News ‘The real meaning of President Macron’s gift to King Charles’, The Times, 23-09-2023

Admirers of the life and work of Lesley Blanch were quick to get in touch about the puzzling omission from Damian Whitworth’s article The real meaning of President Macron’s gift to King Charles, published in The Times on 23 September 2023, especially given the context of the article.

Whitworth states: “One of his (President Macron’s) gifts to Charles was a rare original edition of Les Racines du Ciel by Romain Gary. The 1956 novel, which won the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary prize, is the story of an environmentalist’s crusade to save elephants from extinction in French Equatorial Africa.” Whitworth goes on to describe how “Gary was an extraordinary figure” and that “In the Sixties he married Jean Seberg, the American actress who starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s À Bout de Souffle,” alongside a photo of the pair on a film set.

Romain Gary’s British-born first wife, Lesley Blanch, to whom he was married from 1944 to 1963, herself a writer, was a household name at the time, as the author of The Wilder Shores of Love and The Sabres of Paradise. Both Blanch and Gary were great animal lovers and conservationists long before it was fashionable to be so. Gary wrote Les Racines du Ciel (The Roots of Heaven) when he was married to Blanch. The novel won the Prix Goncourt in 1956 and was the main feature of her Christmas card sketch for that year, sent to their friends.

People are fascinated by stories which are often more easily remembered than facts. Astute marketers develop brand stories to create and reinforce positive brand associations. The narrative that the brilliant fabulist, the “man from elsewhere” who won the Prix Goncourt twice, and married a 1960s film star half his age, is far more potent than the fact that his erudite and eccentric first British wife opened many doors on to many worlds and was supportive of her brilliant, egotistical, wayward husband . . . who often complained to their Housekeeper in Roquebrune that his wife was always “writing about women”.

So is it just an odd oversight that no mention is made anywhere in the article about Romain Gary’s first wife, herself an extraordinary character, despite the captivating and tragic quality of their love story like a novel by Stendhal? Or is it just that publishing is a business which is all about selling books, driven by what is in-and-out-of-fashion, so an older, literary, British-born first wife just does not fit the French publisher’s marketing bill, hence airbrushing her out of the “official narrative” of Gary’s life?

Curioser and curioser . . .

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