Maureen Emerson, from an
Irish-Austrian background, grew up in London - for which she is
eternally grateful. She brought up her family in North Africa,
Lebanon, Dallas and Singapore, before settling in Provence for
twenty-two years. There she worked as a local co-ordinator for CBS
and NBC at media festivals in Cannes. During her years in Provence
Maureen became enthralled with the stories of those expatriates who
lived on the Riviera in the 1920s and 1930s and how the Second World
War affected their lives. Her second book on the subject is now in
progress. While still harbouring a strong affection for Provence,
Maureen has now settled in Sussex with her husband. Her book,
Escape to Provence, is published by Chapter & Verse Books and is
available on Kindle.
true story of Winifred Fortescue and Elisabeth Starr, two remarkable
women and their quest for a new life in an idyllic Provence of the
early 1900s. An evocative description
of how the Second World War brought both selfless courage and tragedy
and would change their lives for ever.
exciting new publication, the culmination of 8 years work, is available direct
from 'Chapter and Verse Books'.
Price £10.99 (plus £2 p&p U.K.) and NOW available on KINDLE
from Amazon at just £4.12 !
(The photograph depicts Elisabeth Starr at her home the Castello in 1934)
with kind permission of the owner
Escape to Provence by Maureen
Escape to Provence
is the true story of two remarkable women who, with style and energy, in the
tremulous peace between two world wars, carved out new lives for themselves
in a village in the South of France. An American from Philadelphia,
Elisabeth Parrish Starr a heroine of the Great War, and an Englishwoman, the
author Winifred (Peggy) Fortescue, whose memoir Perfume from Provence
became a best-seller of the 1930s and '40s, both escaped to Provence for
quite different reasons. Elisabeth as the result of a personal tragedy
involving the nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt, and Peggy because she
and her husband felt that in Provence 'one could be poor with dignity'.
After dangerous aid work on the Somme, for
which she was decorated by the French government, in 1921 Elisabeth bought an
ancient house in Opio, a hill village high above Antibes and Cannes. She called
the house the Castello. Here she slowly drew other expatriate friends around
her, and, with the now widowed Peggy, lived a bucolic existence. Their hillside
would become known to the local people as La Colline des Anglais. The women far
preferred their life among the flowers and animals of the hills to the razmatazz
of the glittering Riviera, far below. During the years between the wars
interesting friends visited Opio. The poet John Betjeman; Eddie Sackville-West,
cousin of Vita, stayed with Elisabeth both in Opio and at her coastguards'
cottage near St Tropez, and the beautiful and enigmatic Caroline Paget, the
eldest daughter of Charles, the 6th Marquess of Anglesey also came to
stay for a short while. Elisabeth fell deeply in love with Caroline, a love
which would eventually change the story of their hillside. But Caroline had a
very different life in England and would return there to many lovers over the
years, including the artist Rex Whistler who was both inspired and tormented by
his infatuation with her.
was at the end of the 1920s that Peggy Fortescue came to Provence, with her
husband John, to live in a neighbouring village to Opio. John Fortescue, a
younger son of Earl Fortescue of Castle Hill in North Devon, had recently
retired as Royal Librarian at Windsor, for which he received his knighthood.
But John’s great work, which brought small remuneration, was the thirteen
volumes of the History of the British Army. Although he was 28 years older
than Peggy, the marriage was an extraordinarily happy one. Peggy herself was
the eldest daughter of the Rector of Great Bealings in Suffolk. As a young
woman needing to earn her living, Peggy's path crossed that of Consuelo
Vanderbilt, then Duchess of Marlborough, who became her 'fairy godmother'
and suggested Peggy become an actress to which everyone, rather
surprisingly, agreed. Although she had some success with Sir Herbert Tree’s
company, her marriage to John curtailed her career on the stage. In order
to provide funds to enable John to continue his writing, Peggy began an
initially successful couture business in London. Due to the reluctance of
the women of high society to honour their bills in good time, this failed
after several years. Always plagued by lack of funds, in spite of Peggy’s
various energetic efforts to supplement their income, they eventually
decided to move to Provence, where life was cheaper and more relaxed. That
is until, a year after they had bought their property Britain came off the
gold standard and their money problems began once again. John Fortescue was
able to enjoy his Provençal home for only about three years for he died as
the result of an appendix operation, performed too late.
It was around 1934 that Peggy met
Elisabeth Starr, and eventually moved to Opio. By now she had written
Perfume from Provence, illustrated copiously by the artist E.H.
Shepherd, which would sell over 43,000 copies by the end of the 1940s. Her
next five books would be about her life and friends in Opio, but
particularly about Elisabeth and their adventures together.
