Purple Prose

Ever heard about this? Purple prose. I couldn’t say whether it came from trashy romance books specifically, but they’re very much connected to it now. The idea of purple prose in romance comes from the sex scenes.

Speaking from experience, it’s the kind of prose you find yourself reading when the author has to intentionally obfuscate the fact that sex is happening. Harlequin, Mills and Boon, and the progenitors of the paperback romance genre are what I usually associate with it now. I’ve read many books that would likely be called trashy romances, and they all have that feel of purple prose when the main characters’ relationship evolves into getting naked.

It’s a strange experience to read about two characters doing things, and suddenly the whole scene descends into barely concealed phallic metaphors and odd references to euphoria in order to describe two people having an orgasm. I think this is why erotica has taken off so fantastically well; erotica is basically romance, but with the purple prose replaced with normal prose.

I’m still rather fond of the whole style of purple prose in romance. It’s a strange cultural artifact, a wink-and-nod to the fact that women have always wanted media that catered to their sexual desires, even when it wasn’t socially acceptable to be explicit about it.


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