Romance and Rape Culture: A Modern Reader Reads Whitney, My Love

Whitney, My Love (Original Cover) by Judith McNaughtMy encounter with Judith McNaught’s polarizing classic Whitney, My Love began in a way quite familiar with many plucky Regency heroines: one of my blogger friends told me never to read it, as it was a terrible and scandalous book, which of course meant that I had to read it to see how wretched or misunderstood this novel really was.

What I ended up reading disgusted and horrified me—and I read the sanitized re-edition, in which the hero, Clayton Westmoreland, almost beats and almost rapes Whitney Stone, the heroine. Even though, in this re-edition, the hero stops himself at the last possible moment from completely brutalizing the heroine, the novel’s treatment of the themes of authority, control, gender, and rape culture still strike a powerful and disturbing chord.

The worst aspect of rape culture in Whitney, My Love, is the victim-blaming. Throughout the novel, Clayton frequently uses violence when dealing with Whitney, ranging from simply grabbing and restraining her, to uttering death threats and physically hurting her. The most painful thing about these scenes is the fact that after each one of these incidents, Whitney somehow takes all or most of the blame, usually thanks to her “temper” or her “rebelliousness.”

In one scene, Whitney insults Clayton by claiming her wanton reaction to his kisses was due to her thinking of Paul Sevarin, Clayton’s rival. Clayton responds by sexually assaulting and nearly strangling her. After this encounter, Whitney realizes that her thoughtless words had hurt his poor, raging manbaby feelings, and she immediately feels “an aching lump of poignant contrition.”

Whitney reacts similarly during the infamously heinous scene where Clayton, believing Whitney’s been sleeping around, drags Whitney to his estate, literally tears her clothes off and plans to rape her (although he stops himself in the nick of time). During this attack, Whitney realizes that, once again, his monstrous behaviour is somehow her fault and an appropriate reaction to her perceived slights.

During her attack, she thinks, “He loved her, and in return for his affection and generosity, she had caused this proud man to become an object of public ridicule. Love and possessiveness were driving him to do this terrible thing to her, she had driven him to it…”

Whitney, My Love (Special Edition) by Judith McNaughtIn some ways, the Diet version of this novel is even worse, for the rape scene was rewritten to be consensual by having Whitney offer her virginity to Clayton to make up for her behaviour that “drove” him to kidnap, assault, and humiliate her in the first place. Her unpardonable crime was to embarrass him—and apparently the proper punishment for that is rape.

Whitney endures Clayton’s stalking her, restraining her, repeatedly sexually assaulting her, and finally (almost) raping her—and she forgives him forty pages later because her love for him is just too strong. Ultimately, this is filthiest worm at the centre of this rotten apple of a novel: the idea that Clayton’s possessive, violent, wrathful, misogynist, distrustful behaviour is just a sign of how powerful his love is, and his actions are simply misguided expressions of that romantic love—which is darkly funny to me, because Clayton’s more “passionate” expressions of love are now seen as textbook examples of abusive behaviour.

One could say that this was just a sign of the times in Ye Olde 1985. All I know about the ’80s is what I learned from Working Girl, but in between shoulder pads, the Pointer Sisters, and Harrison Ford before he turned into Grandpa I Just Want My Family Back, that film didn’t seem to have a lot of time to discuss the rape culture of the era.

What did romance readers want in 1985 that was so different from what romance readers want (and are willing to tolerate) today? What positive message did people take away from this novel? And what positive message do people take away from this novel now, since it’s still in print as a romance classic?

Moreover, can one really blame it on the time period? Laura Kinsale’s books started coming out at the same time, and her angsty ninjas, honour-bound knights, and half-deaf highwaymen all managed to be dark, deliciously romantic characters without raping their heroines. Or constantly suspecting them of sexual promiscuity. Or persistently mistreating them because of those unfounded suspicions. Frankly, while Clayton is the first McNaught hero to cross the rape line, there’s a strong misogynist undercurrent in many of McNaught’s books. Almost all of her heroes possess an ingrained distrust of women (particularly Nikki DuVille, Until You’s Stephen Westmoreland and Something Wonderful’s Jordan Townsende), that isn’t vanquished by the appearance of their heroines. No, their heroines are simply the pure, virginal exceptions to the rule that women are grasping, manipulative, ambitious, and inherently unfaithful.

