Mary Vespa
October 25, 1982 12:00 PM

Clinging to him and pressing her body eagerly up to his in wanton invitation almost as fiercely as she had clawed and kicked at him before…Damn the troublesome encumbrance of breeches!…[He] encountered an unexpected barrier to any further pleasurable exploration…unless he forgot himself sufficiently to make short work of her offending maidenhead.

—Surrender to Love

No one would accuse Rosemary Rogers of making short work of her heroines’ virtue. Through nine best-selling, heavy-breathing historical and contemporary romances—including Love Play, Sweet Savage Love, Wicked Loving Lies and Lost Love, Last Love—she has played out the passions of insatiably concupiscent men and quivery-lipped women across 4,713 pages and almost as many exotic locales. Some critics may call her work trash. How else to classify such gems as “How dare you presume to speak to me in such a fashion!” and “Why, you brazen young hussy!”? Rogers, whose current Surrender to Love became the nation’s No. 1 selling paperback the week it was released, remains serenely unperturbed. “The readers,” she says, “are the real critics.”

By that standard, Rogers has had 30 million favorable reviews—the number of her books in print in more than a dozen countries. All her stories are notable for a turgid literary style enlivened here and there by scenes that can be characterized as “once more, into the breeches.” Why do critics complain? “I don’t understand it,” says Rogers, 49, “except I think the snobbism is mostly from men. And why do they call my books ‘romances’? All of a sudden people want to categorize books. I write for myself, and I write to entertain, because people like and need to be entertained.”

Rogers’ chronicle of her own life rivals those of her creations. Born Rosemary Jansz in Ceylon to a wealthy educator and his wife, Rosemary enjoyed a cossetted childhood and chaperoned adolescent summers at the London home of an uncle. While studying English literature at the University of Ceylon in 1953, she married Summa Navaratnam, a local rugby and track star. The union produced daughters Rosanne, now 28, and Sharon, 26, and colorful scenes when Navaratnam would disappear for days at a stretch. Once, Rogers recalls, “I threw an iron at him. Unfortunately, I missed.”

They divorced in 1958, and Rogers, by her own account, dallied for a few months with the European jet set—dating an Indian maharaja, turning down a steel tycoon’s offer to keep her as his mistress (“I said no—it’s like being, you know, a call girl”)—and having an affair with a French, Choctaw Indian, black American GI, Leroy Rogers. “He was the second man I had ever been to bed with, and I got married immediately because I felt I had committed some terrible sin.” The couple moved to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. They had two children, Michael, now 23, and Adam, 19. Leroy threatened to beat her, Rosemary claims. “I told him, ‘I’ll wait till you’re asleep, and I’ll stick a knife in your gut if you ever touch me.’ ” They divorced in 1964, and Rogers began supporting her kids as a $4,200-a-year secretary. At about the same time, she began her first novel, laboring away after midnight and on weekends. Twenty-five rewrites later, in 1974, Sweet Savage Love became an instant best-seller.

Nowadays Rogers shuttles between a three-bedroom Manhattan apartment, a house in Carmel, Calif. and a Big Sur beach home bordered on three sides by the Pacific. “Success has given me freedom—to go where I want, to put my kids through college,” she says. She’s a supporter of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, practices yoga daily and enjoys cooking for friends. And she works. “I start writing at midnight and might go on right through the next day. I order groceries or pizza. It’s not luck that brought me where I am, it’s hard work.”

But not work and no play. These days Rogers is also studying Italian, the better to communicate with a “gorgeous, self-assured” Italian friend, whom she declines to name. “It’s a secret—I can’t talk about it,” she says coyly. “But he’s the only man who has ever made my knees shake.” It sounds like the beginning of a new novel.

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