Friday, October 26, 2007

Barbara Cartland

Sandra recently discovered that her students, when shown a photo of the lady in question, were unable to recognise Dame Barbara Cartland, perhaps the most famous, and certainly one of the most prolific, romance authors the world has ever known. Sandra was truly shocked, as am I, for Cartland has no equal and was, in many ways, the embodiment of (and possibly the source of) many of the stereotypes about romance authors.

As Mary Cadogan has observed, Cartland's novels
underpin the traditional pattern of female fragility and male dominance [...]. The role of the raffish hero is simply to awaken the innocent heroine to broader and deeper areas of experience and passion. Luxuriantly named leading ladies - Magnolias, Darcias and Honoras - progress from fearing to fancying the men into whose arms they have been thrust. The novels are slim, with little space for the slow stop-go arousing of mutual understanding and ardour that the genre generally demands. Action abounds; the pace never slackens as heroines are trundled through chases and abductions and forced marriages until in the final clinches the high-flown assertions of devotion can be delivered, with supreme confidence by the male characters ('you have given me your heart, and I think too your soul'), and more haltingly by the heroines ('without your love the world is ... empty and dark, and I would rather ... die than go on living'). (197)
Here's an example of the type of hero and heroine Cadogan's describing:
He had for so long associated with sophisticated women who belonged to the raffish and rather fast set that surrounded the Regent at Carlton House that he had forgotten, if he had ever thought of it, that there were girls as pure and innocent as Alexia.
But in his soul he knew that this was what he had always wanted in his wife. [...]
"I love you, my darling!" he said. "I love you so overwhelmingly, so completely, that it is going to take me a lifetime to tell you how much you mean to me."
"I love you ... too!" Alexia murmured. "But there do not seem to be enough words in which to ... express it."
"I told you your vocabulary was limited," the Marquis said with a smile. (Problems of Love, 146-147)
The final kiss is often a moment of almost mystic intensity:1
She felt a sudden flame shoot through her body; she felt as if he drew her like a magnet into his keeping and that he would never let her go. She felt her lips respond to his and knew that this was a love which would never alter or grow less.
She felt him draw her closer still until they were one; indivisible - one heart, one soul, one love for all eternity. (Runaway Heart, 301-302)
Cartland died in May 2000, at the age of 98, but her legacy, including a bright pink website, lives on.

Here's part of the obituary which appeared in The New York Times:
Throughout her professional life, Dame Barbara possessed a most uncommon ability: she was able to turn out 50,000-word novels at the rate of two a month. During the 1980's, when she was hardly young, she routinely produced 23 titles a year. With all of it she still managed to live the good life in Camfield Place, her gracious 400-acre estate in Hertfordshire, with Twi-Twi, her Pekingese, and with her white Rolls-Royce ever at the ready, a pink mohair rug neatly folded in the back seat, there to keep guests comfortable when they were driven to her home from the station.

And although her name may not have been taken seriously by the more serious students of comparative literature or by the subscribers to literary supplements, about one billion copies of her 723 books were printed and sold in 36 languages. Bantam and Jove Publications were among her several American publishers.

She has appeared in The Guinness Book of Records as the world's best-selling author, breaking records for 18 years.
BBC Radio 4 recently aired a documentary about her, Encounters with the Pink Dame, presented by Liz Kershaw, but currently the link isn't playing the right programme so you may find yourself listening to a documentary about yuppies driving fast cars along London's motorways instead. However, if you'd like to listen to Speed, Greed and the M25, in which "James May uncovers the secret history of the M25 Road Race and looks back at the greed of the late 1980s as Porsche-driving city traders indulged in illegal contests of speed", you can either listen to it via the link for the Cartland documentary or find it here. There is in fact a tenuous connection between the two programmes, because in her younger days "Barbara Cartland came to Brooklands [a "race track, now marooned in the suburbs of Weybridge in Surrey"] because she was a gossip columnist [...] Brooklands was where all the gossip was. They used to call it 'the Ascot of motor racing'." (The Telegraph, 2006).
  • Cadogan, Mary. And Then Their Hearts Stood Still: An Exuberant Look at Romantic Fiction Past and Present. London: Macmillan, 1994.
  • Cartland, Barbara. The Problems of Love. London: Corgi, 1978.
  • Cartland, Barbara. The Runaway Heart. 1961. Long Preston, North Yorkshire: Magna, 2002.
  • Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. 1970. London: Paladin, 1971.

