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The Wilder Shores of Love Paperback – October 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“Love, wanderlust, faraway places—all that Romance implies—make up this delicious book. . . . Ideal reading.”
Washington Post Book World

“Over the years, many full-length biographies of [these] four heroines have been published. . . . But Lesley Blanch’s short, imaginative, and highly poetic account of their lives and personalities remains unsurpassed.”
The Independent (London)

“An exuberantly colorful book.”
—Orville Prescott, The New York Times

About the Author

Lesley Blanch was a distinguished writer, painter, drama critic, and Vogue editor. The author of twelve books, includihng Pierre Loti and The Sabres of Paradise, she died in 2007. To learn more about Lesley, visit her website at
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439197342
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439197349
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

If they have heard of Lesley Blanch, most people today associate her with her bestselling book, 'The Wilder Shores of Love'. Her writing as a whole brings to life something of Russia and the Middle East as they once were, before The Taliban and violence became daily news.

Blanch was a cult literary figure, influencing writers, readers and critics. She was beautiful, talented and, in the words of the historian Philip Mansel, "not a school, a trend, or a fashion, but a true original". An inspirational figure to a generation of women, her admirers ranged from the late Jackie Kennedy to Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Conran.

Blanch did her own thing against the odds choosing to fulfil the potential of her own nature and escape "the boredom of convention". She fled the tedium of Edwardian suburbia to become a working woman at a time when few women had careers. She moved on from working as a costume and set designer in the theatre with Theodore Komisarjevksy, to journalism. As Features Editor of British Vogue during World War II, she was on the front line of women journalists covering universal topics, collaborating with Lee Miller and Anne Scott James.

From 1946, she travelled through post-war Europe with her Polish-French diplomat-novelist husband, Romain Gary. Their marriage afforded her many years of happy wanderings. When not travelling or socializing, the couple would sit snug in dressing gowns, writing their books in long-hand as neither one had learned to type. By the time they reached Hollywood in the 1950s they were at the peak of their careers. Films were made of their books and friends who came for dinner included many of the major cultural figures of the time: Aldous and Maria Huxley, Igor Stravinsky and his wife Vera, Gary Cooper, Charles Boyer, Sophia Loren, David Selznick, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Leslie Caron ... Cecil Beaton, George Cukor and James Mason were friends of Blanch's for life.

Theirs was a pre-1960s open marriage: she accepted his womanising; and he accepted her need for wild places, letting her travel to research her books, not expecting her to be home cooking dinner every night. However the snake in their Eden poisoned their gilded life in a spectacular fashion when Jean Seberg, (star of New Wave French cinema sensation 'Breathless'), and her husband came to dinner one night. Gary left Lesley for her: he had to give up his diplomatic position.

After the divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.The places she travelled to and which obsessed her are still newsworthy today: Russia, the Middle East, Turkey, Afghanistan. She freelanced for leading broadsheets and was commissioned to write special features by Diana Vreeland - editor-in-chief of American Vogue from 1963 until 1971 - which were invariably accompanied by the photographs of her friend, Henry Clarke. He juxtaposed the flamboyant new styles in fashion against famous architectural and archeological sites in Syria, Iran, Jordan to create what is known as "Travel fashion." When in Paris, Blanch would see Nancy Mitford, Rebecca West, the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, Violet Trefusis ...

Blanch was well ahead of her time and prescient in the way she attempted to bridge West and East - especially the West and Islam. She was modern and free, with tremendous wit and style; and a traveller who took risks and relished writing about her adventures. Her life reads like a novel and sets her apart as being a true original. She died in Menton in the South of France, age 103.