Like so many of their generation, Peggy
and Elisabeth had moved, over a relatively short space of time, from a
decorous world of floor-length, corseted dresses, where good behaviour was
paramount, to a life in casual trousers, and a fondness for cigarettes and
drinking cocktails in hotel bars. In spite of their friendship, they each
lived and faced the world virtually alone. In 1939 their strong characters
were put to the test as the world crept nearer to another conflict, France
mobilised and their tranquil hillside became the Etat Major for the
troops defending the frontier with Italy. Prompted by Elisabeth, the women
founded an ambitious aid programme for French mobilised soldiers, Elisabeth
often setting off into the mountains with her skis in order to set up yet
another rest centre in the High Alps.
In June of 1940 as the
Germans swept through Holland and into Belgium, Peggy raced to safety in
England, where she spent the war years raising funds for the Free French.
Here she encouraged the damaged Spitfire pilot, Richard Hillary, to write
his acclaimed book The Last Enemy, while Elisabeth fell under the
oppressive Vichy regime that affected everyone in the region during the dark
years of war. In the early months of 1943, exhausted, she died in her
Castello of anaemia and malnutrition, for Provence was the region that
suffered most from lack of food during the years of war.
In her Sussex village
a distraught Peggy founded an aid programme in Elisabeth’s name: The
Elisabeth Starr Memorial Fund for the Children of Provence.
When the South of
France was liberated by American and French forces, Peggy returned to a
Provence that would never be the same again.
Watch a video of Maureen talking about her book!
Kindly provided by Anna Fill of The
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‘An account of expatriate lives in Provence: Maureen
Emerson has produced a remarkable book which will captivate any
reader with a genuine interest in the history of the Cote d'Azur and
of its English-speaking expatriate community’. Patrick Middleton,The Riviera Reporter.
‘The impact of the
war makes for some of the book's most compelling reading. The author
has thoroughly researched her subject and the book paints vivid
portraits not just of a beguiling place and a tumultuous era, but of
two plucky and unusual women ... whose love of Provence changed the
course of their lives’. Vivian Thomas,France Today.
women's lives the subject of a fascinating book’. Dianne Jones, The Mid-Sussex Times.
piecing together the lives of these two women, Maureen Emerson has
produced a fascinating portrait of a bygone era and reveals an
expatriate community far different from the one that could be seen
in the luxury hotels of the French Riviera’. Nicole Benazeth, LMS News, The Magazine
of Sophia Antipolis.
settled back in England eight years ago to be closer to her family
but Winifred and Elisabeth were never far from her mind and she has
just completed her fascinating book on their lives after eight years
of research’. West Sussex County Times.
‘This is a
captivating and sometimes poignant description of a pivotal time.
Maureen Emerson, whose French home was in a neighbouring village to
the one where Elisabeth and Peggy lived, has researched her subject
meticulously. A fascinating history set in a fascinating time.’ Destination France Magazine.
‘Fans of the
writings of Winifred Fortescue, whose book Perfume from Provence
can perhaps be said to have started the cavalcade of British
residents, will be fascinated to read the new biography of her by
Maureen Emerson. Var Village Voice. 5-star
review on Amazon.
‘The reader is
given an incredible insight into the two women’s lives together and
apart. Their somewhat eccentric lifestyles are a blaze of colour
in the already colourful Provence.’ The Riviera WomanWebsite.
turned to her book and was soon unable to put it down. Elisabeth and
Peggy are the main characters in the book, but there is a supporting
cast of many other fascinating personalities.’ Canon Roger Greenacre, St Michael’s
'There are at least two
"Provences". The French Riviera may, geographically, be a part of
Provence, but in the period covered by this nostalgic book, "la Côte
d'Azur" - that 120-mile stretch of manicured beaches, pristine
marinas and mock "fin de siècle" casinos so familiar from glossy
brochures and travel magazines, was a world apart from the "arrière-pays"
- the "back country", whose 30 miles or so of undulating terrain lay
between the traffic-clogged coastal roads and the sparsely-populated
foothills of the Maritime Alps.
It is this latter
Provence that is the setting for "Escape to Provence", which tells
the true story of the lives of two women, one American and one
English, from widely differing backgrounds, who, in the early part
of the last century, settled in the village of Opio, on olive-groved,
lavender-scented slopes on the rural outskirts of Grasse, and over
many years, gathered together an expatriate community that became
known locally as "La Colline des Anglais" - English Hill. The
Englishwoman, Lady Margaret "Peggy" Fortescue, in straitened
circumstances following the fall of the pound and, later, the death
of her husband, started to write about the region in the hope of
subsidising their small income. Her first book, "Perfume from
Provence", became a best-seller, establishing both a new career for
Peggy and a fertile literary genre that would be harvested by many
later writers, including Kipling, H. G. Wells, Dirk Bogarde, Peter
Mayle - and this reviewer.
interest in "Escape to Provence" was originally aroused by the works
of Peggy Fortescue - in particular "Perfume from Provence" - it was
reinforced by the realisation that the unnamed Provençal village she
described in the book was the one to which I too had come to live
many years later.
