Sexuality is a very perverse thing, and frankly (in case none of you noticed) it doesn’t tend to be all that pc. Just look at the 1970’s label bodice-ripper, which the media still plasters onto many a romance featuring a man and a woman. The connotations are unpleasant — a man ripping off a woman’s clothing, forcing her intimacy, even raping her. Along with the secondary implication that she likes it. Ug.
But now let’s look at that scenario from the point of view of the libido. You show me the woman who hasn’t had a pirate fantasy one time or another. Or a Hollywood fantasy. If <name your gorgeous male actor here> found himself riveted with lust in your company, wouldn’t you (in your imagination) allow him to pop a button or two? The truth is that sensuality and political correctness are not always in tune.
So where does that leave the modern romance novelist—the one who isn’t writing bodice-rippers, and would never want to write a rape scene, no matter how much the heroine apparently enjoyed it? With a delicate balancing act, that’s where. With a challenge.
Madeline Hunter is a novelist who has taken up this challenge with relish. Secrets of Surrender opens with one of my personally favorite, utterly-un-pc plot twists: an auction in which the heroine is going to the highest bidder. An auction! It’s got all the same connotations as the bodice-ripper: the heroine obviously isn’t choosing her partner; equally obviously, they’re going to have sex; and furthermore, she’s going to enjoy it. So…you might ask… how does Madeline Hunter succeed with that plot while not curdling our feminist stomachs?
Brilliantly! Roselyn Longworth finds herself in a room full of courtesans, about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder (and Hunter doesn’t mince words: it was Roselyn’s own stupidity that got her in this situation). She’s rescued by Kyle Bradwell, a man who just happened to stroll into the room. A man who isn’t of her class, and doesn’t know all her secrets. A man who has plenty of secrets of his own. Plus, he’s not a gentleman. So, obviously…he’ll take what he just dearly paid for.
Or not. Hunter creates a couple who are delicate with each other and intelligent in the face of challenges. At the same time, she allows us the fantasy, so that when they do fall into bed together, while there’s no forced intimacy, Roselyn throws off her inhabitations in the way that the auction fantasy demands:
She lost control of every part of herself except the small consciousness that demanded more, anything, everything.
His voice, quiet and deep. “Surrender to it. You will see what I mean. Let it happen. Choose it.”
There’s the modern bodice-ripper/auction retooled for our sensibility: we choose the surrender, and it’s none the less delicious for that.