The Bolter: Edwardian Heartbreak and High Society Scandal in Kenya – Frances Osborne

Published July 14, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

In an age of bolters–women who broke the rules and fled their marriages–Idina Sackville was the most celebrated of them all. Her relentless affairs, wild sex parties, and brazen flaunting of convention shocked high society and inspired countless writers and artists, from Nancy Mitford to Greta Garbo. But Idina’s compelling charm masked the pain of betrayal and heartbreak.

Now Frances Osborne explores the life of Idina, her enigmatic great-grandmother, using letters, diaries, and family legend, following her from Edwardian London to the hills of Kenya, where she reigned over the scandalous antics of the ‘Happy Valley’ set. Dazzlingly chic yet warmly intimate, The Bolter is a fascinating look at a woman whose energy still burns bright almost a century later.

What did I think?:

Through GoodReads I participate in a reading challenge which involves twelve books over the year (a mixture of fiction and non-fiction) that revolve around the era of the British Empire. All of the books I have read so far are fascinating, not necessarily particularly likeable in some cases, but I’ve definitely learned something through reading each book so I would count that as a positive thing. The Bolter introduces us to a lady who is in some ways, indescribable, but in no way forgettable. Idina Sackville was famous amongst high society for her promiscuous lifestyle and the number of divorces/marriages she went through – five. Not only this, but she did it in style, caring little for others opinions, and hosting a number of infamous parties in Kenya where a lot of the -ahem- entertainment came from nakedness, rude games and swapping partners (and I’m talking literally, not just while linking arms at a nice dance).

I think what most intrigued me about this book, and indeed about Idina was the fact that it is written by her great grand-daughter, who at a young age knew nothing about Idina – in truth, it was positively covered up from her, to shield her from the scandal associated with that name. On finding out the truth, she wrote this incredibly interesting account of her great grand-mother’s life, no holes barred. I think the author does a good job of it on the whole – the character of Idina comes across as a terrible flirt with a voracious sexual appetite, but also as a kind, humorous, generous and vulnerable woman who just wants to be loved.

“While her fellow-Edwardian debutantes in their crisp white dresses merely contemplated daring acts, Idina went everywhere with a jet-black Pekinese called Satan.”

Although Idina made a few mistakes in her life (leaving her two children to run off with another man is probably my prime accusation), I challenge anybody to read the above quote and not warm to her just a little. Unfortunately she did get a reputation as “The Bolter,” – Nancy Mitford actually based this character in her novels Love In A Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love on Idina, although at some points you could argue that maybe she just picked the wrong men? Amongst her husbands, we have Joss, who she has a open sexual relationship and marriage with… THAT came back to bite her on the butt later when he got a little too serious with one of his “flings.” And husband number four, Donald, is incredibly violent, and apoplectic with rage and jealousy, actually returns with a gun to take pot shots at all men he is convinced are his ex-wife’s lovers.

I found a Daily Mail article recently (oh dear), with the headline “Slapper of the Century,” referring to Idina Sackville. In the article, they make quite derogatory statements about Idina, which is not a huge surprise, but by the end of this novel, I ended up feeling quite sorry for Idina. She has had five failed marriages, is lonely and despairing wishing she had stayed “with the first one,” she does not really communicate with her children or grand-children, and her reputation has been sullied beyond belief. I think that Frances Osborne did a great job, with a mesmerizing individual during a momentous and changeable time of Britain’s history.

For my previous reviews on books in this challenge please see Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh, On a Chinese Screen by W.Somerset Maugham, and Churchill’s Empire by Richard Toye.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art


2 comments on “The Bolter: Edwardian Heartbreak and High Society Scandal in Kenya – Frances Osborne

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