Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wild Heart by Suzanne Rodriguez

A very interesting account about a very interesting lady.

Natalie Clifford Barney, born in Dayton, Ohio in 1876 in a wealthy family was, from the start, a free spirit. She lived her life defying society's conventions. She lived openly, never hiding or giving excuses for being a lesbian or feminist or for her dreams as a writer. She refused to marry and instead moved to Paris in the early 1900s where she would live for the rest of her life.

I can't recall where I first came across Barney's name, but the more I read about her, the more fascinated I became. I was thrilled that there was full length bio out there. This seemed to be a very good one, thankfully, seeing as how it seems to be the only one.

It was definitely a tome, which was fine by me. Rodriguez hit on just about everything. Everything from the smallest detail to mentioning a person Barney only met once or twice. We were given long accounts of the women who played important roles in her life such as Pauline Tarn, Liane de Pougy and Romaine Brookes. Deriving from personal papers and the memories of people who new Natalie, Rodriguez paints a very vivid portrait of the woman most knew as 'The Amazon.'

Rodriguez also did not make excuses for Barney's faults. And she did have them. A few things I had a problem with was that Barney was a feminist, but a few times gave off a few misogynist quotes, which I found surprising, seeing as how she was a woman who loved women and was in the forefront of advancing women's talents. Another was her anti-semitic views. Which, as Rodriguez states, seems to come out of no where. Barney was herself 1/8 Jewish and had at times seemed to be proud of her Jewish ancestry, but somewhere around WWII she gave off some very nasty comments. No one seems to know what sparked Barney to say such things.

Barney was a patron of the arts, and didn't know much about politics and such. When Erza Pound went off on his rants before WWII, Barney sat next to him and agreed with him. She was the only one. Everyone else just thought he was nuts and he ended up going away for treason. I found it interesting how she just accepted whatever he said because it sounded good.

Back to the good stuff, Barney played a huge part in advancing the careers of both men and women writers and painters, especially those she was close with: lovers and close friends. At her famous salon (which lasted about 60 years), referred to simply as 'Fridays' she sometimes dedicated a Friday to one person's work. What I wouldn't give to go back and time to witness these 'Fridays' firsthand. The most famous names in the arts would visit Barney's salon and would discuss art, literature and so on. Plays would be put on, buffets would be set out, ideas would be exchanged.

I could go on, but this book covered so much. When I finished Wild Heart I came away with a deep appreciation for a woman who was definitely a rebel.

Wild Heart is a deep, fantastic book about a glittering world of time gone by.

For the Women Unbound Challenge.