Here is a curious statistic: one in five paperbacks sold in Australia is a Mills and Boon novel. That’s right the most scorned upon exemplar of the romance genre is the most popular. When first confronted with that statistic an eyebrow was raised in scepticism. Surely, popular culture’s by-word for bad writing, over sentimentalism and even indeed soft pr0n could not be that well patronised? To admit publicly to reading Mills and Boon is to place you on the wrong side of the cultural divide. No amount chardonnay swilling, latte sipping pontification of [insert high cultured activity here] shall ever absolve you of that sin.
Mills and Boon is spoken of as a homogenous product. To read one is to have read them all. One of the few official histories of Mills and Boon did concede that by the 1970s a rigid formula had been promulgated though this certainly was never the original intent of the publishers. It was with much amusement to note that the same paragraph pointed out that today’s aspiring writers are only helpfully guided.
Are Mills and Boon really that homogenous? McWilliam theorises the success of Mills and Boon has been their understanding that a genre to be successful it must be repetitive as well as variant and there are important sites of variation in each text. So no, not all Mills and Boon romances are created equal though sharing remarkably similar storylines. Some authors particularly American do not understand the concept of irony or humour. There are some truly appalling and unreadable pieces published by Harlequin-Mills & Boon. Alleged romances that perhaps owe a greater debt to Law & Order: SVU than Jane Austen.
Who reads them? The average Mills Boon reader is forty-six years old, high school educated (that probably explains why so many heroines have barely matriculated from high school) is or has been in a long term relationship. This demographic is bit questionable when one considers the segmentation of the market. Categories include Sexy (entry level), Sweet (saccharine), Blaze (explicit), Historical (wannabe Heyer), Medical (self explanatory), Fundamental Christian (cough …sorry…Inspirational…not readily available in Australia but if your local library has abdicated its collection management responsibility to American book supplier Baker and Taylor expect moral self righteousness rather than sin) and Nocturne (cynical attempt to cash in on Twilight).
There is another visible devotee of the Mills and Boon: the academic. Traditionally, Mills and Boon has been placed in the pantheon of the romance genre as the illegitimate heir to either one or all of the following Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded , Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The latter’s nomination has always been of some amusement as it is the very antithesis of the standard Mills & Boon. Who can forget Heathcliff’s sneering disdain of Isabella? ‘She abandoned them under them under a delusion…picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion.’ Can you imagine the typical Mills and Boon hero in a Wedlocked storyline saying that of his wife?
Where Mills and Boon comes under the most scrutiny is for its romanticised violence. The language used by the heroine and her response to the initial seduction somewhat undermines the violence against women campaign no means no. What happens to some heroines would constitute sexual assault. This should not come as a surprise as Violet Winspear a prolific 1970s Mills and Boon writer stated that her heroes must to be capable of rape.
Literally, Mills and Boon is disposable fiction. It is the most visible form of pulp fiction today with a shelf life of three months before remaindered stock is pulped. That’s the official version anyway. Consequently, it does not pay to read books by the one author consecutively. Mills and Boon may reflect contemporary mores but its far more fun to spot the use of Ctrl + C.
The aim of this blog therefore is to trace the trends of one author over an extended period of time. Why Sara Craven when Emma Darcy or Miranda Lee being Australian authors are far more easy to source second hand? Miranda Lee is too hit and miss. Emma Darcy could be relied upon until that last abhorrent book read. Sara Craven, though prolific is harder to find second-hand therefore when the novelty wanes our excuse is ready.
The first Mills & Boon romance was Sophie Cole’s Arrows from the Dark