Who is Romaine Brooks and what is she? Questions not to be so simply answered beyond the knowns of her life (often falsified...


BETWEEN ME AND LIFE: A Biography of Romaine Brooks

Who is Romaine Brooks and what is she? Questions not to be so simply answered beyond the knowns of her life (often falsified in her own memoirs) and our meager knowledge of her work as an artist (a portraitist primarily) who, like Mary Cassatt, was neglected in her own time (although the latter eventually was transplanted to her native U.S. and given the recognition Romaine never received as a major minor painter). Born in Rome, illegitimate, she claimed, to a psychic, unreasonable and punitive mother who stood between her and the world until the end of Romaine's days at 96, Romaine had a generally unhappy and vagrant youth in the U.S. and abroad. She quickly left her mother to settle in Paris and later Capri, to paint, to have homosexual love affairs and one, inevitably circumscribed, with D'Annunzio before she settled for the fifty-year relationship with ""The Amazon,"" the insatiable Natalie Clifford Barney of whom Anatole France said ""I kiss your hand with sacred terror."" But Natalie's salon on the Rue Jacob was frequented by everyone -- Proust, Gide, Gertrude and Alice, and between Romaine and Natalie they knew all the luminaries of aesthetic talents and eccentric inclinations -- Romaine had her own fractious friendship with Cocteau (Maugham called them both ""dear glamorous gifts"") and Raymond Mortimer used them in his book Extraordinary Women. All of this gives a much wider range to the story of the woman who painted ""pensive portraits"" and had ""visions of sad and gray shadows,"" wrote lines such as ""Hermaphrodite of heaven, looking down/ On the defeat of our divided love"" and died in an all black room, barricading the light, in Nice. Whether forgotten then or now, Secrest's extensive and clear-eyed biography should catalyze the interest of all those who enjoyed the hothouse worlds of, say, Holroyd's Strachey or Anais Nin's herself.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1974


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1974