I know a dirty little secret, and it’s one that many of the most career-oriented women I know will admit to even as it makes us cringe. And here it is: Those Harlequin Presents Billionaire/Tycoon/Prince/Dingdongdillionaire books tap into a mighty potent fantasy. It feels terribly wrong to admit that, given the right set of circumstances, I just eat these books up like candy. But I do – and so do a lot of us.
Everything in my education and upbringing tells me that I should at the very least pity anyone who dreams of being whisked away and pampered by a rich man. I should want to stand on my own two feet, earn my own way and be dependent on no man. And I do agree with that – though that belief must coexist in my brain with the retro fantasy at times. Apparently, others walk this line, too. No matter how far women advance in the workplace, the desire to have a more successful mate persists. It has been commented upon in studies as well as in anecdotes here and there. Just do a search online – there’s plenty of information out there addressing everything from women’s desire for men with resources to the fact that men who have high end cars attract more women . At a recent roundtable addressing the role of a man’s salary in dating, the notion of wanting a man who is financially able to care for his woman definitely seemed alive and well. And who better to care for the family than the gorgeous billionaire?
Given the prevalence of this fantasy (and I suspect it’s just as prevalent as those who denigrate it), it seems no accident that Harlequin Presents is the most popular of Harlequin/Silhouette’s series lines. My conscious mind shudders at the thought of a constant diet of books featuring sweet, pliable women whisked off their feet by business tycoons and princes who will pamper them and give them a secure life of plenty. Still, I have to recognize there must be something to it. Harlequin releases a steady stream of these fantasies every month into the very willing hands of readers, so there is obviously a desire being met here. Could it really be that we fantasize about being The Ruthless Billionaire’s Virgin? Apparently so.
Though Presents still have a somewhat retro feel to them and some feature over-the-top alpha heroes who probably wouldn’t play too well in real life, the line has still caught up to the modern world enough to make it relatable. The women aren’t all working in traditional female jobs and they aren’t all childlike anymore. While I still encounter traditional heroines in my HP reading, I’m also starting to find small business owners, doctors, a professional singer, at least one pilot that I recall and many more. Still, even the more independent, successful heroines melt at the sight of their strong, rich men. Education and career apparently don’t dim the allure of the alpha male in HP-land – and the readers love it. And Harlequin knows a good thing when it sees it – in 2008, they increased the number of monthly titles from 8 to 12, more monthly output than any other series line.
It’s a gamble that seems to be paying off. Even with the increased number of books(and the truly cringeworthy titles – I almost hurt myself when I saw The Timber Baron’s Virgin Bride on shelves recently), readers still eat these fantasies up as soon as they can be released, showing the publisher very obviously knows what it’s doing and is tapping into a sizable market with this fantasy. Heck, they’re even keeping up with inflation. The millionaires of old all seem to be billionaires now! As much as it makes my egalitarian self uncomfortable, I have to admit that I enjoy the occasional visit to this fantasyland, too. With the economy going to hell a little bit more each day, the notion of a life of love, security, and basically being able to have my cake and eat it too has a certain sparkle to it – at least for a few hours.
Now if only I could figure out whether people read these books because of their frightful titles or in spite of them…