Her memoirs 'On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life' are published by Virago, Little Brown UK.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Renee Thorpe on August 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
These accounts of four western women and how they lived in exotic lands serve best as an introduction, not as a particularly authoritative reference.
Definitely more high-brow than romance novels, if only by virtue of being true personalities, this book is a welcome bit of romantic escapism. Despite the fact that the author clearly admires and reveres these intelligent and adventurous women, the book disappoints on a couple of fronts. The writing (nearly half a century old) is peppered with somewhat embarassing colonial language about native beauty, genetically determined intelligence, and primitive sexiness. No blatant racism here, but plenty of indulgent speculation that comes off poorly today.
I found it annoying that the author used French liberally but without any attempt at translation; this usually appears in quotations and with a disclaimer that the flavor of the original language would be lost in any translation. I disagree: a skilled translator could handle it beautifully.
I personally enjoyed these accounts of the lives of women who ventured beyond the realm of other western women, who supported great men, or who even changed the course of history. But I felt I had received only part of the stories. I have yet to find more writings about these women, but I am sure they are out there. A very entertaining introduction to each subject's life.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Domesticrat on May 16, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wouldn't have known about this book if I hadn't read Lesley Blanch's recent obit in the NY Times (May 11, 2007). It sounded too good to pass up, and it's a great read. Her writing style, for a biography, is over the top even for 50 years ago, but it's obvious she was enjoying herself in the telling, and it's a very readable book. HOWEVER, as soon as you read Ms Blanch's intro, you find a reference to an illustration, but when you check the book for pictures, there are none. Turns out the hardcover first ed. had pictures, and some subsequent paperback editions printed in England kept the illustrations, but the newer paperback editions dumped them. Well, shame on Scribners for not including them! It does take something away from the narrative not to be able to see whatever the author was able to locate on the women, whether photos or portraits. But still an entertaining read.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Did I have adventures with foreign men?'' Lesley Blanch told an interviewer on her 100th birthday. "Many times --- I like them.''

Even at that advanced age, she was still writing. Always to music, most often reggae. At night, she'd greet visitors --- she was fond of hashish dealers --- to her exotic house on the French-Italian border in clothes that matched her environment: a caftan and turban, her neck fighting a load of ethnic jewelry.

To the very end of her life --- Lesley Blanch died in the spring of 1907, at 102 --- she was wildly entertaining. But her big personality is just icing. As "The Wilder Shores of Love" attests, she was a very good writer with a gift for telling remarkable stories, many of them probably true. And she was the ideal writer to profile four 19th century women who defied convention and went off to make fresh starts in North Africa and the Middle East. Or, as she called them, "four northern shadows flitting across a southern landscape."

Her focus was as exotic as her prose: "love as a means of individual expression, of liberation and fulfillment within that radiant periphery." Her women weren't head-in-the-stars about love; they were "realists of romance." And the book works brilliantly because, though the lives of Blanch's women were only superficially similar, their priorities were the same --- breathing the oxygen that was only available on the wilder shores of love.

Isabel Burton: Blanch chose her because she was "the supreme example of a woman who lived and had her being entirely through love." From the minute she saw them, she craved the East and the famous Victorian traveler, Richard Burton. (He spoke 28 languages. Blanch writes, one of them pornography.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Meredith Mani on July 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book will stay with you for a long time. The lives of the women were remarkable, interesting, glamorous and ahead of their time. Wilder Shores details lives less ordinary and in doing so evokes a strong emotional tie to the reader. It's the kind of book that allows one to imagine, to really put themselves emotionally and physically, having lived a life of adventure and daring. What is striking is that these women would never have said that about their own lives. Times were different and they paid a price for living life on their terms and defined by their hearts. I highly suggest this rich and rewarding book. You will learn with this book as well as find yourself entertained. I too read this book years ago and sought it out again. Now that I have a copy it is part of my personal library.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Dawson on January 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
Originally published in 1954 and quickly becoming a best seller; The Wilder Shores of Love portrays four admirable women who, by fate and conscious design, lived their lives brimming with dangerous adventure, passion and political savvy that threw nineteenth century society into a stir of envied condemnation.

Jane Digby, `impervious to scandal', made her way across Europe like a whirling dervish of all consuming passion. Among her many flames (the list is not exhaustive) were Prince Schwarzenburg, Balzac, King Ludwig I of Bavaria and his son; Otto, King of Greece, followed by an Albanian Chieftain and a couple of Arab Sheikhs. The last with whom she settled in Syria, alternating between Damascus and desert tribal warfare in which she participated; all of this at a time when `Queen Victoria refused to countenance the remarriage of widows'. She was also a woman of great intellect, spoke nine languages fluently and retained her naiveté until the end.

By contrast, Isabel Burton and Aimee Dubucq de Rivery displayed a singular sense of purpose that defied what was possible: Isabelle Burton, hypnotised by her husband to be, the awesome Richard Burton (explorer, orientalist, linguist - a kind of Livingston, Byron, T.E. Lawrence and Fitzroy Maclean all rolled into one), clung to a gipsy prophecy for nine years before she got her man. Blanch takes their relationship as a metaphor between east and west; Catholic, domesticated Isabel who was also a consummate organiser and genius Burton, who could disappear for months on end to go native, re-emerging with sensitive information that the foreign office rarely took on board.
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