Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower began the flood of paperback historical romances written by and for women readers in 1972, but it wasn't the first historical romance by any means.
We can go back to the swashbucklers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, by Dumas and Hugo and Sabatini, as well as the historical adventures of the mid-20th century by Yerby and Shellabarger and others. These were the books I and my fellow historical romance writers of the 1980s had grown up reading. We watched the movies of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde and Burt Lancaster. We weren't into the polite comedies of manners from Georgette Heyer the way we were into the swords and daggers of Edison Marshall.
As I detailed in my analysis of Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie, there was a subtle feminism in many of these pre-Woodiwiss novels. Not in all of them, of course, but it's important to remember that women read these books, too, and they watched the movies that were made from them in the 1930s, 1940s, and on. The books, and the authors, had to keep those women in mind.
It was on that foundation that Kathleen Woodiwiss built, to be followed by Rosemary Rogers, Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, Rebecca Brandewyne, Julie Garwood, Candace Camp, LaVyrle Spencer, Jo Beverley, Julia Quinn, and so many more.
In the spring of 2000, I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis at Arizona State University West on the feminist potential in romance novels. Eventually I published a digital edition on Amazon, not expecting very much but just to have it easily available.
The changes that have occurred in the romance fiction world since 2000 really warrant another examination of the causes and effects, the actions and reactions. I stated at the beginning of Half Heaven, Half Heartache that I wasn't going to look at gay and lesbian romances because my focus was on the straight romance and how it affected as well as mirrored real life straight romance. Seventeen years later, however, there is now a valid and valuable interaction. The same is true of romances featuring people of color, interracial romances, and all the other "new" forms of romantic fiction, both historical and contemporary, paranormal and fantasy.
My collection of romance novels has grown since 2000, and there has been more non-fiction about romance fiction written and published. Imagine what I could do with that.
Watch this space.