A book of secrets : Illegitimate daughters, absent fathers

by Michael Holroyd

Hardcover, 2011




New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.


The author shares the stories of unknown women who played significant roles in the lives of prominent figures, including a mistress shared by the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales, a creative muse of Auguste Rodin, and a novelist lover of Vita Sackville-West.

Media reviews

The plot contains such frequent scenes of sex, confrontation, cruelty and humiliation, set across Europe, from Cornwall and London to Paris and Monte Carlo (for gambling, dancing and novelizing), that it suggests some Hollywood executive has been sleeping on the job — or has succumbed to sequel-itis — in not turning their story into a film. Their passion makes Henry and June look lame, and, in the role of chronicler, Anaïs Nin should be afraid of Virginia Woolf.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ChrisSterry
I very much enjoyed the earlier part of this book, centring around the life and various loves of Ernest Beckett, 2nd Lord Grimthorpe. It was a glittering tangle of mysteries and infidelities. In these ‘Google’ days I was able to follow up references and was fascinated by the vignettes of fashionable life illustrated by José Dale-Lace in South Africa. The portrait of José is particularly fine.
All roads seem to lead to Villa Cimbrone, and Holroyd, of course, travels there. The description of his visit with Catherine Till brings those mysteries of the past into a new, and current focus.
Seven years later he invited back to the Villa Cimbrone by Tiziana Masucci. Chapter Five, ‘Excitements, Earthquakes and Elopements’ continues the autobiographical theme, as Tiziana’s own absorption with Violet Trefussis is explored. From then on, however, the book seemed to me to lose its focus, and to descend into yet another episode of the long-running and oft explored Vita-Violet (+Virginia) saga—albeit seen heavily from Violet’s point of view.
One expects that all this will lead back, in some way, to the Villa Cimbrone, but it really doesn’t. The Villa makes a fleeting, and rather token appearance, in the Epilogue, but only as a symbol, and one very loosely connected to Violet herself.
Lady Sackville and Mrs Keppel might almost be seen as unifying characters in this book, sailing like imperious galleons, getting closer and closer to the waterline as the book progresses, until, with little ceremony, they sink.
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LibraryThing member lexmccall
This is a very bizarre biography of sorts. It seemed like the author changed the goal of the book between the first chapter and the last, and I'm still not certain what it was to begin with.
The highlight (to me) is the bust of Medusa that Vita Sackville-West gives her lover Violet as a wedding gift, and that it did not signal the end of their relationship. That detail alone warrants 3 stars.… (more)
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
Interesting in parts, but strangely organized and told in a way that makes it very easy to lose track of who's who. Well-written, of course.



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