To conclude, Whitney, My Love perpetuates the victim-blaming aspect of rape culture, it romanticises violence against women, and it distorts the ideals of masculinity and femininity. While it may be the first Judith McNaught novel to do this, it’s certainly not the last, so I don’t think that “it’s a product of its time” is necessarily true. However, reading back on it is a good way to examine how romances (particularly historicals) and their depictions of gender have evolved from this (admittedly low) point. Nowadays, strong heroes are the ones can take “no” for an answer, but will still keep on trying for a “yes.” And strong heroines are no longer matched with heroes who can “keep them in hand”—just heroes who can keep up.


Elizabeth Vail hails from Alberta, Canada. A book reviewer and aspiring YA writer, she currently runs the review blog Gossamer Obsessions under the screenname AnimeJune.

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1. fishgirl182
wow - i have never heard of this book and now i really don't want to read it. i came to romances only recently so i have a large pool of awesomely manly and non-abusive romantic leads to choose from. while i love alpha male behavior in my romances, abuse like you've described above would never do. i do think that part of it was the time period. something like this wouldn't work with today's readers. at least i hope not.
2. Annabel Joseph
Whitney My Love is actually one of my favorite books. I enjoy reading about men being bad and aggressive and rape-y sometimes. I think because then when they redeem themselves it's that much more powerful. Also because there's just something about a man being driven by passion to do such very bad things. I do agree that McNaught very much caters to the rape fantasy and dubious consent crowd (of which I am a part.)

But I understand why others can't stand her books.

Hey, at least her stuff isn't as bad as Monson's Stormfire! ;-)
3. Jenny K.
I read this book, as this author is one of my mother-in-law's favorites. I was nauseated by the rape scene (as I thought, "This is a romance?"). I have read a few of McNaught's books, and I believe her male characters never give the female characters the benefit of any doubt, let alone respect. Their first reaction is to assume the worst of the females, and this results in various kinds of abuse, whether verbal or physical. Some readers may enjoy the thrill of the abuse in order for the characters to come back together; I do not have the stomach for it.
Erika Blackburn
4. fadedsouls
This is also one of my favorite books. Several of McNaught's books are on that list, actually. Hers are some of the first romances I ever read. I would sneak them out of the stash my sisters left behind.

Anyway, I never liked how horribly the men treated the women, but I loved it when they figured out how wrong they were. My favorite parts are usually the parts where they tried to make up for the harm they did.

Plus, I probably fall in line with what @Annabel Joseph said, too.

I can see why a reader would hate them, but I'll still be in my little corner, re-reading my old, pilfered copies.
5. Beebs
I haven't read this and won't. There seem to have been quite a few books of this type weitten around that time.

Rosemary Rogers' Bound by Desire (1988) runs along very similar lines and was awful, I hated it, but I liked her recent book Bride for a Night.

Johanna Lindsey's Secret Fire (1987) has the heroine being kidnapped off the street after the hero(?) saw her and decided he wanted her. He was a Russian Prince so he could do as he pleased. I stopped reading after he drugged her to seduce her because she refused him. Again I enjoyed some of her later books but didn't like this one.
Elena Haskins
6. Elena Haskins
I'm very glad to see this article.

Having disdained romance novels for years because of the rape and abuse scenes, it was a relief to relatively recently find intelligent writers who write about intelligent heroines who are not subjected to degradation sex.

Paying money for a novel that turns out to be a story of a woman being abused and accepting it makes me want to ask if the author/editor/publisher has ever had personal experience with being pushed around and hurt.

