Book Review

Purity’s Passion by Janette Seymour, a Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl


Title: Purity's Passion
Author: Janette Seymour
Publication Info: Pocket 1977
ISBN: 978-0671810368
Genre: Historical: European

imageWell.  That was…unpleasant.

I’m done with the 1970s-early 1980s OG Old School.  That was one of the most unpleasant reading experiences I’ve ever had, and I read The Phantom of Manhattan.  I finished it because I was kind of interested in where this story would end (and how much shit can be heaped upon the head of the heroine), and I have a finely developed case of trainwreck syndrome.  (Also, my copy didn’t stink, so that helped.)

I’m having a really hard time coming up with a Letter Grade, because I’ve read worse, and I’ve read better. I had a more entertaining time reading Passion’s Bold Fire than this, but Purity’s Passion wasn’t badly written, not by a long shot. I just hated reading it.  But it doesn’t deserve an F.  I’m going to call it a qualified C-.

The heroine is Purity, whose beauty and fine young body drive men wild.  She is born in France on the eve of the French revolution, the daughter of the bailiff on the estate of the Marquis de Fayelle. When she is about 8 or so, the French Revolution shows up on the doorstep and kills almost everyone in the chateau.  Purity witnesses all of it.

And it’s pretty clear what kind of a book this is when a woman begs for the life of her lover, and in exchange, goes to the bed of the riot leader, and finds herself orgasmically enjoying the rape.

It’s pretty awful. 

So Purity is rescued from a life of poverty in France by Mark Landless (you can tell he’s the hero because the cover copy says he’s the hero)  (Also he has a scar on his face that does not mar his hotness), and brought to Bath where he is her guardian.  The reason Mark comes for her is because the Marquise was his cousin, and Purity’s father tried to help the Marquise escape from the evil Marquis, and Mark swore to take care of the bailiff’s family, or something.  He did a bang up job, considering the bailiff and his wife were murdered by the French Revolution.  If you think this makes no goddamn sense, you would be right.

Anyway, in the course of the next 8 years or so, Purity falls in Girlish Infatuation with Mark, and makes him the Ugliest Tea Cozy In The World, which he tosses into the fireplace (not realizing she made it) and she is packed off to an upper class, ladies boarding school.  In her dorm, the other girls have found porn, and, as happens in all these stories, start experimenting in all ways that they can without losing their all-important virginity.  They make a pact to tell each other everything about their sexual exploits.

In the course of all of this, Purity meets Freddy, a wastrel younger son who thinks she’s very pretty.  At one point, to discourage his attentions, she shoves him in a fountain.

The lead Mean Girl, Phillida, hauls up the mentally deficient son of the gardener to experiment with, and when he is in bed with one of the girls, he rapes her and she eventually kills herself due to her loss of virtue.  Purity is disgusted by all of this, and refusing to tell them about Freddy, so for her punishment, she is tied to her bed hand and foot.  The Mean Girl tells her she is going to let the gardener’s son have his way with her.


One of the other girls knocks over a candle and unties Purity, she runs home to Mark, to find him in the process of screwing a maid, and she flies into a rage and goes to Freddy’s house, where she tells him she will marry him, and they go to bed.  Mark is like, “Hey ’grats on the wedding, see you there.” After the wedding (where he is cold and indifferent) he goes off with the Army to go fight Napoleon.

And on the wedding night she discovers that Freddy is a sadistic rapist who beats her and ravishes her every night, he’s in serious debt and only married her to make his rich great-aunt happy so the rich great aunt wouldn’t disinherit him.  At some point, she runs into this 18-year-old soldier who was about to leave for a rendezvous with fate at Trafalgar, so she very generously has sex with him so he need not die a virgin.

Her coachman saw all of this go down, and blackmails Purity into screwing him many many times to keep him from telling her evil husband.  Purity falls pregnant, and doesn’t know who the father is- it might be the young soldier or it might be the coachman- but it’s definitely not her husband.  The coachman takes her to a midwife who gives her an abortificant, and in the process the coachman gets killed by a Plot Mob.

Purity doesn’t take the abortificant, and the rich great aunt realizes she is pregnant and is so thrilled she confirms Freddy as her heir.  Freddy is fine with the fact that he’s not the father, until his cousins overhear Purity telling him that she doesn’t know who the father is, they promptly go tell the great aunt, and Freddy beats the shit out of Purity, rapes her (again), and she loses the baby and….he dies, somehow.

