Saturday, October 2, 2010

After quite a few trials trying to track down a copy of Helen Rappaport’s ‘Beautiful For Ever’, the story of Madame Rachel Leverson, nineteenth century fraud, con artist and blackmailer, it finally arrived. We first put in our order with the publisher who said twice she had sent the book but it never arrived so eventually we got a refund. Strange that both her attempts failed. Nothing else as far as we know has ever gone astray. Amazon didn’t have a copy; neither did a few other book specialists. We finally tracked one down at The Book Depository. I do feel for Helen as she must be losing sales left, right and centre and when you consider the number of books published every year a writer simply can’t afford that to happen. Every year? Every month. Every week.
I have read it with great pleasure. Have I got her wrong or in her preface does Miss Rappaport hint that she is the first person to produce a major work on Madame Rachel? If so this is not strictly true. Many many years ago I wrote a play on the same subject, same title, and published by Samuel French. She knew about it because she got in touch with me, telling me there is a copy in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. But my play was not the first; there had been others before me. The Victorians couldn’t help but have a gleeful go with so salacious a subject. Anyway that’s beside the point; her research seems to have been amazing and in reading her book I certainly learnt many more facts about that incredible woman and her family than I knew when I wrote the play. Not that I could have used all these facts. A book is one thing, a play is another and the latter is limited to your two hours traffic upon the stage so facts have to be carefully selected in telling the story and I was only interested in the fleecing of Mary Tucker Borrodaile. I couldn’t for example tell the story of her daughter Leonte who changed her name, because a fairly well known opera singer and eventually blew her brains out in a London cab. Evidently there is a suicide site on the internet that uses such euphuisms for suicide as ‘catching the bus.’ I suppose the Victorian equivalent could have been ‘taking a cab.’ Sorry, that’s a bit sick but I couldn’t resist it.
Another daughter previously had also committed suicide. Some of the children were living in Paris where Madam Rachel had opened a branch of her business and the girl had been ordered back to London by Mama but she didn’t want to go because she had fallen in love. But Mama’s orders did not get disobeyed and instead of taking the train she disappeared. Three days later her body was fished out of the Seine.
Madame Rachel suffering ill health for some time died in prison aged about 65. It is the most remarkable story and the most remarkable aspect of it is that she got away with it for so long and to such a degree.

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