I always brag about reading Georgette Heyer and Laura London at age 13 – and it’s true. Early on I developed a taste for the good stuff. What I mention far less often is my undeniable huge (as in gigantic, oversized, and extra large) appetite at that age for Barbara Cartland.
During my teenage years I devoured Dame Barbara. And, considering her huge backlist, that amounted to one major league crap-load of pink-tinged dreck…er, Cinderella stories. And, considering that she wrote the same story featuring the same characters over and over and over and over, that added up to young Sandy being heavily inundated with the lady’s ideas about romance and gender. (Shiver.)
But, heck, I’m betting that a lot of us did our time in Cartland-land. And, undoubtedly, we all learned some important lessons, right?
Heroine Requirement Number One: Virginity. Completely non-negotiable. You must be a perfect example of shining innocence to capture the heart of a duke, earl, marquis, or even the occasional prince.
Heroine Requirement Number Two: A tiny, heart-shaped face. This always stopped me. I mean, how in the heck can you have a head with a dip in the center?
Heroine Requirement Number Three: Large eyes. While carefully avoiding troll territory (who, as we all know, had eyes as big as dinner plates), your eyes must be impossibly large for your tiny, heart-shaped face.
Heroine Requirement Number Four: Small hands. Small hands are necessary for your duke, marquis, earl, or even the occasional prince to muse: “Such a small hand, yet it is large enough to hold my whole world.”
Heroes always have dark hair. Blonde hair (frequently accompanied by a weak chin and beady eyes and may, in fact, describe number eight) is a sign of weakness in a man. In a heroine, blonde hair, while not required, is acceptable.
Marry up. Dukes, marquises, earls, or even the occasional prince are the only way to go. What? You say there aren’t that many dukes, marquises, earls, or the occasional prince where you live? A Kennedy or a Rockefeller will do just as nicely.
When picking your guy, don’t worry about that selfish mistress or wicked stepmother. Rest assured that the beauty of your heart-shaped face, impossibly large eyes, and small hands, when combined with your shining innocence and goodness, will triumph.
There is always an evil, older roué who has designs on your virtue. And that’s okay because it’s those exact designs that will cause your duke, marquis, earl, or even the occasional prince to Come to His Senses and realize that in your small hand you hold his entire world. When he rescues you Just in the Nick of Time, of course.
Keep a chair handy. Chairs are essential since you can grasp the back of it to keep from falling when you are swooning from your hero’s kiss.
Never forget, all rakes want to be reformed. As they proceed through their jaded, selfish life serial-seducing woman after woman, they are all waiting for the virtuous young woman who possesses numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 to Save Them from Themselves. (Warning: This rule alone is guaranteed to screw you up for a good 15 years.)
So, how about you? Did you read Barbara Cartland back in the day? Did you survive? Are there any other authors who may have messed with your head in your formative years?
Note: Yes, that is Helena Bonham Carter who does, indeed, seem to possess a heart-shaped face, large eyes, and small hands, portraying a Cartland heroine. There were a few TV movies made back in the day, with one starring Hugh Grant (I Am Not Making This Up). I think I even remember one with Diana Rigg playing the hero’s wicked stepmother.