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Renée Vivien, born Pauline Mary Tarn (11 June 1877 - 18 November 1909) was a British poet who wrote in the French language. She took to heart all the mannerisms of Symbolism, as one of the last poets to claim allegiance to the school. Her compositions include sonnets, hendecasyllabic verse, and prose poetry.

Vivien was born in London, England to a wealthy British father and an American mother from Jackson, Michigan. She grew up in Paris and London. Upon inheriting her father's fortune at 21, she emigrated permanently to France.

In Paris, Vivien's dress and lifestyle were as notorious among the bohemian set as was her verse. She lived lavishly, as an open lesbian, and carried on a well-known affair with American heiress and writer Natalie Clifford Barney. She also harbored a lifelong obsession with her closest childhood friend and neighbor, Violet Shillito – a relationship that remained unconsummated. In 1900 Vivien abandoned this chaste love, when the great romance with Natalie Barney ensued. The following year Shillito died of typhoid fever, a tragedy from which Vivien, guilt-ridden, would never fully recover.

By 1901 the tempestuous and often jealous relationship with Natalie Barney had already collapsed. Vivien found Barney's infidelities too stressful. When Barney spent the second half of 1901 in the United States, Vivien chose not to follow; upon Natalie's return, she refused to see her. After their breakup, it was Barney who never resigned herself to the separation. She made strenuous efforts to get Vivien back, efforts that did not end until the latter's death. This included sending mutual friends to visit Vivien (in order to plead on her behalf), as well as flowers and letters begging Vivien to reconsider.

Renee Vivien and Natalie Clifford Barney
Renée Vivien was a British poet who wrote in the French language. She had a well-known affair with American heiress and writer Natalie Clifford Barney. In 1901 the tempestuous and often jealous relationship with Natalie Barney collapsed. Vivien found Barney's infidelities too stressful. In 1902 Vivien became involved with the wealthy Baroness Hélène de Zuylen, one of the Paris Rothschilds. While still with Zuylen, Vivien had an affair with Kérimé Turkhan Pasha, the wife of a Turkish diplomat

In 1902 Vivien became involved with the immensely wealthy Baroness Hélène de Zuylen, one of the Paris Rothschilds. Though a lesbian, Zuylen was married and the mother of two sons. Zuylen provided much-needed emotional support and stability. Zuylen's social position did not allow for a public relationship, but she and Vivien often traveled together and continued a discreet affair for a number of years. In letters to her confidant, the French journalist and Classical scholar Jean Charles-Brun, Vivien considered herself married to the Baroness. She may have published poetry and prose in collaboration with Zuylen under a pseudonym, Paule Riversdale. The true attribution of these works is uncertain, however; some scholars believe they were written solely by Vivien. Even certain books published under Zuylen's name may be, in fact, Vivien's work. (Picture: Helene de Zuylen)

While still with Zuylen, Vivien received a letter from a mysterious admirer in Istanbul, Kérimé Turkhan Pasha, the wife of a Turkish diplomat. This launched an intensely passionate correspondence, followed by brief clandestine encounters. Kérimé, who was French-educated and cultivated, nevertheless lived according to Islamic tradition. Isolated and veiled, she could neither travel freely nor leave her husband. Meanwhile, Vivien would not give up the Baroness de Zuylen. In 1907 Zuylen abruptly left Vivien for another woman, which quickly fueled gossip within the lesbian coterie of Paris. Deeply shocked and humiliated, Vivien fled to Japan and Hawaii with her mother, becoming seriously ill on the voyage. Another blow came in 1908 when Kérimé, upon moving with her husband to Saint Petersburg, ended their affair.

Vivien was terribly affected by these losses and accelerated into a psychological downward spiral, already in motion. She turned increasingly to alcohol, drugs, and sadomasochistic fantasies. Always eccentric, she began to indulge her most bizarre fetishes and neuroses. Mysterious sexual escapades would leave her without rest for days. She would entertain guests with champagne dinner parties, only to abandon them when summoned by a demanding lover. Plunged into a suicidal depression, she refused to take proper nourishment, a factor that would eventually contribute to her death.

The great French writer Colette, who was Vivien's neighbor from 1906 to 1908, immortalized this aberrant period in The Pure and the Impure, a collection of portraits showing the spectrum of sexual behavior. Written in the 1920s and originally published in 1932, its factual accuracy is questionable; Natalie Barney reportedly did not concur with Colette's characterization of Vivien. Yet it remains a rare glimpse of the poet's dissipated life, written by one of her contemporaries.

Vivien was cultivated and very well-traveled, especially for a woman of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. She wintered in Egypt, visited China, and explored much of the Middle East, as well as Europe and America. Contemporaries considered her beautiful and elegant, with blonde hair, brown eyes flecked with gold, and a soft-spoken androgynous presence. Before the manifestations of illness, she was well-proportioned and fashionably slender. She wore expensive clothes and particularly loved Lalique jewelry.

Her Paris home was a luxurious ground-floor apartment at 23, avenue du Bois de Boulogne (now 23, avenue Foch) that opened onto a Japanese garden. She purchased antique furnishings from London and exotic objets d'art from the Far East. Fresh flowers were abundant, as were offerings of Lady Apples to a collection of shrines, statuettes, icons, and Buddhas.

