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Elisabeth de Gramont, Natalie Barney's "eternal mate"

From: South Central Review
Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 2005
pp. 6-31 | 10.1353/scr.2005.0053


On June 20, 1918, Natalie Clifford Barney stipulated a marriage contract with her life companion, love, and partner: Elisabeth de Gramont, Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre. This document and the correspondence exchanged between Barney and the Duchess (the first letter was sent in 1909 when the two women met for the first time; the last, a few days before Elisabeth de Gramont's death in 1954) explain without any doubt the secondary position of Romaine Brooks within her relationship with Natalie Barney: Brooks was only the substitute when Gramont was not near by.

The marriage contract between Natalie and Elisabeth was written after nine years spent together, three years after the beginning of Brooks's relationship with Barney. It specifies that "One is indispensable for the other. And who has either of us found to be preferable in the long run to the other?" A few lines later, we can read that "[n]o one union shall be so strong as this union, nor another joining so tender—nor relationship so lasting."

This contract was respected until the end of Elisabeth de Gramont's life.

For many reasons, researchers and biographers always neglected the Barney-Gramont couple to focus instead on the Romaine Brooks-Barney relationship. Above all: all the Duchess's letters were not available for anyone other than the family until very recently. No one was able to read them. All the researchers who studied the Amazon's life and world—publishing books about her, her friends, and lovers—followed what her first biographer, Jean Chalon, came up with in "Portrait of a Seductress" in 1976. He had to work on what Natalie wanted him to know about her life. At this time, she felt very badly betrayed by Elisabeth and hardly spoke about her: Elisabeth had died. And the Amazon held that against her.

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