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Birmingham #1

The Flame and the Flower

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Doomed to a life of unending toil, Heather Simmons fears for her innocence — until a shocking, desperate act forces her to flee... and to seek refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

A lusty adventurer married to the sea, Captain Brandon Birmingham courts scorn and peril when he abducts the beautiful fugitive from the tumultuous London dockside. But no power on Earth can compel him to relinquish his exquisite prize. For he is determined to make the sapphire-eyed lovely his woman... and to carry her off to far, uncharted realms of sensuous, passionate love.

430 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1972

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About the author

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

44 books1,714 followers
Kathleen Erin Hogg was born on June 3, 1939, in Alexandria, Louisiana, she was the youngest of eight siblings by Gladys (Coker) and Charles Wingrove Hogg, a disabled World War I veteran. She long relished creating original narratives, and by age 6 was telling herself stories at night to help herself fall asleep. At age 16, she met U.S. Air Force Second Lieutenant Ross Eugene Woodiwiss at a dance, and they married the following year. She wrote her first book in longhand while living at a military outpost in Japan.

She is credited with the invention of the modern historical romance novel: In 1972 she released The Flame and the Flower, an instant New York Times bestseller that created a literary precedent. The novel revolutionized mainstream publishing, featuring an epic historical romance with a strong heroine and impassioned sex scenes. The Flame and the Flower was rejected by agents and hardcover publishers, who deemed it as "too long" at 600 pages. Rather than follow the advice of the rejection letters and rewrite the novel, she instead submitted it to paperback publishers. The first publisher on her list, Avon, quickly purchased the novel and arranged an initial 500,000 print run. The novel sold over 2.3 million copies in its first four years of publication.

The success of The Flame and the Flower prompted a new style of writing romance, concentrating primarily on historical fiction tracking the monogamous relationship between a helpless heroines and the hero who rescued her, even if he had been the one to place her in danger. The romance novels which followed in her example featured longer plots, more controversial situations and characters, and more intimate and steamy sex scenes.

She was an avid horse rider who at one time lived in a large home on 55 acres (220,000 m2) in Minnesota. After her husband's death in 1996, she moved back to Louisiana. She died in a hospital on July 6, 2007 in Princeton, Minnesota, aged 68, from cancer. She was survived by two sons, Sean and Heath, their wives, and numerous grandchildren. Her third son, Dorren, predeceased her.

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March 24, 2022

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Woodiwiss is often credited with creating the first bodice ripper or the first "modern historical romance novel." I would actually disagree with both of those remarks - especially since they mean very different things. I wouldn't actually classify bodice-rippers as "romance" novels; they're more like anti-romance novels. The hero in these types of books is usually very similar to the villain, distinguishable only by a very thin and wavering thread of morality that usually ties into a sense of obligation and ownership of the (virginal) heroine & his (usually forced) deflowering of her.

If we're going to talk bodice-rippers, I believe they were heavily influenced by the smutty, exploitative pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s that influenced Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Christopher Nicole, author of the Caribee of the Hiltons series, is one of these authors, and so is Lance Horner, author of the Falconhurst series. The most famous in this genre is probably MANDINGO, and that is the book that comes to mind first and foremost when I think of the first bodice ripper, although Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND would be a close second. If we're going to talk about modern historical romance novels, I think FOREVER AMBER or GONE WITH THE WIND are better examples, since both still have a very modern feel & have similar formulas to that of many romance novels that are still being published today. If that's not modern, what is? Anya Seton and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro are other authors whose romance novels transcend time and who also preceded Kathleen Woodiwiss by decades.

**Warning: SPOILERS**

Regardless of its alleged feats of being the first of its kind (or not, depending on how you feel about it), I don't feel that THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER survives the times it was written very well. Our heroine, Heather, is under the care of a fat and abusive aunt (because fat and ugly people = villains in this book) and a thoroughly hen-pecked uncle whose dusty balls lie forgotten in the depths of one of Wicked Aunt's purses. The aunt has sold all her niece's clothes & belongings, and she wonders around in clothes "twelve times too large" that gape open to reveal her amazing bosom. It is worth noting that Heather's amazing breasts have more agency than she does, thrusting desperately against clothing as they seek out male attention, declaring their arousal on behalf of Heather (who, you know, just sits there passively and chastely, relying on her breasts to act as liaison with sexual partners) and constantly threatening to pour out of her clothes; Heather's breasts are the true main characters in this book, and it is sad when a heroine's body parts seem to receive more narrative description and action verbs than she does.

Her Aunt is tired of having Heather around and sends her off to be with her brother, who has plans to rape Heather and then, when he's tired of her, it is implied that he will give her to a Madam. Again, since this Uncle character is evil, he is fat and ugly. Heather manages to escape with her virginity intact (by making Uncle William "fall on a knife" dead), still clad in the revealing gown he put her in, and the servant to a rich and arrogant sailor spies her fleeing around the docks. Thinking her to be a prostitute, he kidnaps her and presents her to his master, who he assumes will be pleased. The master, who of course is the hero, since he is the only good-looking in this entire book universe we've encountered so far, is very pleased, and proceeds to rape Heather. The fact that she is a virgin surprises him, but he assumes that she just has her Whore Training Wheels™ on and he was the lucky gent who got to ride the bicycle first. When he finds out the truth, he does a lot of posturing and villainous laughing, basically telling Heather that if she didn't want to be raped, she should have tried to enjoy it more, before raping her a few more times. He then tells her that he intends to make her his mistress, and she should be pleased.

Heather ends up getting pregnant right away from Brandon's efforts, and when she returns home, her Aunt does not shirk on the opportunity to decry Heather's heritage (not only is she Irish and a Tory, but she's also a slut). Heather's well-meaning friends host an intervention where they blackmail Brandon into marrying Heather and taking responsibility for what he's done. Brandon does not take kindly to being told what to do, and drops a bunch of threats about how miserable he's going to make Heather, and oh, by the way, NO SEX, EVER. I have to admit, I laughed. How arrogant do you have to be to imagine that depriving the woman you raped of your magnificent Penis Magic™ is the worst possible punishment you can deliver, ever? If you just said "Gee, seems like the only person that would hurt is him," you would be right, and Brandon spends the next three hundred pages ruing this decision as he quickly comes down with the world's most serious case of blue balls.

After the two are married, Brandon decides to sell his ship and take Heather to his plantation. Here we meet the sexually autonomous, villainous Other Woman, a cringe-worthy Mammy stereotype, the heroine's brother (an updated version of the hero that's still in beta-testing), and all of the jealous, spurned women and their mothers who were vying for Brandon's hand and are bitterly resentful that this girl - who doesn't even go here - somehow managed to snatch him up for herself and get impregnated with his child. The next two hundred pages consist of OW, Louisa, getting into verbal catfights with Heather while trying to seduce Brandon; Heather crying and flinching and seething in a froth of vindication and traitorous lust; and Brandon, who is starting to realize how ineffective his "punishment" is and concocts a new, ingenious plan to win her back that quickly goes awry because the last thing that most women want to do in the late stages of pregnancy and then immediately afterwards is have rough, passionate sex. Brandon abandons this plan, too, and announces that the two of them henceforth are going to have sex every night, whether he has to rape her to get it or not, because damn it, he has needs. Heather goes for this, puts on a sheer blue nightie to seduce him, and after this it's a whole bunch of "I love you" "No, I love you, Pooky-Kins" nonsense, and since Heather is breast-feeding that means that her breasts are always out and everyone, from the hero to his brother to the other woman, has to stare at them in admiration/jealousy and comment on them. The last twenty-five pages attempts to cram in another plot line, introducing a partially-realized murder mystery. It's pretty obvious who the villain is, and this only serves as an excuse for yet another man to lose himself to mad passion and attempt to rape Heather (I think this is rape attempt #5 if we're counting based on unique perpetrators and not actual attempts, in which case it would be closer to rape attempt #20).

This book is ridiculous. One of my friends called this a handbook to having a relationship full of domestic violence, and I have to say that I agree with that sentiment. I don't normally mind reading about rape, but the way it was romanticized in this book made me really uncomfortable. I don't really want to read about all these pastoral scenes of domestic bliss if all the sexual interactions between them border on (or in some cases are actually blatant acts of) rape. This goes away towards the end of the book, but only after the heroine realizes that it's pointless to resist him further.

Heather is definitely a wish fulfillment fantasy and I could see why she might have persisted throughout time. Every man who sees her wants her. Every woman who sees her is jealous of her. She's beautiful no matter what she wears, whether it's rags or a beautiful gown, and her rapist husband is constantly buying her gowns and presenting her with jewelry (when he's not yelling at her, making her cringe, throwing things, or threatening to beat up men for looking at her). When she gives birth she loses her baby bump immediately and the author is quick to reassure us that there are no stretchmarks or unsightly skin folds, either. When she's not making people cream themselves in jealousy or sexual lust, they're falling over in their charmed admiration of her & doing everything they can to make her life better. Heather is the ultimate woman, and doesn't have to lift a finger to achieve it, because expending any more effort than it would take to stomp a foot far is too intimidating in a heroine.

Other things that made me wince/side-eye this book:

-In an attempt to woo the hero, Louisa slathers her nipples in rouge and wears a see-through copy of the gown Brandon raped Heather in

-Lots of uses of the word "Negress" and stereotypical portrayals of the happy slave

-One of the rape attempts occurs because a man visiting Brandon's plantation sees a dirt- and soot-covered Heather and assumes that she's black and a slave (winces)

-When going into labor, the heroine refuses to go anywhere until her husband changes her into a blue gown, because she's sure she's going to have a boy and the baby has to match her gown!

-Dresses tear like tissue paper in this book. It inspired me to make a new shelf on Goodreads for heroines with clothes that tear like wet Kleenex.

Honestly, this book is pretty formulaic, and with the exception of a few odd details (see the above) it follows the usual bodice ripper plot to a T. I've read and enjoyed another book of Woodiwiss's (COME LOVE A STRANGER), so I know she can write better, but this first, unfettered attempt was not my cup of tea at all. If you're going to read it, read it for science: observe it impassively, without any expectations, with the intention of reporting back your findings to others. Otherwise, it might just make a foot-stomper out of you, too.

1 star.
Profile Image for Teresa Medeiros.
Author 57 books2,484 followers
July 20, 2011
In 1972, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss did what every writer dreams of doing—she wrote a classic novel with her very first book. The Flame and the Flower had it all—passion, conflict, adventure, drama, a setting that sweeps us from Georgian England to a plantation in the Carolinas, and unforgettable characters. She broke all the conventional rules of historical fiction by making the sexual relationship between her hero and heroine a vital component of their emotional relationship and in doing so, gave birth to the modern genre of the historical romance.

