A Portrait in Melancholy

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Romaine BrooksRomaine Brooks: A Life
by Cassandra Langer
University of Wisconsin Press
168 pages, $26.95

 

BEATRICE Romaine Goddard (1874-1970)—better known as the American artist and heiress Romaine Brooks—does not at first strike one as being cursed. She grew up in a family of great wealth, inheriting at age 28 a small fortune from her mother, Ella Waterman Goddard. She lived for almost seven decades more without material want, free to pursue her considerable artistic gifts wherever she wished—which meant Paris, Capri, Florence, and wherever else the sexually marginal but socially well-connected European set tended to gather.

But, as this biography makes fully clear, hers was generally a miserable existence, suggestive of the dark shadows found in Djuna Barnes’ 1936 novel Nightwood, about the Parisian lesbian demimonde of which Brooks was a part.

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