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.