v QUEEN v OFHEATS
She published her first novel, Jigsaw, in 1923. She’s written another 519 since. Tom Lappin talks to BARBARA CARTLAND, the Queen of Romantic Fiction and High Priestess of Punk (er . . . make that Pink). While the never-ending stream of pulp romances from Mills and Boon is examined (far right) by Miranda France.
here is nothing like a dame. And certainly nothing to remotely resemble the newly ennobled Dame Barbara Cartland. upholder of moral values. friend of gypsies. inventor ofthe aeroplane-towed glider*. alternative medicine evangelist. and. incidentally. author of some 520 books with combined worldwide sales of over 500 million copies.
She presents a spectacular picture of herselfto her public, a tinselled vision in pink and gold (are those pink-tinted contact lenses. or just the effects of a lifetime of perceiving the world in rose-tinted haziness?). She has been wearing the same colours since she saw them used to striking effect in Tutankhamun’s Tomb in 1927. The look is the natural visual complement to her life’s work. Dame Barbara is the last surviving bastion of Romance, the final stronghold of an age when women were ladies and gentlemen didn’t think Mickey Rourke was a role model.
She doesn’t quite see it like that. or regard herself as an anachronism. In fact she vociferously argues that romance is on its way back. pushing back the frontiers of cynicism. and making a concerted attempt to steal our hearts away with tales of honour. chivalry. and precious virginity. ‘Romance is very much alive all over the world’, she says. but it seems to be making its latest inroads in some unlikely places.
‘People want my books in Hungary. Czechoslovakia. Romania. . . they are all crying out for romance. The government of Poland. the ambassador says. wants to have my books because they’re moral and they want to go back to morality. Believe it or not. I’ve just sold the rights to ten of my books to the Arabs. in the middle of all this commotion going on. You can hardly credit it. can you? It’s because I believe in and write about real romance. The Arabs don‘t allow their women to be improper and I'm the only person who doesn’t allow her heroine to go to bed
with a man before she‘s married. That’s real romance. and not the stuff you write about.’
Who, me? I’ve never written anything smutty in my life. Passing over this slur. it is intriguing to consider the effect on morale in the Middle East as much-thumbed Arabic translations ofsuch timeless epics as Beauty or Bruins. The Dare-Devil Duke. and The Haunted Heart are passed from hand to hand. It wouldn’t be the first time Dame Barbara has made a substantial
6The List 8— 21 February 1991
contribution to the war effort. In 1942 she gathered a pool of 1000 wedding dresses at the War Office. to enable service brides to be wed in white (or pink) splendOur. Even Hitler couldn’t fight Romance.
She has been an unlikely ally in other battles. As
a County Councillor in Hertfordshire, she supported the cause of gypsies who were compelled by law to move on every 24 hours. Her campaigning resulted in a change in the law and grateful local gypsies named their settlement Barbaraville in her honour. Dame Barbara also gave her support to a campaign for wages to be paid to women who choose to stay at home and look after children, although it must be said that her motives were somewhat different from some of her fellow campaigners. ‘People feel very worried about Women’s Lib and how it has swept away our religions,’ she says. ‘You simply must have religions. All through history, we’ve had guidelines from different faiths, from witch doctors, the Greek and Roman Gods, Christianity, Buddhism and Mohammedism, you were taught thou shalt and thou shalt not. Women’s Lib has swept all that away, said it’s a load of rubbish, and instead we’ve got this vast immorality that is disastrous.’
This fixation that, ‘we have to get back to some moral structure’. seems to be her main driving force, and she sees signs that her wishes could be fulfilled. ‘In America I sold a million copies of every book because they were real romance, then we had this permissive society and all of a sudden publishers were saying, “Write like Barbara Cartland. but add some pornography.” Now they‘re all saying ‘Barbara’s right, let’s go back to morality.” It’s happening all over the world. Even the Chinese want my books. Mind you, they won’t get them until they get rid of the pirate versions.’
Whether worldwide demand for Barbara Cartland novels is a symptom of renascent moral values. or something even more sinister, is a tricky question. What it does show is that there is a seemingly limitless audience prepared to accept her idea of male/female relationships, and even perhaps some poor souls trying to imitate the characters‘ attributes. Dame Barbara is encouraging: ‘Anyone can be a romantic hero,’ she says. ‘You just have to behave like a gentleman. It’s nothing to do with blood, you just heve to behave properly. They called George IV
‘Gentlemen should be charming and well-mannered. which we used to be in England and aren’t any more. Ila gentleman gives his word he never breaks it.’
‘Ladies should be sweet, teminine, charming, compassionate. and allow their husbands to be master in theirhouse.’