Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Betty Neels in Academia

I found this lovely jewel in our inbox, it's from Betty Shilpa:

Dear Bettys

I have been lurking around your blog for over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the reviews and the recent reprises. My interest in Betty Neels started after I read An Unlikely Romance and then I just had to read all of her works. My favourites are Caroline’s Waterloo and Saturday’s Child.

I am a PhD student at the University of Tasmania and currently doing my thesis in romance novels and their consumption in India. I always had a love-hate relationship with romance novels and that in some manner drove me towards my research.

Romance Goes Tenting?
Seriously, how awesome is
that for a title?

While reading hundreds and tons of books on romance, I came across Passion’s Fortune: The story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer. As always, I first jumped to the index searching for Neels’ name have got some interesting results. After publishing her first novel, she explained her reasons behind writing and I quote:

“There are lots of older women like me who don’t want to be shocked or horrified in their reading. I admire Mills & Boon for sticking to their principles and not allowing sordid details. Some of the books I object to are awfully clever and well written, but I think there should be a self-imposed limit on pornography. After all, life is rather romantic.” (122)

On choosing Hospitals for settings she said:

“The hospital world is a bit of mystery to most people – dramatic and exciting. Members of the medical profession are indispensable and for the most part are splendid men and women, modest about their skill, and working for and with them, a nurse realises that, although she may not feel romantic about it, others do.” (122)

In 1972 a M&B manuscript editor disagreed with Neels over the passage in Uncertain Summer. Originally, it appears, Neels had planned Gijs and Serena to have a large family with at least four boys and four girls. The editor wanted it to shorten the four to two. Neels’ reply to this was:

“a large family is a marvellous thing (You’ve noted that my heroes are always well-heeled!). ...for purely selfish reasons....I find it just as unforgivable for a couple to decide on a second car instead of a baby...I also feel that if birth control is pushed too far, the coming generations are going to lose their sense of responsibility and family life, as such, will disappear.” (266)

However, as we know she did edit the last few lines of Gijs and Serena’s implied conjugal relations.

Later apparently, she was asked to include “sex in her books but she firmly declined, dismissing the current Mills & Boon romances as ‘gynaecological training manuals’”. (289)

After reading these fascinating titbits, I knew I just had to share it with you. Hope you enjoy it. :)


Dear Betty Shilpa,

Enjoy it? You're my hero.

Love and lemon tarts,
Betty Debbie


  1. That was kind a thing to do Betty Shilpa! You made me love Betty Neels a little more.
    Wouldn't you just have loved to be her friend. And that's why I'm drawn her every day. I talk about life and Betty with people who like her and are like her. It's a privileged to call myself a Betty and to call all the Bettys my friends.

  2. Wow! I didn't know one can get a PhD in such a cool field as romance novels and their consumption!

  3. gynaecological training manuals’... Betty Shilpa, this post is awesome.

  4. I hope there is some way that we can read your dissertation when it's completed. Think it will be utterly fascinating!!!

  5. Thank you all. I am glad you enjoyed it. I have always been on a lookout for trivia on Betty Neels whenever I read any literature on romance but never found anything substantial before this. I will keep you updated on any news I find. I hope one day, maybe, my thesis will be published and then you can read it. :)

  6. I will give you extra points, Betty Shilpa, if you manage to work in any of the following into your thesis:
    jersey dress
    boeuf en croute
    sole bonne femme
    patent leather court shoes

  7. I will try Betty Keira, I will try. :D

  8. That was awesome! I, too am a Betty Neels' fan having discovered her books around 1999-2000. I love the fact that she knew exactly what she was about and wasn't going to compromise her principles to sell more copies. God Bless her memory and may she rest in peace.