17 June 2015

On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life

Lesley Blanch about 100. Photo: Sveeva VIGEVENO/GAMMA
Lesley Blanch is the reason I no longer read much traditional fiction. 

If you were a writer and tried, even tried, to write a fictional account of Blanch's life, a competent editor would tell you that no one would believe it. It is a story too convoluted and rambling, a life both wildly independent and alarmingly sexy, and spanning nearly 103 years. Edit. Edit. Edit.

That was Lesley Blanch. We know of her 103 years (actually she was a month shy of 103) from the numerous books she wrote, a biography here and there, and interviews, but her life still had several large gaps. On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life is a collection of writing that helps to fill in those gaps. Gathered by Blanch's goddaughter, Georgia de Chamberet, we now have a better understanding of Blanch. When the publicist offered me a copy of the book, I jumped at the chance to expand my Blanch collection. When it arrived, it sat on my desk forever. I didn't want to read for I knew that once I had, that sense of anticipation at new revelations would be over. I couldn't wait any longer.

She began life in the English country side in the Edwardian era. It was a very conventional life.  Until a family friend, known as "The Traveller" came into Blanch's life. Though Blanch had always been secretive of his identity, he was Theodore Komisarjevsky, a Russian theatre director and designer. Under the guise of showing her around Paris, a 17 year-old Blanch was escorted and seduced by "The Traveller." Their encounters gave Blanch a flair for the dramatic and a serious case of wanderlust.

She decided to become and artist and attend the famous Slade school at a time she describes as, "post Carrington and Spencer and before the impudent gaiety and colour brought by Rex Whistler or Oliver Messel."

The most amazing revelation in On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life is her writing about her marriage to Romain Gary. She married Gary in 1945 and their marriage was "open" long before there was such a thing. Blanch traveled on her own and Gary indulged in other women. Together they were a golden couple. In 1954, Blanch's The Wilder Shores of Love about four nineteenth-century women travellers was a huge hit and Gary's novel The Roots of Heaven won the Goncourt. The couple became a fixture in Hollywood, hobnobbing with every one from Aldous Huxley to Sophia Loren.

One person Blanch should have, in hind site, kept off the guest list was Jean Seberg. Gary became besotted by Seberg and married her in 1962, weeks after his divorce from Blanch was finalized. Blanch took the divorce in stride and traveled extensively, through Afghanistan,the Sahara, Oman, Outer Mongolia, and Egypt. They continued to have what Blanch described as an amitié téléphonique.

In 1994 Lesley Blanch's house burn to the ground. She lost everything, including her library of travel books as well as her rare collection of Russian and Middle Eastern volumes. For days she sifted through the rubble. She had about given up when she sifted one more corner of ash. There she found two photographs that Romain Gray had entrusted to her years before: one of him as a child and the other of his mother.  Blanch wrote, "They were soul survivors of the disaster....Romain was once more demanding the spotlight."

One could go on and on, suffice to say, if you have never read Lesley Blanch, do. If you are a fan, add On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life to your collection.


  1. I was not familiar with Lesley Blanch until reading this. Now, I can't wait to read everything about her and by her - thank you!

  2. truly a great life and read. hers is definitely the stuff of legend.

  3. I agree, biographies of interesting women are far better than the majority of fiction. Especially, I think, women who lived during the 1920's and '30's, but other eras can also be fascinating. I've added this book to my Amazon wishlist. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Thanks for the tip. I look forward to reading her work.


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