The best-known photograph of Inez Holden (1903–74) was taken at a Bright Young People ‘impersonation party’ in 1927. Here, late at night in a Chelsea garden, a group of archetypal Twenties figures ostentatiously commingle. Stephen Tennant masquerades as the queen of Romania; Elizabeth Ponsonby (the model for the Hon Agatha Runcible in Vile Bodies) takes off Iris Tree; Tallulah Bankhead, Harold Acton and Cecil Beaton are exotically to hand. Seated in their midst, very much of the party and at the same time faintly detached from it, is a small, nervous-looking girl in a matelot’s jersey.
Even though nothing very much is known about Holden’s deeply mysterious life (there is even doubt over her date of birth) a glance at some of the diaries and memoirs of the late 1920s soon establishes the world of the impersonation party as her natural milieu. Evelyn Waugh mentions encountering, when briefly employed by the Daily Express, ‘a charming girl called Inez Holden, who works on the paper’. Anthony Powell, who met her when he worked at Duckworth, thought she lived ‘fairly dangerously in a rich world of a distinctly older generation’ and records that she ‘made hay’ of the firm’s junior partner while negotiating the publication of her first novel.
Much of this milieu is faithfully re-created in Powell’s publishing caper What’s Become of Waring (1939), where Duckworth is reimagined as the house of Judkins & Judkins and Holden is metamorphosed into Roberta Payne (‘a tall girl with large black eyes which had a trick of increasing