One of the most interesting things about the library’s collection of Mills and Boon books is the fact that they have survived over one hundred years. Today, Mills and Boon titles are only available for one month in bookshops and three months online before they are withdrawn and pulped. Maybe in another hundred years people will want to study what we so easily dismiss as cheesy reads today? This makes it a great example of the benefits of the Legal Deposit system.
Summer holidays are here again! As I prepare to jet off to sunny climes my thoughts are turning to what I’m going to be reading on the beach. Mills and Boon books have always been popular summer reads since they are fun, easy to absorb and most importantly packable!
It came as something as a shock then when I came across several Mills and Boon titles during my cataloguing with the Tower Project. I knew the publisher had been around for a while but was surprised to learn that it was actually founded in 1908. What came as even more of a shock was that it wasn’t always an exclusive publisher of the romance novels for which it’s best known.
The company founded by Gerald Rusgrove Mills and Charles Boon actually started life as a general publisher with some quite famous names on the books. Jack London was a particularly notable author who was more than happy with the representation that he received from Mills and Boon. Other famous examples include P.G. Wodehouse and Max Pemberton.
The firm capitalised on the increase in literacy levels and the corresponding increase in reading that occurred just prior to the First World War. Much as they do today, Mills and Boon concentrated on publishing books in a format and price that would attract many people.
Although their first publication was the romance novel Arrows From The Dark by Sophie Cole, Mills and Boon also published a wide range of non-fiction titles. These included many school textbooks on subjects such as Latin grammar and chemistry as well as several practical companions to nursing, golf and poultry keeping.
There were also works of fiction, such as the decidedly non-romantic looking Adventures of Arsene Lupin illustrated above. Happily, there were some titles which gave a hint to the future of the company. A selection of these from the Tower include When Love Knocks, Royal Lovers and Jehenne of the Golden Lips(!) However, the concentration on romance novels did not begin until the 1930s when the owners saw the potential for escapism through reading during the Depression.
Do blog readers have any favourite Mills and Boon memories? Do you never get on a plane without one? Based on my new-found knowledge of Mills and Boon, I think I know what this years holiday reading might be!
History of Mills and Boon : http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/history.asp
The Art of Romance : Mills & Boon and Harlequin Cover Designs / J. Bowring and M. O’Brien [2008.10.1643]