Enchantress: Marthe Bibesco and Her World

Christine Sutherland, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $30 (420p) ISBN 978-0-374-14814-0
In 1902, Marthe Lavohary, a 16-year-old beauty, was married in Bucharest to Prince George Bibesco, the thoroughly spoiled and selfish son of the hereditary hospodar--governor--of Wallachia. Her devastating wedding night left her ""obliterated."" Although she would have many lovers, her relationships were more romantic, even intellectual, than physical. Spending her days far apart from Prince George, Marthe became a cosmopolitan socialite and notable author, with her base in Paris and her ancestral home, to which she repaired regularly, in Romania. Her admirers included a king of Spain, a crown prince of Germany, a British prime minister and a premier of France. Her books, written in French, won prizes and were the envy of rivals whose reputations have outlasted her own. Her now-forgotten potboiling novels, penned under pseudonyms when she needed money, were bestsellers. Witness to two world wars and writing until the end, she died in Paris at 87, nearly destitute. Yet her biography reads now like a faded operetta without music, and Sutherland (Maria Walewska) makes only a feeble attempt to breathe life into Princess Bibesco's writings. Sixty-five volumes of her gossipy manuscript diaries survive, along with such books as the travel memoir The Eight Paradises and the evocative Isvor: The Land of the Willow, about her province and its people. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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