QUEEN OF BOHEMIA: The Life of Louise Bryant by Mary Dearborn

QUEEN OF BOHEMIA: The Life of Louise Bryant

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A wonderfully rich portrait of a Greenwich Village bohemian who rose and fell through some of the most exciting moments in modern history. Born in San Francisco in 1885, Louise Bryant had an unconventional childhood in a desert mining town before settling into a fairly ordinary western adolescence. Taking advantage of the fact that her birth certificate had been destroyed in San Francisco's Great Fire, Bryant began shaving years off her life at the age of 20--passing herself off as 18. (At her death, Bryant would be 50, passing, not very well, for 41.) But at the turn of the century, Bryant was still a vibrant woman, not yet destroyed by a rare illness that would turn her body lumpy and her warp her mind. She settled in Portland and married a dentist but chafed at the constraints of a bourgeois existence. She became involved in women's suffrage and subscribed to The Masses, the Greenwich Village-based radical journal that featured such contributors as Upton Sinclair, William Carlos Williams, Bertrand Russell--and John Reed. Reed returned to his native Portland for a visit in 1914, and a year later, Bryant left her husband and moved into Reed's Village apartment to begin her life's second, most memorable phase, as a radical bohemian. Though Bryant had an affair with young playwright Eugene O'Neill, she was deeply in love with Reed. They married and together covered the Russian Revolution, gaining personal interviews with top revolutionaries, including Lenin. Reed died in Russia in 1920 of typhus. In 1923, Bryant married wealthy William C. Bullitt and became a society hostess in Paris before succumbing to Dercum's disease, being divorced by Bullitt, denied custody of her daughter, and dying alone of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1936. Dearborn (""The Happiest Man Alive"": A Biography of Henry Miller, 1991, etc.) writes compassionately and fluidly, although she doesn't quite prove her case that Bryant was more than a supporting player in the drama of her times.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1996
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin