"I was bought as a slave and for a slave," Dolly told her daughters. then she'd laugh and sing, "She's only a bird in a gilded cage..." Dolly Vardon was abandoned at birth to Victorian London's cruel baby farms. As a child, Dolly begs for pennies on the streets of London, dancing to the organ... show more
"I was bought as a slave and for a slave," Dolly told her daughters. then she'd laugh and sing, "She's only a bird in a gilded cage..." Dolly Vardon was abandoned at birth to Victorian London's cruel baby farms. As a child, Dolly begs for pennies on the streets of London, dancing to the organ grinders of Leicester Square and for the gents who toss her coins, earning money for her keep. A chance encounter brings Dolly, poorest of the poor, together with Harry Sidney Nichols, dealer in the rarest of manuscripts, incunabula and priceless books to the wealthiest collectors and libraries of the world - and a shoe fetishist. Harry buys Dolly from her foster mother and takes her as his teenage ward, introducing her to a world of books and luxury she could not have imagined. But there is a price. Partnered with Leonard Smithers as The Kamashastra Society, Cosmopoli, The Grolier Society, and The Erotica Biblion Society Harry Nichols publishes Burton's Thousand Nights and One Night and books of every known variety of human sexual diversion and perversion - at a time when printing and selling erotica is highly illegal. Harry's erotic publishing empire is phenomenally successful, but cut short by a crippling "brain fever." A wave of hypocritical Puritan modesty and censorship grips England after Edward VII squeezes his fat bum onto the throne and Harry S. Nichols is a major target. With Scotland Yard at his heels, Harry escapes with Dolly to turn-of-the-century Paris where he initiates her into a kaleidoscope of Victorian debauchery at their château in Fontainebleau. "...She was soon to learn that whips could mean the very opposite of a beating..." Dolly later wrote. She vows her life will be better than that of the exploited consumptive French partygirls around her at the château. But there is a bond between Dolly Vardon and Harry Nichols that she can neither break, nor understand. Safe in Paris, Harry continues his erotic book trade by mail to England, enraging the British Foreign Office who persuade the French to deport him back to England to face charges. Harry has nowhere left to run to but the land of last resort - America. Empowered by a secret love, Dolly finds the courage to disobey her "master" for the first time. She stays in Paris, confident she will never see him again. With Harry three thousand miles out of her life, Dolly discovers what real love between a man and a woman can be, but such love doesn't last. She faces a new reality - life in a strange land with no protector or her hated guardian, Harry Sidney Nichols. In a brief young lifetime few can imagine or survive, Dolly goes from abandoned baby to abused child to ward to mistress to wife. She was called "Dolly Vardon" as a child and woman, named herself "Dorothy," was "Mum" to her children and "Nana" to us grandchildren. Dolly Vardon is a tale of generations of a dysfunctional family told in conversations with the author's mother and his own memories of his grandmother, Dolly Vardon and Harry Sidney Nichols. "...Mum never colored her hair," my mother said. "It was always that deep dark natural black. And she had a boy's body even when she died, narrow hips and tiny breasts like a twelve-year-old. She called herself 'The old maid with six children. There are women who cry after love and women who laugh,' she used to say, Mum laughed at them all..."