WILD HEART: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney's Journey from Victorian America to Belle Epoque Paris

Suzanne Rodriguez, Author . Ecco $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-621365-1

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. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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