Spelman student Briana Haymon
13 June 2011
Tama Carroll at the Library
28 June 2011

American Lady

Sophie--Caroline-de-Margerie

The Library is pleased to interview Caroline de Margerie, Conseiller d’Etat and author of the new biography, ‘American Lady: Une reporter en gants blancs,’ which has been nominated for the Prix France-Amériques. We are looking forward to her talk on the extraordinary Susan Mary Alsop, who cut a swath through Washington and Paris.

This event is in association with, and hosted by, France-Ameriques on Wednesday 29 June at 18h30. (The Library will be closed for renovation from 19 June to 31 August.) France-Amériques is at 9, avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt 8ème. Reservations and advance payment (€10 for Library members) are required by June 24. Reservations and payment: www.france-ameriques.org.

According to the Washington Post, Susan Mary Alsop was ‘the grand dame of Washington society whose Georgetown dinner parties epitomized the nexus of political power and social arrival in the 1960s.

Susan Mary Patten and her infant son William Patten, 1948 (in Vogue).

Susan Mary Patten and her infant son William Patten, 1948 (in Vogue).

‘Mrs. Alsop’s dining room was considered the absolute center of Georgetown’s social scene at a time when President John F. Kennedy’s arrival energized the once-sleepy capital. Her guests were the witty, the accomplished and the credentialed from the worlds of politics, media and diplomacy, and they used the opportunity to strike alliances, argue foreign affairs and bargain over the nation’s fortunes.

 

‘As the descendant of one of America’s first families (she was a Jay, as in John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States), she grew up privileged and firmly a member of the most elite Eastern Establishment circles. She dined with presidents and prime ministers, often at her home, and frequently at the salons of the rich and powerful, where the conversations often were continuations of parliamentary or embassy debates.’

Today, her biographer gives us a behind the scenes glance at the writing process.

Caroline de Margerie, how did you become interested in Susan Mary Alsop? Had you met her?

A friend who is an editor at the French publishing house Robert Laffont gave me an article that had been done in Vanity Fair on Susan Mary Alsop and suggested I write her biography. I did not know Susan Mary but I knew of her. I am sure I would have enjoyed meeting her, which could easily have happened, but as her biographer, I am glad I didn’t.

How long did it take you to research and write?

I started collecting material and interviewing people in the US, the UK and France in a leisurely fashion, before taking a year off from my work at the Conseil d’Etat to write the book. It was almost sufficient. It was quite intense, all work and no play, and I have seldom had such a good time.

Were there any surprises along the way? What did you learn that surprised you the most?

The most wonderful surprise was that Susan Mary’s love letters to Duff Cooper had not disappeared, as every one thought. They were in London and were made available to me. I went out to photograph them, all 500 of them. They cover 5 years, from 1947 to 1953, and are very moving, informative, and well-written.

What can readers learn from Susan Mary Alsop?

She is an amazing woman, who decided from the start she wanted an interesting life and set about it. She belongs to her class and age and yet is not wholly defined by them. She was intensely aware of what was going on in the world. She reported on the present and also wrote about the past.  I like her intelligence, her charm and her courage.

When will the book be out in English?

It will be published by The Viking Press next year.

What is next for you?

A biography, certainly. But I am not quite sure what form it will take.

american lady

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