Simon Fenwick

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19 April 2018
368 pages

Volumes have been written by and about Patrick Leigh Fermor, but his wife Joan is almost entirely absent from their pages. Now, Simon Fenwick, archivist of the Leigh Fermor papers, tells Joan's story in Joan: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor.

A talented photographer, Joan defied the social conventions of her times and, though she came from a wealthy and well-connected family, earned her own living. Through her lover, and later editor of the TLS, Alan Pryce-Jones, she met and mingled with the leading lights of 1930s bohemia – John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, Maurice Bowra (who adored her) and Osbert Lancaster, among others. She featured regularly in the gossip columns, not only for her affairs and her fashionable clothes, but for her intrepid travels to Russia and America.

In 1936 she met and subsequently married the journalist John Rayner, but her belief in open marriage was not shared by her husband and their relationship foundered. Then, in 1944 in Cairo, where she was a cypher clerk, she met Paddy Leigh Fermor, lionized for his daring kidnap of the Nazi General Kreipe in Crete. They would remain together until her death in 2003.

In this riveting biography, written with full access to Joan’s personal archive, Simon Fenwick reveals the extraordinary life of a woman who, until now, has been defined by the man she married and their famous friends. Here, at last, Joan is placed at the centre of her own story. It is also a riveting portrait of a marriage and a milieu, revealing the sexual and intellectual mores of that wartime generation who lived life at full tilt, no matter what the consequences.

[A] chatty, charmingly digressive, gossipy biography

Ysenda Maxtone-Graham, Daily Mail

Does Joan merit a biography of her own? If someone had asked her, she would almost certainly have said no. But Simon Fenwick pulls it off . . . A quiet rebel and a fertile muse, Joan was a remarkable woman, and this is an entertaining book.

Jane Ridley, Literary Review

In this engrossing biography, the woman hitherto overshadowed by her husband
(soldier and author Patrick Leigh Fermor) is brought from black and white to full
colour . . . Societal expectations of women are compellingly captured, too, along with
Joan’s inner life, resulting in a vivid portrait of her and the places and people she loved.