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Jane Aiken Hodge’s Gothic Romances: More Than Just A Girl And Her Castle

In 1971, Time Magazine Arts Editor Martha Duffy made an observation about the increasing sales of romantic fiction. “What sells is the author’s name on the jacket and that illustration showing a girl and a castle.”  

images-2The key part about the above paragraph is the date. 1971

n187091As I read that quote, a flood of memories rushed through me, transporting me back to middle school. It’s there, in between braces, scoliosis checks, and Latin declensions, that I discovered Mary Stewart, Eleanor Hibbert (aka Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr), Anya Seton, and Phyllis Whitney. Like my daughter who devours YA paranormal romances and dystopian stories, I was once addicted to romantic suspense and gothic romances.

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It’s possible my honestly-acquired addiction to suspense and gothics came from reading Daphne Du Maurier and the Bronte sisters at too young an age, but by the time I was fourteen I had gone through all of the books these women had written up until then and I was desperate.

Unfortunately, in the late seventies and early eighties most of the romance novels were too adult for my tastes. I had no interest in the man actually doing anything with the heroine. I was happy if the hero stayed in the creepy castle, acting broody and threatening.

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As my daughter says, “The heroine can think about the boy, see the boy infrequently, and yearn for the boy. She can even talk about the boy with her girlfriends while trying on shoes. But the boy must STAY in the castle in the woods.”

And at that age, not only was I desperate for something to read, I had the same need to keep the boy in the woods.

So bodice-rippers were out.

One day, after another not-so-great math test, I hid in the library. The librarian, who knew me by name, came over. After a few minutes of moaning about stupid math and nothing to read, she took my test and wrote down four names on the back.

  Jane Aiken Hodge

Jill Tattersall

Dorothy Eden

Barbara Michaels

I went on to read every book these women wrote and fell in love with romantic suspense all over again. One of these prolific romantic suspense authors is Jane Aiken Hodge.

UnknownThe daughter of the poet Conrad Aiken and sister to the children’s novelist Joan Aiken, Jane Aiken was born in the U.S., raised in the U.K, read English at Oxford and received a master’s degree from Radcliffe College, Harvard University. She went on to marry twice, but it was her second husband, the poet and journalist Alan Hodge, who encouraged her to write novels.

images-1In 1948, as a young mother, she read film scripts for Warner Brothers and started writing romances. But it wasn’t until her two children were in school that she began seeking publication. After years of rejections, she published her first novel Camilla in 1961 in Ladie’s Home Journal in installments. That serialized story late eventually became the novel Marry in Haste. In 1963, she published her first book Maulever Hall. Maulever Hall is a testament to her admiration of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

images-8Known for her historical and contemporary romantic suspense stories, contemporary thrillers, and non-fiction work, Jane Aiken Hodge wrote over 40 books between 1961 and 2003. Her novels bore her trademarked pacing and unique mixture of suspense, mystery, and gothic elements. Throughout her career, she wrote books set in what she called the borderland–that line between mystery and romance novel. In her last novels, her mysteries became thrillers. This invisible line–this borderland–made her “gothic romantic suspense” voice unique. Even though she died in 2008 at the age of 92, her contemporaries, historicals, and non-fiction works are still available.

images-6But the two things which made Ms. Hodge stand out in the realm of romance fiction were her heroines and where she set her stories.

In an age of weak, retiring beauties, her heroines took charge of the their situation and tried to change it. Although our standards for kick-butt women have changed, almost impossibly so, fans considered Jane Aiken Hodge a “feminist writer” for her time.

51eb1XGkz-L._SL500_SS500_Her settings were also different. Instead of castles in Cornwall, she wrote about Savannah, GA during the Revolutionary War (Judas Flowering, Savannah Purchase), Russia during the Napoleonic Era (The Adventurers), and modern-day Portugal (The Winding Stair).

imagesJane Aiken Hodge is also known for her three highly-acclaimed non-fiction books about Jane Austen (Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen), Georgette Heyer (The Private World of Georgette Heyer), and the plight of the Regency Woman (Passion and Principle: Loves and Lives of Regency Women). All three are still in print and if you have any interest in Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, or the Regency, I highly recommend them.

But as teenagers grow, so do their tastes. And by the time I was in high school, my love affair with sweet gothics ended. Why is this, you ask? Because when I was sixteen my Aunt Eileen gave me a book for my birthday. Shanna. By Kathleen Woodiwiss. From that moment, the boy came out of the woods and I never looked back.

Now I’d love to know–do you (or did you) read gothic romances? What were your favorites?

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