Joan: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor by Simon Fenwick - review by Jane Ridley

Jane Ridley

Wanderlust

Joan: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor

By

Macmillan 348pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

Simon Fenwick is an archivist, and after Paddy Leigh Fermor died he was asked to fly to Greece to sort out his papers before they were returned to England. He filled nineteen cardboard boxes with Paddy’s notebooks, letters and records. Paddy’s wife, Joan, on the other hand, left hardly any papers. In his books Paddy barely mentions her. She was a diffident, private woman, and Fenwick’s biography is an attempt to rescue Joan from her husband’s shadow.

Joan’s life divides into two parts: before and after Paddy. She was born Joan Eyres Monsell in 1912. Her mother, Sybil Eyres, inherited a Leeds woollen fortune together with Dumbleton Hall, a Victorian mansion in Worcestershire. Her father, Bolton Monsell, was a naval officer with a long pedigree and little disposable income. When he married he double-barrelled his name, retired from the navy and used his wife’s money to finance a career in politics, ending up as a viscount and First Lord of the Admiralty. 

Joan was fair with beautiful, big blue eyes, though she was very short-sighted. She was close to her older brother, Graham, who was gay and exotic, and he introduced her to the world of the Bright Young People. Many of her friends could have walked straight out of the pages

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