"In Bed" with Ruth Brandon

January, 2011

Ruth Brandon British cultural historian Ruth Brandon may have started out working in television, but biographies are her sweet spot. She has delved into the lives of the illustrious and not so celebrated to explore larger issues in society, including the origins of celebrity obsession in The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini and the quiet lives of 19th-century governesses working in one of the few jobs available to genteel single females in Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres. Her latest book, Ugly Beauty, contrasts two major players: industrialist Helena Rubinstein, the first self-made female millionaire, and L'Oréal founder Eugène Schueller, an alleged Nazi sympathizer. Long after both their deaths, Schueller's company took over Rubinstein's and unleashed a series of scandals that led Brandon to take an excursion into fascist politics and the history of the cosmetics industry. Although this corporate rivalry got ugly, Brandon shares her favorite books on beauty.

The Art of Love by Ovid
"An extended, ageless lesson from ancient Rome in how to get your woman/get your man. The first two books, 'His Task,' are for men; book 3, 'It's Time to Teach You Girls,' sets out techniques of feminine flirtation, including detailed beauty advice. The materials may have changed—few these days use thinned ashes to highlight their eyes. But everything else remains fascinatingly the same."


Beauty and the Beast
"We all know beauty is only skin deep. Even so, we can't help being attracted to a pretty face and scared of ugliness. It's the stuff fairy tales are made of—and this, the most poignant of all, encapsulates both our fears and our need to overcome them."


The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Fitzgerald's second novel reprises his constant themes: Society is rotten, and women's beauty is a fatal snare no man can resist. Under the names of Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, we follow Scott and Zelda through East Coast café society as their Jazz Age dreams evaporate. A terrifying, mesmerizing descent."


The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
"The line in question is the S-shaped curve thought by artist William Hogarth to signify liveliness and activity. In Hollinghurst's novel, the significance is both literal (the gay narrator, Nick Guest, sees it in his lover's body) and figurative, as the novel examines material and spiritual beauty and their antitheses in 1980s London. A fabulous literary achievement."


Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
"What every teenage girl knows: Humans may be iffy, but a horse is forever."



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message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Harris I'm looking forward to reading this. Elizabeth Arden was a competitor of HR and years & years ago I recall reading that she used her famous 8-hour cream on her beloved race horses. It's the telling detail that's unforgettable -- and possibly the invention of a publicist.
FREE WITH PURCHASE (published in 2006) is another beauty book -- this one by Jean Godfrey-June, beauty editor of Lucky magazine. It's light-hearted and insider-y and covers everything from pedicure tips from porn stars to the search for the perfect red lipstick with plenty of name-dropping and back stage cosmetic world gossip in between. JG-J is a good writer, a witty observer and her book is a fun, diverting read.


message 2: by Jstg00d (new)

Jstg00d Re: Ugly Beauty
I have not deeply researched the facts, but I do not think Helena Rubinstein was the world's first self-made female millionaire.

That accolade was given to Madam C.J. Walker, an African-American haircare businesswoman by the Guinness Book of Records.


message 3: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Harris Interesting that Mme. Walker was also in the beauty-selfcare biz. Billions have been made via the newest & best in cosmetics, skin care, hair care etc. Seems to cross all races, cultures, countries.


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