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CURRENT READING: Dangerous Muse: The Life Of Lady Caroline Blackwood: Nancy Schoenberger

The great, bracing spirit of absurdity that informed Blackwood's writing spills over into the tone of Schoenberger's prose.The great, bracing spirit of absurdity that informed Blackwood's writing spills over into the tone of Schoenberger's prose.

One odd thing leads to another. That whole hyper-linking thing? It happens to your mind these days. I was browsing Amazon when I stumbled across the title, 'The Last Of The Duchess:The Strange And Sinister Story Of The Final Years Of Wallis Simpson, Duchess Of Windsor'.

" Great." I grumbled, "Yet another book on That Woman. Why ? "

The poor Duchess in her after-life weathers an aftermath as a cottage industry, from auctions to those perennial books to Madonna helmed movies. But perhaps there is a new wrinkle, especially since 'The Last Of The Duchess" hails from 1980 . That would then make its point-of-view positively antiquarian. So one dips into an excerpt as one does and becomes confronted with a damning sentence like the one concerning the real star of the piece...the Duchess's "necrophiliac lawyer"...MaƮtre Blum:

"Her face did not match her wizened little hands which are those of a crone, and her age was also betrayed by the discoloration of pigment, the brown flowers of death that discolored her arms...her slanting, blinking eyes had a snakelike malevolence"

Such an indictment prompts you to double check an author's provenance, for this is the English language unleashed to its most malevolent use. And boy does this here Lady Caroline Blackwood have provenance to spare.

Eldest child of the 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and the brewery heiress Maureen Guinness ... the former wife, first to the artist Lucian Freud, then to the composer Israel Citkowitz and finally to the poet Robert Lowell, this woman clearly has 5 lifetimes compressed into one. Her book on The Duchess, while by no means definitive, is vital because of its excision of the morbid fate that had befallen that former epitome of glamour.

But you see Caroline Blackwell, is herself the avatar of a different kind of glamour, that of the deshabille and the decidedly downwardly mobile spiral. Lady Caroline didn't so much slum as slam her way through society high and low, trampling everything in her path with aristo-punk insouciance.

Indifferent to her own children (in the tradition of her own upbringing), callous to her lovers, dedicated above all to the bohemian disregard, Caroline Blackwell and her last husband were like anti-forces of dosmetic joy and the good housekeeping that comes with it.

Which is what makes Nancy Schoenberger's 2001 biography of the writer/muse that Lady Blackwell ultimately shapes herself into such compelling material. Hers is all the odd, mad, bad choices that makes for an extremely narrative lifetime. Blackwell's lifelong unlimited access to the lives of the rich, the titled, the idle, the beautiful, the delusional and the genius informs the life philosophy of her writing in a direction best described as absurdist. Satire presents itself as the very bent of life right from birth, a gift she masterfully harnesses in her great work of fiction,' Great Granny Webster".

The great, bracing spirit of absurdity that informed Blackwood's writing spills over into the tone of Schoenberger's prose. I couldn't stop laughing at the implication Schoenberger makes that her subject tried to stymy this biography by arranging a car crash from the grave.

Now there's a formidable life force for you!

'Girl in Bed, 1952' ,  a portrait of Lucien Freud's  second wife, Caroline Blackwood'Girl in Bed, 1952' , a portrait of Lucien Freud's second wife, Caroline Blackwood

Taste is a dictatorship.

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