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Betty Trask, the author of Mabel has Mink and other romantic novels

I wrote this article 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 more than 300 pages on that site and achieved over 90,000 hits on Google, most of which are not about her. There is now a page on Betty on Wikipedia. If you have any more information about Betty Trask, please let me know.

(Last updated: 5/6/2023)

Betty Trask (1893-1983) 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 of a romantic or traditional nature 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 here.

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.

Photo of Betty Trask in about 1928

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's life 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, probably earlier than 1927, but they are hard to find.

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 may have been taken from the maiden name of Françoise Elizabeth Delamain, a French woman from Jarnac who married her three times great uncle, the brandy merchant Thomas Hine, who was born in Dorset in 1732.

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 until bombs dropped by the Germans during the Blitz damaged houses nearby, which may explain why Betty only published one novel in 1943. The family left London to live in part of her mother's family house at North Hill in Frome, Somerset. The Le Gros family had sold their silk mill in 1926 after her grandfather, Philip Le Gros, had died.

Dust jacket of novel

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 small 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, on 25th 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 a notice 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 entitled 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 2023 to £1,410,000.

Veronica Horwell writing in The Sunday Times on 29th May 1983 claimed that Betty's estate "seems to have derived mostly from family inheritance" but I can find no evidence for this. When her family returned to Frome in about 1942 they lived in rooms in the Le Gros family house, they did not buy a property, and both her parents left small estates when they died. Betty lived in a modest terraced house in Frome, which she owned, so I suspect that she lived a frugal life and saved much of the money she earned from writing 55 novels, several of which were reprinted several times or issued as paperbacks, so they were popular even if modern writers criticise her stories and literary style. She also wrote short stories which are still being located in magazines of the 1930s. A frugal life, good investments and compound interest for 40 years could have contributed to her large estate.

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. Her specfication was clear.

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?

I also wonder what Betty Trask would have made of the award of her prize in 1995 by the Society of Authors to a novel that included scenes of child abuse, including rape? It may have been a good first novel, but was it romantic, traditional and not experimental?

Table of novels published by Betty Trask between 1928 and 1957

Year Author Title Publisher Pages Price
1928 Betty Trask Cotton Glove Country Hodder & Stoughton 312 7s 6d
1929 Betty Trask Flute, Far and Near Hodder & Stoughton 320 7s 6d
1931 Betty Trask How Change the Moons Hutchinson 288 7s 6d
1932 Betty Trask Beauty, Retire Hutchinson 287 7s 6d
1933 Betty Trask Mannequin Collins 252 7s 6d
1935 Betty Trask A Bus at the Ritz Collins 252 7s 6d
1935 Betty Trask Desire me not Collins 252 7s 6d
1935 Betty Trask Only the Best Collins 252 7s 6d
1935 Ann Delamain All our Dear Relations Constable 306 7s 6d
1936 Betty Trask Rustle of Spring Collins 284 7s 6d
1936 Betty Trask Enticement Collins 252 7s 6d
1936 Betty Trask She Shall be Queen Collins 252 7s 6d
1936 Ann Delamain Ring out the Bell Constable 327 7s 6d
1937 Betty Trask I Tell my Heart Collins 249 7s 6d
1937 Betty Trask Love with a Song Collins 255 7s 6d
1937 Ann Delamain As we Like it Constable 342 7s 6d
1937 Ann Delamain Never Stoop to Conquer Constable 298 7s 6d
1938 Betty Trask Feather Your Nest Collins 252 7s 6d
1938 Betty Trask Give me my Youth Collins 251 7s 6d
1938 Betty Trask Love Locked Out Collins 252 7s 6d
1938 Ann Delamain Not Quite Wise Collins 286 7s 6d
1939 Betty Trask Love has no Limit Collins 256 7s 6d
1939 Betty Trask Love has Wings Collins 192 7s 6d
1939 Ann Delamain Arrow in the Air Collins 284 7s 6d
1939 Ann Delamain No String to Her Bow Collins 252 7s 6d
1940 Betty Trask The Sun fades the Stars Collins 316 8s 3d
1941 Betty Trask From Here to a Star Collins 190 7s 6d
1941 Betty Trask Ring of Roses Collins 254 7s 6d
1942 Betty Trask Change for a Farthing Collins 192 8s 6d
1942 Ann Delamain Sammy Comes to Stay Hurst & Blackett 192 8s 6d
1943 Ann Delamain Merry Widow’s Waltz Hurst & Blackett 224 8s 6d
1944 Betty Trask Promise Collins 160 7s 6d
1944 Ann Delamain Marry me First Hurst & Blackett 288 10s 6d
1944 Ann Delamain Miss Bennet Knows Best Hurst & Blackett 224 10s 6d
1946 Betty Trask Pride to the Winds R. Hale 212 8s 6d
1947 Ann Delamain Provoking Hurst & Blackett 256 10s 6d
1948 Betty Trask I Will be True R. Hale 205 8s 6d
1948 Ann Delamain Calicot Jam Hurst & Blackett 208 9s 6d
1948 Ann Delamain The Best Butter Hurst & Blackett 191 9s 6d
1948 Ann Delamain Lark Lady Hurst & Blackett 205 9s 6d
1949 Ann Delamain My Bee Stings Hurst & Blackett 256 9s 6d
1950 Betty Trask Evergold R. Hale 254 9s 6d
1950 Ann Delamain Gold Leaf on the Tree Hurst & Blackett 212 9s 6d
1950 Ann Delamain Mabel has Mink Hurst & Blackett 192 9s 6d
1951 Betty Trask Grand R. Hale 256 9s 6d
1951 Ann Delamain It Was a Treacle Well Hurst & Blackett 208 9s 6d
1951 Ann Delamain I Deserve the Fair Hurst & Blackett 248 9s 6d
1952 Betty Trask Thunder Rose R. Hale 207 9s 6d
1952 Ann Delamain Vote for Valentine Hurst & Blackett 223 9s 6d
1952 Ann Delamain Mr. Treadgold Hurst & Blackett 208 9s 6d
1953 Betty Trask And Confidential R. Hale 192 9s 6d
1954 Betty Trask Just a Song at Sunrise R. Hale 156 9s 6d
1955 Betty Trask Bitter Sweetbriar R. Hale 189 9s 6d
1955 Betty Trask Irresistible R. Hale 191 9s 6d
1957 Betty Trask The Merry Belles of Bath R. Hale 184 10s 6d

List of short stories written by Betty Trask

I suspect that Betty was a prolific short story writer, but her stories are hard to find. I have a bound copy of The Royal Magazine which covers the period from November 1928 to April 1929 and contains a story by her. The credit is 'By Betty Trask, The Famous Short Story Writer', so she must have been publishing before she wrote her first novel. In the issue of June 1928, the magazine Woman's Journal claimed to have discovered her. They wrote:

We are proud of the fact that we discovered Betty Trask. When her first story appeared in Woman's Journal its fresh, romantic atmosphere gained her countless readers. 'Who is she' everyone asked. 'A girl who can write' is the reply...

Some stories have been identified from reports in the press, so haven't been seen. Note that some stories appeared in the same month in two different titles.

(List last updated: 26/5/2023)

Please let me know if you know of any short stories by her.

Acknowledgement. I thank Michael Barlow of Colophon Books for information about stories by Betty Trask.