He owes a crap ton of money to everyone in the world, so she’s left with nothing, so she heads off to go find a job, because going home to Mark and his slutty screwing of the maids is not acceptable.  This does not work well, since she went to a ladies finishing school and knows NOTHING about ANYTHING.  She gets picked up by a woman who offers her a “position” as a “ladies maid” to a “family” but really it’s a position “on her back” as a “high-class whore” to “men who can afford the fee.”  Purity runs out of the house, nekkid, and is picked up by Alastair Monmouth, who does “stuff” but is also pretty clearly a hypnotist.  He hypnotizes her into taking a bunch of men to her bed.  She knows that she did all these things, but had no control over herself when doing them.  The men, I mean.

The shit hits the fan when Mean Girl from boarding school shows up at the same time as Mark (who showed up because Hypnotist is a war criminal) and Mean Girl throws all this crap in Purity’s face- hypnotist was using her as part of the payment to get these men to do things to further his Evil War Criminal Agenda.  Mark is completely enraged that Purity would fuck men at Monmouth’s command and rapes her as she’s shrieking “Don’t rape me, Mark!  Please don’t rape me!”

We’re at the midpoint of the book, and let us tot it up:  Purity has had consensual sex twice, been raped by six men (two of them multiple times), and nearly raped by a seventh.

So she runs away from Monmouth and finds a Gypsy man that she knew in her previous term of homelessness, and he nearly dies in a prizefight, and while he is in recovery, they trek to Wales and become lovers. After a year or so, the Gypsy leaves her, and she goes back to Mark’s house in Bath with the intent of confronting him. And saying that she now knows what she had for him was just Girlish Infatuation, but now that he’s raped her and she went off on a Gypsy hermitage for a year, she’s forgiven him and loves him.  And if he’s still angry with her for all the things that weren’t really her fault, that’s fine, she’ll leave.  Mark has resigned from the Army and spent the past year looking for her, because he realized that Raping The Woman You Love Is Bad.

Oh, well, then.  Good for him.

Turns out, Purity is not the daughter of the bailiff at the chateau in France, she was the daughter of the Marquise and some dandy at Versailles, and was smuggled out to be raised by the bailiff and his wife.  And the Marquise was the childhood sweetheart of Mark, who fell in love with her daughter (That’s Purity), and was angry at the Marquise because he never got to have sex with her, so he took it out on Purity.

As long as he can identify his anger, or something.

So they get married, he rejoins the Army to defeat Napoleon once and for all, and she follows him to the Iberian Peninsula.  Where who should show up while Mark is away killing Frenchies but Monmouth, who tells Purity that he has proof that Mark let him get out of the country ahead of a charge of High Treason, because of her, thus committing high treason himself, and in order to get possession of that evidence (a letter), she must allow him to fuck her in her marriage bed.

So she does, many times (because he can set a world record for turnaround time).  And then in the morning, he tells her that Mark wouldn’t be so stupid has to put that kind of offer in writing, Monmouth just wanted to fuck her while she was in her full possession of her senses.  And then Monmouth leaves and Mark comes home and it’s all good, except for this whole shame thing she’s got going on, and Monmouth shows up as the guest of honor at a dinner party they were invited to.  Monmouth tells Mark EVERYTHING, all the depraved stuff he got Purity to do, Mark kills Monmouth in a duel and Purity is like “well fuck this noise” and goes back to the Chateau where she grew up and whips all the peasants into shape.

Mark goes on to Waterloo, where he finds a bunch of French POWs that are also Purity’s Peasants, and finds her and they run into each other’s arms and… curtain.

Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack here.  And I really can’t separate the fact that I am a woman in 2010 reading this, with the benefits provided to me by second and third wave feminism, the fact that I live with an activist whose primary goals are ending rape and promoting healthy sexuality (I’ve learned a lot from her), and just the changes in perceptions of women’s sexuality that has happened in the 30 years since this book has been written.  In addition to all of that, there has been several sea changes in the romance genre since the 1970s.  I can’t look at this book in the context in which it was written; because that’s not the context I read it in.

This is about as subjective as you can get.  I admit that.

First and foremost is all the rape.  ALL THE RAPE.  Seven rapists (three may not have know she was not consenting to sex with them, but we’re looking at her POV), including the hero.  Six near-rapes I can think of.  Four partners consensually, two of which raped her before or after she consented.  It’s seriously fucked up.

And even when she is having consensual sex, the author talks about the men “taking her.”  As if she’s not really active in the sex.  Even in the case of the Gypsy dude, where he’s broken and battered and “not yet a real man” she goes to him and offers herself for him to take.  The lesson here is passivity in all encounters.

(I am SO SO glad I was reading Zoe Archer’s Scoundrel on my iPod during my commute to school while reading this book at bedtime.  Archer knows how to write a heroine that knows what she wants from sex and life and is an active participant in both.  Sometimes even the instigator.  Thank you, Zoe, you may have saved my sanity.)