If not, perhaps a few rounds with a prizefighter would cure her/him/them of the diseased idea that abuse is romantic.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
7. Kiersten
It isn't merely the attitude of the 80s that are at play here, but also the rape "fantasy" prevelant in romance in this era - remember Flame and the Flower? Full of rapeyness but it revolutionized the romance market at the time. Whitney, my love is not one of my favorite McNaughts - in fact, I can't remember a single thing about it - but I adore Kingdom of Dreams even though when I reread it last year, the flaws were glaring. McNaught has a theme in all her books of the h/h relationship falling apart b/c of the hero believing he's been betrayed by the heroine; I always knew my young heart would get ripped to pieces about 2/3 of the way through any of her books. But the inevitable grovelling from the hero to fix it is often epic. A great example of this is Almost Heaven; watching genius, gorgeous, damaged Ian Thornton crawl almost - almost - made up for his horrible behavior. Once and Always with hero Jason Fielding is another favorite that once reread is less apealling in h/h behavior (tho of the non-rapey kind as I recall), but I remember how Jason was one of the first bad boys I fell for and that fondness remains.

Rape should never, ever be trivialized nor should it be a romantic plot point between h/h as some variant of their love for one another (unless clearly deliniated between partners as a concentual fantasty). We can look at old skool romances with full hindsight, and yes, shun those like Whitney & F&F & let's not forget Sweet, Savage Love, and others of that ilk for the very reasons stated in this review. But they were each part of the romantic journey to books like Lord of Scoundrels and The Duke and I , and even Outlander.

Like the vermeil, it's part of our romance novel history. We look back on where we've been so we know where not to go again...and to see just how very far we have come.
8. MeandMillie2
I have read this book over and over again in my early 20s. It was a favorite for me and my sister. We passed around a tattered copy of it so many times... I have bought it a handful of times due to "misplacing" it over the years. ? About 10 years ago, I gave up reading Romance novels. However, a recently, I have had a few nostalgic moments… and I picked up Whitney…. The go-to-book when I feel a need to escape. I had to dig it out of a box buried under several other boxes, type of thing. I am unsure if you are reading the same book as I am. ? As for the rape scene, and mentioned above by another commenter, it is about the "rape fantasy" that lives within so many women (according to some psychologists… probably all women… within the dark-socially unacceptable recesses of their mind). Where the "rape" is about power, intense love, passion and need. I never read the "rape" scene with Clayton (even today) as it being about violence and hatred towards Whitney. I have read both versions, by the way. It was about pain, betrayal (what he thought of as betrayal), passion, love and weakness. There is a thin line between love and hate. Passion is passion. That is the way I read that scene, in particular. And a man of such power as Clayton? During that particular era? I see it as "appropriate", for lack of a better word. Groveling? No… I could never see a Duke, from that time period, groveling for a woman’s acceptance. I thought his actins , throughout the novel, were appropriate for the time period… he was the Alpha male. The Alpha male who did exhibit shame and regret (a handful of rather emotional scenes) where you could almost feel his anguish over what he had done. ? In no way did I see Whitney acquiescing to a man of authority… I saw her actions as forgiveness. I can think of another example Alpha Male and forced sex with Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, among others. ? Also the Bad Boy/Good Guy dichotomy comes into play. Most romance novels do center around the conquering of the emotionally repressed Bad Boy… The Walls of Jericho written over and over again. . Too many "Historical" novels play off contemporary mindsets… And that is the reason I have given them up so long ago (and reminded again when I purchased a few new ones recently). Totally unrealistic to any student of history. So was it really a sign of the times of 1985? Or a sign of the times of an age gone by? I think this review (cultural or literary) is a little unfair, but is an opinion. ? For those who always wanted to read Whitney… I look back, I am now 37, and I have to say, with all the reading I have done in the past, Whitney seems to always remain one of my favorites. I think the character and relationship development, up until the final misunderstanding, is one of the best in romance literature. Once that final misunderstanding takes place (last 50 pgs or so)? Well… That is when I usually close the book. But the rest is about a woman and a man of spirit… Both digging in their heel… Pretty good read. I see romance novels of today going in the direction of our Sit-coms... Strong women and weak men. I have absolutely no interest in that on TV or in book. Whitney and Clayton, both, are strong characters. Where they each have to swallow their pride. I do think that are historically more accurate in regards to gender roles of the time period, as well.
Catherine Swartz
9. swartzcl
A lot has been said on this book. All I want to add is that I love Whitney, my love. I laughed out loud, I cried, I was angry, I was distraught and anxious but at the end I smiled. In the end that is the reason I read. To be transported away to be engaged on a mental and emotional level. This book did that brilliantly. I have also read Kingdom of Dreams and Once and Always. There is a definite theme in Judith's writings but it did not retract from the pleasure of the story.
10. Alex / AnimeGirl
I've never been a fan of McNaught. I only ever somewhat liked one of her books (once and always because it was the first book of hers that I ever read, but there too the 'hero' rapes the girl, only, "of course it's not really rape 'cause they are married"). and I think it was mostly because it was also one of the first romances that I read and I tend to look on those with a benevolent eye.

