Must Reads: Bodice Rippers and Old Skool Romance Novels

bodice ripper: An historical romance where the heroine has lots of non-consensual sex, which becomes consensual. The book needs to have a gaudy cover with a woman with an extraordinarily long neck, heaving bosoms, and flowing hair, and a brooding man.
—from the Urban Dictionary


The term bodice ripper may inflame your passions (in a bad way, or in a good way!), but these old skool romances are still worth a read. Some are entertaining and some show how much the genre has transformed. All of them are epic love stories with happy endings 🙂


The Flame and The Flower

The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss

This was my first romance novel. This was the first romance novel, in a way. TFTF is credited with exploding the genre as we know it with it’s publication in 1972. The romance begins with a rape (!?! I know) when Captain Brandon Birmingham mistakes  innocent Heather Simmons for a prostitute and forces her to have sex. They are forced to marry. Then they embark on an Atlantic crossing, she finds out she’s pregnant, they set up house in Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way they fall in love and have consensual sex. It’s all sunsets and roses until the villain from her past emerges to ruin everything. This book is epic and absorbing and should not be missed.

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sweet savage love

Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers

Bodice rippers were also known as sweet savage reads after this book, which came out shortly after The Flame and the Flower. It’s a tale of “unending passion” between Virginia Brandon and Captain Steve Morgan (not to be confused with Captain Morgan the rum). I admit: I couldn’t finish this book.  I persevered when the heroine was a beautiful Mary Sue whom everybody loved. I plowed ahead when the hero rapes her stepmother. And when she likes it. I was determined to keep going when the hero kidnaps the heroine and drags her all over the American West, sexing her a bunch of times. But I gave up when the heroine pauses to put on lipgloss during a desperate  attempt to escape captivity in a brothel. As one does? I folded down the page every time there was violence or violent sex and…there are a lot of pages folded down. But it’s a classic?

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Black Silk

Black Silk by Judith Ivory

Submit Channing-Downs is the oh so proper wife of an old marquess, but when she dies she’s left penniless and alone. She makes the acquaintance of Graham Wessit when she is charged with delivering a mysterious box to him, as dictated by her late husband’s will. This could be the start of a exquisitely sexy novel…but it’s not quite. For one thing, the hero and heroine do not meet for at least a hundred pages. For nearly the entire novel, he is in an adulterous relationship with another woman (she’s married to someone else) and he occasionally visits with Submit and their attraction and friendship grows until, inevitably, it Cannot Be Denied. What I found interesting about this book was how it showed how the genre has since changed: I doubt we’d get away with so little contact (sexual or otherwise) between the hero and heroine, never mind showing him involved in an adulterous relationship.

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Whitney My Love

Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught

Don’t you just hate it when your father sells you to some guy in exchange for a ton of money to cover debts incurred by his own stupidity? So does Whitney. The hero is Clayton Westmoreland, duke of Westmoreland. The heroine is Whitney, a “saucy hoyden” and “ravingly sensual woman.” (Pardon the quotes from the official blurb, but it cannot be said any better than that). It’s hate at first sight, for her anyway. What ensues is a battle of wills as he tries to win her. I thought this would be a ridiculous eye-roller but I was completely obsessed and could not put it down. BTW: This book is also best known for a certain whipping scene that was revised out of later versions. But rest assured, you can track down the original online (oh, yeah I did obvs).

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Gentle Rogue

Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsay

This book has it all. James Malory is a handsome, rakish, ex-pirate, ship captain hero. Georgina Anderson is a feisty heroine disguised as boy on a perilous journey. Sexual tension and shared quarters ensue (“Intimate servitude” to quote the blurb). This one is sexy and funny and so full of wonderful family dynamics.

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beverly Ross

I have read everyone of these over the years! Love them still.

Lora Patten

You need to add The Kadin by Bertrice Small, The Black Lyon by Jude Devereux, and Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey.

Michele Stegman

Woodiwiss’s other books, The Wolf and the Dove, Shanna, and my personal favorite, A Rose in Winterr, should be added. But then, I’m sure we ALL have our favorites! Also Flowers From the Storm by Kinsale.
I was glad when “whipping scenes” and other kinds of heroine bashing went out of style! I want my heroes kind to the heroine, no matter what!


I’m glad you mentioned the controversial whipping scene from “Whitney, My Love.” Had it not been for that scene, I probably would have loved that book. What an eye-opener shocking read that was!

Annette N

The first romance novel I ever read was Until You by Judith McNaught. It was intense and I was not madly in love with some of the actions of the hero. If I had read Whitney, My Love first, I am not sure I would ever have gotten interested in the genre. All I can say is that I am glad I fell in love with the genre of love.

Ell Ell

While not as acclaimed or recognized as a “classic” bodice ripper, I’ve always believed Seek Only Passion by Deana James should be included. It’s a real page turner.

Doux me

Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers is the BEST!!!! Don’t remember anything about lip gloss. Read it again.

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