We have several tropes of female sexuality here, and they are all disturbing.  First, there’s Purity herself, who is only allowed to be a passive recipient. She’s cursed with having this body that drives men wild (says so on the cover copy) and the only man that could bring her to orgasm (I think… if I’m reading the 70s euphemisms right) was Mark, until Monmouth comes along (and comes, and comes, and comes- shortest turnaround time known to man, for real) and he deliberately brings her to orgasm several times because that’s the revenge on Mark that he wanted. (Instead of flinging herself off a mountain, she’s flinging herself into a pit of perfect despair.  I don’t even know.)

The second trope is “those women who embrace their sexuality are evil whores” and we see this is Mean Girl Phillida.  She was the one who organized the whole “let’s experiment with the porn!” thing, and she’s presented as mean, conniving, evil, and without morals- she’ll screw anything that moves.  She told Purity that she fucked Mark just to make Purity upset.  She told Mark about Monmouth being Purity’s pimp and being a war criminal, and gets killed but Monmouth’s men on the way (and tries to fuck her way out of it, and fails).

The other girls from boarding school we run into both die as a result of sex- one I previously mentioned killed herself because she couldn’t prove her virginity to prospective in-laws, and the other becomes a low-class whore Purity runs into while with the Army in Portugal, and dies of the pox.

Purity’s own mother is said to have Purity’s same problem- her body just drives men crazy and they can’t help but fuck her, but Purity’s mother didn’t have the same strength of character or whatever that Purity has.  I really don’t know what that means, except maybe Purity refusing to “give her heart” to any man but Mark is strength of character?  I mean, her other options were to give heart to one of her many rapists, so….

Oh, wait.

I know this seems kind of disingenuous, since I liked Magnus from Season of the Sun (to an extent), yet I want Mark dead.  But I do.  I hated all the men in this book.  I feel bad for Purity because her author give her nothing- not a backbone, not a personality, not a talent, not a scrap of luck, nothing.  Hot guy with scar doesn’t make all this better.

Here’s another thing, and I don’t know if it’s a OG Old School issue, or just a result of my small sample size, but there’s no flesh to the character of Mark at ALL.  He’s this guy who stalks in an out of the story with a stony expression, and sometimes Purity thinks wistfully about him (or gets mad at him for screwing the maids.  In fact, she’s more mad at him for screwing the maids than she is mad at him for raping her), but there’s nothing about what he thinks, or feels, or wants.  I mentioned in my review of Adora I want a romance to be a story about a relationship.  Yes, they tend to be more about the heroine than the hero, but the hero has to have something to him other than a scar.  This is all Purity’s story, not their story, and we have no idea what makes him tick, or why she loves him, or why he loves her.  They do, because the story requires them to love each other.

But really, I want to have some words with the author, because who puts her heroine through all this shit?  Seriously?  And to have the end be “and they run across the field into each other’s arms to swelling orchestral music” and THAT IS IT?  No conclusion to what happened with Monmouth?  Does Mark know about the blackmail or not?  WHY IS THE DANGLING END OF THIS ANNOYING THREAD BOTHERING ME.

The argument of “IT’S HISTORICALLY ACCURATE OKAY” doesn’t really fly with me, or at least, not when the abuse of your main character is this thorough.  You don’t have to put your heroine through all of this shit.  You don’t have to make your hero a cardboard cutout with a scar on his face.  You can make your characters likeable, even with all the abuse and horror (okay, that’s more of a dig at Bertrice Small, I admit that Purity was sort of likeable, if you like your friends rather dim).  You can be historically accurate and not make the reading experience so miserable.

On a more shallow note, the writing was, on the whole, not bad.  It wasn’t as over-wrought as Bertrice Small, (can you tell I really don’t like her?) and the dialogue sounded like the author had at least listened to how people talk (and then mixed it with a more formal “this is how people in Olden Times talked”).  However, and this is another convention of the 70s, I’m pretty sure, while there was a LOT of sex (like a LOT), it’s not explicitly described.  There are a lot of mountains of pure bliss, and jumping off mountains, and taking, but no specifics.  Even when Monmouth is making her do all these depraved things, she revolts at his “most outrageous demand,” and he offers to get his servant to make her do it…. But I have no idea what that could be.  Oral on him?  Oral on her?  Anal?  Did they know about heterosexual anal in the 70s?  Watersports?  SERIOUSLY THIS DEMAND WHAT IS IT I NEED TO KNOW.

I know that the mores of how explicit a sex scene can be has changed over the past 40 years- I think we were talking in the Book Club Discussion in September about how nothing is complete without anal anymore, whereas about 20 years ago, the idea of her going down on him was like, DIRTY.  I can’t be the only one that’s read The Pearl, the Victorian magazine of erotica.  For the time, the stories are rather lewd, but not as graphic as they could be.  And as I was reading the section of Purity’s Passion that takes place in the boarding school, it almost seemed like I was reading a cleaned up version of Victorian porn.

