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Remember the Ladies: Natalie Clifford Barney

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Natalie Clifford Barney (31 October 1876 – 2 February 1972) was an American playwright, poet and novelist who lived as an expatriate in Paris. Barney’s salon was held at her home on Paris’ Left Bank for more than 60 years and brought together writers and artists from around the world, including many leading figures in French literature along with American and British Modernists of the Lost Generation. She worked to promote writing by women and formed a “Women’s Academy” —the Académie des Femmes—in response to the all-male French Academy while also giving support and inspiration to male writers from Remy de Gourmont to Truman Capote. [Wikipedia]

Her salon contributed largely to her fame, as did the Parisian decor of her house, the fact that she always wore white, the cakes she served on Fridays which were reputed to be the best in Paris, her morning rides on horseback in the Bois de Boulogne, and her garden temple to Eros where, in the moonlight, pairs of lesbians danced. Barney was most famous for her sexual voracity; she made conquests whenever she had a spare moment. [Remember the Ladies, Kristen Olsen]

She was openly lesbian and began publishing love poems to women under her own name as early as 1900, considering scandal as “the best way of getting rid of nuisances”(meaning heterosexual attention from young males). In her writings she supported feminism and pacifism. She opposed monogamy and had many overlapping long and short-term relationships, including on-and-off romances with poet Renée Vivien and dancer Armen Ohanian and a 50-year relationship with painter Romaine Brooks. Her life and love affairs served as inspiration for many novels, ranging from the salacious French bestseller Sapphic Idyll to The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most famous lesbian novel of the 20th century.

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