I was ten years old when The Flame and the Flower was first published, fifteen the first time I read it. Although I read it numerous times after that, I hadn't picked it up in years. So when I started re-reading the book to research this article, I told myself I'd treat it like an assignment and just read for an hour at a time. The prose was denser and much more detailed than what we've become accustomed to in recent years, but after only a few pages, I found myself thoroughly captivated. Before I knew it, three hours had passed and I still couldn't bear to put the book down. Thirty years after it's publication, The Flame and the Flower is still a deliciously readable novel, a quality it shares with another timeless classic, Gone with the Wind.

I was also struck all over again by what a fine writer Kathleen E. Woodiwiss is. To enter her world is to enter a time machine that transports you back to 1799, where Heather Simmons, our Georgian Cinderella, is being held captive by her aunt's cruelty until sea captain Brandon Birmingham comes storming into her life to sweep her away. Although Woodiwiss's descriptions are lush and detailed, her prose is never purple. You can almost hear the ring of poetry in her description of Heather's uncle: His hands were gnarled and twisted with the years of backbreaking labor eking a shallow subsistence from the marshy land, and the weather-thickened skin held the pain of the passing seasons etched in deep lines that furrowed his face. And the clean, evocative beauty of this sentence, which describes Brandon's ship as it makes its way to the Americas, is enough to make any writer in any genre weep with envy: Now the rigging sang in the wind and the ship strained as it chopped its way through frothy white caps. By setting her own standards so high, Woodiwiss challenged every romance writer who came after her to strive for excellence in their craft.

One of the criteria of an enduring classic is that it should be the first to do something, and in The Flame and the Flower, Woodiwiss succeeds on every count. So many of her innovations would go on to become the bedrock conventions upon which the historical romance genre would be grounded. Although her settings and secondary characters are vividly drawn, the relationship between Heather and Brandon always remains at the core of the plot. By trapping them together on an arduous sea voyage for much of the book, Woodiwiss succeeds in creating the perfect romantic microcosm. Many scenes that might seem clichéd now were sparkling and new thirty years ago: the heroine assisting the hero with his bath; the hero walking in on the heroine as she bathes; the hero nursing the heroine through a near fatal illness caused by his own insensitivity. Woodiwiss gives the hero a loveable wise-quipping brother, a loyal manservant, and a witchy ex-fiancée. Every man who meets Heather falls a little bit in love with her and in an eerily prescient twist, there's even a suspense sub-plot involving a brutal killer that drives the book to a heart-jolting climax.
Although less politically correct then some would prefer, the book is probably more historically accurate than many of the romances written today where all the young misses are feisty and all the gents are enlightened as to the rights of women. Yes, seventeen-year-old Heather is essentially a passive victim in the beginning and thirty-five-year-old Brandon is perfectly capable of being an arrogant jerk, but they both fulfill that essential criteria of good fiction—they experience personal growth and transformation during the course of the story. Heather finds her spirit while Brandon loses his heart.

Whether it be on Amazon.com or on a panel with other romance writers, you can't discuss this book or Heather and Brandon's first sexual encounter without waging the same debate that's been raging ever since Rhett carried a resisting Scarlet up those long, winding stairs in Gone with the Wind. I learned that firsthand in Harpers Ferry in April of 2002 when I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion comparing The Flame and the Flower to a "modern" romance. Some participants found the book enthralling while others found it appalling, but no matter what their opinion, it still evoked emotions every bit as strong as the passion Heather and Brandon share.

The controversy arises when, during their first meeting, a drunken Brandon mistakes Heather for a wharf prostitute. Both her explanations and her struggles are so weak and ineffectual that one can almost forgive him the mistake. He's quite remorseful when he realizes he's deflowered an innocent, but that doesn't stop him from taking her once more before she makes her escape. Is this shocking and wicked? Oh yes! But still stirring in this era where our deepest and most primal sexual fantasies have been sanitized and the definition of "feminism" seems to be have been extended to the area of censoring other women's fantasies. When Brandon tells Heather, "I've found with you, sweet, that when I want you badly enough I can overlook being a gentleman," my heart beats a little faster as I imagine him with the devilish glint of a marauding Errol Flynn or Clark Gable in his eye.
As Patricia Reynolds Smith, the academic who edited Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women with Jayne Ann Krentz, pointed out during our panel discussion, this is no forced seduction where Heather is made to experience pleasure against her will. Woodiwiss never once glamorizes rape. Heather despises it the two times Brandon has his way with her when she is resistive. It's not until he learns to show her tenderness and consideration after a long period of enforced abstinence that she comes to enjoy their lovemaking.

The one scene that fueled my own adolescent fantasies and has lingered in my imagination for over twenty-four years is the scene where Brandon first learns that Heather is carrying his child. After her vicious aunt slaps her and rips her ragged dress from her body, revealing her pregnant nakedness to everyone in the room, Brandon comes storming out of the shadows and sweeps his cloak around her. In that one thrilling and protective gesture, we see a shadow of the hero he will become.

Although Brandon can be a bit of a bully when crossed, from the very beginning of the novel he demonstrates a capacity for humor and irresistible kindness. He resents being forced into marriage, yet he buys Heather beautiful clothes, covers her when she is cold, has a tub brought on board his ship because he knows she cherishes her baths, and orders a special pair of long johns made to help her endure the bitter winter weather at sea. He also fulfills another crucial female fantasy that would go on to become a staple of our genre—once he lays eyes on Heather, he never wants or touches another woman.

Since The Flame and the Flower gave women their first chance to read about sex outside of the context of male pornography, I was amazed to realize how few sex scenes there actually are in the book. After Heather and Brandon's initial encounter, they don't make love again until near the very end of the novel. During the long sea voyage, we watch them slowly becoming husband and wife—denying each other sexual comforts, yet strengthening their emotional bond. We enjoy the vicarious thrill of watching them fall in love, not just in lust.

The sensual tension escalates through a series of tender moments such as the one where they exchange Christmas gifts back at Brandon's Carolina plantation, the scene where Heather is sewing baby clothes while Brandon reads aloud to her from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the funny and touching scene where their child is finally born. By the end of the book, you actually believe that these two could build a happy life together—built not only on physical attraction, but on mutual respect and love.

While Brandon is becoming a hero worth having, Heather completes her own satisfying personal journey. Her fiery confrontations with her husband don't defeat her, but strengthen her. No longer a passive victim, late in the book she even vanquishes the lecherous Mr. Bartlett, who manhandles her when he mistakes her for a bondwoman. While devoted slave Hatti hits the villain in the face with a mop, Heather stomps on his instep, then hurls a chunk of soap at his head, causing him to somersault off the porch. A fuming Brandon arrives, but Heather no longer needs him to rescue her. She has completed her journey from girl to woman and is now fully his equal and his match.

Both the power and pleasure of The Flame and the Flower are rooted in its retelling of the primal myths that reside in our collective unconsciousness. In the snippet of poetry that prefaces the book, it is not the flame that consumes the flower, but the flower that triumphs by re-emerging after being scorched by the flame. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss didn't just understand the "Beauty and the Beast" mythology on an intellectual level. She internalized it to such a degree that it infuses every word of both this story and her follow-up classic, The Wolf and the Dove.
And in Brandon Birmingham, Woodiwiss delivers a beast worthy of the taming. As Patricia Reynolds Smith pointed out during our panel discussion, in recent years there has been a tendency for romance writers to "defang" their beasts much too early in our stories. We're so determined to make our protagonists "heroic" from the very first page (possibly to stave off internet criticism of the ultra-Alpha male?) that there's very little room left for the personal growth that makes this book so satisfying and enduring.

And it is enduring. 183 reader reviews on Amazon.com prove that. As I scrolled through them, I was amazed by how many of them were written by girls who were around the same age I was when I first discovered the book. It seemed these young women could relate to both Heather's age and her coming-of-age journey during the story. This made me wonder if romance writers aren't missing some vital component of "growing the market" in our efforts to be more politically correct by prematurely aging the heroines in our historical romances. Perhaps the best way to win a reader's heart for life is to win it while it's still young and tender.

Whether you love The Flame and the Flower or hate it, we're still talking about it almost 40 years later. How many other romances will be able to make that claim? As I turned the last page of the book with a wistful sigh, I was humbled all over again by what a tremendous debt of gratitude we all owe Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. Brandon Birmingham and Heather Simmons are truly the grandparents of all the historical heroes and heroines who came after them. At the end of the book, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss shouldn't have written The End, but The Beginning.
Profile Image for Kat Kennedy.
475 reviews16.3k followers
June 2, 2010
I read this book years ago when I was a teenager. I had borrowed all the Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novels from my mother's shelf and she had stolen them from her mother. Kind of creepy, yes, but I read my grandmother's literary porn.

As a teenager I may have actually given this book three stars. I actually enjoyed reading Brandon's dominating ways and Heather's bodice-ripping adventures. Though, despite my youngish years, I still found their first encounter "disturbing" and Brandon's subsequent treatment of Heather over the first year of their marriage as disgraceful.

I haven't read this book in a few years but I find myself continually puzzled. Granted it was the first of its kind and it spawned a new genre, but I kind of wish it hadn't.

These "alpha male" romantic heroes really get on my nerve. When dissected, they're often nothing but spoiled, selfish little bullies. The illusion that their poor behavior is because of raging lust and that once their issues with the heroine is resolved they turn into sweet puppies is actually misleading and sick.

No. Spoiled self brats continue to be spoiled selfish brats. Men who require the whole world, and their women included, to bow to their whims and serve their needs should not be romantic heroes. Men like this in real life are abusive, controlling assholes!

Maybe it's because I'm not a big fan of the Romance genre. Sure, I love romantic books - I really enjoy reading them, but I have read a select few and to me they have often seemed more like a How To Guide: How To Have Your Very Own Abusive Relationship.

And people wonder why women end up in abusive relationships when they're told that the very controlling behaviors exhibited by men in these novels are sweet and caring gestures. No. They're controlling and manipulative.

It's not just the Romance Genre though that is guilty of this. It's a sickness that has pervade other types of fiction *Glares at the Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Genre*

I would much like to read a novel where the male character is a responsible adult capable of monitoring his temper on occasion and not throwing a temper tantrum every time he doesn't get his way. I would like to read novels where the heroine isn't a victim of every situation - she's someone that takes charge of her life and sticks up for herself.

In my mind, Brandon Birmingham needs to go sit in the corner and think about what he's done.

