Laughing Torso by Nina Hamnett

published 1932 chapter 11

Van Dongen’s parties were the best that I have ever been to. There was plenty of champagne, the only drink to have at a party. Unfortunately there are those that it makes ill, but I think that they are in the minority. There were the most beautiful and elegant collection of women I have ever seen. One South American had a Lanvin dress of white silk with an enormous white bow, edged with black, that covered nearly the whole of her skirt and looked like a huge butterfly. Van Dongen introduced me to a few people, including a most charming Frenchman who wrote a great deal about the discoveries of Glozel and the tremendous controversy there was about them. He sat with me and pointed out all the celebrities and introduced me to anyone I wanted to meet.

observations: I hugely enjoyed this book, even though it isn’t terribly well-written: you read it to find out about Nina Hamnett’s adventures, not for the style. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of, and the answer is quite unlikely: it reads like a certain type of circular family newsletter that un-self-aware people enclose in their Christmas cards.

NH has events just happening, one after another, plonk plonk plonk, everything is given equal weight. She tells you that her train was late in arriving 10 years previously, even though all this meant was that someone had a long wait for her. She tells stories that fade away into nothing, and occasionally says ‘we thought it would be a good prank to do X, but then we changed our minds.’ But mixed in with this there are fascinating encounters with famous artists and writers, and personal relationships that must have been quite serious for her. One minute she is being Anais Nin, the next it all gets a bit Pooterish:
On one day of the carnival little balls of plaster confetti are thrown by the population at each other and anyone else who is there. The moment the confetti hits you it becomes powder and it is extremely dangerous. People have had their eyes injured for weeks afterwards.

Call Health and Safety at once.

But then, she gets on to describing taking hashish with Aleister Crowley – who is wearing very smart evening clothes with a jewelled order:
I asked him what the order was. He said, “The Order of the Holy Ghost, my dear”.

It is great fun, and she has a clear eye for her own foibles. This will by no means be the last entry from this book. Previous entry here. Kees Van Dongen was a Dutch painter of some renown. Glozel is the site in France of some controversial archaeological discoveries, still being fought over by academics.

The picture of a Lanvin dress is from Dovima is Devine.


  1. "Some archaeologists dated the rune stones [from Glozel] on a fantastic age (about 8000 BC). This was displayed by experts such as Dr. Lois Capitan as clumsy forgery." Wikipedia (Machine translated?)

  2. My grandparents pass through - Peggy making coloured etchings and Eric being bitten by mosquitoes.

  3. Moira - Oh, that does sound like a fun read, even if the style isn't exactly stellar. And I have to say I absolutely love that 'photo! Now you've got me thinking about the way that interesting characters and events can carry a story along, even if it is a bit like a family newsletter (brilliant description by the way).

    1. Margot, it IS a fun read, and the strange style just makes me smile more. She had a great story to tell...


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