Revered, ridiculed and equally adored by the public, Dame Barbara Cartland was a 1920s society girl who became one of Britain’s most famous amourists. A powerhouse of purple prose, she published 723 titles that sold around 750 million copies, revealing the extent of her interests, ranging from serious historical autobiographies to tips on etiquette, the art of ageing gracefully and the romance of food – but the hallmarks of her literary output were the demure damsels and dastardly dukes of her romantic novellas.
After a stint running a hat shop – which shuttered due to her ‘borrowing’ them to wear at the Ritz – Barbara began her career penning gossip for The Daily Express in 1920; a year afterward, she published her first book Jigsaw aged 22. It was considered risqué at the time, but in later years Barbara would become increasingly prudish. But despite casting public aspersions on the idea of the modern, independent woman, she unquestionably was one. While she lectured about virginal romance and wore only pink, a feat she knew would undoubtedly market her books, in reality, she possessed an explicitly naughty humour, shrewd business acumen and a wicked irreverence for anything she deemed too ‘beige’.
Maintaining she received a staggering 49 proposals in her lifetime, Dame Barbara considered herself an expert on lessons of love. In light of Valentine’s Day, its only proper that we pay our respects to the ‘Queen of Romance’.
Nicknamed the ‘crusader in pink’, Dame Barbara was well known for backing a cause. During the Second World War, she travelled miles sourcing 1,000 second-hand wedding dresses for the severely rationed service brides. This upkeep of all things “lovely” would only continue: in 1978, an album was released of her warbling love songs with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; three years later she launched Decorating with Love – a perfectly pink pastel panorama of homewares – for Macy’s; she even edited an eponymous monthly magazine which doled out novellas, recipes and most importantly, love advice.
In her 1962 Etiquette Handbook: A Guide to Good Behaviour from the Boudoir to the Boardroom she affirms that the “act of love” should be a “momentous, soul-stirring adventure”, and reminded men that turning over and falling asleep without “holding” and “thanking” their lover was utterly borish. In sex, which she advised with the aid of honey should continue well into one’s dotage: “there should be no reserves, no barriers, no restrictions... a woman should always appear to be a nymph fleeing from a satyr”.
As an 84-year-old, Dame Barbara was still dishing out advice. In an interview with The Guardian, she explained “France is the only place where you can make love in the afternoon without people hammering on your door,” and that, furthermore, one must “go to bed after a very good lunch, because men are at their best in the middle of the day”.
A frilly concoction of frou-frou flamboyance carried off with enviable flair, Dame Barbara rode in a white Rolls Royce, was never without a Pekingese, and could easily be identified by her spun-sugar bouffant, ropes of pearls, fox furs and Norman Hartnell frocks in ‘Cartlandese Pink’. When quizzed about the shade, she simply stated that it “helps our brain, helps you to be clever,” and then would factualise the power of pink, adding that a Colorado Jail had recently been repainted in the hue for the colour’s transformative abilities.
As she moved steadily into her twilight years, her inimitable style did not show any signs of slowing down. In fact, her beauty regime amped up. In later years, she never appeared without a full face. Baby blue eyeshadow was lacquered on showcasing her spider-like lashes, assets for which she stated with characteristic candour: “I use Meltonian black shoe cream”.
She’s an AnOther Woman Because...
At the heart of Barbara Cartland, one could find her fans. She responded to 10,000 letters a year, and she even rewrote the one unhappy ending she ever attempted in a novel, after she received a flurry of upset letters. Yet, she was also one formidable flamingo, and she nearly always got what she wanted. Remember: this was the woman who delivered London editors a veritable Barbara bible – scented and wrapped in pink ribbon – entitled The History of Barbara Cartland. And when she didn’t receive her expected DBE, she damn well demanded one, ringing up all local MPs until they succumbed to her own ineffable brilliance. As she herself said, “If only people would accept I am always right, everything would go like clockwork”.