on 6 February 2011
There are two annoying things about this book. One is that it has no index, which makes reviewing difficult. Another is that it's set in 8-point Perpetua. I kept reaching for the 'aA' button to make it readable, but alas, this is not a Kindle edition. Publishers commonly resort to setting type down when, despite assiduous editing, the entire text cannot be crammed into the number of pages they feel the subject deserves. In this case, the editing has been far from assiduous, and it seems to me that some slashing at the author's numerous repetitions could easily have pulled it up to a readable 11-point while remaining at 226 pages.
So anyway, Yes. Alexander Thynn, Marquess of Bath, Squire of Longleat. Artist, raconteur, diarist, occasional novelist, drinker of boxed Vin de Pays. Father of two and, in his eightieth year, still having it off with lovely women. "Britain's most controversial aristocrat," says the blurb. Yes indeed.
Unabashed by the absence of any training in psychology or psychiatry, Nesta Wyn Ellis analyses the bitter influences in Thynn's early life. The parental divorce, rejection by his slightly dotty father, rivalry with a younger brother, less-than-hoped-for achievements at Oxford and in the Life Guards. She tells us all this not once but several times over. She clearly spent a great deal of time with her subject, and her diagnosis is "lonely," "insecure."
But of course, as readers we can hardly wait to read about Lord Bath's harem, the famous "wifelets" (75 since he started keeping count) who lodge in Longleat Estate cottages and come to his bed when summoned, sometimes in plurality. Our author does not disappoint, for it seems she can hardly wait to satisfy our curiosity. It is said that Alex Thynn wishes he had not co-operated quite so fully with this particular biographer, and his legal wife, Anna Abigail Gyarmarthy, is profoundly unamused (notwithstanding her own background as a soft-porn actress.)
It struck me that there's something Islamic about the lifesyle, at least as Wyn Ellis interprets it. According to her, his Lordship came to the conclusion in his 20s that women were constitutionally incapable of remaining faithful, and this is of course exactly the reason Islamic society gives for veiling its women. Never mind that, at least in contemporary Britain, there's ample evidence that it's the men who have a hard time declining any opportunity for random bonking. Also, when our author describes meetings between several wifelets, it sounds precisely like the conversation one imagines in some Sultan's harem. Who's the current favourite? Who's the new girl? Who's pissed off and about to flounce out? Who might be pregnant and not yet showing?
Wyn Ellis describes a Saturday night at Longleat in June 2000, when she and four of the concubines shared a supper.
"Put more than one wifelet together and the topic of conversation is almost certain to focus on other wifelets. Catherine, having been around for several years as a friend before becoming ... a wifelet, had much to impart. She told us that one of the wifelets dating from the early 1980s was a dominatrix who whipped men as a profitable sideline. Does this mean Alexander favours the whiplash? No one admitted to knowing the answer. The women discussed this ex-wifelet for a few minutes. Then they moved on to another wifelet who claims to have been a model but who, Catherine said, was probably making a bit on the side selling sexual favours."
Bitchery, bitchery. Judging by her back-flap picture, Wyn Ellis could herself have been a candidate for, if not outright wifelettery, at least a fling in that huge ancestral bed or in the villa near St. Tropez. Speaking of which, she devotes an incredible 28 pages to a bitch-by-bitch account of a colossal fight she had with wifelet Linda in the latter very desirable location ("I decide to limit my dealings with Linda to minimal civilities".) Linda is portrayed as, in every sense, a rival.
Well, we ask, did she or didn't she? She says no -- but, to misappropriate a famous phrase from an English sex scandal of the '60s, "She would, wouldn't she?"
on 10 December 2011
I nearly gave up on this book at the start, the author spends the first half of the book detailing the Marquess's first love affair, possibly because she thinks it has affected how he had turned out, however she keeps going over and over stuff again and again, however when you get into the second half it does move at faster pace, and was a very interesting book.