Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers

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9780099548942: Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers

"A Book of Secrets" is a masterfully atmospheric treasure-trove of hidden lives, uncelebrated achievements and family mysteries. Acclaimed biographer Michael Holroyd peers into dusty corners to bring a company of unknown women into the light: Alice Keppel was the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales; Eve Fairfax was Lord Grimthorpe's abandoned fiancee and sometime muse of Auguste Rodin; and, the novelist Violet Trefusis was the lover of Vita Sackville-West. Taking the reader on a journey of discovery from Ravello to Paris, from Kirkstall Grange in Yorkshire to Vita Sackville-West's home at Knole, "A Book of Secrets" lucidly gives voice to fragile human connections.

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About the Author:

Besides the Lives of Augustus John, Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey (which was filmed as Carrington), Michael Holroyd has written two volumes of memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. His most recent book, A Strange Eventful History, winner of the James Tait Black Prize, was a biography of two great theatrical dynasties which included Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and her son Edward Gordon Craig. He has been president of the Royal Society of Literature and is the first non-fiction writer to have been awarded the British Literature Prize. He lives in London and Somerset with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Book of Secrets
PART I 1 The Importance of Being Ernest and Some Women of No Importance In or about 1970 I was doing some research on Gabriel Enthoven whose passion for all things theatrical had led to the creation of the Theatre Museum in London. In those early days the museum was forever on the move. For some time it was lodged at Leighton House before settling uneasily for a period into the Victoria and Albert Museum where I was working. The archive was presided over by Alexander Schouvaloff, a legendary aristocratic figure with gleaming shoes, thick black hair brushed across his forehead and dark eyes that narrowed dramatically whenever someone spoke to him. It was rumoured that he had been recruited by Roy Strong who had then fallen out with him to such a degree that, in the Pushkin manner, Schouvaloff felt obliged to challenge him to a duel. The people I met were the deputy director Jennifer Aylmer, a grey-haired woman with bright pink lipstick who came from a well-known theatre family; and her assistant, a brilliant-looking young girl who quite dazzled me. I was still working there at closing time - after which we went out for a drink. My new friend often worked late and I would wait for her after the public had left the museum, wandering through the empty galleries and halls. It wasduring these evening promenades that I first saw Rodin's bust of Eve Fairfax. It was a bronze bust cast in the early years of the twentieth century when she was in her mid-to-late thirties. Her face fascinated me. It appeared to change subtly depending on the angle and the distance from which I looked at it. Sometimes she appeared serene, sometimes she seemed clothed in a lingering air of melancholy and her sorrowful countenance gained a strange authority. Before long the sculpture began to exert a hypnotic effect on me and I started to make enquiries about Auguste Rodin and Eve Fairfax.  
On 24 February 1905 Rodin dined in London with a new benefactor Ernest Beckett (shortly to emerge, like a butterfly from its chrysalis, as the second Lord Grimthorpe). Beckett was introducing him to several members of the English aristocracy and had been involved in raising a subscription to purchase a major sculpture, his bronze Saint Jean-Baptiste prêchant, for the nation. This purchase was celebrated by a banquet at the Café Royal which marked, in the words of Rodin's biographer Ruth Butler, 'Rodin's entrance into English Society'. A fortnight before their dinner, Beckett had written to Rodin with an enthusiasm bordering on incoherence, to say how much he was looking forward to seeing 'the bust of Miss Fairfax and I know that you work to make it a chef d'oeuvre and have heard it said that you have succeeded ... I believe that your talent is yet more grand than the great appreciation that it has recognised at last in all the world. He had commissioned the bust of Eve Fairfax in 1901 to be, it was understood, a wedding present for her - he was a widower, his young American wife having died ten years previously, after giving birth to their son. He regretted that he could not afford the twenty-two thousand francs Rodin had asked and offered ten thousand francs or a delay of a year or two instead.It seems that Rodin preferred the delay. Meanwhile, Beckett ordered a small version of Rodin's The Thinker and was encouraging others to contribute money to pay for his monument to Whistler in the allegorical form of a Winged Victory to be placed on Chelsea Embankment.  
Visiting his studio in February 1901, Ernest Beckett had described Rodin as 'a man rather below middle height, with incisive gray blue eyes, a broad curving, downward-drooping nose, a shaggy beard, gray, with gleams of red in it'. Rodin had explained to him 'in vigorous picturesque language the sense and meaning of his great creations'. And Beckett felt himself to be 'in the presence of a man, who is not only an artist of supreme genius, but who is a poet and a philosopher as well'. What most appealed to him was the power of his sculpture - what he described as its 'full-blooded prodigal abounding force'. He called Rodin 'the Wagner of sculpture ... with new capabilities and larger powers'. In March he had sent a laudatory article to Rodin who immediately recognised a new patron. The article revealed Ernest Beckett as a man of great enthusiasms. More precisely he was a man of swiftly changing enthusiasms, a dilettante, philanderer, gambler and opportunist. He changed his name, his career, his interests and his mistresses quite regularly and on seeing Rodin's work, which made the work of other artists seem 'bound by the small, stiff, formal ideas' of the past, he sold his collection of old decorative French objets d'art and sixteenth-century pictures, and commissioned Rodin to execute a portrait bust of Eve Fairfax. She would be travelling to Paris, accompanied by a chaperone, to study the French language and would visit Rodin's studio carrying Beckett's letter of introduction. What he wanted was 'the head, the neck and the upper part of the shoulders, as you have done of the young French woman that so pleased me. I would also like this bust to have a pedestalfrom that same segment of marble.' Rodin's busts of men were usually done in bronze, those of women in marble - though he often worked initially with clay. The sittings, which stopped and started and went on in this intermittent fashion for over eight years, stopped almost before they had started when her chaperone was obliged to travel back to England and Eve, who as a prospective bride could not remain unaccompanied in Paris, also had to return. She eventually found other companions to escort her to Paris and the work recommenced in April. Beckett wrote to Rodin somewhat optimistically in the second week of May that he would be 'very happy to see the bust of Miss Fairfax ... [who] tells me that she will go to Paris in June in order to give you the final sittings'. From March 1901 until September 1914 one hundred and sixteen letters of Eve's to Rodin survive and twenty-five from him to her. It was 'an exceptional long period', noted Rodin's secretary René Cheruy, ' ... there was a love story at the bottom of this.' Eve was in her late twenties at the beginning of the sittings. Rodin initially treated the portrait of Eve as a commission from his new patron, and the correspondence between the sculptor and his sitter was formal. But gradually, as the Rodin scholar Marion J. Hare observes, their letters 'become more personal and even intimate'. To justify spending so much time in Paris and learn some French, Eve attended a Dieu Donné school for young ladies. Eve writes in simple French, childlike and hesitant, her limitations of vocabulary and faltering syntax seeming to hint at tentative emotions. Her letters give a sense of possibilities just out of reach, half-remembered dreams - none of which she can quite catch and make her own. Rodin, too, is restricted in what he writes - yet occasionally, for a moment, breaking free from these restrictions. It is a polite explorativeconversation from a distant age, with delicate implications: oblique and unsophisticated. But where will it lead? E.F.: I always think of you. Would you write to me?  
R.: I think also that you will come one of these days and I will put myself completely at your service.  
E.F.: I have been ill and the doctor tells me that I must take the electric baths ... I am so sad that I cannot come at present but it is not my fault.  
R.: I am also sad to know you are ill. Alas my very dear model, you have great spirit and your body suffers from that ... I await you at the end of July ... and will be happy to greet you and to finish your beautiful and melancholy portrait.  
E.F.: Your letter made me so much better and gave me courage ... it is the heart that makes the body suffer. Your great sympathy helped me a great deal ... I am always sad to say good-bye to you ... I think about you often ... I would like so much to be again in your studio ... you stimulate my heart. An undated letter to Eve from a woman friend suggests that she may have had puerperal fever. From this suggestion a rumour arose that her engagement to Ernest had come as the result of her pregnancy, but that she suffered a miscarriage (an alternative interpretation is that this happened later and signalled the end of their relationship). There is no certainty of this and little evidence in her correspondence. E.F.: I had wished to write something but could not find the French words to express all that I wished to say, thus the silence is alwayseloquent ... I am certain that the bust will be a chef d'oeuvre and I wish so much to see it again and you also grand maître.  
R.: Your letter full of kindly feelings towards me restores me. Yes, I am tired of my life ... Give me some letters when the inspiration takes hold of you. Your French is very good for me for it shows pluck and spirit.  
E.F.: Why are you sad; that causes me much pain.  
R.: Your generous cast of mind and of body, your genuine grandeur, has always touched me ... Also I am so happy to tell you now that your bust will be worthy of you ... After your departure my memories vigorously coalesced and in a moment of good fortune I succeeded ... Voilà the bust. This exchange took place during 1903 and Rodin's last letter was written on 24 December 1903. In her reply four days later, Eve does not mention the sculpture itself. The question that troubles her is, if the bust is indeed successfully completed, are the sittings completed too? And will she see Rodin again? She tells him that her heart is 'full of affection' and it makes her unhappy to think that 'I cannot see you more often'. Neverthel...

