Mills & Boon’s Temptations: Sex and the Single Couple in the 1990s

Publication year

In February 1985, Mills and Boon launched their Temptation series of romances for British readers. [...] The advent of explicit and extra-marital sex as a formulaic element in Mills and Boon fiction amazed both readers and writers. These heroines were now uncharacteristically able to voice their desires and initiate sexual play. [...] The significance of the new approach towards marriage and gender relations which has been taken by Temptation lies in the way it makes adjustments to the pre-1985 Mills and Boon romance formula. The new narrative structure is thus able to achieve narrative resolutions which are resonant with a hegemonic consensus of post-feminism. (141-142)


Temptation focused on mature, sexually aware heroines whose social and personal identities were confirmed by their careers. The heroine's work is central to her life: it provides her with financial independence, friends, self-respect and both the opportunity to meet, and the means of sustaining, social intercourse with the hero. It is, however, usually the case that she has achieved the pinnacle of her success at work by her thirties, and we meet the heroine in media res, when she is looking for, something else, in the continuation of her life story. (143)


Where the Temptation novels deviate most significantly from Radway's ideal type (p. 134) is in their adherence to 'function 10': "The heroine reinterprets the hero's ambiguous behaviour as the product of a previous hurt.' Interpretation, miscommunication and misunderstanding are still key features of the Mills and Boon plot, but it is predominantly the heroine who now has to negotiate the previous hurt, be it divorce, collapse of parent's marriage, disappointed first love, relationship with parents/grandparents or ultimately the decision, made prior to the narrative action, to live singly and opt out of heterosexual relationships altogether. The heroine has to be persuaded about marriage itself and not necessarily the suitability of the hero to be a husband. (145)