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss can join him too.
May 15, 2010
It was nice to finally read this signature romance by a historical romance great. I quite enjoyed it. Initially, I was a bit worried, because Brandon came off as an arrogant, self-absorbed jerk. However, he really redeemed himself, showing a profound selflessness and dedication for his young wife. Yes, he did rape her. If you don't like rape in a romance, then you won't like this book, and I would not judge you. We all have our personal tastes and comfort zones. Rape is a plot device I can tolerate, depending on the execution. My issues with Brandon were due to his blase' reaction to raping a young woman. He was willing to gloss over his action, and to keep her as his mistress since the stallion had already gotten into the barn, so to speak. He didn't apologize to her. But, we come to see that over the course of this story, Brandon does acknowledge his wrongdoing to Heather, and takes measures to do better by her in the future. He's not perfect, but he was a good man and he really did show his love for Heather as this story progressed. In fact, some of his gentleness towards Heather reminded me of a Julie Garwood hero, particularly in the scene when Heather's water has broken and he's trying to get her changed. He was exasperated with her reasoning about him turning his back while she changed, and cleaning up the water from the floor, but he remained gentle and kind with her. So, yes he did redeem himself. He showed her a lot of patience and understanding about the 'big secret' she was hiding.

Brandon is in some ways a stalkerific hero. He's very possessive, obsessed with, and jealous about Heather. He doesn't want any man near her, and was about to go crazy when the men were fawning over her at the ball they held. I found it interesting that he didn't really get too angry at his brother Jeff, even though Jeff was flirting really heavily with Heather. But, I think his love for his brother made it clear to him that this was no real threat.

The things I loved about this story:
*The love bond that grows between Heather and Brandon becomes very profound and beautiful. They showed their love physically in many scenes, and most of them are non-sexual. With gentle touches and caresses, and how thoughtful they were to each other's wellbeing and needs. I loved that most of this book doesn't involve love scenes, because we get to see the relationship between Heather and Brandon develop in a good way, and to reset the tone of their first meeting in this story. I would recommend this book to a reader who wants a good romance book showing a couple who is married. When the love scenes occur later on in the book, they are the more vague, pretty language type, if that's not your thing.
*The beautifully descriptive and atmospheric writing. Ms. Woodiwiss was a very talented writer. Her writing is gorgeous and elegant. It invokes a period feel that I really immersed myself in. I felt like I was there during many of the scenes due to her vivid writing.
*The familial and friendly interactions between the characters. Jeff is quite the character. He is funny and insightful. I liked the humor in this story.
*Very good adventure moments and a decent mystery. The murders that occur in this book were surprisingly dark, although they all occur off-screen.
*Heather is a great character. She was such a sweet, kind, gentle, innocent heroine. But she isn't one of those heroines who made my eyes roll or got on my nerves. She is timid, but strong in some ways. Nowadays, it seems as though romance fans have made authors afraid to write heroines like her. But I quite enjoyed her. She reminds me of some of Julie Garwood's loveable heroines, although she doesn't show the sustained bizarre logic that they show ( which cracks me up). This girl was a real sweetie for me.
Things I wasn't Crazy About:
*Slavery is a huge issue for this reader. I respect that some readers aren't particularly bothered by romance novels set in slavery times, but I don't care for them. I hate the idea of slavery, even if it is true that some slave-owners were kind to, and often thought of their slaves as family-members. I think Ms. Woodiwiss wanted to have a story set in the American South, but wasn't too comfortable with the connotations of slavery. She seemed to shy away from showing the ugly aspects of slavery in the interactions of Brandon with his slaves. She never even called them slaves, referring to them as servants. I won't presume to tell an author how to write, but I didn't really care for the soft-shoeing here. I'd rather she called a spade a spade, and showed Brandon as a more kindly slaveowner. That would have been more realistic for me. The Disneyland depiction of the slave plantation is a bit insulting for me as a reader. As I said, this is my personal issue. I don't judge other readers who have no quarrel with it. Having said that, this was a book set in the slavery times that didn't bother me as much as some did (soft-shoeing may have served a role in this).
*I wasn't sure if I liked the almost caricature-like depiction of some of the Black characters. I almost felt as though Ms. Woodiwiss watched Gone With the Wind, and wrote Hatti based on Mammy from Gone With the Wind. The other Black characters had almost no personality. They were shadow-figures who fetched, cleaned, and carried. It made me wince, more than a few times.
*Physical beauty=good, External ugliness=bad. I didn't really like that underlying theme here. The villain was a very ugly man, and his heart was ugly. He could have easily been really gorgeous and evil. Louisa, Brandon's scheming ex-fiance was showed as a lacking contrast to Heather, not just in poor character, but because she was large-framed, and in her thirties, and not sexually innocent like Heather. Young and firm-fleshed isn't necessarily always better than mature and buxom. A woman's value isn't necessarily in her virginity or lack of sexual experience. Louisa was very promiscuous, and she wasn't a nice person, and I didn't like her, but I don't think she should have been rejected based on her getting older. Not that Woodiwiss was saying this, but there were contrasts drawn between the two that relied heavily on physical appearance. It made me uncomfortable.

I can honestly say that I really liked this story. It took forever to read (small print, and length), but it was very readable. I loved Brandon and Heather as a couple, despite their inauspicious start. If you would like to read classic, well-done, old-School romance, this is a good place to start. Recommended if you don't mind slavery in your romances.
Profile Image for Mo.
1,363 reviews2 followers
May 25, 2015

4.5 stars.

"Kathleen Woodiwiss is credited with the invention of the modern historical romance novel: In 1972 she released The Flame and the Flower, an instant New York Times bestseller that created a literary precedent."

Well done to her for "creating" this genre .... many have learned from her, I'm sure.

I can see how some might have issues with what happened in the beginning of the book ... it's fiction ... it is what used to be termed "a bodice ripper" ... it happened.

Her struggle pulled his shirt loose and then his furred chest lay bare against her with only the thin film of the chemise between them ...

It was a sweeping tale that took us from the streets of London across the ocean to the New World.

Under the full moon the great live oaks with their hanging moss seemed to stand like gray sentinels.

The Hero was an ass. I loved how strong Heather was. Loved his brother... wonder does he get his own story.

"With all the lovely young ladies here he had to go to England and bring back a Tory as a wife."

LOL, don't know what was worse, the fact that she was a Tory or half-Irish!

I will definitely check out more books by this author. They may be a bit old and dated but I still love this genre.

Profile Image for Christine.
83 reviews4 followers
June 30, 2010
What I learned from this book: 1. rape is ok if you're a hot, sensuous man. 2. beauty= good, ugly= bad

I am reading my way through Romance Readers Top 100 and I finished Shanna first and then The Flame and the Flower. I really enjoyed Shanna's story, protagonists and flowery language. I read The Flame and the Flower next and am frankly mystified as to why it holds such a special place in so many readers hearts. Is is because it was one of the first romance novels you read?

My principal misgiving about the book will be pretty obvious: The hero's repeated rape of the heroine in the beginning of the book. Not just the rape, but his cavalier attitude about it. Literally *laughing* in her face after learning about the terrible mistake that brought her to him and telling her to face the reality, the harms been done, now she'll have to be his mistress, time for some more rape, but don't worry baby you'll get used to it, btw don't attempt to leave because now you're my prisoner. Then when he gets called out on his actions and has to marry her he verbally abuses her and rails, "i have a fiance! what am i supposed to tell her?!" Seriously?

Not once throughout the book does he evince any sort of remorse for his heinous treatment of her in the beginning. Yeah, sure, they fall in love and his promises that she would eventually beg for it from him come true, and he lavishes affection on her, great. Besides realizing that he could, gulp, love a 'slip of a girl' his character doesn't really grow in my opinion. He spends the first half of the book being such a jerk that I hoped she would run off with the brother. Finally, hero and heroine start having sex and everything is great between them. I've actually been sucked in at this point and am manipulated into being happy for them. But wait--- now there's a crazy rapist/ murderer on the loose. Unlike our hero he's evil because he's disgustingly ugly (also he kills people). Evil guy tries to rape/kill our heroine and the hero saves her.

HEA ruined by this interchange 3 pages from the end: "If you had killed Mr. Court, do you think I would have blamed you? My Lord, the man deserved it!" (interesting... so HE deserves to die for wanting to rape her, but it's ok for the hero to rape her) After this follows a revelation about "Lady Cabot's" and some chuckles about what it would have been like had she worked at the brothel. Still the worst is yet to come---
"I'm glad that bastard who thought of putting you there met his end. Otherwise I might be tempted to go back and wring his blasted neck. 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 rewards when I had to marry a cocky wench like you."

Nice. Not only does he never feel any remorse, or apologize, but the whole thing is a joke by the end?!

On a side note I also find it really obnoxious how Louisa is compared to Heather and found lacking, not so much in character, but in physical beauty which REFLECTS that lack of character. There are countless examples in the book, the most annoying of which I found to be when Louisa barges in on the happy couple while Heather's top is undone because she was just breast-feeding her son. Brandon's reaction to this is to remember how Louisa's boobs are getting saggy cuz she's so old and how she's nowhere near as hot as Heather so where does she get off with that attitude? Good thing you're into raping nubile teenagers Brandon, or else you might be shackled into marriage with someone only 3 years younger than you!

I'm not trying to attack some people's favorite author, but I sincerely want to know *why* this book is so beloved.

Profile Image for Chantal ❤️.
1,361 reviews769 followers
September 14, 2016
Wtf!!! So if I guy thought you were hot and wanted you he could just rape you and you had to marry your rapist!!!!
Holy bat shit!
That is nuts!
Also what the hell kind of polite society is it that lets a young girl suffer thought all that and then he has the nerve to joke about it!!!!
I can't believe this.
I understand things were different but good god man that is crazy!
Poor baby to have to live with that and the poor girl married to her rapist has to find a way to make peace and continue to forge a relationship based on rape!
Also, he said he would have found her anyways because she would have worked in a whore house that he goes to. What kind of a nut job is that?
The only thing that redeemed this book for me somewhat was that he did not sleep with her until it felt right and he did not force her after their wedding. He was really punishing himself here.
She on the other hand, having no idea that sex was for pleasure, was good without the sex and she felt none of his frustration.
Hey dude, That's what happens when you only rape a girl, she is not going to know that orgasms are mutual as you have never given her any!!!

So while he was torturing himself she felt nothing. Poetic justice here!
Profile Image for Tara.
15 reviews70 followers
June 8, 2021
I really don't get why people consider Kathleen E Woodiwiss to be the queen of historical romance? I mean I have only read two of her novels and I can honestly say that she was nowhere near as good as other talented authors such as Judith Mcnaught and Laurie Mcbain. This book for instance is utter shite, full of stupid one dimensional characters with a pointless storyline that just drags on and on.