Someone in the comments of the Season of the Sun review talked about how these OG Old School books with all the rape are more like forced orgasm fantasies.  Which, if the main audience for this type of book is women who are just old enough to feel like they missed the Sexual Revolution, and are still stuck in the idea that active enjoyment of sex is something forbidden, then yes, I can accept that argument.  It makes me incredibly sad, that this is one of the few acceptable places where women’s sexuality is even up for discussion, and even then it’s all passive reception on the woman’s part.  You are allowed to enjoy it, as long as you didn’t initiate it, and you’re not an active participant.

My own theory on rape fantasies is that part of the attraction is that the onus of the active portion of the sex on the top, so if the bottom has no idea what they are doing, it’s okay.  This is a completely unscientific theory, and does not, obviously, apply to everyone.

Here’s something that’s been turning over in my head for the past week: In the time these were written, by women for women, we, as a society, were still deep in the throes of putting the onus of preventing rape on women (“She shouldn’t have been wearing that short skirt” and “Well what the hell did she expect, being in a bar and having fun”) and still defining rape as unwanted sex that the woman resisted “to the utmost.”  (You want an exercise in Rage?  Look at the Model Penal Code’s suggestions on what rape statutes should be like.  And then thank your lucky stars that very few jurisdictions even considered them).  Anyway, I feel like there is some connection between the romance novels by and for women being so rape-heavy, and the culture being even more rape-culture-y than it is now.  I don’t know if the rape culture created the trend in the literature, or it is just correlation, not causation.  I’ve been pondering this for a while now, and haven’t reached any conclusions.  Any thoughts, or am I just making shit up?

To conclude, as Abigail Bartlet says, “It’s our history. Better or worse, it’s our history. We’re not going to lock it in the basement or brush it with a new coat of paint. It’s our history.” The evolution from this leads to Vivian Vaughn (one of my favorite early 90’s writers, who we will be discussing in the future), La Nora, and the awesomeness that is Joanna Bourne, my beloved Caroline Linden, and my new favorite person, Zoe Archer.  (SERIOUSLY.  SAVED MY SANITY.)  But just because it’s history and we can’t ignore the fact that it exists doesn’t mean I have to read it.

I don’t mind reading with a look of perpetual “WTF” on my face.  I think I’ve made that pretty clear.  But this?  Reading with my lip curled in disgust the entire time?  No.  Many times no.  No more OG Old School- I’m going to stick with the early 90s bubblegum. 

EDITED TO ADD:  I see while digging up the publication info that there is two more books in the Purity Series- Purity’s Ecstasy and Purity’s Shame (and no summaries for either, except apparently there are pirates involved (OF COURSE THERE ARE))). So I suppose that my complaints about the rather abrupt ending were addressed, and it’s possible that Mark and Purity have an actual conversation (but no money on that bet.  Why would they start now?).  However, looking at just the title for Purity’s Shame makes me go, “…my god, Seymour is going to heap another 800 pages of crap on her heroine’s head?” Of course my Trainwreck Syndrome is shouting, “Oooooo!  We HAVE to find out how bad this gets.  WE ARE A COMPLETIST IT MUST BE DONE” but I’m going to resist that urge for as long as I can.

Comments are Closed

  1. The last line before going to the “more, more, more” link is

    “It’s pretty awful.” 

    But I did peek at the rest of your review and appreciate your statement,

    “And I really can’t separate the fact that I am a woman in 2010 reading this, with the benefits provided to me by second and third wave feminism, the fact that I live with an activist whose primary goals are ending rape and promoting healthy sexuality (I’ve learned a lot from her), and just the changes in perceptions of women’s sexuality that has happened in the 30 years since this book has been written.” 

    Thus, I wouldn’t have read the book at all.

    Today is Veterans’ Day so I give a shout out to the RomVets – female veterans who are now writing romance.  I know several paved the way “in the old days” for me to have more opportunities when I served on active duty.

    Mahalo to you all!

  2. Bridget says:

    Good God. People bought this stuff? People actually wrote this stuff?

    I’ve never really been a fan of rape in fiction, but I know that some authors write in such a way that the victim is empowered and overcomes their trauma and ultimately the story is uplifting. Purity’s Passion sounds NOTHING like that. One rape seen is bad enough, but seven rapists? Seven? Seriously?

    From your review it sounds like not only are women in general punished for enjoying sex, but that Purity in particular is punished just for being beautiful. She drives men wild and so the rapes are her fault? This takes it beyond ‘she was wearing a short skirt so it wasn’t rape’ territroy into scary, scary misogyny.

