What does an art book on “Bagatelle” and a biography of Princesse Bibesco have in common? They get signing parties at Galignani‘s, the English bookshop on rue de Rivoli, where Karl Lagerfeld used to buy hundreds of thousands of € of books every year. The month of September is traditionally rich in new novels and the rentrée littéraire is ready for the prizes which are awarded from the end of August until November. My favorite choice this year is a wonderful book by Julie Héraclès, “Vous ne connaissez rien de moi” (your know nothing of me) about a young woman in Chartres, who falls in love with a German from the Wehrmacht during WWII. She will become one of the women photographed by Frank Capra, whose hair is shaved at the Liberation. The novel is written with extraordinary subtlety and describes how a young bright woman can take her own destiny into her hands.
Princesse Bibesco, née Marthe Lahovary, belonged to the world of Proust. Born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1886, she died in Paris in 1973. She married at 16, published her first book at 22 and immediately became a successful author. Through her husband, she was first cousin to Elisabeth Greffulhe, born Princesse de Caraman Chimay. She nicknames her, “Notre très “famous” cousine…” She is allied to all the great Romanian families, the Ghika, Sturdza, Cantacuzène… But her first “coup de foudre” is for the “Mémoires d’outre-tombe” by Chateaubriand which she reads while visiting, every Thursday, a very boring old aunt. Queen Elisabeth of Romania, who had lost her daughter, invites her when she is twelve. Her mother in law, Valentine de Chimay takes her under her wing and discusses her readings with her. Her first big adventure will be in 1905, to drive on a three month trip, to Iran with her husband and she writes “Persia in automobile through Russia and Caucasus, Roses of Ispahan” published by Hachette.
Marthe Bibesco is sometimes mixed with the other great social Romanian writer and poet, Anna de Noailles, née Brancovan, who is at the center of the salon life in Paris. But time has come for her to go back to Bucharest with her husband Georges who is unfaithful and catches a venereal disease. She redecorates their house of Posada and later Mogosoaia, and entertains. Each time she returns to Paris, she is the toast of the town, meets Boldini who paints a portrait of her and Vuillard. The historical descriptions of the war period in Romania and the arrival of the Russians in August 1944, is fascinating. Her connections to the diplomats saves her especially the British who fly her out of the country on a RAF plane. She moves into the Ritz in Paris, when she arrives. She is friends to le grand monde and gets invited everywhere but is soon penniless. She will die at 87, quai de Bourbon, supported at the end of her life by dear friends such as Liliane de Rothschild and Rosita de Castries. In earlier years she was invited to Princesse Eugène Murat’s ball in 1909, where many Parisians and Marcel Proust mixed near Parc Monceau.
This leads me naturally to write about Laure Murat‘s “Proust, Roman familial” published by Laffont, which is the snobbish success of the month and is on the long list for the Goncourt. The author, who teaches French literature at UCLA, writes beautifully about her grand ancestors on both Murat and Luynes sides. She is very dedicated to the gay and lesbian cause and manages to cleverly include Marcel Proust in her discourse. But strangely enough, she never mentions that in 1995, she was engaged to be married to a man whose life she destroyed when she split. She spends a long time explaining that she has left her aristocratic milieu to live with a woman in California, and intertwines Proust’s gay friendships and admiration for the Grand Monde, with her own family’s and her own life. I found the book’s lack of honesty very disturbing. She will sign it in the mediocre Hotel le Swann whose only claim to fame is Proust’s hero Charles Swann, whose name it borrows with none of the refinements the writer would have liked.
Another fun book of the autumn is the coffee table book dedicated to the Pierre Frey company which has little by little bought all the good French fabric manufacturers such as Le Manach, Braquenié, Boussac. Patrick, the son of the founder, works with his three sons. They will sign their book on September 19 at 7 pm.
On September 21, Catherine Deydier will sign her book on passementerie (trimmings) dedicated to Declercq and published by La Martinière at 15 rue Etienne Marcel at 7 pm… It’s a good occasion to discover this very old shop where the world decorators choose the details that change everything.
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