Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

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Published in 1962, this memoir detailed Olivia de Havilland’s transition from Hollywood film star to Parisian resident. Leaving America in 1953, she followed a Frenchman to Paris, where she became Mrs Pierre Galante and set up home on the Left Bank of the River Seine, but has since moved to the Right Bank, where she resides in a house as tall as it is wide. Re-issued by Crown Archetype to mark her 100th birthday, of which was celebrated on 1 July of this year, Every Frenchman Has One is as relevant and funny today, as it was over fifty years ago.

Far from an in-depth memoir of a Hollywood star, de Havilland offers us candid snippets of her life on the domestic front as well as the exciting world that befitted a star of her calibre. We are presented with the trials and tribulations of moving across the world with a young son, to a trip to Alexander, the famous coiffeur, for a haircut, and fittings at Christian Dior. Divided into twenty chapters, she discusses her daily struggles with French customs, French maids, and French salesladies to French holidays, French law, French doctors, and, above all else, the French language. Most puzzling of all, she asks:

How does a girl look sexy without looking sexy?

What must you tell a French doctor?

Do you eat a crepe of wear it?

Where do you keep your bathtub?

What does every Frenchman have one of?

The juxtaposition of such a life is what gives the book its panache, and humour. You can revisit two posts on the book by clicking here and here. Included in this new edition is an interview with de Havilland that reflects on her 60 plus years of living in Paris.

Written with wit and style, above all else Every Frenchman Has One is an elegant tale of an American living (and loving) in Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

Dandy Gilver & A Most Misleading Habit an extract by Catriona McPherson

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Prologue

24th December 1932

There was not a sound to be heard, nor a creature abroad to hear it. The village lay still and cold in the moonlight, the long street a pale ribbon, the cottages on its either side no more than inky smudges, their windows set too deep to gleam. Only on the stained glass of the church did the moon’s reflection catch at the little panes and shatter into spangles.

Inside, silently as midnight came, the villagers bent their heads and clasped their hands. Some were praying, some merely waiting; but others, struck by awe, let their thoughts drift up and out into the moonlight, over the quiet countryside to other churches where other heads were bent in silence, to stables where donkeys might kneel if the legends were true, across the seas to distant lands where prayers were said in strange tongues and people quite unlike themselves were awestruck too.

Peace on earth, they told themselves, thinking of those faraway places. Joy to the world, they thought; the words lately sung, still resounding. Silent night, holy night. If only they had known.

For at that moment, not five miles away, klaxons shrieked and guards bellowed, their boots ringing out on the ironhard ground as they gave chase. Out upon the hills, hunched shapes flitted and darted between the shadows, each one cursing the moonlight.

Later that same night, not five miles away, a bell would toll and women’s screams peal out as flames leapt merrily higher and higher. Black smoke rising in billows from a chapel roof would hide the moon.

And before the morning came, not five miles away, alone in his bed, a man would quietly die.

 

Chapter One

‘If you read the newspapers or listen to the wireless,’ Sister Mary began, ‘you might remember the trouble we had here at Christmas time. The newspapermen have tired of it now and turned their attentions elsewhere but our troubles are far from over. The great harm done to our house has weakened us and we are not equal to dealing with mischief as well as recovering and carrying out our duties. We are in sore need of a woman such as yourself and can offer you a measure of comfort here if you should choose to help us.’ It sounded almost as though she wanted me to profess a vocation. I read on. ‘It cannot take much longer. The moor has been aswarm with policemen for a month now and in the end they shall surely prevail.’

Of course I remembered the events at which she was hinting. Either a breakout from an insane asylum or a fire at a convent that killed a nun would be memorable each on its own. Both together, a few miles apart and on Christmas Eve besides, had given the headline writers almost more than they could handle. Still, a little more detail in Sister Mary’s letter would have been welcome. I read it over again to see what I might have missed and found myself tutting.

I had long suspected that women who go in for nunnery had some melodrama about them. The early rising, the lying prostrate on stone floors, not to mention the glamorous costume – for who would not look dashing swathed in snowy white and with her neck hidden? – and this letter did nothing to change my mind. The great harm, the fickle newsmen, the troubles far from over. ‘Aswarm indeed!’ I muttered to myself. Then, finally, I caught the meaning. If policemen were swarming over the moor even now, that meant that the breakout was still in business. There were inmates at large. Did I really want to go and stay in a house full of women then?
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‘What’s that?’ said Alec, looking up at my muttering. Hugh was behind The Times.

‘Interesting case,’ I said. ‘Although interesting isn’t perhaps the word, exactly.’

‘Same here,’ said Alec. ‘Interesting, but “case” isn’t perhaps the word, exactly. I’ve been asked to help a friend.’

‘Do it,’ said Hugh suddenly, letting the paper drop. ‘If you’ve the chance to help a friend, Osborne, do it.’ He had a peculiar look upon his face, strained about the eye, and not quite steady about the jaw.

‘What is it?’ I asked him.

‘Friend of mine in the obituaries,’ he said. ‘Sooty Asher.’

‘Oh, Hugh!’ I said. ‘I am sor—’

Hugh shook his head as though to get rid of a fly and went on, sounding angry now rather than stricken. ‘He killed himself. Shot his own head off. Got past the Boers, got past the Hun, settled himself in a good job, rising through the ranks, and then bang!’

‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘Well, you must try to get to the funeral, no matter how the roads are. Where is it?’

‘God knows,’ said Hugh. ‘He lived in Hyderabad. So they’ll probably have it there and send a tin pot of clinker back on a ship. You know what Indians are like. Poor old Sooty Asher.’

‘What was his Christian name?’ I asked. ‘Where are his family? I shall write to them and you can sign it, if you like. But I can’t call him Sooty.’

‘No family,’ said Hugh. ‘At least . . . I think there was a sister, but it was all rather under wraps. He had a patron, you know. We never asked and never cared.’ He glared at me as though I had been unfeeling. ‘So there’s no one to write to,’ he concluded, sounding bleak. Then he rose and left the room.

‘You didn’t deserve a scrap of that,’ said Alec.

‘I don’t mind,’ I replied. ‘Gosh, if one can’t snarl at one’s wife when an old pal blows his head off.’

‘Well, at any rate, I think I shall take Hugh’s advice and help my old pal Tony Gourlay,’ Alec said, but he looked over the letter with no great enthusiasm as he spoke.

‘Help him do what?’ I asked.

‘Keep his neck out of the noose,’ said Alec. ‘His mother writes to tell me I’m their last hope.’

‘What’s he done?’ I said. ‘Wouldn’t a lawyer be better?’

‘If I know Tony, he hasn’t done anything,’ said Alec. ‘He couldn’t, even if he wanted to. There was this one time in— And Tony didn’t even— Just stood there and waited for— If I hadn’t—’

I had grown used to the way Alec spoke of the trenches and was able, just about, to fill in the dreadful words for myself.

‘But what has he been accused of?’ I said.

‘Murder,’ said Alec.

‘And he protests his innocence?’

‘He protests nothing,’ Alec said. ‘He hasn’t spoken for fifteen years. He’s got the worst case of shell shock I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. He’s been mute since before the Armistice, living in a mad house out on the Lanark Moor, that goes by the jaw-dropping title of Hopekist Head. Hardly! Anyway, he lives there, carving wood and digging flowerbeds – rotting in other words. And then suddenly this Christmas he’s supposed to have broken out, set fire to a chapel and killed a nun! What is it, Dandy? You’ve gone paler than Hugh.’

Honnish Historical Reads

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Like everyone else I read The Miniaturist, a clever piece of historical fiction, but I have to admit that its plot and setting were lost on me. I much prefer the interwar and mid-century era, and so I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Jessie Burton’s latest novel, The Muse.  Set in the mid-1960s, Odelle Bastien, an inspiring writer, has left her Caribbean home to settle in London but it is not the postcard life she had dreamt of. By chance, she leaves her job at Dolcis (British shoe retailer) and begins a post at an art gallery, where she is mentored by the mysterious Marjorie Quick. Woven into Burton’s prose are flashbacks to Fascist Spain on the eve of WW2, where Olive Schloss a talented artist works on her masterpiece and falls in love with Isaac Robles, an impoverished painter who helps Olive to conceal her talents – an act which will have severe consequences in years to come. Through mistaken identities, past secrets and a burning ambition to be something quite different from what society says we ought to be, Burton has created something wonderful. A beguiling piece of historical fiction.

 

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Infamy is merely an accident of fate . . . [but] infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood. It is the price of being a Borgia.

The Borgias are one of history’s most notorious families and today the name Lucrezia Borgia conjures up imagery of a wicked, blood-thirsty seductress. Presented as historical fiction, though based on fact, C.W. Gortner’s portrayal of the pope’s beautiful daughter is a sympathetic character study. From her upbringing at the Vatican, to her adulthood marred by accusations of incest and luring men to their doom with her arsenal of poison, has she been worthy of the reputation bestowed upon her or was she a pawn in her family’s game? Told from Lucrezia’s perspective and through his cast of characters, set to the backdrop of the Italian Renaissance, Gortner shies away from the well-worn clichés of Lucrezia Borgia’s legacy to rewrite her history.