    Normally I really enjoy DNF and WTF reviews, because they are hilarious and we have so many funny, intelligent people here. But this is the kind of thing that I’d rather not know people bought and enjoyed. Acknowledging our history is one thing, but reliving it in excruciating detail isn’t something I want to do again.

    Don’t get me wrong – redheadedgirl, I love your reviews. I just wish you hadn’t had to read that shit.

  3. HelenMac says:

    Oh, redheadedgirl, I feel your pain. Being a completist with trainwreck syndrome has left many a scar upon my psyche, I only wish that I could write reviews as awesome as you do, to exorcise the pain.

  4. Freshechelle says:

    I can’t finish reading this because I have to get to work but first….I NEED ANOTHER SHOWER.  That so-called story lines has left me feeling very dirty.  I don’t miss those 70s rapefests. 

    Thanks for the term PLOT MOB.

    Rock on RHG!

  5. Babs says:

    Oh my. Wow. Just, erm…guess I should shut my mouth now since jaw-dropping was my reaction to this review.

    Thank you RedHeadedGirl for reading this so we don’t have to.

  6. sheriguy says:

    Good Lord reading the plot summary was painful enough . I can only imagine the utter pain of reading the book. I have read and enjoyed 80’s “romance” novels where there was some “forced seduction.” (Bertrice Small anyone?) Largely because I was really good at a young age at glossing over the ugly bits of a story. I do not think I would have been able to gloss over this ….stuff in my teens.

  7. I read the review until The Evil War Criminal but then the need to vomit became too strong and I had to stop.

    I guess there’s Old Skool, and then there’s Old Skool written by a reincarnation of Marquis de Sade?

    spamword: force77 I guess the author wasn’t satisfied until Purity was forced by 77 men?

  8. mari says:

    Dear Redheadedgirl – I admire your fortitude in actually finishing such an on-going saga.

    And I’m wondering if I can be cheeky enough to suggest that a future review could be on the following book? [I shall admit that this was a DNF for me – although I did consider turning it into a drinking game. “Heroine faces improbable/cliched scenario – DRINK”. I’m not sure my liver would survive]

    “Rebel’s Reveng” by Jane Toombs. Amber Quill Press

    [RHG fangirl]

  9. Maria says:

    RHG – I’m so so sorry that you had to read that. It definitely falls under the “I read this crap so you don’t have to” category.

    I am confused on one point, well several but this one’s making me scratch my head. At what point did Mark rape Purity? You tell us she runs home from horrible boarding to school to find him ra-screwing the maid, and that she freaks and runs away. And then it seems like he’s not in the next 2/3 of the book.

    Wait, maybe I’d rather not know. It’s just a whole series of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot going on.

  10. Laurel says:

    Oh. Wow.

    I’ve never read an Old Skool, so the “rape as wooing” thing is not something I have endured. But what puzzles me, regardless of societal context, is the notion that a woman being forced to have sex would have an orgasm. Orgasms are not just physical; the brain has to be going along for the ride for everything to line up. Otherwise, people wouldn’t fantasize while they masturbate. The physical stimulation alone would do the trick. Sure, I guess it could happen, but not during a traumatic experience.

    So is the Old Skool Rape Orgasm just code for “she really wants him and can’t admit it to herself, him or society”?

    It grosses me out just to kiss someone I’m not into. Can’t imagine closing the deal with someone I don’t like or want who forced it through any means.

    Ick. Ickity ick.

  11. You can blame the historian in me, but my biggest problem, and I admit, I skimmed over the review so I wouldn’t feel slimed, is the timeline:

    French Revolution: 1789
    Waterloo: 1815

    How old was this “heroine” by the end of the novel?  26 years is a long time to be doing all that bed-hopping.

  12. Sycorax says:

    I believe he rapes her after the hypnotist episode.

    Commiserations, redheadgirl. I hope the sharing helped. A year ago I read The Sheik, by E M Hull, because I was bored, and thought it might at least be funny. Bit mistake. It’s rather depressing to think that rape wouldn’t filter out of romance novels for another 60 or 70 years after that book. At some point I suppose women actually started having orgasms during the rape scenes (there is never any mention of sexual pleasure in The Sheik) but I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. On the one hand, recognition of women’s sexuality; on the other, the message that if it’s the right man, rape is totally ok!  *sigh*

  13. Carin says:

    Just from reading the review, I feel really icky.  That doesn’t read like romance to me!

  14. Sycorax says:

    So is the Old Skool Rape Orgasm just code for “she really wants him and can’t admit it to herself, him or society”?

    That, or “she really wants him, but nice girls don’t have consensual sex outside of marriage”.

    Right now, the [Submit] button at the bottom of the page seems amusingly apt…

  15. ks says:

    RHG, thank you for doing this so I didn’t have to.  I had forgotten just how fucked up and rapey that really was (and I remembered a lot of it, it was just *that* fucked up).

