Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia ‘Ginie’ Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie’s extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, and from the secluded Scottish Highlands to segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, colourful and unconventional person who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.
Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband ,Stephen Courtauld, leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous. Many people had reason to dislike Ginie, but who had reason enough to pull the trigger?
Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.
Born in London, Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher.
Louisa subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a PhD in English at University College London, where she focused on early twentieth century women’s writing.
Married with three children, she lives in London.
This was such a fascinating read, mainly covering the Courtaulds’ time in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and their contributions to the cultural and political life of the country; a period I know basically nothing about.
Ginie Courtauld is a very interesting person to read about, and this fictionalised account of her life, from daughter of an Italian merchant and his Romanian wife, to member of an old Huguenot family in the upper echelons of British society was riveting.
She entertained Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and the future Queen Mother, at their home in the restored Eltham Palace, before moving to Africa after WWII.
Life in La Rochelle, their Rhodesian estate, wasn’t easy and they alienated their white neighbours by being liberal and egalitarian, treating their black employees better than most, building schools and decent housing; even paying them well! How dare they treat people with respect!
It’s hard to understand that mindset from a vantage point in 2020, where we know that colonialism was a bad thing, and where we can see how ahead of their time the Courtaulds were.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.