Lesley Blanch & the 1950s Woman | Waterstones, Gower Street, London W1

Georgia de Chamberet & Elisa Segrave celebrate the 1950s Woman

Wednesday 5th July, 6.30 pm Waterstones, Gower Street, London W1 @gowerst_books @quartetbooks

Join us for a glass of wine to toast the publication of Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch — the sequel to her posthumous memoirs, On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life, published by Virago (2015).

Tickets include wine and are redeemable against books purchased.

SPECTATOR Lesley Blanch was incapable of writing boringly or badly
Continue reading Lesley Blanch & the 1950s Woman | Waterstones, Gower Street, London W1

Spotlight | Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College

Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction

bulldog britainIn short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.

There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.

Continue reading Spotlight | Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College

Media Release | Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places, Lesley Blanch

This selection of early journalism and travelling tales by Lesley Blanch, edited by Georgia de Chamberet, published on 1 June by Quartet Books, forms a captivating sequel to On the Wilder Shores of Love:A Bohemian Life (Virago, 2015; PB 2017).

Savvy, self-possessed, talented and successful, Lesley Blanch was a bold and daring writer, travelling at a time when women were expected to stay at home and be subservient to the needs of husbands and children. She was an inspiration to a generation of women – Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Conran among them. This selection of her writings brims with her customary wit and sheds new light on an eternally fascinating – and truly inimitable – character.

Illustrated with photos and Blanch’s theatre portfolio from her time working with Russian émigré director/producer, Theodore Komisarjevsky; and featuring an insightful introduction. Far To Go and Many To Love brings together writings on subjects as various as Vivien Leigh, polygamy, the Orient Express and Afghanistan.

Praise for On the Wilder Shores of Love…
‘Sumptuous and captivating’ – Independent
‘This is a truly remarkable book’ – Daily Telegraph

Lesley Blanch MBE was born in London in 1904. She spent the greater part of her life travelling, to Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. She published 12 books in her lifetime and was a prolific journalist. She died in 2007 at the age of 103. website: www.lesleyblanch.com twitter: @lesleyblanch

HB • 234x156mm • Literary Bio (BGL) • £25 •  9780704374348 • Quartet Books.

For further info or to interview the editor please contact
Grace Pilkington grace@quartetbooks.co.uk tel 0207 636 3992

Lesley Blanch Archive | Giles: Friendship in a Time of War, British Vogue, 1944

The Lesley Blanch Archive at The Beinecke Library, Yale, includes articles written for British Vogue during her time as features editor (1937-44).

In these unsettled, divided times in which segregation and racism are making an unwelcome comeback, positive historical reminders of tolerance and kindness are to be celebrated and shared.

The exhibition, Giles: Friendship in a time of war, curated by social historian David Cain, tells of the British cartoonist’s all-but-forgotten friendship with two African-American GIs, Butch and Ike, based near his Suffolk home during World War Two.

In the early 1940s, Giles lived with his wife, Joan, in Badger’s Cottage in Tuddenham St. Martin. He befriended several men serving with 923rd Engineer Aviation Regiment based at nearby RAF Debach. He often welcomed Butch and  Ike at his home for drinks. Giles loved Jazz and their musical evenings frequently spilled over into the local village pub.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Giles: Friendship in a Time of War, British Vogue, 1944

Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (1) | An Editor’s Odyssey

‘We few, we happy few, are gathered here, the descendants of Chinggis Khan’s golden lineage. We, the scions of his personal guard, the Hishigten Army . . . ‘ Shaman Dulaan Boshgot paused, his granite-like eyes narrowing as he looked  into the distance towards the ruins of Kharakorum, the once great capital lying in the vast Orkhon Valley of Central Mongolia. A sea of green velvety grassland was bathed in the golden rays of the rising sun. A smell of earth and horse sweat enveloped him. Behind him, he could hear his white stallion pawing at the stony steppe.”

So begins The Green-Eyed Lama: Love and Betrayal in Mongolia by Oyungerel Tsedevdamba and Jeffrey L. Falt. It is an epic work of historical fiction which brings alive the nomadic Mongol way of life.

Continue reading Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (1) | An Editor’s Odyssey

Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 1943

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

This is the story of The Women ― today, as Clare Boothe Luce never imagined them yesterday. An all-star, all-women cast, it’s true, but there the resemblance ceases. These women are playing their parts in a world drama, but they remain limelight dodgers. And the scene is no demi-paradise of beauty parlours but the wild hills and lochs of Western Scotland.

Here, in pitching little boats, cutting through the mists and gales, on the big depot ship, swarming up and down plunging rope ladders, balanced, cat-like, to walk along the perilous jutting booms, picked Wrens undergo their boats-crew training. Or work as visual signallers, or service the torpedoes and depth charges aboard the motor torpedo boats and corvettes in the clanging uproar and grime of the Naval bases. One and all disprove the old wives’ or rather the old-fashioned husbands’ tale that woman’s place is the home, that women can’t get on together.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 1943

Spotlight | Sex in the nineteenth-century city | Paris, London and the demi-monde

In his planning notes for Nana, the character of which was based on four notorious, pampered prostitutes, Zola describes his novel as being about “a whole society chasing after sex. A pack of hounds following a bitch . . .  The poem of male desire.*”  Nana rises from being a streetwalker to high-class cocotte; her golden tresses and “deadly smile of the man-eater” holding Le Tout Paris in thrall. Zola’s descriptions of her delirious expenditure, rising debts and magnificent, glitzy Hotel Particulier, “which seemed to have been built over an abyss that swallowed up men — along with their worldly possessions, their fortunes, their very names — without leaving even a handful of dust behind them,” foreshadow her vile death rotting in a state of stinking pustulence from smallpox during the last years of the French Second Empire. When it was published the novel was an instant hit, selling nearly 55,000 copies.

In his study of prostitution in Paris published in 1842 — Streetwalkers, Lorettes and Courtesans (Filles, Lorettes et Courtisanes) — Alexandre Dumas shows how going to work on the streets near La Bourse or rue Saint Honoré; on the Grands Boulevards; or in a brothel was more profitable for a lower-class girl than factory work, or shoplifting. Many sold themselves to support their families. Others were servants sacked by their employers, or arrived in the big city from the country having fallen pregnant.
Continue reading Spotlight | Sex in the nineteenth-century city | Paris, London and the demi-monde

Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) influenced and inspired generations of writers, readers and critics. Her lifelong passion was for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. At heart a nomad, she spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly.
She left England in 1946, never to return, except as a visitor. Her marriage to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, afforded her many years of happy wanderings. After their divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.
Her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life are published by Virago, Little Brown.

Where would you like to live?
It must be a warm country. If I really want to be coldly factual I must try to live where I can be looked after, but that’s a very dull answer only come on me now when I’m approaching one hundred. I should like to live in the Levant, somewhere in a Moslem country; the Moslems respect age. I loved Afghanistan passionately, but not the way it is now. I read, over and over again, the place names, just to get back there.

What is your idea of happiness on earth?
I want a garden and animal companionship and music.

What faults do you find most forgivable?
Temper. Rudeness. I forgive them very quickly. I don’t bear much malice because I’m too bored with it. Continue reading Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch with @MsRachelCooke

The stereotypical view of the fifties woman is reflected in vintage postcards on sale at stalls in Portobello Market, featuring colourful ads for hoovers, OMO, ‘Empire’ baby pants, or Kenwood chef food processors alongside an immaculately dressed housewife with perfect hair and varnished nails beaming a pillarbox-red lipsticked smile as she does the chores.

Rachel Cooke’s book, Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, flies in the face of the clichéd view of the fifties housewife stuck at home ― an appendage to her husband. It may have been the case in American suburbia of the time, but in Britain women had got through the war without their husbands, brothers or fathers. Some had joined the ATS, or WAAF, or WRNS and drove ambulances, or worked in a government ministry. Others ended up at Bletchley Park. When Elisa Segrave came upon her late mother’s diaries, she discovered that her mother had excelled at her work as an indexer in Hut 3, then in Hut 3N, at Bletchley Park, from 1941-43; and was promoted to 4th Naval Duty Officer during Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa. She had several jobs in Bomber Command and later saw its effects in the ruined towns of Germany where she had her last job in the WAAF. On her days off she travelled in a weapon carrier with her American boyfriend. The Girl From Station X is an illuminating read.

The war had a liberating effect: women were hardly about to exchange their newfound freedom in peacetime for baking cakes and a life cushioned by nappies. Cooke stressed how the old and the new were pulling against each other in fifties Britain, which was on the cusp of modernity ― heralding the sixties. Women were expected to settle down, marry and have kids, yet having had a taste of freedom,  they wanted to do their own thing and be independent. The way women today juggle home and career and feel guilty about it was not the case then, when women just went for it and did not consider the consequences. The term ‘latchkey kid’ dates from the fifties. Continue reading The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch with @MsRachelCooke

Lesley Blanch | Panto, December 1943

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and wrote about anything but fashion.

It’s always On the Road to the Middle of Next Week: unless it’s Nowhere in Particular, with Past Events casting their Shadows before. It’s the Enchanted Cavern, the Flying Palace, the Wicked Wood, the Widow Twankey’s Kitchen, or the Fairies’ Home in the Heart of the Rose . . . It’s the Pork-Butcher’s Shop, It’s the Magic Transformation Scene, It’s the Harlequinade — in short, it’s the Christmas Pantomime.

And how we dote on every frantic antic; every time-honoured traditional rumbustious caper. This is our show, as national as a Union Jack. What do we care for progress or probability? We have always liked to see the broker’s men smashing up the Throne Room of the Golden Palace. We still like to see Dame Suet, in elastic-sided boots, at the Ball. Or the Widow Twankey, in emeralds and ermine, (after her boy Aladdin struck it lucky), yet still washing out his pants with maternal zeal and mountains of soap suds. We shall always want our Principal Boy to be a buxom blonde with plenty to her. We don’t care if she and her hips are forty, and look it. She’s Prince Charming to us. We love the pneumatic glossy curves of her tights. We wait for the moment when she’s slain the Dragon of Wantage, armed only with ostrich plumes and a top B flat, and comes downstage to give us a fruity rendering of “Half a Pint of Mild and Bitter”.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch | Panto, December 1943