American aristocrat who bucked her bourgeois status in favor of leading an openly polyamorous and lesbian life. Comrades included Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, Rodin and Radcliffe Hall. She ran a literary salon in Paris at the turn of the century, where all the artsy perverts of the day would hang out, read poetry, and act out sapphic tales in her infamous garden side apartment. “My queerness,” she had said, “is not a vice, is not deliberate, and harms no one.” Clearly a lady who was ahead of her time.
Her sexual prowess was legendary, and she had a ravenous appetite for women – Effectively seducing actresses, courtesans, painters, pianists and women sitting on park benches. Her most significant relationships were a 50-year partnership with painter Romaine Brooks and a tragic but passionate affair with Dolly Wilde – Oscar’s equally talented and flaming gay niece who died of a heroin overdose. Ahh modern problems in antiquated times, for the Parisian demi-monde. Natalie Barney’s literary works did not survive the times – they suck by modern standards. Nonetheless, I have always been captivated by her charisma which lives on in books such as Truly Wilde by Joan Schenkar. If you are into the whole Gay Paris Salon history (and why wouldn’t you be?) I also recommend Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicolson. It’s a dissection of the private lives of the author’s parents – Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolsen – based on his mother’s journals and letters of correspondence that span over 20 years. The book is a fascinating window into the lives of listless bohemians in a time of soul-stifling conformity. Vita doggedly pursued her sexual and intellectual freedom to the great detriment of her family’s good name – as a married woman with children she openly seduced women in society and eventually took off to temporarily live in Europe as a man with one of her many lovers.
Great Natalie quote: “Most virtue is a demand for greater seduction”
All good biographical reads celebrating the rebel bastards who were modern pioneers of sexual and artistic freedom!