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Wild Girls Paperback – July 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though poet Natalie Barney and artist Romaine Brooks rubbed (usually more than) elbows with the artistic elites of Bohemian Paris, neither achieved fame nor acclaim. So it is that Souhami (Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter) focuses on their relationships with one another and their many lovers, producing a book that reads more like a lesbian soap opera than a biography. The author describes people each of the two American women encountered, but concentrates less on their interactions with one another than on Barney's affairs with, among many others, Liane de Pougy, Renee Vivien and Lily de Gramont. Barney "liked lots of sex, lavish display and theatricality, and wanted not to bind love to rules, particularly to the rule of exclusivity," Souhami explains. "She divided her amours into liaisons, demi-liaisons, and adventures, and called her nature fidele/infidele." By the time the discussion turns to Barney and Brooks-well past the book's halfway point-readers have been inundated with so many of Barney's flings that it is difficult to keep things straight. Souhami writes in short, declarative sentences ("Alice was seventeen. Her bereaved mother took her on a grand tour of Europe. Alice sketched impressions of Paris, Milan and Rome."), a style at odds with her libertine subjects that gives the impression she shortchanged texture and detail in favor of creating a tally of Barney's multitudinous rendezvous. Photos.
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Review

An entertaining account of the couple's 50-year relationship - one that was never tested by the rigours of co-habitation. THE INDEPENDENT The book really takes off, when we come to Natalie's long affair with the portraitist Romaine Brooks... Diana Souhami is almost incapable of writing a clumsy sentence. SUNDAY TELEGRAPH For 50 years... the love of these two women lasted. Now, thanks to Souhami, it lives again. THE TIMES Souhami handles it with a light touch. SUNDAY TIMES Souhami tells their story in lush... prose, which perfectly suits the subjects and their exotic world. IMAGE MAGAZINE Two wealthy lesbians in 1900s Paris lead the jolly, over the top life you expect from the belle epoque. EVENING HERALD
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) (July 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753819775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753819777
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,611,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By International Acclaim on May 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Gray is a difficult colour to master. It is enigmatic, aloof. It can be warm, with tints of peach and pink, or cold, with tints of sapphire and indigo. But no one could ever doubt that American artist Romaine Brooks was a master of gray. From her mysterious, icy portraits of members of the belle époque and the jazz age, to her preference for colorless fashions and décor, to the melancholy of her own day to day existence, Brooks was almost the personification of the colour gray itself. It would take great skill to write a biography of such a woman. Therefore I was ecstatic to discover that Diana Souhami had taken on the task of writing a book on the entwined lives of Romaine Brooks and her long-time companion, Paris saloneuse Natalie Clifford Barney. Both American, both wealthy, both artistic, Barney and Brooks still made an odd pair. Barney was the ever-social butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, beautiful and flamboyant. Brooks was her exact opposite, a withdrawn, flighty creature from a background of insanity, who preferred to live in the shadows, alone. This sounds like perfect material for the talents of Souhami, who has already tackled the lives of such challenging individuals as Radclyffe Hall, Gertrude Stein and Greta Garbo. Souhami also wrote the award-winning "Selkirk's Island", untangling the threads of the life of Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Defoe's classic, "Robinson Crusoe". Yes, Brooks and Barney seemed in good hands.

I cannot express, then, the disappointment that this anticipated book brought. Distressingly short not only for a biography of two distinct souls, but also an examination of the times in which they lived, the book is riddled with factual errors and blunders. Souhami begins her race by stumbling.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Charlus on May 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fascinating story of two extraordinary lives soaked in the demi-monde at the fin-de-siecle with the world of the rich and artistic as its background. Unfortunately, this telling comes with some irritating costs. The book is studded with bizarrely extraneous footnotes: does any reader of this story really need to be told who Dante, Proust, Cocteau, Sappho, Gertrude Stein, Sarah Bernhardt (among many others) were? Also, the author interpolates little autobiographical asides that have nothing to do with the dual biography at hand and merely comes across as an egotistical affectation.

When Souhami actually gets to the story at hand (which in fairness is most of the time), historical errors aside, she tells a wonderful tale of the sapphic world in turn-of-the-century Europe.

Very well written when not marred by the author's idiosyncrasies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By maryon attwood on January 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't feel like this book offered anything more to the knowledge base than what was already written in Wild Hearts.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By One More Option on August 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
"To love is to see through two pairs of eyes." ~ Natalie Barney.

If a good book is a book that stimulates more new ideas and responses than any other book you've read in a long time, then "Wild Girls" was an excellent book for me. The book is so good, there are more interesting things about it than can be written in a concise review. However, the attribute I liked least about this book was its title. The book is about lesbian and bisexual women and their lifestyles in late 19th and 20th century Europe and the U.S. I would not generally define these women as being "wild." Rather, they were making lifestyle decisions as mature women with mature responsibilities. Further, they were not girls, and most often, they did not act immature or "girlish."

Other titles, such as: "Sapphic Idylls" or "Sappho, Paris, and the Arts" would have been better for me.

"Sensuality, wanting a religion, invented love." ~ Natalie Barney.

Overview: The book gives biographical commentary and snapshots about the lives and relationships surrounding two American women: Natalie Barney, a wealthy lesbian socialite, and Romaine Brooks, a wealthy painter. The two women had a non-traditional romantic relationship for over 50 years. During that time, they also had relationships with other women.

The real value of the book for me was in the author's select choices and opinionated commentary on the lives of the many women involved.

Many people may not realize: When you paint a portrait, take a picture, or write a biography of someone, you almost always are involved in portraying that person is a limiting fashion.
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