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 198 x 129 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. A Book of Secrets is a masterfully atmospheric treasure-trove of hidden lives, uncelebrated achievements and family mysteries. Acclaimed biographer Michael Holroyd peers into dusty corners to bring a company of unknown women into the light: Alice Keppel was the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales; Eve Fairfax was Lord Grimthorpe s abandoned fiancee and sometime muse of Auguste Rodin; and, the novelist Violet Trefusis was the lover of Vita Sackville-West. Taking the reader on a journey of discovery from Ravello to Paris, from Kirkstall Grange in Yorkshire to Vita Sackville-West s home at Knole, A Book of Secrets lucidly gives voice to fragile human connections. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780099548942

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Book Description Vintage Publishing. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, Michael Holroyd, "A Book of Secrets" is a masterfully atmospheric treasure-trove of hidden lives, uncelebrated achievements and family mysteries. Acclaimed biographer Michael Holroyd peers into dusty corners to bring a company of unknown women into the light: Alice Keppel was the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales; Eve Fairfax was Lord Grimthorpe's abandoned fiancee and sometime muse of Auguste Rodin; and, the novelist Violet Trefusis was the lover of Vita Sackville-West. Taking the reader on a journey of discovery from Ravello to Paris, from Kirkstall Grange in Yorkshire to Vita Sackville-West's home at Knole, "A Book of Secrets" lucidly gives voice to fragile human connections. Bookseller Inventory # B9780099548942

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