Thursday, May 15, 2008

The epitome of tackiness

The garish depiction of a barely clothed Catherine de'Medici (as Jean Plaidy's Madame Serpent) on Susan's blog inspired me to go through my collection in search of equally tacky historical novel art.

Depending on your perspective, these are either the best examples I could find, or the worst. The tag lines on the covers are often as amusing as the artwork itself.

From the back cover: "The tormented love story of the Christian Knight and the wench of Islam unfolds against the bloody struggle for the Holy Land, in this lusty novel of the Crusades."

The story of Khurram, Princess Arjumand, Nur Mahal, and Parviz. "Lust, wealth, and ambition ruled their lives."

"Her mother changed the destiny of Rome when she ordered a handsome young slave to the bedside of the sleeping fifteen-year-old girl."
"From the lusty court of Queen Bess to the treasure-laden jungles of the New World, Shawn MacManus pursued adventure, fortune, and a treacherous Spanish beauty, Doña Elvira."

"Bianca, the beautiful wife of Don Luis, melted with love in Kit's arms."

"Whispered about by tavern tarts and court wenches, despised by the Queen, Frances Walsingham went on to bear another man's child and recklessly risked her very life for the love of the fabulous Irishman Rickard de Burgh."

"Percy Hotspur, Duchess of Harford, who lived and loved with wild abandon."


  1. I love the expression on the man's face in the first cover--where is she kicking him?

    And those bows on the duchess's bustier are priceless.

    It must have taken a brave reader to tote around some of those books.

  2. Duchess Hotspur danced the can-can??

  3. oh my, those are something! I am often surprised at the "raciness" of some of these covers for the time they were published. I wonder if some of them would be allowed on the shelfs at some stores today.

  4. Wonderful!
    But who's leg is Messalina holding? It looks decidedly bandy and masculine as it reaches the sandal!
    Thanks Sarah - what a hoot!

  5. I love that the heroine of the last one is "Percy Hotspur," an 18th century courtesan totally unrelated to the 14th century knight with similar appellation. And the man standing above her isn't being real discreet about what he's looking at.

    On a whim, I googled the title and found this enlightening article about it, from a 1946 issue of Time. It really is a must-read.

  6. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Bianca is in Kit's arm, but between his crotch.

  7. As I scrolled down, I was afraid I might have read some of these novels in my teens. Phew - I hadn't.

    Crumbs, such stunning authenticity of costumes (what there is of them)! And what a wide vocab the blurb writers had - lust and wench, wench and lust. With an occasional lusty wench. "Wench of Islam" sounds like a splendid title for a bonk-buster.

    Thanks for the post, Sarah - it cheered up a dreary Friday.

  8. Michelle, I checked the back of the book and realize I captioned that image incorrectly. The woman with Kit must be either "man-hating Rouge of the taunting eyes, herself a desperate buccaneer" or "Lady Rosalind Parish, who had the ways of a wanton."

    Get this, there's an ad for Anya Seton's The Winthrop Woman on the back cover, too, offering "abundant and juicy entertainment." Um.

    You guys are hilarious! Your comments are funnier than the covers.

  9. Sarah,

    I can't stop laughing! Thanks for starting the weekend off on the right note. Decidedly more amusing than a Renaissance quiz. ;)

  10. Oh dear God, I actually own a number of these books- and the ones I don't have, I recognize from the local used bookstore's vintage section. I think I should be scared.

    I actually wrote an entry about "The Golden Hawk" (and another book, with a Richard III who looks like Emilio Estevez's long lost twin) a while back. A friend of mine referred to it as the "lesbian pirate" book. Have you read it? Yerby was a pioneering black popular author back in the '40s and '50s, but his writing is unbelievably purple. And he seems to have a fetish for describing his heroines' incredibly white skin, which is ironic given Mr Yerby's history...

  11. Wow, what a horribly tacky Richard III novel! I've never heard of it before. He does look like Emilio Estevez's twin (and what a smarmy expression).

