Laura Beatty's imaginative biography concentrates on the tight band of years that cover her ascendancy. 1877 was her annus mirabilis; her entry to London society, after months of waiting to be discovered, was dazzling, and the hordes of journalists and artists that descended termed her variously the Jersey Lily, Venus Annodomini, the modern Helen. What was a girl to do? In her trademark black dress she sat for the painters, simpered for society, and pondered her future. Beatty deals passionately with this time of quandary, as Lillie considers a woman already irrevocably scarred by the public's attentions, resulting in the mix of insecurity and self-confidence necessary for her subsequent career on the stage. Lillie ended her life in comparative calm, successful in business, with, ironically, the companionship of a woman after so many years in the company of increasingly dissolute men.
Lillie Langtry was a beautiful, haunted woman, who became a moderate, if hardworking, actress. Importantly, she survived. By the end of this sympathetic and thoughtful book one is left wondering what she might have achieved had she not been blessed, or cursed, with such a pretty face. --David Vincent