Mills and Boon
I have never read the ‘sophisticated’ passionate romance novels of Mills and Boon. But recently I came across a set of 15 hard back copies without dust jackets in the collection of Professor F J Cole who was a Professor of Zoology here in the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939.
The professor collected books all his life ending up with about 8,000 books about the history of early medicine, zoology, comparative anatomy and reproductive physiology. Amongst these there are 1,700 or more pre-1851 works, including many continental books. So why are this tales of ripped bodices and happy endings on the shelves of such an eminent collector of books
It turns out that the collection was written by Sophie Cole (1862-1947), the professor’s sister. As an adolescent, Miss Cole suffered from a long illness, and to pass the time she wrote a romance novel, Arrows from the dark which became, in 1909, the first ever Mills and Boon book. The book was well-received, and by 1914, 1,394 women had bought a copy. During her lifetime she wrote 65 books, and earned her living from them for many years. Miss Cole knew London very well, and wrote a non-fiction book on literary London, which is held in the collection. She lived in Brighton, but in her later years came to live with Professor Cole and his wife at Eldon Road in Reading.
In the sometimes perceived dullness of academia this little oasis of refreshment and light is a joy and a torch to us would be creative writers whatever our style and aim.
It should be noted also that the Special Collections is to become the custodians of the Mills and Boon archive and all their publications later this year. I may not be a huge fan but perhaps I will enjoy researching some of the other early writers and how they struggled to get their voices heard.