Deadeye Dick’s Last Shot, or All for the Love of Bessie Burton

virginian If you are not a fan of the 1960’s western television show, The Virginian , then this title means nothing to you. As a caregiver for an aging relative, I can almost repeat all the dialogue. One episode opens as a young woman and her mother are traveling out west to visit relatives. On the train, the young woman is reading a dime novel featuring the western hero, Deadeye Dick. When an older man saves her from falling off her horse after tumbleweeds spook him, just like Deadeye Dick saved Bessie Burton, she has her hero. Throughout the episode the mother understands that her daughter’s impressionable age is to blame rather than the dime novels and never forbids her the joy of reading them. While watching the show, I wondered how today’s mothers guide their daughters’ reading choices through the immense choices available.

During an internet search, I saw that Wikipedia touts Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded as one of the first romance novels. From Jane Austen to serial romances in women’s magazines, from Georgette Heyer to Mills and Boon and finally the explosion of the genre with Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and The Flower, young girls today have a myriad of choices available to them. And even if your daughter or niece is not interested in romance now, the chance of her wanting to read one in her adolescence is very high, especially with books like Twilight being made into movies. I eased into reading romance books while in my early teens. Like many readers here, my introduction to this genre started with Harlequin romance and Georgette Heyer. While I had an aunt who disapproved, my mother never censored my reading, and we had a long history of loving the same types of books.

If you are a romance reader yourself, then I suspect that you won’t have a problem with your daughter reading romance in some form or fashion. While my father never prohibited me from reading, he did think that romance books were garbage. While reading romance in general may not be an issue, parents still must decide whether to regulate book chocies or not. My mother didn’t have to do that because I didn’t have access to the selection that young girls have today. I do think that there are many books out there now that are not age appropriate for tweens or young teens. Just like movies may have ratings from G to NC-17, I think the most important aspect is being aware of a particular book’s content.

In my experience, teens self-limit their own selections. It seems that ten to twelve year olds often read about teens. Young teens read books with slightly older heroines dating, falling in love, and dealing with high school. By fifteen or sixteen, most girls are reading on to more adult novels with stories involving characters of all ages. While I haven’t read a lot of YA books, the ones that I have addressed many complex issues, like eating or anxiety disorders, parent’s infidelity, death, divorce, teen pregnancy etc. In comparison, the Harlequin Romance line almost seems tame. Introducing one’s daughter to romance books is not something done in a vacuum. Usually it fits around the parameters you have already set. If your daughter is watching romantic comedy movies, then there is no reason for her not to read some romance books depending on her maturity level.

So are there positive reasons for your daughter to read romance besides the fact that she is reading vs. watching television? If you are aware of the book’s plot, then it is a definite way to talk about dating, falling in love, and of course, sex. Is there a downside? While different readers have different value systems regarding sex and relationships, recently I have read several contemporary books where the hero and heroine elect to have a casual, “no strings” sexual relationship because they are attracted to each other. I think many mothers hope that their daughter’s first experience is special, and that there is more emotional caring than this between her and her partner.

If your thirteen year old daughter has been reading kisses-only sorts of books for a year and you just finished a steamy hot book with descriptive sex scenes and you find her in her room already on chapter five of it, do you take the book away and tell her it is too old for her right now, or let her finish the book? Of course there are no right or wrong answers, because so much depends on your belief system, your daughter’s maturity, and the book. Off the top of my head, I would let her finish the book, and then use this opportunity for open dialogue.

I would love to hear about your experiences. At what age did you start reading romance books? Did you have your mother’s approval? If you have a daughter that is reading romance, at what age did she start reading them? Do you pre-approve her choices or just let her read as she likes? Do you think there is an appropriate age for reading the sexually explicit love scenes?

– Leigh Davis

20 thoughts on “Deadeye Dick’s Last Shot, or All for the Love of Bessie Burton

  1. When I was about twelve (i.e. early 1950s), my aunt discovered me reading The Decameron (unexpurgated and illustrated), which item I had because I had climbed up the living room bookcases and removed it from the top shelf. When she complained to my father, he answered,

    “Now Mary, there are two possibilities. One is that she’s not old enough to read it, and in that case she won’t understand it. The other is that she will understand it, in which case she’s old enough to read it.”

    I used the same philosophy with my own children and now with my grandchildren.

  2. Leigh, you seem to have the right attitude. That’s just my opinion. Virginia and her dad too.
    My mother was a romance reader and she never censored my reading. When I started reading romance novels, I was about 14. I did sneak read them, but that was b/c I was embarrassed to be reading them after making fun of her for reading them for years. This was before the internet had become popular, but there was enough explicit stuff on late night cable (I was a night owl and my parents weren’t) that I wasn’t exactly discovering anything new. Except for maybe the fact it wasn’t so awful to read about kissing ;-)
    My mother was also a nurse and she treated most sexual stuff in a no nonsense clinical way. She said forbidding a teenager from reading about sex or seeing a sexy movie was just a way to make it all seem interesting and exciting. Two of my favorite mom quotes are “Sex is just another part of life.” and “It’s just sex. It’s not going to save the world.” She did and does feel strongly about things with violence, particularly violence against women.
    It’s interesting b/c right off, my romance reading tastes were different from hers. The few that I stumbled on and found I liked were ones that a friend had given her that she had never bought on her own. So I had to ‘fess up b/c otherwise I wouldn’t get any new reading material. I did kind of self censor my choices b/c there were some books that I was too embarrassed to hand her and say “I want this.” Usually it wasn’t sexy ones. It was the Harlequin Romances that she thought were garbage! :-) She was more of Anya Seton, big thumping historical romance reader.
    Now she’s given up romances for mysteries and I’ve mostly given up mysteries for romance. Life is funny. . .

