Sad Note

Posted Wed, 07/11/07

Kathleen Woodiwiss, one of my favorite authors, has died.


Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, a pioneer of the modern historical romance novel marked by strong heroines, detailed period settings and steamy sex scenes, has died, her family and publisher said (6 July 2007). She was 68.

My first Woodiwiss book read was The Flame and the Flower. Title aside, the book was not a "flaming sex and romance" novel but rather a well-written and researched period piece about a Southern American stubborn man and an innocent, frightened young English girl.

I know from experience that publishers foist hideous book titles upon their authors, most of which have little or nothing to do with the story contained therein. Ridiculous titles are created in order to garner notice and "sales." (For example, my book Passion Forsaken was not a title I chose and still despise to this day, but according to the terms of my publishing contract, I had little say in the matter.)

Following my initial read of The Flame and the Flower, my favorite Woodiwiss books were (and are) The Wolf and the Dove and Shanna. When are they going to make movies from these wonderfully-worded and emotionally powerful fictional forays?

In 2002, when I had a web site containing reviews of my favorite books, I wrote a lengthy bit about The Wolf and the Dove. I dismantled the web site after people plagiarized the reviews and thereafter sold them for hefty prices at various "educational" sites, but the following is my original review of The Wolf and the Dove (now available at the Class Notes web site):

  • The Review:

When I was in my 20's, I read historical romances like they were going out of style. Now I rarely touch them with a barge pole. Not because they aren’t entertaining (most of them are), but they seem to follow the same pattern over and over. The stories never seem to vary much in content, and the end result is usually the same. However, there were a few that stood out in my memory and have actually never left it. These books are exceptionally apart from the rest of this genre. The first and foremost was "The Wolf and the Dove" by Kathleen Woodiwiss. The title may be applicable to the romance era, and the cover art typical, but the content is fabulously rich in detail and realism.

Kathleen Woodiwiss has always been one of my favorite romance writers because she takes a time period and makes it as realistic as possible, including the dialogue and social customs. "The Wolf and the Dove" is set in medieval time (the year 1066 starts out the book), and it is settled in the midst of the Saxon and Norman conflicts. To say the least, this era of history was barbaric but Ms. Woodiwiss remained consistent in her writing. She creates another world in which the characters play out their roles perfectly and in sync with the storyline. It’s almost as if you can feel the frustration of Aislinn (the main character in the tale), as she tolerates the abuse from the conquering Normans, and their ill treatment of her mother, Maida. Aislinn’s spirit and thoughts make you cringe and rage along with her. The scenes between her and the romantic figure, Wulfgar, keep one riveted page after page. Will he or won’t he honor her and marry her?

But the story is much more than that, and Ms. Woodiwiss' writing falls in a class all by itself. Don't be misled by the blurb on the back cover of this book, or the descriptions of the story from the publisher. This is not a typical romance novel; nor is it a fluffy piece about sex and sparking conflict between two lovers. "The Wolf and the Dove" has stood the test of time (it was first published in 1974), and I have always wished a movie could be made from the story. There is enough medieval battle to satisfy even the male readers, and enough romance and poignancy to stir the women. This book is outstanding and well worth your time to read; whether you like romance stories, time pieces, chivalry and valor; battle cries; or just simply wonderful entertainment. Kathleen Woodiwiss is a writer in a phenomenal sense and the true leader in her genre.

This is one book you will not be able to put down as it takes you away from whatever troubles you, and transports you to an enchanting place in time.

  • The Wolf & the Dove: The Story (back cover blurb):

Aislinn of Darkenwald was the proud daughter of Erland, the Saxon lord of Darkenwald Fief. In an ensuing battle and raid upon Darkenwald Hall, Erland is killed by the Normans, and Aislinn and her mother, the Lady Maida, are taken as prisoners in their own home. Aislinn is cruelly held by Lord Ragnor. Lady Maida (fearful that her daughter will be raped by the knight), drugs them both. Ragnor and Aislinn each think they have had sexual relations, little knowing that the drugged proffered to them by Maida had rendered them incapable of the actual act. Aislinn's shame is boundless, but her pride and the desperateness of the situation help her gain strength for what lies ahead.

Wulfgar is the leader of the Norman soldiers, and when he arrives at Darkenwald, he claims Aislinn as his own. This enrages the knight Ragnor, and he swears to exact revenge on the Norman lord. Unknown to the inhabitants of the hall, Wulfgar and Aislinn do not consummate their relationship right away. Wulfgar chains her to the foot of his bed each night, much to her relief. Thinking she is safe to converse in French in front of Wulfgar, Aislinn speaks freely to her mother about the Norman lord and what goes on in his bedchamber. Wulfgar appears not to understand their talk, so Aislinn feels safe. She is shocked by Wulfgar's reaction to Kerwick, her former betrothed, and even Wulfgar is amazed by his own jealousy.

Branded a bastard at birth, Wulfgar accepts the arrival of his shrewish half-sister, Gwyneth, and her father, the wounded Lord Bolsgar, into Darkenwald Hall. The knight Ragnor seizes this opportunity to woo Gwyneth, thinking it will bring him closer to his true heart's desire, Aislinn. However, Gwyneth and Aislinn become enemies almost instantly as Aislinn is forced to tolerate her pride of place and rank as Wulfgar's sister. Gwyneth envies Aislinn her beauty and her place as Wulfgar's woman. Aislinn sees herself as a spoil of war.

Wulfgar is a combination of what women despise and what they are attracted to. He is strong, confident, and handsome despite a battle facial scar; he is very arrogant, lustful but very just and honest. Aislinn finds herself falling in love with him, despite her hatred of the Normans. Wulfgar, too, is drawn to the spirited Aislinn, and he is surprised by his own tenderness toward her as such an emotion is not in keeping with his character. Lowborn as he is, Wulfgar is not only naturally attracted to Aislinn's beauty, but her indomitable strong and noble mettle. Mindful that marriage would tie her to him forever, Wulfgar resists this trap despite Aislinn's moral injustice. The birth of their child, Bryce, would soon change Wulfgar's mind. He is then stunned by the loving change in Aislinn, achieved by just the few words of the marriage ceremony.

The knight Ragnor meets his end in "The Wolf and the Dove," and one of the surprises of the story is the true parentage of Wulfgar.

Rest in peace, Kathleen Woodiwiss.

Irish Eyes: Books & Reading

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