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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 LonRaised 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 days, 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 lying buried in our own families....

Title : Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham
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ISBN : 9780809094646
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham Reviews

  • Caren
    2019-02-01 23:20

    I read this book prior to hearing the author speak at our city library. The Bingham name is known to most long-term Louisvillians because the family used to own the local newspapers, the Courier-Journal (now, regrettably, owned by Gannett) and the Louisville Times (now defunct). I'd say they are sort of like local Kennedys, with their money, tragedy, and clout. It was interesting to me to read about how the family acquired their enormous wealth (primarily by marrying heiresses) and a bit about their background. The book was written by the great-niece of the book's subject, Henrietta Bingham, who ran with the "in" crowd in the early twentieth century. She made many, many trips across the Atlantic on the grand old ocean liners of the time, to hang out with her pals, many of whom were in the Bloomsbury set, and to see her therapist, an early protege of Freud. She was a lesbian, a fact that had to be carefully hidden in those days. She apparently had a lot of charm and was attractive to both men and women. She did have affairs with men, but her long-term relationships were with women, one of them being a well-known tennis star of the day. In the 1930s, her father became the ambassador to England and was very opposed to Hitler.(Henrietta and her father had a sort of co-dependent relationship, which is discussed in depth in the book.) Henrietta also knew and partied with many members of the Harlem Renaissance. It struck me that this woman never did anything of note herself, but that, by virtue of her money, met and partied with lots of well-known people from the time period. The book is probably mostly of interest to those who live in Louisville, to those researching early approaches to therapy, and to people with an interest in feminist and lesbian history. Some readers may just enjoy a little visit to the Jazz Age. One thing I liked about the book was its inclusion of many family photos, which were inserted into the text to match the topic being discussed, a format I liked. The book has extensive notes and a thorough index, which may be useful for researchers.The author, who is an historian and a professor at Centre College in Kentucky, was an excellent speaker. Her talk will be archived at the Louisville Free Public Library website eventually, and when it is, I'll add the link to this review.**The library has now provided the podcast for this talk. They used to archive the video of the talk, but, alas, this is only audio. You will want to open the slide show while you listen since she comments on the photos as she goes through her talk:http://www.lfpl.org/podcast.html

  • Nancy Oakes
    2019-01-23 20:17

    a longer post at my online reading journal ishere; read on for the condensed version.Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a great-niece of Henrietta Bingham's, and she literally tries to "unpack" Henrietta's story as the book moves along. She'd always known about her great-aunt, the one the family called "an invert" (read "lesbian") but in an attic of the family home, Emily Bingham discovered quite a treasure trove of Henrietta's belongings (including letters) that set her on the path to discovering for herself just who this woman actually was.A pivotal event in this story was the death of Henrietta's mother when Henrietta was only twelve; Henrietta was there when it happened. Since that horrible and traumatic event, her father (often referred to as "The Judge") came to depend on Henrietta for emotional support even after he married a second and third time. As the author notes, "Her mother's death before her eyes left an open wound -- an an opening for an unusually close partnership with her father that both empowered her and made her weak."This strange sort of interdependence between father and daughter had a beyond-huge effect on Henrietta's life, a point that the author returns to time and again throughout the book. As one reviewer puts it, she became "an emotional surrogate" for the Judge's "adored dead wife" even through his two marriages, right up to the time of his death.Henrietta's story is compelling and Emily Bingham has done an amazing amount of research about her great-aunt; sadly, information about her later life is rather lacking in terms of documentation. The author takes us slowly through Henrietta's life as she charmed and romanced members of the Bloomsbury set in 1920s London, started a long-term course of psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones at the behest of her then-lover (and her former English professor at Smith) Mina Kirstein who herself wanted to be "cured" of her homosexual tendencies. As it turned out, Jones became someone in whom Henrietta could confide about the "seductive ambivalence" toward the Judge, even though the psychoanalysis "did not banish the anxiety and depression that stalked her." We are privy to her various affairs with both men and women while in London during the 1920s, her desire not to constantly be at her father's beck and call so that she could have some measure of freedom, her unflagging support of her father when he became FDR's Ambassador to Britain just prior to the beginning of World War II and then her life, at least what's known about it, through the Judge's death and beyond. One of the key ideas in this book is that while Henrietta had a large measure of freedom in terms of same-sex affairs as a young woman as long as she didn't flaunt things (her father even gave his tacit approval to her lesbian relationship with a tennis star with whom she lived while he served as ambassador), but as times changed, shifting morals, homophobia, and Henrietta's status vis a vis her family's prominence in Kentucky added to her already-overburdened mental state and ultimately contributed to her mental deterioration.While I loved the subject and while I was cliche-ingly glued to this book, there were times when I kind of did the odd eyeroll or two over the author's writing -- very minor quibbles, to be sure, but still a bit annoying. I will say however that the things that make this such an intense and compelling novel -- Henrietta herself, her family's history, her ongoing desire for the freedom to be who she wanted to be and the obstacles that so often got in the way, as well as her later tragedies -- far outweigh my niggles with the occasional writing issues, making for one hell of a good book.Get a copy. It's amazing.