Don't waste your precious time reading this crap, you will only be sorry!
Profile Image for Leigh Kramer.
Author 1 book1,209 followers
June 4, 2023
CW: rape

Of all the books in our Romance History Project, I probably dreaded this one the most. All I knew was that the MMC rapes the FMC. That turned out to be only the start of how much sexual assault Heather would face. While I never would have read this if not for the project, it did give me insights into romance, much as it pains me to say.

Woodiwiss was inspired to write after a friend gave her Valley of the Dolls. She liked the sex scenes but otherwise found it depressing. She couldn’t find the love stories with a happy ending that she was looking for, so she decided to write her own (source). She had difficulty finding a publisher for The Flame and the Flower. It was rejected by every hardcover book publisher for being too long. (They were right.) Instead of revising, she pivoted to paperback publishers and Nancy Coffey, the senior editor at Avon, acquired it. Published in 1972, it sold over 2 million copies the first four years of publication. Clearly an audience was there.

It’s credited for a few things in romance history: being the first romance to be published in paperback, the first historical romance, and the first sexually explicit romance. The credit for the latter two items is dubious. If anything, I’d say this historical romance is the most recognizable in terms of today’s historical romances but it’s not really the first. Nor is it the first sexually explicit romance; The Lord Won’t Mind was published two years prior. It’s possible even earlier sexually explicit romances exist. The Lord Won’t Mind not being credited for this smacks of homophobia. It erases authors like Gordon Merritt and the many queer men who found solace and recognition in The Lord Won’t Mind. (This is not an endorsement of that romance, however. It’s extremely problematic in its own right.) The reviews and critiques at that time falsely emphasized “romance is by women and for women” even though The Lord Won’t Mind was a bestseller in its own right and had two sequels. We have yet to escape that harmful phrase.

It’s fairer to say it was the first sexually explicit MF romance. Sex scenes were fade to black or nonexistent before this. While it’s credited for taking women’s sexuality seriously, that’s a stretch. (More below.) The Flame and the Flower and the historical romances that came after became known as “bodice rippers”, though no bodices were ripped in TFaTF. When I got back into reading romance several years ago and heard this term, I assumed it meant the bodice was ripped off in passion but unfortunately, it’s more likely that it refers to rapist MMCs ripping it off in order to harm the FMC. Such is this book’s complicated legacy.

It failed on three levels for me.

1. The rape and abuse
Oof. Where to even begin? Not only is Heather raped by Brandon, almost every white man either wants to assault her or attempts to do so. The degree of sexual assault was hard to take. She is in peril of one kind or another the entire book, starting with her aunt/guardian’s brother who takes Heather to London on the pretense of getting her a good position but actually intends to put her to use in his brothel and attempts to rape her first. She manages to escape him by accidentally killing him. And when she wanders the docks in a see-through dress afterward, Brandon’s men assume she’s a sex worker and bring her to him. And she goes along because…she thinks they somehow know she killed someone? Oh, Heather. In any case, Brandon proceeds to rape her despite Heather’s protests and when she finally gets him to understand she’s a virgin and not a sex worker, he shrugs and proceeds to rape her again and then decides he’s going to keep her captive.

This guy.

This becomes the template for the book. Brandon does whatever he wants. Heather sometimes protests (and names this as rape to his face!), more often goes along with whatever is happening, and has brief moments of spunk, like when she actually escapes Brandon’s ship. Unfortunately, Heather gets pregnant and is forced to marry her rapist. Brandon decides to punish her for entrapping him by not having sex with her. This lasts for about a year when he decides he’s had enough of celibacy and tells her he’s going to rape her or she can go along with it. She is his property and he'll treat her however he wants, emotional abuse included.

TFaTF is extremely supportive of purity culture. It’s not just painting a picture of Heather’s purity and goodness. Her virtue is imperiled by the way every man tries to get a piece of her but only Brandon is successful, which paints a target on her back from all the unwed women who want him. Every other white female character is portrayed as catty and vindictive. The sexually experienced women are murdered and raped a la “they had it coming”. Brandon’s ex Louisa in particular makes single women look bad. If she had directed her ire at Brandon instead of Heather, I would have cheered her on.

While rape appeared in literature well before this book, it’s unclear why Woodiwiss chose to include this much rape. After all, she wanted to write a love story with sex. Why did that equate with rape in her mind? Had she read and romanticized The Sheik? I read a lot of articles and papers to try to get at what was in the social conscious at the time that she could have been perhaps responding to. I’m still left with so many questions.

People say TFaTF was a fantasy and that female readers didn’t take it seriously or aspire to have this kind of love story in real life. The 1970s gave rise to Gothic novels featuring helpless FMCs and dangerous MMCs. Women did have cause to fear men given the patriarchal culture and rampant misogyny. (Not that that’s not still an issue but women have way more rights now.) Was the fantasy that a woman’s love could transform an abusive man? Was that the prevailing concern in the 1970s or does it perhaps speak to Woodiwiss’s own marriage? Others say rape was the vehicle by which “good girls” could have premarital sex. How does this square with the 1960s revolution? And why go the route of rape instead of letting the “good girl” have a marriage of convenience? It strikes me now that perhaps the rise of MoC as a trope was to subvert the rapist MMC trope.

While reading, the comparisons to dark romance wouldn’t leave me. Rape and dubcon is not uncommon in dark romance. I prefer MMCs that aren’t rapey regardless of subgenre but I can allow more leeway there. More work goes into redeeming the villains, even if it’s only in the eyes of their love interest, at least in the dark romances that get it right. They’re honest that the morally gray MCs aren’t someone to aspire to and that they’re not necessarily portraying a healthy relationship. Woodiwiss doesn’t offer that same honesty here. Even at the end, Brandon can’t see or admit that he’s no different from any of the men who tried to hurt Heather.

Presented without irony from Brandon:
“I’m glad that bastard who thought of putting you there met his end. Otherwise I might be tempted to go back and wring his blasted neck. 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 rewards when I had to marry a cocky wench like you.”

2. The enslavement
While I knew Brandon was a rapist, I did not know (or at least didn’t remember hearing) he’s also an enslaver. What a prize. There’s no getting past how extremely racist and problematic this plot choice is. It’s not unsurprising when you consider the author’s background. Woodiwiss was born in 1939 in Louisiana. She would have grown up during a time when there was a concerted effort to reframe the Civil War as being about state’s rights instead of slavery. Gone With the Wind was one of her favorite novels. But that in no way excuses her decision to make her hero an enslaver.

Woodiwiss included the Mammy trope and the Happy Negro trope. Brandon calls his slaves “servants” and even refers to one as his friend. Talk about revisionist history! The white characters are all overtly racist. And if that’s not enough, there is a great deal of emphasis on Heather’s white skin.

There’s a pretty clear gap between reviews and critiques that did or did not mention Brandon being an enslaver or that this is set on a plantation. It is more frequently mentioned in more recent reviews but it was missing in reviews from even 10 years ago from people who I would have guessed would mention it. The glowing reviews are overwhelmingly from white readers. This is why “Read a Romance, Fight Patriarchy” has never been more than pure wishful thinking. Not all romances are created equally. This particular romance is in bed with the patriarchy, supports white supremacy, and is proud of it.

3. The romance
Let’s say hypothetically I could look beyond those first two elements. How does the romance hold up? Not great. In addition to raping Heather, Brandon is emotionally abusive throughout. He never learns or grows from his mistakes. He doesn’t ever realize he’s done anything wrong to Heather or anyone else around him. He’s the epitome of an entitled white man. He can do what he want without ever dealing with the consequences.

How then am I to believe Heather has fallen for him? What does he have going for him besides being wealthy and purportedly handsome? It’s more realistic to say she accepted her fate and resigned herself to never escaping marriage to her rapist. She has rationalized their “love story” and convinced herself to make the best of a bad deal. Given the limited options for women back then, the fact that she’s in a new country, and how every man she meets wants to rape her, she would have had a hard go of things if she had tried to escape with her son. I can understand why Brandon would feel like the best choice compared to the rest. But I never bought their love story.

Nor am I sure what Brandon saw in Heather, beyond a pretty face. She’s a trophy wife, the woman every man wants and every woman hates. Woodiwiss is lauded for writing strong heroines but that is not evident in Heather. At all. Unless by strength she meant “accepted her lot in the domicile and decided to be a good wife.” Heather is more of a Mary Sue or TSTL. I give her points for naming what Brandon did to her as rape but otherwise, she cowers and her naivety defies belief. Her only arc is in accepting her forced marriage as real. Winning Brandon’s heart is the pinnacle of her achievement and keeping the house running while he runs the plantation is her reward.

Closing thoughts:
Romance is an iterative genre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m grateful for all the authors who give us Only One Bed and delightful niche tropes like bedside vigils and Normal Friend Stuff, for instance. But it can lead to the repetition of harmful tropes and offensive material. When one author includes a character ripping a condom packet open with their teeth, everyone thinks it’s fine to include that in their book. (It’s not sexy! It’s bad for the condom and your teeth!) When one author decides to write a rapist MMC, plenty of others follow suit and that is indeed what happened with this book. Woodiwiss was far from the first author to include a rapist MMC but as an early romance author, her choices made a clear imprint on the genre that followed. It’s there with the toxic masculinity of alpha heroes (a misunderstanding of what it means to be alpha) and on the pages of dark romances and mafia romances. It’s there in the redeeming of rakes and villains who have done nothing to atone for their misdeeds toward their love interest.

And look, I’m not immune to those things. I may draw the line at raping MMCs but I am always down for seeing monsters and villains brought to their knees by love. I’ve hand-waved away problematic things in romances I otherwise loved. We can contain multitudes. Trying to draw a line for an entire genre is murky. But then I see there are still people reading The Flame and the Flower for the first time and giving it 5 stars and wonder how and why. I do think we can and must advocate for doing away with bigotry in all its forms and any revisionist history, which knocks this book out of contention.

I did not like reading this but it helped me understand why certain problematic things continue to iterate, thanks to authors, editors, publishers, and readers alike. I only wish Avon would include a critical introduction that would provide necessary context if they’re going to keep putting this book out in circulation.

Further reading:
New York Magazine: The Tempestuous, Tumultuous, Turbulent, Torrid, and Terribly Profitable World of Paperback Passion
by Alice K. Turner (February 13, 1978)

Michigan Sociological Review: The Portrayal of Women in Romance Novels by Helen Leedy (Fall 1985) [very much a time capsule]

Marvels & Tales: Guilty Pleasures: Reading Romance Novels as Reworked Fairy Tales by Linda J. Lee (2008), page 55

Dear Author: Sexual Force and Reader Consent in Romance by Janet

A Parody of Love: the Narrative Uses of Rape in Popular Romance by Angela R. Toscano (hard disagree with this take but it is helpful context)

Characters: Heather is a 17 year old white British girl. Brandon is a 35 year old white American ship captain and enslaver. This is set in 1799 England and Charleston, SC.

