Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

The Flame and the Flower (1972) (Avon Books)
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Grade: B-
Genre: historical romance
Sex scenes: mild
Source: own
Birmingham Family Saga: (1) The Flame and the Flower
Romance RBC 2014: A book published in the 1970s 

Overworked and mistreated at the hands of her cruel aunt, young and innocent Heather Simmons has no one else to turn to. When she’s given the chance at a new life at a finishing school in London, Heather jumps at the chance. Arranged by her Uncle William, what she doesn’t immediately realise is what William is asking for in return. Fearing for her life, Heather commits a shocking act in a moment of desperation, fleeing from the scene of the crime with absolutely no idea what she’ll do next … straight into the arms of a handsome and dangerous stranger …

Captain Brandon Birmingham wants Heather from the moment he sets eyes on her. Abducting Heather from the docks, he takes his initially unwilling prisoner away from her dismal life in England for a new life in America. A wealthy plantation owner besides a successful sea captain, Brandon is set on seeing Heather become part of his life for good – regardless of what his family thinks.

This is another of those romances novels generally regarded as a ‘classic’. Originally written and published in the 1970s, it’s also one of those romances – romances that depict a certain type of hero and heroine and relationship that we’ve moved a long way from. Heather is the ultimate virginal protagonist: tricked and deceived by the promise of a better life, expected to trade in her virginity for a life of luxury, and then eventually captured and raped by Brandon, our virile alpha hero who takes one look at the heroine and has to have her. This is the stuff that the very contempt and derision of the romance genre was born from – yet I found this to be such a guilty pleasure read.

Heather and Brandon fight a lot. It took a while for Heather to stand up to Brandon and get over her fear of her crimes being revealed, but it was great when she got there. Heather has lived under the thumb of her cruel and controlling aunt for the past two years, forced to wear rags that are five times too big and denied basic dignity. Breaking free of the negative mind-set was difficult and the biggest step in helping Heather to adapt to her new life. Brandon gives her confidence in her ability to become her own person and you can really see the changes in Heather as the book progresses.

Read this at your peril. If rape in romance novels isn’t your thing, then steer clear. Sure, it’s only relevant in the first portion of the book, but it’s not easy to forget that Heather and Brandon’s relationship began in such an ugly way. I consider his actions more-or-less redeemed, but that has to be a matter of personal opinion. The book dragged on at times but I enjoyed the secondary characters, in particular, Jeff, who has a romance of his own in two short stories. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’ll read more Kathleen Woodiwiss in the future, however much her books are regarded as classics. I know her writing is simply a product of the time period she was writing in, but I can’t condone rape, even in fiction. For the immediate future at least, I’ll be following my own advice and steering clear.

Image courtesy of Book Depository

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