All We Know: Three Lives
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All We Know is one of Publishers Weekly's Top 10 Best Books of 2012
A revelatory biography of three glamorous, complex modern women
Esther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write―a painful failure, and yet a kind of achievement.
The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy is the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to document her own feelings.
An icon of haute couture and an editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland held influential views on fashion that drew on her feminism, her ideas about modernity, and her love of women. Existing both vividly and invisibly at the center of culture, she―like Murphy and de Acosta―is now almost completely forgotten.
In All We Know, Lisa Cohen describes these women's glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself, All We Know explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.
feet six inches—but as interlocutors they were a perfect fit. In the early 1920s he was working for Vanity Fair and writing for The New Republic. She struggled with a “‘Victorian’ article” for The New Republic, an assignment he had helped her get. This essay seems never to have been published, but she sent Wilson essay-length letters about her reading and his writing, long reports to someone who cared about books as much as she did. The quality she told him she appreciated in Shaw’s preface to
“gallantry…lovers”: Cecil Beaton, unpublished diaries, May 1968, quoted in Vickers, Loving Garbo, 281. “The German people…always”: This was Garbo’s response to her reception in Berlin for “Gösta Berlings Saga,” in Photoplay, May 28, 1924, quoted in Swenson, Greta Garbo, 69. “always was fond…trashy”: EM to Chester Arthur, September 12, 1936, AFP. “sexual reaction[s]”: De Acosta, “Here Lies the Heart,” typescript , first draft, 129, MdAP. “out on the astral plane”: De Acosta, Here Lies,
occupation of; religious wars of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century in; Third Republic of; Resistance movement Francis, Kay Francis of Assisi, Saint Franco, Francisco Franklin, Benjamin Fratini, Gina Frederick II (Holy Roman Emperor) Free Soil policy Frelinghuysen, Frederick French, Mary French Emergency Fund Freud, Sigmund Frohman, Charles Frost, Robert Fry, Roger Fuller, Margaret Furlong, George Gable, Clark Galantière, Lewis Garbo, Greta; aliases of; beauty and allure of;
required to apply herself to anything she found unpleasant or difficult, including the often lonely, chaotic task of writing. The widespread perception that she was exceptional—and her own sense that she was inadequate in almost every way: “I have never had much confidence in life,” she wrote to Sybille soon after meeting her, “but I have tried and will continue to try to act as though I did. For some unknown reason that seems to be the thing to do unless one wants to succumb completely to
limited to Garbo. On subsequent pages she pasted photographs of Eva Le Gallienne and Eleonora Duse, two other actresses who inspired her—one her lover, one not. The association between Garbo and the spiritual, moreover, was not Mercedes’s alone. This star had been “divine” since her appearance in The Divine Woman, in 1928. (Nor was it Garbo’s alone: Sarah Bernhardt was “divine” before her.) As one reviewer wrote of Garbo’s silent performances: “It was not so much what she did, or how she did it,