Category Archives: Stranger than fiction

Monsieur le Marquis

No-one I’ve written about thus far has so defied summary as Mathilde de Morny. It’s not just that her life was in and of itself a rare and wondrous thing, full of bravery and scandal, adventure and extravagance, but it also embodied so many currents and contradictions of her era as well as inspiring some of its greatest writers.

Monsieur le Marquis

No-one I’ve written about thus far has so defied summary as Mathilde de Morny. It’s not just that her life was in and of itself a rare and wondrous thing, full of bravery and scandal, adventure and extravagance, but it also embodied so many currents and contradictions of her era as well as inspiring some of its greatest writers.

King of the end of the world

The flimsiest of regal claims can find credulous posthumous supporters, and to this day, the North American Araucanian Royalist Society continues to detail the line of descent from King Orélie I with impressive earnestness.

King of the end of the world

The flimsiest of regal claims can find credulous posthumous supporters, and to this day, the North American Araucanian Royalist Society continues to detail the line of descent from King Orélie I with impressive earnestness.

Goodbye Dolly

The study of Dolly Wilde belongs to a discipline that doesn’t exist. While nominally listed as a “socialite” in biographical entries, she didn’t entertain on a grand scale, patronise genius or pioneer new ways of living, so you won’t find her mentioned in social histories of the 20th century.

Goodbye Dolly

The study of Dolly Wilde belongs to a discipline that doesn’t exist. While nominally listed as a “socialite” in biographical entries, she didn’t entertain on a grand scale, patronise genius or pioneer new ways of living, so you won’t find her mentioned in social histories of the 20th century.

After Hours

The Nancy Cunard who journeyed from Nice to the outskirts of Paris in early March, 1965 – drunk, drug-addled, half-mad, paranoid, crippled, emaciated – was a long way from the Nancy Cunard of popular memory, the poet, progressive publisher, proponent

After Hours

The Nancy Cunard who journeyed from Nice to the outskirts of Paris in early March, 1965 – drunk, drug-addled, half-mad, paranoid, crippled, emaciated – was a long way from the Nancy Cunard of popular memory, the poet, progressive publisher, proponent

Gray gardens

My garden’s face is oh! so maidly fair,/With limbs all tapering and with hues all fresh;/Thine are the beauties all that flourish there.

Gray gardens

My garden’s face is oh! so maidly fair,/With limbs all tapering and with hues all fresh;/Thine are the beauties all that flourish there.

A medley of extemporanea

Stephen Tennant’s narcissism was so pure and open and unabashed that it belongs almost to a different category. “You were very beautiful this evening Stephen,” reads one diary entry.

A medley of extemporanea

Stephen Tennant’s narcissism was so pure and open and unabashed that it belongs almost to a different category. “You were very beautiful this evening Stephen,” reads one diary entry.

Secret hero

In his relatively short life Neal Cassady belonged to that select group of people whose very existence is so extraordinary, singular and improbable that they only seem to make sense as fictional characters.

Secret hero

In his relatively short life Neal Cassady belonged to that select group of people whose very existence is so extraordinary, singular and improbable that they only seem to make sense as fictional characters.

The birth of subculture

This life is a hovel and a place of ill-repute. I’m ashamed that God should see me here (Gérard de Nerval)

The birth of subculture

This life is a hovel and a place of ill-repute. I’m ashamed that God should see me here (Gérard de Nerval)

Tuesday on a Monday

“Tuesday Lobsang Rampa” was a “Tibetan” monk instrumental in the growth of New Age disciplines in the West. In 1956 “Rampa” published the autobiographical The Third Eye, detailing his life and calling as well as the titular gift which allowed him to discern auras.

Tuesday on a Monday

“Tuesday Lobsang Rampa” was a “Tibetan” monk instrumental in the growth of New Age disciplines in the West. In 1956 “Rampa” published the autobiographical The Third Eye, detailing his life and calling as well as the titular gift which allowed him to discern auras.

A Casati family tree

Casati claimed to be her own work of art, but it was a work with its own set of influences. Her crepuscular glamour, for instance, owed much to Elisabeth of Austria and her cousin Ludwig II and she vied with Montesquiou as the Countess de Castiglione’s posthumous BFF.

A Casati family tree

Casati claimed to be her own work of art, but it was a work with its own set of influences. Her crepuscular glamour, for instance, owed much to Elisabeth of Austria and her cousin Ludwig II and she vied with Montesquiou as the Countess de Castiglione’s posthumous BFF.

