Woodiwiss, Kathleen E. 1939–
Woodiwiss, Kathleen E. 1939–
(Kathleen Erin Woodiwiss)
PERSONAL: Born June 3, 1939, in Alexandria, LA; daughter of Charles Wingrove, Sr., and Gladys (Coker) Hogg; married Ross Eugene Woodiwiss (a U.S. Air Force major), July 20, 1956 (divorced); children: Sean Alan, Dorren James, Heath Alexander. Education: Attended schools in Alexandria, LA. Politics: Republican.
ADDRESSES: Home—Princeton, MN. Office—c/o Avon Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a model in fashion shows in Tokyo, Japan.
The Flame and the Flower, Avon (New York, NY), 1972.
The Wolf and the Dove, Avon (New York, NY), 1974.
Shanna, Avon (New York, NY), 1977.
Ashes in the Wind, Avon (New York, NY), 1979.
A Rose in Winter, Avon (New York, NY), 1982.
Come Love a Stranger, Avon (New York, NY), 1984.
So Worthy My Love, Avon (New York, NY), 1989.
Forever in Your Embrace, Avon (New York, NY), 1992, author's preferred edition, 1999.
(With others) Three Weddings and a Kiss (anthology), Avon (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor and contributor) Married at Midnight, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.
Petals on the River, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
A Season beyond a Kiss, Avon (New York, NY), 2000.
The Reluctant Suitor, Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
ADAPTATIONS: The Flame and the Flower, So Worthy My Love, Petals on the River, and A Season beyond a Kiss have been recorded on audio cassette.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A medieval romance set in England and Scotland.
SIDELIGHTS: A pioneering writer of romance fiction, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's first novel is generally credited with creating the subgenre known as "erotic historical" romance. When The Flame and the Flower was published in 1972, the field of romance writing was dominated by "contemporary gothics" produced by writers such as Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney. The Flame and the Flower differed from its predecessors in that it was substantially longer, but also because it contained lengthy, often detailed passages describing the sexual encounters of the hero and heroine. The immediate success of The Flame and the Flower cleared the way for writers like Rosemary Rogers and Laura McBain, authors who, along with Woodiwiss, have helped to make the historical romance an enormously popular form. The Flame and the Flower has gone through eighty printings and has sold over four million copies.
The novels following The Flame and the Flower continued to be ground-breakers and assured Woodiwiss a large and loyal readership. Shanna, Woodiwiss's third book, made publishing history by becoming the first historical romance released in a trade paperback edition, and it went on to sell over three million copies and spend a full year on the New York Times bestseller list. In 1979 Avon published Ashes in the Wind with a first printing of one-and-a-half million copies; the publisher backed the book with a huge promotional campaign, including full-page advertisements in national women's magazines and commercials on network television. The publicity paid off almost immediately as Ashes in the Wind sold over two million copies and went into a third printing within a month of its release. The 2000 release A Season beyond a Kiss was launched with a first printing of seven hundred thousand copies and was the first romance novel to top the Publishers Weekly paperback bestseller list. In total, over thirty-six million copies of Woodiwiss's books have been sold worldwide.
Historical romances vary in some respects but share fundamental similarities. Settings are typically exotic and frequently change from continent to continent. Heroes are characteristically handsome and commanding, while heroines are beautiful and sensitive. Often innocent, the heroine is usually introduced to the hero with whom she falls in love. The Flame and the Flower clearly embodies the traditions of its genre. The heroine, Heather, is a teenager throughout the narrative, which begins in England around 1800 and eventually moves to the American Carolinas. A beautiful and decorous girl who becomes the ward of a cruel aunt, Heather is mistaken for a harlot by an attractive Yankee who, in turn, is forced to marry her. After many adventures, the pair work out their initial hatred for each other and fall in love. The Flame and the Flower also maintains the traditional structural relationship of males as dominant over and protective of females.
Where The Flame and the Flower and other Woodiwiss novels break with tradition is in their frank depiction of the sexual relationship between the hero and the heroine. While her books contain occasional sexual passages, Woodiwiss says that she is "insulted when my books are called erotic," as she maintained in a Cosmopolitan interview. "I don't think people who say that have read my books. I believe I write love stories. With a little spice. Some of the other current romances are a bit savage, though. They make sex dirty. It's embarrassing to read them. But women are looking for the love story. I get a lot of fan mail, and they tell me that." Janice Radway, writing in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, saw the erotic passages in Woodi-wiss's novels as being integral parts of "complex plots which all focus on the gradual development of love between the two principal characters. Unlike many writers of this subgenre who keep the heroine and the hero apart until the final pages of the novel, Woodiwiss brings them into contact early in the tale. Having established their initial attraction for each other, she then shows how love develops between two extraordinary individuals, emphasizes that the relationship must be cultivated carefully, and demonstrates that compromise, tenderness, and generosity are necessary to maintain it."
Just such a relationship is presented in Woodiwiss's 1979 novel, Ashes in the Wind. This tale features the heroine Alaina MacGaren, a seventeen-year-old orphan who must leave her home in central Louisiana for New Orleans when a rumor is started that she is a traitor. In order to keep her identity a secret, Alaina assumes a number of disguises, including that of a street urchin, a penniless widow, and a hospital volunteer. In the midst of these many identities, the life of surgeon Captain Cole Lattimer becomes entangled with Alaina's, and the two overcome adversity to find a deep and lasting love. Although Washington Post Book World contributor Maude McDaniel found Ashes in the Wind to be filled with silly characters, a formulaic plot, and awful writing, she went on to conclude, "Actually, I rather enjoyed" the novel. And a Publishers Weekly contributor maintained that Woodiwiss "has fashioned her heroine in a picaresque tradition. Readers will find Alaina's spunky ingenuity refreshing."
