Strong Names



Sometimes you go to Wikipedia to see whose birthday it is and you end up spending the next thirty minutes reading flap copy from old Harlequin romances. By “you” I mean me, here—I’ve just now crawled up out of the Jane Arbor mineshaft I fell into.

Arbor, who was, yes, born today in 1903, wrote fifty-seven romance novels in her day, all of them published by Mills & Boon, a UK imprint of Harlequin. Even without their florid illustrations, their titles are terrific; they sound variously like managerial concepts, short-lived sitcoms, or Yankee Candle scents. In addition to those in the slideshow above, here are a few favorites:

  • Ladder of Understanding (1949)
  • My Surgeon Neighbor (1950)
  • Memory Serves My Love (1952)
  • Jasmine Harvest (1963)
  • The Feathered Shaft (1970)
  • Two Pins in a Fountain (1977)

But Arbor’s true talent was in naming her characters, a gift that extended to the author herself. Jane Arbor is a pseudonym—and a pretty perfect one, dainty without lacking in heft and authority—for the comparatively ungainly Eileen Norah Owbridge. Arbor had a knack for naming her heroines’ love interests, all of whom have strong but subtle appellations of three or four syllables. They’re impossibly perfect names that seem hewn from granite, as are, presumably, the abdomens of the men they belong to. Names like Erie Nash. Dale Ransome. Elyot Vance. Lewis Craig. Mark Triton. Raoul Leduc. Grandmere Cordet. You see how a Piepenbring could be envious.

Without further prologue, then: the flap copy for three of Arbor’s novels.

The Growing Moon:

Cesare Vidal’s attitude left Dinah silently fuming. He’d shifted responsibility for the twins to her shoulders and apparently had no interest in them—even though they were his cousins.

Maybe she should have been flattered, but she would have gladly exchanged his airy confidence in her for a little old-fashioned male concern. Why couldn’t she be given a trace of the solicitude he showed for Princess Francia Lagna?

One Brief Sweet Hour:

The luxurious Caribbean cruise was a onetime extravagance—supposed to help Lauren forget the past and build a new life.

Instead it brought her face to face with the unhappiest part of that past—Dale Ransome. He was as bitter and hurtful as ever.

All Lauren wanted to do then was return home—but she stayed to help Dale’s young brother with a problem. She never dreamed it would help solve her own!

Roman Summer:

Teaching an attractive teenager to love Rome didn’t seem a particularly arduous job. But for Ruth it meant having to fight her old attraction to Erie Nash, who had said, “The folly of marriage is a heady, distracting adventure I don’t mean to afford.”