 

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What a treat it was to receive this book! 2016 marks Margaret Lockwood’s centenary and my biography, Queen of the Silver Screen, will be published in July ahead of the big event. So, it’s great to see this gem from 1944 re-issued with the lady herself on the cover. For those of you who might not know, Magdalen King-Hall’s novel was adapted for the screen by Gainsborough and released in 1945, as The Wicked Lady, to a new post-war audience. Gripped by rationing and the horrors of conflict, this historical drama – or bodice rippers, as they were known – divided the opinion of both the audience and its critics. Queen Mary, however, was a big fan! Based on the real life aristocrat and highway robber, Lady Katherine Ferrars, King-Hall’s protagonist, Lady Barbara Skelton, steals her cousin’s fiancé, marries him, but grows bored of country life in a draughty mansion with her endless days spent entertaining her spinster aunts. With the news of the notorious Captain Jerry Jackson sweeping through the land, she disguises herself as a male highway robber and sets off to get her thrills elsewhere. Having fallen in love with Jackson, Barbara and he become a crime duo, a partnership which will have dire consequences. A product of its day, The Life and Death of Wicked Lady Skelton has stood the test of time and I hope more fans of historical fiction can discover its charms.

 

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Inspired by true events, this is the story of Lucia Joyce, the spirited daughter of the Irish novelist James Joyce, who was placed in an asylum by her father. Before her fate can be decided, she makes several attempts to escape the family home – she is the product of a mother who does not love her, and a father who, perhaps, loves her too much – but each effort is thwarted. When Samuel Beckett comes to work for Joyce, Lucia wonders if he might provide the escape she longs for. But there are family secrets, and letting Lucia out into the world threatens to expose them. Through her various sessions with Carl Jung, aspects of family life are explored, but it is not until the novel’s end, that the biggest secret of all is told. A study of a troubled young woman growing up in her father’s shadow in the Paris of the 1920s, Annabel Abbs brings Lucia Joyce to life. It is a haunting piece of historical fiction.

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

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We live you see, and even a mule like me must learn. I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season. – Mary North

Many of my book reviews end up in The Lady (click here if you care to know what I’ve been reading) but some also appear on The Mitford Society. I try to keep the genres relevant to what we Mitties might enjoy, and so I decided to share Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave with you.

Based on a true story, Chris Cleave’s plot was inspired by his grandparents love affair during the Blitz. Mary North, a reluctant debutante who dreams of becoming a spy, resolves to stay in London and teach at an inner-city school. Although many of the children have been evacuated, some have been returned because the countryside ‘doesn’t want them’, or because they are not white and, or, British. What good is it to teach a child to count, Mary wonders, ‘if you do not show him that he counts for something?’

Meanwhile, Tom Shaw decides to give the war a miss, until his flatmate Alistair enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided. In love with Mary, Tom finds that he would do anything for her, but when she meets Alistair it is love at first sight.

Set to the backdrop of war torn London and the Siege of Malta, the lives of Mary, Tom and Alistair – entangled in lies, violence, passion and friendship – will never be the same again.

A lot of reviews have compared Everyone Brave is Forgiven with Atonement (the best bits, they said) and I can see the strong parallels between Mary and Celia, and how their characters evolve. Like Atonement, it is character driven and a slow read, especially in the beginning as the story and its protagonists negotiate their way in a dangerous, new world, and lose their innocence in the interim. Aside from the racial views of the day – the alienation, the ignorance – Mary must also learn to adapt to the class divide as she ventures from the comfort zone of her upbringing. So, there are a lot of elements at play, both at the centre of the plot and as subplots, weaving several golden threads through the story.

It is evident that the story is a personal one for Chris Cleave, and I think that is apparent within the text – he has crafted strong and sympathetic characters, beautiful prose, and an engaging plot.

 

 

Why Does the Britain of the Early 1900s Intrigue and Delight So Many of Us? By Tessa Arlen

Following the publication of her second novel, Death Sits Down to Dinner, Tessa Arlen gives The Mitford Society a lesson in Edwardian etiquette.

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Today the great houses of Britain’s landed aristocracy with their vast, exquisite and often drafty interiors and views of sweeping parkland attest to the power of rank and wealth of a bygone age. They also provide a stunning backdrop for elegantly clothed men and women with gracious manners who star in numerous costume dramas. We are presently enraptured by the first two decades of the 1900s.

Let us ignore for the moment those gracious country houses that have survived to continue to provide their families with shelter, by providing the public with a place to picnic, or watch a steam engine rally, or drive through a safari park. It is a spectacularly golden July day and you have been invited for a Saturday-to-Monday, as the Edwardians called a weekend, to one of their glorious country houses. Here is a little advice to bear in mind for your short stay, after all you might want to be invited back!