Content notes: MMC rapes underage FMC multiple times (first time he thought she was a sex worker, which does not excuse anything), intent of marital rape, forced marriage to rapist, pregnancy as a result of rape, multiple rape attempts by secondary characters, multiple instances of sexual assault , sexual harassment, intimate partner violence (emotional abuse by MMC; secondary character ), victim-blaming, FMC briefly threatens suicide over ever becoming MMC’s mistress, MMC threatens to kill ex-fiancée, physical abuse by FMC’s aunt, secondary characters found raped and murdered, serial killer, attempted murder, murder, thwarted trafficking attempt, abduction, physical assault, gunshot wound, MMC is an enslaver, racism, Mammy trope, Happy Negro trope, ableism, Disabled Villain trope (claw-like hands, disfigured face), misogyny, Evil Ex trope, animal abuse, colonialism, nightmare, infidelity (MMC is engaged when he meets FMC), anti-fat bias (not countered), fat-shaming, slut-shaming, sex worker stigma, purity culture, anti-Irish bigotry, alcoholic uncle, past death of parents (FMC’s mother died in childbirth, MMC’s mother died of swamp fever and his father from a riding accident), FMC’s father had a gambling addiction, hallucinations/fever, vomit (seasick), childbirth, on page sex, alcohol, inebriation, cigar, tobacco, “manhood” and “womanhood” as euphemisms, gendered pejoratives, gender essentialism, ableist language, mention of past physical abuse by villain’s father, reference to man who raped enslaved women

*Buddy read with Charlotte, Hannah, and Vicky.

RHP ranking, so far:
Maurice (4 stars)
Loyal in All (3.5 stars)
The Moon-Spinners (3 stars)
Regency Buck (1 star)
The Sheik (1 star)
The Flame and the Flower (1 star)
The Lord Won’t Mind (1 star)
Profile Image for Hannah B..
884 reviews1,320 followers
August 8, 2023
Ngl this had me wishing the British won the revolutionary war
Profile Image for Alba M. .
1,646 reviews121 followers
February 7, 2018
No sé por dónde empezar a hacer la reseña. Tengo tantas cosas que decir que no soy capaz de ordenarlo todo.
Primero os contaré de qué va esto:

Tenemos a Heather, una chica que un día fue una dama inglesa, pero su padre, una vez murió su madre, se dedicó a gastarse todo en el juego. Lo vendió todo, así que cuando murió dejó a Heather sola, y sin dote para casarse. Es entonces cuando aparecen unos tíos que deciden llevársela con ella. Las penurias de Heather solo acababan de empezar con su Tía Fanny.
Por otro lado tenemos a Brandon, capitán de un barco que acaba de llegar a puerto y que tiene... ganas de marcha, para intentar ser un poco finos. Confundiendo a Heather con lo que no es, obviamente, se la llevan al barco a ver al capitán. Y ya os digo que desde aquí va todo de mal en peor.

Ahora va mi opinión. Quiero decir que antes de leer el libro, leí varias reseñas de otras personas (me gusta hacer eso, ver qué opinan los demás aunque yo luego me lo leo igual para crearme mi propia opinión) y eso de que Brandon es un cabronazo al principio pero luego mejora...


Este estupido hijo de su madre... si lo pillo delante lo mato a palos. Os voy a decir que este gilipollas no mejora en ningún sentido hasta el último 20% del libro. Así que podréis ver que lo odio hasta lo más profundo de mi alma. Ya como empieza el libro, a mí no me jodas, pero si ya te das cuenta de que no es lo que piensas, en vez de ser un caballero ¿vas y repites? ¡Arrrrrgggggg! Lo mato 😡😡😡😡😡 no pude dejar de odiarlo todo el maldito libro. Siempre con palabras cortantes, con desprecios e insultos hacia Heather. Una llega a un punto que también se cansa de aguantar a este piltrafa.
En cuanto a Heather, aunque suelo odiar a las protagonistas sin carácter, a ella no pude odiarla. Si que me dio mucha rabia que no sacase valor a veces para aguantar su postura cuando replicaba a Brandon, pero es verdad que era imposible mantenerse firme con un cabron aterrador como él.
Que si, que al final cuando por fin hablan y se salen de malentendidos y todo el rollo, son ambos cuquisimos y blablabla. Solo que yo, con lo rencorosa que soy, ni olvido ni perdono porque no soy dios ni tengo Alzheimer.
No puedo con el protagonista de este libro. Va más allá de mi. Me gustan gruñones pero lo de este tío no es eso, es que es un hijo puta con todas las letras. Va a la lista de los más odiados. De verdad.
Le doy esta puntuación al libro, a pesar de todo, porque te mantienes totalmente en vilo, enganchada y con la inútil esperanza de que algún día el carácter del imbecil de Brandon mejore. Pero ya os lo digo yo, no esperéis por ello.
July 30, 2020
⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 3.5 stars

This is a true bodice ripper, but slightly more tasteful than most of the others I’ve read. My main issues were the dismissal of rape at the end and the racial stereotypes. This book was written in the early seventies, but as I was never alive at that time, I didn’t realize how terribly ignorant people were (or just this author).

Heather (18) was a half-Irish, half-English orphan who is worked to death by her guardians, her aunt and uncle. She is beautiful and gets the opportunity to go to London where she “meets” the Yankee captain, Brandon Birmingham.

Brandon (35) is on his last voyage and he ends of returning to the Carolinas with some extra cargo, a wife. He is pretty terrible in the beginning, but gets better throughout the book. He is an orphan and the eldest of two sons. He owns a plantation in Charleston and is extremely wealthy.

Overall, if you are triggered by some of the thinking of the 1970s and 1790s this may not be the book for you, but if you can look over that, you may like it!
Profile Image for Beth F.
354 reviews341 followers
March 18, 2011
My modern sensibilities were deeply offended by this classic 1970’s romance. It is reading books like this when I regret my quirk of always needing to finish books, even when I don’t like them. At the beginning of the story, the 18-year-old heroine is living with her verbally abusive aunt and hen-pecked uncle. They decide to foist her off on an extended member of the family who claims he can have her admitted to a prestigious finishing school for young ladies. But as soon as she’s left for London with him he indicates his true plan is to sell her to a high-class brothel after he’s grown tired of his own use of her body.

He unsuccessfully attempts to rape her and after she escapes from his home she is captured by two Yankee seamen who mistake her for a streetwalker. They take her aboard their ship where she is raped repeatedly by the 35-year-old captain and illustrious hero of the story.

Here’s a taste of rape, 1972-style:

“Relax…Just lie still and don’t fight me. Later you can learn what pleases a man, but for now just lie still…”

“You don’t appear to be a cold wench, ma petite…only for the moment a reluctant one. Soon you’ll learn to enjoy it. For now just learn to accept it.”

And when she sobbingly tells him she hates him, loathes him, despises him, he actually laughs and says, “You’ll change your mind…Someday you’ll be begging for it…Just wait, Heather, and we’ll see which one of us is right.”

Following the rape, he tells her he intends to install her in a private household as his London mistress. She doesn’t find this proposition acceptable so she escapes from the ship and returns to her aunt and uncle’s cottage, where she is grudgingly taken back in. Life reverts back to the way it had been except that Heather is now suffering the symptoms of early pregnancy, although she doesn’t realize the truth of it herself. It isn’t until her aunt catches a glimpse of her in the bath when the reality of her circumstances are finally acknowledged; Heather has been impregnated by her rapist. So of course the logical next step in this type of scenario is a forced marriage.

Heather, being a victim of the era, is spineless, subservient and too stupid to live so she meekly goes along with the plan. She rides to London with her aunt and uncle and through the connections of a powerful family friend, the rapist, Captain Brandon Birmingham, is forced to man up and unwillingly dragged to the altar with Heather Simmons, the ever-deferential.

He is angry at being trapped into marriage and believes Heather played a role in orchestrating their forced nuptials. So in order to punish her for having wronged him, he tells her he will never sleep with her. When he initially informs her of his intent to withhold the hot sexxin’, he actually seems to believe he is denying her something she would have wanted. So when she is relieved that she won’t be required to perform her wifely duties, he is actually surprised. I wanted to throttle him! Come on, you arrogant asshole, she was a fucking virgin. You raped her. Thanks to you, her only experience with sex has been a physical and emotional violation of the worst sort. Why is it so shocking that she wouldn’t want you?

Then, for the next couple hundred pages following the wedding, Brandon takes his liberties in taunting her, mocking her and being cruel. And even on the occasions when he acted kindly towards her—purchasing thoughtful gifts, sparing no expense in purchasing a new wardrobe for her, caring for her when she was sick, standing up for her when she was verbally assaulted by his jealous ex—he would invariably ruin the moment by turning around and saying something rude and hurtful. And for what purpose? I imagine the intent was to show that he was falling in love with her, but I don’t buy that crock of shit. Kind then cruel, hot then cold; that is the recipe of an abusive manipulator, not someone who is falling in love. And keep in mind, you raped her. So why mock and taunt her? >:/

Anyway, the turning point in the story seems to occur when he goes on a month-long business trip and they both spontaneously decide to start being nice to each other when they are reunited. The story became slightly more tolerable after that point but by then I was so much in hate with the characters that I didn’t find it to be a redeeming or believable change of pace.

Secondly, unrelated to rape and the supposed “ideal” sexual dynamics in the 1970’s, I was also offended by how the author addressed the issue of slaves servants in this story. The book was published in 1972, right on the heels of the Civil Rights Era, so I found it so terribly convenient that Brandon and several of the other white characters were such forward thinking people as to be opposed to slavery, in spite of the setting in South Carolina in 1799-1800.

Apparently it is one thing to be so overcome at the sight of a woman that you can’t help but rape her three times in one night but owning slaves??? Oh-ho-ho! That is just unforgivable, son! I found the discrepancy between such an old-fashioned attitude to rape and the more modern attitude to slavery jarring. And I found the black characters to be painful stereotypes. They are described as being childlike and jolly and so fucking fake that whitey over here felt mortified. Being so decidedly anti-slavery was incongruent with the story’s setting but supposedly appropriate given the book’s publication date and yet, the black characters are constantly referred to as “Negress” and “Negro”. Uh, really? I’m sorry, but it just didn’t add up for this reader.

