works were historical and I’m really excited to have Desire Rising on deck. But I do ponder how far we’ve truly come if readers would still today sit in judgment of a woman who decides her hellish existence isn’t OK and decides to do something about it. I also have to wonder: would that same condemnation be directed toward a man?
Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them all. Speak your mind and follow us at Lady Smut, where we always speak our minds and condemn no one for doing the same.