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The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans [Paperback]

Cressida Connolly
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Feb 2010
The compelling biography of the beautiful, talented Garman sisters and the glittering, romantic era in which they lived. Each of the seven Garman sisters were strikingly beautiful, artistic and wild. Born around the turn of the nineteenth century, most of the siblings were to become involved in the radical literary and political circles of British life between the First and Second World Wars. Their morals were unconventional: bisexuality, unfaithfulness and illegitimate children were a matter of course. Nevertheless they were high-minded and intensely loyal. They were the last muses: women who were prepared to sideline their own talent, friendships, material comforts - even their own children - in order to beguile and inspire the men they loved. Cressida Connolly's family biography delves into the lives of three of the sisters in intense and revealing detail. Kathleen Garman, the father's favourite, ran away to London to study music. She was spotted by the American sculptor Jacob Epstein, who promptly fell in love with her, and remained his muse until his death. They had three children, she was shot in the shoulder by his first wife and she finally became Lady Epstein in 1955. Mary Garman came to London with Kathleen and studied art at the Slade. She married poet Roy Campbell, who was to become the scourge of the literary establishment by espousing General Franco's side during the Spanish Civil War. Finally there was Lorna Garman, the youngest and most beautiful of all the family. At sixteen she married the wealthy Ernest Wishart, a landowner, communist and founder of the socialist publishing house Laurence & Wishart, who spent most of his life turning a blind eye to his wife's infidelities. Lorna was the love of Laurie Lee's life and they had a daughter. Lucian Freud painted several pictures for her. Through Cressida Connolly's skilfull retelling of these remarkable lives, we get an intimate portrait of a golden age of romance, passion and art that is an original, beguiling read.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (26 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841156345
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841156347
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Paints some wonderfully vivid pictures of how difficult the Garmans must have been to live with.' Sunday Telegraph

'Connolly writes with great elegance and perception about this ruthlessly sensual family.' Literary Review

‘A rollicking mix of the familiar and surprising.' Sunday Times

‘A sobering coda and an often hilarious tale.' Independent

About the Author

Cressida Connolly was born in 1960. She is a journalist and reviewer. Her collection of stories, The Happiest Days, won the PEN/MacMillan Prize. She has three children and lives on a farm in Worcestershire.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twentieth Century Muses 29 April 2006
This book is an absolute gem: it focuses on four people (three sisters, one brother) who had a big influence on early to mid-twentieth century art: Mary, Kathleen, Douglas and Lorna Garman. Even if you're not particularly interested in art, the human relationships in this book are fascinating

There were actually nine Garman siblings but Connolly is sensible enough to realise that she can't write about them all; the other five get mentioned throughout the book, which is often enough to see that the whole family was marked by independence and eccentricity, whether famous or not.

Mary and Kathleen were the two older girls, Douglas was the eldest boy and Lorna was the youngest (there were about twelve years between her and Mary, so she was still small when her two eldest sisters left). All of the Garmans were good looking. The poet Roy Campbell fell in love with Mary the moment he saw her; Kathleen caught the eye of Jacob Epstein (and held it until his death); Lorna, the most beautiful of them all, got married at sixteen (having seduced her husband when she was fourteen) and proceded to have extra-marital affairs left, right and centre ; Douglas divorced his wife and lived with Peggy Guggenheim, before marrying for a second time. All this during the 1920s/30s, when such actions were seen as dangerous, if not insane.

The various lives make fascinating reading: Mary and Roy lived a hand-to-mouth existence because of his poetry (Mary had musical talent but did not see it as her place to earn the money); Kathleen was not accepted in society because of her position as Epstein's mistress; Douglas went against his whole upbringing by becoming a Communist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memoir memories 29 April 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's been a while since I finished 'The Rare and the Beautiful' and my memory of it is fading fast but my memories are all good.

The Garman girls destroyed a lot of their personal letters. If they had survived, I'm sure an account of their lives would have truly sizzled. Yet Cressida Connolly has done a good job with what remains. The reader gets a real sense of what it would be like to have shared some time with Mary, Kathleen, Laura and their brother Duncan.

They were wonderful people (and terrible parents).

Their romanitic lives are brought to life. Lorrie Lee (Laura's lover) and Duncan Campbell (Mary's husband) walking in the spray and spume of a South African beach as if they were treading the Milky Way is a particularly evocative passage.

You get the impression Connolly would have been a kindred spirit to the Garmans, both good and bad. She seems as obsessed with celebrity as the Garmans were, keen to point out the status of even minor characters and desperately trying to link one of the minor Garman girls with Laurence of Arabia.

I was surprised (and a little disappointed) that the author didn't reproduce some of the Garmans' own art works (their painting was referred to a number of times) and I wondered why ... for practical reasons (copyright or expense) or vanity (the fact they would never match the works of their eminent spouses)?

I have always been fascinated by the world of art and the British art world of the twentieth century in particular (my school art teacher was taught by Henry Tonks, so I feel a connection). If you are too, you'll love this book.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Provincial Gem 7 Mar 2006
By tmg 513
I first found out about The Walsall Art Gallery in the locally available Rough Guide To Rough Walsall. Spending a happy afternoon there viewing the superb Garman-Ryan collection led me to seek out this little gem of a book. The lives of the nine Garman siblings come vividly to life in this tale of life with the smart set between the wars. Some of the anecdotes will stay with me forever: Lucien Freud drunkenly groping his way up Butler's Passage and Jacob Epstein getting paralytic on snakebites in the Wharf particularly amused me. Having read this I am sure that a trip to Walsall will be the very next item on your list of things to do.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irresistibly Good 30 Dec 2006
By Hayley
I came upon this book by accident when browsing through the book shop shelves, I was captured by the cover and decided to buy it something I'm glad I did. This book is absolutely fascinating, Connolly brings the lives of the Garman to life in such a vivid way that sometimes that it hard to believe that some of the stuff the Garmans sisters got up to actually happen, by reading their story you can understand why people fell in love with them, from the book, Connolly portray the sisters as beautiful, artistic and strong woman that in one way where totally different in retrospect but where very similar in every other way. After finishing the book I can't help thinking that they lead compelling sometime often tragic lives and sometimes they would give up a lot for the pursuit of their own happiness and the passion they inspire in the men and woman they loved, this book could have the potential of someday being a Television Drama or Movie, I would highly recommend this book I guarantee that after you finish it you will be wanting more.
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