Scarlett Peckham

PURVEYOR OF HISTORICAL ROMANCE NOVELS

#100Romances: RAVISHED + The timeless if dubious appeals of cave sex

Ravished.jpg

Now that Thanksgiving is over it is my great pleasure to return to our regularly scheduled spelunking through the ancient caves of romance. Today's book is RAVISHED, a regency romance by Amanda Quick from 1992 in which the heroine is deflowered in an underwater cave.

Yes, people: CAVE SEX. It's a thing.

If you think it's not a thing, consider the popularity of candlelit luxury hotels built into prehistoric grottos. Consider the enduring mystique of the "bonkers books about horny cave people" by Jean M. Auel. Consider that time the entire internet lost its mind over Jon Snow and Ygritte having cave sex on Game of Thrones. (I will pause here for the uninitiated to spend a few minutes with this precious cultural artifact It's ok. The heart wants what the heart wants. And apparently, the heart wants cave sex.)

Now I can already see you peering at me down your quizzing glass and saying "but Scarlett. This book is about a bluestocking spinster who falls in love with scarred and unfairly wronged man while solving the mystery of a smuggling ring and warding off the malign advances of no less than three dastardly villains! Why would you focus on this one, isolated incident of cave sex?"

To which I can only repeat: CAVE SEX.

What is it about caves that make them so compelling as a backdrop for our sexual imaginations?

One can only posit that a nostalgia burns deep in our troglodyte DNA. After all, prehistoric humanity dabbled in cave-dwelling, and ergo cave-mating, and in places like the Sassi di Matera, kept it up well into the 1950s. The walls of caves were also some of the earliest canvasses for erotic romance. Before there was Marquis de Sade, before there was Hugh Hefner, before there was Amanda Quick, there were the walls of La Marche.

But is cave sex actually appealing? 

Sure, caves are private and look cool in candlelight. But the are also uncomfortable, poorly lit, prone to tidal fooding and frequently smell of damp. They are filled with rock formations that could fall down on you, narrow openings that could leave you trapped. The same privacy that makes them appealing to covert lovers makes them appealing to drifters and packs of wolves. 

Which brings us to Ravished. For what I found very interesting about the cave sex in this book is that Ms. Quick is quite clear-eyed about all of these dangers. 

Allow me to set the scene, for it is a very good scene. Our heroine, a super-nerd named Harriet who is obsessed with fossils and a touch too-stupid-to-live has found herself, at the cusp of nightfall, at the mouth of a partially underwater cave just as the tide is coming in, pursuing a man she believes is endangering her paleontological dreams by using the cave as a hiding place for stolen goods. Yada yada yada, the tide rises and she gets trapped in the cave overnight with our hero, a man named Gideon who is, conveniently, dying of lust for her.

You read that right. It begins with CAVE FORCED PROXIMITY.

Can I get a YASS on the combination of those tropes? Never let it be said that Ms. Quick does not know what's up.

Anyway, given that virginal Harriet will be compromised by spending the night in a cave with a dissolute nobleman, and will have to marry him come morning, she and Gideon decide to go ahead and consummate their burning passion. The scene is set with all the attention to atmospheric detail one could want. We have glittering stolen jewels dancing in the light of a lantern. We have a pallet made from abandoned sacks and a blanket made from the hero's coat. We have the fiery furnace of Gideon's tawny gold gaze. We have what passes for enthusiastic affirmative consent in 1992. 

And then we get to the realities of the situation. 

You see, this book keeps it real about cave sex. And cave sex is maybe just a little bit unpleasant, you guys.

Especially virgin cave sex.

It is so bad, in fact, that Gideon pauses halfway through and is like "yeah, actually, maybe not." At Harriet's urging he continues anyway, but the scene concludes with this stirring excerpt, which is literally presented in the book without comment:

cavesex.jpg

Veteran romanceheads will recognize that this is a hilarious way to end a sex scene. Normally, after a heroine is deflowered in a carefully-constructed romantic mise-en-scene, she spends the next several paragraphs, if not pages, thinking to herself how transcendent it was, how it made her feel feelings she never imagined both inside and out, how the hero just remapped her entire body with the power of his intuitive bedroom skills and raw physicality.

Here, the chapter just...ends.

Later, after many more mutually enjoyable acts of copulation have taken place in beds, Harriet finally admits to Gideon that the cave sex was kind of just... all right. "It was not unpleasant," she assures him, in the time-honored feminine way of conveying something was in fact very unpleasant without hurting anyone's feelings. "One must make allowances for the uncomfortable bed we shared, I suppose. I do not imagine a rock floor conducive to lovemaking."

There you have it, folks. Rock floors. Not conducive to lovemaking.

To go back to the question that animates this project: what are we getting from our beloved romance novels? 

What conclusions can we draw from the presence of dispiriting cave sex within them?

In the case of Ravished we are getting the bells and whistles of sexy fantasy. And we are also getting the winking acknowledgment that some fantasies might be more comfortably left to the romance novels. At least unless you are willing to go to the trouble of bringing along an air mattress.

Next week I will finally be reading THE SERPENT GARDEN by Judith Merkle Riley, which will be our first foray into historical romance set before the 19th century.

Until then feel free to leave your own favorite examples of rock-adjacent erotic mishaps in the comments.

PREVIOUSLY IN #100ROMANCES: