Sometimes, writers 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, gladly brought back to mind by the Daily Mail, is Barbara Cartland’s Etiquette Handbook published by Random House.
I was utterly amused when seeing the article, and I hope the publishers will start a new comprehensive series of similarly fraudulent books. I mean, Barbara Cartland and etiquette. That’s like Sir Ian Blair writing on How to Run a Police Force or Gordon Brown on How to Deal With an Economic Crisis. Further books that could appear in the same series would be: Bill Clinton on Marital Fidelity, 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 accredit Dame Barbara a middle class attitude, but it was probably a 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 your bad taste.
Her book was published first in 1962 and made my mother roll on the floor laughing. 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. Now Random House has seen fit to expose us again to this hilarity, either unawares of the laughter it will provoke or just hoping people forget who Dame Barbara was.
The content of the book makes it even worse. It is written for a Never-Never-Land that never was, and certainly never was Cartland’s world. If anybody should care for the real thing, please refer to Nancy Mitford, herself the true article. 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. Let’s look forward then to more funny books by Random House in the future, one of my favourites would certainly be Pope Benedict’s I was not a Hitlerjunge.