Reading Madeleine

Mrs Robert Henrey, authoress

A Bookshelf Story by Roger Greaves

The Missing Portrait

A fine picture painted in oils by Wilfrid de Glehn RA in 1948 representing the young and beautiful authoress Mrs Robert Henrey was loaned to the John Rylands Library in Manchester in the 1970s and hung in the reading room, where it served to remind members and visitors of her extraordinary literary career starting in poverty in France, reaching riches in London, and ending in comparative reclusion on a small farm in Normandy.

She was a compulsive writer, like her Old Etonian husband. He was a descendant of King Charles II and the founder of the English House of Rothschild. She was a penniless French immigrant employed as a manucurist at the Savoy Hotel in London, where they met by chance in 1927. Together they wrote a Fleet Street gossip column before forming the mixed-gender middlebrow book signature that became world famous. Writing about 'Madeleine', a concoction of her and him, they told the story of their life and times on both sides of the English Channel, insisting on the truth of their narratives in a way which, in those vintage days, seemed (and remains) very modern.

Unfortunately, the Rylands portrait was unhung for a refurbishment at the turn of this century, and vanished. Around the same time the authoress's once-famous books disappeared one after the other from library shelves throughout the world.

This double eclipse seemed unfair to writer Roger Greaves when he came across it by chance a few years ago. Aiming to revive the strange story of the androgynous Henrey couple and their lively pictures of the century before ours, he sorted through their 40+ books, scrutinised their surviving papers, delved into special collections in university libraries, retrieved several hundred book reviews, rooted out family histories.

Luckily, a rather battered colour photograph of the Rylands portrait turned up during his research. Once restored, it provided a cover illustration for the first editions of his own portrait of the fascinating Mrs Robert Henrey, now available as one of his bookshelf stories about neglected writers and their works.

Availability

Reading Madeleine: Mrs Robert Henrey, authoress is distributed in English via the usual online and trade channels.

Kindle Ebook Edition. Now online for instant download from all Amazon outlets.

Paperback Edition ISBN 978-2-84656-024-5. Available everywhere from Spring 2024.

Hardback Edition ISBN 978-2-84656-026-9. Available from bookshops and libraries Spring 2024.

This Online Scrapbook

The menu lists the titles by year of publication, providing access to publication details and rough scans (jackets, endpapers, title pages, frontispices, plates, cuts) for which there was insufficient space in the book. On most systems the thumbnails may be enlarged and reduced by a click or a tap.