I started reading romance novels in high school, but I wasn’t the card carrying bodice ripper buyer I am now; I had strict guidelines for what a book could look like, in the absolutely vain hope that nobody would catch on to what I was reading. There could be no suggestive glances, intertwined limbs, or loosened clothing on the cover or on the binding, a rule that restricted my reading in no little measure.
Gradually, I decided that this cloak-and-dagger business was no longer worth it – partially because I had since infected both my mother and sister with these books.
The book I have just finished, Suzanne Enoch’s After the Kiss, is a clear departure from my earlier squeamishness. I’ll read books like this in public – even while eating alone, which really is the ultimate test.
This particular story features an illegitimate son of an earl (the hero) and the uppity young miss (the heroine) who hires him to train her horse. Naturally, she has an immense fear of horses (because of an extremely terrible childhood accident, which gets the most casual of explanations), but she goes to such lengths because she met the hero while he was robbing her house in the dead of night. Naturally, they can’t keep their hands off of one another, and the emotion swells when she visits him in prison and he gets stoic. (Fat lot of good it does her, as she’s already been ‘ruined’ by his amorous affections.) He gets out on a technicality, recuses to the countryside, pledges chastity for the rest of his life (hah!), and is eventually brought round to marriage.
The best part of the book is that nobody gets pregnant.
On the one hand, I have come to reconcile my love for the genre with the lurid cover art, but on the other, I have never liked the alarming propensity for the female protagonists to be in the family way before the book is over. Many of the people I have spoken to about romance novels – particularly women my age – are disturbed by this trend, because we don’t necessarily want to have babies straightway, as early as eighteen years old. I don’t think anyone knows who they are at that age – all the more reason NOT to have kids. This is compounded by the stunning mortality rates for both mother and child in that time period; at the time of the American Revolution, one in five women died in childbirth, and I can only imagine that the rates were similar in England. I’d rather not condemn a woman – even if she be purely fictional – to those kinds of risks in the sort of book that defines escapism.
All in all, the book was exactly what it said it would be; it fixated on the uncommon color of the hero’s eyes (“ice-green”), showed the spunk of the heroine, and delivered on the honesty of the cover.