Dame Barbara Cartland is someone who I, as a certified literary snob with a piece of paper to prove it, have always looked down upon as Not Being Literary.
EDIT: It has been drawn to my attention that not everyone will know who Dame Cartland was. My apologies! The short version is that Cartland was a prolific writer of romance novels of the Mills & Boon / Harlequin type. The long version ... well, read on!
So, while researching the novels of Isabel Allende in preparation for a possible Christmas present, I noticed that Allende translated a few of Dame Cartland's novels into Spanish. As you do when you're on Wikipedia, I clicked on to Dame Cartland's profile, and was quite surprised by what I found.
Of course, there are a lot of novels. Over 700, translated into over 30 languages, and over 1 billion copies sold. That in itself is pretty impressive, even when you take into account that most were formulaic and could be written in a number of days. Her record was 25 books in one year, and she averaged 23 books per year for two decades.
Dame Cartland actually started her career in the 1920s writing somewhat risque novels and plays, one of which was banned. It was in the 1930s that the focus in her novels shifted to what would become her dominant themes of virginity and chasity.
Beyond the world of novel-writing, she was influential in politics, civic society, and aviation. While I strongly disagree with a lot of her opinions and positions, here are some of her remarkable achievements which I suspect few people know about:
1) As a Conservative councillor on Hertfordshire County Council from 1955-1964, she spearheaded the following changes:
* Positive nursing home reform
* Improvements to the salaries and working conditions of midwives and nurses
* Rights for gypsies to set up camps and have access to education
2) In aviation, she co-invented an aeroplane-towed glider with two RAF officers. It could travel for hundreds of kilometres. It design was later expanded and used to transport troops. Cartland received an industry award for this.
3) Cartland undertook an enormous amount of charity work for the War Office in St Johns Ambulance Brigade, and in 1953 was made a Commander of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
Furthermore, she requested to be buried in a cardboard box because of her concerns for the environment. The request was honoured, and Cartland is buried under a tree which is said to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I.
While I had expected that Dame Cartland would have been involved in charity work of some sort, her versatility was a lot more than I had expected, leaving me rather ashamed of dismissing her without at least some further investigation. Certainly a lesson learnt there.
I still don't think she was a great writer, but next time someone speaks of her writing disparagingly, I will at least respond with: "But did you know that she also ..."