This article is based on a entry I wrote for Wikipedia when I discovered that the generous donor of one of the largest literary prizes in value in the U.K., herself an author, did not have an entry on Wikipedia, yet her name appeared in 30 entries on the site and achieves over 90,000 hits on Google, most of which are not about her. If you have any more information about Betty Trask, please let me know.
Betty Trask (1892-1955) was an author of romantic novels and short stories who left almost her entire estate to found a substantial prize for the best first novel in English by an author under 35 years of age, a remarkable bequest.
Margaret Elizabeth Lisle Trask was born on 2nd January 1893 at 3 Park Lane in Bath, the daughter of William Trask (1859-1949), Chairman of Ham Hill and Doulting Stone Quarries, who had played cricket for Somerset, and Margaret Stancomb Trask (1863-1957), daughter of Philip Edgar Le Gros, joint owner of Frome Silk and Crepe Mill. Her cousin, Philip Walter Le Gros (1892-1980), was also a notable cricketer. Her mother's family came originally from the Channel Islands.
Betty’s younger brother, Charles Stancomb Lisle Trask, was born on 24th July 1894. He served as a Captain in the Intelligence Corps in World War I. He married June Radbourne in Guildford, Surrey in 1924; they had no children. He died in London on 13th September 1978 with an estate valued at £10,949. I mention this because the value of a person’s estate is quite important in these pages.
I can find nothing about Betty’s education, so I presume it was at schools in Bath, as they were living in Weston, a suburb of the city in 1901, when she was eight. Her father was described as ‘Living on own means’, so had a private income. The only mention of Betty in the press before 1927 is as a bridesmaid in 1905 at the wedding of a cousin, Thomas Le Gros.
Betty Trask aged 35 in 1928
Ten years later, when Betty was 18, the family were recorded in the 1911 census living at 71 Portland Court, a block of flats on Great Portland Street in Marylebone, London with four domestic servants: a Cook, Housemaid, Parlourmaid and Nurse. Her father was again living on ‘Private means’.
I can find nothing about Betty until 1927, when a short story she wrote was published in the Christmas number of the magazine Modern Woman called ‘Be there by Candlelight’. Betty Trask published her first novel in 1928, called Cotton Glove Country, when she was 35 years old. The Edinburgh News described its heroine: ‘She’s elfin, she’s puckish, she’s all dreams and gossamer. Miss Trask makes her perfectly adorable’.
Betty Trask wrote at least 32 more novels until 1957, an average of one a year, which were published by Hodder & Stoughton, Collins or Robert Hale. She also published short stories in The Royal Magazine, Woman’s Journal, Ladies Home Journal and John Bull. I suspect that there are a lot more.
Between 1935 and 1952 Betty Trask also wrote 22 novels under the name Ann Delamain, which were published by Constable, Collins and Hurst and Blackett. Only one short story is known under this name, published in Everywoman’s in December 1939.The name Delamain means ‘of the hand’, perhaps referring to the means by which she made her living.
In the five years between 1935 and 1939 Betty Trask published four novels every year. All 55 of her novels are all listed by title in the Table below.
None of Betty Trask's novels is currently in print.
At the time of writing, in February 2022, only 15 copies of 12 titles by Betty Trask are listed on ABE books, a website for second hand books, plus 15 copies of 11 titles by Ann Delamain. If at least 5,000 copies of each book was printed, that's 275,000 books. Some of her titles, such as 'Provoking' achieved editions of 10,000 or more copies, see left.
In 1939 Betty and her parents were living at 54 Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington with only one ‘Domestic servant’. He father was listed as ‘Official ret’, presumably retired, as he was nearly 80, and Betty was listed as ‘Authoress’.
They remained in London until the house was damaged by a bomb during the Blitz, which may explain why Betty only published one novel in 1943. The family left London to live at her mother's family house at North Hill in Frome, Somerset. The family had sold their silk mill in 1926 after her grandfather, Philip Le Gros, had died.
Dust jacket of novel
Betty’s father died on 24th June 1949 and left an estate of £800, indicating that his circumstances had diminished. Betty and her mother moved to a house on Oakfield Road in Frome, where her mother died in May 1957, the year that Betty Trask published her last novel. Her mother’s estate was valued at £1,917; I suspect that Betty owned the house.
Betty lived quietly and modestly in her small terraced house until ill-health forced her into a nursing home, and she died in hospital in Bath, the town where she was born, in January 1983 aged 90. I can find no published obituary for her, only a notice in The Times of her death, though there may have been one in Frome, too. Although she wrote stories about love, I can find no evidence that she had married. She may have been one of the two million women who survived without men after the First World War (see the wonderful book by Virginia Nicholson Singled Out, Viking Penguin, 2007).
Betty Trask's bequest
Betty Trask left an estate valued at £397,578 of which she gave £4,100 and her unpublished manuscripts to personal legatees and the residue of £393,478 to the Society of Authors. In terms of simple purchasing power this is equivalent in 2021 to £1,370,000.
