Lesley Blanch

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Lesley Blanch, MBE, FRSL (June 6, 1904, London – May 7, 2007, Garavan near Menton, France[1]) was an English writer, historian and traveller.

Life and career[edit]

Blanch attended St. Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith from 1915 to 1921. A scholarly romantic, she would spend the greater part of her long life travelling about remote regions and recording them vividly in her books. Her lifelong passion was for Russia and the Middle East. She was, in the words of the historian Philip Mansel, “not a school, a trend, or a fashion, but a true original.”

Blanch studied painting at the Slade from 1922–24 and went on to do private commissions, portraits and book jackets for T. S. Eliot at Faber amongst others. She soon turned to journalism, and was features editor of British Vogue from 1937 to 1944. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller. She married Robert Alan Wimberley Bicknell in 1930 and they were divorced in 1941, although the marriage had failed long before that. She claimed, according to an interview in The Sunday Times in August 2006, that she had married Bicknell in order to obtain a house in Richmond, near the Thames in London.

In 1945, she married the French novelist-diplomat Romain Gary. Life in the French diplomatic service took them to the Balkans, Turkey, North Africa, Mexico and the USA. In the USA they associated with Aldous Huxley and with Hollywood stars such as Gary Cooper, Sophia Loren and Laurence Olivier.[2]

Gary left her for American actress Jean Seberg[2] and they were divorced in 1962. Blanch continued to travel from her home in Paris, and saw old friends Nancy Mitford, Violet Trefusis, Rebecca West and the Windsors. She was a close friend of Gerald de Gaury, who gave her insights into middle eastern customs and culture.[3]

The best known of her 12 books is The Wilder Shores of Love, about four English women, Isabel Burton, Lady Jane Digby, Isabelle Eberhardt, and Aimée du Buc de Rivéry, a cousin of Josephine,[clarification needed] who all "followed the beckoning Eastern star.” It pioneered a new kind of group biography focusing on "women escaping the boredom of convention," and the title added a memorable phrase to the English language. Blanch's love of Russia, instilled in her as a child by a friend of her parents whom she simply called The Traveller, is recounted in Journey into the Mind's Eye, Fragments of an Autobiography which is part travel book, part love story. Lesley Blanch considered her best book to be The Sabres of Paradise (the biography of Imam Shamyl and history of Imperialist Russian rule in early 19th century Georgia and the Caucasus). Her memoir of Romain Gary was written in English but published in a French translation.

Awards/Honours[edit]

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Lesley Blanch was appointed MBE in 2001, and in 2004 the French government awarded her the medal of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Death[edit]

She celebrated her 100th birthday in 2004. She died just one month shy of 103.[4]

Publications[edit]

  • 1954: The Wilder Shores of Love
  • 1955: Round the World in 80 Dishes, the World Through the Kitchen Window (cookbook)
  • 1957: The Game of Hearts: Harriette Wilson and her Memoirs (edited and introduced by Lesley Blanch), London: Gryphon Books
    • --do.--Harriette Wilson's Memoirs; selected and edited by Lesley Blanch (introduction: pp. 3-59; The lady and the game; Harriette Wilson's memoirs: pp. 61-442). London: Phoenix Press, 2003
  • 1960: The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus (a biography of Imam Shamyl and history of Imperialist Russian rule in early 19th century Georgia and the Caucasus)
  • 1963: Under a Lilac-Bleeding Star, Travels and Travellers
  • 1965: The Nine Tiger Man, a Tale of Low Behaviour in High Places
  • 1968: Journey into the Mind's Eye, Fragments of an Autobiography
  • 1974: Pavilions of the Heart, the Four Walls of Love
  • 1978: Farah, Shahbanou of Iran
  • 1983: Pierre Loti: Portrait of an Escapist
  • 1989: From Wilder Shores, the Tables of my Travels (cookbook)
  • 1998: Romain, un regard particulier; traduit de l'anglais par Jean Lambert. Arles: Actes Sud

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Obituary". The Guardian. May 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-10. 
  2. ^ a b McGuinness, Mark. "An eccentric romantic's life: Lesley Blanch (1904-2007)", The Sydney Morning Herald, Weekend Edition, May 19–20, 2007, p. 53
  3. ^ Fox, Margalit. May 11, 2007. Lesley Blanch, 102, a Writer, Traveler and Adventure-Seeker, Dies. The New York Times
  4. ^ "Obituary". The Telegraph. May 9, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-10. 

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