Ahoy me hearties!
I’ve recently been pondering Mills and Boon novels. The publishing company produces a whopping 720 romantic novels a year and boasts a wide range of categories, catering for an array of amorous tastes. You can escape to the past with their ‘Historical’ range, be swept off your feet in ‘Heroes’ or read of sizzling sins with ‘Dare’. Their website states that their stories are ‘uplifting’ and promise ‘happily ever after’ endings. Although their books are widely considered to be pulp fiction, I wondered if this is simply due to the brand name or if there is a deeper reason that prevents Mills and Boon from being considered literature? Their popularity is undeniable. Mills and Boon state that one of their books is sold every five seconds in the UK. It was time to join the avid purchasers and find the answer to my question.
After perusing Amazon for something that might match my tastes (this took a little while as I’m not attracted to rich business men and quite easily frustrated by swooning damsels), I found a potential purchase. I opted for ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’ by Georgie Lee: a swashbuckling pirate romance with a hero who has a soul as dark as blacking. With my bounty paid for, it was all hands on deck to start reading and answering the crucial question: could ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’ be a work of literature?
Cassandra, a recently widowed heroine, is captured by the masked Captain Rose. In a twist of fate, Captain Rose reveals that he was once her long-lost fiance before turning to a life of piracy: a life he was forced into by a villain called Vincent. Captain Rose is hell-bent on seeking revenge. He releases Cassandra, who continues sailing to America in order to run her family’s plantation. Vincent offers her his hand in marriage. She refuses. Cassandra obtains some papers that exonerate Captain Rose from his life of piracy. When The Captain is shot, he sails to Cassandra for help and she nurses him back to health. After some swashbuckling and exchanging of legal documents, Captain Rose restores his reputation, gives piracy the heave ho and marries Cassandra.
To call the plot paper thin would be a disservice to paper. When Cassandra and Captain Rose were not smooching, they were embroiled in a legal battle that was impossible to follow or remain vaguely interested in. Mills and Boon promises readers the security of a happy-ever-after, which this certainly delivered. While this initially feels too comfortable and formulaic to be considered literature, it is also no different to the ending of a Shakespearean comedy, which the audience knows will end in marriage. Predictable endings are certainly not limited to comedic or romantic shenanigans. Formulaic and expected endings are also the territory of tragedy, which is undisputedly the domain of classic literature. For example, Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ begins by revealing exactly what will happen to the tragic lovers during the ‘two hours traffic’ of the play. This prompts the question: why do readers consider one set of stories to be literary treasure and the other literally trash?
‘A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is explicit from the beginning about the ending viewers should expect.
He leaned in close, his eyes holding hers with all the passion in his heart. ‘It doesn’t matter so long as all of us are together.’The happy ending (as promised by Mills and Boon) in ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption‘
The Characters and Prose
Although ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’ failed to deliver quality literature in regard to its plot, plots aren’t everything. Some of the best stories have implausible plots or simple plots yet have outstanding prose and dynamic characters. Without witty prose, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is just about people who visit neighbor’s houses. And it’s not the plot that draws in Mills and Boon readers. Mills and Boon readers need a swoon-worthy love interest and good chemistry with the protagonist. According to their website, it also needs to be ‘uplifting’. However, on this occasion I’m afraid it didn’t uplift much beyond my upchuck reflexes.
The first time the reader meets Captain Rose, there is a great amount of detail pertaining to his rippling muscles, weaponry and pirate attire. Although there are some similarities to the introduction of the love interest Mellors in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, who also appears staring and gun-slinging, there is far greater preoccupation on his abs rather than his overall aspect. Unfortunately the prioritisation of brawn over brains meant I was unable to gauge any personality from either Cassandra or the Captain.
Perspiration soaked the linen, making it cling to the dark tan of his chest and each ripple of his taut stomach. Dark breeches tucked into high boots covered the solid muscle of his legs. A Spanish sword swung from a belt at his hip and a leather sash slung across his torso held two pistols fine enough to make Lord Chatham, her great uncle jealous. The butts of the pistols clanked together when he jerked to a halt at the sight of her. From behind the thin black half-mask that swept the bridge of his nose, leaving his cheeks and mouth free, his rich blue eyes with a hint of yellow near the irises widened, his shock striking Cassandra harder than the cannonball that had shattered the Winter’s Gale mainmast…Stretching his shirt tight across his massive chest.The first time Captain Rose is introduced to readers in ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’
A man with a gun strode swiftly, softly out after the dog, facing their way as if about to attack them; then stopped instead, saluted, and was turning downhill. It was only the new game-keeper, but he had frightened Connie, he seemed to emerge with such a swift menace. That was how she had seen him, like the sudden rush of a threat out of nowhere…The man lifted his hat as he stood, showing his thick, almost fair hair. He stared straight into Connie’s eyes, with a perfect, fearless, impersonal look, as if he wanted to see what she was like. He made her feel shy. She bent her head to him shyly, and he changed his hat to his left hand and made her a slight bow, like a gentleman; but he said nothing at all. He remained for a moment still, with his hat in his hand.The first time Mellors is introduced in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. What makes Mellors depiction seem literary and Captain Rose’s depiction seem low?
Between the romantic rhetoric and descriptions of the Captain, the general prose felt static. As Shakespeare stated: ‘brevity is the soul of wit’. Prose does not have to be long, winding and extravagant in order to convey deep meanings and emotions. However, the prose in ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’ too seldom elaborates and often reverts to telling the reader about relationships rather than building really believable connections between characters. When the prose does veer into showing rather than telling the reader about relationships, it is cliched and cringe-worthy.
She and the Virginian surgeon had become friends during the crossing. He was one of the few people who’d heard the rumours about her in London and chosen not to believe them. Cassandra appreciated his fatherly attitude and the many pieces of advice he’d offered her about returning to Williamsburg since they’d set sail.Large sections of the prose and character development in ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’ consist of the writer telling rather than showing relationships develop.
The smell of man, leather and sea cut through her like lightning until she couldn’t tell if it was the ship or her that rocked.Cliched prose and romance in ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’.
While this one book is a very tiny sample of the published titles released annually by Mills and Boon, I have concluded that, on this occasion, ‘Captain Rose’s Redemption’ does not classify as literature. While I’ll never be certain what does constitute a work of literature, I’m certain that society needs to consider the characters, story or the intentions of the writer as an important landmark in written history. Perhaps Mills and Boon as a whole is an important part of literature’s history given the sheer popularity and sales. However, I would hesitate before suggesting that individual novels qualify. While I hold no judgement or ill-feeling towards Mills and Boon writers or their readers, this landlubber will heave to on reading their romance for now.
Do you think Mills and Boon books could qualify as ‘literature’?