The Beautiful & The Damned

Researching vintage romances is always a bit of a mixed barrel. One one hand, the discovery of amazing, long-forgotten authors who wrote accurately and descriptively, playing with cliches and inverting tropes (Dinah Dean anyone?) is a lovely pastime… and on the other? Well – there is always dross that rises to the surface, and in the case of category romances sometimes it is more of a case of searching the pyrite for the gold…

(yep this is me – mixing metaphors!)

So in celebration of this conundrum – I have compiled a list of covers – but because I am nothing if not fair – I thought I would evenly distribute them between the terrible and the great; the beauties and the beasts; the beautiful and the dammed*:

* I am only including book covers of novels I own – either electronic or paperback, as it doesn’t seem fair to dip into the ocean of ugliness that abounds in category romances, also – despite (or maybe because of?) their terrible covers – they still managed to grab my attention enough for me to shell out my hard-earned buttons to purchase them. So something must have worked right?

** Also – I am possibly stretching the love a little bit, including covers from magazine serials – but they are SO DANG GOOD you can’t really blame me.


I would like to draw your attention to our first example.

No 1.1: Georgette Heyer’s False Colours. false colours heyer

There is so much that appalls me about this cover – I don’t even hardly know where to begin… I mean – the legs – the tights! The supercilious doughy-faced hero. The heroine that looked like she fell out of a ahar-ye-wench-weekly. The overly scripted typeface, not to mention the decision to make the tagline the same colour and font as the title? Add all of the that to the MOST awful of all coloured backgrounds – which only makes the couple disappear into the ether (you may call it a blessing in disguise…) and I am seriously reconsidering my loyalty to the orange penguin…it also gives me a very clear idea of why they generally stick with Edward Young’s original design from 1935. I don’t even know who the cover is supposed to be referencing – because Lady Denville was blonde – but it has single handedly destroyed any attraction I harboured for either of the Denville twins…


No 1.2: Then comes The Queen’s Confession by Victoria Holt – there was never a really good cover for this novel – but I have to say – the 1972 version takes the cake: the queens confession


My only thought is that perhaps it was initial stills for a terrible BBC documentary? The great wig/hair disaster, coupled with the terrible costumes wouldn’t be so bad, but the idea that a so clearly photographed picture was supposed to represent Marie Antoinette – when the furthest photography had gotten was really Johann Heinrich Schulze making fleeting sun prints of words by using stencils, sunlight, and a bottled mixture of chalk and silver nitrate in nitric acid…?

It gives me pain just to look at it! Plus in addition to the horridly faux-costumed quixotics – we have plants and tree branches just hanging about in the picture. Are they inside? Are they outside? Is it a pot plant? A tree? A vague green shubbery? Who could even tell? And don’t even get me started on the typeface…I still can’t get over their wigs really…


Item No 1.3: The Subsitute Bridgegroom – Charlotte Louise Dolan

This was a kindle edition cover – but that is NOT an excuse – and I can only assume this was a freebie on Amazon – because i could never in good conscience willing purchase something so wrong. SubstituteBridgegroom It has that I-was-made-in-a-hurry-in-a-word-processing-program feel to it – so much so that I was surprised to find it had once been a Signet Recency Romance, with a marginally better cover. The font and the background are bad enough – but even the illustration could have been redeemed, without the hideous addition of the tiny male hovering about near the heroine’s shoulder. Is it a foreground/background thing gone horribly awry? Has the bridegroom been substituted with a tiny-tiny man? Maybe that’s what the story is actually about… And don’t even get me started on the fact that if she is supposed to be looking at him – how could that even work in the current perspective? argh – it makes my head hurt.


And just because I couldn’t resist – I have included Brittle Bondage by Rosalind Brett.   I have never been a huge fan of the 60s floating heads thing that Harlequin Books seemed to have a such a penchant for – but the revision by Mills and Boon for the UK edition defies all taste.

(Incidentally, don’t you love the fact that you could have the word bondage in the title of a novel and be only referring to an awkward marriage of convenience? Believe me – google searches on that title bring up some veerrry different subject matter…


‘Blake Garrard had only married Venetia Lindley to give her the protection of his name and assured her he would make no inconvenient demands. But the brittle bondage of her marriage almost snapped when Venetia found herself falling in love with him.’

Brett_brittlebondage Now I have read this – I own this – and its actually a rather adorable story – BUT what is with the cover???? The hands – the arms – is she about to get a piggy back ride? commit spousal-cide? and the expression on the hero’s face? argh! And again with the shubbery from nowhere! Just nasty…


But – though I take with one hand – I give with the other… The following is a list of what I think are beautiful covers. I realise this is a fairly subjective matter of discussion – but I have reasons – so bear with me. Item 2.1 Illustration for “Back Come The Bride,” Ladies Home Journal, 1944. Tom Lovell, American, 1909-1997

Back Come The Bride Ladies Home Journal 1944. Tom Lovell

Look at the picture – soo beautiful! Actually everything Tom Lovell has done is amazing – and I remember reading somewhere that he is actually a difficult artist to date, because he has such exacting standards, and such detailed finished images that there is little change between decades. Well – whatever it is – I love them: there is such a luminescence to his work; his characters look like they float on clouds of silver silk and little birds help them get dressed in the morning…and they all most definitely get their happily-ever-after.


Item 2.2 Treveryan, Angela Du MaurierTreveryan

Now this is everything good in a gothic romance cover – a heroine with a wasp-like waist; a menacing-looking victorian couple,(are they standing on water?) lace and ruffled bodices; the bold slab serif font with forbidding flourishes; the full moon. I love the choker on the heroine, and the fact that she looks like a cross between a french parlour maid and a vintage hooker. I mean – that is EXACTLY the type of person you want to be your governess/housekeeper/companion, nosing about your attics and uncovering all the dead mouses you decided to hide in the basement. Add some skeletal trees and a large mansion/castle looming suspiciously in the distance – and to me – you’ve a cover that just screams read me with truffles and glass of wine…


I can’t find who did the cover – does anyone know? Angela Du Murier is Daphne Du Murier’s lesser known sister – I didn’t realise that until this book actually, which is a little intriguing. She was neither as famous, nor a published/publicised as her sister – but there’s no accounting for tastes is there?!


Item 2.3 I am a firm believer in the Lou Marchetti. Everything he did was GORGEOUS and complete gold. I have especial awe and jealousy for his gothic novel covers – of which he did an inordinate amount; but I have to say my favourites are the Saga of Phenwick Women, by Katheryn Kimborough.

Even with the most fabulous titles like:

  • Dorothy the Terrified

  • Polly, the Worried

  • Ophelia, the Anxious

  • Nellie, the Obvious

They are completely outclassed by their covers.

Incredible gauche paints and minute details that are soo classy – I just want large framed copies of all of them – to put in my own gloomy gothic mansion.


But for a last gasp – I could not walk past this and not share…so I am leaving you with the indelible image of a man that i think has officially killed sexy.







I mean – what in good gravy is this? And why was this EVER thought to be a good idea? The pants (or lack there of); the hair – the quote – (because really, if a man actually said this to me – I would probably bean them with a large metal kitchen implement); the general horribleness of layout, the awkward photo-shopping of most of his waist…BUT most of all? Who thought a man – who looks like he’s readying for a no.2 was the epitome of sexy? – – I – i – can’t even – just NO.

That, without a doubt, is this week’s penultimate FAIL.

(gratuitous dog gif…)

arrivederci y’all


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