Literary Bad Girls- Part 3

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

This author of the seminal feminist tome The Second Sex was an academic, philosopher, feminist and journalist, she was a trail blazer who rejected the bourgeois concept of marraige and after graduating from the Sorbonne met the existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. He and de Beauvoir maintained one of the most revolutionary relationships of their time, the couple never cohabited, but remained lovers and confidantes until his death five decades later. The couple dated other people and even formed three-way relationships one of which was with a student named Olga. Simone fictionalised this experience in  1943 in the novel “L’invitee “which explore the complexity of relationships and existential ideals. Above is a picture of her derriere taken by an American photographer in Chicago in 1950. This adds to her Bad Girl appeal! Life wasn’t all coffee and philosophy and heated discussions at the famous Cafe De Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, she also had a tremendous capacity for fun. Jean-Paul and Simone remained inseparable in death and share a grave in the Montparnasse Cemetry, Paris.

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Cafe De Flore

Cafe De Flore

De Beauvoir has always been a poster girl for poets and musicians, listen here to a very cherubic and beautiful LLoyd Cole sing the line- “she reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance.

Rachel Cusk

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Rachel Cusk was born in Canada in 1967 and spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles and after convent school in England went to New College,Oxford to study English. I first became aware of Cusk’s work when I happened across her novel “Saving Agnes’, in 1993, and I felt like I’d found a friend. The character of Agnes seemed to speak to me as it mirrored some of life’s frustrations at that time, and the prose was elegant and witty and lush with metaphor and allusions. I was hooked and bought all her subsequent work.

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Rachel wrote her book, ‘ A life’s Work : On Becoming a Mother,”in 2001 which was a powerful and often funny account of pregnancy, childbirth and mothering that doesn’t gloss over the pain, mystery and confusion of the process. She was as she is always, brutally honest. Literary reviewers loved it and one wrote that it was as compulsive a read as a thriller. However many women hated it and she became vilified by the mumsnet brigade who accused her of child-hating, of postnatal depression, of shameless greed and most often of being too intellectual.

This literary Bad Girl was, as ever, unabashed by the critisism and went on to write another memoir”Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation,” a truthful account of the collapse of her marriage written with characteristic Cuskian wry humour and honesty. The critics again had a field day that someone would plough the minutae of their own life and betray confidences and relationships for Art’s sake. However this is precisely what Karl Ove Knausgaard did in his epic memoir “My Struggle”, which was unflinching in its portrayal of his marriages, his father’s descent into alcoholism and his conflicted views on fatherhood. The man was described as a literary sensation, which of course he is, in exactly the same way as Rachel is. I was privileged to have had her as a lecturer and sat rapt as she spoke. With looks reminisent of Chrissie Hynde and the intellectual agility of Virginia Wolff she is one literary Bad Girl.

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Literary Bad Girls- Part 2

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Sylvia Plath ( October 27,1932- February 11, 1963

This Boston born bad girl studied at Smith College and won the opportunity to spend the Summer of 1953 as one of the guest editor’s of Mademoiselle magazine. Out of these experiences Plath wrote the modern masterpiece The Bell Jar, where her voice is channelled through the character of the main protagonist Esther Greenwood. This wry, morbid voice explores sexism in American society, modern pop culture, her mental struggles and the psychiatric profession. As a Fulbright scholar in Cambridge this emerging poet met the handsome Ted Hughes at a book launch. The intensity of their meeting makes Sylvia a queen of the Bad Girls, during their initial discourse Sylvia bit him on the cheek so hard, her teeth drew blood. This marked an almost savage and elemental aspect to their relationship, gothic in its inception and tragic in its demise.  As a couple they worked and wrote, travelled to America, taught , returned to England. She had two children after a series of miscarriages and Ted had affairs. He left her for Assia Weevil after a tempestuous five years and she committed suicide by putting her head in a gas oven.  What remains of this girl is her legend and of course her canon of work, her poetry collection Ariel continues to be analyzed and admired decades later.Listen her:

BBC INTERVIEWS WITH SYLVIA AND TED

And Ryan Adams beautiful song about her

 

Jean Rhys(1890-1979)

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Read this biography by the brilliant Lilian Pizzichini to get a measure of this Bad Girl with literary talent and artistic integrity.  Rhys had a dreamy childhood in the lush island heat of Dominica, the daughter of a white Creole mother and a Welsh father. A colourful life included a brief stint as a chorus girl in London, a career as an artist’s model and a vagabond and bohemian existence in Paris.