  • Mel
    2019-01-24 19:13

    I was so pleased to discover a biography of Henrietta Bingham had been written. I'd come across her name in my Beatrix Lehmann research. I'd suspected that her and Bea had dated but I knew nothing about her. This filled in those gaps wonderfully. It was a proper insight into the woman, the times she lived in and her unusual life. The biggest surprise for me was that she was from such a rich American background. Growing up in the south, with a father who was "struggling" compared with some of his relatives but one who still ended up as the Ambassador to England on the even of the second world war. Henrietta's life was an interesting one, even if she didn't "produce" anything. She was in a tragic car accident when she was 13 that saw the death of her mother (p.22-23). She had to be emotionally supportive for her father as well as a fairly useless elder brother. She was bisexual and had a series of relationships with both men and women. The first woman she was seriously involved with was a teacher at her school, Mina Stein Kirsten who she met in 1918 when Mina was 24 (p.47). She first arrived in England in 1922 traveling with her father and Mina. The two women ended up staying in England together and explored the countrisde. Mina insisted Henrietta get psychological counselling, and they both saw a Freudian analyst. P. 72-73 talks about how bisexuality was somewhat accepted at that time, with women such as Bessie Smith and Tallulah Bankhead being more open about their sexuality. p. 81 mentions how Henrietta got to know the Bloomsbury group, including Dora Carrington, with whom she had a realationship, through going to Francis Birrell and David Garrett's bookshop. p. 123, 131 talks in more detail about Dora and Henrietta's relationship. It is probably worth noting that the relatively poly attitude of the queer people at that time still seems to make biographers uncomfortable, tring to figure out which relationships were which, and how jealousy fitted in. They can't seem to accept that people could be having more than one relationship and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. In 1927 Henrietta's father and Mina decided she should marry, but in 1927 she met Beatrix, referred to in the book throughout as Peggy, and the two started a relationship that lasted roughly five years. "In the midst of this summer of nuptials, Henrietta tested what her father would ut up with to have her near him. She asked Miss Lehmann - the twenty four year old English actress who had the use of her Bently and had sent so many letters to her while she was in America - to join the family party as it moved from Edinburgh to grouse shooting near Guthrie Castle. They were more than just friends. A framed photograph of Beatrix stood on Henrietta's dresser to the end of her life". Even though it didn't last more than a few years it seemed to have been significant as the author said Henrietta had a photo of Beatrix on her dressing table till she died. Which I found very touching. p. 184 During WWI Peggy disguised herself as a boy so she could attend scout activities. (she would have been 10-13) ... She was likely introduced to Henrietta through Tallulah Bankhead, whom she understudied in three different productions. There were all-night escapades with Bankhead, p. 185 who would suffer pre-opening-night "nerve storms" and insist "that she couldn't be left". Peggy, living on a meager allowence, meanwhile had "stockings to mend, bills to pay (impossible) and understudy (70 pages) to learn". According to contemporaries - and by the standards of the era - Lehmann was remarkably open about her lesbian leanings. "Tallulah must have been in love with her," recalled Bankhead's co-star Glenn Anders. "We were together all the time". ... The Glasgow bulletin covered the vacationing American press baron and his party, and ran a photo of Miss H. Bingham and Miss P Lehman [sic]. Striding together in their tartans, walking sticks in hand, they flank a shotgun-toting Mr Philips... That same day, Henrietta sat shoulder to shoulder with Peggy, on the moor alonside a chauffeured automobile, their legs tucked sideways under them. The photographer caught them in conversation, cigarettes in hand and nipping dark liquid from small glasses...p. 186 Henrietta stayed in Britain after the shooting party, foxhunting and spending time with Peggy...p. 188 Like Henrietta, Peggy was an entertaining companion, adding spark and cleverness to a group. She could turn her mordant humour against herself, loathed sentimentality, and insisted on her independence. ... But the relationship that began while Henrietta was at least informally engaged to John Houseman persisted through the decade. The woman treated the bond provissionally...p. 195 The judge relaxed considerably during this period and gave his blessing to the "close friendship" with Miss Lehmann. But even if he and other people knew or thought they knew about his daughter's sexual predilections, Bingham demanded that her clothing and public demeanour not prove it...p. 198 "Henrietta announced an earlier than scheduled return to England. She talked of taking Peggy Lehmann to see Berlin cabarets and soak up the midnight sun in Sweden... On July 13 1930 Henrietta [bought a new Bentley] and Henrietta and Peggy were off to Stokholm, attracted by a grand exhibition of modern designs. Following that, they installed themselves at a Baltic resort. Sweden was "the greatest fun", Peggy told her sister Rosamond; the country was full of perfect blondes, replete with good food, and amazingly free in it social mores. ... they made their way south, via Berlin, with its open transvestite balls and lesbian bars that went well beyond the Bloomsbury's experiments. (Two years later, Peggy would return to Berlin seeking German film roles). In Munich she and Henrietta attended a vast avant-garde production called Totenmal, or call of the dead, mounted by the lesbian dancer Mary Wigman with over the top lights, dances and unaccompanied choirs, and masked men reading the letters of soldiers lost in he great war. It was a staggering work of peace propaganda even as the Nazi party closed in on political control. the couple werep. 199 deliriously happy in in Munich. "Henrietta" Peggy wrote to Rosamond, "has been adorable and the best of travel companions (and often unspeakably funny").[They travelled to the Alps, Paris, then crossed the channel and Peggy joined Henrietta on the family holiday in Scotland] Peggy's show of enthusiasm for Judge Bingham, whom she had first met at Guthrie three years earlier, marked a departure from the antagonistic stance of Henrietta's other friends and lovers toward a man who seemed at best overbearing and narcissistic and at worst Mephistophelean. In bringing Miss Lehmann once more into the house party, Henrietta asserted a relationship that was both unmistakable and unmentionable. ...p. 205 Henrietta meanwhile endured a series of blows that included the increasingly dire economic crisis and the unwinding of her relationship with Peggy. She had spent Christmas 1931 with the Lehmanns, where the family theatricals involved John comically cross-dressing as their American mother. For Henrietta the cheer came aided by quantities of alcohol. Peggy noted her sweetness and the "largesse and generosity" she brought tot he holiday, but none of the Lehmanns could miss the way she applied "herself with religious and fanatical fervor to all bottles. p. 206 Peggy's appraisal of her life could easily have expressed Henrietta's own, "getting uglier and more lonesome every moment. Always falling in love with the wrong people. It is small consolation that they return the compliment". ...p. 208 [on finding out Henrietta was starting a relationship with Hope Williams] "Peggy minced no words at the news of Henrietta's attachment to the star. She told her sister that her ex was "living in homo-sin with Tallulah's best girl". p. 209 In England Peggy Lehmann admitted to "ride-em-cowboy" fantasies. "I should think, she wrote to Henrietta, "It was the ideal contry for bringing out most any girl's subconscious wish for spectacular masculinity" [odd to note that this is one of Peggy's letters to Henrietta that ended up in Rosamond's archive!]p. 210-211 has Peggy writing Henrietta asking her, "What do you do with yourself all day - and night?" Was Henrietta, "rich, poor, happy, miserable, in-love, out-of-love, analysed, unanalysed?"p. 215 Hope williams visited at the embassy, and the whole family went to a play starring Peggy Lehmann as Emily Bronte [Wild decembers] . p. 226-227 talks of Henrietta visiting Helen's flat with Peggy to help Helen with her novel. p. 238 There were jealousies too, such as a night where, after dinner at the savoy with Peggy Lehmann and another guest named Percy, they all returned to Madge's. Helen grew so upset at something she witnessed happen that she fled in the darkness of Stiner's stall, where she stroked him until her composure returned.... or Henrietta and Peggy could have been flirting...p 248-249 talks about how it was becoming less acceptable to be homosexualp 275 Peggy Lehmann's acting career was compromised by her leftist policis and her unusually open bisexuality. However, 1960s and 70s British television provided roles that engaged her comic abilities and milked her eccentric profile, and fans of the original Dr Who tv series celebrate her campy (and suggestively lesbian) portrayal of Professor Amelia Rumford.Things were not so good for Henrietta though who suffered from severe depression and alcoholism, thought to be a result of the constant homophobia she faced. A rather sad ending for an interesting and unconventional woman.