1 Germaine Greer, commenting sarcastically on a scene in one of Cartland's novels in which the hero kisses the heroine's hand, observed that "when handkissing results in orgasm it is possible that an actual kiss might bring on epilepsy" (178). Cartland does describe kisses as being so intense that they resemble other authors' descriptions of orgasm, or religious ecstasy.

The photo is of the cover of Tim Heald's biography of Dame Barbara Cartland. It shows her in one example of the type of pink dress that came to be almost her trademark.


  1. I didn't even show them a photo -- I wrote her name on the blackboard! And they had no clue whatsoever.

  2. This is very, very disappointing, Sandra. How can the youth of today be unacquainted with an author of Cartland's stature and cultural significance?


    Shocked and Disappointed
    Tunbridge Wells

  3. Nice pink website ;)

    I've never read a Barbara Cartland novel, but I just googled and found some great synopses--stern dukes, innocent brides, a "web of perilous adventure". Makes me want to try an audio book--the purple prose would be great fun out loud.

  4. Nice pink website ;)

    Yes, and I know that people who blog in pink glasshouses really shouldn't throw stones, but (a) the pink was, I think, a ready-made Blogger option and it wasn't chosen by me and (b) before things got rather busy for Sarah and Eric we did discuss an overhaul of the blog's look.

  5. Oh, I hate to be negative about any author, but her books - for me - did the romance genre no favours. As a teenager I tried about 5 or 6 because there were hundreds of hers in my local library (there was no quibbling with their popularity). And each and every one was not only terrible but borderline offensive.

  6. Personally I admire anyone who knows that a kiss can be bliss

  7. I hate to be negative about any author, but her books [... were] not only terrible but borderline offensive.

    She clearly wrote very quickly, producing novels which were very similar to one another and which celebrated (a) the aristocracy and (b) female virginity, naivety and subservience to the men in their lives.

    Here are some quotes from her:

    As long as the plots keep arriving from outer space, I’ll go on with my virgins. (Simpson's Contemporary Quotations)

    The great majority of people in England and America are modest, decent and pure-minded and the amount of virgins in the world today is stupendous. (Columbia World of Quotations)

    A woman asking “Am I good? Am I satisfied?” is extremely selfish. The less women fuss about themselves, the less they talk to other women, the more they try to please their husbands, the happier the marriage is going to be. (Columbia World of Quotations)

    A woman should say: “Have I made him happy? Is he satisfied? Does he love me more than he loved me before? Is he likely to go to bed with another woman?” If he does, then it’s the wife’s fault because she is not trying to make him happy. (Columbia World of Quotations)

    A man will teach his wife what is needed to arouse his desires. And there is no reason for a woman to know any more than what her husband is prepared to teach her. If she gets married knowing far too much about what she wants and doesn’t want then she will be ready to find fault with her husband. (Columbia World of Quotations)

    I have always found women difficult. I don’t really understand them. To begin with, few women tell the truth. (Columbia World of Quotations)

    And apparently, once, "when asked whether British class barriers had broken down, replied 'Of course they have, or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to someone like you'".

    Those are most definitely attitudes which come across in her writing. I find, though, that the novels are so extreme in their depiction of these things that you can almost read them as parodies. Similarly Dame Barbara herself, in her later, pink-wearing and make-up-encrusted years, almost looks like a parody of Dame Edna Everage.

  8. Oh, that's wonderful. This one is the classic logical trap:

    I have always found women difficult. I don’t really understand them. To begin with, few women tell the truth. (Columbia World of Quotations)

    Uh huh. And she's in which camp?

    the novels are so extreme in their depiction of these things that you can almost read them as parodies.

