Lesley Blanch & Fearless Women of the World

An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence

There is a great deal of unpublished correspondence between Lesley Blanch and her eclectic circle of friends and acquaintances, affording a glimpse of her world, written from locations including London, The Balkans, The Sahara, Istanbul, New York, Los Angeles, Paris and the South of France. She inspired three generations of literary life.

A series of posts over the next five weeks will feature a selection of hitherto unseen private letters of note and postcards with her friends, notably: Cecil Beaton; Ludwig Bemelmans; the British artist Eden Fleming known as Eden Box; American fashion photographer Henry Clarke; Hollywood legend George Cukor for whom she edited scripts; Arabist, explorer, historian and diplomat Gerald de Gaury; Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy; Leo Lerman the American writer and editor who worked for Condé Nast Publications for five decades; Lee Miller; Beatrix Miller editor of British Vogue 1964-85; Nancy Mitford; Anais Nin; ‘Mim’ Rambert; the Sitwells; Violet Trefusis; Gore Vida; Rebecca West; Dana Wynter . . . .

Lesley Blanch and Dana Wynter, 1950s Hollywood

Escape from Suburbia

Her tempestuous life spanned the greater part of the twentieth century. It was as uniquely adventurous and unconventional as that of the women she wrote about in her best known book, The Wilder Shores of Love.

A child of Edwardian suburbia, Lesley Blanch got away from Chiswick as did her  contemporaries, Noël Coward and Cecil Beaton, who left Teddington and Hampstead well behind them.

Middle-class respectability left no room for female self-fulfilment. Working as an artist in the theatre in the 1920s — eight of her stage designs were included to represent England in New York’s MOMA, Theatre Art International Exhibition in 1934 — she turned to journalism and joined British Vogue in 1935 after her articles for Harpers’ Bazaar and her profile of Pushkin for Time and Tide were spotted.

During the interwar years women became a force in journalism, boosted by the advent of advertising. A columnist writing for the expanding print market back then was the equivalent to a blogger writing online today for a quality magazine or broadsheet. 

A metropolitan modernist woman, Blanch was just what magazine editors were looking for. When she became features editor of British Vogue in 1937, her brief was to engage women on wider cultural subjects and cover everything except fashion and gossip.

Women in Wartime

She wrote a series of articles on the women’s services to boost morale as a contribution to the war effort. Night Life Now: The After-dark Drama of the Work of the Women’s Services, published in June 1943, was accompanied by Lee Miller’s photographs.

Lee Miller’s Women in Wartime

From 1945, alongside her cultural and literary journalism, Blanch reviewed films, and profiled actors, directors and producers working in the movie industry on both sides of the Atlantic for The Leader, sister publication to Picture Post.

Woman on the Move

Like her heroines, Lesley Blanch left England in 1946 never to return except as a visitor. Life in the French Diplomatic Service with her diplomat-novelist husband, Romain Gary, meant she was free to roam in wild places when not unpacking and setting up house in a new posting. In 1946 almost all the borders were closed to travellers, unless they were on official business.

lesley blanch, romain gary, sofia,1946
On the Road

Reinventing herself as a writer, Blanch explored the central question, “What is a woman?” Isabel Burton, Aimée Dubucq de Rivery, Isabelle Eberhardt, Jane Digby el Mezrab (Lady Ellenborough), Aurélie Picard, Queen Marie of Romania, Lise Cristiani, Harriette Wilson, the Greatest Courtesan of her Age and the other trailblazers Blanch wrote about were all, in their very different ways, “escaping from the boredom of convention”.

She brought to a close that elegant line of woman traveller-writer-romantic who not only wrote of life on the road but also lived it.

Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Conran; the late Jackie Kennedy and Anaïs Nin, were all inspired her. Miranda Seymour wrote in an email: “I love LB. WHAT a spirit. What courage. What class.”

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before” – Albert Einstein

Lead image: Freya Stark, Lesley Blanch, Nancy Mitford. All rights reserved.

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