    I owe you a big drink if you ever make it to my corner of the midwest.

  16. R. H. Rush says:

    I’m still reading this, so I haven’t gotten to the real awfulness yet, but I got stuck on the fourth paragraph—the heroine is a Frenchwoman named…Purity?

  17. Vuir says:

    Why not an F?

    I know that there’s something worse, but this book sounds like you hated so much it should have been an F.  C- is a good grade.

  18. Tracy says:

    Ugh.  This just reinforces for me that I need to keep backing away from my mother’s Bertrice Small pile as quickly as possible.  She offered me another one the other night.  Blech!

  19. becca says:

    This sounds like someone was trying to create another series like the Angelique series by, I think, Sergeanne Golon – I think I’ve got that right. It was an interminable series where Angelique has amorous adventures all over the world, is raped repeatedly and even bears children (but still stays tight in the Magic Hoo-ha)… I had a friend who loved that series, but I couldn’t read beyond the first one.

  20. Erin says:

    Thanks for the review.  The subject of this type of book has been touching home with me.  I’ve posted on here very occasionally but for the most part I’m a silent lurker.  I have been posting quite a bit over on the Amazon forums. 
    I’ve starting reading Fern Michaels “Whitefire”, can I just say how much I am really hating this book. I’m not a squeamish person and I really loved Teresa Deny’s “The Silver Devil” and her other book “The Flesh and the Devil”.  All of these books were written during the same time
    frame as “Purity’s Passion”.  (On a side note, I cannot stomach Beatrice Small either).  Ok, back to “Whitefire”…
    The hero is a complete and utter asshole and tyrant. I can’t imagine even back in the day, that this would even be remotely attractive. (But, hey it obviously was popular). This is a direct quote and mind you this takes place on page 18 of the book: “She felt a reeling blow to the side of her head, and then Katerina knew no more. Banyen took her brutally, savagely, again and again. Spent, he staggered to his feet and stood looking down at the naked body of the young girl. A pity he couldn’t see her what she really looked like in the ebony night. His own words rang in his ears…I’m not a cruel man….I’m not one to inflict pain. He shrugged. Every man was forced at one time or another to tell a lie. Why should he be any different.” Awww, isn’t he just a great guy.  Onward and upward, here is another quote from our sweet, manly hero, “He would rebuild his estates and get married and keep his wife pregnant nine months out of every year. He would have a mistress in his house and one in town for the awkward months” Argghhh, I’m not even out of chapter one at this point, and the book has met the wall about 3 times.  I’ve trying to put my finger on exactly why I liked the Teresa Denys books and what the difference is.  Her heroes are complete psychopaths as well, and in the case of “The Silver Devil” the hero remains one.  I’m still having a hard time how to express the differences, but there is a big one.  Another, thing that is bothering me about “Whitefire” is that it has been reprinted twice.  I mean WTF? There are so many much more worthy books to republish, why this one?  I still don’t know and I’m scratching my head in puzzlement. The only thing going for “Whitefire” is the time period and location, Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. I will be very happy to never have to read another of these type books again, they really make me feel dirty and disgusted.  Thank God romance books have progressed away from this crap.

  21. anna says:

    Jesusgod there are two more books worth of crap for the H/h to deal with?! Seriously??! And the third is Purity’s Shame! Seriously??! Seriously??!
    It looks like maybe Janette Seymour is a nom de plume of a Michael Butterworth. Maybe. I don’t know if it’s more disturbing to think the *gag* rapetasticness of the series (I’m assuming the other books in the series (?!?!?)) Derives from the mind of a man or a woman. Either way…blargh.
    Thanks redheadedgirl for reading this crap so we don’t have to. You deserve a raise 😉

  22. Justine Lark says:

    I’m with Vuir.  What elevates this book to a C-??

  23. Mary McElroy says:

    My head hurts….

  24. Nadia says:

    Rosemary Rogers, Bertrice Small, Patricia Matthews, Jennifer Wilde, Fern Michaels, an author with a Dutch name that escapes me at the moment…much of the same.  Loads of rapey WTFery on the heroine, less exploration of the male character.  The focus was on her journey, her misery and eventual triumph.  Although reading them today, we’d be all “wait a minute, you went through all of that shit and the grand prize is that jackass rapetastic Angry Boner Man?”  This was the less-fortunate aunt of the Kick-Ass Heroine we get today.  She got the adventure, she got to live large and be involved in major historical events and cross continents – but she was a mostly a pawn, not the queen.

  25. The second paragraph gives my reasons for the C-.  Mostly because it wasn’t badly written, I just really hated it. 

    I try to differentiate between “This is bad!” and “I don’t like it!” 

    But yeah.  French woman (who is really half English) named Purity.  Yeah.  YEAH. And two more books.  ::shudder::

  26. JennKinPA says:

    But what puzzles me, regardless of societal context, is the notion that a woman being forced to have sex would have an orgasm. Orgasms are not just physical; the brain has to be going along for the ride for everything to line up. Otherwise, people wouldn’t fantasize while they masturbate. The physical stimulation alone would do the trick. Sure, I guess it could happen, but not during a traumatic experience.

    Very, very wrong. As a counselor at a rape crisis center, I can tell you that—unfortunately—some women who have been raped have experienced orgasm. Their bodies have betrayed them. They come to us for emergency contraception and support, but are often too afraid and too ashamed to report their rapes to the authorities because of attitudes like the above. “It couldn’t have been too bad; you must have enjoyed it.”

    Rape is any unwanted, non-consensual encounter. It doesn’t have to be violent, and many times, isn’t. And physical stimulation alone is enough sometimes.

  27. Caitlin says:

    What. The. Fuck. This sounds like… what.

    Now, I will admit something that is hard for me to acknowedge sometimes- I have rape fantasies. But I consider myself a feminist, and have expereinced sexual assaults as well.

    For me, at least, the rape fantasies were a way of taking a negative experience and turning it into something working FOR me, rather than against. SOmething that was for my pleasure, not his power. I also suspect, that my sexual assaults having been at a youngish age, while I was learning about sex and sexual feelings and all that fun, that I, in some way, learned that that was how it is. Just some thoughts from an intelligent, rational, strong-minded modern woman who occasionally likes a bit of ‘rapey-ness’

    But this- This.. monstrosity? I suspect it would go FAR beyond my sick, twisted enjoyment, and far into ‘what.’

  28. rich says:

    As a male i have found this slightly shocking and hugely enlightening. For a start a woman has written a book where the lead enjoys being raped, and then comments ^^ empathising with the character. I’m not easily shocked but I am honestly surprised by what I have read here today.
    That is all.

  29. Sandy D. says:

    You were nice, with the C-. I think D would have been more appropriate.

    Maybe someone else here can read the other books and give us an update? It’s really too much to expect you to do so. But I have that itch to know just how much more trainwrecky it really goods, you know?

    Not enough to read either myself, mind you. :-/

  30. Katie says:

    @Laurel, unfortunately you’re incorrect – some portion of people (men and women) that are raped will orgasm, either incidentally or due to deliberate stimulation by their attackers. In many cases, that makes it even harder, because it invokes both disbelieving responses (like, forgive me, yours) and internalized feelings about rape. It can completely short-circuit all of our knowledge about how rape is an exercise of power and the victims are not to blame, even internally, and can kick off a firestorm of internal shame and guilt even in addition to that felt by rape victims.

  31. darlynne says:

    Thanks, JennKinPA and Katie, for your responses and correction. I knew the original comment was erroneous, but didn’t have your qualifications or skill to rebut it with any authority. The more we communicate, the more we learn and that can only be a good thing.

    redheadedgirl: Désolé.

  32. what puzzles me, regardless of societal context, is the notion that a woman being forced to have sex would have an orgasm. Orgasms are not just physical; the brain has to be going along for the ride for everything to line up. Otherwise, people wouldn’t fantasize while they masturbate. The physical stimulation alone would do the trick. Sure, I guess it could happen, but not during a traumatic experience.

    Laurel, I have to disagree with you on this, and I think it’s a false belief that can (a) further shame and harm victims of rape and (b) be used as a defence by rapists.

    As far as I know, both women and men who are raped can experience an orgasm. To quote the conclusion of Roy J. Levin and Willy van Berlo’s “Sexual arousal and orgasm in subjects who experience forced or non-consensual sexual stimulation – a review,” Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine 11.2 (2004):

    The review has examined whether unsolicited or non-consensual sexual stimulation of either males or females can create unwanted sexual arousal even to the induction of an orgasm. Despite a limited published literature, case and anecdotal reports the conclusion from them is that such scenarios can occur and that the induction of arousal and even orgasm does not permit the conclusion that the subjects consented to the stimulation. A perpertrator’s defence against the alleged assault built solely on the evidence that genital arousal or orgasm in the victim proves consent has no intrinsic validity and should be disregarded.

    In this paper the authors write that there

    appears to be an autonomous mechanism that creates sexual arousal at a sub-cortical level (i.e., not perceived) to activate an increase in genital blood flow. This increase in vaginal blood flow would lead to an increase in the production of vaginal lubricating fluid. It may well be a basic mechanism to create automatically the conditions (a lubricated vagina) for painless penile penetration without genital abrasion if enforced coitus subsequently occurs. Thus “genital arousal” can occur in a sexually stimulated female even though she perceives/reports no “conscious central (brain) sexual arousal”.