    That's why I want to try an audiobook. If it's read as breathlessly as it's written, it could be hilarious. (Much like those unintentionally comic horror films I mentioned.)

    I think your pink website is quite appropriate. Though ascribing meaning to colors is very idiosyncratic. Someone told me my site is too "macho" to talk about romance. (Red and grey? But it looks so nice with Harlequin Presents covers!)

  9. Those quotes are ironice considering that she was quite wild in her own private life. I think she was married a couple of times and had lovers.

  10. Natalie, she was married twice. Here's the information from Wikipedia.

    she was married, from 1927 to 1932, to Alexander George McCorquodale, an Army officer who was heir to a British printing fortune (he died in 1964).

    Their daughter, Raine McCorquodale (born in 1929), became "Deb of the Year" in 1947. After the McCorquodales' 1936 divorce, which involved charges and countercharges of infidelity, Cartland married a man her husband had accused her of dallying with — his cousin Hugh McCorquodale, a former military officer. She and her second husband, who died in 1963, had two sons, Ian and Glen McCorquodale.

    The dates and names of the husbands are the same as reported elsewhere. I couldn't find a lot of information on the reasons for the divorce, and in those days it was difficult to get a divorce unless you alleged infidelity, so that's not conclusive evidence of "wildness". I've not been able to find anything online about her having any lovers. I have found references to Lord Mountbatten being her "friend", but that doesn't mean they were lovers.

  11. All the same, as you say, it does seem a more than a little ironic that she got divorced, there were allegations of infidelity and yet she's quoted as saying of husbands: "Is he likely to go to bed with another woman?” If he does, then it’s the wife’s fault because she is not trying to make him happy."

    And as RfP pointed out:

    This one is the classic logical trap:

    "I have always found women difficult. I don’t really understand them. To begin with, few women tell the truth." (Columbia World of Quotations)

    Uh huh. And she's in which camp?"

  12. It's sad to see such internalized misogyny from a woman. If she thought women were such difficult little liars, did she identify with men, then? Or think of herself as the exception which proved the rule, or just really hate herself?

    Whatever the case, it's a really ugly and pathetic way of thinking about things.

  13. ...however, it's all worth it for the Germaine Greer quote, which is a hilarious and flawless little gem of sarcasm.


  14. Greer also commented on this excerpt from a Cartland novel:

    She turned towards the door and then suddenly Peter Harvey had dropped on one knee beside her. She looked at him wonderingly as he lifted the hem of her white muslin gown and touched his lips with it. 'Amanda,' he said, 'that is how a man, any man, should approach you. No one - least of all Ravenscar - is worthy to do more than to kiss the hem of your gown. Will you remember that?

    That's the kind of man you marry. On his knees chewing her muddy hem and still her moral tutor. (177)

    Greer is very, very good at sarcasm. And that Cartland quote is apparently from The Wings of Love (London, 1968), p. 47.

  15. According to Tina Brown's Princess Di book, Cartland was mother of Diana's stepmother, and commented that the only books Diana ever read were her own. "They weren't awfully good for her," Cartland observed (too bad she didn't exploit this latent flair for understatement in her novels). And later, evidently, she added that the problem with the royal marriage was that Diana wouldn't do oral sex.

    (This only from the reviews, tho. I'm holding the Brown book as a treat until I finish my mss -- so I may have gotten something a little bit wrong here).

  16. Ok, maybe calling Dame Barbara "wild" was unfair, but she definitely wasn't entirely like that ideal of a woman of hers, wasn't she? ;)

  17. Yes, Lady B.'s daughter Raine was Diana's stepmother--whom Diana detested. Interestingly enough, Diana's life pattern was like the plot of a Cartland romance, only without the HEA.

    Incidentally, she was made a Dame not for her writing but for her advocacy for fair treatment of Gypsies--and I think for her support of homeopathic medicine.

  18. Like your post :) for collection of Cartland quotes...