In general I've alwyas felt both her heroes and heroines are too stupid to live, plus her books always read like she didn't make any choices. People get stalked, nearly killed a couple of times, make the same mistake over and over again and then, to top it all off... they get amnesia and get to make the same mistakes a couple of times more (like mistreating and nearly raping the heroine) just to be sure.

That's my personal opinion. And honestly, I could skip through the near rape and rape scenes, I could, if the rest of her writing didn't bother me so much. The everything and a cake approach has never been my cup of tea.
11. LindaBanche
I think men get away with bad behavior because women let them. Clayton gets away with raping Whitney because she feels guilty for something that is not her fault. That same behavior is still prevalent in the culture, as evidenced by several of the readers above.

That nonsense that he rapes her because he can't help himself? No way. Only babies can't help themselves. He's an adult, and adults are responsible for their actions. And it's way past time for women to give up feeling guilty over everything.

Although "Whitney, My Love" is over 20 years old, the same objectionable behavior exists in recent novels. They call it "forced seduction" now, but rape by any other name is still rape and totally unacceptable. I can't understand why any woman would find such a man attractive.
Julie Barnes
12. juliepb
Whitney My Love is and has always been my favorite romance. Like Kiersten said, the formula was common in the 80's, but the real factor here is that the culture depicted in the story was infact, a very male authoritarian society. Do we write (and read) historical romances without mentioning slavery, and the relationships that occured during that time? Another popular sub-genre was native american romances, do we comdemn them as well, knowing how our society treated all native amercans at that time?
A large majority of women inherently crave or fantasize about being dominated, and while we may not live that fantasy - we surely can read about it without becoming so litereal. I don't recall any cultural changes towards women due to the rape scene in this book or the scandalous writings of Rosemary Rogers. In fact, the demographics of romance readers at the time were women emerging as strong, career minded and confident females. We were gaining knowledge of our own sexual needs, learning about our "G" spot, and struggling to discard the "housewifely"stereotypes. We were "bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan", so to speak. Whitney not only overcame her lack of confidence and sense of dependence on Whitmore, she became a powerful woman in her own right. While rape should never be trivialized, we need to remember that this is historical romance, an era of women completely dependant on males, as well as the assumed marital rights of males. It's a fictional account of a man out of control, a woman who gains her own power and in the end, a happily ever after.
If we are going to get so literal in our criticism, we would need to point out Whitney should have had poor dental hygiene, body odor and likely, fleas. Many of the events in her life would not have occured as society would never have tolerated her emergence as a Dutchess with social impunity. They would have sided with the Duke on every level as he was first of all a Duke, second of all a man. But, because this is again, fictional, we are able to see her as she is portrayed and believe it. We are able to gasp and feel angry at Whitmore's treatment of her, yet feel heartbroken for them both.
McNaught is brilliant and a master story teller - one point of evidence is the regular re-emergence of this controversial book which remains on the keeper shelves of generations of women. Women who are now college educated professionals, executives, directors, leaders in our own communitues. We are strong, and yet not too fixated on the past, nor the changes of political correctness over the years. Yet we are still women. Our romance novel reading selves are still alive and well and fanticizing and frankly this particular reader finds all this re-addressing of this topic silly and redundant. Get over it and move on - and read and discuss something else that was written in say, this decade.
13. Denise Z
I read Whitney My Love back when it was originally released. I loved it and even though my tastes in reading have expanded over the years, I will always love Judith McNaught's writing. She has a real gift for telling a story.
14. Barbara T
Wow, Whitney, MyLove was one of my favorite books. Probably the only book I read and re read. I was raped when I was 13, I never read her scenes as rape??? Actually this book was the book that turn me into a romance reader! I will have to go did that book out and reread it again, for it has been years, see if I see it differently.
15. S. Sutton
Whitney is one of the best McNaught books ever written in my opinion. Like a lot of people, it was my introduction to historical romances. It made me laugh out loud, and it made me cry, and it made me realise how different our choices are today, and thankful that we HAVE choices.
16. Donna Jean
I too have always loved Judith McNaught's writing. "Whitney My Love," is my second favorite McNaught book, with "Paradise" being my all time favorite.

