Monday, July 6, 2020

The Lost Girls: Love and Literature in Wartime London, by D.J. Taylor. Pegasus Books, 2020

From about 1939 to 1950, a literary magazine called “The Horizon” ran. It employed many of the best talents of the day, as well as a loose group of young women for doing the everyday donkey work. During this time, many relationships formed and broke in a sort of incestuous web (Lucien Freud, the painter, was involved with three of the girls). In the center of this web sat Cyril Connolly, the owner of “The Horizon”. He had relationships with most of the girls, whether it be romantic, sexual, or simply business. These girls were bright, good looking, and chafing at the restrictions placed being placed back on women now that the war was over. They hadn’t had an easy time during the war, and most counted on men to provide them with dinners and gifts, going between their falling-down flats and the most expensive restaurants in town. They stood somewhere between the flappers of the 20s and the hippies of the 60s. Lys Lubbock, Barbara Skelton, Sonia Brownell, Janetta Parlade, and others,  stood to make the most of their lives in the perilous time of the war and right after. They tended to be tall, skinny, and broke. Some modeled, some typed, some painted; one was the mistress of the King Farouk, and one married George Orwell. 

The book brings to light the intellectual parties, the world of the magazine office, the artistic milieu. The author researched the lives of the women and tells us what he learned, but the book is as much a biography of Cyril Connolly as it is of the young women. More than either, it’s a work of literary gossip, delicious if you like the writers of the era; boring at times if you don’t. Four stars.