Mills & Boon turned 100 this year. 20,000 kisses and 30,000 embraces later, M&B couples are still groping for a climax. Ruchira Priyanka Hoon reports.books Updated: Dec 20, 2008 22:27 IST
Balancing precariously inside the cupboard, I began flipping through the pages. There were tales of lust, of mistresses and tall dark handsome men, of seduction, blackmail and oodles of passion. And they all had one thing in common — romance.
I was hooked. At 13, and having outgrown the Enid Blytons and Caroline Keenes, romance was something I was very curious about.
It’s a sentiment the publishers at Harlequin Mills & Boon know well. After all, it was curiosity — the interest women, left behind by their husbands and lovers during the great wars of the 30s and 40s, had in knowing what their loves were doing — that led to the popularity of romance novels in general, and M&B in particular.
Modern: featuring virgins, Greek millionaires, yachts, sheikhs and royalty
Historical: making out in period costume
Medical: romance in emergency rooms and operation theatres
Intrigue: falling in love because you’re scared
Special edition: tender romance, Forties-style making out
Blaze: Sex on-the-beach and everywhere. Explicit
Desire two-in-one: Lots of necking and other hanky-panky. In two books!
Nocturne: ghosts and sex. Sometimes with them as well
Women, of course, can’t have enough of love stories. Especially, fairytale ones set in exotic places like Barbados and St Tropez, featuring billionaire Greeks and Sheikhs, and plenty of sex (‘heaving bosom’ and ‘languid lovemaking’ — two phrases I’ll never forget), where wilting damsels get swept off their feet by knights in shining armour, and, most important, where there’s always a happy ending. What could be a better escape from the trials and tribulations of reality?
“Exploring relationships between a man and woman always appeals to people. It is descriptions of the myriad emotions a couple goes through that make M&B the ultimate escape,” says India Grey, whose fourth Harlequin Mills and Boon book will be out next month. “That’s what has made the genre last so long.”While the mush and passion have remained, Harlequin M&Bs (that’s the name since 1971) have had to evolve to keep pace with the times. Over the years, plots and characters have changed, titles and book covers have become more lurid, the language more explicit — indeed sex has come to dominate much of the proceedings.
Social settings, very important in fixing colour, have changed too. So, if the 40s romances were full of nurses and injured war heroes, the 50s had enchanting women in luxurious surroundings pairing with exotic men. The women in the 60s’ books were rebellious and the men in the James Bond-mould; in the 70s, hot-blooded pilots and airhostesses were all the rage. There was a lot more sensuality in the 80s, although you would still find self-sacrificing heroines. It was only in the 90s that the women became a lot more independent — having babies on their own — and began to stand up to the men, a trend that has continued into this decade as well.
“The stories and characters had to evolve because that’s the only way people can relate to it, much like the films of Bollywood,” says Andrew J. Go, director, Indian operations, Harlequin Mills & Boon. “Just as love was depicted in Bollywood in earlier years by couples holding hands or kissing behind flowers and trees, so was the romance less explicit in the earlier M&Bs.” Now, Go says, things have moved from tepid to torrid, much like Bollywood again, which is no longer bashful about towels dropping and love-making.
Banned from libraries in the Seventies for their explicit language, M&Bs have definitely become a lot more racy. No longer are the descriptions of lovemaking shrouded in purple euphemisms — ‘heat’ searing through the body , etc. The words today ring with obvious sexual innuendoes, almost bordering on soft-porn. “He stood there smiling, all testosterone-fuelled urbane male, with an expression of eager anticipation in his smouldering eyes.”
Of course the description of sex is the USP for these books nowadays.
My nipples start to ache as I think about the moment Miguel covered my breasts with his hands — then his mouth — once I slipped my bikini top off.
No wonder my mother kept those books hidden.
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The Chequered Flag | By Bethea Creese (1952)
"Please don't glare at me like that, Fort," begged Rosel. "I promise no to invite him."
"You'd better not," threatened Fort. "And I'm not going to have you pitying Tony too much. Pity is akin to love."
"I hope that Tony will find someone else he likes better," said Rosel. "On the rebound."
"He hasn't an earthly chance of finding anyone like you," responded Fort quickly, and again he gave her that warm, loving look. "I've one frightful thing on my mind, Venus, about you. Darling, the very first time we met, I hurt you, physically. I pushed a horrible, sharp steel edge of a filing cabinet into your ankle, and I couldn't even get out a word of apology. It hurt you quite badly - we thought you were going to faint. Then, later on, I saw the scar, and it haunted me for nights." He grinned. "I shall take an early opportunity of making up to you for that, somehow."
Sold to the Highest Bidder! | By Kate Hardy
Modern Heat™ March 2008
'Do you always do everything at speed?
'I don't dither and have regrets, if that's what you're asking. I make decisions and act on them.' All of a sudden there was a glitter in his eyes. 'Though I admit that some things are best done slowly.'
He didn't elaborate on it - but he didn't have to. She knew exactly what he meant.
And suddenly she couldn't breathe.
Oh, lord. She had to get sex off her brain. Jack Goddard was not, absolutely not, going to be her man to do.
Most Harlequin Mills & Boon novels are translated into 26 languages. In India, however, the publishing house is going a step further. Soon their new books will be set in exotic Indian locations like the Rajasthan desert or Kerala backwaters; and will have characters with names like Mira, Preeti and Esha who, of course, will have torrid affairs with foreigners like Andreas, Jean-Phillipe and Seth. Or the other way around. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll forget all about snake-charmers and princesses that most of the world thinks all there is to India