Shusha Guppy interviews Lesley Blanch (1991) part 6

Shusha Guppy interviewed Lesley Blanch at her home in Garavan, before and after a delicious home-cooked lunch consumed in the shade of a fig tree in the garden. September 1988.

Shusha Guppy : Do you have a routine for work? When do you work?

Lesley Blanch :  I used to write early in the morning – I was rather matinale. When I was writing The Sabres in Hollywood and I was running a house and doing lots of entertaining, I used to write when I came back from a party, then have two or three hours sleep, get up at five and write till eight. Alternatively I would get up at three and work till seven, then get into the car and go up into the hills around Los Angeles to have breakfast in some cowboy café. But it was irregular work – Romain and the house came first.

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Shusha Guppy interviews Lesley Blanch (1991) part 4

Shusha Guppy interviewed Lesley Blanch at her home in Garavan, before and after a delicious home-cooked lunch consumed in the shade of a fig tree in the garden. September 1988.

Shusha Guppy : People like you who are passionate about Russia and Russian literature are usually disappointed by the Soviet Union. But in your book you seem to approve of it. In the passage relating to your trip to Siberia you write most poignantly and vividly about the plight of the convicts in the nineteenth century with their chains and fetters dragging through the frozen steppes, yet hardly mention the millions and millions who perished in Stalin’s concentration camps, in worse conditions. How come?

Lesley Blanch : I think the Russian Revolution was an inevitable move in the context of the twentieth century, just as Khomeini’s Islamic revivalism is today. It is something, a phase, to be gone through. I don’t think it will kill Persia, and it hasn’t killed Russia. You might remember what the Tzarina Alexandra said: “Russia can only be ruled by the knout” – the whip. Yes, that very English, rather silly stubborn lady who was killed in Ekaterinburg in 1918, said that. I don’t know what conclusions to draw from that.

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Shusha Guppy interviews Lesley Blanch (1991) part 3

lesley blanch romain gary sofia 1946

Shusha Guppy interviewed Lesley Blanch at her home in Garavan, before and after a delicious home-cooked lunch consumed in the shade of a fig tree in the garden. September 1988.

Shusha Guppy : When you left England in 1946 after your marriage, you were en poste in Bulgaria for two years, I think. And later you wrote Under a Lilac Bleeding Star, which is a Bulgarian saying, isn’t it?

Lesley Blanch : Yes. There they say that a compulsive traveller is “born under a lilac bleeding star.” I have travelled all my life, so it fits. Of course that meant leaving my husband often you might say far too often. He had other women of course, all men do. They are so proud of their . . . aptitudes!

SG: What about you? As a very attractive, and they say, sexy woman, you must have had lots of offers on your travels?

LB : Naturally. And I liked having adventures in far away, wild countries. Everywhere I travelled I collected lots of friends, and yes, I did have lovers too.

SG : You went to Bulgaria after the war, when the country was in turmoil. Were you happy there?

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Shusha Guppy interviews Lesley Blanch (1991) part 1

lesley blanch terrace view roquebrune gael elton mayo

We are delighted to celebrate the release of the new Lesley Blanch website with Shusha Guppy’s interview of Lesley Blanch as a series of five blog posts. The interview was first published in Looking Back: A Panoramic View of a Literary Age by the Grande Dames of European Letters (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1991). 

Shusha Guppy, Persian شوشا (شمسی) گوپی‎; née Shamsi Assār, (1935 – 2008) was a writer, editor and, under the name of “Shusha”, a singer of Persian and Western folk songs. She lived in London from the early 1960s.

Lesley Blanch was already a distinguished traveller and journalist when her first book, The Wilder Shores of Love, was published in 1954. It was immediately acclaimed as a classic, and became a worldwide bestseller. It told of four nineteenth-century women of contrasting backgrounds and temperaments who sought in the East the adventures and emotions which were rapidly disappearing from the industrialized West. Her following book, The Sabres of Paradise, which took six years to complete, with research in Russia and Turkey, was the biography of Imam Shamyl, the religious leader of the Caucasian tribes who fought the invading Russian armies in 1834 to 1859. It combines biography and history with beautiful descriptions of the Caucasus and the campaigns in which both the young Tolstoy and Lermontov participated.

This interview took place in September 1988 at Lesley Blanch’s home in Garavan, before and after a delicious lunch that she had cooked and which was consumed in the shade of a fig tree in her garden.

SHUSHA GUPPY : You were born into an upper middle-class family. Were your parents wealthy?

LESLEY BLANCH : No. They were always broke. My father was a very clever and cultivated man, but he didn’t do anything. He spent his time in museums and galleries, discussing things like Chinese porcelain and early oak furniture, about which he knew a great deal. They had been quite well-off, especially my mother, but the money trickled away gradually. My mother was not strictly beautiful, but seemed so. She was extremely elegant and artistic, and extremely frustrated too. Having married she had decided to become a devoted wife, and everything she touched she made lovely – houses, plants, food; she had magical hands.

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