Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham

Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0374536198

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Raised like a princess in one of the most powerful families in the American South, Henrietta Bingham was offered the helm of a publishing empire. Instead, she ripped through the Jazz Age like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character: intoxicating and intoxicated, selfish and shameless, seductive and brilliant, endearing and often terribly troubled. In New York, Louisville, and London, she drove both men and women wild with desire, and her youth blazed with sex. But her love affairs with women made her the subject of derision and caused a doctor to try to cure her queerness. After the speed and pleasure of her early decades, the toxicity of judgment from others, coupled with her own anxieties, resulted in years of addiction and breakdowns. And perhaps most painfully, she became a source of embarrassment for her family--she was labeled "a three-dollar bill." But forebears can become fairy-tale figures, especially when they defy tradition and are spoken of only in whispers. For the biographer and historian Emily Bingham, the secret of who her great-aunt was, and just why her story was concealed for so long, led to Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham.

Henrietta rode the cultural cusp as a muse to the Bloomsbury Group, the daughter of the ambassador to the United Kingdom during the rise of Nazism, the seductress of royalty and athletic champions, and a pre-Stonewall figure who never buckled to convention. Henrietta's audacious physicality made her unforgettable in her own time, and her ecstatic and harrowing life serves as an astonishing reminder of the stories that lie buried in our own families.

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is not clear, though one Louisville matron said “everybody knew right away she was not all there.” Henrietta’s pre-Christmas outburst at the Seelbach Hotel prompted a frightening binge; others followed, and by May 1917 Bingham was desperate. His trip to see Hugh Young in Baltimore was in fact a bid for help with this “great trouble.” He told Young that Mary Lily shut herself in her rooms for days and consumed vast quantities of gin to the point of stupefaction. Barry remembered hearing that “her

the illusion Henrietta and Mina were staging for the benefit of Judge Bingham—that her time off from Smith was merely elective. Upon renewing her teaching contract that spring of 1922, Mina requested leave to spend a year “studying and traveling in Europe,” which Smith’s president approved even though she had completed only two years’ service. (One possible explanation for this may have been that the spread of rumors about her involvement with students made time away from campus advisable.)

week, the analyst would “put himself at the service of the patient,” “keep awake and become preoccupied by the patient,” seek to understand the patient, and reflect that comprehension in language. “Love and hate were honestly expressed” in the nature of the sessions—the analyst’s interest in the patient expressed love; the firm start time, end time, and the payment for the analyst’s services were expressions of hate. The analyst is “much more reliable than people are in ordinary life; on the

the Alps. But Peggy grumbled that Americans, grouped together, resembled “a lot of screaming peacocks.” She knew she sounded like a snob, yet it came as a relief when “time and money” cut short their journey before they reached Vienna and Budapest. They would spend a few days in Paris and then cross the Channel. The Binghams were on their way to Scotland; Henrietta and Barry could not slip that noose, but Peggy agreed to join them and urged Rosamond and Wogan to come along. The shooting was good,

kennels. The pointers barked as the groom saddled horses for a final shoot. Helen begged to adopt a puppy in the Judge’s memory even though Henrietta warned her they made poor pets. Maintaining the quail plantation made no sense; in the absence of its master it was put on the market to help fund Harmony Landing. Nineteen thirty-eight was not a propitious time to list a rich man’s folly, however, and it took years to sell. Henrietta with her nephew Worth on Jubilee, in a Harmony Landing hay field

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