I think the above posting by juliepb addresses a lot of very good points. In fact I was quite surpised by Elizabeth Vail's article. This is the first time I have ever heard anyone describe "Whitney My Love" as anything other than a beloved romance novel.

We are all certainly entitled to our opinions. So I feel very comfortable in expressing mine in favor of "Whitney My Love."
Lana Baker
17. lanalucy
I recently stopped reading a book, and moreover, threw it into the recycling bin instead of taking it to the bookstore, because of this very thing.

The "hero" brutally raped and left the heroine for dead in the steppes of Russia in the winter. At the end of the book (according to the blurb on the book) she ends up in love with and married to him. I just didn't want to read any more of it and didn't want to put it anyplace someone else could read it, either.
Punya H. Rashid
18. punya
I totally agree with your points, you did spoke my mind. I even pointed out a lot of things myself in my GR reviews because I just couldn't not do it. Oddly enough, when I read JM's HRs a few years ago for the first time, I actually liked them all- 4/5 stars straight. This year I had this thing to re-read and boy, 4 of the 6 HRs felt so wrong! Only The Kingdom of Dreams and Almost Heaven remained my favorite; Almost Heaven is still one of my all time favorite HRs. I just couldn't stand the 'torture' all those heroines went though and JM's nightmarish heroes. Having said all that, I never thought JM's writing is bad, I still don't. She's excellent in that area. It's just the plot and her heroes I can't stand anymore. But, I also agree to some that this was the 80's formula and nowadays, I steer clear of those bodice rippers. Just not my type. I hate rape, cheating/adultery and an insensitive jerk of a hero etc. in my Romance. Thanks for the article again. :)
19. SC
I love Judith Mcnaught and Whitney is one of my fav books of hers.
I love the crazy chemistry btwn the main characters! I honesty don't remember the rape scene- I did read the special edition version.

I read the book when I was 16ish so I might have a different opinion now in my late 2os! lol
20. kimsbooks
I don't think this is a fair article, as the majority of the 80's authors wrote according to genre rules . This is a "bodice ripper" what part of that don't you understand. These books have that name for a reason. While I don't condone rape, Judith McNaught wrote true to what the mores were of that time period. I don't like sanitized pc romances, I love when a bad ass hero does dumb ass things and then has to earn redemption. No, I don't want to be raped or abused, but then again, if you think what you read should be how you are treated, in some respects-- then you shouldn't be reading these books.
Punya H. Rashid
21. punya
Don't know why I don't see my earlier comment but to Elizabeth Vail, please continue writing good articles such as this one. You made some excellent points. I believe all of us has the right to express our opinions and preaching what others should and shouldn't read isn't the polite thing to do. Personally speaking, I've read many books and found them good, while I've read reviews where others didn't like it, so... That's how it's supposed to be. Judith McNaught is a very popular writer so every Romance reader wants to try her books once in a while. Some would like them, some won't. Expressing negetive opinion because that person didn't like Whitney, My Love (or any other book for that matter) is their prerogative IMO. There's no point in being rude to the reviewer/article writer who didn't find rape and an insensitive jerk and a psychotic hero appealing. If you loved the book, do your own reviews, point them out and spead the word as how WML is the greatest book ever! :)
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
22. tnh
Dubious consent is a kink. Nobody asks to have those, and they're nearly impossible to get rid of. The important point is that they're about what turns you on sexually, not how you interact with people the rest of the time.

