Monday, 16 July 2012

THE BOLTER - Frances Osborne, 2008 and THE TEMPTRESS - Paul Spicer, 2010

These two biographies aim to set the record straight about two of the major characters from the infamous Happy Valley Set and make some atonement to their families. They are both written, primarily, in order to lay ghosts to rest. They both provide background information about two of the most notorious women to move to Kenya in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Both fully embrace the mythology behind the individual stories but at the same time imply a sense of contempt. Both, ultimately, fail to provide enough evidence of another life or an unrevealed sensibility to ‘cancel out’ the years of debauchery. For example, there is no getting around the fact that Alice de Janze (The Temptress) shot her lover at a train station because she feared she would lose him, was tried and acquitted of his attempted murder, married him and then realised that she didn’t love him anyway. Or the fact that Idina Sackville (The Bolter) abandoned her children in order to live a life of pleasure. The title of the Sackville biography refers to the fact that Nancy Mitford used her as an inspiration for The Bolter, a character in Love in a Cold Climate. Both women are humanised in these accounts; they are given a background and their actions are placed in context, with reference to their experiences and, in de Janze’s case particularly, her mental health. I doubt that I will read either of these books again but as a way of adding detail and colour to a larger picture they are valuable.

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