Benefactor from a bygone age

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The Independent Online
Betty Trask, the romantic novelist who endowed one of the Britain's best-known literary prizes, has been out of print herself for decades.

Miss Trask wrote The Merry Belles of Bath in 1957, one of 33 novels she penned with Barbara Cartland-style regularity between 1933 and 1957. But its depiction of coy misses, marriage-orientated mothers, and naughty roues owes more to that much-loved mistress of the romantic historical genre, Georgette Heyer.

Miss Trask endowed her pounds 25,000 annual prize for first novels of a traditional or romantic nature by authors under 35 - they need not have been published - 13 years ago.

She lived with her mother in Frome, near Bath, in Somerset, and there is no evidence of any sexual entanglements. Men were purely of professional interest to her, and, unlike Jane Austen, there is nothing to suggest that she ever considered marriage.

Much of Miss Trask's wealth was inherited, although she herself built up a solid following for her jolly tales of young women searching for marriage, which had titles such as Love Has Wings and Love Has No Limits.

Her family had made money from silk-weaving, clothing manufacture and quarrying, and their fortune meant that they could afford to live inEaton Square, Belgravia, in central London, when she was a young woman. She is said to have been "pretty but retiring" in her youth.

Later, she developed into a thin, elderly woman with a rather grand manner. Her last 35 years were spent in a dilapidated and tiny terrace house in Frome, where she died in 1983, aged 88.