Historic, Romantic and Obsessive Liaisons
Memoirist and Francophile Baxter (A Year in Paris) offers an alluring collection of essays focused on the Parisian “culture of acceptance and acquiescence” in the boudoir. He combines personal reflections with a literary-historical account of neighborhoods and locales, including Montparnasse circa 1924, when Jean Rhys moved in with Ford Madox Ford and his girlfriend, and Café Flore during WWII, where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir held court while indulging in “contingent liaisons.” Baxter also spotlights Napoleon, whose consort Josephine attempted to “domesticate him by sharing sexual experience,” and Princess Diana, who was “ripe to be seduced” by Dodi Fayed at the Ritz in 1997. There are also succinct assessments of the love lives of Arthur Rimbaud, who seduced married poet Paul Verlaine, and diarist Anaïs Nin, who trysted with Henry Miller in 1932 at the Hotel Central, as well as a profile of Anne Desclos, author of The Story of O, about a woman who “agrees to submit to abuses similar to those inflicted on Sade’s heroines.” Baxter concludes with his own 1989 journey from his native Australia to Paris, where he eventually made a home with his wife and daughter in the building where bookseller Sylvia Beach once lived. Freewheeling and often titillating, this frothy history is packed with intimate details certain to captivate the armchair traveler.