This should not be
taken to imply that residence in Opio, or even Provence, is a
pre-requisite for the enjoyment of "Escape to Provence". On the
contrary: the author's evident love for this fortunate region and
its fascinating cast of characters shines through every page. It is
scrupulously researched, copiously illustrated and should be
required reading for anyone visiting the "arrière-pays" '.
Ted Jones, The Literary Riviera.
'The two chief protagonists of this
book only knew each other for about seven years. It is therefore
less a dual biography, more a portrait of an era seen largely
through their eyes. As well as the differing personalities of each
woman and their closest friends, there are evocative portrayals,
rich in detail, of life during one major conflict, then the more
relaxed setting of 'the back country', followed by the outbreak of
another war. There have been many books about life in Britain during
the same age, and I for one found it fascinating to read about a
group of English people (and those of other nationalities) who chose
to live elsewhere at such a time. The illustrations, of persons and
also watercolour paintings, complement the text well too'. The Bookbag
'For me, human stories have a much
greater impact on historical events. By reading Maureen Emerson's
excellent book, I have been inspired to go deeper and read all of
Lady Fortescue's books and pass them on to a group of my friends who
have also caught the 'Winifred bug'. You can buy them second hand
from Amazon and there is an excellent website describing Winifred's
life and each book'. FR2DAY.com
'Much has been written about the
South of France, but there is still more to be said, as Escape to
Provence amply shows. This true story centers around the lives two
women, one American and one British, who lived for some time
together in the South of France. It's not quite right to call it a
story, more a tapestry of stories about life, love, war, peace, and
friendship. The primary characters in Escape to Provence are an
American, Elisabeth Parrish Starr, and a British woman, Winifred
(Peggy) Fortescue. Their reasons for moving to France were quite
different: Elisabeth was a nurse during World War I, while Peggy and
her husband moved to Provence more than a decade later, drawn in
large part by the then-favorable exchange rate. After her husband's
death, Peggy met Elisabeth and a great friendship was born. The book
spans several decades and includes a great deal of background
information about the protagonists. In addition, there are stories
and anecdotes about many other characters - friends, family,
soldiers - which got a little confusing and made me wish I'd kept a
list to refer back to as I read. But the heart of the book, the love
and friendship and altruism, was well written and inspiring. Set
against the backdrop of the South of France, the true stories in
Escape to Provence provide a delightful glimpse at the lives of two
remarkable women'. Laura K. Lawless, About.com Guide
'Escape to Provence is a factual
biography of two women, one English,one American,who lived in the
south of France in the first part of the last century. The
Englishwoman was Winifred (Peggy) Fortescue,whose book Perfume from
Provence was a best-seller of the 1930s and '40s.She also wrote five
other books on her life in England and Provence.Peggy was the wife
of Sir John Fortescue, librarian to Edward VII and George V at the
Royal Library at Windsor. John Fortescue was also the historian of
the British Army, whose work in thirteen volumes earned him the
Chesney Gold Medal. Peggy's close friend, Elisabeth Parrish
Starr,was born in Philadelphia.Her life was closely entwined with
that of the family of President Theodore Roosevelt. The story
follows the two women and the friends they drew around them in Opio,
in the hills above Cannes,during the 1930s. Their lives changed
forever with the general mobilisation in France, at which point they
founded an aid programme Les Foyers des Soldats de France, as their
homes became the Etat Major for the defence of the Alpes
Maritimes.When the threat of occupation grew, Winifred fled to
Sussex, where she spent the war years giving lectures to raise funds
for the Free French. Here she befriended the damaged Spitfire
pilot,Richard Hillary and it was she who encouraged him to begin
writing The Last Enemy. Elisabeth stayed behind in her home in Opio,
working with a refugee programme and hiding displaced children. In
1945 Peggy returned to Opio, having launched a Memorial Fund for the
Children of Provence in Elisabeth's name'.
Published by; Chapter and Verse Books, King's House, 8 Church
Street, Cuckfield, West Sussex RH17 5JZ. Franco British Council.