If it were illegal to publish fiction containing explicit fantasies of ravishment, authors who had that kink would write about it in encoded form, and their natural audience would understand that that was what was going on.

I'm not speaking theoretically. Back in the day, it was pretty much guaranteed that in any much-read library copy of The Fountainhead or Gone With the Wind, the pages of the pertinent scene would be a little grubbier and more worn than the rest of the book. The same was of course true for all the other kinks and orientations as well. Some odd books got published.

The kink in question is only an issue because it supposedly gets confused with actual rape. I'm not sure whether that's true, though, and I'd definitely question whether the fiction is to blame. There are a lot of powerful men who visit professional dominatrixes -- it's a known thing -- but no one takes it to mean that those men would put up with being punished and humiliated in real life.

I doubt there's any completely satisfactory answer to the problem. All we can do is go on spreading the word that in real life, no means no, as does the absence of explicit consent. If we can understand that Heathcliff would be a tiresome jerk in real life, and that he belongs only in the pages of a novel, we ought to be able to understand the same thing about fantasies of nonconsensual romance.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
23. tnh
Punya, I don't know why your earlier comment got stuck in the unpublished queue, but I've unstuck it.
24. pamelia
I'm right with Elizabeth on this review. I found WML a horrifying and awful book. I read it with a kind of mute fascination I reserve for real crime dramas about vicious serial killers on TV. I'm not at all opposed to rape fantasy and I'm not at all turned off by the alpha hero meets quavering virgin trope. Some of my favorite books are: "The Flame and the Flower" and "Shanna" by Woodiwiss, "Fires in Winter" by Lindsey, and even 2 Judith McNaught titles "Perfect" and "Almost Heaven". WML though failed on every level with me. I didn't find it emotionally gripping (unless you count my own emotional response which was to fling it against the wall at a few choice points), but rather it felt to me like a grotesque parody of other books which (I think) tell this type of story so much better and with so much more emotional impact. I couldn't connect with any of the characters. Whitney was a twit and Clayton was a psychotic sociopathic abuser. I know others read the book and love it and treasure it always, but it just left me feeling like I'd been assaulted.
As for some points others have made above that it is more historically accurate, I don't know that that is really relevant to me. I think every book can only truly represent the time in which it is actually written. No modern writer can ever fully inhabit a reality which no longer exists. WML is to me a representation of the early 1980s: big, brash, sparkly and loud (think "Dynasty" and the other primetime soaps of the era) and full of melodrama and clamor. For me though it just didn't work. I can see how others could love it to bits, but if something can create a visceral love in some people you can be darn sure it can create a visceral hatred in others. I (obviously) fall into the latter category!
25. sonatina
wow...i never thought of the book that way...i will always' love Judith Mcnaught's books..actually love 'em all...i think she just presented the era well and depicted the difference of men and women psyche.....i didn't view the "rape scene" that way as both have mixed feelings of lust and love....i loved the fantasy of explosive passion and and fierce sensuality...and the way she ends her story with so much love happily ever after....
27. Kim
Judith McNaught is one of my favorite authors. She writes such poignant and evocative romance novels. I think her earlier books have to be read in the context of the era in which they were written and not by today's sensibilities.
28. Komal389
THANK GOD for this review! every single time i read that this book is soooooo famous, it revolted me. A man who rapes and beats a woman coz he loves her?! It was plain disgusting. my sis hated the boookso much, she gave up reading it after the rape scene. Don't know why i bothered to finish it
Catwoman Felisamorata
29. Catwoman
I read WML first edition and managed to finish it. The thought that ran through my head the entire time I was reading the book was that if some guy tried that with me (even at my most naive) he'd be facing the business end of a sword or, better yet, I'd slit his throat while he slept. I grew up in a misogynistic environment/society (military brat living in Asia). Even being taught that women were less than men, I rebeled. This book pressed a lot of psychological hot buttons with me. Clayton is one of the reasons there is such a thing as justifiable homicide.
30. Outraged!
I don't even know where to start when expressing how outraged I feel about this book and even more outraged aboutall the women who love this book and consider it a romance book! Regardless of the era the book's action takes place, there is NO EXCUSE for RAPE and ABUSE! Ever!