I’m giving it an extra star because I wouldn’t mind giving the author another shot—when I separate the offensive material from the storyline itself, I suspect that a different plot and setting might have more adequately captured my interest, but unfortunately, I can’t say that I read the same book as the multitude of readers who are giving this book 4 and 5 stars. I truly do not get it.
Profile Image for KatieV.
709 reviews399 followers
September 22, 2014
Yes, Brandon can be a class A jerk and extremely arrogant. Heather is very sweet, innocent, and meek. Actually, I found Heather refreshing since so many of the heroines are feisty beyond reason and not at all an accurate protrayal of women of their time. This book hits many of my "kinks" - captor/captive, mistaken identity (he thinks she's a prostitue), noncon, a much older hero (she's 17/18 and he's 35) . THis is a fantasy. Period. Realistic has nothing to do with it. If that's what you want, this is not the book for you.

What I love is that Brandon is so hopelessly whipped and is so stubborn about admitting it. He makes a jackass of himself by "punishing her" by refusing to have sex with her once married. He's such an idiot and his brother is merciless in pointing it out to him. It is he who is punished by that, her only experience was by his force the first time they met. So, that's what she believed sex was like. She didn't care if he didn't want sex, because it scared her. Of course her attraction to him (which is always there) blossoms.

Brandon is so tied in knots because he's so used to being pursued and here's this girl who he wants so badly and she wants nothing to do with him at first. She does not want to be his mistress, she does not want his fancy clothes, she does not want to sleep with him, and despite his beliefs about her part in the blackmail, she does not want to marry him. He is so full of hot air and foolish pride. He is also extremely protective of Heather and wants to give her everything. As many have said, he ends up putting her on a pedestal which was sweet. Also, I kinda liked his paternal attitude. she really brings out the protective instincts in him and I love when he takes care of her while she is ill on the voyage from England.

As far as the rape. It is disturbing because he's so arrogant once he realizes she's not a prostitute. He decides she'll be his mistress and will come to love it once he showers her with material things and gives her servants, etc. He is not considerate of her feelings on the matter and just decides she is his and that she'll learn to love it. He is not, however, brutal by the standards of that genre. He never hits her. He actually tries hard to give her pleasure, but she is too innocent/scared to be aroused. Then she runs away from him, which does serve him right.

****ADDED RE: Abridged Cassette version: bought this because it's one of my favs and I wanted to be able to listen to it while I cleaned or drove. Wow! The abridged is such a watered down version. Sometimes Woodiwiss can, IMHO be wordy, so I thought this would eliminate that and possibly skim over some of the parts in the beginning before they got together. Unfortunately this was TOO condensed. The entire story can be listened to in 90 minutes. Anyone who's read the book knows this is extremely short. So much detail and tension was lost. It went from the classic it is to something like a fluffy little Hqn historical.
Profile Image for Raine.
2,461 reviews42 followers
May 26, 2022
I read this years ago when I was probably a young teenager. I loved this book then. As I read it now I am (a bit) aghast at the fact that Brandon basically raped Heather and took her virginity and he did it again. I don't think that will fly in modern times like these.

Of course I read somewhere that this is one of (if not the first) original 'bodice rippers'. I guess it would be since it was first published in 1972.

**Last read on 7/1/2015**
I still love this book. Not sure why I had it at 4 stars when it is one of the classic Kathleen Woodiwiss book. I'm changing my rating to 5 stars. I think it is because now I read a lot of erotica and the sex scenes here are very tame, but I think the book as a whole has a great story so if I judged the story by itself it would have 5 stars so I'm changing it to 5 stars.
Profile Image for Christine.
Author 14 books417 followers
July 15, 2010
I'm afraid I didn't like either of the characters in this book. He was a jerk who RAPED her at their first encounter -- repeatedly -- and she was a mouse with no backbone. Mostly, I didn't like him. He never redeemed himself for what he did to her in any way and I have no idea why they fell in love. She'd been running from another rape attempt when she fell into his clutches, but apparently that rape attempt was not ok...because he wasn't good looking? I'm not sure what differentiated the two. Our dear ship captain, being wealthy and attractive, can get away with rape? I might even have forgiven the first time because he thought she was a prostitute and there was a legitimate misunderstanding happening, but after that he knew exactly what he was doing. He was an awful, awful person with a horrible temper and no redeeming qualities.

I was also really sick of hearing about how attractive Heather was, probably because I was given no other reason to like her. Upon reaching his home, people said at first sight that she was a fine wife for him. Just from seeing her. Ok...but she's done nothing except be a passive little mouse who's let other people live her life for her.

In fact, I generally felt that too much emphasis was placed on what people looked like and not enough on what they acted like. More than one woman was insulted for being large or fat, unlike our dear, perfectly proportions little Heather. Granted, her aunt was horrible to her, but that doesn't make it ok to criticize her fat bottom. It didn't do anything to Heather -- her foul mouth and angry hands did.

I don't recommend.
Profile Image for Yolanda.
631 reviews165 followers
March 12, 2018
La verdad es que empieza mal, un cúmulo de desgracias que me han parecido demasiadas para empezar, a Heather le pasa de todo ya desde el primer momento. No hacía mas que pensar "a ver qué le pasa ahora" y he estado así durante casi toda la novela.

A partir de la mitad, mejoró algo pero tampoco es que me haya conseguido atrapar del todo como lo hicieron las otras dos novelas que he leído de esta autora. No me han atrapado ninguno de los dos protagonistas, me atraía más un secundario y éste no aparece hasta la mitad de la novela. A mi parecer se podía haber sacado más partido a la trama de intriga.

No la he querido comparar con Una rosa en invierno, que me parece una delicia, pero ha habido muchos momentos en los que pensaba en ella y en cómo, desde el primer momento me atrapó. Con esta novela no ha podido ser, en vez de querer saber más, tenía ganas de terminarla.

Profile Image for Charlotte (Romansdegare).
114 reviews74 followers
May 8, 2023
This book has been looming large on our Romance History Project book list for a while now: I knew we were going to have to read it, I knew it was going to be bad. I'm not sure I knew just quite how bad? It was bad. 

CW for discussion of rape throughout

The Flame and the Flower is a book that lives in the current romance ecosystem primarily on reputation: which is to say, I suspect that a large number of current romance readers (at least those who make better decisions than I do) haven't read it, but that most people have at least heard of it. When you do hear of this book, it’s cited as the "original bodice ripper" or a "founding text" of historical romance. You also often hear that primacy contested, as a defensive posture. A lot of refusal to see this as a foundational text comes from wanting to push back on stereotypes about romance : it's not fair to keep talking about this one rapey, white-supremacist, poorly-written, traumatic tale of an abuser forcing a helpless woman to marry him, because that's what non-romance-readers think ALL romance is like. And ALL romance clearly isn't like that, so why do we keep saying this book founded the genre? 

I ended up coming down in a confused kind of place about what it means to think of this text as foundational, and indeed what it means to still read it in 2023, rather than just consigning it to the dustbin of its current bad reputation. I'm going to point everyone in the direction of Hannah's excellent discussion of one reason why it's still important to talk about this book, which is that its tropes and character dynamics DO still pop up in many more recent romances.

Another reason I think it's important to talk about this book, though, is that I think romance as a genre has a really complicated relationship to criticism? In that the desire to defend the genre from the misogynist genre-bashing it gets from mainstream media outlets can sometimes cause a defensive response of stating that ALL romance is well-written, that it's ALL feminist, that it's ALL above reproach. Which can, rather paradoxically, bring us back around to avoiding the kind of rigorous critique that we wish "outsiders" would give the genre. I spend a lot of time talking online about good craft in romance - I think it's important to take the texts that I think of reflexively as "not good" and subject them to the same scrutiny (though perhaps not the same airtime). 

Anyway my desire to take this book seriously as an object of literary/craft critique was also in part prompted by this article, which one of my intrepid co-buddy-readers found. It takes the basic premise of seeking a new approach to understanding the "rape trope" in old-school romance novels. The author asserts that our prevailing assumptions - that the rape trope taps into some sort of repressed female fantasy, that it came from deeply internalized misogyny on the parts of authors and readers, that it was the "only way" to portray a heroine discovering sex, because to have her seek it out and enjoy it was unacceptable in the 1970s - are all not only insufficient to understand its presence, but also problematically assume that romance novels are somehow a mimetic representation of women's lives and desires. Rather, the article posits, we can treat rape scenes in romance primarily as having a literary function, doing metaphorical or symbolic work. To do otherwise is supposedly to assume that romance is less deserving of the critical eye towards craft that we bring to scenes of violence or trauma in Serious Literature. 

And honestly, I was both troubled and intrigued by this premise. I fully acknowledge this may not be an approach that others accept or want to engage with. Treating rape in literature as having a purely narrative function risks abstracting something that our society already doesn't want to treat as a concrete reality. It also pretty thoroughly ignores the fact that not all readers *can* access a reading space of "this is just a metaphor" safely and non-traumatically. I think it's perfectly valid to decide that some things are beyond the reach of metaphorization. 

I am always captivated, though, by arguments that enjoin us to take romance seriously as literature. I believe that all kinds of choices in romance texts have a function beyond titillating women by reflecting their reality, their repressed traumas, or their fantasies. I'm not going to rehearse the entire argument of the article here, especially because it talks about a lot of other books besides TFATF. But I did wonder if it could help me read, I don't know, something other than a horrifically traumatic experience into what happens to Heather in TFATF. Is there some way to read this book as being about social power? Might that help me understand why it was so popular at the time, and still cited as so influential today? 

The short answer is, sure, it's possible to read this book with a focus on craft and symbolism and the like, but it's... still pretty bad news? Heather starts the book in a place of total disempowerment. She's lost her parents, she has no prospects, she's being forced to do drudge work by a cruel aunt, and she has no models of what love or care look like. She has neither financial nor emotional resources of any kind. She is then further disempowered by Brandon's rape and subsequent impregnation of her. This rape and impregnation, of course, are what allow her family to blackmail Brandon into marriage, so that by the end of the novel she has, in a way, gained both the financial and emotional resources which she was initially lacking. She is a wife and a mother, and ends the novel contemplating a portrait of Brandon's mother, thinking about how they both shared a secret strength, unknowable to their men, that proved the backbone of their families. I think defenders of this book might want to structurally analyze that progression as empowering, in a cultural context where "actually consenting to sex and enjoying it" and "something other than a marriage and children" were largely off the table in the mainstream consciousness of an assumed conservative readership. 

