Barbara Cartland: Grand Dame Of Romance Who Was Anything But Traditional

Barbara Cartland

Dame Barbara Cartland has mostly written romance novels and sold her old fashioned love-laced stories by saying, “The world is returning to love and pure morals. It turns out I was right all along.” Known as the Queen of Romance, her tales of fascinating adventure, exhilarating suspense and, of course, the triumph of love over every adversity has always enjoyed massive popularity. Reading about her I came across these words by her, “Men are a promiscuous animal. If you cage them, you must make that cage very attractive, colourful and desirable; otherwise they jump out and look for something new. Women must work on marriage and quit trying to be pseudo men. If a man wanted another man he would have one, you know.” And her characters revolved around these views. Well, as a romance writer, Cartland was not a supporter of feminism as we know it for sure. Yet she had and still has a huge fan following.

So, you might wonder why I am writing about her, well, on this day in 1901, Cartland was born.  She lived till the ripe old age of 98, and in her lifetime wrote 723 novels (mostly romance), which sold more than 750 million copies combined. She is the Guinness World Record-holder for most books published in a single year (191). I don’t think there’s anybody who romance novels regularly and has not read Barbara Cartland. An image of hers in bright pink clothes and extravagant appearance always remains with me.

The quirky life of Queen of Romance

This lover of the colour pink, after rejecting not less than 56 proposals for marriage, finally married Alexander McCorquodale in 1927. Cartland continued to write novels even after the birth of her daughter, Raine. But unfortunately, soon her marriage dissolved in 1933 and she married Alexander’s cousin, Hugh McCorquodale, in 1936. From this marriage, she had two sons.

Did you know this record holder never wrote herself? It was said that each day she retired to her library after lunch, curled up on her pink-cushioned sofa, snuggled her feet under a white rug and dictated chapters of her next novel to one of her four assistants.

Cartland was related to Lady Diana (Spencer) through her daughter Raine, who was Lady Diana’s stepmother. The Princess of Whales was a big-time reader of Cartland’s books. When Diana and Prince Charles were to be married, Cartland had said that it’s like characters of her book have come to life.

Cartland was an active citizen, seriously involved with politics and social work, during World War II. She became Chief Lady Welfare Officer to the Services in Bedfordshire. She is remembered for introducing a system by which servicewomen could have easy access to wedding dresses in order to marry, as she could not imagine a wedding in which the bride did not wear a white gown. This demonstrated her empathy towards servicewomen and her belief that romance and true love could overcome terrible adversities.

Carland fought for better salaries and conditions for nurses and midwives, and for the welfare of the elderly, and, perhaps most impressively of all, campaigned for the rights of gypsies. Due to her gypsy children could attend school in England for the first time. As recognition of her work for the rights of the gypsies, the first gypsy camp in Hertfordshire was christened ‘Barbaraville’ by the gypsies.

In 1991, she was made a Dame for her contribution to literature and for her work in the community and with charities.

Her writing world

She had the capacity to churn out 8, 000 words a day and sometimes she could finish a novel in a fortnight. In the mid-70s her output of books grew so steadily that they reached a staggering 23 a year. By 2000 her works had sold more than one billion copies in some 35 languages.

Cartland’s first novel, Jigsaw, launched in 1925, was a bestseller. But it was her romance novels that caught the fancy of women everywhere. She travelled widely and conducted historical research in order to write her novels. Her storyline was always simple, her romance was uncomplicated, and her books almost always had the same plot. Her heroines were always beautiful, virginal young women who met rich, noble rakish heroes in exotic settings. They fall in love and, still chaste, marry and live happily ever after.

She had once famously said that her heroines “never go to bed without a ring on their fingers—not until page 118 at least.” Her kind of romance was loved because those were difficult times that she wrote in and her fantasy world let women escape to another less complicated space. As we all know women bear the brunt of whatever happens outside their homes.

Cartland was known to hold virtues of traditional relationships between men and women and falling in love in high regard, but her personal story is that of a driven, independent-minded woman who was unafraid to get involved in anything that interested her. Although she is synonymous with traditional romantic fiction, but her life story is perhaps just as absorbing as her fiction. She died on May 21, 2000, Hertfordshire.

However, Barbara Cartland will live on, through millions of readers of her romance novels.

Image Credit: Allen Warren/ Wikicommons

Smita Singh is a freelance writer. The views expressed are the author’s own.