The Evolution of a Bodice-Ripper

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A Guest Blog by Victoria Vane

Labeled as “poisonously salacious” by the Literary Review of 1921, E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, was one of the most scandalous books of it’s time. It was also a runaway best-seller with fifty printings, and later sky-rocketed silent film star Rudolph Valentino to superstardom. In the 1920’s even the word “sheik,” originally a Muslim title of respect, entered the slang vernacular to describe irresistible, ruthless, masterful, and over-sexualized masculinity.

Although defamed by many critics as “pornographic literature, there is absolutely no explicit sexual content in E.M. Hull’s The Sheik. The greatest cause of outrage over the work was not so much the “prurience” or “obscenity” of the story, but the suggestion that a woman could pursue sexual pleasure without being punished for it. On the contrary, this quintessential desert romance portrays a woman’s sexual awakening. Because a woman in 1919 could never confess to actually desiring or enjoying sex, the author employs the “forced seduction scenario.” Later imitated by a number of romance novelists of the 1970’s and 1980’s, this trope involves the heroine’s submission to rape, and inevitably ends in her falling in love with her brutal ravisher.

Excerpt from E.M. Hull’s The Sheik (1919)

Terror, agonising, soul-shaking terror such as she had never imagined, took hold of her. The flaming light of desire burning in his eyes turned her sick and faint. Her body throbbed with the consciousness of a knowledge that appalled her. She understood his purpose with a horror that made each separate nerve in her system shrink against the understanding that had come to her under the consuming fire of his ardent gaze, and in the fierce embrace that was drawing her shaking limbs closer and closer against the man’s own pulsating body. She writhed in his arms as he crushed her to him in a sudden access of possessive passion. His head bent slowly down to her, his eyes burned deeper, and, held immovable, she endured the first kiss she had ever received. And the touch of his scorching lips, the clasp of his arms, the close union with his warm, strong body robbed her of all strength, of all power of resistance…

It was not true! It was not true! It could not be—this awful thing that had happened to her—not to her, Diana Mayo! It was a dream, a ghastly dream that would pass and free her from this agony…   Her courage, that had faced dangers and even death without flinching, broke down before the horror that awaited her. It was inevitable; there was no help to be expected, no mercy to be hoped for. She had felt the crushing strength against which she was helpless. She would struggle, but it would be useless; she would fight, but it would make no difference…

The certainty of the accomplishment of what she dreaded crushed her with its surety. All power of action was gone. She could only wait and suffer in the complete moral collapse that overwhelmed her, and that was rendered greater by her peculiar temperament. Her body was aching with the grip of his powerful arms, her mouth was bruised with his savage kisses. She clenched her hands in anguish. “Oh, God!” she sobbed, with scalding tears that scorched her cheeks. “Curse him! Curse him!” (End Excerpt)

Thankfully, times have changed in the ninety-four years since The Sheik took over the Western world like a Sahara sand storm.

In my endeavor to adapt this story to 21st century sensibilities, rather than “rape-to redemption” as portrayed in the original work, my sheik is no brutal ravisher. Although Diana is indeed his captive, he employs an entirely different approach to get what he wants —a methodical, deliberate, and utterly delicious seduction. 

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Excerpt from The Sheik Retold

“I will let you go when I have tired of you,” he answered in a bored drawl.

His gaze then slid from my eyes to my mouth and then to my breasts, bound by the Symington Side Lacer that I wore to achieve a fashionably girlish bosom. “What is this?” he asked with a look of disgust, followed by a clean slice of the jambiya through the laces. “Do you abhor your womanhood so very much?”

His question rang a peal in my brain. It was true. I despised being a woman to the depths of my being. “Yes!” I cried. “And never more than in this very moment!”

With my arms pinned behind my back, I could do nothing but endure his lazy inspection of my nakedness. He replaced the dagger and jerked my blouse from my shoulders, releasing my wrists long enough to remove it completely. Although my hands were free, I tamped down the instinct to cover myself. Instead, I met him stare for stare.

He raised a hand to my face, brushing the strong fingers down my cheek, but I still refused to look away. His caress continued, a lazy finger down my throat, his thumb circling the indentation between my collarbones, the backs of his fingers descending to the valley between my breasts. He grazed his long, strong fingers underneath and then along the outsides of my breasts, inciting from me an involuntary shiver. A smug smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. His gentle touch was a new torture—invoking equal parts revulsion…and pleasure.

I knew that escape was no option and resolved to endure his touch with stony stoicism. He might take his pleasure from me, but I would offer nothing in return. I rationalized that if I would be as cold and lifeless as a corpse, he would quickly become tired of me and either kill me or let me go. I would rather the latter, but in that moment, even death seemed preferable to my enslavement as his mistress.

“Take off the boots and breeches,” he commanded.

Only hours ago I would have balked, but now I woodenly obeyed him. He watched with a half-smile as I sat on the edge of the bed struggling with the boots.

“So I am to be relegated to valet after all.” The sheik knelt and gave one solid yank on the heel, freeing one foot from the tight leather, and then the other. He then stood me up and unbuttoned my breeches, peeling them slowly over my hips, nuzzling my belly with his lightly bristled face as he worked down the length of my legs. “So soft…so white,” he murmured hotly against my skin.

Beneath the breeches, I wore French knickers. It was a secret indulgence of mine. They were surprisingly comfortable, and I liked the feeling of the silk against my bare skin. He slid his hands up my thighs and reached his fingers easily beneath the silk. I suppressed a shiver at his touch. Willing myself to remain steady and stiff, I said nothing, but his words had both appalled and excited me. He skirted both hands up the backs of my thighs, and under the knickers to graze over my bottom, while he gripped the waistband of my knickers…with his teeth.

I was breathless. Nothing about this was what I had expected. It was hardly the brutal ravishment I had prepared myself for. His actions were inexplicable and bewildering, making me feel like a helpless mouse under the paw of a great lion who wished to play with it.

“Please!” I cried. “Will you stop toying with me and just get the business over with!”

He laughed and ran his tongue across my belly. “But that is not my wish, ma chère. No indeed. It is my desire to make you bask in what you most despise. You wished to be a boy, but I intend to teach you the untold delights of being a woman.”

(End Excerpt)


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Rakes and Sheiks and Cowboys… Oh My!Victoria Vane is a multiple award-winning romance novelist, cowboy addict and history junkie whose collective works of fiction range from wildly comedic romps to emotionally compelling erotic romance. Victoria also writes historical fiction as Emery Lee and is the founder of Goodreads Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers and the Romantic Historical Lovers book review blog. Look for Victoria’s sexy new contemporary cowboy series coming from Sourcebooks in summer 2014.



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