The Honey is Bitter by Violet Winspear

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Glorious, vintage romance packed with melodrama, glamour and sexual tension.

Violet Winspear’s “The Honey is Bitter” is a classic of its time: from an era of virginal, teenage heroines and rakish, worldly older men. Written in 1967 and published by Mills & Boon you’re clearly not going to get explicit sex, but there’s enough tension and “hunger” and “surrender” that it’s pretty clear what’s going on when the drapes are closed.

Paul Stephanos is one of Winspear’s notorious “Greeks” – she had a thing for dark, dramatic heroes seething with alpha male passion. He’s constantly described as a “tiger” and “pagan” and literally paces up and down in a couple of scenes.

Domini, the 19-year-old(?) English heroine is extremely beautiful and spirited, and very self-possessed for her years. Women in that era were considered women when they reached the age of majority, not girls or “kidults”. It wasn’t unusual for a woman still in her teens to be married and setting up a home and having a family.

We get endless melodramatic dialogue about “Greeks” versus “English” – Greek readers or those married to Greeks will probably enjoy a chuckle – lots of beautiful descriptions and exotic scenery, endless references to Apollo and so on. It’s dramatic and great fun.

That said, it’s not really possible or fair to read books from this era with a modern, feminist eye and expect to be satisfied. The reality is that there’s a huge power gap, the heroine has pretty much been blackmailed into marriage, and much of the seduction is quite coercive. Which is wonderful if you enjoy that, but if you require absolute gender equality and unequivocal spoken consent in your romance, then skip this (and many others from this era).

This is a great one for vintage romance lovers, those who like age gaps and those who enjoy a little bit of dominance/reluctance.

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