Whatever you do don’t alienate the servants. It is important not to underestimate how the Edwardians related to those who ensured their comfort and provided them with flawless and devoted service. Servants employed in the great houses were part of the family, but not of it; a sizable distinction because it relies on generations of subtle understanding of the polite, but offhand tact, used by the uppers when they addressed the lower orders. Butlers, footmen and personal maids will be extraordinarily unforgiving if you wear incorrect attire for the country, and cruelly punishing if you are either patronizingly familiar or arrogantly dismissive. So beware! The butler and the housekeeper will be far more intimidating than the charmingly eccentric dowager duchess or that affable old colonel you will be seated next to when you arrive in time for tea.

Your Edwardian great-grandmother would have been able to give you some good advice. Huge pointers for your comportment this weekend would be restraint, restraint, and more restraint in a way we can’t begin to imagine today. Your great-grandmother would be the first to remind you to lower your voice to a well-modulated murmur, that it is rude to interrupt, or even be too enthusiastic. Do not comment on your surroundings, the magnificence of the house, or marvel at the deliciousness of your dinner. You are not on a ‘girls’ night out’, no matter how confiding and wickedly risqué your new Edwardian girlfriends appear to be, or how many glasses of wine the footman pours for you at dinner. So sorry I meant to say self-restraint – just place your hand palm down over your wine glass to indicate no thank you, when you feel a delighted shriek start to emerge.

This was a time when women were treated like goddesses . . . then they married and were kept at home to incubate an heir and a spare. While the men at your country house weekend might enjoy shooting and fishing, you are encouraged to watch and applaud, but not join to in. By all means pick up that croquet mallet if that is your sort of thing, and certainly a game of lawn tennis is permitted, if you can actually move in your pretty afternoon dress and that killing corset. When the gentlemen sit back to their port and a cigar after dinner your hostess will beckon you away with the other women – important that you go with them. Despite the luxurious existence of the early 1900s, most women today would find it impossible to live the hidebound, restricted life of early 20th century women. So after you have lugged in the groceries after a hard day at the office, made dinner and then helped the kids with their homework before putting them to bed, just in time to collapse on the sofa to catch an episode of Downton, try not to sigh too deeply when Mathew Crawley goes down on one knee in the swirling snow to propose to Lady Mary. Most of us would have been Ivy slogging away in the scullery and not Lady Grantham reading a novel in the drawing room.

Did the Edwardian Shangri-La portrayed in Downton Abbey ever really exist even for the upper classes? The short answer is ‘Yes’ if you were Lord Grantham and not his servant, his wife or any of his daughters. If you have a problem not seeking to right the inequities of life, then don’t get on that train at London’s Marylebone station for the country. Certainly there were drunken, abusive husbands, negligent and thoughtless parents, spendthrifts and philanderers in the Edwardian age . . . and wronged wives looked the other way. The trick to coping with the darker side of human nature, if you were of society, was that it must never be referred to, never confided and most definitely never publicly acknowledged. However if you are an egalitarian at heart and social ostracism doesn’t bother you too much, you might join Mrs. Pankhurst’s suffragettes and loudly proclaim your opinions. I have heard that Holloway Prison was equipped with a special wing for militant members of the WSPU.

The third housemaid will unpack your trunk for you – five changes of clothes a day for three days need an awful lot of tissue paper. Here’s a titillating scrap of fresh society gossip to share with the company – gossip was the spice of Edwardian life –a substitute for reality TV. Gladys, the Marchioness of Ripon, an ultra-sophisticate with a ‘past’ was a wonderful example of the Edwardian double-standard and loved to gossip with her close coterie of friends. Alone in her lover’s house one day she discovered a pile of rivetingly indiscreet love letters written to him by one of her social adversaries, Lady Londonderry. Gladys swiped the lot and generously shared the juicy bits – read aloud after dinner – to her closest friends. After the fun was over she honorably returned the letters to their author at Londonderry House –when she knew husband and wife were dining alone. The butler approached his lordship and handed over the ribbon-bound bundle. After studying the contents, in silence, Lord Londonderry directed his butler to carry the letters to the other end of the dining table. Silence still reigned as Lady Londonderry came to terms with her awful predicament, a silence that was never broken between the two of them again. Far worse than having an affair, Lady Londonderry had ‘let down the side’. Adultery was a fact of life, indiscretion unforgivable; to be the subject of common gossip shameful and the scandal of divorce out of the question. Lord Londonderry never spoke to his wife in private again, and maintained a distant, cold courtesy to her in public for the rest of their long marriage.

