106. The Allure of Romance Novels – Journal Entry 3rd Nov 1982

Dear Nora, 

Please forgive my delay; it’s been almost a week since I received your letter. Life is at its busiest right now.

In response to your three queries: Firstly, mum would prefer the lesser of the two prices quoted and will contribute half. Would you like us to keep the $150 (1500 rupees) here for you or would you want us to send a bank transfer in rupees? Secondly, come whenever you can. It does seem inadvisable for you and Henry to be away at the same time. Henry would be very welcome here anytime if he wishes to make a trip on his own. Finally, the road trip from Sydney to Rockhampton takes two nights and one day. It would cost say $100 (1000 rupees) without food. 

I would suggest you book Madras to Brisbane and Brisbane to Madras with an option to leave from Melbourne. Mum will buy you a plane ticket from Brisbane to Rocky when we know definite dates. Once you are here, we will book your Rocky to Brisbane or Rocky to Melbourne flight. The same arrangement could be used by Henry, of course. If you can raise the fare to Australia, we will look after you here.

Perhaps Mary can advise you on what to pack. You can borrow warm clothes from mum as I am sure you wouldn’t care for mine! If you are thinking of buying small presents for the folks here, may I delicately suggest that it would not be necessary as many Indian things are available here. I do agree you should pack as lightly as you can and remember, no seeds, rawhide leather, skins, plants or flowers are allowed into Australia.

I am posting this letter today as we have to go and withdraw mum’s money at the Post Office and I’m cashing the child endowment cheque too. I look forward to hearing about your plans!

4th November 1982

Today, Mum is off on a pensioners’ bus trip.

While dropping Barbara at the bus stop, I started thinking about Mills and Boon romance novels. Written by females, for female consumption, these novels are quite lucrative.  Nevertheless, educated women don’t seem to read them, and not all uneducated women read them either. Young girls, married women and old ladies read romance novels and have done so for nearly two-hundred years, according to a recent article of dubious scholarship. There are strict rules: passionate kissing and retaining one’s honour are allowed but rarely (in fact never) is fondling of the breasts or (god forbid) any touching below the waist. Sexual intercourse, and a certain amount of fondling, is now included within a particular subset of these novels. 

The heroine is usually independent and beautiful, with a sense of humour, honest and passionate. The men tend to be tall, handsome and quite ardent. They are often very wealthy farmers with large estates. Initially, there is antagonism and distrust, explained later as a ploy to fight against their mutual attraction. The main characters endure many incidents, working together in crises until eventually they can’t help but admire and respect one another. Usually, there is another male and female who delay our happy couple from finding true love. Finally, they come together and, as in fairy tales, live happily ever after.

The article in the Weekend Australian says that women’s taste for these novels indicates their interest in sex and, according to a Kinsey Report of the 1950s, more women were turned on by hardcore pornography than men. 

Off the cuff reply to that—from what one gathers after reading romantic novels, such as Jane Eyre, is that women want to feel powerful in the sense that the man wants her, and only her and that she can make him completely happy. On the other hand, only he can cause her to succumb and revel in her femaleness: burying his face in her beautiful hair and saying things like, “you elf-creature, what magic have you bound me with?” I’m not sure how explicitly the sexual act comes into it, not very I suspect unless the man is skilful enough to give her pleasure, intense pleasure at that. It seems that the sexual act is a vague part of the passionate kissing in a tight embrace.

We should keep in mind, I suppose, that these novels portray characters who are larger than life. The women are more beautiful,  competent, faithful and courageous than the female reader. The hero is handsome, humorous, wildly passionate but not out of control, and articulate enough to say most of the things women want to hear. He does not go off to the pub drinking with his mates. There is more than enough delightful concentration on the lucky couple; their preoccupation with one another would satisfy most female readers. However, what women read and what they want in real life might be two different things. How does one find that out?