An Infuriating Train Wreck – “The Flame and the Flower” by Kathleen W. Woodiwiss
Can we talk for a moment about how annoyed I get when a book/movie/whatever has a plot that involves a woman falling in love with her rapist? I don’t buy it. Yet, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ “The Flame and the Flower,” recognized as the first historical romance novel, takes that plot and builds a story around it.
Poor Irish girl Heather lives with her abusive aunt and push-over Uncle. She’s staggeringly beautiful, yet since she’s lived her whole life in hand-me-downs while working her butt off, she has no idea. When a rich relation comes to take her away to London for what appears to be a job teaching at a girls school, Heather is elated – until the rich relation tries to have his way with her and she fights him until he falls on his knife. Fleeing to the street, Heather is caught by a group of men who take her back to a ship and deliver her to Brandon, their captain, who rapes her. (This is “explained” by the fact that – due to the way she was dressed – he thought she was a common prostitute. Which, I guess, makes it okay.) Over the course of the next night and day, he rapes her some more before she grabs an unloaded gun and threatens his crew until she’s set free.
Returning home to her abusive aunt, it’s quickly discovered that she’s pregnant, and the aunt hatches a plan to get Brandon to marry her. Brandon, weirdly, goes along with it (which is explained by his being “noble”) and soon Heather and Brandon are wed. From there, he proceeds to tell her how much he didn’t want to marry her and how unpleasant her life will be now. Had she only agreed to become his mistress, he would have been nicer to her.
Yeah, you’re as sold on this dude as I am. I can tell.
But then he buys her a whole new exquisite wardrobe and sails her off to a beautiful house in America (away from her beloved homeland of England without her having any choice in the matter, which is apparently also not that big a deal) and it starts to get okay.
This is also where it starts turning into a “Gone With the Wind” rip-off. Dark-haired, Irish-tempered Heather turns into a fine lady of the south while assisted by her African-American servant (who’s name is Hatti – you know that GWTW’s Mammy was played by Hattie McDaniel, right?) and doing emotional battle with her also dark-haired, devilishly handsome rogue husband. It pains me to compare this book to my beloved “Gone With the Wind,” but the comparison becomes too obvious to overlook. Brandon and Heather pale miserably in comparison to the literary legends that are Rhett and Scarlett.
Then some southern girls get murdered, and Heather gets blackmailed for the dude who fell on his knife, and there’s a deformed tailor running around and she gets attacked in the woods and oh, isn’t this all terribly exciting and epic? No, in fact. “The Flower and the Flame” is a train wreck of a novel. I couldn’t resist reading the most ridiculous passages to my husband. Also, maybe it’s just the Kindle e-book edition, but halfway through the book ‘Mr. Hunt” became “Mr. Hint” and never recovered.
If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s like “Gone with the Wind meets Valley of the Dolls meets Flowers in the Attic and they all had a special child who thinks rape is okay.”
Here’s just a taste of how awful it all is, as Brandon (the husband/rapist) and Heather talk about Mr. Court (the rich relation who tried to rape Heather at the beginning.) Brandon begins;
“..He got what he deserved for trying to rape you.”
She looked at him slyly. “You were the one who raped me. What were your just desserts?”
He grinned leisurely. “I received my just desserts when I had to marry a cocky wench like you.”
You guys. I’m not kidding.
Thank Goodness that, thanks to the aid of modern romance writers, the historical romance genre has come a long way since then.
I’m probably going to be mad at this book for years.
SuchABookNerd Smut Index: 6. Sex is more talked around than talked about.