There are certain elements readers expect in historicals: the lady in distress is rescued by her Knight/Prince/gallant-but-rogueish-Lord. Of course, there would be smoldering dalliances between the lady and her hero sprinkled throughout.
So recently, when reading Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan’s A Courtesan’s Guide to Getting Your Man, I was surprised to find a group sex scene within its pages. An orgy! In the middle of a historical tale! The romantic world felt like it had shifted to the opposite axis.
But, really, this reaction is absurd. For as long as humans have existed, the need for sex (in any form) has been a necessary part of life. More than that, it’s been a means of (great?) pleasure, for just as long. And to think that S&M, bondage, orgies, etc., didn’t exist before the advent of pink fluffy handcuffs is just naïve. So what if that rogueish Lord pulls out a sex toy to use with the heroine? It doesn’t detract from the romance. Instead, it adds a bit of reality (and happy kink) into the mix.
Maybe it’s a loosening of—not morals, that gives off the wrong impression—perhaps more of a releasing of humans from previously-held uptight attitudes. Now, you just have to switch on the TV to any of the detective show franchises to see everything from a dominatrix being blamed for a murder she didn’t commit (because people still correlate her ’job’ with a need to punish), to a death at a cuddle party.
It’s almost as though this altered view displayed on television, the easiest of public forums, makes it okay to talk about openly; sexual experimentation is now readily available for your viewing and reading pleasure.
If you take a moment to consider the stereotypes associated with a dominatrix, the picture that might come to mind goes something like this: a leather corset, thigh high boots, a riding crop (Lucy Lawless in Eurotrip, anyone?). Take away the more recent variations here, like the usage of pleather, and it’s an image that could have been around 300, 400, 500 years ago, especially considering that horses were the main mode of transportation then and corsets were garments worn in high society daily. These factors almost solidify the historic origin and relevance of bondage and other wicked delights.
Today, a dominatrix is portrayed (particularly in those previously mentioned detective shows) as a means to an end for powerful men (and women) to release the stress of their hectic days by submitting to another’s will. Does this not lend some credence to prior existence of this type of profession and that many powerful historical figures employed these services? It’s possible that many more cities would have been destroyed in wars if leaders hadn’t been able to relieve themselves through sexual submission or dominance. Perhaps it would be a beneficial amendment to today’s constitution to prevent accidental nuclear warfare? Well, perhaps that’s taking it too far, but maybe you can see its potential value.
Also today, it’s the CEO of a major corporation that’s portrayed as the horse, with a dominant female whipping him (or her) into shape. Who’s to say that this didn’t happen hundreds of years ago? In fact, there’s a good chance it did happen behind the bedroom doors of Catherine the Great (among many other wicked things.) A real historical figure, this ruler was well renowned as an aficionado of sexual exploits, a woman who really knew how to have a good time. Whether these are just puffed-up rumors or based in fact is up to historians to debate; she’s an interesting point of reference, to say the least, especially when those rumors have transcended several centuries.
The romance novel has evolved into something much more wicked and fun. Today’s historicals now have a healthy dose of all of the classic elements readers have come to expect, along with a little something not quite new, but unabashedly titillating. Though Princes, Scottish Highlanders, and other of their ilk will forever continue saving their destined wives, it is refreshing to see that what happens behind closed door isn’t always accomplished in only the missionary position.
Sinful by Charlotte Featherstone
Addicted by Charlotte Featherstone
Golden by Joely Sue Burkhart
A Midnight Dance by Lila DiPasqua
Awakened by a Kiss by Lila DiPasqua
Breathless by Anne Stuart
Patience by Lisa Valdez
Scandalous Lovers by Robin Schone
Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.