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.The final kiss is often a moment of almost mystic intensity:1
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)
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.Cartland died in May 2000, at the age of 98, but her legacy, including a bright pink website, lives on.
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)
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.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).
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.
- 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.