Dress-down Friday: Brian Howard

While the young, waspish, fabulous Howard lived on in print, the real Howard had to somehow make his way in the world. It was a disappointing journey, as the title of Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster’s biography Portrait of a Failure makes clear.

Dress-down Friday: Brian Howard

While the young, waspish, fabulous Howard lived on in print, the real Howard had to somehow make his way in the world. It was a disappointing journey, as the title of Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster’s biography Portrait of a Failure makes clear.

Disenchanted

One of the stranger episodes in Pierre Loti’s eventful life took place in Constantinople in 1904 when the author received what was essentially a fan letter from a Turkish woman, in which she daringly suggested a meeting…

Disenchanted

One of the stranger episodes in Pierre Loti’s eventful life took place in Constantinople in 1904 when the author received what was essentially a fan letter from a Turkish woman, in which she daringly suggested a meeting…

XIIDX day 1: Happy birthday Baby Jesus!

Nothing says CHRISTMAS in big glittery capital letters like a Christmas spectacular from the great, sorely missed Pee-wee Herman.

XIIDX day 1: Happy birthday Baby Jesus!

Nothing says CHRISTMAS in big glittery capital letters like a Christmas spectacular from the great, sorely missed Pee-wee Herman.

Sissi & Romy

Above all, Sissi is associated in the German-speaking world with the trio of 1950s movies based on her life starring Romy Schneider, which appear in Christmas TV schedules with grim inevitability. The beautiful Austrian actress would come to hate the role of Empress as much as Sissi herself did.

Sissi & Romy

Above all, Sissi is associated in the German-speaking world with the trio of 1950s movies based on her life starring Romy Schneider, which appear in Christmas TV schedules with grim inevitability. The beautiful Austrian actress would come to hate the role of Empress as much as Sissi herself did.

Faustian act

Safe in exile, Klaus Mann was struck by the parallels between Gustaf Gründgens’ greatest stage role and the Faustian nature of his arrangement with Goering, and put them, thinly veiled, into his novel, Mephisto.

Faustian act

Safe in exile, Klaus Mann was struck by the parallels between Gustaf Gründgens’ greatest stage role and the Faustian nature of his arrangement with Goering, and put them, thinly veiled, into his novel, Mephisto.

The eternal enigma

Kaspar Hauser had evidently been confined to a 2 metre square room for much of his life, never catching sight of the person or persons who held him captive, a toy horse his only comfort.

The eternal enigma

Kaspar Hauser had evidently been confined to a 2 metre square room for much of his life, never catching sight of the person or persons who held him captive, a toy horse his only comfort.

At home with Nina Hamnett

Nina Hamnett was vivacious, high-spirited, up for anything; a typical evening might find her singing off-colour sea shanties to a delighted André Gide, or dancing naked on a table in a Montparnasse bar long after closing time for an audience including Brancusi and Modigliani.

At home with Nina Hamnett

Nina Hamnett was vivacious, high-spirited, up for anything; a typical evening might find her singing off-colour sea shanties to a delighted André Gide, or dancing naked on a table in a Montparnasse bar long after closing time for an audience including Brancusi and Modigliani.

Dress-down Friday: Robert de Montesquiou

Whistler and Boldini were each inspired by their sitter’s magnetic self-possession to produce timeless portraits, and he famously served as the model for two literary barons: Charlus in Proust’s slim page-turner À la recherche du temps perdu and des Esseintes in J.K. Huysmans’ À rebours.

Dress-down Friday: Robert de Montesquiou

Whistler and Boldini were each inspired by their sitter’s magnetic self-possession to produce timeless portraits, and he famously served as the model for two literary barons: Charlus in Proust’s slim page-turner À la recherche du temps perdu and des Esseintes in J.K. Huysmans’ À rebours.

The real Dorian Gray

John Gray’s poetry appeared in deluxe editions which, like Gray himself, were often more notable for their attractive exteriors rather than their literary greatness.

The real Dorian Gray

John Gray’s poetry appeared in deluxe editions which, like Gray himself, were often more notable for their attractive exteriors rather than their literary greatness.

Last round

Born Jacques d’Adelswärd to minor nobility and a major fortune, he later added the second barrel to his name in honour of his ancestor, the Swedish adventurer Count Fersen who was a favourite — and possibly lover — of Marie Antoinette.

Last round

Born Jacques d’Adelswärd to minor nobility and a major fortune, he later added the second barrel to his name in honour of his ancestor, the Swedish adventurer Count Fersen who was a favourite — and possibly lover — of Marie Antoinette.