Prolific Best -selling Romantic Author Dame Barbara Cartland, DBE, CStJ was born 9 July 1901 in Edgbaston, Birmingham. She attended The Alice Ottley School, Malvern Girls’ College, and Abbey House, an educational institution in Hampshire, Cartland soon became successful as a society reporter and writer of romantic fiction. Cartland admitted she was inspired in her early work by the novels of Edwardian author Elinor Glyn, whom she idolized and eventually befriended.
She worked as a gossip columnist for the TheDaily Express before publishing her first novel, Jigsaw in 1922, a risqué society thriller that became a bestseller. She also began writing and producing somewhat racy plays, one of which, Blood Money (1926), was banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. In the 1920s and 1930s Cartland was a prominent young hostess in London society, noted for her beauty, energetic charm and daring parties. Her fashion sense also had a part and she was one of the first clients of designer Norman Hartnell, remaining a client until he died in 1979. He made her presentation and wedding dresses; the latter was made to her own design against Hartnell’s wishes and she admitted it was a failure.
In 1950, Cartland was accused of plagiarism by author Georgette Heyer, after a reader drew her attention to the apparent borrowing of Heyer’s character names, character traits, dialogue and plot points in Cartland’s early historical romances. In particular, A Hazard of Hearts (1949), which replicated characters (including names) from Heyer’s Friday’s Child and The Knave of Hearts (1950) which, Heyer alleged, “the conception, the principal characters, and many of the incidents, derive directly from an early book of my own, entitled These Old Shades, first published in 1926. For minor situations and other characters she has drawn upon four of my other novels.” Heyer completed a detailed analysis of the alleged plagiarisms for her solicitors, but the case never came to court.
Cartland saw herself as a self-appointed “expert” on romance however this drew some ridicule in her later years, when her social views became more conservative. Indeed, although her first novels were considered sensational, Cartland’s later titles were comparatively tame with virginal heroines and few, if any, suggestive situations. Almost all of Cartland’s later books were historical in theme. Despite their tame story lines, Barbara Cartland’s later novels were highly successful. By 1983 she rated the longest entry in the British Who’s Who (though most of that article was a list of her books), and was named the top-selling author in the world by the Guinness World Records. In the mid-1990s, by which time she had sold over a billion books, Vogue called her “the true Queen of Romance”. She became a mainstay of the popular media in her trademark pink dresses and plumed hats, discoursing on matters of love, marriage, politics, religion, health, and fashion. She was publicly opposed to the removal of prayer from state schools and spoke against infidelity and divorce, although she admitted to being acquainted with both of these moral failings.
In 1983 Cartland wrote 23 novels, and holds the Guinness World Record for the most novels written in a single year and In 1978 Cartland released An Album of Love Songs through State Records. The album featured Cartland performing a series of popular standards with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, including “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
Cartland also took an interest in the early gliding movement. Although aerotowing for launching gliders first occurred in Germany, she thought of long-distance tows in 1931 and did a 200-mile (360 km) tow in a two-seater glider. The idea led to troop-carrying gliders. In 1984, she was awarded the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for this contribution. She regularly attended Brooklands aerodrome and motor-racing circuit during the 1920s and ’30s, and the Brooklands Museum has preserved a sitting-room from that era and named it after her.
Her 723 novels have been translated into 36 different languages, and she continues to be referenced in the Guinness World Records for the most novels published in a single year in 1976. As Barbara Cartland she is known for her numerous romantic novels, but she also wrote under her married name of Barbara McCorquodale.She wrote more than 700 books, as well as plays, music, verse, drama, magazine articles and operetta she reportedly sold more than 750 million copies. Other sources estimate her book sales at more than 2 billion copies. She specialised in 19th-century Victorian era pure romance. Her novels all featured portrait style artwork, particularly the cover art. As head of Cartland Promotions she also became one of London’s most prominent society figures and one of Britain’s most popular media personalities, right up until her death on 21 May 2000.