This must have been a hard book to sell. Ettie Desborough is not exactly a household name. If her great friend Arthur Balfour was a whiff of scent on a lady’s pocket handkerchief, Ettie seems even more evanescent. A society hostess, a leading member of the Souls, an Edwardian grande dame – her story seems almost impossible to breathe into life, still less to conjure onto the stern shelves of Waterstones. In fact, as Richard Davenport-Hines demonstrates triumphantly in this superb biography, Ettie Desborough’s life is a compelling and moving story of love and loss as well as an important slice of social history, and it deserves to be widely read.
Ettie’s earliest memory was sitting at the age of three in a dark room wearing a black dress surrounded by weeping people dressed in black. They were mourning her father. Her mother had died two years earlier. Her only brother later died at the