    Levin and van Berlo did find some reports of orgasms in cases of rape/sexual assault:

    A brief study by Ringrose […] about the elicitation of pelvic reflexes in rape victims, reported that in 25 cases of rape only one reported orgasm as a result of the sexual assault, an incidence of 4%. The low incidence may be due to embarrassment or the shame of giving a positive answer.

    and one

    senior nurse-therapist said when interviewed by one of the authors (R.J.L.):

    “Approximately 1 in 20 women who come to the clinic (an established NHS, CHS Sexual and Marital Relationships clinic in a large provincial English city) for treatment because of sexual abuse report that they have had an orgasm from previous unsolicited sexual arousal. It is not detailed in the (professional) literature because the victims usually do not want to tell/talk about it because they feel guilty, as people will think that if it happened they must have enjoyed it. The victims often say, “My body let me down”. Some however, cannot summon the courage to say even that.”

  33. Isabel C. says:

    Rape fantasies as such don’t bug me: not my thing, but okay. There are plenty of reasons behind them, from BDSM-y subtext to early experiences, that don’t have to do with fucked-up views of female sexuality. Plus, they’re usually labeled as such in one way or another—in fanfic, you have the “noncon” label, and Black Lace and similar usually do a decent job of indicating that This Is A Kink, Guys.

    My problem with old school romance and its rapey-ness is partly the lack of labeling: there’s an undercurrent of “well, this is normal and awesome in heterosexual romance” there, which…ew. Might not bug me so much, except that it’s also combined with the Only Bad Girls Want It trope, and the heroine being ri-damn-diculously innocent, and it becomes less a kink and more an exercise in creepy attitudes toward women and their sex drives.

    I also was better at glossing this over in my teens.

    Also, what Katie and JennKinPA said.

  34. Laura (in PA) says:

    Holy crap. Unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it.

  35. Sharon says:

    Good Lord!  I’m dizzy and slightly nauseous just reading that review! 
    Glad I missed that one. 

    A point to the “historically accurate” nonsense—just because an author can line up her dates chronologically, or include props from a particular era, or whathaveyou, does not necessarily create a completely historically accurate novel.

    The characters have to behave in historically accurate ways—I’m sure there were plenty of loons and degenerates in every era, but seriously—does this heroine’s trajectory seem like it was even remotely likely?  Sure, it’s romance, and one expects the author to take liberties, but, sheesh…

    There is also a point where you make your heroine’s life so repellant no one identifies with her or roots for her anymore.

  36. My problem with old school romance and its rapey-ness is partly the lack of labeling: there’s an undercurrent of “well, this is normal and awesome in heterosexual romance” there, which…ew. Might not bug me so much, except that it’s also combined with the Only Bad Girls Want It trope, and the heroine being ri-damn-diculously innocent, and it becomes less a kink and more an exercise in creepy attitudes toward women and their sex drives.

    Yes, exactly. 

    I also was better at glossing this over in my teens.

    AND YES. I don’t know how I would have reacted to this book in my teens.  But @ks?  I WILL BE ACCEPTING THAT DRINK.

  37. Olivia says:

    I dunno, poking fun at old skool 70’s romance is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel -easy and kind pointless. Romance readers hate the stereotypical labels put on romance, labels created, in a large part, by these types of books. Yet here we are hauling them out to make fun. A bit like the pot calling the kettle black, IMO.

    “I read this shit so you don’t have to” doesn’t exactly hash it either since the book is out of print.

    I don’t want to pick on this reviewer because she obviously spent a lot of time and energy in this review, but to me this all seemed like trying too hard to be funny for funny’s sake. Sorry.

  38. Isabel C. says:

    I don’t think it’s the pot calling the kettle black at all: in fact, by identifying and publicly calling out the problematic elements in question, we’re more firmly establishing ourselves as aware of the stereotypes and able to repudiate the issues ourselves, rather than coming off as naive or subscribing to the romance version of the Geek Social Fallacies.

    Making fun of an entire genre is stupid. Making fun of a specific work because it’s badly written and reinforces Neanderthal sexism seems fine—unless you believe that making fun of things is bad across the board. Which I don’t.

  39. Erin says:

    I have to disagree.  What about the book I mentioned.  It was originally published in 1978, re-released in 1997, and again just re-released in August 2010.  I happen to be reading the 1997 edition.  The 2010 copy has a lovely picture of a flowers on the cover.  No warning about what it contains whatsoever!  Not even a product description.  What do you say about that?

  40. Aimee says:

    Yeah, I agree with the people that said a C- was way, waaaaaay too generous.  That’s an F if I ever heard one.  Just reading the description made me laugh with bile in the back of my throat.

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