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seven Harems, Heroines, and Heroes The heroine—a feisty, brassy American woman, representing hundreds of thousands of female romance readers—is irresistibly drawn to the Arab sheik. He’s dark, brooding and incredibly wealthy, ruling everything he surveys in his desert kingdom. They have exotic adventures and eventually make hot, feverish and often graphic love. The End. paTricK T. reardon, ChiCaGo Tribune, april 24, 2006 I n the late 1960s, Lorna Morel, a cool, blond, middle-class English woman brought up in a convent school travels to Morocco and has to explain to an eager young Englishman that she doesn’t care to dance or get married, can’t bear to be touched by a man, and is not at all romantic by nature or inclination. She scoffs at fanciful warnings culled from romance novels about “ardent and dangerous Arabs who carry off lonely girls to their harems” (Winspear 1969: 9). And, of course, that is precisely what happens to her.Violet Winspear’s Blue Jasmine, published as Mills & Boon’s first postwar desert romance in 1969, paid selfconscious homage to Hull’s novel and its ilk, borrowing heavily from the storyline of The Sheik. Lorna is rescued from the “bad Arab” abductor by the “good Arab” sheik, who we know will turn out to be European because he “spoke like a Frenchman and used his hands in a Gallic way.” Like Hull’s Ahmed Ben Hassan, he has spotless clothes, sumptuous furnishings , and a small library of French books. His mother, as it turns out, is a Spaniard from Cadiz who worked as a nurse in a Moroccan hospital, married an emir, and cuckolded her husband with a French traveler when the emir took a second wife. Being of Latin parentage, the hero can naturally « 218 » Desert Passions pass as an Arab. Further references to Hull’s novel are scattered throughout the text. Like Diana Mayo, Lorna likes to ride; she is intrigued by the “eternal mystery of the East” that she feels in the desert; she is moved by the sound of a haunting Eastern melody that she hears while in a garden; she is forced to wear “harem clothes” and to accept the sheik’s gift of a pearl necklace; she fights fiercely with him; and she is afraid that if she responds to his lovemaking, he will grow tired of her. The hero, meanwhile, is harsh and autocratic; he is a ruthless leader of men and possesses the ability to tame wild horses—and the heroine—by sheer brute strength and force of will. The publication of Blue Jasmine heralded the revival of the British-authored sheik romance in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In this chapter, I examine continuities and changes between the modern sheik novel and its 1920s counterpart, focusing particularly on issues of feminist independence, cultural conversion, hybridity, and masculinity in the portrayal of Western heroines, Muslim women, and sheik heroes from the 1970s to the present day. HareMs Beginning in the 1970s, contemporary desert romance novels overlapped in many ways withThe Sheik and with their historical counterparts examined in Chapter 5. References to abduction, rape, white slavery, and incarceration in the harem were rife. In Barbara Faith’s Bedouin Bride (1984), the heroine is kidnapped by the Moroccan hero, carried into the desert, and seduced through rape, as is the heroine in Australian writer Miranda Lee’s Beth and the Barbarian (1993). In Emma Darcy’s The Sheikh’s Revenge (1993), Leah Marlow is abducted by the sheikh of Zubani in revenge for her brother eloping with the sheikh’s betrothed. The novel begins with allusions to abduction and rape. When the sheik first meets Leah, she is in her garden working on a tapestry of a Rubens picture of the rape of the Sabine women. However, no rape occurs in this novel, or in Canadian writer Alexandra Sellers’s Bride of the Sheikh (1997), in which the heroine is romantically abducted by her former sheik husband —rather in the manner of Walter Scott’s Laird of Lochinvar in his epic poem Marmion—when she tries to marry someone else after her divorce . Unlike in The Sheik and 1970s erotic historical romance novels, and in notable contrast to the targets of early feminist criticism about violent sex in romance fiction, actual rape does not feature often in the postwar Mills & Boon sheik novel.The threat of its occurrence is certainly present: HareMs, Heroines, and Heroes « 219 » heroines are spoken to savagely, misunderstood...


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