Cara/Andrea here, and what I meant to ask is, are you growing a little tired of all the sex scenes in romance novels these days? I’ve recently been seeing a number of reader comments on various online forums saying that all the gymnastics are becoming . . . boring. The complaint seems to stem from the perception that too many books appear to be simply stringing together a number of hot bed scenes with little attention paid to characterization or story plot.
Joanna here, at the Great Word Wenches Eighth Blogiversary.
Today we're celebrating by harking back to our favorite blog posting evah!
There'll be four blog links today. Four on Friday.
This is my own fourth Word Wenches anniversary. I'm still the newest Wench — the baby Wench, as it were. So proud and happy to be here.
When I went looking for my favorite posting, I had quite a number that called to me. I could go back to the one about women fighting with fists and swords. Or the 'fireworks and explosives' post. Or the one about Regency liquor. (I sense a certain disreputable trend in my posts that had hitherto escaped my notice.) But on the whole, I decided we'd go with a cleaner topic. Bathing.
So here is Georgian and Regency Bathing Customs – here.
It’s lovely to be celebrating the 8th anniversary of the Word Wenches blog and with it our wonderful Wench readers and a huge variety of blog posts.
It was very difficult to choose a favourite from my time as a Wench and I got completely distracted reading through old posts and thinking anew about a range of fascinating topics relating to history and writing and much more besides. In the end, like Andrea, I chose one of my first posts as a wench, One Man and his Dog.
I was so excited to be a part of the group (I still am!) and so keen to share my quirky research interests with a group of like-minded people. The blog illustrates a couple of my passions – dogs and Prince Rupert of the Rhine – and I know I am not alone in loving both of these disparate subjects! In addition, Prince Rupert is a character in my current work in progress and so there is a nice connection from one of my early Wench posts to my writing now.
So here is a link to the blog post, with thanks to my fellow wenches for being such an amazing group and to our readers for being such fun to chat with!
I think one of the reasons the Word Wenches have thrived for eight years in an internet landscape where sites come and go at the speed of light is because we all have wide-ranging and eclectic interests. (that’s an erudite way of saying we are quirky!) Which makes choosing a favorite from the blogs I’ve done over the years no easy task. Like a magpie, I tend to collect bright shiny tidbits of arcane information. I call it research . . . and usually the esoteric historical information I find fascinating does end up in my books. But most, I just find the stuff fun to know.
However, after going over my contributions to the blog, I’ve decided to spotlight the very first post I did for as a Word Wench. There are two reasons—firstly because I was—and still am—thrilled to be part of such an amazing group of writers. Not only do we share a passion for writing and history, but on a more personal level, we have become a close-knit, supportive group of best friends. Secondly, I’m choosing it because it illustrates the sort of offbeat historical subject that set fire to my imagination. And what makes it even more fun is that there is an audience of kindred spirits who seem to share my passion. So without further ado, here is a link to the history of gunpowder. And I’ll also add my own colorful fireworks of thanks to all you readers whose enthusiasm for our posts keeps us going!
From Sherrie Holmes and Sparky Tabasco, happy anniversary to all the Wenches for 8 wonderful years! As your blogmistress, I've been privileged to come along for the ride from the very beginning. It's been a trip! I can remember when I was first approached by Mary Jo about researching blog venues and then becoming the blogmistress to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. Blogging had really exploded back then, and many authors were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the blogosphere. Now, blogs are a great way for authors and readers to connect, and a side benefit has been the wonderful friendships that have been formed as a result. Here’s to another glorious 8 years!
I was delighted to be invited to join the Word Wenches back in 2006, and then it seemed quite an achievement to reach our anniversary in May 2007. Of course we wanted to do a group blog worthy of the milestone, so what else but Getting Naked With the Wenches? The topic was "nakedness in the past — the fiction and the non-fiction."
I pulled together the first of three posts on nakedness. In this one the Wenches discussed bathing habits — naked or not?– and even the definition of nakedness, which uncovered (sorry!) this from the OED. 1761: "The streets were…filled with naked people, some with shirts and shifts on only, and numbers without either." There are pictures.
We also discussed nakedness in sex. No pictures in the blog, but there's a link, with appropriate warnings. Enjoy!
Stay tuned for Friday's posting when we'll hear from Anne, Pat, Susan and Mary Jo. On Friday we'll offer a plentitudeand a half of Wench Book Swag to lucky commenters on either of these posts. What kind of book swag? Let me say — ARC! Let me say — Newly released books. Let me say — audiobook!