The problem, though, is that even analyzing that empowerment from a symbolic, story-structure perspective, it all completely falls apart. The failure here is threefold. First of all, even moving beyond whether we choose to problematize the home and heteronormative family as a source of women's power, Heather remains essentially reactive throughout the entire text. Her emotions, behaviors, and decisions are entirely and unremittingly provoked by behaviors initiated by Brandon or the other men who seek to rape her. Simply placing "marriage and family" at the end of a series of unavoidable plot traumas hardly, to my mind, reinscribes it as a source of strength in the heroine's journey. 

Secondly, and not at all surprisingly, the source of Heather's "strength" (the hearth and home) is maintained through the labor of enslaved people, a fact which the novel is singularly uninterested in recognizing. Enslaved people are present in the narrative, their depiction is full of horribly racist tropes, yet the actual fact of the physical violence of their labor and enslavement is entirely elided by the text (which refuses to even use the word "slave" unless it applies to other people). It's quite telling, actually, from a craft standpoint, that the narrative has to create an enormous void around the labor that produces "hearth and home" as a physical space, in order for Heather to occupy it symbolically. 

Thirdly, while Heather does eventually get to occupy her space of "empowerment" (a million scare quotes) off the back of a series of highly-visible violent traumas to her person and a series of highly-invisibilized violent traumas to the enslaved people around her...  there is no simultaneous narrative reckoning via which Brandon loses his social capital. He retains his wealth, he retains his power, he is the legal head of the family. Again, as I argue with imaginary defenders of this book in my head, I can hear them object "but he is brought low by love! he learns to love Heather, and his failed attempts to physically control her person result in the knowledge that he has no emotional power over her or himself!" 

The above-mentioned article kind of tries to make this point, and my problem with it is... this reading assumes that emotions have any kind of meaningful currency in this book. Whereas the reality -and this is another craft issue- is that it fails to assert any emotional permanency on the part of its characters. Nobody has feelings that last longer than three pages: they swing madly from anger to sadness to plotting revenge to begging forgiveness. There is, so far as I can ascertain, no gendered logic to their experience of feelings - no sense in which Brandon acquiring the ability to emote is deconstructive of toxic masculinity - because there is simply no logic to their experience of emotion, gendered or otherwise. And I'm not saying that if Heather and Brandon behaved with emotional consistency, it would sell the rest of this book to me. Rather, the problems stated above are exacerbated by other craft decisions. 

I do think that what this all leads me to, though, is that the article I started off with is presenting a false dichotomy. I don't love the idea of treating romance only as a reflection of women's desires and fantasies, but I'm not sure it's helpful to course correct and try to read it as exclusively literary, with no referent to anything but itself. The attempt to read Heather as a figure with a heroic journey when she is both subjected to horrific violence by men AND enacting horrific violence on enslaved peoples is a contradiction that can only be upheld by creating other massive narrative inconsistencies (a romance on a plantation that can't say the word "slavery," a romance where the hero and heroine can't behave like people with emotional object permanence). Good craft does not occur absent the logic of the world we live in. 

But here's the thing (and I promise this will be over soon). I've just spent 2,000 words deconstructing why I think this book is badly-crafted, in addition to its socially pernicious attitudes about sex and gender. Which ... doesn't help me understand why it was so popular? Clearly it was doing something for some large subset of readers at the time of its publication, and as problematic as I find the book, I don't think it's helpful to discount that rather than trying to understand it. I only have open-ended general musings in this direction. Of the books we've read for the Romance History Project so far, The Flame and the Flower is the one that most closely mimics the beats of romance as we know it today (focus on a main couple, relationship ups and downs, tropes like sexy bathtime and sickbed scenes, explicit sex). And I wonder if there isn't something to be said here about... TFATF as a waypoint in a long journey of readers being forcibly punished for their pleasure? You can have tropes, but only at the expense of watching and being forced to narratively accept horrible acts of violation? I'm sure the many people who love this book would disagree strongly with that reading. But as I'm not one of them, it's all I've got. 

Tl;dr: yikes.  
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,107 reviews533 followers
February 5, 2021
This was my first Woodiwiss historical. Shared it with my sister and my friends, it was that good!
Years later, I tried to read it again and thought to myself: what was I so excited about?
Still a great read, if somewhat tame by today's standards.
Profile Image for Melissa.
422 reviews76 followers
March 3, 2016
I wouldn't normally bother rating a book I didn't finish, but I got through half of The Flame and the Flower before giving up, so I have some pretty strong opinions and plenty to say. If my pain can spare some of you anguish, then it will all be worthwhile.

I was actually a little bit excited to read this book, even though I knew it had a reputation as being very of its time and, to today's readers, fairly offensive. But I don't have an extremely thin skin. After all, I love Outlander, in spite of the strapping debacle! Plus, I was curious about the novel that basically invented the modern day historical romance back in the early 1970s. I had high hopes that this might actually be a fun, engaging old-school yarn, in spite of its issues. Unfortunately, it's just a mess.

Profile Image for Ashley.
487 reviews32 followers
September 24, 2021
I'm sleepy and have had wine so please take my ranting in stride, scroll past it, or better yet read Melissa's cutting, and frankly amazing, review here.

I'm not going to rate this because I only read 5 of the 10 chapters. It takes a lot for me to not finish a book. Yes, life is too short to read books we don't enjoy, but you're looking at a person who spent two years trying to finish a 200 page Don DeLillo novel she couldn't stand. But this book is far worse than that one was.

I was feeling a bit bad that I convinced Melissa to buddy-read this with me, but now I'm quite glad I did. It was interesting to see where Avon got its start in the historical romance genre. It's hard to believe that the imprint that publishes and/or has published my favorites, Laura Kinsale and Lisa Kleypas, kicked things off with this disaster of a book.

Things I don't understand:

1. How literally every single Meredith Duran, Cecilia Grant, and Laura Kinsale book ever published has a lower Goodreads rating than this pile of shit.
2. How Lisa Kleypas can call this her favorite Avon romance. The Woodiwiss influence is evident in her mediocre Vallerands series, but I seriously hope it's just nostalgia making her say things like that. If you genuinely think this book is quality, Lisa, then you need to learn how to love yourself.
3. How this is a list of books that have lower Goodreads ratings than The Flame and the Flower: Venetia, When He Was Wicked, Not Quite a Husband, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, Again the Magic, Jane Eyre, Emma.

A 4.10 average rating, you guys!? Stay messy, people of Goodreads.
Profile Image for Jenny Q.
1,008 reviews54 followers
February 4, 2010
Rating: 0 Stars out of 5

This was my first experience with a true "bodice ripper" and it will be my last. In the first chapter the heroine kills a man defending herself from attempted rape, runs for her life and ends up with the "hero" who then rapes her himself, repeatedly. And I don't mean a case of "your lips say no but your eyes say yes", I mean lips, eyes, fists and feet all say no. I didn't make it to chapter two. I skimmed a few pages here and there through the rest of the book. I actually found it very disturbing. Millions of copies of this book have been sold? Why?? There was a time when women actually found reading about rape-based relationships appealing?
Profile Image for Debby.
1,225 reviews11 followers
July 21, 2022
I remember reading this book in the 90’s. It was one of my favourite romantic novels.

But it is definitely not safe. Their first time he takes her by force.
Profile Image for Hannah Hearts Romance.
258 reviews71 followers
May 9, 2023
I read this for science. Science was once again painful. I’m going to try to keep this review on the informative and critical side and not just a stewing pile of anger words. The fact that this book has a 4.05 star average rating is absolutely beyond me. The fact that plenty of the favorable ratings have been given in the last five years is even worse. Yes, I am judging you A LOT if you have ever given this book anything resembling a positive review.

Let’s get logistics out of the way—content warnings abound. It’s honestly hard to summarize the plot because a LOT of unnecessary waffle happens. In what we’ll call part one, Heather is an angelically beautiful and skinny SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD girl who has been orphaned and left in the care of her evil, ugly, fat aunt and her ugly, drunk, spineless uncle. She works Cinderella-style for them until evil aunt’s evil brother comes and offers to take Heather to a school in London. Except, it’s not a school, he’s planning to sex traffic her—but not before he has his own chance to rape her. She responds with an oh-hell-no and the uncle falls on a knife (he ran into my knife ten times (couldn’t resist)). It’s not as badass as it sounds, as Heather is incredibly naïve and frankly kind of stupid. Assuming she will be locked up or hung for this guy’s murder, she flees through the streets of London in a slutty dress. A couple of sailors, fresh off the sea, think she is a sex worker and bring her back to the ship for their captain to enjoy. The captain, our “hero,” rapes Heather twice and tells her to get used to it. In one of the only episodes of spine and intelligence she has in the entire book, Heather manages to escape. The spine and intelligence are short-lived, because she decides to run back to her evil aunt. After a few months it becomes clear to everyone except Heather that she’s pregnant. She names Captain Brandon Birmingham as the father, and she’s forced to marry her rapist. No, excuse me—Brandon is forced to marry Heather. The book makes that very clear.
In what we’ll call part two, the newlyweds sail from London to Charleston, North Carolina, where Brandon is from and where he owns a sizable plantation and many, many slaves. No, excuse me—“Negroes and Negresses” or “servants.” The book never calls a spade a spade, except when referring to the human beings enslaved by Brandon’s evil ex. This is where things get pretty boring, other than the incredible racism, classism, chauvinism, etc. It’s mostly Brandon being pissed that he can’t have sex with Heather (a decision he made), Heather feeling the brunt of Brandon’s blue balls-induced anger, their slav—excuse me, servants—tending to them because it’s what makes them happy, and Brandon’s ex living up to her slutty reputation. Then Heather has the baby (their choice of name is the only source of joy in this book), and other than not having sex they’re the picture of domesticity. They throw a ball, Brandon decides he can’t take it anymore and tells Heather if she doesn’t let him fuck her he’ll rape her, as is his right. So says the book. They do end up having sex, not exactly rape because Heather makes herself pretty and allows it and ends up not hating it. They decide they’re in love with each other. There’s a random rape-murder mystery plot thrown in at the end, mostly to give Heather another chance to run around literally naked and afraid and to kill off certain troublesome females.

There’s obviously a lot more than that considering this infernal book is over 600 pages. It’s just mostly contrived scenarios to make sure we know how beautiful, thin, and white Heather is and how magnificent her boobs are, to the point where any man who encounters her becomes rabid and tries to rape her. Similar with Brandon, there are lots of attempts to show how he’s not so bad, really (his slaves get Christmas presents) and how desirable of a man he is. Oh, and baths. They take a LOT of baths.

