Ever on the trail of Romaine Brooks and her marriage partners

Spring offensive--300px-Western_front_1918_germanA question has been puzzling me related to my latest book, forthcoming from University of Wisconsin Press later this year.  I’ve been wondering — when Lily confronted Natalie, how serious was she? They had been lovers for 9 years and Natalie had been helping to support Lily and her two daughters.

I recently received information confirming that, when Lily delivered her ultimatum to Natalie, demanding that she cut off her relationship with Romaine or suffer the loss of Lily in her life, she fled to the countryside.

This seemed almost impossible to imagine in a country that was at war. But a military historian has confirmed that it actually would have in fact been possible for Lily to travel because the German offensive hadn’t yet gotten fully underway. This also means that Natalie would have been able to chase after, and that the marriage contract between them might have been written en route, rather than in Paris.

You can read more details in my new book, Romaine Brooks: A Life, but a quick look at the map confirms the information I have been sent.

Revelations in Gay and Lesbian history

Much has been made of heterosexist models of relationships as applied to gay and lesbian lives. Recent publications have done a lot to overturn these stereotypes of gender and relational norms. With the marriage debates and LGBTQ rights, the focus has been mainly on gaining equal rights through heterosexist institutions. This may be one reason so many members of the LGBTQ community are signing on to the idea of marriage, aberrant as it may seem.

Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney, and Lily de Gramont never signed on to the notion that women were somehow the property of men to use and abuse as they saw fit merely because they had the brute strength to subjugate women and possess them. Nor did they believe in laws that allowed men to oppress women. They believed women were superior to men and lived their lives in this belief.

Blue is the Warmest Color recently exploded off the screen, garnering a number of prizes and rave reviews. I just saw it and have to say it is a film that promised much and failed to deliver on these promises.

Here is the book you must read
Here is the book you must read

As a primer on lesbian sex, it’s fine for as far as it goes — which is not nearly far enough. It showcases a male perspective, with two women acting out a male notion of what lesbians do in bed. It’s not half bad, but it certainly in no way captures the true depth, playfulness, or sinuosities of lesbian love and sexual practices. It is shallow and surface despite all the huff and puff and penetration. What does come across is how focused on butt the film maker is. I wonder if he has been studying the nudes that artist Joan Semmel has been creating for the last 40 years or so.

Open, ongoing, multiple-partner relationships are what the trio above had. Committed, eternal, and flexible would best describe their interrelations. We need to realize that these three women did not have the right to vote, had more than enough money for multiple residences, and formed a unique series of linkages and entwined households during their lifetimes. This seriously impacts on how we relate to them and their times. I outline and flesh out more in my forthcoming book Romaine Brooks: A Life.

New Event and interview with me about Brooks

Hi, all! Just letting you know about a great online event put together by a colleague of mine. Please tune in for Suzanne’s site reopening on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at www.suzannestroh.com.

It’s a virtual party to celebrate the 137th birthday of expatriate arts patron Natalie Barney (1876-1972). A major reappraisal of Barney’s life and legacy is underway, led by the translation of Francesco Rapazzini’s biography of the woman Barney secretly married in 1918, author and sculptor Élisabeth de Gramont (1875-1954). Forty years after Barney’s death, her secret 1926 novel has finally been published in French. It details the household both women established with American painter Romaine Brooks (1874-1970).

The Ballet Russe Affair

sex, love, relationships, dance, Romaine Brooks, Saint Sabastian, Paris, 1900
Dwarf (D’Annunzio) shoots arrows at a fair-haired Ida Rubenstein.

This year the Ballet Russe is on the scene celebrating its centennial. Ida Rubenstein, Romaine’s lover, was a star of the ballet who electrified Paris with her sensational performances. The triangle that emerged between Romaine, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Ida was almost as spectacular as the opulent staging of the Ballet Russe’s Cleopatre and Scheherezade.

Brooks satirized the relationship by presenting D’Annunzio’s thwarted desires in this scathing parody after her breakup with D’Annunzio. Her revenge — she invited him to her studio to see the painting. We don’t know what transpired between the two of them; only that the friendship continued, albeit on a different basis, for the rest of their lives.

I go into this in much more depth and analysis in my forthcoming book, Romaine Brooks: A Life.