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.