‘Lives that Never Grow Old’ is a wonderful series— edited by Richard Holmes — that recovers the great classical tradition of English biography. Every book is a biographical masterpiece, still thrilling to read and vividly alive.
Zélide lived in her father’s moated castle in Holland, like a fairytale princess in a tower. She was the clever, sexy, mercurial young Dutch blue-stocking with whom Boswell fell disastrously in love in 1764. The rest of Zélide’s story was unknown until the brilliant young Boswell scholar Geoffrey Scott pieced it together from her intimate letters and essays.
Subsequent affairs with a cynical cavalry officer, a celebrated but vacillating writer (aptly named Benjamin Constant), and a thoroughly reliable music master, took her eventually to another fairytale mansion in Switzerland. This tender, funny, faintly salacious portrait of a ‘belle-esprit’ is one of the most exquisite biographical miniatures ever written.