  3. I have been reading romance novels for only 10 years. Growing up, my mother read a lot, but not romance. When I became an adult, we would share books and while some had romances in them, they were never romance novels. In fact, when I started reading romance novels, I wouldn’t show her my books because I thought she would want to see what I was reading to possibly borrow it. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t see the genre as worthwhile, so I never shared my love of romance with her. As for my daughter, I would like to read romance, but she doesn’t have an interest in it at all. A few months ago, we were browsing the bookstore looking for a book for her to take on a long flight. I pointed out several titles in the general fiction section…Something Borrowed, Lucy Hatch books, books that aren’t romance, but contain a nice romance. She laughed saying she didn’t want any of that love sh**. :) She likes books that are sometimes tragic. Her last book was Water For Elephants, and she ended up picking

  4. I have been reading romance novels for only 10 years. Growing up, my mother read a lot, but not romance. When I became an adult, we would share books and while some had romances in them, they were never romance novels. In fact, when I started reading romance novels, I wouldn’t show her my books because I thought she would want to see what I was reading to possibly borrow it. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t see the genre as worthwhile, so I never shared my love of romance with her. As for my daughter, I would like to read romance, but she doesn’t have an interest in it at all. A few months ago, we were browsing the bookstore looking for a book for her to take on a long flight. I pointed out several titles in the general fiction section…Something Borrowed, Lucy Hatch books, books that aren’t romance, but contain a nice romance. She laughed saying she didn’t want any of that love sh**. :) She likes books that are sometimes tragic. Her last book was Water For Elephants, and she ended up picking out The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo. So…no romance for her at this point in her life. She is 22, and might come around someday and give romance a try.However….my son married a girl who loves romance novels! He has come a long way too. He doesn’t bat an eye at the covers or our conversations about the hero and heroine.

  5. I discovered romance novels one summer during my teens (13 or 14). I found a box of books that belonged to my mother and it contained harlequin/mills and boon books. Before that I read those Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High YA books that were popular during the late eighties and early nineties. My parents never censored our reading and television choices. English was not my first language and reading anything and everything under the sun helped me and my siblings improved our grasp of the language. It made me a better student.

  6. I babysat for a woman with three kids. She had novels like “Love’s Tender Fury” (My first romance novel with s-e-x) and “The Sensuous Woman”.

    I loved babysitting for her.

  7. My mother came from a household that had the same philosophy stated above: If you’re old enough to understand it you can read it and if not you’ll get bored and put it down. I got my hands on her Illustrated Arabian Nights when I was about 11, (the non-Disney version) and read it all. By the time I got around to romances, mom and dad were ecstatic that I loved reading above all else. I’m following the same path with my own kids, though only one loves reading, mangas and ya urban fantasy mostly.

  8. My two nieces are both readers. However, as far as I know, only one read romances. While she read mainly science fiction during high school, about 17 or 18 she discovered romances and is still reading them today.

  9. My parents never censored my reading choices, but they were very concerned when I started reading romance around age 11.

    But the thing was that my parents, despite being avid readers and highly educated, didn’t take the time (as far as I know) to check out what I was reading, other than looking at the covers. For instance, I remember one trip to the library where my mom expressed concern that I was checking out “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” by Judy Blume. She asked me why I wouldn’t check out more books about kids my own age. I replied that I had read the book already and that I knew that Sally J. Freedman was exactly the same age as me–so I must have been 10 or 11. And yes, I had the same experience that at age 10 I wanted to read about teens! I most stuck to YA romance series books that were squeaky clean. So while I guess I didn’t have my parents’ approval I wish they would have tried to better understand what I wanted to read.

    However, now that I’m a parent, though so far I just have a son who is in preschool and not even reading independently, I wonder how my perspective will change. One thing I want to be sure to do is to read the books my son is interested in as he grows up. I’ve read that there’s a link between teens who watch tv with sexual content and early sexual activity and I wonder if that’s also true for other forms of media.

  10. My father actually gave me my first romance novel – it’s not a “traditional” sort of romance but rather a mainstream novel with a strong romantic plotline (and one very explicit sex scene). I was twelve at the time.

    My mother expressed concern that the book was unsuitable but it was one of my father’s favourite books and he convinced my mother it would be fine with an argument similar to Virignia’s father’s comments.

    Other than that, my parents never tried to restrict to books I read but that was largely because they didn’t pay much attention to what I was reading once I started high school and I didn’t really discover romance novels until I was 15 or so. I know my father’s a little horrified by my collection of romance novels now (which I find a little funny considering) but they’d never dream of criticising my reading choices now that I’m an adult.