So much more entertaining than a splashy tabloid divorce, don’t you think?

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She went to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She is the author of the Lady Montfort mystery series. And lives on an island in the Puget Sound, Washington.

The Misadventures of Enid Lindeman

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Originally published in The Mitford Society; Vol. III

Standing at six-feet tall with handsome features and platinum hair, Enid Lindeman was never going to be a wallflower. As she gallivanted through life she accumulated four husbands, numerous lovers, and during the inter-war years her high-jinx dominated the gossip columns. Evelyn Waugh satirized her set in Vile Bodies, but the workings of his menacing imagination paled in comparison to the real thing.

Born in Australia in 1892, she was the great granddaughter of Henry Lindeman, who founded Lindeman Wines in Hunter Valley, New South Wales. A privileged, if nondescript, childhood inspired Enid to look for a life of glamour and excitement. She achieved this at the age of twenty-one when she married Roderick Cameron, an American shipping magnate twenty-four years her senior. Establishing herself as a New York socialite, Enid would stop traffic (‘the better to view this vision of perfection’) when she emerged from the Cameron building in Manhattan. But the celebrated marriage was short-lived when, a year later, Cameron died from cancer, leaving his young wife a fortune of several million dollars.

The year was 1914 and the newly widowed Enid left New York with her nine-month-old son to move to Paris to drive an ambulance for the war effort. With her beauty, charm and charisma, she became popular with officers, and it was reported that five men, having found her so irresistible, committed suicide. (One blew himself up; another threw himself under Le Train Bleu; another jumped overboard in shark infested waters). Or, as Enid put it, ‘They were not able to take the strain.’ An old boyfriend, Lord Derby, Britain’s Minister for War, was concerned about the havoc she was causing amongst the officers and, hoping to tame her, he suggested she remarry. Although a millionairess in her own right, Enid was incapable of handling her finances and, to ease this fiscal responsibility, she agreed. Derby produced her next husband, Brigadier General Frederick Cavendish, known as ‘Caviar’.

After the war, Caviar was given command of the 9th Lancers in Egypt. As she had done in Paris, Enid caused a sensation amongst her husband’s comrades in Cairo and, as a dare, she reportedly slept with his entire regiment. By day she schooled her husband’s polo ponies and by night she dressed as a man to play with the band in the officers’ mess hall. Cairo suited Enid’s flamboyant tastes: there were picnics by the Nile, parties in sandstone mansions, and rides by moonlight in the Sahara. She met Lord Carnarvon (another of her lovers) on his famous dig of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, and was one of the first to be taken down to the discovery.

In an attempt to distance Enid from hedonistic influences, Caviar took his wife, stepson, and their two children to London, where the family moved into a townhouse in Mayfair. Domesticity never appealed to Enid, and she continued her pleasure-seeking ways in London’s nightclubs. However, in 1931, she was once again a widow when Caviar died from a cerebral hemorrhage at their apartment in Paris.

In 1933, she met and married Marmaduke ‘Duke’ Furness, the 1st Viscount Furness, whose second wife, Thelma, was a lover of the Prince of Wales. (His first wife, Daisy, had died on board his yacht and he buried her at sea). Although immensely rich with a private railroad car, two yachts and an aeroplane, Furness ordered Enid to sign over her personal fortune to him. Furness’s London townhouse, Lees Place, was not large enough ‘to hide’ Enid’s three children from his sight, so she rented a flat on Curzon Street for the children and their staff. Suspicious that Enid was not being faithful, and intolerant to her platonic (a rarity) friendships with men, Furness hired detectives to watch her when he was at home and abroad. In spite of his jealousy, he showered her with expensive gifts and granted her every whim, one being exotic pets which included a tame cheetah, walked everyday by the children and their governess. A sensation wherever she went, it was said that people stood on chairs in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo just to catch sight of her as she passed through. Out of all her husbands, Enid claimed to love Furness the most: ‘There was nothing in the world he was not prepared to give me. Of all the men who loved me, and some were as rich as Duke, he was the one who was prepared to lay the world at my feet.’

A terrific gambler, Enid loved the races and casinos, and often carried a bag stuffed with £10 notes. Irresponsible with money, she squandered a fortune, and was as equally flippant with her jewels, keeping her pearls in Kleenex boxes because they were the closest thing to hand. She was also generous with money: if she saw ex-servicemen begging on the street or sitting on the pavement next to their watercolours for sale, she would order her chauffeur to stop the car, whereupon she would get out and offer them a job or find them a home. To the disapproval of Furness, she would take her children on jaunts to the suburbs to visit the ex-servicemen for whom she had found homes.

