A Portrait of Zélide, Belle de Zuylen


Above are my three copies of Geoffrey Scott's The Portrait of Zélide. It was published in 1927. It's an absolutely terrific biography, which is why it keeps getting republished with introductions by literary superstars. Each one is practically as brilliant as the book itself. George Dangerfield writes his in 1959. Shirley Hazzard and Richard Dunn, in 1977. Richard Holmes, like Scott, a winner of the James Tait Black Prize, writes in 2004. Holmes informs us that Scott had told four different women "that Zélide’s biography was secretly and lovingly dedicated to them alone.” The women included "Mary Berenson, Edith Wharton, his wife Lady Sybil, and Vita Sackville-West."

So who is this writer that is so undeservedly unknown today? She was an aristocratic Dutch woman of the 18th century who wrote novels, plays, music, and above all, letters. Professor Frederick Pottle said that the correspondence between Zélide and James Boswell "may safely be called one of the oddest series of love letters ever written." You can read many of them in Boswell in Holland, edited by Pottle in 1952. They are odd because Boswell was odd—but he was also a literary genius. Pottle describes Zélide's letters as "masterpieces of epistolary art." It is difficult to find her novels in English. But there is a fantastic collection of her correspondence with Constant d'Hermenches, There Are No Letters Like Yours, by Janet Whatley and Malcolm Whatley, published in 2000 by the University of Nebraska Press.

We are really proud to have her on one of our stickers. 

Isabella Bannerman's portrait of Zélide drawn for Literary Locations. You can order this sticker for your car, notebook, laptop, guitar case, reading group... for just $5.95. We'll throw in the shipping in free. Even to the UK, Holland or France.