Harlequin, the world’s largest publisher of “series romance,” is turning 60. Founded in 1949 — when Winnipeg businessman Richard Bonnycastle began issuing paperback reprints of cookbooks, westerns, detective yarns, and love stories — it now ships over 120 titles a month, in 29 languages. With stories ranging from tame to smutty, the publisher’s archive also offers a condensed social history of love and the making thereof.
The first pregnancy storyline arrived in the 1960s. The late ’70s saw a surge of sexual content, partly in response to the 19th-century S&M-fests penned by Rosemary Rogers, a scandalously popular author at rival publisher Avon. Harlequin cover model Fabio, all oiled chest and blond mane, debuted during the excessive 1980s. (The images in which Fabio commandingly clutches an adoring, half-naked woman are iconic examples of what is known in the industry as “the clinch.”) The ’90s saw some retrenchment into recognizably ordinary lives — heroes and heroines were often ranchers, pediatricians and cops in contemporary small-town North America. Increasingly, romances featured blended families, with single moms reconnecting with high school crushes or widowed fathers silently yearning for nurturing nannies. On these covers, the clinch is replaced by the potent hormonal cocktail of a handsome man holding an infant. (CBC.ca Arts)