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Authors: Lisa Burkitt

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George’s role was a complicated one. Although he liked to pretend otherwise, he was a cog who had merely slipped for a while, only to realign himself back into its proper functional slotting. To be fair, he was fond of Fleur, and then when he saw her with Philippe at the opera, he did not begrudge her an elaborate outing not normally accessible to a young
. When she seemed not to recognise him and he was told that she was a courtesan named Lily, all he could see was the potential to make his own name by penning
the great nineteenth-century novel – a taut study of the degenerate female mind. It descended into a ridiculously over-blown gothic novel. When that didn’t work, however, it veered into a vaguely pornographic novella. Because he could never formally commit to anything for very long, his initial enthusiasm and application soon spilled into another project. Both Fleur and Babette were used in different ways at different times by the doctor and by George. Though George was genuinely fond of Fleur, I think he fell a little in love with Babette.

He is something important in the world of commerce now and married to a cousin, from what I heard. I used to see him during my marriage to Paul, who was a wealthy businessman, and we moved in overlapping social circles. He would always be in the company of one mistress or other. We never spoke of Fleur, or Babette.

Philippe did take advantage of George in that he knew both Fleur and Babette trusted him. The doctor was terribly excited by the new academic explorations into the psychology of what was being called ‘multiple personality disorder’. A condition which in previous decades had been dismissed as part of a culture of séances and para-psychology and even of demonic possession, was now being taken seriously, and Philippe had found himself a genuine case study. And as was being suggested within these academic and professional circles, the dissociative disorder seemed to be conditional on some type of emotionally traumatic experience as a young child. The uncle was completely to blame for her subsequent unravelling. I don’t know for sure if baby Isobel was his. She could have been and maybe Fleur might have been able to hold it all together if the baby had lived, but once she died, the fissure was permanent.

Philippe wanted George to help him discover which one was the dominant personality. It was a dangerous experiment, as Babette, in her misery, almost poisoned them both. George relished the challenge of teasing out their separate identities. It became so cruel as neither girl was happy.

And what did my friend look like? Not as beautiful as she imagined Babette to be, nor as plain as she presumed Fleur to be. She was lovely and you couldn’t but warm to her. She moved between an apartment on the Champs-Élysées and a hovel in Montmartre, between Babette and Fleur. As for her ‘mother’, she needed a separate entity into which she could siphon off any sickness or weakness or illness. Both Babette and Fleur needed to be strong and resourceful.

I would like to think that Fleur enjoyed the times we spent together, but I believe she was happiest with Walrus. He taught her the simple, unadulterated satisfaction of a lovingly prepared meal and to trust in the healing powers of a pinch of tarragon.

I have been thinking about all of this as I was asked for a few biographical details for my exhibition. I cannot condemn or judge Fleur for living two and three lives at a time, for the reality is I have spent many years trying to do the same myself. I wasted too long trying to play the role of a bourgeois wife, living with my servants in the countryside as my life, my truth, lay camouflaged and stilled. My old mentor Degas would write to me and chastise me for not drawing more. When my dear friend Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died his lonely drink-deranged death, it left me bereft and grieving. Grieving with loss for him and for what I had allowed myself to become. We were both in our thirties when he died: a difficult age when many things feel unfinished. It took me a dormant decade before I could properly stir myself and to discover the seed of something planted deep within me.

Following my divorce last year, my new family re-shaped and adapted. We are now Maurice, my mother, and my lover André, and even though he is twenty years younger than me, it feels more natural a fit than anyone ever before. We paint together and he has made me aware of a whole new generation of visionaries and talents, who mingle in the same places that I did more than fifteen years ago.

I have nothing but admiration for Fleur. Her world was no more disjointed than mine. I tried to hang on to my friend but when I last visited her over twenty years ago, it was only her mother that I met, contentedly embroidering away in her clean white room with its smell of starch. I left her a bouquet of flowers.


Sincere appreciation and gratitude to Ronan Colgan, Beth Amphlett and Stephanie Boner and The History Press Ireland.

To Vanessa O’Loughlin, Denise Blake, Annie Deppe and Imelda Maguire.

And for Suzanne Valadon – Artist and Frontierswoman


First published in 2012

The History Press Ireland

119 Lower Baggot Street

Dublin 2


This ebook edition first published in 2012

All rights reserved

© Lisa Burkitt, 2012

The right of Lisa Burkitt, to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

978 0 7524 8073 2

978 0 7524 0872 5

Original typesetting by The History Press

Ebook compilation by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk

BOOK: The Memory of Scent
4.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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