    I like to think I’ll have the same sort of attitude with my kids when they’re old enough to read but I’m not sure . . . looking back on it I probably was too young to read that first novel from my father and I think that memory might just influence my decisions on what my 12 year old should be allowed to read.

  11. I was reading Anne of Green Gables… all LMM books.. by age 8 and Nancy Drew so by the time I hit 13 teenage books weren’t interesting. Mom told me I couldn’t read “The Thorn Birds” but since she was working shifts and Dad wasn’t home until supper I just sneaked it and put it back. Who needed a sex-ed class after it :)

    When I started working at the library just after my 15th birthday I discovered regencies, historicals and cozy mysteries and that the 600′s had the “sex” books when we were shelf-reading on Sat mornings.

    My niece is 13 going on 20 and my SIL IMO gives her a little too much freedom in her reading but she seems to be ok with it. She’s very tall and you forget that she’s not as old as she looks. When I see what she’s reading at my MIL’s I usually make a comment so she knows I’ve read it or heard of that author if she’s interested in talking about the book. She took a box of my books a month ago. Deal was her Mother had to agree to it and I weeded out the “after you turn 16″ erotica, the romances I left. I told her when she turned 16 I’d introduce her to ‘good trash’ and she laughed – which was the point, and yes, I’ll keep my end of that bargain.

    They teach sex ed younger all the time. They can find anything on tv/internet and parents for the most part aren’t careful about what they or their kids watch on tv so sensoring doesn’t help. IMO give them the books to read if they are interested. They know, that you know, what they are reading and you are willing to discuss the book. They may or may not want to talk about it… which is fine. But I wouldn’t censor without explanation, but I’d still give a little too. They need to trust you or like I did, they’ll hide what they are reading/doing and that can lead to problems.

  12. Plus, a lot of “racy” books weren’t romances. “Children of Kaywana” was on the fiction shelves in our high school library. Once we hit 9th grade, we could also wander freely through the adult stacks at the public library in town and nobody questioned what we checked out.

    There were Sax Rohmer books on the shelves (with the heroines constantly being abducted for nefarious purposes), not to mention Forever Amber. While Leslie Charteris didn’t include sex scenes in the “Saint” mysteries, it was pretty clear that Simon Templar and Patricia conducted both a sexual relationship and an open relationship.

  13. I was in 6th grade and bored with the ya books available at the time, so I asked my mom if I could have one of her books to read, she is a long-time romance reader, and she gave me a Barbara Cartland book to read. If anyone has ever read her, you will know that they are as clean as can be. From there I went on to the series romance lines (silhoutte and harlequin) which were not very explicit at the time, then as I got older I moved on to more “descriptive” romances. I think it all depends on maturity, kids are exposed to a lot more sex then they used to be. I think that around high school age is fine for the more “racy” romances, maybe it takes some of the mystery of it away.

  14. My parents never ever censored my reading, except on one occasion – my dad did not want me to read “Christiane F: Autobiography of a Girl of the Streets and Heroin Addict” (I was 13 or 14 at the time), but after a while he changed his mind. I do not control my daughter’s reading, either (she is 12). I do not think reading will hurt her in any way, and it is better to be informed than not. She’s read the Twilight series a while ago and when I asked her how did she like romantic parts, she told me that she skips them because they are boring :-)

  15. My parents never paid attention to what I was reading–they were doing their own. Mom reads mostly magazines and Dad prefers westerns (I’ve read some of them). After my dad retired, in the winter when he couldn’t be out in his garden and was bored, he actually started reading some of my romances. He’s stuck with the sweeter ones.

  16. Thanks everyone for the responses. Sounds like for the most part we experienced the same type of parental attitudes toward our choices in reading

  17. Not only did my parents not censor my reading but they abetted it. When I grew up in the Midwest in the 1950s, the public library was divided into two parts: adults and childrens. Until you were 16, you had to get books from the children’s section, no exceptions. So I would write down a list of the titles I wanted to read (the central catalog had both adult’s and children’s books), and my parents would check them out for me. Like I said, abetting was their MO.

  18. The only time my mother made a comment on a book I was reading is when I came home with The Graduate at age 12. She explained that it was an adult book, that she didn’t mind if I read it, and that I’d probably not understand it.

    For the most part she was right. I understood the relationships parts of it, but not the underlying themes.

    I just recently downloaded a free copy of The Graduate for Kindle and will be re-reading it. Maybe I’ll understand it now that I’m 47…

  19. Great review! You actually covered some interesting news in this post. I came across it by using Google and I’ve got to admit that I already subscribed to the site, will be following you on my iphone :)

  20. When I was in 10th grade I had a friend whose mom read Harlequins. She would bring me a brown paper grocery bag full of her mom’s books, which I would finish in about a week, and then she would bring me another bagful. But I think my first romances were Grace Livingston Hill which I discovered in the church library in 6th or 7th grade.
    My parents never commented on or questioned what I read, but they did on what I watched. When I was home from college one weekend my sister and I were planning to stay up late and watch Psycho, and my dad told us we weren’t allowed!

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