A Gift for Admiration

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In two earlier volumes of memoirs, SIX EXCEPTIONAL WOMEN (1994) and SOME REMARKABLE MEN (1996), James Lord has produced brief but meticulously sculpted and compulsively readable biographical essays on some of the twentieth century’s most unusual characters—friends whom he has celebrated for their extraordinary talents, or in some cases, their extraordinary personalities. All, in one way or another, lived lives devoted to art—usually as painters or writers, but just as often as collectors, promoters, critics, designers, or eccentric hangers-on. In A GIFT FOR ADMIRATION: FURTHER MEMOIRS he guides his readers through enchanting vignettes from another half-dozen of these lives. There is Peggy Guggenheim, whose Venetian palazzo housed one of the great modernist collections; George Orwell’s fascinating yet wayward widow, Sonia, who managed to attract a long list of artistic men without really being creative herself; American collector and millionaire bon vivant Henry McIlhenny, who was a paradoxical study in fastidious taste and extravagant living. Reminiscences of these more famous folks are interwoven with neatly sketched portraits of people perhaps less well-known, but no less intriguing: the piquant model and muse, Isabel Rawsthorne; British publisher and arts patron Peter Watson; art collector and benefactress Ethel Bliss Platt.

Lord recalls these friends fondly, and while he spins out his tales with great tact (these are, after all, exercises in...

(The entire section is 482 words.)