Selling Women’s History: Popular Historical Fiction in the 1970s
In the 1970s the woman’s historical novel was widely visible but in a range of sub-genres regarded as popular fiction and therefore disregarded by literary critics: the historical romance associated with Mills and Boon and Barbara Cartland; the family saga reinvigorated by Susan Howatch; the American-influenced ‘bodice-ripper’ or ‘erotic historical’; the social histories of Catherine Cookson; Mary Stewart’s Arthurian novels. Like the modern gothic of the 1960s which they replaced, these texts are associated with the mass-market paperback. They are also associated with an author or publisher marketed as a ‘brand-name’ easily recognised by readers — ‘Barbara Cartland’, ‘Catherine Cookson’, ‘Mills and Boon’ and so on.
KeywordsWoman Writer Dwelling Place Historical Romance Romance Convention Historical Fiction
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- 9.There were a few earlier texts (see Taylor and Brewer, 1983) but none as influential. In the 1950s and early 1960s there were also a handful of texts with Arthurian or Dark Age settings, such as Meriol Trevor’s The Last of Britain (see Ashe, 1971, 198).Google Scholar
- Bryher’s Ruan (1961).Google Scholar
- Anya Seton’s Avalon (1965)Google Scholar
- 10.This included work like Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages (1959) edited by Roger Sherman Loomis.Google Scholar
- Richard Barber’s King Arthur: Hero and Legend (1961).Google Scholar
- Geoffrey Ashe’s From Caesar to Arthur (1960) and The Quest for Arthur’s Britain (1968).Google Scholar
- 12.Edith Pargeter’s The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet (1974) is another example of a 1970s’ text by a woman concerned with issues of leadership and nationhood, which uses an illegitimate first-person male narrator.Google Scholar