I would like to ask the girls who will one day become mums and have daughters and ask the women who have now daughters how would they feel about their daughter coming home at 17-18, about the age of Whitney when she met the irritating Clayton and present her "boyfriend" a 34-35 years old guy, very experienced with women, aka womaniser! that constantly grabs her arms brutally, constantly distrusts her, abuses her physically and mentally and rapes her! Wow...what a beautiful romance they would think then that the daughter would be in for! Are women that stupid??? Rape, distrust and abuse is never romantic, it's dimeaning and has no place in any era really!

Those women who still believe this book as a great romance should realise that in today's time, Clayton would be considered a filhty, abusive womaniser and be jailed for rape! If that's the romance we are looking for than I am afraid we should be really worried about our standards!
31. ValerieM
I loved "Whitney my love", one of my fav books.
32. Raynell
Read this a teenager and even then I didn't think it was romantic. I thought it was appalling and was shocked that Whitney was feeling bad for "making" Clay rape her.

I don't understand how anyone can sigh and think this book is romantic. But then again, perhaps I approach books differently from them. If I cannot identify with the characters -- and I certainly don't identify with rape, victim-blaming, abuse and misogyny, all the points you brought up in the excellent article -- then it will alienate me. Instead, I only managed to finish the book because I couldn't look away from the train wreck and the general WTFery.
33. RoseRed
I don´t want to read about rape romance - I like good guys and gals - but I agree that it IS a kink and I think it should be allowed in romance novels. PS. I remember reading a book where a heroine raped a hero and he fell in love with her.
34. Ladyp
Lol, it's interesting reading the comments of women who defend this type of story. "All women have rape fantasies"... NO WE ALL DON'T! I don't want to be raped, I don't want painful love, I don't want forced seduction, and I don't want that for anybody that I care about either.

Interesting thing about our culture is that if you are cruel to a child or a dog or cat you are immediately considered an evil person, but abuse a woman and 'oh well she probably secretly liked it'.

Art is a reflection of culture and this type of story clearly shows that women are the reason that all over the world including in USA that women still are second class citizens and repressed, still get raped and get blamed for it, still defend their rapist sons and brothers and fathers etc. As long as we women defend rape and rapists then we can't cry rape and expect anybody to care. Just look at any rape case in the news and you'll see mothers and girlfriends defending the attacker and standing behind him no matter what.