Above all, Vivien romanticized death. While visiting London in 1908, deeply despondent and ruinously in debt, she tried to kill herself by drinking an excess of laudanum. She stretched out on her divan with a bouquet of violets held over her heart. The suicide failed, but while in England, she contracted pleurisy; later, upon her return to Paris, she grew considerably weaker. According to biographer Jean-Paul Goujon, Vivien suffered from chronic gastritis, due to years of chloral hydrate and alcohol abuse. She had also started to refuse to eat. By the time of her death, she weighed about 70 lbs. Multiple neuritis caused paralysis of her limbs. By the summer of 1909, she walked with a cane.

Vivien died on the morning of 18 November 1909 at the age of 32; the cause of death was reported at the time as "lung congestion", but likely resulted from pneumonia complicated by alcoholism, drug abuse, and anorexia nervosa. She was interred at Passy Cemetery in the same exclusive Parisian neighborhood where she had lived.

During her brief life, Vivien was an extremely prolific poet who came to be known as the "Muse of the Violets", derived from her love of the flower. Her obsession with violets (as well as with the color violet) was a reminder of her beloved childhood friend, Violet Shillito.

Virtually all her verse is veiled autobiography written in the French language; most of it has never been translated into English. Her principal published books of verse are Cendres et Poussières (1902), La Vénus des aveugles (1903), A l'heure des mains jointes (1906), Flambeaux éteints (1907), Sillages (1908), Poèmes en Prose (1909), Dans un coin de violettes (1909), and Haillons (1910).

Her poetry has achieved greater appeal and a wider audience, as have the works of Natalie Clifford Barney, due to the contemporary rediscovery of the works of the ancient Greek poet Sappho, also a lesbian.


Further Readings:

The Muse of the Violets: Poems by Renee Vivien
Paperback: 79 pages
Publisher: Naiad Pr; 1st edition (December 1982)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 093004407X
ISBN-13: 978-0930044077
Amazon: The Muse of the Violets: Poems

A Woman Appeared to Me by Renee Vivien
Paperback: 65 pages
Publisher: Naiad Press,U.S. (1984)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0930044061
ISBN-13: 978-0930044060
Amazon: A Woman Appeared to Me

Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 23, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060937807
ISBN-13: 978-0060937805
Amazon: Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris

Born in 1876, Natalie Barney-beautiful, charismatic, brilliant and wealthy-was expected to marry well and lead the conventional life of a privileged society woman. But Natalie had no interest in marriage and made no secret of the fact that she was attracted to women. Brought up by a talented and rebellious mother-the painter Alice Barney-Natalie cultivated an interest in poetry and the arts. When she moved to Paris in the early 1900s, she plunged into the city's literary scene, opening a famed Left Bank literary salon and engaging in a string of scandalous affairs with courtesan Liane de Pougy, poet Renee Vivien, and painter Romaine Brooks, among others. For the rest of her long and controversial life Natalie Barney was revered by writers for her generous, eccentric spirit and reviled by high society for her sexual appetite. In the end, she served as an inspiration and came to know many of the greatest names of 20th century arts and letters-including Proust, Colette, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Truman Capote.

A dazzling literary biography, Wild Heart: A Life is a story of a woman who has been an icon to many. Set against the backdrop of two different societies-Victorian America and Belle Epoque Europe—Wild Heart: A Life beautifully captures the richness of their lore.

The Pure and the Impure (New York Review Books Classics) by Colette
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Printing/Underlining edition (September 30, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 094032248X
ISBN-13: 978-0940322486
Amazon: The Pure and the Impure

Colette herself considered The Pure and the Impure her best book, "the nearest I shall ever come to writing an autobiography." This guided tour of the erotic netherworld with which Colette was so intimately acquainted begins in the darkness and languor of a fashionable opium den. It continues as a series of unforgettable encounters with men and, especially, women whose lives have been improbably and yet permanently transfigured by the strange power of desire. Lucid and lyrical, The Pure and the Impure stands out as one of modern literature's subtlest reckonings not only with the varieties of sexual experience, but with the always unlikely nature of love.

Sex Lives of Famous Lesbians by Nigel Cawthorne
Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Prion (March 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1853755559
ISBN-13: 978-1853755552
Amazon: Sex Lives of Famous Lesbians

Queen Victoria simply did not believe that lesbianism existed, so it was never outlawed in England in the 19th century. However, in the U.S. Susan B. Anthony, the artist Natalie Barney, and Emily Dickinson were all brushing up the sapphic arts. Over in France, the Napoleonic Code had introduced a certain laxity. Back in England, the death of Queen Vic led to a veritable explosion of lesbianism with the Bloomsbury Group and Radclyffe Hall. Nowadays, lesbianism is the everyday fare of soap operas and, with Madonna French-kissing Britney, global TV. Sex Lives of the Famous Lesbians contain a mixture of the glamorous, the tragic, the excessive, the absurd, and the downright comic. It aims to excite and amuse, while giving a genuine insight into the characters of those people who have shaped our history and culture.

More LGBT Couples at my website:, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance

Date: 2011-11-18 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What a fascinating woman and such a tragic deminse.

Date: 2011-11-18 06:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
love can be a blessing or your death...


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