Furness died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1940. After his death, his former wife, Thelma, contested the will, claiming that their son should inherit his estate. After a long legal battle, Furness’s eldest son (having been reported as missing in action) from his first wife was declared dead and the law sided with Thelma. Enid was not rewarded the money she had surrendered to Furness when they were married, but she was permitted to keep Lees Place in London. With the war raging around them, Enid and her daughter decamped to their villa in the south of France, where they tended to prisoners from the detention camp near Eze. Two years later, they escaped France and travelled to London by way of Portugal, where Enid used her influence to secure them passage on a flying boat.

In London, Enid was dubbed ‘The Penniless Peeress’ by the press. Down on her luck, she met Valentine Browne, the Earl of Kenmare, and famous gossip writer of the Londoner’s Log (then known as Castlerosse because of his former title Viscount Castlerosse). The confidant and travelling companion of the press magnate Lord Beaverbrook, Valentine had lived an excessive life of debauchery, and had been a close friend and lover of Enid’s when they both lived in Paris during WWI. Divorced from the scandalous courtesan Doris Delevingne, he was hoping for a more stable wife.

They were married in 1943, and Enid became Lady Kenmare. An enormous gentleman who was reported to have sat on a dog and crushed it to death, Valentine’s doctor warned Enid that he had a weak heart and was to abstain from sex as it would surely kill him. She rejected the doctor’s advice: ‘It was one of the only pleasures left to him in life. How could I ration him?’ He died of a heart attack less than a year after they were married. In her boldest move yet, Enid, at the age of fifty-two, claimed she was pregnant and as such could hold onto the Kenmare estate until the potential heir was born. She kept up the charade for thirteen months until the estate was eventually given to Valentine’s nephew. Having buried four husbands, Somerset Maugham dubbed Enid, ‘Lady Killmore’.

A chameleon to all the men she had fallen in love with, Enid would become their ideal woman and their interests would become hers. As her wealth grew, through inheritance and marriages, her life became a grand production. All purchases centred around the bedchamber: there were silk sheets and embroidered silk and lace pillowslips (changed everyday), and nightgowns and negligees were bought in abundance. The bedroom, her natural habitat, was sprayed with liberal amounts of Patou’s Joy, then costing three times more than any other scent, and a lady’s maid was ordered to spray the nightgowns and negligees, as well as the bedclothes. Leaving the beside lamp on, the maid would then open the door to Enid’s bathroom and fill the bath to a certain level with hot water and scent. Presumably Enid, whenever she returned, would add more hot water to it. However, Enid was never seen in bed with a man, not even her husband, for she considered that ‘vastly improper’.

It was a role she knew well, and with copious amounts of money at her disposal, Enid played the part to perfection. Having outlived her lovers, in her later years she presided over La Fiorentina, her son’s villa in the south of France – a hub for Hollywood royalty. She died in 1973 at the age of eighty-one.

Enid features in my forthcoming book, The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne (The History Press, Nov 2016).

Book News

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Hello Mitties!

I am excited to share with you the news that my book on Margaret Lockwood, the British film star, will be published by Fantom Films in July. The book has been a labour of love and several years in the making, and it will be released ahead of Margaret’s centenary in September 2016. Although this is a new genre for me, it still fits on the spectrum of British heritage and is very much keeping within the era that I write about. My other forthcoming book, The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne, is still on track for a November release.

Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen is available for pre-order. 

 

Kick Kennedy-Part Two

[The introduction below is a recap from Kick Kennedy – Part One]

It is unusual for two biographies on the same subject to be released within a month of each other, but then again Kick Kennedy is an unusual subject. The second-born daughter of Irish-American parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, she is forever associated with her political family, most especially the American president John F. Kennedy. All of the Kennedy children had star quality, Lady Redesdale (Muv) had once remarked that JFK would one day become president of the United States. And so their charisma hypnotised London high society in the late 1930s, when Joseph Kennedy was posted there as the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The older girls were presented at Court, and Kick began to move in the exclusive circles of the aristocracy. She was an anomaly for her time: outspoken, forward-thinking, and silly. She could laugh at herself and openly joke with the gentry at a time when English girls, who adhered to formality, could not. Surprisingly, this won her a great deal of admiration and her greatest friends became Sarah Norton (daughter of the beautiful Jean Norton, Lord Beaverbrook’s mistress), Billy and Andrew Cavendish (sons of the Duke of Devonshire), and, of course, Debo Mitford.

