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Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter Paperback – October 15, 1998

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Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter + Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The story of Edward VII and his longtime mistress, Alice Keppel?summoned to his bedside by Queen Alexandra herself as the king lay dying?is well known; what is less familiar is that Keppel's daughter, Violet Trefusis, nourished a lifelong passion for author Vita Sackville-West. Lovers for a few tempestuous years, they eventually split?Vita to domesticity with her husband, children, and garden (and occasional flings with other women), Violet to a flamboyant Continental existence. Readers of Nigel Nicholson's Portrait of a Marriage, the biography of his parents, Vita and diplomat Harold Nicholson, will see a different side of this tale. Biographer Souhami (Greta and Cecil, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994) creates a good historical view based on original letters and papers; she brings to present-day readers an interesting aspect of Edwardian times?stable marriages that included lovers of both sexes. Royal-watchers of today might find it amusing to know that Alice Keppel's daughter Sonia (Violet's sister) was the grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles. For all readers.?Katharine Garstka, Intergraph Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Of all the mistresses of Britain's Edward VII, both during his long tenure as Prince of Wales and his brief reign as king (1901^-10), the most renowned, most permanent, and most respected was Mrs. Alice Keppel. Mrs. Keppel (who, by the way, was the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, mistress of the present Prince of Wales) had two daughters. Violet, the elder, became somewhat famous herself as a personality and a writer. Souhami's riveting book is about what made Mrs. Keppel tick and the consequences of her celebrity and larger-than-life personality on Violet, growing up in her shadow. It was not easy for Violet, "for given a mother so endowed, luminous, desired and resplendent, it was difficult to feel as lovable, good-looking or successful." Violet tried to emulate--no, duplicateMrs. Keppel but always fell short. "[Violet] knew the moves and attitudes but her performance was caricature." A discerning dual biography and peek into Edwardian mores that popular history readers will certainly enjoy. Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (October 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312195176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312195175
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,600,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 29, 1997
Format: Hardcover
After having read this book, I can't stop thinking about it and pondering what makes us happy in life. The people in this story, constrained by the morals of their time, sought happiness through influence, fame, wealth, and sexual relationships with varying success. Today, although our society is more open and free, achieving happiness is still a challenging business. As I read about Violet Trefusis' unhappy life, I wondered how different it would have been had Vita Sackville-West eloped with her. What if their times had been more accepting of openly homosexual relationships. What if Violet had been able to live within the lie of her marriage. If this story had played out today, could it have ended with happiness for Violet. Are things so different for us today.

Souhami's version of the affair between Violet and Vita leaves one feeling angry and annoyed at Vita. If Vita had been honest about their relationship, Violet may have learned to accept her life without the possiblity of a long term relationship with Vita. Violet may have healed emotionally and been able to get back on track in life. Instead, Souhamis portrays Violet as a victim and her life damaged by her unrequited passion for Vita. Vita held out false hopes to Violet by waffling and lying to Violet about their relationship, while actually having no intention of ever leaving her marriage. Vita was not very honest and if she had been a man, she would have been called a cad.

I plan on re-reading A Portrait of a Marriage to see if Vita can change my mind. But my first reading of that book several years ago left me unconvinced and Souhamis has written an interesting and convincing portrait of Violet as the victim.

I highly recommend this book.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gloria E. Salavarria ( on March 2, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Most of us are commoner, middle class and heterosexual. We don't give thought to other worlds until something strange happens--the murder of Versace or the death of Princess Diana. This book lifts up the rug on these two worlds and allows us to glimpse at something quite alien from our own. Beneath the upper crust of society there is a social dictum that allows the rich and the well-connected to be "doing it and excusing it" as long as it's done with discretion. Behind the facade of certain marriages are gay people in hiding--arranged marriages of convenience. It is a social hypocrisy that didn't start with the Edwardian era but it certainly continues through today. Billed as a double bio, this book is more the biography of Violet Trefusis, lesbian daughter of Alice Keppel, King Edward VII's mistress and the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles. But to tell the story of Violet, one must understand Alice and the Edwardian social set. This story is a tour through strange worlds indeed, richly told with text from the letters and published works of the main characters. This is biography that gives you the pathos of real people. Diana Souhami tries to balance the scales by telling the story of the famous lesbian affair between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis from Violet's point of view. One feels sorry for Violet but also annoyed. How long does it take for Violet to accept that Vita isn't willing to commit to their relationship? Violet, the victim, is a self-deceiving at best, dense at worst. Violet hasn't inherited her mother's ability to make the best of whatever social situation she's in. That's the ultimate tragedy of it. The hypocrisy of society will be with us forever. Only the strong learn to use it to their advantage. It's a lesson we all learn, whatever our place in this world.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Phillysound2 on July 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a terrific read. I couldn't put the book down. It doesn't have Violet Keppel Trefusis in the title but it is essentially about her and this is why I bought the book here on Amazon. It is the first book I read beyond Vita Sackville-West's own memoire of her relationship with Violet; this was published in Nigel Nicolson's 'Portrait of a Marriage' in 1973 - shortly after Violet's death in 1972. Like 'Portrait of a Marriage', the book only really comes (startlingly) alive when we get to the affair with Vita that was cut short to avoid public scandal. Violet was ostracised by English high society and would move to Paris in an unhappy marriage with Denys Trefusis to rebuild her life. The affair with Vita is the book's tour de force. The book draws from a wide range of references and Souhami's own valuable research which gives new insights. It includes excellent portraits of the main actors, Violet's extraordinary childhood, the hypocritical Edwardian values and conventions - exemplified by the pragmatic Alice Keppel- that Violet found so offensive. And, Violet and Vita's powerful, beloved, trust fund controlling mothers - Alice Keppel and Victoria Sackville.

The book firmly sides with Violet and balances the negativity of the Nicolson view of Violet as a dangerous and even evil seductress. Souhami makes Violet's tragedy painfully palpable. Vita on the other hand is not treated sympathetically. There are two sides to every story and this is Souhami's defense of Violet.

Souhami rushes through Violet's later life (in Paris and Florence) offering selected vignettes of Violet as a troubled, perhaps deluded woman who was 'unaware of the figure she cut'. She says 'Her messiness, her chaos, her constant painting of her face, seemed to signal inner distress.
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