The subtitle is seductive. But she was not really much of a bluestocking, and he was rather insecure as a Bright Young Thing. They met in 1925, when Rex Whistler was a 19-year-old art student and Edith Olivier was the unmarried 52-year-old daughter of a vicar. She was clever, opinionated and a passionate reader. In her youth she won a scholarship to Oxford but left after four terms because of her asthma. She would have remained a ‘county’ spinster, devoted to religion, local affairs and good works, had she not met Whistler, who became the emotional focus of the rest of her life.
Whistler was the talented son of a south London builder. They proceeded to reinvent one another. She introduced him into society; her father, as rector of Wilton, had been private chaplain to the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton House. Olivier, a frequent guest in the Pembrokes’ drawing room, had become