Flashback Friday: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Friday is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

My rules — since I’m making this up:

  1. Has to be something I’ve (you’ve) read myself (yourself) — oh, you know what I mean!
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

(published 1972)

Last week, my Flashback Friday pick was one of the first feminist novels I’d ever read. So is it weird that this week’s pick is my very first romance novel? I first read The Flame and the Flower in my early-ish teens, and never realized how revolutionary this book was until I took a women’s studies course in college that focused on women as readers… and The Flame and the Flower was on the syllabus! My professor had published a book entitled Reading the Romance, and her field of expertise was studying what the books women read reveal about their lives. Fascinating stuff.

Of course, some part of me never got past the dreamy-eyed teen stage with this book; even knowing that it was perpetuating all the awful gender roles typical in a romance novel — dashing sea captain, innocent girl swept up in a grand romance after being coerced into the relationship, a vengeful ex-lover to complicate matters, and utimately, the heroine taming the untameable captain’s heart — I always did have a soft spot for this sweeping, romantic tale.

So what’s it all about?

From Amazon:

The Flower:

Doomed to a life of unending toil, Heather Simmons fears for her innocence—until a shocking, desperate act forces her to flee. . . and to seek refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

The Flame:

A lusty adventurer married to the sea, Captain Brandon Birmingham courts scorn and peril when he abducts the beautiful fugitive from the tumultuous London dockside. But no power on Earth can compel him to relinquish his exquisite prize. For he is determined to make the sapphire-eyed lovely his woman. . .and to carry her off to far, uncharted realms of sensuous, passionate love.

Until today, I hadn’t realized that The Flame and the Flower was considered a major turning point in publishing history. According to Wikipedia:

The first romance novel to detail physical intimacy between the protagonists, the book revolutionized the historical romance genre. It was also the first full-length romance novel to be published first in paperback rather than hardback.

And again from Amazon:

The success of this novel prompted a new style of writing romance, concentrating primarily on historical fiction tracking the monogamous relationship between a helpless heroine and the hero who rescued her, even if he had been the one to place her in danger. The romance novels which followed in her example featured longer plots, more controversial situations and characters, and more intimate and steamy sex scenes.

Listen, I’m sure if I re-read The Flame and the Flower today, I’d spend about half the time rolling my eyes, and I would never, ever swoon over Brandon Birmingham… now that I’m a full-grown adult. Still, this book was my first encounter with passionate adult relationships in fiction — even if the relationship in this book is highly idealized, unrealistic, and not at all PC. No, I never wanted to run off with a dashing sea captain… but I have retained a fondness for brave, strong heroes in my historical fiction reading, and perhaps I have Kathleen Woodiwiss to thank for the early introduction.

So, yeah, if you want to see where today’s massively successful romance novel industry has its roots, The Flame and the Flower is not a bad place to start. Bring your smelling salts. Swoons happen.

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: This is my baby-steps attempt at a blog hop! Join in, post a Friday Flashback on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Let’s get this party started!

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