I think every good historical has an element of "time travel" about it. It transports us back in time to another era and another culture. . . lets us partake of their joys and frustrations and stimulations and limitations. . . without ever leaving the couch. Who hasn't wished to be able to see what life was like in Loui XIV's court at Versailles? Who hasn't wished to see Marie Antoinette's garden parties or Caeser's Rome in its glory or Cleopatra's palaces and her barge on the Nile? Not to mention Julius and Cleo themselves!
But the sexy part. . . ummm. . . that's a different focus altogether. My take on it is that part of the allure of the olden days has to do with the repression and rules of societies. . . which were enforced mostly on women. Women couldn't chat, be alone with, or even look too long in a man's direction without drawing censure. As late as Victorian days, women in Britain risked their reputations if they walked down the street with a man who was not a family member -- which is basically the same restriction placed on women in fundamentalist Muslim societies today! There were rules for dancing and introducing and walking and touching and speaking and looking at men. Of course, sensible women learned to parse through the bullcrap and lead decent, largely productive lives in spite of such restrictions, but there was always that cloud of "public opinion" hanging over their heads.
There was also a true power differential between men and women. . . and whenever there is a disparity in power, somebody will use and perhaps abuse that power. Women depended on men, were forced to look to men to see to their welfare, sometimes seduced men to equalize the power and pursue their own ends. Sex-determined power differentials are a gold-mine for writers looking for a good basis for conflict! Plus, they make us want to imagine ourselves in the roles of heroines who are beset and beleaguered, but persevere and come out on top. Literally! ::wink, wink::
And thirdly, but not least. . . there are the clothes. Long swishing silk skirts and lush velvets. Laces and hats and bonnets. The sexual allure of corsets and garters and bared bosoms meant to entice. And there were accessories to die for. . . fans, reticules, gloves, kerchiefs, muffs, furs, pearls. . . shoes. . . silk slippers, embroidered stockings, and veils mean to to pique a gentleman's interest. I myself have written more than a few scenes involving the peeling of layers of lady garmets. And even one scene where a heroine refused to get dressed. . . striking a bargain with her bridegroom that she would don one piece of clothing for every one he took off! Do you even have to guess how that scene ended?
Of course, when we write historical romances, we almost always write from the stand point of the privileged of the day. Who would want to read a book about a tavern maid who met a reasonably good looking, reasonably sober sailor, married him, and had 7 ordinary kids? But put that tavern girl in a nobleman's knowledgable and generous hands. . . give her access to some frothy petticoats, a good corset, and a maid who's handy with a brush. . . and there's a grand romance in the offing!
So there you have it. . . what makes a historical sexy to me. Which is probably why I'll continue to write them. I just love time traveling through the ages from the safety and conveninece of my imagination!
What about you? What era would you visit if you have a chance? And why?
Hey let's take a survey-- anybody ever worn a real corset-- for fun or for the real "staying" power of it? In my youth they used to call them "merry widows". . . I wore one for my sister's wedding!! I looked exactly like this in it:
Haven't worn one since, but I could sure see the stimulation value in donning such a garment. And they sure sell alot of them in the department store lingere departments!! Somebody out there has to own one. C'mon. . . fess up. Do you like wearing one and why?