Girls left seduced by tales

THIS young man told me he had taken to reading. It was early in the war – tail-end of the Blitz – and we were working together in a timber yard in Stratford. What books? He said he got them from his girl friend who was a keen reader. They were stories by

THIS young man told me he had taken to reading. It was early in the war - tail-end of the Blitz - and we were working together in a timber yard in Stratford.

What books? He said he got them from his girl friend who was a keen reader. They were stories by a writer named Paul Renin, really interesting; he'd lend me one, so I could see for myself. That's how I became acquainted with an author who doesn't appear in the annals of literature but must have been a minor best-seller.

It was a small book of about forty pages with a pictorial paper cover, price probably threepence; the title would have been Maisie's Wild Heart, City Of Temptation, or similar. The cover showed a man (sleek black hair and thin moustache) pouring champagne and in the background, rather blurry, a young woman in a long gown lying on a divan.

What happened? She was an ordinary girl who had been led into fast company: to roadhouses where she drank cocktails and - forgetting her dependable fianc� Sid, a booking-clerk from Bromley - was flattered by well-dressed fellows with swanky cars.


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In particular, a middle-aged man named Jules or Pierre who wore evening dress all the time, whose blandishments brought her to a luxurious hotel in Paris with him. Fortunately Sid had followed them. He intervened with a sock on the jaw for Jules and gathered her in his arms: she whispered "Oh Sid, I've been such a fool".

Ah well . . . There were several more novels by Paul Renin, but I declined the offer. However, soon afterwards I heard of them again. A young woman - single, aged 21 - said she was a devotee: "Everything in those books is true."

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This time I couldn't resist saying they were tosh. She replied indignantly that girls could find themselves in just those sorts of situations.

How many girls did she know who'd been lushed-up with champagne and whisked to Paris by a wealthy cove in evening dress? "It can happen. A girl's got to be on her guard all the time."

All of that, sixty-eight years ago, was to do with the fear of "getting into trouble" and loss of self-respect in other ways for women. One noticeable feature of the stories was rich people being shown as having lower morals than ordinary decent folk, and (with rare exceptions) less trustworthy: "It's the rich what gets the pleasure And the poor what gets the blame."

From what I saw and heard the Paul Renin novelettes (and others like them) had a substantial circulation. Few of them would have survived the wartime salvage collections, and in the post-war decades their successors took the form of strip-drawings.

Thus, I have beside me now the set of instructions to artists for the Love Story Library and True Life Library in 1960: characters to be "definite and contrasting types", female ones "not too sophisticated, or dressed outside the social sphere of our readers".

I have been writing in the past tense, but of course equivalents exist today and, in an age of more varied media, are more plentiful. We feel ourselves entitled to triviality and need a certain amount of fantasy (if not, the television screens would be blank much of the time).

Nevertheless, there is no substitute for reading. Those cheap romances may not have been much, but they offered an acquaintanceship with words and ideas: despite all talk, society seems short of both today.

Did Paul Renin exist as an individual, or was he or she a publisher's invention - maybe a kind of syndicate? I don't know; does anybody?

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