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The Bugatti Queen: In search of a Motor-Racing Legend [Hardcover]

Miranda Seymour
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2004
Born in 1900 to a soon-to-be-widowed postmaster's wife in a small French village, Helene Delangle's background offered no suggestion of the extraordinary life she was to lead. The first step was to leave the country behind and head to the city -- in this case, a Paris in the grip of an intoxicating 1920s blend of creativity and debauchery. She became a dancer, and then a stripper. But the demi-monde of gauze veils and admirers was not enough. A visit to the Actors' Championships, a uniquely French meeting of the theatrical world with the race-track, opened her eyes to the glamorous combination of machines and speed. Quickly establishing herself as a racer of uncommon talent and audacity, the beautiful woman now known as Helle Nice -- Hellish Nice to her British fans -- then caught the attention of none other than Ettore Bugatti, founder of the marque with which her name will always be associated. And yet, despite the fame and the fortune she amassed in an unprecedented career, she died penniless and alone, an old woman in a crumbling Nice flat surrounded only by memories. THE BUGATTI QUEEN is the story of a great pioneer of motor racing who happened to be a woman. Re-creating her rollercoaster career with great verve and panache, Miranda Seymour brilliantly shows us a life now forgotten -- and makes it unforgettable.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd; First Edition edition (2 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743231465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743231466
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.2 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 39,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Seymour writes with an elegance and verve her subject would have appreciated . . . [An] inspiring rediscovery' -- Spectator

'Seymour’s descriptions of [the races] are spine-tingling . . . [She] excels in conveying the wider social-historical context' -- Sunday Times

'Sometimes it seems that fame looks after its own, but here is a very well-told tale that shows us otherwise' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Will have you riveted to your seat . . . Enthralling reading' -- Literary Review

About the Author

Miranda Seymour is the acclaimed author of the innovative and widely admired A RING OF CONSPIRATORS, a study of Henry James and his circle, and OTTOLINE MORRELL: LIFE ON THE GRAND SCALE, twelve times selected for Book of the Year in 1992. She also writes novels and children's books, and is currently researching the biography of Helle Nice, the pioneer woman racing driver, to be published by Scribner in 2004.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balzac meets Bugatti 16 Mar 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This enthralling story of the spirited and brilliant female racing driver Helle Nice reads like a modern version of a Balzac novel.
It chronicles her intensely adventurous, glamorous and glittering career driving Bugattis, Alfas and other assorted exotic machinery in the south of France, Italy, Brazil and the United States. This with the added frisson of knowing that the girl in question was a drop-dead gorgeous dancer, nightclub stripper and wildly promiscuous.
After gathering all the glittering prizes, her life descends inexorably with the hubris and inevitability of Greek tragedy into desperate poverty,loneliness and ill-health, cruelly neglected and disinherited by her provincial and slightly retarded provincial French family, abandoned and robbed by her lover. Her downfall was precipitated by a vicious betrayl at a glamorous party when she was publicly accused by the famous and 'cultivated' driver Louis Chiron of collaboration with the Gestapo during the occcupation. She ultimately lives in the care of a benevolent French charity until her death in utter obscurity. Her plain, dull sister Solange vindictively omits her name from the family gravestone, so tormented was she by a primitive and gnawing envy of her joyful and champagne-filled life. Pure Balzac transported to our century.
But the book is far more than that. It is a brilliant evocation of the almost unbelievably reckless nature of 1930s racing. It describes the violent deaths from tremendous accidents that often resulted on the banked courses and unregulated tracks that were so popular in those days. Helle herself crashed in Brazil killing and injuring many spectators - something that haunted her for the rest of her life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helene Delangle - Hele Nice 13 Feb 2004
This is a truely wonderful read. Charting the life of Helene Delangle otherwise known as Hele Nice through her younger years (in the 1920's) as a dancer onto her career in the male dominated world of Grand Prix motor racing (through the 1930's). Her career in motor racing was interrupted by a very serious accient and then finally destroyed, after the war, by a legend of the sport. She ultimately faded into poverty before dying in Nice in 1984. Tragically she is not even remembered on her grave stone. This is a story that had to be told and Miranda Seymour tells the story wonderfully. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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5.0 out of 5 stars buying book 31 Jan 2013
By jet
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had heard that it was a good read and was almost fiction like and almost unbelieveable as a story Helle Nice and her life dancingb and motor racing in france and america.
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5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent book ! 18 Jan 2011
I found the book more than GOOD ! It is written with great sensibility and accuracy resulting from a great research !
The story of this woman-racer is quite unique ! As a child I remembered her name , having been a great fan of Gran Prix racings, and checking on Google if the name I recalled was correct and what had happened to her..I found out about this book that I immediately ordered and enjoyed reading !! I suggested to other friends to buy it...and I wonder how come it has not been translated in Italian !!!
(or french ????). it is a splendid story for a good film !
Bravo to mrs M. Seymour !!

(Marco Antonini)
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity to tell a bigger story 27 Sep 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ms Seymour has made a competent attempt to resurrect a lost life and has obviously undertaken a lot of research to create a factual basis for her book. Nevertheless, she admits to fictionalising many of the missing gaps in the history of Helene Delangle, her subject, which (like historical novels) left me frustrated by not knowing where facts ended and fiction began. Happily the fictionalisations appear to diminish as the story unfolds - or at least they become less obvious and (thus) less irritating, and I found the descriptions of the Nazi occupation of France in the final chapter of the book both interesting and instructive.
Another frustration was the difficulty in developing much warmth of feeling towards Ms. Delangle, as seems also to have been the case with her family and many of her contemporaries. The lady was a promiscuous self-centred self-promoting woman who began a successful career as (nude) dancer in the 1920s and took up motor racing in the 1930s. Her successes on the race-track were certainly commendable but she was not the only women competing for trophies at the time and very little information is provided about her competitors and almost nothing about the cars they drove. Some interesting background is offered about the Bugatti family and the rise and fall of their business empire, but their cars are referred to only their mark numbers without any attempt to describe their development or the technology that differentiated them from their competitors. OK, Ms Seymour is not a motoring expert, but that limitation didn't stop Ruth Bardon from writing a most fascinating story about the development of the car and its impact on the world, in her recent book "Automobile".
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