Two unrelated anniversaries

Yesterday was the anniversary of Shelley’s death (1792-1822) and today is the birthday of Barbara Cartland (1901-2000) so I thought I’d blog about them both. And yes, there is a connection.

Shelley first: Anarchist, heretic, idealist, fugitive, sponger, love-rat, twentysomething corpse: Percy Shelley was surely the romantic’s romantic … more.

Even his death was unconventional and appropriately mysterious. He drowned in a boating accident, and allegedly foresaw his own death. When his body was cremated his heart did not burn, and Mary Shelley kept it for the rest of her life. (Eeew.)

And now onto Dame Barbara. She wrote some romance novels (which is like saying Shelley was a great poet). But did you know she was also a recording artist? In 1978, she joined up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to produce her first and (thankfully) only album, Barbara Cartland’s Album of Love Songs.

Now, whatever your opinion of her as a writer (I’m saying only that it’s a taste I have yet to acquire), the lady can’t sing. Not many people in their 70s can, even if they could before. And the songs–helping upon helping of silken strings, swelling harps, throbbing woodwinds, angelic back up vocals; as the musical spouse commented, “Vaughan Williams in a whimpering mood.”

Each song is sandwiched by Cartland’s “poems”–stuff like this:

A woman must seek all her life until she finds in one man the complete perfect love which is both human and divine. Any sacrifice is worthwhile when one knows the ecstasy, the glory, and the irresistible fires of love.

And if you think her breathless, posh voice for the spoken word is bad, just wait until she sings. What was her arranger thinking? All that I could stand to listen to was way out of her range (if she even had one). How Deep Is the Ocean is particularly bad. Yes, these songs are available for your download and listening pleasure at WFMU, with a review that is less than polite (and with some entertaining typos).

So what do Shelley and Cartland have in common? A lot to answer for, in my grumpy opinion. Shelley made it okay for male writers to behave badly; and Cartland left romance writers an unfortunate legacy. In other words, the cult of the writer-as-personality. But with Shelley it wasn’t just image (Byron, now, is another matter)–he was a passionate, visionary, uh, nutter, who honestly believed in free love and radicalism. Yet his callous horndogginess certainly had repercussions–none of the women with whom he was involved escaped with heart, or even life, intact.

Whereas the Cartland legend–all that pink, pink, pink, the glamorous trappings, big hair, lapdog optional–it’s still with us. I think the Internet has made it even worse–here we are, all over the place, feeding out bits about ourselves on Twitter (yes, I do), Facebook (no), blogs (here I am), and so on… and I’m wondering how much promotion is too much promotion, and how fascinating our lives as writers and all round nice people really are.

What do you think Barbara Cartland or Shelley would have done with the Internet if they’d had access to it?

Meet (most of) the Riskies for more opinionated rants on Saturday, July 18 at 4:00 at Harry’s Pub at the Wardman Park Marriott, and, yes, I will have these buttons available on my other favorite rant topic–the pebbled nub.

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