Rhys had three failed marriages, was often alcoholic and destitude, economically on the edge and abandoned by caddish men. Yet it was all these hardships that made her such a great writer, Rhys distilled her experiences into the beautiful prose of books such as After Leaving Mister Mr Mackenzie(1930) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) and the unforgettable Wide Saragasso Sea, the story of Bertha Mason, the first wife of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.

It is a great consolation that Rhys lived to see her work attain critical acclaim and was made a CBE in 1978. The monde recognised this fragile voice of the demi-monde and bohemia, a life full of flawed humanity and fragile dreams.

 

Literary Bad Girls- Part One

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No one encapsulates the allure of the Bad Girl quite like Lana Del Rey with her haunting lyrics, eyes liquid with longing and lyrics syrupy with nostalgia as she sings her breakthrough hit Video Games. Well Lana since you asked I’ll have to confess that I more than like the bad girls, I love them.  My favourite are the literary ladies who kicked up a storm, lived life on their own terms and have been inspirational for generations of others. On today’s post I’ll cover four such luminaries.

 

Edna St Vincent Millay(1892-1950)

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She was the poet who wrote First Fig which in its few short lines encapsulates her life, where she certainly burnt the candle at both ends. She wrote all sorts of transgressive poetry and plays as well as being a very skilled sonnet writer, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her fourth book, The Ballad of the Harp Weaver. She practiced what she preached and went on to have a life time of bisexual love affairs and was also an outspoken pacifist who sometimes attracted ire. Nancy Milford’s biography entitled Savage Beauty is a great read for anyone who wants to know about the extraordinary life of this poet of the Jazz age.

Dorothy Parker(1893-1967)

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Dorothy Parker famously said that every morning she brushed her teeth and sharpened her tongue. As a novelist,screenwriter, poet and critic , Parker was notorious as the hard-drinking bad girl with a talent for stinging repartee and for her endlessly quotable one liners. Her poems and stories capture the spirit of the decadent Jazz age in New York, often exposing the darkness as well as the dazzle. The philosopher Irwin Edman said of Parker that her talent was the ability to “combine a heartbreak with a wisecrack.” Although married three times, in fact twice to the same man Alan Campbell, Parker’s romantic entanglements were copious and troubled and all this emotional drama surfaces in her stories.  Her vulnerability behind the acerbic manner makes her the ultimate bad girl with a heart. Every book shelf should have a copy of Parker’s collected works, the Portable Dorothy Parker.

 

Anais Nin (1903-1977)

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The author of the erotic short story collection Delta of Venus lived a life that I’ve always found scintillating and fascinating. In an open marriage in 1930’s Paris to an American banker, Nin refused to live a life limited by societal dictates. Forays into the bohemian cafes of Paris led her to Henry Miller with whom she had a very passionate affair. A love triangle developed between Henry, his wife June and Anais, which is the subject of a 1990 film Henry and June, which explores this tangled love story. Her life story is one hell of a read, bigamy, duplicity, affairs and a searing search for self-knowledge make the pages steam with bad girl chutzpah. Noel Riley Fitch’s book is a great read for anyone curious about this most singular literary woman.IMG_1108

 

Zelda Fitzgerald( July 24th 1900-March 10th, 1948)

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Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, born in Montgomery, Alabama was an American novelist and wife of one of my favourite authors F.Scott Fitzgerald. She was a true icon of the 20’s and the original flapper girl who bobbed her hair, drank to excess and was a huge influence on her husband’s work. Her life has enough dramatic material to fill many books and with the re-release of the Great Gatsby last year, there has been a resurgence of interest in Zelda’s life. She was an extremely gifted woman who became torn by the clash between her husband’s career and her own talent, willingly consumed in a marriage marred by alcoholism, mental-health issues and jealousy. When still riding the crest of the Jazz age her exploits included dancing on table tops, diving naked into fountains and riding on the roofs of New York cabs. For me she will always be modern literature’s most famous muse, an iconic woman who was  the original bad girl.IMG_1113

 

This summer I’ve noticed a batch of novels hitting the book shelves featuring modern day Bad Girls. Lena Dunham’s Girls shows the New York twenty- something dating scene with a gritty and unflinching reality, far removed from the manolos and cocktails of Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City. This trend in TV drama is also evident in some of the new books by female authors behaving badly.

Zoe Pilger’s debut Eat My Heart Out is an anti-romance featuring a 23 year old protagonist who has dropped out of university and is
holed up in a fetid Clapham houseshare. Read it and lock up your daughters!
Emma- Jane Unsworth’s second novel Animals is a story shaken and stirred by a litany of disastrous nights out and even more dodgy sexual encounters.

Bryony Gordon’s The Wrong Knickers is her memoir of a decade of decadence as a young journalist in London. As an account of Bad Girl antics it’s amusing and well worth a Summer read.

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