Romance Novel Cover Stories
Cover Art Reflects Shifting Tastes, Mores over the Decades

listen Hear Renée Montagne's report.

more View a photo gallery of romance novel covers.

Feb. 14, 2002 -- When romance novels became hot sellers in the 1940s, their covers were illustrated by the same artists who put detectives and bad girls on the covers of pulp fiction.

The Look of Love
more View a gallery of romance novel covers from The Look of Love.Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press.

The romance books were easy to spot, says Jennifer McKnight-Trontz, author of The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel (Princeton Architectural Press).

There would be a few flowers, the words "lover," "mistress," or "cherish." A man and woman would gaze longingly into each other's eyes, giving the covers a sweet, innocent and pleasant appearance, McKnight-Trontz tells Renée Montagne on Morning Edition.

The author's own collection of vintage romances provided the more than 150 covers featured in The Look of Love. Not only do they illustrate the stories contained between the covers, but they also show how society changed since the first Pocket book was published in 1939.

The romance cover of the 1940s had very glamorous illustrations of couples going out on the town, McKnight-Trontz says. The 1950s covers were more about women and their careers. "You would see the women in a nice suit, looking out a window contemplating, should they have a career or a man?" McKnight-Trontz says.

By the 1960s, nurse romances were in vogue. "The middle class women these books were intended for could relate to a nurse," the author says. "And with a nurse, you could put her in all these different situations." The titles included: Hootenanny Nurse, Nurse on the Run and even Dude Ranch Nurse.

The 1970s romance covers reflected the rise of women's liberation, and the bodice ripper: female heroines in period costumes being ravished by tall, tanned, long-haired and often bare-chested men. But McKnight-Trontz says those books couldn't be judged by their covers. The illustrations showed passion -- a tease really -- rather than what the books were really about.

Other Resources

The Ultimate Internet Romance Book Site

Romance Writers of America

Fabio, romance cover model

The Romance Reader