Sunday, July 9, 2017

Birthday: "A historical romance is the only kind of book where chastity really counts."

''My heroines are always virgins,'' the writer said in 1973. ''They never go to bed without a ring on their fingers; not until page 118 at least.'' She also asserted that her notion of a truly sexy man was one who was ''fully clothed and preferably in uniform.''

''People don't roll around naked in my books,'' she said in an interview in 1987. ''I do allow them to go to bed if they're married, but it's all very wonderful and the moon beams.''

...It was the way to sustain an approach to fiction writing that remained essentially unchanged from the early 1920's to the end of her days. She was totally convinced of its appropriateness. When it was suggested that she could be a tad more risque, she replied, ''You can't get more naked than naked, can you, and then where do you go from there?''

Perhaps in part because of her approach to dictating, her prose offers a prodigious number of one-sentence paragraphs, closer in its look to wire-service journalism than to the pages of Faulkner or Fitzgerald. In addition to her books she wrote some 30 plays. Asked why she wrote so much, she replied, ''I wanted the money.'' On other occasions, however, she denounced society's materialism, if not her own.

-The New York Times’ obituary

Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland McCorquodale McCorquodale, DBE, CStJ (1901-2008), Romance novelist.

For decades she gave the impression she lived in a Pepto-Bismol factory, emerging from time to time in her white Rolls, a little yip-yip in her lap, to dispense whatever thoughts were caroming about her makeup-caked, cotton candy-coiffed head.

Barbara Cartland grew up in a family of improvident men who frittered away their money, and steely women who were determined to be back on top before the ride was over. “We were very poor,” she told an interviewer. “We only had two servants.”

In high school, making her social debut, she proved attractive and vivacious and soon claimed fifty marriage proposals.

But Cartland also had spunk and landed a gig feeding gossip to Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express. So adept she became at not only scarfing up tittle-tattle but titled tittle-tattle, she soon had her own byline. The Beaver took a shine to her and introduced him into his stratospheric social circle, where the only people without titles were the ones patiently awaiting the death of relatives.

In 1922 she published a novel. It did well. She finally accepted a proposal from a Guards officer, then withdrew after her mother explained sex to her. Marriage was, to Barbara Cartland, an Elinor Glyn novel, gauzy and happily ever after. She continued to write- albeit slowly- a book a year her first decade and a half.

In 1927 she hooked a Scots printing heir known mainly as an expert salmon fisherman. She produced a daughter- a bitter disappointment, as she wanted a dozen boys- who in one of several marriages became Countess of Spencer and made Cartland step-grandmother to the Princess of Wales. “The only books Diana read were mine,” Grandmama told a reporter. “They weren’t awfully good for her.”

“Awful” was the operative word for relations between the two; Diana didn’t invite Cartland to the wedding and Cartland chivvied Diana over the divorce.

The first McCorquodale marriage ended in reciprocal accusations of adultery and lots of headlines in 1927. In 1936 she married her first husband’s first cousin, which saved on stationery and monogramming. He died in 1963 and she maintained a passionate if platonic relationship with Lord Mountbatten.

Cartland drove fast cars and took up gliding in the Twenties; after a 200-mile towed flight she got the idea for gliders as military transport and actually got it adopted by the military.

When World War II erupted she and the children decamped to the safety of Canada. There her twin goads- conscience and the need for attention- drove her to find a way to get back to England and see out the war years doing rescue work and assembling a collection of over 1000 white wedding dresses so young women of London didn’t have to marry in uniform.

The result of her labors was a disappointment. She groused for years over not getting “even a measly MBE.” She and the second Mr McCorquodale retreated to a 400-acre Victorian estate where Beatrix Potter had written “Peter Rabbit” and she began churning out romance novels offering succor to the women of a prostrate post-war Britain.

If Stravinsky was right about Vivaldi- “He wrote the same violin concerto 500 times”- then Barbara Cartland became the Vivaldi of romance. Sprawled across her chaise longue, Cartland dictated two 50,000-word novels a month to relays of stenographers barred from sneezing or coughing. That disrupted the flow.

The more famous she became, the loopier she got. She could do as she pleased, and say what she wanted, and get away with it. She marketed a line of perfumes that failed- she said- because they weren’t expensive enough.

She hawked herbal supplements, anti-aging creams, and “brain pills” she claimed came from freeze-dried, ground-up brain cells. She actually caused a postwar shortage of honey when she endorsed its health-giving gifts.

Cartland became a true Tory reactionary, denouncing the ending of school prayer. Having given both extensive study, she debarred adultery and divorce.

As her Telegraph obituarist noted, Cartland

was a crashing snob. One interviewer asked her whether she thought class barriers had disappeared and was told that of course they had - otherwise, why on earth did he suppose someone like her would be talking to someone like him. Yet she always appealed to every class of society and, in her inimitably eccentric way, was a great champion of those to whom she would refer as "ordinary people".

At ninety, Cartland took on Anthony Clare, the Irish shrink known for dissecting celebrities on BBC Radio 4’s On the Psychiatrist’s Couch. He ended up being vivisected.

She recorded a record album and got a waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s that she increasingly came to resemble, though some thought Somerset Maugham in drag closer to the mark.

Though she wrote for women, she didn’t like them at all. She considered them bearers of trouble, and offered advice to them like, “After forty a woman has to choose between losing her figure or her face. My advice is to keep your face, and stay sitting down.”

For eighteen years she set records for the most books published in a twelvemonth; the Maximum Improbability Drive of her career meant she counted among her fans the Libyan dictator, Colonel Gaddafi.

She had the longest entry in Who’s Who, padded out by a list off all her books and honors. After decades of nagging, Cartland gained the Queen Mother’s intervention to get her made a Dame in 1991.

She never forgot a slight or an honor. In her 90s her press bio included a notation that she’d been named “Achiever of the Year by the National Home Furnishing Association of Colorado Springs”, and that among the 38 languages into which her works were translated were Polish and Arabic “because I am moral.”

“I’ll keep going until my face falls off,” Barbara Cartland said. It did in 2008. Her last six months everything began to fail, and she died seven weeks shy of her 99th birthday.

“I don’t believe in death,” Cartland told Anthony Clare. “Kipling wrote that God never creates anything to be wasted.” She insisted she would just go on and on.

She has. Barbara Cartland saw over a billion copies of her 723 titles sold in her lifetime and left another 160 unpublished manuscripts. Her two sons run the family publishing and merchandising business, which has expanded- bigly- into electronic media.

In her last volte-face, Cartland directed her burial be in a cardboard coffin for the good of the environment. One rather fancies it was pink.

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