Friday, October 15, 2021

Research Opportunity: PhD Funding for Research on Mills & Boon (in partnership with them and the University of Birmingham)

For those not on Twitter, who or are but missed it:

Here are more details, from the description of the research project (available here):

This project will explore how the UK’s biggest publisher of popular romance fiction, Mills & Boon, engages with its readers. Undertaking archival research and interviews, the project’s focus is specifically on readers in the Midlands and readers from diverse backgrounds who have historically not read Mills & Boon’s fiction.

Founded in 1908, Mills & Boon sells a novel in the UK every ten seconds. Mills & Boon has a long history of engagement with its readers and is particularly interested in researching the relationship between readers and the publisher. In 2016, the publisher’s Consumer Insights team conducted an in-depth piece of market research which looked at perceptions of the brand amongst readers and non-readers in the UK through qualitative, quantitative and ethnographic lenses. This report indicated that there were particular communities of active romance readers who did not routinely engage with Mills & Boon. This CDA project continues the research work of the 2016 report to explore why some romance readers (primarily younger readers, readers of LGBT+ romance, and BIPOC readers) do not engage with Mills & Boon, and how the publisher might reach these communities of readers.


Mills & Boon’s close relationship with readers is arguably unique in British publishing, yet the specific strategies, intricacies and histories of this engagement have yet to be explored in-depth. Despite huge sales, academia has been slow to recognise the cultural impact of genre fiction and its industrial practices. This project is also timely. In 2020, Black Lives Matter protests around the world led many organisations including publishers to reflect on their approach to representation and diversity. Reaching diverse audiences matters; this project’s focus on readers in the Midlands, a diverse region with high reader engagement with Mills & Boon, allows for new regionally-specific findings to emerge as well as comparison against the national picture.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

When did "romance" become love story + happy ending?

I've been thinking about the history of popular romance, and how I'm not even sure when the term "romance" started to be used as a marketing term to refer exclusively to love stories with happy endings (as opposed to how it was used before: there are a lot of nineteenth century works subtitled "a romance" which are not necessarily at all what we'd now think of as a romance). Even when love stories are marketed as romance, I'm not sure when the term became associated with a guarantee of an HEA/HFN.

I think Jackie Barbosa's got the dating about right (the meaning definitely seems to have shifted after 1900) but when the balance tilted definitively away from "adventure" and towards "love story" is probably something that needs to be investigated more thoroughly by romance scholars. Here are some signposts I've come across which indicate changes in the meaning of "romance" as a publishing label.

Here's an example from 1912 which mixes "romance" in the sense of adventure with "romance" in the sense of romantic fiction:


It's a page from The Bookfellow from 1 October 1912

https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-820609408/view?sectionId=nla.obj-828929149&searchTerm=romance&partId=nla.obj-820701136#page/n10/mode/1up/search/romance

The first book listed is Ethel M. Dell's The Way of an Eagle, which mixes adventure with a central love story that has an HEA. The description of the second book doesn't suggest it includes any sort of love story. The third book seems to be a love story without any adventure.

Sometime in the 1920s there's at least one edition of The Flapper Wife which includes the word "romance!" to describe the works of Beatrice Burton (see https://thegoodbadbook.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/determining-editions-the-flapper-wife/ )

Unfortunately this edition of the novel doesn't include a dust jacket: https://archive.org/details/flapperwife0000unse/mode/2up

However, I did find another novel by Grosset & Dunlap there, from 1928, which has endpapers that refer to Beatrice Burton's books as "romances"

I'm not sure when Dell started publishing novels which it labelled as "romance" but it may have been in the 1930s. Jennifer McKnight-Trontz's The Look of Love includes an image of Faith Baldwin's Skyscraper (Dell 236) and Self-Made Woman (Dell 163) which have the words "A Dell Romance" on the cover. The first is from 1931 and the second from 1932. Here are two more Dell romances published by them somewhat later:

Temple Bailey, The Pink Camellia, Dell Romance 178, first published 1942. https://archive.org/details/pinkcamellia00bail/

Lida Larrimore, Stars Still Shine, Dell Romance 249, first published 1940. https://archive.org/details/stars-will-shine-archive/

I think these Dell editions are reprints, but still from the 1940s. What I don't know is whether all the books in this line would be classified as romances now. From a quick look inside, I get the impression that The Pink Camellia would. However, although Stars Still Shine ends on an optimistic note for the heroine, there isn't an HEA with the person she's been in love with.

The front cover of this 1944 edition of Popular Love magazine says it contains "New Romances of Modern Youth" https://archive.org/details/PopularLoveV15N03194401 and inside, on page 97 it promises readers 


Best Romances by Your Favorite Authors in Companion Magazines Thrilling Love and Exciting Love

Moving on to the 1950s, The Romance Book Club produced a lot of reprint editions. Were they all romances in the modern sense? Here's an example which I think is: Faith Baldwin's Give Love the Air https://archive.org/details/giveloveair0000unse/mode/2up

[Edited to add] Still in the 1950s, there was "Pearson's Romance Library [...] (Cahill and Co. Ltd., 1955-60)" producing "digest-sized British romance pulp" (according to this comic sales site). I just saw an example for sale on Ebay which is by Mary Burchell and according to Goodreads this novel was originally published in 1942 by Mills & Boon.]


I also don't know when Mills & Boon started to refer to their novels as "romances." In The Art of Romance: Mills & Boon and Harlequin Cover Designs it's mostly just the front of the dust-jackets that are printed so it's possible that the word appeared on the spines or elsewhere for some of them and I wouldn't know. One cover from 1942, for Frances Braybrooke's They Called Her Evil, has the words "A Mills & Boon Love Story" on its cover (55) as do some others from this period. In this volume, the first cover with "romance" used as a description on it is Barbara Allen's Doctor Lucy (1958) which is "A Harlequin Romance" but I doubt it's the first novel to appear with that label.


I think the Ward Lock "Blue Panel" romances may date from the 1960s but I'm not sure as this edition of Marsha Manning's Magic of the Moon only gives a copyright date of 1919: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.126414/page/n189/mode/2up?q=ward+lock+%22blue+panel%22+romancesA list of some more of them appears on the next page.

Rob Imes has a listing of category romance lines from 1965 to 1989, https://robimes.blogspot.com/2020/01/a-guide-to-category-romance-series-1965.html .

[Edited to add: Another issue to note is that in the UK the Romantic Novelists' Association was founded in 1960. Its name reflects a wish to include a wider range than just "romance" and I don't know to what extent that reflected the UK market at the time but certainly nowadays the UK market does seem different from the US one in terms of what might be understood by "romance." Possibly there was some convergence on a shared meaning followed by some decades of divergence?]