    I've never read anything by Yerby (and am guessing "man-hating Rouge" is the lesbian pirate?) though I own a few of his novels. The only one I've actually read among the ones I posted is the Westcott, and she appears to have gotten the Plaidy treatment (a la Susan's blog). I don't remember it being anywhere quite that bad. I did glance through Messalina, though, and it appears to be very trashy.

  12. I gave into temptation and ordered that Richard III novel. Should be interesting!

  13. Sarah- I think my friend was referring to Kit Gerado as the "lesbian pirate." He said the guy on the cover actually looked like a girl with a pasted-on goatee.

    Here's a brief excerpt from "Hawk" to give you a sample of Yerby's writing:

    Rouge was clad in a gown of exquisite Cordoba lace like a mist of midnight, cut in extreme decollete, its somber hue chosen deliberately to accentuate her natural fairness, so that above its black filigree work made in the pattern of strange unearthly flowers the whiteness of her neck and shoulders and bosom was like the cry in the darkness of a man's heart. The dress was caught about her waist and clung like the clasp of a lover; at one and the same time it shielded and flaunted the proud upflare of her full, young breasts; from her waist it arched down like the inverted bell of a black orchid plucked in a dream garden in a season of fevers and delirium.

    As for "Messalina," I do have fond memories of that book's trashiness. It must have been really popular, since it went through a gazillion printings (with new cover art on each edition) in the '50s and '60s.

  14. Susan-

    I tried reading the Richard III book, but the book itself is really not very exciting. The whole set-up of the book is the cliched "archaeologist digs up lost manuscript," and the fictional manuscript in question is written by a devoted lackey of Dickon's, who witnesses his friend's seduction by the Dark Side of the Force. Or something like that- I was only able to read a few chapters.

  15. Joanne - thanks for sharing that excerpt from Yerby. That may be the purplest prose I've ever read anywhere! good lord.

  16. I found a link to your blog at Marg's Reading Adventures. I'm glad I did! This post had me ROTFLMAO! Thank you for the laughs. I read mostly historical fiction and stay clear of this kind of stuff. When I see a cover like that, I run away!

  17. I adore the Walsingham Woman in her pseudo-Flamenco / Moulin Rouge costume, with the glittery gold bustier. I know a few drag queens who'd kill for that outfit. And are those peacock feathers in a helmet nearby? How 1976!

  18. Oh, and how can anyone not aspire to being "whispered about by tavern tarts and court wenches"?

  19. Anonymous5:20 PM

    Pray, Sarah, how is it we don't see these in the "Random books from my Library" section in your sidebar?

  20. Catherine, interesting question! For some, it's because the covers aren't on Librarything by default. For others, it's because they're too old to have ISBNs, which makes them a pain to catalog. I have about 1000 books that aren't in my LT account. However, only a small number of them are trashy :) I am not deliberately hiding them, really!

    And yes, Christopher, those are peacock feathers! The book dates from 1963.

  21. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah
    When I look at Yerby, all I can think about is a pretty poor excuse of a Captain Jack Sparrow.

    "Lust, wealth and ambition ruled their lives." We read about our Robber Barrons every day with this ideology. LOL
    I also enjoyed the "Whispered about by tavern tarts and court wenches, despised by the Queen....."
    I must say the covers look more like fright night than historical fiction. Are you sure it's historical fiction and not Freddie Krueger meets Queen Elizabeth...aka the tart?

    I've always wanted to be called a tart or a wench. I wonder how that must have felt.

  22. I make that roughly one outfit between all seven of them :-)

  23. Anonymous8:31 PM

    From a male perspective and that of a long-time paperback collector, these covers are terrific!

  24. Anonymous2:49 AM

    Thank goodness the cover of that "lusty novel of the Crusades" assures us that it's complete and unabridged. I'd hate to pay my 25 cents and discover that I'd been deprived my full share of crusading lustiness.