  • Suzanne Stroh
    2019-01-30 16:12

    In London between the wars, they called her the Kentucky Princess. She was an inspiration. A muse.She ran with the avant-garde but produced no body of work. Instead, the American heiress was obsessively painted, sculpted, written about and made love to. She was a rebel. She flaunted convention. Childhood photographs attest to her boldness. Her social debut was a Bloomsbury party where she mixed the cocktails. Nobody knew what to make of Henrietta Bingham.She could play the saxophone, sing the blues and clear five foot fences on horseback. Reaching maturity early in the Jazz Age, she became an international citizen who’d spent most of her adult life in Britain but still spoke with a southern drawl. To those who were susceptible to her charms, Henrietta was a rarity, an exotic American, as beguiling as her friend Tallulah Bankhead—only richer. Clever but dyslexic with a high EQ, she might have been one of the first American women publishers of a well-endowed regional newspaper, but she didn’t share her father’s relentless ambition. Nor did she want her father’s power. It’s easy to understand why not. After the death of her mother in a train wreck that twelve-year old Henrietta survived, all she craved was high speed, sweet oblivion and loving embraces. Lots. Offer them and you were richly rewarded. In orgasm, David Garnett told his daughter, she “blushed all over her body.”Her blue eyes were so captivating, explained another of her male lovers, because she had learned how to look the memory of them into you. Her gaze may have been searing, but only “flickering images” remain. The American ambassador’s daughter was a lesbian. All her deep and lasting sexual relationships were with women. It wasn’t safe to keep her letters, and if she kept her own diaries, they haven’t surfaced—or survived.Henrietta Bingham’s great-niece has written a page turner in search of her elusive, enigmatic forebear. It’s a book with heroes and villains, landscapes and interiors, and plenty of Lost Generation atmosphere. One published review recommends reading it for the plot alone. I kept waiting for the villains to come to a bad end, but they only kept fattening on Henrietta, who never really took charge of her own life and resources. In the end, Henrietta Bingham wasted away.To the biographer’s credit, Emily Bingham never leaves Henrietta’s side. She is steadfast, insisting that Henrietta’s Jazz Age lesbian narrative was the driving force in her life. It was a wise decision not to bury this in yet another book about the scandalous and wealthy Binghams of Louisville, Kentucky. For it was Henrietta's defiant queerness that drove her lasting contributions. Who knew, for instance, that Henrietta Bingham championed great talents of the Harlem Renaissance alongside Carl Van Vechten? Or that her life with athlete Helen Jacobs provided the Wimbledon champ with European training grounds--and a stable platform from which to change careers. Emily Bingham is an historian in quiet command of her material. That’s a good thing, considering how meager her resources were—leaving aside two “mother lodes” of love letters written by men Henrietta ultimately jilted.It’s refreshing to read about an American heiress in a book written by somebody who knows one when she sees one. This book compares favorably to Frances Osborne’s biography of her great-grandmother Idina Sackville. (If you liked The Bolter and you’re like me, you’ll like Irrepressible even more.) Even so, Emily Bingham’s lovely cool prose dissipates some of Henrietta’s heat. It's a measured book about an intemperate woman. The subject takes risks; the biographer does not. I wished, for example, that the biographer had come down a bit harder on the crimes of psychiatry. I wished the establishment were called to account for its role in wrecking Henrietta's life. One of Henrietta's doctors prescribed a lobotomy to control behavior arising from drinking and drugging to cope with society's rejection of her lesbianism. Ghastly. Thank god Henrietta resisted, with what seems to have been her last strength. She was nothing if not brave. But after following HB through decades of so-called psychoanalytic treatment, we are left to wonder about her views and reactions. Yes, it is a sensitive family matter. Henrietta's trustees were complicit in unethical attempts to control her. Her younger brother's role was troubling, even when we understand the deep and tender bonds between siblings that the biographer evokes so clearly. But the social and medical crimes of the 1950s need to be named so that they may never be repeated. This book might have made that point a bit more forcefully.I also disliked the heavy reliance on the Freudian lexicon. Now is the time to distance ourselves from the worst errors of the Freudians, not to perpetuate the illusion that Freudian psychology is still widely accepted. It is not. Bowlby's attachment theory, now thought to be the more definitive explanation of the foundations of psychological wellbeing, explains Henrietta's scars simply and perfectly. As far as I know, there isn't a single statement from Henrietta praising the benefits of the psychoanalysis she received, and if the reader is to go purely on behavior, she never behaved as if that therapy changed her life for the better.The true crime story at the core of this biography involves psychoanalysis. Henrietta was pushed into psychoanalysis in her early 20s by her self-loathing girlfriend Mina Kerstein, the Filene's heiress and Smith College professor. Ambitious, controlling but lacking Henrietta's sparkle and EQ, Mina spent a lifetime trying to turn herself (and other bent people) straight. Mina's desperate attempt to rid herself of the lesbian label got both women psychoanalyzed by Ernest Jones, a cult figure styling himself as a disciple of Sigmund Freud. In search of fame, fortune and case studies, Jones tinkered with his clients, guided by ethics that are repellent today--including a kind of dark collusion with his patient, Mina Kerstein.I know Emily Bingham’s terminology is technically correct and historically appropriate, but to me, it dated the book. Take the overuse of the archaic word “homosexual,” for instance, when the author is commenting on people we now understand to be “queer,” “gay” or "lesbian." Why not permit more of the careful anachronisms like "gay" that can make history come alive? In insisting on "homosexual," the historian’s rigor distanced me from Henrietta, rather than bringing me closer. ("And so we beat on," Fitzgerald might comment about the futility of this approach, since it only drives Henrietta back into the past.) Finally, from the fantastic "jug band" scene on, I wanted to know more about Henrietta's black friends, going back into her childhood. How did she navigate those troubled waters in Jim Crow Kentucky? Compare this book with Joan Schenkar’s more experimental biography of Dolly Wilde, Henrietta’s contemporary (and British counterpart in fragility). Decide for yourself which portrait is the more intimate.But these are small complaints. What really shines through is the author’s sympathy for Henrietta and her problems. Henrietta Bingham’s meteoric path blazed through half a century when pioneering queers were first lionized as celebrities, then later vilified as perverts. Sadly, it’s an age old cycle. Emily Bingham’s fierce loyalty to her subject brings out what’s timeless in the story. It has always seemed to me that the best biographies generally come from authors with affection for their subjects. Intelligent, accomplished and headstrong women have always been hallmarks of the Bingham family. Emily Bingham is the latest in that line. Taking up her legacy, she has written a compelling, racy family history to admire. Better yet, there’s a heartbreaking and progressive lesbian at the center of it. It's about time. More, please, Ms. Bingham.

  • Rebecca
    2019-01-28 15:25

    The biography of a nearly forgotten member of one of Louisville, Kentucky’s most notable families. Deeply researched and beautifully written by her great niece, the book tells a story that is intriguing and heartbreaking. Easily one of the best books I've ever read-- Henrietta's story pulled me into Jazz Age Louisville and opulence that would rival F.Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby.

  • Cathy Sprankle
    2019-01-28 15:06

    When she went off to college in 1919, Henrietta Bingham was a child of one of the wealthiest families in America. This wealth and privilege, along with an adventurous spirit and an irresistible charm, allowed her to move in the highest social and artistic circles in New York and London over the next 25 years. She hung out with Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury Group, introduced her rich white friends to the black blues and jazz performers she adored, and had relationships with people like actor/playwright/producer John Houseman and tennis star Helen Hull Jacobs. But Henrietta's seemingly charmed life was fraught with difficulties. She was bisexual in an age where alternative lifestyles were barely discussed and rarely accepted. She had a difficult relationship with a controlling, emotionally dependent father. She had problems with drug and alcohol dependency and very likely a learning disability. This well-researched and fast-paced biography tells the story of a forgotten member of one of America's most prominent families. It is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th-century women's or LGBT history.

  • Sara
    2019-02-16 20:02

    Who didn't this woman sleep with? What didn't she guzzle? And how many debutantes did she not goose? A steamship soap mixed with a dash of queer literary history and a long neglected look at psychoanalytical thought re: lesbianism in the early 20th century. That last part rescues it from being another poor little rich girl story. Warning though, you might want to stop when she meets the tennis player and sails off into an all too brief sunset. Gal throws a great party, but it ends like an Albee play.

  • Martine
    2019-02-01 22:58

    This book was excellent. Rich is Louisville history. Transports you back to the Roaring Twenties, and an in-depth look at the life of Henrietta Bingham and the Bingham family. Mesmerizing

  • Kathy
    2019-01-21 18:04

    Quotable:[C]ontemporary Freudian thought… do something about her single state or risk being filled up “with repressions… The only alternative is to have your sexual organs removed along with your wisdom teeth.”“How I hate being a girl,” she cried in one letter, “with female encumbrances & hanging flesh.” A long, agonizing relationship with a fellow Slade School artist, Mark Gertler, floundered under his pressure for physical intimacy. Intercourse, even the idea of it, left her feeling besmirched, and [Dora] Carrington may in fact have suffered from what is known today as gender identity disorder.Each way Henrietta turned she felt the demands of others.Her departure set. Henrietta still had six weeks of an English summer before her. She milked it for everything she could. Her $866 in monthly allowance would equal roughly $10,000 in 2015, and Mina’s father was similarly generous.“Personal relationships may enrich the continuity of the flux of life, they may even change it but one can never depend on them or expect anything permanent from them.” –Mina Kirstein[David Garnett] was at work on a short story about a scientist seeking to isolate human emotions; he concluded that love could never be disentangled from “jealousy, fear, cruelty, and lust,” and was nothing more than “a mixture of other passions.” Love was messy and unreliable. But nothing was more important.In November 1935, Henrietta stood with her father in London, receiving guests for the annual Thanksgiving Dinner. His speech contrasted Britain and the United States, “the two great Democracies,” with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The democracies must exert “their great weight throughout the world on the behalf of peace,” he said The residents at Prince’s Gate felt grave concerns about what lay ahead…

  • Bebe (Sarah) Brechner
    2019-02-16 19:05

    Living in Louisville, Kentucky, creates an awareness of the famous Bingham family that owned the once renowned newspaper, the Louisville Courier Journal. The newspaper still exists, under the generic mass-produced banner of a conglomerate now, but in its heyday, it was one of the top newspapers in the U.S. The Bingham family was a colorful one, but the public never really knew about Henrietta Bingham, a notorious, free spirited lesbian who has been effectively purged from family history until this account, written by her great niece, an historian. Henrietta was involved with the Bloomsbury set, and I'll leave it for readers to uncover the extent (primarily sexual) of that involvement. This biography is very detailed, rather tediously so, of a woman who contributed nothing to the world but had an undeniably strong pull on most of those who met her. Sure, she had major daddy issues and social problems with her sexual preference, but she comes as intellectually weak, cosseted, and a bit boring. Is it the fault of the writer whose credentials and research are impeccable or is it the subject who is ultimately not very worthy? Im not sure, but the narrative started to drag rather quickly for me. Not recommended except for those interested in closet history, early psychoanalysis, and the minutiae of the Bloomsbury set. That said, the research will definitely be of value in those topics mentioned.

  • Hope
    2019-01-25 22:58

    Fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking biography. I can't shake the feeling Henrietta would've been happier in Europe living more openly with women than with the life she ended up with in the south. Her father and brother's almost vampiric need to have her in Kentucky functioned as the first in a series of sad betrayals that culminated in writing her out of the Bingham family story entirely. It's doubly ironic that the author names her daughter after Henrietta innocently, only to see family members squirm in embarrassment about the "scandalous invert," when everyone who met Henrietta in her youth wanted to be close to her and pursued her desperately. If you are a fan of Hollywood, there are some interesting intersections here--Henrietta's lover Jack Housemann goes on to marry Zita Johan, star of The Mummy, and Henrietta has a fling with Hope Williams, who influenced Katharine Hepburn's acting style and mannerisms.