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The acclaimed author Paula Byrne’s biography of Kick Kennedy first caught my attention before I realised Barbara Leaming also had a biography, written on the same subject, coming out. While both women know their subject extremely well, their respective biographies are entirely different. For instance, Leaming bypasses much of the Kennedy info to focus entirely on Kick and the aristocratic cousinhood, whereas Byrne explores Kick’s Kennedy forebears in remarkable detail. For someone who knows a little about the Kennedys but virtually nothing on their background and upbringing, this was helpful. It’s also a great insight as to how Kick, an American girl, shook up the aristocracy on the eve of WW2.

As with her previous books, Paula Byrne has undertaken a mountain of research to not only present her subject between the pages of this fabulous book, but to offer informative context. I felt as though I’d known Kick’s parents and siblings, and this shaped my understanding of Kick herself and why, even though I know a great deal about this era, she was viewed as a whirlwind by her future in-laws. We all know how the story petered out and how it ended, but what happens before, during and after is as magical as it is poignant.

I don’t like to parallel the two biographies too much in case I risk persuading a reader to opt for one instead of the other (honestly, purchase both), but I feel the need to highlight the difference in how the Kennedy backstory is treated. Here, we have the best of both worlds. Whereas Barbara Leaming has written several books on members of the Kennedy family, Paula Byrne has written about Kick’s English circle, and therefore both authors understand their subject’s backstory, albeit from different points of view – as demonstrated in their works.

Although she died at twenty-eight, this biography is not as pithy as Kick’s lifespan. As an individual, as well as the wife of a future duke, she managed to encapsulate many experiences in her short life. From Kennedy offspring, to debutante, to journalist and Red Cross army nurse, her own achievements were many. But it is, perhaps, the tragic love story between Kick and Billy Cavendish which stands out and the question, which I am sure Debo often felt, was ‘what might have been?’

Paula Byrne’s biography is a sympathetic portrait of a girl living during a complex time, and who might have been the queen of high society, had she been given the chance.

 

Kick Kennedy – Part One

It is unusual for two biographies on the same subject to be released within a month of each other, but then again Kick Kennedy is an unusual subject. The second-born daughter of Irish-American parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, she is forever associated with her political family, most especially the American president John F. Kennedy. All of the Kennedy children had star quality, Lady Redesdale (Muv) had once remarked that JFK would one day become president of the United States. And so their charisma hypnotised London high society in the late 1930s, when Joseph Kennedy was posted there as the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The older girls were presented at Court, and Kick began to move in the exclusive circles of the aristocracy. She was an anomaly for her time: outspoken, forward-thinking, and silly. She could laugh at herself and openly joke with the gentry at a time when English girls, who adhered to formality, could not. Surprisingly, this won her a great deal of admiration and her greatest friends became Sarah Norton (daughter of the beautiful Jean Norton, Lord Beaverbrook’s mistress), Billy and Andrew Cavendish (sons of the Duke of Devonshire), and, of course, Debo Mitford.

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Barbara Leaming’s book, Kick Kennedy: The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter, explores the connection Kick shared with Andrew and Debo in great detail. The beginning of her book was a lovely surprise, with the elderly Andrew confiding his remembrances of Kick. And so her story begins and maintains its momentum as a portrait of a girl who moved at the centre of the British aristocracy. Through her research of Kick, she bypasses the Kennedy lore (only sprinkling Kennedyisms where necessary) to focus on the themes which shaped Kick’s life and her destiny.

The complex love story between Kick and Billy Cavendish dominates the plot, but the subplot of Andrew and Debo gives this story an interesting parallel. Here was a woman who had the world at her feet until WW2 destroyed her future and her happiness, as it did for so many families. With their long, drawn-out courtship happening on both sides of the Atlantic – often one-sided, and their battle to marry, it is bittersweet that they were destined only to be husband and wife for a short period. Billy, as the eldest son, was expected to inherit the Dukedom of Devonshire, and Kick was to be his Duchess (there are some interesting points on Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire), but after his death she was deposed by Debo.

Although both women were best friends, it was interesting to read about the hidden feelings Kick had about the new path her life had taken, and the (for lack of a better word) guilt Debo harboured for unintentionally usurping Kick.

Kick was killed in a plane crash at the age of twenty-eight, and although she had been widowed from Billy and had fallen in love with another man, the Devonshires continued to hold her close their hearts. Not only is this a story of an extraordinary young woman who took life by the scruff of the neck, it is an example of fate and how Debo became the Duchess of Devonshire. Perhaps it was Kick who paved the way and set the example of mixing informality with the pomp and grandeur of that lifestyle, which Andrew and Debo were renowned for.