Women are some of the worst perpetrators of violence against other women and children, especially when they see it and turn their heads and remain silent. Defending this type of sexual violence is tantamount to consent.
35. Dawn B
Wow. Well, I am going to try to take these points one at a time. Yes, in the '80's everything in our culture was more lenient regarding rape, spousal abuse, etc. in 1983, when my first husband beat the snot out of me, the police advised me to file a complaint the following Monday (it was a FridY night). So, while, even in 1985, I wanted to punch Clayton Westmoreland in the nose, I fell in love with this book, the characters, and the author. As for the "attitudes" toward women, anyone who cannot deal with mysogynistic men really should stick with contemporary romance novels, since every historical romance author I have ever read follows some of the Sociatal Norms of the period of which they are writing (you know, those age old days when women were actually property). Most; however, do have a reckoning in the book for the asshole who has sorely abused our heroine. I own both versions of Whitney, MyLove and actually prefer the original. I believe the author was inuenced by the different sociatal expectations when attempting to re-release the book, which is a form of censorship in my eyes. If, you do not want to read this type of book, do not. Just as if you do not like words in music, do not buy it. This book was pivotal in a major shift in romance novels. Prior to it, women read books that gave men all the pleasure and the woman was left thinking...really? In case anyone in wondering, in 1985, the only place you could find Erotica or even a little racy love stories was in the epitome of misogynitic male publications of Penthouse and Playgirl. In my lifetime, women had no right to birth control, were not allowed to play intercollegiate sports, and could not file a complaint of spousal rape.
37. Open Eyes
I have to agree with you. I've read the book before years ago, and I remembered it fondly. However, just today I picked it up once more and I do not remember so many abusive scenes. I was disgusted many times. I reached up to the point when she went for her spanking to this man. In my mind, I'm thinking, she's being molested. I don't even remember the rape scene, at all... I wouldn't be surprised to find it either. How could I have enjoyed this in the past? I went searching for the book where the young girl had to marry a man who mistook her for a boy and kept her over night because of some accident... instead I got this. Please tell me I have the wrong book!
38. Sara WG
Thank you for this article. I am a Ph.D. student in ethics and am currently writing on Feminist Notions of the Self and Sexual Violence. When I was 12 I found this book in my mom's closet. It was the first romance novel I ever read and though I only read it one time 20 years ago, it deeply formed and scared my understanding of sexuality (it taught me that sexual violence and passion are nearly indiscernable) and the normalization of sexual violence. This book is a clear example of #rapeculture and many of the comments on this thread evidence how so many people in our culture have internalized the notion that sexual violence and love belong together. We must continue to critique and stand against any connection being made between love and violence along with any ideas that women "get what they deserve" when they are strong-willed and/or reject the advances of men. I am horrified to think back to what this book taught me about what was "normal" and "acceptable".
39. marie q
@open eyes you have the wrong book. The book you were looking for is called something wonderful by judith mcnaught.
40. twinkhill
It never occurred to me, even at 14, that this was anything but a reflection of the time period. He was raised the son of a duke. He was the heir. But ok. How about Luke and Laura? Nope. That was a soap opera couple that meet when he raped her. Became daytime tvs truest love story. Actually, for his time period and sense of entitlement, Clayton would have been raised to expect, he was very enlightened.

But really, you know what...50 Shades of beatings in 2015.

At 30, I banned my only daughter Whitney Allison. Because I wanted her to be as wonderful as Ms. Mcnaught's character. And if your mother was from the same era as mine, then you know the mentality even then. Men were deferred to. My mother was shunned by people THEN just for being divorced.

My daughter is 14 now. She would never allow a man to her much less stay. Her twin brother has taken her punches though. Thing is. My Whitney is a fanfic junkie. And after just now rereading WML I laughed out loud. The very thing my Whit hates in stories the "Mary Sue", the book she was named after is the blueprint for. She'll love the irony.

It was refreshing, new and fantastic then and is now. You go read Twilight. Because a MURDERER who isn't even alive and ends up KILLING the heroine is so much better.
41. twinkhill
Named my daughter. Not banned. FAC.
42. nevadita
I was actually not aware that this book had a rape scene so when i actually reached the rape scene I personally felt abused. Worst thing i have ever read. And i have read the original version,, till the end I wasnt ready to believe that he would actually do it. And this was shown as eternal love. He always considered her his property n just before rape he says "let me see what i have paid so much for". Disgusting is the only way to describe the whole novel. And he is so insecure about her that even the tiniest thing can tip him off to violence (like the after marriage abuse) . This is not a romantic novel but an abusive 1 with physical, sexual n emotional abuse and should be put in that category for readers who enjoy that stuff.
43. Lyn G
I love judith mcnaught! I love how she writes and impart the art that she have. Every book is like a time machine.
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