Fifteen years ago, while researching my biography of The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner, I came across a few of Sybille Bedford’s letters squirrelled away in a box at the Library of Congress. What struck me, beyond the distinctive style and the atrocious handwriting, was the paper on which they were written, thin green sheets, carefully folded. At the time, I knew of Sybille Bedford only as someone I ought to read, one of those British writers strangely out of print in the United States even though her novel A Legacy had been the kind of bestseller in 1957 that even a curmudgeonly Evelyn Waugh had liked, despite its errors in Catholic dogma. (He also pretended Mrs. Bedford to be a man, which doubtless he considered a compliment). Reviewing A Legacy in The Spectator, Waugh helped launch the dazzling novel, and in America Janet Flanner inimitably took up the cause, calling the book “the...


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