Susan Sellers’ novel Firebird: a Bloomsbury love story is inspired by the life of the dancer Lydia Lopokova and her love affair, and eventual marriage, with the economist John Maynard Keynes.  One of the problems for the novelist telling a true story is that at any point the reader is likely to know what happens next, yet Sellers’ compelling narrative creates suspense both through the immediacy of her writing  (she largely uses the present tense) and by shifting the gaze from one character to another to give alternative points of view.

Lopokova and Keynes were from completely different backgrounds.  She came from St Petersburg and was trained at the Imperial Ballet School, he was educated at Eton and Kings College Cambridge, and the general consensus among his friends in the Bloomsbury Group was that they were ill-matched.  Interestingly, in Sellers’ account, they are both to some extent outsiders among these people, who consider their table manners uncouth, and look down them for their willingness to work for a wage, albeit in very different fields.

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The Chosen Maiden, a novel by Eva Stachniak, is difficult to place. The “chosen maiden” of the title refers at one level to the young girl chosen by a community for ritual sacrifice in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The ballet depicting this ritual was choreographed by Nijinsky; and it is Nijinsky’s sister, Bronislava Nijinska, who is the protagonist of Stachniak’s book.

It appears from Stachniak’s account that Bronislava missed dancing the role of the chosen maiden in Paris despite longing to do so. She had become pregnant just as rehearsals for Rite’s opening began and so she was unable to fulfil perhaps the deepest of her many ambitious dreams: to dance the part of the chosen maiden under her brother’s direction and for its dramatic opening. However, as the novel portrays her, Bronislava’s often sad, even tragic, life somehow carried – bore sacrificially – the many painful experiences of her birth family, her country, her profession, her gender and her personal relationships. In this respect the rejections and losses of her life represent the painful submissions of the ballet’s chosen maiden. (more…)