The writer Lesley Blanch, who died in 2007 just a month short of her 103rd birthday, was a romantic adventurer with a passion for Russia and the glamorous East of nineteenth-century Orientalism. She is most widely known for The Wilder Shores of Love, published by John Murray in 1954, an account of four women – including Jane Digby, a society beauty who married a sheikh, and Isabel Burton, wife of the explorer – who discovered ‘in the East, glowing horizons of emotion and daring’ and used love to find ‘liberation and fulfilment’. But her greatest creation was arguably herself. Gifted, intelligent and (some would say ruthlessly) determined, she invented a persona that allowed her to enjoy what she regarded as the necessities of life: admirers, good food, stylish clothes and interiors, and the writing projects that took her to Turkey, the former Persia, Russia and Afghanistan.
Despite her aristocratic voice and bearing, Blanch’s origins were modest. Thanks to an enterprising sister, her father could afford to live in Chiswick as an antiquarian and dilettante of independent means, but, according to his daughter, he ‘completely wasted’ his ‘very brilliant brain’. Her mother passed on her