The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham

Farrar, Straus and Giroux | June 16, 2015

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The hidden story of the outcast princess of one of America’s most powerful families

Forbears can become fairy-tale figures, especially when they defy tradition and are spoken of only in whispers. For the biographer and historian Emily Bingham, the secret of who her great-aunt was, and just why her story was buried for so long, led to Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham. Raised like a princess in one of the most powerful families in the American South, Henrietta was offered the helm of a publishing empire. Instead, she ripped through the Jazz Age like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character: intoxicating and intoxicated, selfish and shameful, seductive and brilliant, and often terribly troubled. In New York, Louisville, and London she drove men and women wild with desire, and her youth blazed with sex. But her lesbian love affairs made her the subject of derision and drove a doctor to try to cure her. After the speed and pleasure of her youth, the toxicity of judgment coupled with her own anxieties led to years of addiction and breakdowns.

Henrietta rode the cultural cusp as a muse to the Bloomsbury group, the daughter of the ambassador to England during the rise of Nazism, the seductress of royalty and athletic champions, and a pre-Stonewall figure who never buckled to convention. Henrietta’s audacious physicality made her unforgettable in her own time, and her ecstatic and at times harrowing story brings to life an essential chapter in America’s twentieth century.

Click here to read an excerpt from New York Times Live

“Irrepressible is the absorbing, deeply moving, and brilliantly researched story of an intoxicating woman whose personal life was as turbulent as the times she lived in: Henrietta Bingham dazzles the reader as she dazzled the artists, writers, and musicians around her in the Jazz Age and beyond.” – Frances Osborne, author of The Bolter

“Deeply researched and written with passion, this is the story of a tantalizing and unconventional woman in her elusive search for happiness. Irrepressible lives up to its dramatic title.” – Michael Holroyd, author of A Book of Secrets

“With Irrepressible, Emily Bingham has forensically crafted a riveting story of the American South, as her great aunt’s taboo-shattering sexual odyssey spirals out of control. The mesmerizing It Girl crashes headlong into Jazz Age Bloomsbury; the result is a literary masterpiece of ground-breaking social history.” – Geordie Greig, author of Breakfast with Lucian

“Emily Bingham’s lively and intimate life of Henrietta Bingham sheds surprising light on one Jazz Age woman’s transatlantic adventures. Irrepressible gives us a hard-drinking, Harlem-loving temptress who captivated women and men alike, in both England and the United States, leaving the ground littered with their broken hearts. But it’s also the story of a woman torn between her love for her controlling father and the desire to live life on her own terms.” – Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, author of Mr. and Mrs. Prince