Saturday, December 8, 2007

Lady Diana Cooper

The young Diana Manners was considered the most beautiful woman in England. John Carey wrote that 'men clamoured around her like gulls over a council rubbish tip.'

The daughter of the Duke of Rutland and his artistic wife, Violet, she was born just before the turn of the century. She was popularly supposed to be the love-child of Violet and the notorious womanizer, Henry Cusp, and she did look rather like him.

Rebellious and sensitive, she grew up in Belvoir Castle, with servants at her beck and call and an ageing German governess. She wrote that she learned reams of poetry and Shakespeare but very little maths. Education for upper-class girls wasn't considered important in those days. A fellow Edwardian, Cynthia Asquith, wanted to go to university but her family disapproved.

She thought that her life didn't 'begin' until she met other young people, at the age of 14, such as the Asquiths. As a teenager she fell for the brilliant Raymond Asquith but he married someone else and ignored her rather obvious crush. Other men, however, adored her and her family had high hopes that she would marry the Prince of Wales. Lady Diana would certainly have been an excellent choice - far better than Wallis Simpson.

She joined a group called the 'Coterie' which favoured modern decadence and artists such as Aubrey Beardsley. However, she obeyed the 'rules' for ladies of her class and remained a virgin until marriage.

When the First World War broke out Diana became a nurse at Guy's Hospital in London. Her aristocratic mother had begged her not to do this, arguing that sick veterans might rape her!

Her family was outraged when she fell in love with the young medical student, Duff Cooper, who was too 'middle-class' for them. It was a happy marriage, however, although he had many affairs.

He was relatively poor so she raised money by acting in films and a play, 'The Miracle'. She played Elizabeth 1 in one movie, even shaving off her eyebrows for the part. Diana was offered the part of Anna Karenina instead of Greta Garbo at one stage but Greta Garbo did eventually play her. In 'The Miracle' she played a Madonna-like figure. Diana toured America in this play which was wildly successful.

Duff Cooper eventually became the French ambassador and Lady Diana 'came into her own' in Paris. Her sense of style and her wonderful parties were highly praised.

They had a son, John Julius Norwich, who is a historian and writer.

Lady Diana died at 93 in 1986. She once remarked that: "First you are young; then you are middle-aged; then you are old; then you are wonderful."


Evangeline Holland said...

I love her. I have a copy of her memoirs sitting on my side-table right now.

Hels said...

I can't believe I didn't know who John Julius Norwich's parents were *slaps forehead*. He is a lovely, readable historian, particularly in Byzantium 1996 and A History of Venice, 2003.

Helen Webberley

Viola said...

John Julius certainly has a very different name!

I must read his book on Venice. It's one of my favourite cities. Thank you for telling me about it, Helen.