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Barbara Cartland, world's best-selling author

Dame Barbara Cartland, self-styled queen of romantic fiction and considered the world's best-selling author, died in her sleep at her estate near Hatfield on Sunday after a short illness, her family said. She was 98.

Cartland's novels, about feminine virtue and manly ideals, were dictated to a relay of secretaries as she reclined on a sofa, dressed usually in a glamorous Cartland-pink frock. Living on her 400-acre estate 15 miles north of London, she worked to a strict schedule, producing 6,000 to 7,000 words in an afternoon, and could finish a book in seven afternoons.

Reviewers generally ignored her work and she did not pretend to be a great writer. But she was immensely popular.

Against the increasing pressures of the sexual revolution, Cartland carried the banner of old-fashioned romance with unswerving dedication.

Sales of her 723 books exceeded 1-billion worldwide in 36 languages. The Guinness Book of World Records lists her as the world's top-selling author.

The popularity of her virginal heroines and commanding heroes seemed to grow as society grappled with infidelity, divorce, abortion, drugs and AIDS.

"Personally I want to be loved, adored, worshiped, cosseted and protected. Judging by the Romantic boom, this is what women all over the world want, too," she said in 1977, pointing out that she was a best seller in Europe, North America, Turkey, Singapore, India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Her crusade in the name of virginity brought her ridicule as well as admiration, but even her critics acknowledged her as a force to be reckoned with.

Born July 9, 1901, she lost her father in World War I.

Young Barbara was heavily influenced by the leading romantic novelists of the time: Elinor Glyn and Ethel M. Dell. She also learned that "the things that nice girls couldn't do seemed endless."

As a young woman she began making money by contributing items to a newspaper gossip column at 5 shillings a paragraph. By the time she was 22 she was writing articles about social life in London.

Her first novel, Jigsaw, appeared in 1925.

In 1927, Cartland married Alexander McQorquodale, a wealthy Scot. Their daughter Raine was born in 1928. They divorced in 1933.

She continued writing novels and working for newspapers and in 1936 married Hugh McQorquodale, a cousin of her ex-husband. They had two sons, Ian and Glen.

Hugh McQorquodale died in 1963.

At about the age of 50, Cartland began to develop her inimitable style. She was always glamorously and femininely dressed, wore jewels, white fox furs and rode in a white Rolls Royce.

In 1991, she was made a Dame of the British Empire. She said she was sure the honor was not for her contributions to literature but for her efforts on behalf of charities and the gypsies.

Asked where her ideas for so many books came from, she told the Associated Press: "Prayer."