VIOLET by Barbara Belford


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A fine first biography of convention-defying author Violet Hunt (1862-1942), who made her mark in Edwardian London's literary fray. Henry James, a close friend, called the elegant Hunt ""Purple Patch"" when struck by the way she stepped from a train onto the station platform. Then, like much of conventional society (whose approval she sought), James rejected her when her scandalous liaison with Ford Madox Ford (they claimed to be married, while his wife more accurately claimed he had never divorced) hit the papers. ""A minor but bewitching character"" in the biographies of several literary figures including Wells and Maugham (both briefly lovers), Hunt inspired many of Ford's female characters, particularly the ""virago"" Sylvia in Parade's End. The daughter of a landscape painter, Hunt grew up among the Pre-Raphaelites. At 22, she began an affair with a 51-year-old painter, the first of her doomed ""irregular situations"" with unavailable men. She wrote 17 now-dated novels (among the best: White Rose of Weary Leaf), memoirs, a biography of Lizzie Siddal (Rossetti's wife), and ghost stories (Tales of the Uneasy). Belford (Columbia/Journalism) fully conveys Hunt's tenacity, her ""winsome ways and clever conversation,"" in part by letting us hear her sharp words as she scrutinizes herself and others. Rebecca West, said Hunt, made ""not so much a splash,"" ""but a definite hole in the world."" Most interestingly, Belford draws from Hunt's extensive diaries, some of which she recently discovered. Laced with intrigue, scrupulously researched, this close-up of Hunt also reveals much about the ""new woman"" and London writers en route from the Victorian to the modern age.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1990
Publisher: Simon & Schuster