Fab @ 50 – When Men Were Men . . . .


Fabulous at FiftyCoverBurrowing in the RNA Archives (never happier than when burrowing, me), I splorted when I read the adjudication for the 1973 Romantic Novel of the Year.

The co-ordinating judge was Tom Eagle, who had run the romance list at Herbert Jenkins until 1968. When he retired, the publisher closed the list. Eagle had been a bookseller (Hatchards) and a magazine editor before Herbert Jenkins recruited him. As far as authors were concerned, his philosophy was clearly treat ’em mean and keep ’em keen.

RNA President Diane Pearson, then an editor at Corgi, describes that year’s winner, The House of Kuragin, as a ground breaker. It was the first time an historical novel had headed the short list and also it was the first time Heinemann had been one of the RNA’s winning publishers, reported the News.  Diane says that it made the book trade sit up, shocked that a ‘big sweep’ novel could win the Award. As a result, it radically broadened the range of books that would be entered henceforward.  

Mr Eagle’s assessment was more moderate.  ‘This is a novel on a not unfamiliar pattern, with something of the Gothic atmosphere but nicely written and admirably characterised. The early Nineteenth Century is lightly but adequately sketched in, and the feudal Russian scene with its extremes of wealth and poverty is well described – witness episodes of autocratic cruelty and sabotage by vengeful serfs.’ The love story, he said, ‘runs its uneven and, seemingly, disastrous course, culminating eventually in a not too contrived happy ending. To briefly sum up: romance, intrigue, tragedy and suspense are skilfully blended in a novel which should certainly satisfy many readers.’

‘Not too contrived happy ending.’  Wow.

When Tom Eagle retired, Marjorie McEvoy, who had sold him her first romantic novel in 1960, wrote a farewell in The RNA News. ‘Never extravagantly over-enthusiastic in praise of manuscripts, a word of congratulation from him was all the more to be treasured when it did materialise.’  Too right.

What would the You’re Worth It generation have done to the old curmdugeon?

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