Etiquette Handbook

Sometimes, writers (and not exclusively second class serial writers like Dame Barbara Cartland) just go off at a tangent from what they normally write and thereby produce what can best be titled as literary fraud. Obviously, there may be extremely funny frauds. One of my favourites is Barbara Cartland’s Etiquette Handbook published by Random House. 

I was utterly amused when I saw that Random House had seen fit to republish that incredible concoction originally dating from the 60s. And I hope the publishers will start a new comprehensive series of similarly fraudulent books. I mean, Barbara Cartland and etiquette. That’s like Cheryl Cole writing on How to Sing or Barack Obama on How to Work. Further books that could appear in the same series would be: Andy Murray on How to Win a Grand Slam, George W. Bush on Winning Wars, Amy Whitenose on How to Stay Clean, Jean-Claude van Damme on Acting, and Tony Blair on Truth. The series could be indefinitely continued in that vein.

Being fair minded, the best I can do is credit Dame Barbara with a middle class attitude, but it was an upward scramble for her to get there. She definitely wasn’t upper class, and most certainly never good ton. So why on earth she should have felt being called on to write about etiquette remains heaven’s secret and her own. Wearing pink all the time hardly qualifies you for the task; it doesn’t make you an eccentric aristocrat either, but it definitely shows bad taste and complete lack in style.

Her book was published first in 1962 and made my mother roll on the floor laughing when she was told about it. The mere idea of that social climber and second rate writer publishing something so utterly British upper class was just too much for her. My mother recovered, but the book never entered her house. Random House has seen fit to expose us to this hilarity again, either unawares of the laughter it will provoke or just hoping people forget who and what Dame Barbara Cartland was.

The content of the book makes it even worse. It is written for a Never-Never-Land that never was, and that certainly never was Cartland’s world. Despite her aspirations, she never belonged to the aristocracy or to any circle of people that matter. If anybody should care for the real thing, please refer to Nancy Mitford, herself the true article, her books reveal much more about etiquette than Cartland absorbed in her whole life. I mean, would you cook your husband’s breakfast before he leaves, yourself fully dressed and powdered like Cartland? What for do you have servants then? The whole book smacks of I wish I had been there, too.

Generally, writing books about etiquette is a stupid thing to do in itself, as society has become so variedly multinational and multicultural you just can’t be sure anymore what would be correct under any circumstances. The times when British behaviour was leading the world were over before the Great War. Seemingly, only the British haven’t noticed yet. And, for those who don’t know when the Great War was, that happened ages before Dame Barbara inflicted her little book on us the first time.

In short, the book is as bad as any of the others she wrote, so another one for the bin. It isn’t of any interest for the time she wrote it in, as her idea of good behaviour had no bearings to reality, either contemporary or historical. Buying this book would be the worst kind of wasting money. Barbara Cartland’s Etiquette Handbook was published by Random House. 

Further reading
Poking Fun at Book Critics
Roger Moore Biography
Ghosts Lacking in Spirit