THE LATE LILY SHIEL by Sheilah Graham


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The late Lily Shiel is, of course, the early Sheilah Graham, who tells her orphanage-to-footlights story in a coy third-person that reads like the titles for a silent film. At the orphanage (her widowed mother can't provide), Lily's head is shaved, she's always hungry, she's homely and yearns for attention. They beat her but she fights back. She's clever, determined: ""Lily could learn poems faster than anyone else in the school."" Older, her hair grown in, she's pretty too--and soon ""the dominant personality"" at the orphanage, envied and admired. Then, at 14: back to the East End of London, to care for her sick mother. To scrub, to fetch beer for the surly Relative, to repine. But not for long. A lowly job takes her into Colnaghi's (exquisite!) powder room. Belowstairs at Brighton, she dreams of living like the rich. And now there are men. The inflamed dentist who ""explodes"" all over her dress. Local boy Eddie, who wants to marry her. Middle-aged buyer Mr. Welch--Lily's now demonstrating toothbrushes--who takes her to dinner time and again, hoping. ""She tolerated the kissing because of the dinner""--but she's not about to lose her valuable virginity. Then the charming Major, who loves her but won't--a young girl from his office!--marry her. And millionaire Monty Collins, who wants a beautiful virgin and will. . . until, the date set, the Major says the magic word. He's improvident, it turns out, and almost impotent (a few quick trips to console Monty); still, she loves him and gladly lets him groom her, Pygmalion-like, for the stage. (Later, Scott Fitzgerald would bring up her reading level.) The book ends as it teasingly begins, with Lily--now headliner Sheilah Graham--partying with the Prince of Wales at the Savoy. Dickens to Colette à la True Confessions.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1978
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap