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The Riviera Set: Glitz, Glamour, and the Hidden World of High Society
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Buddy Reads > The Riviera Set by Mary Lovell (June 2020)

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Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Welcome to a last minute buddy read of The Riviera Set The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell

The Riviera Set is the story of the group of people who lived, partied, bed-hopped and politicked at the Château de l'Horizon near Cannes, over the course of forty years from the time when Coco Chanel made southern French tans fashionable in the twenties to the death of the playboy Prince Aly Khan in 1960. At the heart of this was the amazing Maxine Elliott, the daughter of a fisherman from Connecticut, who built the beautiful art deco Château and brought together the likes of Noel Coward, the Aga Khan, the Windsors and two very saucy courtesans, Doris Castlerosse and Daisy Fellowes, who set out to be dangerous distractions to Winston Churchill as he worked on his journalism and biographies during his 'wilderness years' in the thirties.

After the War the story continued as the Château changed hands and Prince Aly Khan used it to entertain the Hollywood set, as well as launch his seduction of and eventual marriage to Rita Hayworth.

Mary Lovell tells her story of high society behaviour with tremendous brio and relish, and this book has all the charm and fascination of her bestselling The Mitford Girls and The Churchills.

Anyone is welcome to join in, or just throw in some comments about this interesting time and topic.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
'Saucy courtesans', eh? Can't wait!

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
This is currently £2.99 on kindle, if anyone else is interested in joining in.

message 4: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1073 comments It is $12.99 in US. But I just discovered it is on my kindle - so it must have been on sale in 2018. I hardly ever buy anything that is not on sale anymore. Unless I am buying a physical book, of course,

So I may join in. I have activated it!

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Excellent, Jan.

I saw it on 99p offer a couple of times so others may have picked it up.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Good to hear, Jan. Looking forward to a re-read.

message 7: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1073 comments I just read the Introduction. It looks good.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Good to hear, Jan. I will probably start it next weekend.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
I'm planning on starting this later - just have to mix up some cocktails to get in the right frame of mind!

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
I found this very slow to start with the life history of Maxine Elliot so I'm relieved to actually be on the riviera now.

Fascinating snippets though: that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand reached London during Wimbledon; that Elliot might have had an affair with Oswald Mosley; Coco Chanel and the Prince of Wales!

message 11: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1073 comments I agree on the slow start. Maxine has just made her second visit to London - her first as Maxine.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Have also started this now. I am in WWI with Maxine helping the Belgian refugees.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Have also started this now. I am in WWI with Maxine helping the Belgian refugees."

One of whom could have been Hercule Poirot!

I think the book could have been titled better as it's not so much about the riviera in general as about Maxine's house. Still, I'm finding it perfect sunshine reading. I'm in the 1930s and was shocked to learn that Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford got married in Goebbel's home and that Hitler was guest of honour!

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Susan, I'm I right in thinking than Esmond Romilly who's made an appearance at the villa is the cousin who runs off to the Spanish Civil War with Jessica Mitford?

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
I knew about the Mosley marriage - haven't got to that bit yet. Yes, Esmond Romilly was the cousin who ran off with Jessica Mitford.

message 16: by Roman Clodia (last edited May 31, 2020 11:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
I've finished!

This was a bit fluffier than I expected but for that reason was a perfect read-in-the-sun book.

I thought it was mis-titled as really it's about a sub-set of 'the Riviera set': I'd expected to meet the arty crowd of the Hemingways, Noel Coward, Coco Chanel, Somerset Maugham, Picasso but it's really wealthy English Hons in the first part and Hollywood/new money people in the second.

As a closet reader of Heat magazine it fed my secret urge for celebrity gossip!

Jan, I think you're reading it on Kindle? Worth knowing that there are photos at the end though they're small, almost passport-sized.

Looking forward to your thoughts as you both go along.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
That was quick, RC. Maxine is welcoming guests to the Riveria now. Enjoyed the story regarding Mosley and Diana having their affair, resulting in a punch up, involving Cecil Beaton, of all people! I do know that Beaton never got on with Evelyn Waugh, who bullied him at school.

Also, interested in Doris Castlerosse and her volatile marriage. Liked the fact that Clementine Churchill did NOT approve of Doris, and the other young women, invited to amuse Winston.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Wait, Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh were at school together? I don't really know why I'm surprised as this book shows how power and influence circulate amongst the same people.

I think I was mixing up Doris and Daisy! The one with the fabulous legs (I googled them!) was the ancestor of Cara Delevigne, I think; and the other one believed in headstands for health - there's a photo at the back that I loved.

Clementine didn't seem to approve of anyone, especially not Wallis Simpson! I was interested that she and Winston holidayed apart so much.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
No, I'm with Clemmie on that one!

Yes, Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh were at school together when they were very young, if I am recalling correctly. I found this interesting site:

It has the great quote - "When they both attended the same primary school as nine-year-olds, Evelyn Waugh bullied Cecil Beaton. Waugh admitted in adulthood that the sight of tears in the long eyelashes of the pretty boy drove him to acts of sadism. Pins were involved. As was pea-shooter spittle".

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Yes, Wallis doesn't come over as a nice woman at all from what I've read - but fascinating to read about. De Courcy gets quite worked up at one point about all the negative gossip that has been written about her.

My, Evelyn Waugh was a charming boy!

I'm wondering now how much overlap there might be between this book and Coco Chanel one.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
We can stick with this one and maybe put Coco Chanel in later, once we've forgotten about this.

I think Evelyn was quite a troubled child. Having a father who openly preferred his elder brother, probably didn't help...

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
I've got Coco on my wishlist so can see if the price drops to a point where I won't resent overlaps! I see that de Courcy wrote on the Churchills and wondered if that was why there was so much about Winston i.e. that she was re-using research.

That said, there's barely a French person mentioned so it might be ok. Let's see...

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
I have enjoyed our, 'on a whim,' buddies, so we can leave it for now and come back to it.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Yes, let's do that.

It's a bit of a shame that Maxine Elliot herself gets overlooked once she's settled in the villa and the focus shifts to her guests. I did laugh when her architect saw that she intended to furnish his minimalist rooms with all her heavy old Edwardian country house furniture!

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Yes, and had a good cry! Luckily, he got over it and realised she was going to live there and not him :)

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Interesting to see Maxine's reaction when the former king dropped the clanger, 'Her Royal Highness,' like rocks into a pond! Also, Churchill giving the Duke, 'an object lesson in political wisdom.' Winston was very astute - how interesting that, while Prince of Wales, he would hardly wear a dinner jacket and, once he had abdicated, he wanted all the livery and bells and whistles, to try to convince him of his station.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
I had to laugh at all that consternation about what to call Wallis and whether to curtsey or not. I was surprised that Winston C. was such a monarchist that even de Courcy describes his attitude as close to feudal.

The scene where the Duke of Windsor turns up for dinner in full highland dress despite the riviera heat was hysterical! As you say, he was really hung-up on trying to reestablish his status - but sometimes in odd ways. It's interesting in the wake of Harry and Meghan, I thought.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
The same thought crossed my mind too, to be honest. You don't miss something until it's not there, do you? The Duke of Windsor fought against convention, when it was there to fight against, but, then, when it stopped, he felt it was his due...

I knew Winston Churchill was a great supporter of the monarchy and that he was prepared to support the Duke of Windsor (being an old romantic) but he obviously had a limit. He put his foot down when necessary, with the new king too, I believe, at times. Saying he needed to stay in London and other things, which he felt were important.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Haha, that's almost a definition of privilege! It's hard to know whether the Windsors were happy or whether, having made their decision and been thwarted in what they'd expected, they had too much pride to admit regrets? The Duke's constant angling for an official position seems to indicate that he never really got to grips with what abdication really meant. As you say, even Churchill eventually seems to have lost patience with him.

I don't know much about Churchill and was surprised that he was so old during the war. I know that he played a part in WW1, but I'd thought of him in his 50s during WW2, not in his 70s. Amazing energy and stamina to have done what he did at that age.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Oh, Churchill is one of my obsessions. There is a book about him that I loved - Hero of the Empire: The Making of Winston Churchill Hero of the Empire The Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

I also have The Splendid and the Vile A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz on my TBR list.

Going back to the abdication, I don't think Mrs Simpson really wanted marriage, to be fair to her. Not unless she had the status of Queen. There is a new book out in July The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication which is on my reading radar.

Here's the blurb:

In December 1936, Britain faced a constitutional crisis that was the gravest threat to the institution of the monarchy since the execution of Charles I. The ruling monarch, Edward VIII, wished to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson and crown her as his Queen. His actions scandalised the establishment, who were desperate to avoid an international embarrassment at a time when war seemed imminent. That the King was rumoured to have Nazi sympathies only strengthened their determination that he should be forced off the throne, by any means necessary.
An influential coalition formed against him, including the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, his private secretary Alec Hardinge, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the editor of the Times. Betrayal and paranoia were everywhere, as MI5 bugged his telephone and his courtiers turned against him. Edward seemed fated to give up Wallis and remain a reluctant ruler, or to abdicate his throne. Yet he had his own supporters, too, including Winston Churchill, the Machiavellian newspaper proprietor Lord Beaverbrook and his brilliant adviser Walter Monckton. They offered him the chance to remain on the throne and keep Wallis. But was the price they asked too high? And what really lay behind the assassination attempt on Edward earlier that year?
Using previously unpublished and rare archival material, and new interviews with those who knew Edward and Wallis, The Crown in Crisis is the conclusive exploration of how an unthinkable and unprecedented event tore the country apart, as its monarch prized his personal happiness above all else. This seismic event has been written about before but never with the ticking-clock suspense and pace of the thriller that it undoubtedly was for all of its participants.
The Crown in Crisis is the definitive book about the events of 1936. Painstakingly researched, incisively written and entirely fresh in its approach, it will bring the events of that time to thrilling life, and in the process appeal to an entirely new audience.

Annabel Frazer | 82 comments I am desperate to read The Riviera Set now. You are all making it sound fascinating and I love Mary Lovell's The Mitford Girls - I think it's by far the easiest to read of all the many books about the Mitfords. So many people in this book I've already heard of in other contexts. (For instance, Debo Mitford is often linked with Aly Khan in some of the Mitford letters.) I may have to do a bookshop order - I love getting books by post now, it's one of my lockdown pleasures.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Aly Khan has just brought Maxine's villa. Yes, buying books is always fun, Annabel - wherever from and in any format :)

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Thanks for the book suggestions Susan. I didn't know anything about Aly Khan (shamefully, I thought the Aga Khan was an oil sheik!) and so loved the second half and all the Hollywood gossip. It was nice to see some of the old faces pop up again in that different world. And I had no idea that Pamela was going to end up being Pamela Harriman!

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Annabel wrote: "I am desperate to read The Riviera Set now. You are all making it sound fascinating"

It is fascinating. I'm not nearly as knowledgeable as Susan about this period and people but it's fun to meet those we might know in a different context.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
I doubt I am knowledgeable about anything, to be honest!

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
I have finished my re-read of this now. It felt, at one point, very like the Bernie Gunther novel set in the Riviera - with Willie Maugham, etc. I think I enjoyed the part of the book set in the 1930's most, with Churchill, but then he interests me more than film stars.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Yes, I liked the 1930s section best too, though a smidgen less of your favourite would have been nice ;) A shame there was barely a mention of some of the arty crowd: Picasso, Diaghilev and so on.

The post-war chapters were very interesting and I love old Hollywood gossip but they got looser and were not always tied to the riviera.

I've just realised that the Coco Chanel book isn't written by the same author - in my head it was.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
Chanel's Riviera: Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur, 1930–1944 Chanel's Riviera Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur, 1930–1944 by Anne de Courcy covers a smaller, more interesting, period, I think. I like Anne de Courcy and have read several books by her - The Fishing Fleet Husband Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy , Margot at War Love and Betrayal in Downing Street, 1912-1916 by Anne de Courcy , The Viceroy's Daughters The Lives of the Curzon Sisters by Anne de Courcy , Debs At War How Wartime Changed their Lives, 1939-1945 by Anne de Courcy and others. I think I have read all of them, but the Chanel one and the biographies of Snowdon and Diana Mosley.

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Yes, I think you're right on the focus in the Chanel book. I haven't read de Courcy so we should definitely come back to this book in a couple of months.

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
No rush, RC. I am trying to get my TBR list down...

Roman Clodia | 4369 comments Mod
Oh me too! Thinking I'd have so much more time to read, my NetGalley shelf is up around 40!

Susan | 9266 comments Mod
I feel your pain, RC. Mine has just dropped below twenty, but they all seem to come out about the same time!

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