Opinion

Shirley Conran, Author Best Known for the Steamy ‘Lace,’ Dies at 91

Shirley Conran, the industrious and proliferous British author whose 1982 novel, “Lace,” was a tale of female autonomy disguised as a bonkbuster (to use the British term for a steamy best seller) that made her a millionaire and introduced the lowly goldfish into the erotic canon, died on May 9 in London. She was 91.

The cause of her death, in a hospital, was pneumonia, her son Jasper Conran said.

Ms. Conran was already a household name in England when she set out to writea sex guide for schoolgirls, but ended up writing the potboiler that was “Lace.” In 1968, she was the founding editor of Femail, The Daily Mail’s popular and revolutionary women’s section; when it was launched, a photograph of her face, with a rose between her teeth, was plastered on billboards throughout London.

She was also the author of “Superwoman,” a witty and proudly feminist primer on household management. Its premise, still novel in 1975, was that domestic skills are not tied to gender, and that women can learn to fix a dripping faucet just as easily as men and children can learn to shop for groceries and wash their own clothes. The title was ironic, Ms. Conran wrote: “A Superwoman isn’t a woman who can do anything, but a woman who avoids doing too much.”

Her mantra, “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom,” became a feminist rallying cry, finding its way onto matchbooks, dish towels and throw pillows.

Yet the book, her first British best seller, was comprehensive and encyclopedic, ranging from meal planning to financial literacy and fuel conservation. It was based on Ms. Conran’s own hard-won experience.

In 1962, when she divorced her husband, Terence Conran, the lifestyle mogul who taught a generation of Britons to appreciate modern design — and for whom she worked as a textile designer — he gave her four weeks’ pay and no divorce settlement. The couple had lived grandly, despite Mr. Conran’s spartan, Scandinavian aesthetic, in a fully staffed townhouse. When Ms. Conran moved out, she had to fill the gaps in her own education — economic, domestic and mechanical — while teaching her two young sons, Jasper and his older brother, Sebastian, to pull their weight at home.

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