Perhaps the most glamourous (and prolific) romance novelist of all time, Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland (DBE, CStJ), was born July 9, 1901 in Birmingham, England, and died on May 21, 2000 near Hertfordshire. She is also known as the step-grandmother of Diana, Princess of Wales, who notably did not invite her flamboyant relative to her wedding. Though she was born into middle-class comfort, the Cartland family’s finances rapidly deteriorated shortly after her birth.
After a year as a gossip columnist for the Daily Express, Cartland published her first novel, Jigsaw (1923), 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; she remained a client until he died in 1979.
Cartland’s image as a self-appointed “expert” on romance 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 (and arguably most popular) titles were comparatively tame with virginal heroines and few, if any, suggestive situations. Almost all of Cartland’s later books were historical in theme, which allowed for the believability of chastity (at least, to many of her readers).
In 2000, her publishers estimated that since her writing career began in 1925, Cartland had produced a total of 723 titles. In the mid-1990s, by which time she had sold over a billion books, Vogue called Cartland “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.
We just love her style…and her adorable Pekinese pups.
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After forty a woman has to choose between losing her figure or her face. My advice is to keep your face, and stay sitting down.