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Queens of Bohemia

By Darren Coffield

9781803995748

ISBN: 9781803995748

Published: 23-05-2024


Queens of Bohemia

By Darren Coffield

ISBN: 9781803995748

Published: 23-05-2024

About This Book

Queens of Bohemia is an affectionate rescue of many remarkable women from virtual obscurity. It begins in London in the 1920s, at a time when Suffragettes had fought hard for equality and nightclubs became the new social spaces where single women could socialise unchaperoned. This was the age of the dance craze and the gender-bending ‘Flapper’ – a flat-chested, androgynous-looking female with boyish cropped hair, who caused outrage by drinking, smoking and partying – and inspired the creation of the Gargoyle Club, a nocturnal hunting ground for Femmes Fatales. Using previously unpublished memoirs and interviews, Queens of Bohemia creates a soundscape of voices, which gives the reader a flavour of what it was like to be part of their world, so exotic and yet occasionally rank with dampness and despair. Among others, the book features revolutionaries such as the ‘Queen of the Nightclubs’, Kate Meyrick, who owned and ran the legendary Soho establishment, the 43 Club. Alongside the clubs were the numerous pubs run by women, each with its own collection of eccentrics. Annie Allchild’s Fitzroy Tavern was where the bohemian enclave of Fitzrovia derived its name, and a little further down the road was the Wheatsheaf, run by Mona Glendenning. Across Oxford Street, into Soho proper, was Victorienne Berlemont’s French pub (the York Minster) and Annie Balon’s Coach & Horses. These landladies presided over their establishments like circus trainers, uncertain of what the wild beasts in their domain might do next. These included the Tiger Woman, Betty May, known for her taboo-breaking ways, and the artist Nina Hamnett, nicknamed the ‘Queen of Bohemia’, whose patron, Princess Violet, ran an opium den in a decommissioned submarine. Then there was Sonia Orwell, nicknamed the ‘Euston Road Venus’, who became the model for the heroine, Julia, in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, and her friend, Isabel Rawsthorne, an artist, spy, pornographer, model and muse for some of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, including Picasso, whom she considered ‘not a man any woman in her right mind could care for.’ Through these women, and many more, the book gives a fresh female perspective on British culture in the 20th Century. So, let us go back over 100 years to the early 20th Century, to a Britain where ideas of duty, sacrifice and the greater good had been debunked by the horrors of the First World War. To a new ‘flapper generation’ of women, whose morality resided in being true to one’s self, not to a cause, as they took the struggle for freedom into their personal lives and learned to value their individuality along the way.

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