If this was a well-written book, I could better excuse its popularity. But I genuinely think it was the Fifty Shades of its time: poorly written, incredibly harmful, and mind-bogglingly popular. The writing is just bad. It’s overworked and flowery (said as someone who often likes lilac prose). She’ll use the same descriptive word too often in a short span of time. The pacing is awful. And that’s without taking into consideration that if you took out every instance of sexual violence and racism, every fatphobic or classist thought, and every time a woman throws herself at omg-he’s-such-a-catch Brandon…this book might be 200 pages long.

What fascinates me about The Flame and the Flower is how familiar it feels to a fairly voracious romance reader. The classic beats of our beloved genre are so recognizable here. Beautiful and innocent poor girl meets worldly, domineering rake who is consumed with lust at the sight of her; they spend a lot of time fighting their attraction; eventually they give in to the pants feelings; the rake who has no heart is suddenly able to love; the formerly poor girl has secured love and financial security forevermore. You could do a trope graphic for this, too. There’s only one bed, mistaken identity, forced proximity, accidental pregnancy (ew), marriage of convenience, cuddle in unknowing sleep, sickbed scenes. Unless someone can point out an earlier example, I think Brandon is literally the first green-eyed hero to growl, “Mine.”

This is where I’m going to get controversial, but I think we need to talk about it. Long-time romance readers often seem willing to acknowledge TFaTF’s influence on the genre, but only in the way that many Americans are willing to recognize slavery’s influence on the country. You know: oh, it was bad, but that’s behind us and look, we are so much better now. The thing is, we’re not really? Yes, with the amazing expansion of indie romance and Black romance and queer romance and so many other facets of this beautiful genre, I would say that overall we have come a long way. But we haven’t left books like The Flame and the Flower behind. Just in pandemic times alone we’ve had controversies around books with plantation-owning or genocidal heroes and what “counts” as sexual violence. If we’ve truly moved beyond the problems of yesteryear, shouldn’t those sorts of books also be a thing of the past? Instead of getting screen adaptations that cause even more controversy and an average of almost 5 stars on Amazon?

Here’s the thing: I would argue that you can see TFaTF’s influence on many books that today’s enlightened romance community are reading, loving, and recommending. Brandon Birmingham’s genes or whatever are obvious in beloved romance heroes like Derek Craven, Lothaire, and every man Tessa Bailey has ever written. I am no exception. My point is that as much as we would like to think of this book only as a problematic footnote in the history of romance, we haven’t reckoned with its continued legacy in any meaningful way. We distance ourselves ideologically from books like TFaTF while constantly mentioning them as foundational to the genre. We read them for book clubs and podcasts and other public discussions. We continue to uncritically read authors who mention Woodiwiss as direct influences. (Again, not excepting myself here from reading problematic books. I’m a Laura Kinsale fan.)

I don’t have any neat solution here. It’s a process, sure. But I think we need to do a lot better about owning up to romance’s history and taking responsibility for the impact that it has on the genre today.

In a way, I’m glad we read this book for our Romance History Project. I thought I had read some problematic old school romance, but seeing this amongst the roots of those I had previously read…I appreciate the perspective I now have. But in no way would I recommend this book except as a purely academic exercise. Like to better equip yourself and the romance community to fix our shit.

Content notes: graphic rape of a minor, victim forced to marry rapist, multiple other instances of sexual assault, slavery, racism, classism, ableism, misogyny, suicidal ideation, physical assault, murder, slut shaming, illness with fever and delirium, pregnancy and birth, fatphobia, animal abuse, probably a lot more but honestly I stopped noting them all because good grief
Profile Image for Océano de libros.
759 reviews77 followers
November 1, 2017
Heather Simmons es una joven que para salir de su vida de pobreza decide ir con su tío a Londres pero su viaje se trunca cuando sus expectativas no son lo que eran, además se cruza en su camino un capitán Brandon Birmingham, todo orgullo y cabezonería y entre ellos se cree una relación bastante particular.
Bueno dejando atrás el brutal spoiler que hacen en la sinopsis, porque para mí lo es, tengo que decir que esta novela primera de la serie Birminghan me ha gustado mucho. Es la segunda que leo de la autora después de “Una rosa en invierno” y aunque no la supera no es nada desdeñable.
“La flor y la llama” es de esas “novelas antiguas” donde tenemos una historia repleta de aventuras por las que tienen que pasar sus protagonistas y esto es algo que me encanta y que en la actualidad vemos poquito en este género pues prima más la relación amorosa y sus tejemanejes que presentarnos una historia con empaque. Y es que a veces nos puede más la novedad que buscar novelas de hace unos cuantos años, tendré que ponerme más a ello porque vale la pena.
En cuanto a los personajes, tenemos a Heather, ésta es como un ratoncito asustado casi en toda la novela, a veces llega a desesperar un poco pero supongo que en la época en la que la autora lo escribió primaban los personajes femeninos débiles por así decirlo, aunque ya descubriréis poco a poco a Heather y la terminaréis apreciando a pesar de lo asustadiza que es. En cuanto a Brandon, al principio lo odié como creo que es normal, los términos en los que conoce a Heather no son muy buenos, pero luego te gusta esa parte de él medio gruñona, con mucho orgullo, una parte de caballero, muchas partes de un todo que al final te acaban gustando.
Del resto de personajes me ha gustado que nos hable un poco de ellos y de cómo influyen sobre todo en Heather y en cómo van modelando su carácter.
La historia me ha parecido muy entretenida y pese a lo largo del libro no me aburrí en ningún momento, está escrita en detalle y eso se nota.
Profile Image for Chloe.
12 reviews10 followers
August 5, 2012
I forced my way through this novel from start to end. If it hadn't been so horrifically genuine it would have been funny. Every single stupid thought you've ever heard an abused woman utter with that tragic loss of logic is in the plot of this book. From 'he rapes me but he really loves me deep down' to 'a baby will fix our marriage'. True it's written slightly better then your average two-bit rape porno but that hardly makes up for a plot that encourages the idea that raping women is a good way to meet your wife and treating them like crap afterwards, blaming them for your life, circumstances etc is a good way to develop a healthy marriage.

I would also like to point out that this is neither 'the first romance' as people keep telling me, nor is it even the first erotic romance (and I would hardly call this erotic) erotic literature and romance has been around since as long as writing has with works such as Decameron, written 900 years prior to this book.

Lastly I would advocate stopping this book being called 'romance' it encourages women clearly suffering from stockholm syndrome to believe themselves in love with their abusers.
Profile Image for TJ.
2,791 reviews170 followers
January 3, 2010
This book starts with the abuse then rape of an innocent girl, a subsequent pregnancy then forced marriage to the man who raped her. Needless to say, I HATED it! Woodiwiss' writing skills undoubtably draw you into the story, however, therefore the two stars.
Profile Image for Sonia.
738 reviews30 followers
March 8, 2018
No voy a contar la historia...
Solo voy a decir que empieza mal, parece que mejora, pero no acaba de hacerlo...
Con lo bonita que es Una rosa en invierno, la verdad es que me llevado un buen chasco...
Profile Image for Bubu.
315 reviews337 followers
February 9, 2017
I've done it, and I shouldn't have done it. Having been in a reading slump for the better part of the last 2 months, I went back and re-read The Flame and The Flower. The Mother of all modern Historical Romances. Certainly the Mother of all Bodice Rippers.

I first read this book in my teenage years and I remember, even back then, not liking it very much.

I didn't like the plot. I didn't like Heather. I didn't like Brandon. I didn't like the fact that he raped her. Full stop.

Going back now, I actually knew I would like it even less (see rape). What I didn't expect, however, was how downright ridiculous this book is.

Let's take Heather, for example. People either hate her because she's so beautiful, or want to rape her because she is so beautiful, or adore her because she is so beautiful. Mind you, the first two groups obviously fall under the categories of 'Jealous Women' and 'Evil Rapist Men'. The latter group are the likeable characters: mainly Brandon's brother and the happy slaves, and a few others. But not many, of course. This child-woman is totally defined by her beauty. Any other characteristics she may show are completely undervalued. To be more blunt, her other personality traits - if she has any - are insignificant compared to her beauty. She is - even after giving birth - simply physical perfection.

Which leads us straight to Brandon. He loses any common sense - again, if he has any - and is so overcome by her beauty that he rapes her a few times. Even when he realises that she was actually a virgin, he doesn't believe her to be anything else but a whore in the making, so it's still deserved. She should have simply just tried to enjoy it. Once that tiny little misunderstanding has been cleared (she was not a whore in the making), he marries her because Heather is pregnant. Still against his will, of course.

Anyway, to cut a long story short: for the rest of the book we watch a heroine (*snort*) being mostly a simpering mess, with interludes of feisty behaviour. As explained above, women who wanted Brandon for themselves, hate her, so we are subjected to the most clichéd portrayal of women. And almost every man wants her, read rape her.

As for Brandon, the rapist who is not a rapist - at least according to the author. He lusts after Heather, has constant jealous outbursts and is a man envied by other men and lusted after by other women.

That's it. Well, there's subplot that contains a murder-mystery, but never mind that. Even there, it's all about Heather's beauty in the end.

Now, how to explain why this book is, at least to me, wrong on so many levels? In my first semester at Uni, I took a class called 'Literature criticism' in which we examined the different approaches on how to interpret a text (novel, poems, etc.), and one approach/theory (I forgot its name, sorry) was to cut out any background knowledge and read the text as it is. Forget the author, her/his gender, her/his background, the cultural political and social context, not to mention the readers own experiences and background. I always found this theory idiotic. How on earth is it possible to read any text without putting it into some kind of context? If there's anyone who can, and actually I'm sure there are people who can, I'm impressed. However, I can't.

The reason why I'm mentioning all this is because I looked at this book's first publishing date. April 1972. Before I was born. But during a time where the feminist movement finally started to break through into every day politics; not to forget shortly after the civil rights movement made significant improvements for the voting rights of PoC in the Southern states - over 100 years after slavery had been abolished. Basically, this book was written during a time where western societies underwent immense changes to the social, cultural and political status quo.

And yet, The Flame and the Flower ignores all this. It's Gone With The Wind with actual sex scenes, minus the complexity of the main characters. But everything else is in there: The gender roles clichéed and sexist (men as well as women), and of course the happy slaves.

I can't read a book and ignore the internal background (the story itself), nor the external background (when it was written and by whom). Knowing what I know about women's rights and slavery, and knowing in which time it was written, The Flame and The Flower made me want to throw up.

Of course, I acknowledge that the official definition and personal perception of rape was different in 1972. But rape is rape. Romanticising it, doesn't make it any better. On the contrary.

I keep saying that I won't read the books of my teenager years, the bodice rippers. I didn't need a reminder. It was me being a total idiot for doing it anyway.
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