Escape to Provence by Maureen Emerson was
officially launched on Saturday 14th June 2008 at the English Book
Centre, Valbonne, France, courtesy of the proprietor Jill Shepperd
who had provided an excellent backdrop for the event. Maureen gave a
short talk of about 15 minutes covering firstly the writing of the
book and then a brief description of the contents. Speaking
perfectly, despite claiming she had never done it before, the
audience in the packed bookshop were enthralled. Afterwards she
happily chatted with the visitors outside and signed numerous
copies. Maureen has to be congratulated on a splendid publication.
The depth of her research and the ends to which she has gone, (and
places), to obtain it is quite staggering. The venue and the weather
were perfect and made for a delightful day.
Emerson has confirmed that she will be at the following
'Victoria', Sunny Bank Retirement Home,
Mouans-Sartoux, Nr. Cannes On Friday 27 May
Maureen will be giving a talk, on the life of Winifred Fortescue and her circle,
at The Victoria, a retirement home near Cannes which has risen from the demise
of the Anglo-American Hospital of Cannes.
While in the south of France she
will be continuing research on her new book Living and Loving on the Riviera
– The Story of the Architect Barry Dierks.
There is now an excellent page
on Facebook ‘Barry Dierks Architect’ showing many pictures of his stunning
In French: 'La Fuite Vers La Provence.' Franco British Society,
Haywards Heath, West Sussex, U.K.
Wednesday 9th February 2011.
The France Show 2011, Earls Court, London, Jan 14th - 16th The book will be on sale in the French book shop at the show.
Actress & author Carol Drinkwater
with Maureen and Peter, the webmaster
at The France Show 2011
Story Of The Author Winifred, Lady Fortescue,
and The Expatriates Of Provence Between The Two World Wars.'
University Of The 3rd Age, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, U.K.
Thursday 18th November 2010, 2.00pm,
Methodist Church Centre, Priory Rd, Kenilworth, Warwickshire.
Visitors are welcome £1 admission.
The re-scheduled Literary Lunch is to be held
Brittain’s Restaurant, Valbonne, Alpes Maritimes on Monday, 4 October 2010.
Maureen will speak about the creation of the Riviera
by the British, Americans and Russians and the
making of her book Escape to Provence. There will be much opportunity for general discussion.
To Provence –The Making Of
The Colline Des Anglais At Opio.'
Bibliotheque Pour Tous, Beaulieu Sur Mer, France. Tuesday, 5th October 2010.
International Women's Club of Provence
Illustrated talk at coffee morning at the
Maison du Midi, Lorgues, Var, France.
Thursday, 14th October 2010.
ILLUSTRATED TALKS Maureen has delivered a number of talks about her book and its subjects.
Each one is accompanied by slides and
illustrations and is adjusted to suit the local audience.
Below is an
Escape to Provence:
From Provence to Wartime Sussex
– the story of two remarkable women.
Haywards Heath Public Library, East Sussex.
Author Maureen Emerson gave an illustrated talk
on her book Escape to Provence, the true story of Winifred Fortescue,
(author of the best-selling Perfume from Provence), and the
American Elizabeth Starr, two remarkable women whose idyllic life on their
hillside in Provence was shattered by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Escaping to a woodman’s cottage in Ardingly, Winifred worked tirelessly for the
Free French, befriending the dashing spitfire pilot Richard Hillary and Grace Kimmins, the founder of Chailey Heritage. Maureen also provided tips on
“successful self publishing”.
60 people, the maximum permitted in this library,
enjoyed Maureen's illustrated talk. Questions were taken at the end of the
evening and copies of Escape to Provence, signed by the author, were available
delivering one of her excellent talks at Haywards Heath Library
ORDER A COPY DIRECT FROM THE AUTHOR - THE QUICKEST
£10.99 (plus £2 p&p in U.K.)
FROM MARCH 2012 ALSO AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK
AT JUST £4.12!
"My book Escape to Provence is now on Kindle! The true
story of two remarkable women. An Englishwoman Winifred,
Lady Fortescue, author of Perfume from Provence, and an
American from Philadelphia, Elisabeth Starr a heroine of
the Great War in France, sought a new life for quite
different reasons in an idyllic Provence of the early
1900s – until yet another war changed everything. As
well as the story of two brave and adventurous women,
Escape to Provence is also a portrait of an era."
Signed copies are also available from the English Book Centre,
Valbonne, France at €19.50.
PROJECTS & RESEARCH Hélène
Vagliano was active in the French resistance. Her family had
moved from Ascot in Berkshire to Cannes in the south of
France in the 1920's. The full and very moving story of this
incredibly brave young woman who was tortured and murdered
by the Gestapo has been completed and the article accepted
by the Imperial War Museum. Other projects include Sir
John Fortescue, Royal Librarian and Author of the History
of the British Army and Be Ill in Your Own Language,
the Story of the Anglo-American Hospital of Cannes. Click
here to read the full story of