  • Emily
    2019-01-24 15:08

    I read this book for a book club I'm in. Admittedly, I rarely read historical books unless they are fiction. But, with this book being written about an infamous Louisville family, I thought it would be interesting. It did not disappoint. Henrietta Bingham is a fascinating character, whose reach beyond her hometown is amazing. I was intrigued by the way her family and culture received her eccentricities. I'm glad her great niece decided to reintroduce her to the world!

  • Sharon
    2019-01-30 20:19

    Enjoyed the gossip about the Bloomsbury group and other early 20th-cen notables, but in the middle the story loses its sense of momentum, feeling repetitive, and I struggled to stay interested.

  • Donna
    2019-01-27 20:20

    I really wanted to give it about 2.5 stars, maybe even 3, but just couldn't do it. Loved the first 3rd of the book, but as it went on past that, ugh, bogged down. So, she was a lesbian as well as a rich girl, who lived as she pleased regardless of her father's demands on her life. The amount of alcohol consumed, the amount of smoke inhaled, the meds popped--well, it's a wonder she and her friends, except for those who committed suicide, lived as long as they did. Again, the beginning of the book was great, but lost me as it went on.To be fair, though, the book demonstrates what homosexuals and bisexuals go through, trying to please family as well as society, trying to fit into what is deemed an acceptable mold. I would dare say, during Henrietta's time, especially as a "poor little rich girl," she was better able to continue her lifestyle without accountability for it. However, her lifestyle took a toll on her body and got her in the end.Parts of me want to feel bad for her, for her losses, for the demands her father placed on her, but she could have walked away from him, yet didn't. His money was necessary for her to continue the lifestyle she led, the travel, the horses, the alcohol, therapy, etc. In my opinion, she was born at the wrong time. Page 183, for me, pretty much sums up her life, her struggle and the premise or thesis of this book, which the author took 292 pages to support. In that regard, the author was successful. However, after a point, I got it and no longer wanted to keep reading about Henrietta's escapades. I found the way she died really rather sad. Seemingly, she died alone, in many ways, because of or in spite of the life she led, but it was that jazz-age lifestyle that obviously contributed to her decline in health. Seemingly, too, she died unfulfilled, yet she had lived her life on her terms, so I couldn't feel badly for her for long. We all are often our own worst enemies.

  • Rebecca Tolley
    2019-01-19 15:17

    Excellent subject, research, and writing. Love the Jazz Age, but Bingham was a new-to-me figure. Her relationships with the Bloomsbury Group were intriguing. Her athleticism in basketball and foxhunting were fascinating as well. Also really loved the chapters about Helen Hull Jacobs. And when Bingham bred horses and ran a farm. The saddest part was realizing the very negative affect that being sexually closeted had on Bingham's life.

  • Kb
    2019-01-25 17:12

    Well-written biography of a woman whose influence on her sexual conquests (both men and women, but mostly women) was far-reaching, yet so devastating that many of her ex-lovers, famous and otherwise, simply erased all reference to her from their lives.

  • Jill Meyer
    2019-01-23 19:06

    Emily Bingham's biography of her great-aunt, "Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham" is a very well written book. Emily and Henrietta are members of the Bingham dynasty of Louisville, who, during the 20th century, produced some illustrious newspaper publishers, writers, and diplomats. The family also had some seriously emotionally troubled members, of whom one was Henrietta Bingham. She was a bi-sexual - leaning more to the gay side - in a time when gays were not particularly welcomed by society. She was also a wealthy young woman, very pretty, who lived her life as openly as it could be at the time.I came away with the feeling that Henrietta Bingham was one of those people who a Venn-diagram would place in the middle of circles that came together around her. She didn't produce any works of art or literature, but inspired those who did. She was part of the Bloomsbury group in London in the early 1920's and also went through analysis with Dr Ernest Jones, the biographer of Freud, and a leading psychoanalyst. The process went on for years - with Henrietta coming and going from London quite regularly. She had many lovers of both genders; the most famous were John Houseman and Helen Hull Jacobs. She was an expert horsewoman and a breeder of race and hunting horses. But who was she, really?Henrietta lost her mother in an auto accident when Henrietta was 14 years old. Henrietta was in the accident and witnessed her mother's death. She had an odd relationship with her father, Robert Worth Bingham; they were yin and yang. They went through emotional boxing sessions that ended with her father's death in 1937. She seemed to "know" everybody there was to know in the 1920's and 1930's and her time in London in the mid-1930's as the daughter of the US Ambassador to the Court of St James, reminded me a bit about Martha Dodd and her time in Berlin as the daughter of William Dodd, our ambassador to Germany around the same time. Henrietta died of drink in her mid-50's.But for all her activities in Louisville, London, and New York, what exactly did Henrietta Bingham do to deserve such a well-written biography? It seems that the family disapproval of her and her life style interested her great-niece, Emily. Emily seems to want to see Henrietta both within the context of her family and in the wider world. I'm just not sure the subject warranted the biography.(This Emily Bingham is also the author of "Mordecai: An Early American Family", superb look at a Jewish family in Virginia in the 1700 and 1800's. She is not the author of the erotic literature listed on Amazon. At least, I don't think she is!)

