Right of Reply: Sophie Weston

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The Independent Culture
An author with Mills & Boon responds to Deborah Orr's recent article, which

criticised the nature of the

romantic novels that are

published by the company

I WRITE (and read) Mills & Boon novels. I feel pretty solidly reviled by Deborah Orr's article ("Mills & Boon: Prisoners of Romance"). Apart from Orr's own feelings, the article contains one nonsense and one missed opportunity that demand comment.

First the nonsense: M&B as the orchestrator of a worldwide conspiracy "to perpetrate a vicious little circle of supply of misery and demand for a chimera of escape". Does your reviewer think M&B should be banned? Nobody is forced to buy a romance, even subliminally. When did you last see an ad for M&B? Indeed, everything that people say about the publisher denigrates it. (By chance, the latest I picked up was on the Today programme, where an expert deplored the issue by Deutsche Grammophon of a "music for well-being" CD, on the grounds that "It is like Hodder & Stoughton publishing a Mills & Boon-type romance".)

Moreover, today's M&B heroines work. They assume personal self-determination. They are not sitting in some male-dominated limbo waiting for a big, strong man to take charge. They have tasks, plans and relationships.

And then the missed opportunity in Orr's review: well, why do women read M&B? I think there is a real conflict between the hormonal drive to mate and human self-consciousness. Yes, you're probably going to do it. And no, not without pain, anxiety, rejection and probably terminal loss of self-respect. In a good romance, the heroine survives the process with her self-respect ultimately enhanced, as does the hero. I know it doesn't often happen in real life, but I don't see why it is so offensive to fantasise.

So the real question is: why do people who don't want to read M&B hate the genre so much?