"If people turn to look at you in the street, you are not well dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable."
Long before tabloids and television, Beau Brummell was the first person famous for being famous, the male socialite of his time, the first metrosexual 200 years before the word was conceived. His name has become synonymous with wit, profligacy, fine tailoring, and fashion. A style pundit, Brummell was singly responsible for changing forever the way men dress inventing, in effect, the suit.
Brummell cut a dramatic swath through British society, from his early years as a favorite of the Prince of Wales and an arbiter of taste in the Age of Elegance, to his precipitous fall into poverty, incarceration, and madness. Brummell created the blueprint for celebrity crash and burn, falling dramatically out of favor and spending his last years in a hellish asylum. For nearly two decades, Brummell ruled over the tastes and pursuits of the well heeled and influential, and for almost as long, lived in penury and exile.
With vivid prose, critically acclaimed biographer Ian Kelly unlocks the glittering, turbulent world of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth-century London the first truly modern metropolis: venal, fashion-and-celebrity obsessed, self-centered and self-doubting through the life of one of its greatest heroes and most tragic victims. Brummell personified London's West End, where a new style of masculinity and modern men's fashion were first defined.
Brummell was the leading Casanova and elusive bachelor of his time, appealing to both men and women of his society. The man Lord Byron once claimedwas more important than Napoleon, Brummell was the ultimate cosmopolitan man. "Toyboy" to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and leader of playboys including the eventual king of England, Brummell inspired Pushkin to write Eugene Onegin, and Byron to write Don Juan, and he influenced others from Oscar Wilde to Coco Chanel.
Through love letters, historical records, and poems, Kelly reveals the man inside the suit, unlocking the scandalous behavior of London's high society while illuminating Brummell's enigmatic life in the colorful, tumultuous West End. A rare rendering of an era filled with excess, scandal, promiscuity, opulence, and luxury, Beau Brummell is the first comprehensive view of an elegant and ultimately tragic figure whose influence continues to this day.
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About the Author
Ian Kelly is an actor and writer. He lives in London with his wife, Claire, and son, Oscar. His first book, Cooking for Kings: A Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef, was published in 2003.
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Beau BrummellThe Ultimate Man of Style
By Ian Kelly
Free PressCopyright © 2006 Ian Kelly
All right reserved.
Nothing was lacking. Lustres, candelabra, candles, masses of flowers; and he himself, in the blaze of all the lights, stood in the centre, expectant.
Count d'Aurevilly at Brummell's last soiree
When the Allies took Caen after the D-day Normandy landings in June 1944 they entered a city of rubble. The ancient capital of Lower Normandy and the stronghold of the Twelfth and Twenty-first German Panzer Divisions had suffered a month of bombardment by British and Canadian heavy artillery and 2,500 tons of RAF bombs. The eighteenth-century heart of the Ile St. Jean -- the area leading up to the German HQ in the chateau -- was destroyed. Canadian tanks plowed straight from the pontoon bridge over the River Orne and right through the ruins of the old town. "Andy's Alley" -- as the tank road to the chateau became known -- flattened whatever had been left standing in its path: houses, shops, cafes and hotels.
Caen had been the jewel of the Normandy coast, a city built on a river island, with two royal abbeys and a wealth of bourgeois townhouses in honey-colored stone. Its many Englishvisitors said the city reminded them of Oxford. Andy's Alley cut through Caen's destroyed center, across the place Dauphine, and the rue des Carmes. The tanks plowed on past the ruins of the Salon Litteraire and straight through the dining room of the bombed-out Hotel d'Angleterre on the rue St. Jean. An American soldier later took a photograph of the hotel, blown open to the winds, which was sold as a postcard souvenir to the GIs. Here, a hundred years before, George Brummell -- once the most fashionable foreigner in France -- had held soirees for passing English aristocrats. As the tanks rolled by under three stories of flayed hotel rooms, the wallpaper of Brummell's room flapped in the breeze.
The year 1839. Room 29 was at the top of the Hotel d'Angleterre, overlooking the slate roof tiles of Caen. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, en route to Paris with her daughter, was the first guest to admire the view, and within minutes room 29 was pressed with Monsieur Brummell's other friends: the poet Byron, the old playwright Sheridan, the Duke of Wellington and Prince Frederick, Duke of York with Princess Frederica of Prussia.
Fichet, the hotel owner's son, was used to the metropolitan glamour that still clung to the hotel's most famous resident: it fell to Fichet to attend Monsieur Brummell when he was holding one of his soirees. Brummell had taught him how to announce royalty and how much obeisance was expected by the victor of Waterloo, and Monsieur Brummell had taught Fichet about clothes. It was Fichet, also, who acted as valet to the hotel's celebrated dandy and wit, helping him into his evening coat and handing him the whitest of cravats with the reverence of a sacristan.
Yet these soirees would end suddenly and in the same way. One moment, Brummell would hold out his arm to escort the Duchess of Devonshire across the room; the next, his eyes were opened to the reality around him. The room was empty. There was nothing in front of him but the candles, the flowers and the young Frenchman with pity in his eyes. Fichet eventually became inured, he said, to the dark pantomime of announcing Brummell's ghosts: the long-dead duchesses and courtesans, the Regency celebrities who had been Monsieur's friends. But he dreaded the moment when Brummell woke from his masquerade and saw the reality around him: the ruination of his fame and fortune and of his mind. "Babylon in all its desolation," as one friend of Brummell's said, "was a sight less awful." The Frenchman would then blow out the candles, shut the windows and leave Beau Brummell -- the most sociable man in London -- to the complete privacy, and the utter silence, of his ruined mind.
The Canadian soldiers were met with silence as they entered Caen in 1944. The German garrison had fled by cover of night and most of the French population, who had left weeks before when news had reached them of the landings on the Normandy beaches, were sheltering on the outskirts of the city in an eighteenth-century asylum. The nuns, the orphans, the blind, deaf and confused who lived in the Hopital du Bon Sauveur joined the city refugees in digging up the asylum's flower beds as mass graves for Caen's dead. Stray bombs fell as they worked, destroying some of the garden pavilions where insane gentlefolk had been incarcerated a century before. But the asylum, and its detailed archives of the mentally ill, miraculously survived.
Copyright © 2006 by Ian Kelly
Excerpted from Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly Copyright © 2006 by Ian Kelly. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
PART ONE: ASCENDANCY
1. Blessed Are the Placemakers, 1778-1786
2. These Are Not Childish Things: Eton, 1786-1793
3. The World Is Very Uncharitable, 1793-1794
4. The Prince's Own, 1794-1799
PART TWO: A DAY IN THE HIGH LIFE
5. Dandiacal Body
6. Sic Itur Ad Astra: Shopping in London
7. The Ladies Who Ride
8. The Dandy Clubs
9. Theatre Royal
10. Seventh Heaven of the Fashionable World
11. No More A-roving So Late into the Night
The End of the Day
12. Play Has Been the Ruin of Us All
PART THREE: A MAN OF FASHION, GONE TO THE CONTINENT
13. Roi de Calais, 1816-1821
14. Male and Female Costume and Other Works, 1821-1830
15. His Britannic Majesty's Consul, 1830-1832
16. Hôtel d'Angleterre, 1832-1835
17. Prison, 1835-1839
18. Asylum, 1839-1840
Notes on Sources
Appendix: Chapter Title Illustrations