Recent months have seen a flurry of biographies about women who volunteered for service with the SOE during the Second World War and were parachuted into German-occupied France to work with the Resistance. Like many of these women, the dashing and good-looking Vicomtesse Doynel de la Sausserie (née Priscilla Mais) had been educated in both France and England, was bilingual and spent the war years in France. Although she did not serve in the SOE, she was grilled by the Gestapo and did time in the Caserne Vauban, a grim prison camp near Besançon. But whereas the SOE women’s lives were heroic affairs, which often ended in death or a concentration camp, Priscilla’s story was one of endurance and survival against the odds. Her life in Paris was a hazardous affair: she remained a British citizen, whose papers were invariably out of order; and the fact that she had committed adultery and had an abortion, and no longer lived with her husband, would not have endeared her to the puritanical regime of Pétainiste France.
Priscilla was born into what would nowadays be called a dysfunctional family. Her father, S P B Mais, was a teacher turned journalist and broadcaster who wrote an enormous number of books, was extremely well known in his day and is now completely forgotten: other dimly remembered literary gents who