Selling Women’s History: Popular Historical Fiction in the 1970s

  • Diana Wallace


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.


Woman Writer Dwelling Place Historical Romance Romance Convention Historical Fiction 
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  1. 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
  2. Bryher’s Ruan (1961).Google Scholar
  3. Anya Seton’s Avalon (1965)Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    This included work like Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages (1959) edited by Roger Sherman Loomis.Google Scholar
  5. Richard Barber’s King Arthur: Hero and Legend (1961).Google Scholar
  6. Geoffrey Ashe’s From Caesar to Arthur (1960) and The Quest for Arthur’s Britain (1968).Google Scholar
  7. 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

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© Diana Wallace 2005

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  • Diana Wallace

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