  • Jinn
    2019-02-13 21:27

    A POORLY NAMED, WELL-WRITTEN BIOGRAPHY OF A CASUALTY OF CONSERVATISM AND DISCRIMINATION: This book is a well-written exploration of the early part of Henrietta Bingham's life--I was left with the sense of "what if" (what if she had been able to bring to bear her obvious intelligence and charm in the conservative climate of Louisville and taken control of the newspaper business instead of feeling the need for voluntary exile to Europe in her young life...what if she had not succumbed to prescription drug use/alcohol/depression in her midlife...what if she'd made a go of it with John Houseman...what if she'd managed a happy life with Helen Jacobs in a more forgiving clime...what if...) and any failure of the book is not the author's failure, as this is a well-researched and engaging piece. The failure is, I suspect, two-fold. First, there's the fact that Henrietta did, indeed, fail to find a comfortable calling and role in this world (which is always a difficult story to tell: "she didn't do much and she may or may not have tried...")--this reviewer captures that well (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). I found, upon reflection, that this may be a very poorly named book: Ms. Bingham seems far from "Irrepressible" to me; in fact, her story is one of a great deal of repression--not by self, but by family and society. Second, there's the fact that her middle and later years were not well documented, so the living hell she no-doubt went through as she succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness are difficult to tell in a truly engaging fashion but are, instead, compressed to a slim chapter or two before the bountiful footnotes and index. Still--an interesting read and kudos to the author for telling this family story as best it could be told using the sometimes scanty surviving evidence of Henrietta Bingham's life.

  • Jendi
    2019-02-16 23:02

    A livelier read than most bios, this book rehabilitates a "black sheep" ancestor whose story was suppressed because of her bisexual, bohemian lifestyle. I respect the amount of work that it took to re-create Henrietta's life when many of her letters and papers were destroyed due to fear of anti-gay prejudice. Our queer history is important to recover. Though not an artist herself, young Henrietta was a bewitching character at the center of artistic social circles in the US and England, including the famed Bloomsbury Group. Through her, readers meet notable figures like Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey, Mina and Lincoln Kirstein, African-American blues singer Edith Wilson, and even Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.However, the author's framing of Henrietta's traumatic bond with her father repeats discredited and dangerous Freudian myths about "seductive" children and incest fantasies. Bingham concedes that Henrietta's father was at the very least a perpetrator of emotional incest, but resorts to ridiculous arguments about why nothing physical could have happened (e.g. he was too respectable and civic-minded??). Regardless of what actually happened to Henrietta, this flawed logic makes it harder for all survivors to be believed. Given that a major theme of the book is psychoanalytic malpractice toward gays and lesbians, I'm surprised that Bingham gives Freudian incest-denial such credence when it comes to Henrietta's memories of abuse.I was tempted to give the book only 3 stars because of the above issue, but I think it is overall a valuable resource for material that a more feminist writer could have handled better. Let's hope this is not the last word on Henrietta Bingham.

  • Jess
    2019-02-14 19:19

    I really enjoyed this biography of Henrietta Bingham. It is well-written as narrative non-fiction. My only two complaints are around missing details. The first was that there was no discussion of birth control despite Henrietta's "conquests." I was left wondering how she prevented pregnancy when she was with men? My second issue with the book was the few occassions when readers are told a family member felt a certain way when no citation for that claim appears in the notes. Because the rest of the notes cite accessible and documented sources, I kept reading despite my questions. Those complaints aside, I was delighted to read a compassionate and complex biography of someone who struggled with and against her sexuality: struggles made more difficult by the harmful interventions of early psychoanalysts. I also respect Emily Bingham's willingness to focus on Henrietta even when this involved portraying the author's own family members in a negative light. I love the paragraph at the end about this book being like another of Henrietta's lovers and "pursuing her and being pushed away" (292). Henrietta is a compelling and flawed character and I am sure her story will stay with me.

  • Spencer
    2019-01-21 15:06

    I will have to give author Emily Bingham a lot of credit for uncovering enough material to portray the life of her great aunt Henrietta Bingham. She could find less than two dozen letters written by Henrietta. All the "inverts" and bisexuals she hung around with had basically cleansed her from their lives, as Emily says people of this ilk are prone to do—they leave no trail or evidence. There were about two hundred letters left by two male suitors that provided much of the background, and accounts of the goings-on of the Bloomsbury group were helpful, as Henrietta was able to crack into that circle. The author gives a good accounting of a character that follows the lifestyle of F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Crack-up, though hers takes place over much longer time frame than Fitzgerald's. We see the changing public views of the LBGT crowd as it was quite accepting in the Jazz Age, but started to harden as we moved through the Depression, WWII, and the anti communist/McCarthy era. The author also hints that being gay or lesbian can be quite different if one is able to "retreat into their money", as the Buchanans did inThe Great Gatsby.

  • Virginia
    2019-02-11 15:10

    This is a strangely intriguing book about a complex personality who was iconoclastic, mentally ill, and completely interesting in that odd way. If you like stories of tragic, lost, privileged women, this is for you.

