Saturday 22 March 2014

The mystery of Romaine Brooks is finally solved

Many years ago I took pictures of the tombs of the very interesting intellectual lesbians Renée Vivien and Nathalie Barney at the Passy Cemetery in Paris (actually, this was in 1999). I was wondering where another member of that circle, Romaine Brooks, was buried. At a certain moment it was stated on the Find-a-Grave site that she was also on Passy. I doubted that and contacted the author. He admitted that he had doubts himself. Many sites copied the information from each other and it is widely stated on the web now that Romaine was buried on Passy. But she wasn't.

I read Diane Souhami's biography "Wild Girls", which tells the story of Nathalie and Romaine. It was published in 2004 and there was indeed new information on the grave of Romaine: it was to be at the Trabuquet Cemetery in Menton.

In 2008 my fellow grave collector and I visited Nice (for the first time ever) and from there we took the train to Menton to find Romaine's grave. First we went to the Vieux-Château cemetery where Aubrey Beardsley was supposed to be buried (the source for this was the book by Bertrand Beyern). We inspected all the graves but no Beardsley. A slight disappointment, but we moved uphill to the Trabuquet cemetery. This was very large, but there was an English section near the entrance and we had good hopes to find Romaine there. To our surprise we found the grave of Aubrey Beardsley instead. Beyern is usually very accurate, but this time the wrong cemetery had been listed. We inspected all the graves but no Romaine. Now we had a problem, because the cemetery was too large to inspect all the stones and there was no office where we could ask for information. We had a good try but we found nothing and went back to Nice.

That was a disappoinment, because we had no further information and we probably wouldn't be back in Nice or Menton in the next few years. Back home I decided to try if I could contact Diane Souhami . Maybe she had more information and perhaps she had seen the grave herself. I managed to contact her and she kindly answered me that she didn´t remember her source and unfortunately she had no access to her archive. She hadn´t seen the grave herself. I thanked her but the search seemed to be at a dead end now.

But then during a visit to New York in 2010 and some book browsing at the famous Strand Book Store we suddenly touched upon an older book about Romaine Books. Fortunately it was written after her death and there was new information on one of the last pages of the book. Romaine was buried at the English Cemetery in Nice. We had never heard of an English Cemetery in Nice, but home again, we found out that there was indeed an old English cemetery not far from Nice airport that was now part of a slightly larger cemetery and close to a very large cemetery. Probably the information that she was buried in an English cemetery was passed on to Diana Souhami or her source and not knowing of an English cemetery in Nice it was assumed that the grave must have been in Menton. We also read that this old English cemetery in Nice might be demolished during the next few years.

It always takes a while before you can visit a city in a foreign country just to look for one single gravesite because life has many other demands, but Genoa was also on the wish list as well (Constance Lloyd alias Mrs. Oscar Wilde is resting there) and early in March we took the train from Genoa to Nice and the next morning a nice long sunny walk took us from the city center to the English Cemetery. We found the cemetery easily enough and started inspecting all the tombs in the English section. When we were almost finished a slight fear arose that Romaine would escape again, but finally there was the stone of Henry St Mar Goddard. We knew of course that he was the brother she hated and that she was buried beside him anyway after her own death many years later. And there was a stone plate with golden letters that were difficult to read, `Here are the remains of Romaine who remains Romaine´.

Mystery solved. Her tomb will appear on this site soon, but I wonder how many years it will take before most other sites have corrected their erroneous information that Romaine is on Passy.