Wild Heart, a Life: Natalie Clifford Barney's Journey from Victorian America to the Literary Salons of Paris

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9780066213651: Wild Heart, a Life: Natalie Clifford Barney's Journey from Victorian America to the Literary Salons of Paris

Charismatic, brilliant, and beautiful, the American writer Natalie Clifford Barney, who lived in Paris for most of her long life, is best known for three things: her Left Bank literary salon, often acknowledged as the most important of the twentieth century; her books of epigrams about life, love, and the nature of womanhood; and a liberated approach to sex that she refused to cloak, even in the midst of the Victorian era.

Born to great wealth in 1876 and raised in Washington, D.C., and Bar Harbor, Maine, Barney was expected to marry well and lead the conventional life of a privileged society woman. But Natalie wasn't interested in marriage and made no secret of the fact that she was attracted to women.

Raised by a nonconformist and artistic mother -- the painter Alice Pike Barney -- Natalie developed an early interest in poetry and the arts. Moving to Paris at the century's turn, she plunged into the city's vibrant social and literary scene, quickly becoming known among the young, cutting-edge literati as "the rarest and most intelligent woman" of her time. She was equally renowned as a notorious seductress, one who effortlessly conquered the hearts of women and the minds of men. The story of her first notorious love affair -- with Liane de Pougy, the most sought-out courtesan of Belle Époque Paris -- was transformed by Liane, with Natalie's assistance, into a bestselling 1901 roman á clef. Natalie's lovers continued to write about her for decades -- sometimes impishly (Colette), or with brutal honesty (Lucie Delarue-Mardrus), or with a disturbing mixture of anger, worship, and grief (the tragic poet René Vivien). Men, including would-be lovers such as Remy de Gourmont or Bernard Bereson, tended to write of Barney with admiration, even reverence. Ultimately, her powerful salon and compelling personality attracted the greatest figures of twentieth-century arts and letters, including Edna St. Vincent Millay, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Truman Capote.

A dazzling literary biography, Wild Heart: A Life is a story of a true rebel who came of age at a time when rebels weren't admired -- particularly if they were women -- and who has since become an icon to many others. Set against the backdrop of two different societies, Victorian America and Belle Époque Europe, Wild Heart: A Life beautifully captures the richness of their love.

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About the Author:

Suzanne Rodriguez is the author of Found Meals of the Lost Generation, a social history of Americans in Paris in the 1920s. She lives in California.

From Publishers Weekly:

Born in 1876 to a wealthy American family from Ohio with connections to the arts her grandfather built the second opera house in New York City Barney began her public life at the age of six when she met Oscar Wilde. After coming out as a lesbian in the U.S. (at 17, she had her first love affair with 20-year-old Evalina Palmer), Barney moved to Paris in 1899 and began a very public affair with Lilane de Pougy, celebrated courtesan and author of romantic potboilers. By 1903, Barney boasted of having "the most respectable of bad reputations"; no less then three literary works (including a novel by Colette) featured thinly veiled portraits of her as a notorious lesbian. Notoriety begot legend as Barney, having formed deep friendships with Gide, Pierre Louys, Paul Claudel, Remy Gourmont and other literary stars, became one of the most famous salonists in Paris as well as a noted poet and novelist who published 21 books. By the time of her death in 1972, Barney was a literary and social institution. Rodriguez (Found Meals of the Lost Generation) has done a superb job assembling the historical details (she traces Barney's ancestry back to the mid-1700s) and in fleshing out Parisian literary history (such as Barney's intense rivalry with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas). She deals with the romantic complications of Barney's life, especially a long affair with painter Romaine Brooks, with grace, and delineates the contradictions in Barney's life, such as espousing a glib anti-Semitism even as she was being harassed by the Nazis because of her Jewish heritage. This bio, the first of Barney in English in more than 20 years, should resurrect deserved interest in a major 20th-century literary player.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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