  • False
    2019-01-19 21:24

    I knew the man who married a contemporary Bingham (since divorced) and at that time, they lived in a house in Georgetown, Washington, D.C that occupied an entire city block. That is the type of wealth we are discussing. He married the granddaughter of the Robert Bingham son that inherited the family newspaper and estate. Henrietta, that man's sister, was kept on a trust and did not live at the level she had while her father remained alive. Once more, a story of a family where other children were cut off and one inherited, to continue the family business, and they sell out, in this case to the Gannett company for $440 million. There is also a thread of substance abuse that runs through the family that is multi-generational continuing into the present day--something Henrietta battled, along with her bi-sexuality which was more predominantly homosexuality. A wasted life of good times, travel, parties and booze. How much of that can you read about and not get bored thinking, "What a wate?" Even the author senses that--Henrietta's great niece.

  • Kate
    2019-02-15 20:27

    I read a lot about queer women during the interwar period, so I was very excited to read this. In many ways, it succeeds. Henrietta is full present, fascinating almost everyone who met her. The middle sections, about Henrietta's time at Smith and her interactions with the Bloomsbury Group were fantastic. Bingham's research was flawless and effectively integrated into the text. Every person presented sparked my curiosity and I fell down many Google "rabbit holes" looking up people like Dora Carrington and Mina Kirstein. I want to get my hands on those archive collections right now!However, because Henrietta was often a muse for others and didn't produce much work herself, the book could be dry when describing her early and later life. This is a regular problem with biographies of "muses", and I finished the book feeling the way I feel whenever I read about Dolly Wilde or Esther Murphy, sad and vaguely frustrated.

  • Jeaninne Escallier Kato
    2019-02-14 17:07

    I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to famous women of the mid-twentieth century who defied convention and lived wildly ahead of the their time. My muse, Frida Kahlo, and my grandmothers were such iconoclastic women who have had a huge impact on the goals I achieved in my life. Henrietta Bingham's story did not disappoint. The author, Emily Bingham, Henrietta's Great Niece, has unearthed wonderful stories of how Henrietta's unstoppable character infused her into grand historical events with the famous people who rode those waves of change. Unfortunately, part of Henrietta's addicting charms with men and women were the result of addictions and mental illness. Sometimes the two go hand in hand when one is exceptionally brilliant and idiosyncratic. Henrietta did not get her share of attention in the history books, but her story is well worth reading.

  • Lora King
    2019-02-10 16:00

    Well, how to review? Well written but sometimes so in-depth it lost my interest. Henrietta Bingham was a bi-sexual woman of the early 20th century. Leaning more to women than men, she seems to have had an extremely complex relationship with her father that could have veered into hints of incest. How society treated gays & lesbians during the more tolerant 20's then on into the 30's-50's seems to be the core of this book. It was very interesting but would not be a read for everyone. I did enjoy the glimpses into the actor John Houseman (who I loved in Paper Chase) and his relationship with Henrietta. I will say the author, a descendant of the Bingham's, did a fantastic job on research.

  • Mary
    2019-01-30 21:08

    Though at times the author's writing style seemed to be a bit spotty and irregular, the subject matter kept me very interested and looking forward to reading it each day. The powerful KY family, her psychoanalysis, her ties with the Bloomsbury set, her life in the jazz age intrigued me. I don't share the feelings of many other comments lamenting that she was just a party girl and never made anything of herself. I wasn't looking for an overarching "finding her purpose in life" theme. It's not why I picked up the book in the first place. Parts of her story, especially her later years, were vaguely reminiscent of Rosemary Kennedy's. It definitely kept my attention and I found myself not wanting to finish it.

  • Abby
    2019-01-25 19:06

    Admittedly a somewhat-biased writer, Emily Bingham writes of her great aunt Henrietta Bingham. Much of the biography is devoted not to Bingham's Jazz Age antics, but to her childhood and a fair amount of her life after the Jazz Age. The book chronicles more Bingham's effect on those around her than Bingham herself, who remains a cloudy figure through the last page. The author has put a painstaking amount of work in collecting relics from her relative's life in the form of letters, diaries, and other bits, however, which helps to, at least, develop a detailed sense of the life Bingham lived if not Bingham herself.

  • Carolyn
    2019-01-19 15:14

    Scandalous life of a member of the publishing Bingham family by the subject's great-niece. Henrietta hobnobbed with the Bloomsbury and theater sets of the 20s & 30s where she was extolled for her looks and spirit, and her money. Some were obsessed with her (John Houseman, Dora Carrington) for reasons not easily understood. She also spent years in psychoanalysis, mainly trying to "cure" her lesbianism and father-fixations, which didn't help. Interesting story mainly because of her family and the circles they were able to travel in due to their wealth and power.

  • Dei
    2019-02-09 20:24

    I'm. It typically a big fan of non-fiction. This was rather interesting g, though. Not a word for word read, I admit to having skimmed through some of the historical descriptions. The parts related to Henrietta's life and loves were far more interesting. People forget that being gay has been a relatively well accepted way to live at various times throughout history. It's unfortunate that Henrietta also had to live through some where it was not so much. Overall a decent story, I'm. It sorry I read it.