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LGBT People Of History Part Eighty Two Natalie Clifford Barney

Updated on April 22, 2012
Natalie Clifford Barney
Natalie Clifford Barney | Source
Natalie Clifford Barney
Natalie Clifford Barney | Source
Natalie Clifford Barney & Renee Vivien
Natalie Clifford Barney & Renee Vivien | Source
Natalie's Home and The Literary Salon In The n Paris
Natalie's Home and The Literary Salon In The n Paris | Source
Natalie & Romaine Brooks
Natalie & Romaine Brooks | Source
Dolly Wilde - One of Natalie's Lovers
Dolly Wilde - One of Natalie's Lovers | Source

Natalie Clifford Barney

Natalie Clifford Barney was born on October 31st 1876 in Dayton, Ohio. Her father was Albert Clifford Barney and her mother was Alice Pike Barney.

Her mother became a famous American painter, and she worked very hard to make Washington DC into the Centre of Arts.

When Natalie was just six years old, she met Oscar Wilde in the Long Beach Hotel in New York. Oscar sat her on his knee and told her a story. It was when Oscar met Alice that her mother became inspired to pursue a career in art, after a conversation that Oscar and she had at the hotel.

As a child Natalie learned French with the help of her governess who would read aloud stories in French to aid with Natalie’s learning of the language.

Later Natalie attended ‘Les Ruches’, a French Boarding School that had many famous students such as Eleanor Roosevelt.

At the age of ten, Natalie and her family moved to Washington DC where she grew up. In her twenties she made headlines for riding a horse astride rather than the more ladylike way of side-saddle.

Natalie in later life always stated that she knew she was a Lesbian at the age of twelve, and decided that she would live an openly Lesbian life and never hide it. In her adulthood she was fluent in French and moved to France making Paris her home.

It was in Paris at a dance hall that she met her first lover, Liane De Pougy, who was a very famous courtesan and dancer throughout France. Their affair was very brief as the two were not together very long due to them both quarrelling over Natalie’s wish to ‘rescue’ Liane from her life as a courtesan.

In the November of 1899 Natalie met Renee Vivien, a poet, who fell deeply in love with Natalie. The two soon had a romantic love affair, with Renee seeing Natalie as her muse. However Natalie did not believe in monogamy but Renee did and this caused problems as at one point whilst Natalie was visiting family back in Washington DC, Renee stopped answering her letters.

Natalie fought long and hard for a reconciliation with Renee and in 1904 she succeeded by writing a very personal love poem ‘Je me souviens’ or in English ‘I remember’. It was a success and the two reconciled their relationship.

The later travelled together to the Island Of Lesbos where they remained for a short time. They even discussed opening a school of poetry there on the island like Sappho had done some 2,500 years before.

Sadly though Renee received a letter from her lover Baroness de Zuylen de Nyevelt or Hélène as Renee knew her. Renee quickly went to Constantinople to end the relationship with Hélène but never returned and broke up with Natalie instead.

Renee tried to commit suicide by overdosing on laudanum in 1908 and sadly died the following year.

In 1900 Natalie published her first book of poems ‘Quelques Portraits - Sonnets de Femmes’ or in English ‘Some Portraits - Sonnets of Women.’ Natalie became the first woman poet to openly write about love between women since Sappho.

In 1902 her father died, leaving her a substantial fortune that freed her from any need to write under a pseudonym so she could use her real name.

In 1910 she published her love poem ‘Je me souviens’ which was the poem she sent to Renee that reconciled their relationship six years previously. That same year Natalie also published ‘Actes et Entr’actes’ or in English ‘Acts and Interludes’ which is a collection of short plays and poems. One of her plays is ‘Equivoque’ or ‘Ambiguity’ in English, which is a revisionist version of the legend of Sappho’s death. In her play Natalie states that Sappho threw herself off the cliff out of grief, because of Phaon marrying the women she loves.

At her home in Paris she opened a Literary Salon that she ran for more than 60 years, bringing together many leading figures in literature, art and journalism and many others besides. She also formed a Female Writer’s Academy which gave support to male writers such as Truman Capote who attended for ten years.

Her longest relationship was with Romain Brooks. This lasted 50 years. Romaine was an American painter, and though Natalie was a strong practitioner of non-monogamy, Romaine tolerated Natalie’s affairs - even having some of her own.

More famously known is that at one time Natalie was seeing three women simultaneously. From 1927 Natalie had relationships with Romaine Brooks, Dolly Wilde (Oscar Wilde’s niece) and finally Elisabeth De Gramont. This carried on until Dolly’s death in 1941 and Elisabeth’s death in 1954.

Sadly Natalie died on February 2nd 1972 of heart failure, but she will always be remembered as an American playwright, poet and novelist. She was the first woman poet to send love letters to women since Sappho and is truly a legend in the literary world.

Callum & Ian

With Thanks To Wikipedia.

LGBT People Of History Archive
LGBT People Of History Archive | Source
Our LGBT People Of History Website
Our LGBT People Of History Website | Source


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    • calpol25 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      I knew once I started to research her we just had to write about her she links almost everyone we have covered.

    • alian346 profile image


      6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Wow - this was a well-lived life, Callum. She knew everybody!!



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