cover image The Good Bohemian: The Letters of Ida John

The Good Bohemian: The Letters of Ida John

Edited by Rebecca John and Michael Holroyd. Bloomsbury, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4088-7362-5

Through the letters of Ida John (1877–1907), editors Holroyd (On Wheels) and John, Ida’s granddaughter, offer a fascinating glimpse into the domestic world of an avant-garde family and a compelling portrait of a woman who gave up her career and bore emotional pain. Ida, née Nettleship, born to a well-off family in Hampstead, London, led a charmed existence, studying art in London and Paris, until her marriage to artist Augustus John. Ida’s life soon derailed: she bore five children in six years while John painted, philandered and, with Ida’s approval, created a ménage à trois with Ida and his lover, Dorelia McNeill. Ida unhappily gave up her own artistic aspirations to manage an ever-growing family and suffered anguish over her husband’s preference for Dorelia. Ida’s letters provide a fine example of how female voices can provide new perspectives on past eras, revealing a slice of social history as Victorian certainties morphed into Edwardian social experimentation. Ida’s raw honesty about her situation draws the reader in, and the editors provide excellent notes framing the letters. While the earlier letters are relatively uneventful, the later ones rivet. Ida’s situation and sometimes suicidal despair notwithstanding, the book is ultimately inspiring for her humor, courage, grace, and resilience. [em](Nov.) [/em]