Betty Trask’s bequest to the Society was to fund an annual literary prize for a first novel, published or unpublished, written in English by an author under the age of 35, which must be of a romantic or traditional nature, not experimental. Since 1984 the Society has awarded a Betty Trask Prize, typically of £10,000, to the writer of a chosen novel, and Betty Trask Awards of lesser amounts for up to six other novels. A total 190 writers have been awarded prizes of between £1,000 and £12,500 including Jon McGregor, Sarah Hall, Hari Kunzru, Alex Garland, Giles Foden, Maggie O’Farrell and Zadie Smith. I wonder if any of them have read a novel by their benefactor?
Betty Trask's life as a writer of romance novels, her discrete life and her amazing bequest were celebrated in 1983 in an article in Spanish, La señorita de Somerset, in the Peruvian magazine Caretas by the Nobel prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.
|1928||Betty Trask||Cotton Glove Country||Hodder & Stoughton||7s 6d|
|1929||Betty Trask||Flute, Far and Near||Hodder & Stoughton||7s 6d|
|1931||Betty Trask||How Change the Moons||Hutchinson||7s 6d|
|1932||Betty Trask||Beauty, Retire||Hutchinson||7s 6d|
|1933||Betty Trask||Mannequin||Collins||7s 6d|
|1935||Betty Trask||A Bus at the Ritz||Collins||7s 6d|
|1935||Betty Trask||Desire me not||Collins||7s 6d|
|1935||Betty Trask||Only the Best||Collins||7s 6d|
|1935||Ann Delamain||All our Dear Relations||Constable||7s 6d|
|1936||Betty Trask||Rustle of Spring||Collins||7s 6d|
|1936||Betty Trask||Enticement||Collins||7s 6d|
|1936||Betty Trask||She Shall be Queen||Collins||7s 6d|
|1936||Ann Delamain||Ring out the Bell||Constable||7s 6d|
|1937||Betty Trask||I Tell my Heart||Collins||7s 6d|
|1937||Betty Trask||Love with a Song||Collins||7s 6d|
|1937||Ann Delamain||As we Like it||Constable||7s 6d|
|1937||Ann Delamain||Never Stoop to Conquer||Constable||7s 6d|
|1938||Betty Trask||Feather Your Nest||Collins||7s 6d|
|1938||Betty Trask||Give me my Youth||Collins||7s 6d|
|1938||Betty Trask||Love Locked Out||Collins||7s 6d|
|1938||Ann Delamain||Not Quite Wise||Collins||7s 6d|
|1939||Betty Trask||Love has no Limit||Collins||7s 6d|
|1939||Betty Trask||Love has Wings||Collins||7s 6d|
|1939||Ann Delamain||Arrow in the Air||Collins||7s 6d|
|1939||Ann Delamain||No String to Her Bow||Collins||7s 6d|
|1940||Betty Trask||The Sun fades the Stars||Collins||8s 3d|
|1941||Betty Trask||From Here to a Star||Collins||7s 6d|
|1941||Betty Trask||Ring of Roses||Collins||7s 6d|
|1942||Betty Trask||Change for a Farthing||Collins||Unknown|
|1942||Ann Delamain||Sammy Comes to Stay||Hurst & Blackett||8s 6d|
|1943||Ann Delamain||Merry Widow’s Waltz||Hurst & Blackett||8s 6d|
|1944||Betty Trask||Promise||Collins||7s 6d|
|1944||Ann Delamain||Marry me First||Hurst & Blackett||10s 6d|
|1944||Ann Delamain||Miss Bennet Knows Best||Hurst & Blackett||10s 6d|
|1946||Betty Trask||Pride to the Winds||R. Hale||8s 6d|
|1947||Ann Delamain||Provoking||Hurst & Blackett||10s 6d|
|1948||Betty Trask||I Will be True||R. Hale||8s 6d|
|1948||Ann Delamain||Calicot Jam||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1948||Ann Delamain||The Best Butter||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1948||Ann Delamain||Lark Lady||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1949||Ann Delamain||My Bee Stings||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1950||Betty Trask||Evergold||R. Hale||9s 6d|
|1950||Ann Delamain||Gold Leaf on the Tree||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1950||Ann Delamain||Mabel has Mink||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1951||Betty Trask||Grand||R. Hale||Unknown|
|1951||Ann Delamain||It Was a Treacle Well||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1951||Ann Delamain||I Deserve the Fair||Hurst & Blackett||Unknown|
|1952||Betty Trask||Thunder Rose||R. Hale||9s 6d|
|1952||Ann Delamain||Vote for Valentine||Hurst & Blackett||Unknown|
|1952||Ann Delamain||Mr. Treadgold||Hurst & Blackett||9s 6d|
|1953||Betty Trask||And Confidential||R. Hale||9s 6d|
|1954||Betty Trask||Just a Song at Sunrise||R. Hale||Unknown|
|1955||Betty Trask||Bitter Sweetbriar||R. Hale||Unknown|
|1955||Betty Trask||Irresistible||R. Hale||Unknown|
|1957||Betty Trask||The Merry Belles of Bath||R. Hale||Unknown|