In the name of research I read The Sheik this weekend. Written in 1919 by Edith Hull, the novel spent two years on the best-seller list.
To summarize - Diana Mayo, a beautiful, spoiled head-strong girl who has been raised by a much older brother decides to trek across the desert with native guides. She is kidnapped by The Sheik. He rapes her. Repeatedly.
Even with all the fight in her delicate body, she can't hold the brute off. She cries, she begs, she fights, she pleads for mercy - all to no avail. The Sheik holds her prisoner in a desert camp. One day she escapes, racing across the desert on a stolen horse. The Sheik shoots her horse out from under her, gathers her into his strong arms, rides her back to camp and as she is imprisoned in the circle of those arms, she discovers she loves him.
What the hell?
Now, I know women's societal roles in 1920s society were changing. They had jobs. They had money. They went on dates with men instead of sitting on the front porch swing. Still, according to Ms Hull, women wanted to be dominated.
The dominated Miss Mayo is kidnapped AGAIN by the Sheik's arch-enemy. Unlike the Sheik – think Rudolph Valentino (after all, the role made him famous) – the arch-enemy is dirty and fat and smells. Like the Sheik, he plans on raping Diana. The Sheik rescues her and murders the arch-enemy. Unfortunately, one of the enemy's henchmen knifes the Sheik in the back. Diana nurses him back to health. The Sheik, who has raped and abused her for months, discovers he loves her too. And because he loves her he decides to let her go (think that incredibly sappy poem – if you love something, set if it free…). Only, Diana doesn't want to be free. She cries, she begs, she fights, she pleads for mercy – all to no avail. And finally, when she realizes that he intends to send her away and nothing she can say or do will change his mind, she tries to shoot herself in the head.
The Sheik, who by the way is the son of an English earl (don't even ask), relents and the two live happily ever after. Or in romance novel terms HEA.