Who is Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and what did she contribute to American literature?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss was an American writer who lived from 1939 to 2007 and is particularly noted for starting the historical romance sub-genre. Historical romance is a type of mass-market fiction based off of Walter Scott's historical romance genre, which he made popular in the early 1800s. Since the historical romance Woodiwiss popularized is a genre of mass-market fiction, it is characteristically far more sexually explicit than anything Walter Scott devised. In addition, Woodiwiss's historical romances concerned epic historical stories, "featuring longer plots, more controversial situations and characters, and more intimate and steamy sex scenes" ("Kathleen E. Woodiwiss").

Woodiwiss especially launched the historical romance mass-market sub-genre through her debut mass-market novel The Flame and the Flower, published in 1972. This debut novel was particularly revolutionary with respect to sexually explicit material. Prior to Woodiwiss's debut novel, even mass-market romance novels "were generally very chaste" ("The Flame and the Flower"). Heroines were even commonly either virgins or sexually inactive widows. Woodiwiss launched the very first sexually explicit mass-market novel. Even her characters diverged from mass-market characters of her day in that her heroine was far more independent and strong than other heroines, striving to earn the hero's respect "along with his love" ("The Flame"). In addition, Woodiwiss created a hero in The Flame and Flower who was far more submissive than other heroes of the romance genre prior to Woodiwiss's debut novel. Woodiwiss is especially admired for making women's fiction far more entertaining. Fellow historical romance novelist Julia Quinn attributed her own writing career to having been inspired by Woodiwiss's career and was once quoted as saying, "Woodiwiss made women want to read ... When I was growing up, I saw my mother and grandmother reading and enjoying romances, and when I was old enough to read them myself, I felt as if I had been admitted into a special sisterhood of reading women" ("Kathleen"). 

rachellopez | Student

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss was born June 3, 1939 in Alexandria, Louisiana. She attended a local school graduating in 1957. Her husband, who she married in 1956, was in the military which gave them the great opportunity to live in Japan. There she worked as a part-time model and after about 3 years, they moved back to America.

This is when she started to write her very first novel The Flame and the Flower. Published in 1972, the novel sold over 2.3 million copies over 4 years. Her book influenced writers to write in a new way and is said to have created the modern romance genre. She continued writing more novels, the last one released in 2007.

parama9000 | Student

Her works added a more intimate side of romance to literature.

Her debut work, The Flame and the Flower, featured actual sex scenes and is credited for spawning the modern romance genre.