In Woodiwiss's 1989 romance, So Worthy My Love, Maxim Seymour, another alleged traitor, this time to Queen Elizabeth, is thought to be dead. The young man, hated by the noble Radborne family, is actually hiding in Germany, desperately wanting his beloved, Arabella Radborne, to be with him. Sending his men to kidnap her, Maxim is surprised when they bring back Arabella's beautiful cousin Elise by mistake. Unable to let Elise go, the two battle each other defiantly until they realize that they are actually in love. Woodiwiss "provides ripe descriptions" in So Worthy My Love, stated a Publishers Weekly contributor, adding, "This long romance by a veteran of the genre delivers well-paced, well-structured diversion."
In 1998 Woodiwiss wrote a long-awaited sequel to her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, titled The Elu-sive Flame. Woodiwiss picks up the story with Heather and Brandon Birmingham's son, Beauregard, who is a sea captain. The novel tells of Beau's romance with the orphan Cerynise, their tempestuous relationship, their troubles with London scoundrels who have stolen Cerynise's rightful inheritance, and their eventual triumph over all ordeals during a "melodramatic climax in a storm-buffeted house," as a Publishers Weekly critic put it. Melanie Duncan, writing in Booklist, stated, "Woodiwiss set the standard for excellence in romance novels with The Flame and the Flower … a standard that current authors still try to meet, and fans have waited 25 years for this wonderful sequel." The Elusive Flame enjoyed a first printing of 800,000 copies.
A Season beyond a Kiss, published in 2000, brought back the Birmingham family for the third time. Brandon's younger brother, Jeffrey, has just wed beautiful Raelynn Barrett. Their marriage hits upon rocky times almost immediately when Jeff is accused of getting a young girl pregnant. Despite Jeff's claims of innocence, Raelynn, who wants to believe him, is not sure if he can be trusted. When the young girl in question is murdered, Jeff is found in possession of the murder weapon. He must now try to prove his innocence while going up against a mysterious conspiracy and a vicious murderer.
Woodiwiss published her first hardcover novel, The Reluctant Suitor, in 2003. Sixteen years ago, James Colton Wyndham's parents betrothed him to an unattractive young woman, Adriana Elynn Sutton, without either his or Adriana's consent. James ran away, but finally, sixteen years later, he returns. Adriana is still unmarried, and James is thus bound by the terms of the betrothal to court Adriana for three months; at that point, he will be allowed to break the agreement. Adriana has grown to be beautiful, but, fearful of another rejection, she still wants nothing to do with James. Like Woodiwiss's other books, John Charles noted in Booklist, The Reluctant Suitor contains "an arrogantly handsome hero, a beautiful naive heroine, [and] a nicely developed cast of scheming secondary characters." Library Journal reviewer Kristin Ramsdell also commented on Woodiwiss's "intriguing" supporting cast, "including an especially despicable villain."
Although Woodiwiss's novels are enormously successful with the public, they are generally ignored by "serious" reviewers. This situation does not seem to bother Woodiwiss, however, nor does it make her wish to change her approach to writing. "I never started out to win any prizes for my writing," she related in her interview with Judy Klemesrud in the New York Times Book Review. "I wanted to appease a hunger for romantic novels, and that is what I shall continue to do." Woodiwiss similarly pointed out that her books are only an attempt to give readers "enjoyment. Escape. I would like to be able to give the reader a time period of relaxation and pleasure, a time of being able to put the worries and everything aside and just enjoy and relax." She told Giovanna Breu in People that her books "are fairy tales. They are an escape for the reader, like an Errol Flynn movie."
For an interview with Woodiwiss, See Contemporary Authors New Revisions, Volume 23.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Falk, Kathryn, Love's Leading Ladies, Pinnacle (New York, NY), 1982.
Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, 2nd edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Booklist, September 15, 1998, Melanie Duncan, review of The Elusive Flame, p. 214; July, 2000, Mary McCay, review of A Season beyond a Kiss (audio-book), p. 2054; February 15, 2003, John Charles, review of The Reluctant Suitor, p. 1058.
Cosmopolitan, February, 1978, interview with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of The Reluctant Suitor, p. 180.
Library Journal, May 15, 1974, p. 1410; February 15, 1995, Jodi L. Israel, review of Petals on the River, p. 198; July, 2001, Jodi L. Israel, review of A Season Beyond a Kiss (audiobook), p. 149; February 15, 2003, Kristin Ramsdell, review of The Reluctant Suitor, p. 124.
New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1979, Judy Klemesrud, interview with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.
People, February 7, 1983, Giovanna Breu, "Romance Writer Kathleen Woodiwiss Is Passionate about Horses—and Happy Endings," pp. 75-76.
Publishers Weekly, January 21, 1974, p. 88; January 31, 1977; May 30, 1977; September 3, 1979, review of Ashes in the Wind, p. 94; October 22, 1982, review of A Rose in Winter, p. 51; August 25, 1989, review of So Worthy My Love, p. 57; August 24, 1998, Daisy Maryles, "Fanning the Flames," p. 19; Au-gust 31, 1998, review of The Elusive Flame, p. 50; March 20, 2000, Daisy Maryles and Dick Donahue, "The Flame 28 Years Later," p. 21; February 17, 2003, review of The Reluctant Suitor, p. 56.
Romance Reader, August 28, 1998, review of The Elusive Flame.
Village Voice, May 9, 1977.
Washington Post Book World, April 9, 1972, p. 9; October 7, 1979, Maude McDaniel, review of Ashes in the Wind, pp. 9, 14.
West Coast Review of Books, January, 1983, p. 42.
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss Home Page, http://www.kathleenewoodwiss.com/ (August 14, 2004).