a menagerie of three

Bryher (1894 – 1983) was the pen name of the novelist, poet and magazine editor Annie Winifred Ellerman.

Bryher found here

Her father was John Ellerman, who at the time of his death in 1933, was the richest Englishman who had ever lived. He lived with her mother Hannah Glover, but did not marry her until 1908. During the 1920s, Bryher was an unconventional figure in Paris. Her circle of friends included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and Berenice Abbott. 

James Joyce by Berenice Abbott found here

In 1918 she met and became involved in a lesbian relationship with poet Hilda Doolittle (better known by her initials, H.D.). The relationship was an open one, with both taking other partners. In 1921 she entered into a marriage of convenience with the American author Robert McAlmon, whom she divorced in 1927. Both Bryher and H.D. slept with McAlmon during this time.

Hilda Doolittle found here

That same year she married Kenneth Macpherson, a writer who shared her interest in film and who was also H.D.’s lover. H.D., Bryher, and Macpherson lived together and traveled through Europe in what the poet and critic Barbara Guest termed as a ‘menagerie of three’. In Switzerland, overlooking Lake Geneva, the couple built a Bauhaus-style style structure which they named Kenwin. They formally adopted H.D.’s young daughter, Perdita. In 1928, H.D. became pregnant with Macpherson’s child, but chose to abort the pregnancy. Bryher divorced MacPherson in 1947, she and Doolittle no longer lived together after 1946, but continued their relationship until Doolittle’s death in 1961.

Kenneth Macpherson found here

Although Bryher’s and Macpherson’s marriage lasted for twenty years, both Macpherson and Bryher had many extra-marital affairs. Bryher was lesbian but Macpherson was distinctly bi-sexual. After spending a few months in New York in 1935, Macpherson eventually based himself there to focus on writing and photography. It was during this time that he met Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy American art collector, who instantly fell in love with him.

Peggy found here

By 1947, Macpherson was spending much of his time in Switzerland and Italy. He bought a home on Capri, “Villa Tuoro”, which he shared with his lover, the photographer, Algernon Islay de Courcy Lyons. In 1965, he retired to Tuscany to work on a book about Austrian doctor, Elisabeth Moor. Moor was Capri’s doctor from 1926 until the early 1970s and was one of the island’s more colourful characters.

Capri found here

For a daughter of the Austrian emperor’s hairdresser, born in 1885 in Vienna, the prophecy of a career in medicine would have been a most unrealistic scenario, requiring not only talent and a strong determination, but also a rebellious spirit. 

son of the last Austrian Emperor found here

She was one of only two women admitted to the medical school, the other being her Jewish girlfriend, whose cousin was one of her first lovers. Her memories from medical school recall more lovers than courses. At the age of 24 she was deeply in love with an 18-year-old Swiss painter, Gigi Moor, whom she subsequently married shortly before obtaining her medical degree. 

She gave birth to a son, but she and her husband maintained an open marriage, with Gigi having an affair with a German cellist and our heroine falling madly in love with a Russian tenor. Elisabeth always boasted that a woman cannot know what real love is if she has not made love with a Russian. After the war she had another child with Gigi in Switzerland, and they subsequently moved to Italy. Her emotional needs seemed satiated by the two children and many lovers, and her marriage subsequently dissolved.

My favourite Russian found here

After the divorce she left Switzerland and arrived at Capri, her favorite place from previous visits. She was poor as a beggar, with two barefoot children, one dress and nothing else, not even underwear. But a license to practice medicine assured her independence.

Why should one care about the memories of an egotistic “impossible woman” whose life was so disorderly? Graham Greene’s preface offered no explanation except his admiration for this small square creature with eyes as blue as the windows of the cathedral of Chartres, big teeth and wild electric hair as alive as a bundle of fighting snakes. She was a woman who was tough and demanding, who frequently bullied her patients. But when she departed, she left a vast emptiness among the inhabitants of the island of Capri. 

snake hair bag found here

Published in: on March 12, 2012 at 8:59 am  Comments (51)  
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