Everyone recognises the world of the historical romance - a windswept, sunset-ridden world of deep-plunge bodices where spirited young beauties challenge impossibly rugged heros, and where tempestuous yet unspoken sexual frisson can lead to a fantastic escape and, with love, to mutual liberation. The Historical Romance explores the ways in which romance authors have sought to represent our fantasies of life in the past ever since the first "cloak and dagger" tales captured the popular fiction market of the 1930's. The book explores how, with the social upheaval of the war, these cut-and-thrust swashbucklers gave way to the female-oriented romances of Georgette Heyer and her successors, their qualities of fantasy and credibility and exaggerated romantic motifs representing the symbolic expression of women's concerns. Hughes' study leads us right up to the present day by exploring how authors as diverse as Conan Doyle and Barbara Cartland treat the question of female independence and how established attitudes towards loved, marriage and women's sexuality have been both challenged and reaffirmed by more recent texts.
Other themes include the abducted heroine and the disguised or wounded hero; the romantic treatment of popular and revolutionary movements, and "Englishness", national identity and the First World War. The author also charts the ways in which the marketing of romance has developed since the beginning of the century, culminating in the explosion of the mass market, the "bodice-rippers" of the seventies, and the family sagas of the eighties. The Historical Romance unravels the formulaic and mythical natures of historical romance to provide a fascinating study of this highly popular genre.