The tale of a small group of upper-middle-class young women who inhabited the rarefied world of literary London during and after World War II.
Drawing on rich archival sources and the many memoirs, novels, and stories written by his prolific cast of characters, British biographer, novelist, and cultural historian Taylor (The New Book of Snobs, 2017, etc.), winner of the Whitbread Prize for Biography, creates a brisk, spirited portrait of the astonishingly beautiful women who “fizzed” around Cyril Connolly, “a genuine literary power-broker, a grand panjandrum, a maker—and breaker—of reputations,” in 1940s Britain. Self-aggrandizing, self-indulgent, “easily wounded, unforgiving, dislikeable, delightful,” according to a male friend, Connolly inspired “unfeigned devotion” in his female admirers. “Whether they were living with him, employed by him, pursued by him or merely wistfully regarded by him from afar,” Taylor writes, “he was the fulcrum on which their existence turned.” Among those in his orbit, the author focuses mostly on four: Lys Lubbock, a devoted caretaker and survivor of a nine-year affair with Connolly; fiery Barbara Skelton, who married him; his editorial assistant, Sonia Brownell, who married George Orwell; and Janetta Parladé, who was 17 when Connolly anointed her his “muse.” Christened “the lost girls” by poet and critic Peter Quennell, they had “spent their adolescence scheming to escape” oppressive, often fractured, family life. Flouting convention and flaunting independence, still, they yearned for security and love. Physically, they were a type: notably attractive, “tallish, slim to the point of skimpiness” (except for Sonia). Financially vulnerable, each spent the war years “moving from place to place and billet to billet as the demands of work, romance and inclination took her.” Living in an unheated bedsitter, they might depend on “an eligible or not so eligible suitor” to pick up the tab at upscale restaurants. “Glamorous, edgy and inimitable,” the lost girls, Taylor concedes, left no indelible legacy except perhaps as a link between emancipated young women of the 1920s and the “Dionysiac hordes of the 1960s and 1970s.”
Captivating, gossipy social history.