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Tag Archives: Barbara Cartland

Like almost every other writer/reader, I have a TBR pile. No, pile is a vast misnomer–it’s s structure, a mountain. For a long time, I had these books stacked in my hallway, blocking the coat closet and waiting to brain unwary passers-by. Until one day, when the volumes went almost to the ceiling, my cat tried to climb up the pyramid and started an avalanche. Books were scattered far and wide, and I knew I had to make a change. Get organized. So, I bought a slew of clear plastic tubs at Target and started packing the volumes away to store them in the garage (after I moved the car out, of course). To a non-reader this sounds like a quick and easy job, but we here at Risky Regencies surely know better. This job took days, weeks, because I ended up sitting on the floor re-reading old favorites, starting new books I’ve been meaning to get to, just basically wasting time and having fun.

I sorted these books into several stacks–books I will read soon, books I will read some day (when I’m 80?), and books to give away (I think there were about 3 of these). Then I found it. A battered, taped-up copy of the Very First Regency I ever read–Marian Chesney’s AT THE SIGN OF THE GOLDEN PINEAPPLE. And nostalgia set in.

A little backstory. Unlike lucky Megan, my parents were never great readers. But my grandmother was, and she was always taking me to the library and giving me books as presents. Some of them I loved, like the Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables series (for their romantic elements, and their plucky, wanna-be writer heroines). Some I loathed (like the egregious, treackle-beset POLLYANNA and ELSIE DINSMORE). But I devoured them all.

My grandparents lived on a sort-of farm, and every summer we visited them for several weeks. This particular summer, when I was 8 or 9, someone gave my grandmother a couple of big boxes full of romance novels, and I ended up sitting in the closet (where the boxes were stored) and reading the whole time. At first it was just a fun way to avoid my cousins, who only ever wanted to play Star Wars and brooked no deviation from the script. Boring. Soon, though, I was totally hooked, living in a world of country estates, Almack’s, handsome dukes, and high-perch phaetons. I could not even be lured away by my grandmother’s German chocolate cake.

These boxes were filled with mostly Cartlands, with a couple of Heyers, and some old Fawcett and Harlequin Regencies. I was somewhat familiar with the period, having seen the Garvie-Rintoul P&P, and I loved the clothes, the manners, the witty atmosphere. I was so excited when I pulled a book out of the box–AT THE SIGN OF THE GOLDEN PINEAPPLE–and saw the words “Regency Romance” at the top. I devoured it on the spot, and then dug out every single volume that also declared itself a “Regency.” The monster was unleashed.

I don’t remember a huge amount about that particular book. It was maybe set in Bath, and the heroine ran a Gunter’s-style shop. But it sucked me into a fabulous, fascinating new world I couldn’t get enough of. I still can’t.

So, I’m curious. What are the books that first drew YOU into the Regency? What did you like about them, what kept drawing you back? What was your first time like?

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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