Bodice ripper novels can take place at any time other than the contemporary. This could be the 1950s, early 1800s, 1650s, or any other interesting time period that the writer chooses. Authors commonly set “bodice rippers” outside their own countries and places of interest that they believe will inspire readers to learn more. The protagonist is usually a woman, and the novels usually detail her heterosexual relationship with a more dominant male figure.
The term bodice ripper was first printed in 1978 in The Chicago Times. Sometimes, they are known as “hot historicals,” “romantic historical fiction,” and “erotic historical fiction.”
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Bodice Ripper Definition
A bodice ripper is a genre of erotic fiction. These novels take place in the past, in any setting, and usually focus on heterosexual relationships. These relationships usually consist of a submissive female and a more dominant male.
The term “bodice ripper” comes from the outwardly and unabashedly erotic nature of these novels and their historic setting. (A bodice is a piece of clothing worn by women. It was common in the 16th-18th centuries.)
Bodice Ripper Books
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Outlander series is the most famous example of bodice ripper novels. These books include well-researched historical settings, romance, sex, and even time travel. Here is a quote:
You are safe,” he said firmly. “You have my name and my family, my clan, and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. The man willna lay hands on ye again, while I live.
The novel follows Claire, a woman who accidentally falls through time (via standing stones) into the past, where she meets Jamie Fraser, a highland warrior. The two initially butt heads before falling in love and continuing their relationship over many intense novels.
Simply Sexual by Kate Pearce
Simply Sexual is an erotic novel that follows two characters, Lord Valentin Sokorvsky, a previous sex slave at a Turkish brothel, and Sara Harrison, a young woman to who he turns his attention as he seeks out a wife.
Their Guilty Pleasures by June Tate
Their Guilty Pleasures by June Tate is another example of a bodice ripper or an erotic historical fiction novel. It takes place in the 1940s. The main characters are three women, Jenny, Sarah, and Rusty. The latter is a prostitute. She falls in love with an American captain and hides her occupation from him, fearing what he’ll think of her. Sarah is a teenager who falls in love with a German prisoner of war, and Jenny is a previously oppressed housewife who joins the military. The back of the book states, “If you follow your heart, there is always a price to pay.”
Come the Morning by Heather Graham
Come the Morning is the first book in Graham’s The Graham Clan series. It introduces the reader to the Scottish family and their history and brings in Lady Mellyora MacAdin of Blue Isle.
Ask For It by Sylvia Day
Sylvia Day is one of the most important writers in the erotic historical fiction and romance genre. Several of her novels have been number one bestsellers, and her Ask For It is one of her most popular. The novel begins with two main characters, Marcus and Elizabeth. After getting engaged, Elizabeth left Marcus for another man. But, he still lusts for her, and she eventually returns to confront her fears. Here is a quote:
He’d once hoped to satisfy his need and finally be done with her. Now he prayed his aching need would never end, the pleasure was too great to forfeit.
Ask For It is part of Sylvia Day’s Georgian Series.
Authors write bodice rippers because they are entertaining and interesting. They allow two different genres that many readers enjoy to come together. That being, erotic fiction, and historical fiction. While many of these novels are categorized as “Chick lit” (a derogatory term), they are often very well researched and feature complex and interesting characters.
A romantic and sexual relationship between two people is the main feature of a bodice ripper novel. Second to this is the historical setting. These novels always take place in the past, in a country, and the time period that readers should find interesting. Often, the female main character dislikes her male partner at the beginning of the novel. It may take multiple chapters, and even the bulk of the novel, for the two to get together.
The term “bodice ripper” is usually used as a derogatory category. Due to the popularity of the Outlander series, many readers are against categorizing it in this way. But, there are many similarities when looking at Outlander’s characteristics and the characteristics of well-established bodice ripper novels.
Yes, romance novels can be feminist. But, many of them often fall outside this categorization. Many romance and erotic novels are dependent on a more submissive female partner who is inclined to follow the male’s lead and even go so far as to do whatever he says without regard to her own future or interests.
Related Literary Terms
- Historical Fiction: a genre that fictionalizes real places, people, and events. It takes place in the past with accurate historical details in regard to customs, technologies, people, and events.
- Chivalric Romance: a genre of literature and culture popular during the Medieval and Early Modern periods in Europe from the 12th century.
- Romance: a narrative genre of literature. It can feature elements that include mystery, adventure, bravery, and more.
- Chick Lit: a genre of literature that focuses on female protagonists. These stories are usually targeted at younger women and are described as “popular fiction.”
- Experimentalism: one part of modernism and postmodernist literature. Writers take risks, try strange new techniques, and attempt to create something that’s never been seen before.
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.