Thank you to Barbara Leaming for sending me a signed copy of her book. Her narrative is informal and yet it draws one in, as though they, too, were sitting next to Andrew as he remembered his late sister-in-law. The beginning and ending were entirely original, given the acres of print written about Chatsworth and the Devonshires.

Part Two of my Kick Kennedy post will look at Paula Byrne’s biography, Kick: The True Story of Kick Kennedy, JFK’s Forgotten Sister and Heir to Chatsworth (released 19 May 2016). Both biographies are completely different and are extremely good. So please buy and read both of them!

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The Mitford Society Loves

As the spring months advance I like to veer away from heavy tomes and keep my reading light. That is to say, none of the novels I have mentioned below are frivolous nor do they lack depth. They are historical fiction and ‘faction’ (fact written as fiction) with engaging prose and fascinating characters. Here are some of my favourites…

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Faith and Beauty by Jane Thynne

The fourth instalment of the Clara Vine series. Our heroine, Clara, an actress by trade/a spy by choice, is once again moving at the heart of the Nazi Party. In the previous novels, much of the action takes place on the streets of Berlin on the eve of WW2, and at the Nazi-founded bridal schools. So Jane mixes historical events with a fictional character who also happens to mingle with real-life figures – Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, a young JFK, Marlene Dietrich etc (in The Winter Garden, she featured Unity and Diana Mitford). Now it is the summer of 1939 and Clara’s sleuthing takes her to the Faith and Beauty bridal school, where a girl has been murdered. And, on the political front, she must investigate whether or not Germany is planning an alliance with Russia. Not only are Jane Thynne’s novels appealing to those who love the mystery/detective genre but they’re a treat for historians who are fascinated by the pre-WW2 era and the rise of Hitler.

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A Man of Genius by Janet Todd

This novel has inspired me to think of the noun trouvaille, which means something lucky found by chance. It found me by way of a mutual friend of Janet Todd’s, and I am so glad it did. Set in Regency London and Venice, Ann Radcliffe is a woman of independent means: a writer of cheap Gothic fiction, portraying women as victims of narcissistic villains. Soon life begins to imitate art, and she falls under the spell of the poet, Robert James – a madman and self-confessed genius. A psychological portrait of a destructive relationship, set to the backdrop of Venice and the literary world, A Man of Genius is a dazzling novel of the historical fiction genre.

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The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan

Following her successful novel The Girl In The Photograph, Riordan has returned with an equally suspenseful story charting the lives of two women in different eras. In 1878 Harriet Jenner takes a job as a governess at Fenix House but, recovering from a family tragedy, she cannot imagine the hold that the house and the Pembridge family will have over her. Fifty years later, Harriet’s granddaughter Grace finds work at Fenix House and, following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she discovers the secrets and lies buried within the grand house. The Shadow Hour is wonderfully written with a ghostly undertone; Riordan has once again produced a haunting tale.

P.S. You should check out Kate Riordan’s short story The Red Letter, based on characters from The Girl in the Photograph. I hope she develops it into a spin-off story.

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All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

Aside from my love of the aristocracy during the interwar era I am also mad about classic film stars. This was a little different from what I normally read, by way of historical fiction, but it was a nice distraction over the festive season. It details the affair between Loretta Young and Clark Gable, which happened during the filming of Call of the Wild. Based on a true story and an even stranger cover-up during the golden age of Hollywood: Young goes on to have Gable’s child but what unfolds is a plot that would be called far fetched, even onscreen! She goes into hiding and has the baby, a girl, and Gable knows but takes no part in her upbringing. Young herself claims she has adopted the child and she sticks to this story for decades, the truth only revealing itself when her daughter is grown up, and Gable is dead. It was quite camp in places and perhaps veered towards fan fiction, but it was a lot of fun to read and it gives me hope that I can develop a story I have in mind about a real life Hollywood couple. More books like this, please!

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The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman

Telling the story of Jean Batten, known as ‘the Garbo of the skies’, Kidman presents her biographical study as historical fiction. From her childhood as a clever girl from a broken home, through her ambition to challenge the male attitudes of the day, Batten rises to become an aviatrix star. Courted by royalty and Hollywood actors, she receives honours and breaks aviation records before falling out of the public gaze. After a series of setbacks, she becomes a recluse and dies in penury in Majorca, where she is buried in a pauper’s grave. A thrilling tale of adventure and heartbreak – Kidman has triumphantly brought this inspirational heroine to life.

In the summer, when I finish my project, I hope to read more American literature. I loved The Boston Girl, and it has inspired me add The Swans of Fifth Avenue and Tiny Little Thing to my TBR wish list. Let me know what you are reading or what you plan to read by tweeting @mitfordsociety.