So … What's your favorite Wench post from the eight years of Wenchdom?
Jo here, back home in Devon after a brief jaunt to London for the Romantic Novelists Association's Regency Readers' Day. Wench Nicola was there, too. I don't have a head count, but I think over 100 people attended and a great time was had by all. The programme contained some panels sessions, a talk by Honorary Wench Jennifer Kloester on her biography of Georgette Heyer (if you missed her visit to the Word Wenches a short while ago, it's here), and some active sessions on Regency dance — always fun — and Regency parlour games.
There were also a number of people in costume, including some handsome soldiers.
I moderated the panel on Sex and the Georgians, which was rollicking good fun. We started with a short talk about the Celestial Bed. You can read more about it here.
Graham was a late 18th century experimenter with electricity for healing purposes. It's tagged quackery, but electricity continued to be used in medicine throughout the 19th century, and it might sometimes have been effective. After all, we now use TNS — Trans-neural-stimulation — electricity for pain.
"The centerpiece of the Temple of Health was the 'Celestial Bed,' which was reserved for those able to afford the fee of £50 a night. Graham advertised that anyone who rented the bed for the night would be "blessed with progeny." Sterility or impotence would be cured." (From the linked article above.)
There's a review of a book on the subject which gives more detail.
The Georgian period is long, taking us from the tail end of the Stuarts and Restoration mores almost to the Victorian period with its hypocricritical prudishness, so today let's only look at the Regency — 1811 – 18203
Want to have a go at these questions?
When a novel's heroine is a spinster, how much might she know about the male body, and about sexual intercourse, on her wedding night?
How much might she know after it? LOL!
How much might she know about pregnancy — how it happens and the risks of different sexual acts?
Is it believable to have women in Regency-set romances driven beyond reason by sexual desire?
Do you have a strong preference between novels with explicit sex and those without it?
If the novel ends before the characters make love, is that okay, or do you feel cheated?
If the characters make love in the book, but the author "closes the bedroom door" is that okay, or annoying?
I'll answer that one. For me, infuriating! I don't mind "sweet" books at all, as long as the story ends before they make love, but if they do, I want to continue the same deep connection I've experienced during the rest of the story. I don't necessarily need detail, but I want to understand what happened, because it isn't a given.
Sometimes people will say that we don't need to go there because "everyone knows what happens." But that simply isn't true. Sex, particularly the first sex a couple has, is highly revealing about them and their relationships. Sex is also unpredictable — sometimes it just doesn't work out, and how do they respond then? Sometimes it turns hilariously funny. Again, how do they respond to that. Sometimes it's complicated, sometimes simple. And so it goes. I want to know.
When I was a teenager reading Georgette Heyer I often continued the book in my mind, especially to the marriage bed. Before I had practical experience to bring to that I could still spin it out pretty well because sexuality is hard-wired in our brains.
So, have a go at the questions and there'll be a pick of my booklist prize to a random pick of the most entertaining or illuminating comments.
(Statue she might see around the house.)
Warning: this post (though quite erudite and tasteful) may not be safe for work.
I’m delighted to welcome back my good friend and fabulous author Miranda Neville for a visit with the Wenches. For those of you who might not have met Miranda, she grew up in England, attended Oxford, and is—among her many prodigious talents—an expert bibliophile, having worked at Sotheby’s writing catalogues for the rare books and manuscripts. She has put that knowledge to great use in her Regency-set romances, which feature the gentlemen of the Burgundy Club, an exclusive group of book collectors.
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, the third in the series, hits the shelves this month . . . and in keeping with the long, hot, steamy summer we all have been experiencing in the States, she decided to share some of the rather “hot” research that went into the book. So gird your loins—so to speak— and let’s join Miranda as she takes us on a short romp through the history of how a good girl might learn some . . . naughty things.
Characters in historical romance have wonderful sex lives. If it doesn’t always start that way, it’s certainly how it ends up. No one wants to read about a “roll over it’s Saturday night” couple. But it certainly helps if one half of the duo – and it’s usually the hero – has a good idea what he’s doing. But how does he (or she) learn how to be a skilled lover?
(a) The hero’s former relationship(s) with a widow or courtesan. I’ll admit to sometimes feeling skeptical about the latter. Seems to me her job is to make sure the client has a good time regardless of her own pleasure. But never mind. It could happen.
(c) Reading dirty books. This is particularly useful for virginal heroines.
At this point I back up three years, when I decided to research “historical sex” by reading early pornography. (Not that it was so-called until the mid-19th century in England, derived from a French word for works about prostitution.)
