Esther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write—a painful failure and yet a kind of achievement.
The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy lies in the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to honor the feelings they inspired.
An icon of haute couture and a fashion editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland held bracing views on dress that drew on her feminism, her ideas about modernity, and her love of women. Existing both vividly and invisibly at the center of cultural life, she—like Murphy and de Acosta—is now almost completely forgotten.
In All We Know, Lisa Cohen describes these women’s glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself, All We Know explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.
About Lisa Cohen
Lisa Cohen’s writing has appeared in Fashion Theory, Bookforum, GLQ, Ploughshares, and other journals and anthologies. She teaches at Wesleyan University.
The subjects of the book are the complicated, interconnected lives of New York intellectual Esther Murphy, playwright and celebrity admirer Mercedes de Acosta and fashion editor Madge Garland. Murphy was a brilliant, charismatic woman who dazzled everyone with her “extravagant verbal style.” Despite the minor successes she experienced with her essays and reviews, she was unable to finish any of the books she was contracted to write. Cohen (English/Wesleyan Univ.) hypothesizes that Murphy was a performer whose “need for an audience was so great that she could not isolate herself to write” the texts that would have earned her greater recognition. By contrast, de Acosta actively attached herself emotionally, and sometimes sexually, to some of the greatest performers of her time, including Isadora Duncan, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. But in the process of obsessively collecting memorabilia related to these women, she effectively erased her own life. Like de Acosta, Garland, an editor at BritishVogue, also immersed herself in the world of women. A closeted lesbian who led a double sexual life to protect her social position, Garland “played a defining role in almost every aspect of the fashion industry in England in the interwar and postwar years.” Yet because she took interest in the ephemeral (fashion) and because she never trumpeted her achievements, she left no lasting memorial to her accomplishments. Murphy’s life was an apparent monument to failure, de Acosta’s to the irrational and Garland’s to the trivial. As Cohen shows, however, each woman succeeded in problematizing the concept of modern celebrity. – Kirkus Reviews
More Notes on Camp - ‘All We Know: Three Lives,’ by Lisa Cohen
The New York Times Book Review – October 5, 2012 (Excerpt)
Gay men and lesbians are now integrated into mainstream culture to a degree that would once have seemed unimaginable. Television sitcoms feature gay dads proving they can be just as cloying as their heterosexual counterparts. J. C. Penney, a department store not known for outré fashion or radical politics, hired Ellen DeGeneres, an open lesbian, as its spokeswoman and included a page in its Mother’s Day catalog featuring lesbian moms.
In contrast, Lisa Cohen’s “All We Know: Three Lives” plunges the reader into the gay and lesbian world before this assimilation: before Act Up, before lesbian feminism, before marriage equality. A world in which homosexual acts were illegal, and men and women could lose their jobs if they were less than circumspect. A world that one might think would be grim, along the lines of Radclyffe Hall’s downbeat lesbian classic, “The Well of Loneliness,” which was found obscene by an English court in 1928. Yet as Cohen portrays it, this vanished world is beguiling, its inhabitants members of a stylish, exclusive club. A risky club, certainly. But in the tension between discretion and flamboyance — between fitting in and acting out — Cohen locates the origin of “camp,” which Susan Sontag defined as “seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon.” [Read the full article...]
Book One of the Darklife Saga by Ronnie Massey
Two Women Hunting A Rogue Vampire
Vampire Valeria Trumaine must confront old demons and face new possibilities as she struggles to bring a rogue vampire to justice. Her best friend and powerful Sidhe princess, Irulan, joins the hunt. Valeria will find that Irulan’s motives for keeping her safe are not what she thinks. And soon she is faced with an undeniable attraction that makes her question everything she knew about herself. [Read More...]
Available at Amazon.Com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.