Barbara Cartland wrote in excess of 200 novels. These are the kind of thing that give romance a bad name. Having read one at the age of about twelve, I steadfastly refused to pick up another until a couple of days ago, when a batch arrived to flesh out the "trash" section of the second-hand bookshop I'm opening.

They have titles like A Very Naughty Angel and The Duchess Disappears. The cover 'art' has all clearly been done by the same illustrator and features wide-eyed maidens looking adoringly up at square-jawed noblemen.

The back covers have a picture of the Dame herself, in silk, feathers and tiara (doubtless she thought being the step-grandmother of Diana, Princess of Wales entitled her to wear a crown) perched on a chaise longe between two flower bearing gilt cherubs and beside a long-haired pooch.

I sat down to flick through a couple, and quickly discovered that the covers were, in fact, the best thing about them. Inevitably, they feature a pure, unspoiled heroine, and an arrogant, but incredibly handsome and wealthy hero. The plots, if one can dignify them with the name, revolve around overcoming obstacles so that true love can win through (the obstacles in question in two of the three I glanced at, being murderous women hopelessly in love with the hero and prepared to do anything to keep him from our heroine's clutches).

As if that wasn't bad enough, the dialogue is wooden and stilted, and always, the heroine ... speaks in a ... kind ... of hesitant... breathiness with ... elipses scattered ... throughout every ... sentence she ... speaks... though the pauses don't fall ... naturally... but at ... random.

Avoid these books, if you value your sanity.

Dame Barbara Cartland (1901-2000), arguably the most prolific author of all time

British romance novel queen Barbara Cartland may well have been the most prolific author in the history of the English language. By the time of her death at age 98 in 2000, Cartland had published 723 novels, biographies, and cook books. All told, Cartland has sold more than 1 billion books in over 40 languages.

But even death couldn't slow down Cartland. In 2004 a stash of 160 unpublished romance novels was discovered and will gradually be published on the official Barbara Cartland website at the rate of one per month for the next 13 years, ultimately bringing here lifetime total to 883 published works.

Early Life

Cartland was born on July 9, 1901 in Edgbaston, England, the eldest child of a British army officer, Major Bertram Cartland, and his wife, Mary Hamilton Scobell, better known to all as "Polly". The family was initially comfortably ensconced in the upper-middle class, but the twin blows of the suicide Barbara's wealthy paternal grandfather, financier James Cartland, following the national financial crisis of 1902, and Bertram Cartland's own untimely death on the killing fields of Flanders in World War I destituted the family and forced Polly Cartland to make ends meet by moving to London and opening a dress shop in Kensington.

Nevertheless, Polly retained her pride and passed it on to her daughter, who grew up to be a smart, pretty, and independent woman, soon recognized as one of the so-called "pretty young things" - bright, enterprising women of the post-World War I era.

Social Climber

After graduating from boarding school in 1919, Barbara became a journalist and gossip columnist for the Daily Express. In 1925, she published her first novel, Jigsaw, which was a big success and launched her career as a novelist.

Cartland soon married into wealth and started her other careers as a social climber and a crusader for various causes. Although she broke of her first engagement to a Guards officer because she was appalled upon learning about the mechanics of sexual intercourse, she later reconciled herself to this aspect of conjugal life and consecutively married two members of the wealthy McCorquodale family, producing two sons and a daughter, Raine, who would later marry into the Spencer family and become Princess Diana's stepmother.

Cartland used her newfound status and wealth to embark on a lifelong series of crusades for all manner of pet causes, such as Gypsy rights, increased salaries for midwives and nurses, the return of prayer to British public schools, and wedding dresses for World War II war brides.

Authoress Nonpareil

Meanwhile she never let up on her writing career, averaging 20 published titles a year for the duration of her life, including a citation in the Guinness Book of Records for publishing a 26 books in 1983. Most of these books were quasi-historical romance novels set in Regency England. The plots were generally very similar, featuring virginal heroines, dashing heroes, villainous female rivals, and happy endings with heavily moralistic overtones. The books are notable for a general lack of sensuality, and the prudish Cartland apparently never wrote a single sex scene in her entire life.

When not writing romances, Cartland also wrote numerous autobiographies, books on health, food, vitamins, and beauty, and several romance-tinged biographies of famous historical figures, such as Josephine, Empress of France (1961), Metternich: The Passionate Diplomat (1964).

Later Years

In 1978, in response to a request from her publisher to increase her output to meet growing demand among her legions of fans, 77-year-old Cartland went into overdrive, dictating an average of one 300-odd page novel every two weeks to her team of secretaries for the next twenty years. Many of these books were never published, and make up the 160 books now being published posthumously.

Later in her life, Cartland increasingly became a figure of fun in the British press as her moralism increasingly became out of step with the times and she endeavored to maintain the beauty of her youth by dressing exclusively in bright pink, caking her face with makeup, and setting her hair in gravity-defying permanents. Nor did Cartland help the cause of getting people to take her seriously with her melodramatic claims to exclusive knowledge of the secrets of love.

Cartland was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. She died of natural causes on May 21, 2000.

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