The most celebrated pioneer of pornography was Pietro Aretino, a poet and satirist who wrote a series of sixteen sonnets to accompany a suite of illustrations of sexual positions, engraved after erotic paintings by the youthful Giulio Romano. Issued in 1527, both sonnets and prints caused a scandal and were hunted down for destruction by the Catholic Church. Only fragments of “the postures” exist (the last complete set is said to have been destroyed in 1829) but the sonnets survived. Aretino went on to write The Dialogues, supposedly a record of conversations between whores in a brothel.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Aretino’s model of lists of sexual positions and “whore dialogues” was much imitated in Italy, France, and England. The name Aretino came to be a sort of generic term for salacious literature. His name appears on the title pages of books he didn’t write, starting with La Puttana Errante in 1650, actually the work of Niccolo Franco. Franco’s work was translated and rewritten by French writers and, through them, the English.
I found distinct national differences between Italian, French, and English pornography. Aretino’s sonnets contain a good deal of anal sex, to preserve female virginity and guard against pregnancy. By the time we get to the English versions there is none. I wonder if it reflects the English heterosexual male’s taboo against buggery. French libertine literature tends to be combined with high-flying philosophical ruminations, particularly in the mid-to-late eighteenth century when intellectuals like Restif de la Bretonne, Diderot, and Voltaire were writing forbidden works as a subversive act. The sex lives of nuns and priests was not only titillating, but also a criticism of the existing order. Some of the descriptions can get quite flowery. Among the thirty-six positions listed in a 1783 work entitled Histoire et Vie de L’Aretin are “quand la femme embrasse le Dieu Priape ailé” (“when the woman embraces the winged God Priapus”) and “quand l’homme baisse la femme à la cave” (“when the man kisses the woman in her cellar”).
For scholarly discussion of these works I direct you to Robert Darnton’s Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France and Bradford Mudge’s When Flesh Became Word. I wasn’t reading with scholarship in mind, but looking for ideas for my books.
Which brings me to The Genuine and Remarkable Amours of the Late Peter Aretin. I found this slim volume in the British Library when searching the catalogue for Aretino. Bearing the date 1796 on the title page, it’s a novel about the sexual adventures of a youth named Francis Featherbrain and his ardent pursuit of women on tables and riverbanks, in gardens, and brothels and just about anywhere else an Englishman of middling fortune might find himself. Reading it, I knew I’d struck gold. What if, I thought, a virginal heroine used this very book to get a bit of sex ed. So began The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (with help from the hero who does know what he’s doing.) Every hilarious word Celia reads comes straight from the original. “You think I could make this stuff up?” I asked my editor, when she expressed surprise.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the book:
Minerva slid down from the bed, carried The Genuine Amours off in triumph to the far side of the room and settled on the stool next to her dressing table. Celia waited in dread as the girl opened the book to the bookmark and began to read aloud.
“A man who seeks pleasure in casual f… Oh my goodness. I can’t say that word!”
“Then don’t. Stop now.”
“Never! This is fascinating. He can never find it but in the senses, while he who has love on his side, is stretched on the rack of delight, by those able ministers of pleasure, passion and imagination.” She looked up. “That seems a proper sentiment. The author advocates the act of you-know-what only when love is present.”
“Believe me,” Celia said. “He does not practice what he preaches.”
Minerva read quickly down the page. “No, I can see that. Now he is engaging his master’s daughter. How very interesting. They are doing it outside on a downward slope. Listen to this. This posture greatly enhances the pleasure, as it admits of the most perfect entrance that possibly can be conceived of every inch of a prick.”
“Truly?” Celia asked, torn between interest and the conviction that Minerva should not be using words like “prick.” Not at least in that particular meaning of the word. “I didn’t get to that bit.”
“Where did you get this book?”
Celia blushed. “I believe it belongs to Tarquin.” She explained how she found it.
“I knew he collected books, but not this kind. I didn’t even know this kind of book existed. How fortunate that you found it. Finally I can learn something useful.” She flipped a page. “What do you suppose this means? A deluge of spermy rapture.”
There’s just no end to the trouble we historical writers will take to bring you an authentic story. Do you find the great lovers in romances credible? Or ask me a question about my researches and I’ll try to answer without getting the Word Wenches shut down.
Miranda has kindly offered to send an autographed copy of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton to one lucky winner, who will be chosen at random from those who leave a comment below between now and Sunday morning.
Third picture from top and bottom picture courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection