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Romantic fiction in Collins White Circle

There are lots of people who collect crime fiction and many who research it and blog about it.  There seem to be rather fewer these days who are interested in westerns, and less is written about western fiction, but it certainly still has many devotees.  Even gangster novels and other specialist genres are well collected.  So I suppose there must also be people who collect romantic fiction and are passionately interested, if that’s the right word, in the genre.   I’ve never met any of them though, and prices of romantic novels in vintage paperbacks remain generally very low, so I doubt there can be very many collectors around.

White Circle 313

All of which means that despite the prominence of the general Collins White Circle series over a period of almost 25 years, its sub-series covering romantic fiction has attracted little attention.

It was in any case a bit of an afterthought to the White Circle series.  The Crime Club novels had first appeared in 1936, followed later that same year by the launch of western novels, numbered from 101, and in January 1937 by a mystery sub-series numbered from 201.  The name ‘White Circle’ for the overall series started to appear about July 1937, although the use of a large white circle as the title panel was a unifying element in the branding long before then.  Each genre though had its own colour and its own standard cover design as well as its own block of numbers.

White Circle 301

When three volumes of Galsworthy’s ‘Forsyte Saga’ appeared in February 1937, it was obvious from their appearance that they were intended to be part of the White Circle series, although they were unnumbered and not obviously part of any sub-series or genre.  They were followed in April / May by a group of six romance novels, numbered from 304 to 309, and with the listing of other novels at the back now including the Forsyte Saga novels as numbers 301 to 303.

So the ‘300 series’ now seemed to be established as a slightly odd combination of Galsworthy and Romance.  Three further Forsyte Saga novels appeared in August / September 1937, oddly again unnumbered, but quickly identified in other volumes as 310 to 312.  Then more Romance novels in early 1938 with numbering from 313 and from this point on, the 300 series of numbers is essentially reserved for romantic fiction.  A sort of turquoisy blue was established as the colour for the genre, and a stylish lady’s head as the distinctive symbol in the bottom right of the cover.  The series was clearly aimed at women readers and although the image looks a little quaint and demure to modern eyes, it must have been an aspirational look at the time.  At first it appeared only on the dustwrappers and the covers of the books themselves were left plain.

The authors of the early novels included Renee Shann, Pamela Wynne (a pseudonym of Winifred Mary Scott), Betty Trask and Henry de Vere Stacpoole, each with several novels in the series.  None of the names mean much to me and I don’t think they’re much remembered, although I see Betty Trask’s name is still attached to a fiction prize for young authors.  It’s described as being established from money left in her will by the ‘reclusive author of over 30 romance novels’.

  White Circle 315   White Circle 344

The list gradually extended up to volume 330 by the end of 1939 and continued well into the war years, reaching volume 359 by March 1942.  There was one interloper – volume 321 in August 1938, was a special film tie-in edition of ‘A Yank at Oxford’ by A.P. Garland in a specially illustrated cover, but mostly the books followed a fairly standard format.  The lady’s head on the dustwrapper was altered at some point in 1939 (making her look slightly older and with a less prominent nose?), the ‘White Circle’ branding was introduced, and the words ‘A love story’ added to the cover.

At least one of the two Philip Hughes novels in 1940 / 41 appeared with an alternative purple cover featuring a head and shoulders portrait of the author (a format more consistent with the later ‘500 series’ of volumes), but otherwise there was little change.  In line with the rest of the series and most other paperbacks, dustwrappers disappeared from about 1940 and from that point on the illustration was carried on the front cover of the book itself.

White Circle 342

Volume 342 from 1940

Romantic novels did not re-appear with the other sub-series after the war and it was not until 1950 that the series started again in a rather different format.  From here on they are still branded ‘A White Circle Pocket novel’ but they have pictorial covers and as a result look very different from other books in the series.  The Penguin hegemony that had imposed non-illustrated covers on the market for any paperbacks with up-market pretensions, for 15 years by this point, was now starting to break down.  Collins must have felt it was worth breaking away from it for romance novels, although perhaps oddly, they stuck with non-illustrated covers on westerns and other genres for another nine years – almost as long as Penguin themselves did.

White Circle 364r



The forthright saga

Bernhard Tauchnitz prided himself on the relationships that he had with many of the leading British authors of his time.  His relationship with Charles Dickens for instance was based on friendship, trust and loyalty, and almost all of Dickens’ works were published by the firm.  Other authors may not have been quite so loyal, and many were tempted away to one or other of the competitors that sprung up from time to time in the European market.   As most of  these competitors were relatively short-lived, the authors often returned later to Tauchnitz, perhaps a little shame-facedly.

The First World War however brought a new situation, with Tauchnitz unable to publish new works by British authors and two major new series starting up in Paris.   The authors who submitted their latest works to either the Nelson’s Continental Library or The Standard Collection from Louis Conard, could hardly be accused of lack of loyalty in wartime, although it’s interesting to note that George Bernard Shaw was not among them, and was back with Tauchnitz by 1919.  Amongst the authors though who did jump ship was John Galsworthy and it’s worth looking at his behaviour in the light of his later role in changes that had a significant effect on Tauchnitz.

John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy

At the peak of his fame, John Galsworthy was a literary giant.  He had honorary degrees from a string of universities, was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929, after earlier turning down a knighthood, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.  He was known for his plays as well as his novels and both enjoyed enormous commercial as well as critical success.   The critical reputation has not really survived and I’ve never seen any of his plays being revived, but his novels in ‘The Forsyte Saga’ are still popular, at least amongst television producers.   So it’s no surprise to see him with a long list of publications in Tauchnitz.

Tauchnitz 4372 The silver box   Tauchnitz 4375 The inn of tranquility

It took a while for Tauchnitz to identify him as an author deserving a place in their series.  He already had several successful works to his name before he got his first Tauchnitz publication with ‘Man of Property’ in 1909.  After that though they came rapidly, and by the time war broke out in 1914, there would have been a row of 12 Tauchnitz Galsworthys on his shelf.   He was then quick to seek alternative publishers and his novel ‘The Freelands’ was in the first batch of titles issued in the Nelsons Continental Library in 1915, before he moved again to have ‘The little man’ published in Conard’s ‘Standard Collection’ in 1916.

This was followed by four other volumes in this series, but in 1920 he offered a new collection of plays first to Conard, and only later to Tauchnitz, who published it as ‘A bit o’love and other plays’.   Todd & Bowden seem to suggest that the prior offer to Conard was because of contractual obligations, which he was then able to free himself from, in order to return to Tauchnitz.  I’m not sure how this fits though with his subsequent decision to withhold from Tauchnitz the next two volumes of the Forsyte saga.  ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were published instead in the Standard Collection in 1921 and 1922, now run by Collins rather than Conard.   By 1923 this series had ended and he was back again with Tauchnitz.

Standard Collection 193   Standard Collection 210

From then on Galsworthy stayed with Tauchnitz and the number of titles continued to grow, although he never seemed to be quite comfortable with them.  Corresponding through his literary agent, he was always forthright.  By March 1926, perhaps regretting his decision to publish elsewhere, he was pushing Tauchnitz to issue a combined edition of The Forsyte Saga, which they did in volumes 4733 to 4735.   ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were new to Tauchnitz, but ‘A man of property’ was already in the series and I can’t think of any other instance where the same book on its own was republished in the series under a different number.

Tauchnitz 4733 The Forsyte saga 1  Tauchnitz 4734 The Forsyte saga 2  Tauchnitz 4735 The Forsyte saga 3

At the same time he was pushing Tauchnitz for higher payments, with some success, and complaining that in his foreign travels, he had not seen enough of his books on the shelf.   By September though a more significant issue was being raised.  After his agent had already sent the text of ‘The silver spoon’ to  Tauchnitz for publication, Galsworthy intervened to insist on a year’s delay before the book was issued.  He was concerned to allow sufficient time for his British publishers to sell their higher-priced hardback edition in Europe before permitting a paperback edition.  The same proposal was then raised with the Society of Authors, who agreed that the year’s delay should apply to all works.  This significantly undermined the position of Tauchnitz, who saw near simultaneous publication as essential to their success.   It was one of many factors that weakened the firm throughout the 1920s, although it should be said that it was later no barrier to the success of Albatross.

By the time of his death in 1933, Galsworthy had some 28 volumes to his name in the main Tauchnitz series, and extracts from them had also been published in the Tauchnitz Pocket Library and the Students Series.   Further volumes were published throughout the 1930s including ‘The Freelands’, the first novel he had taken elsewhere, so that by the time the series ended, it featured almost all of Galsworthy’s works, even those he had originally withheld from Tauchnitz.  Maybe Tauchnitz had the last laugh after all.

Nelson Continental Library 9   Tauchnitz 5213 The Freelands

Nelson’s Continental Library in 1915, Tauchnitz in 1935