Hodder and indie Zuleika have acquired the “fascinating” story of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough, by royal biographer Hugo Vickers.
Publisher Rowena Webb acquired rights directly from the author for The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon – Duchess of Marlborough. It will be jointly published by Hodder and Zuleika in January 2020, coinciding with a major exhibition on her life at Blenheim Palace.
Deacon was the “fiercely intelligent beauty” at the centre of the Belle Époque, and the second wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough, following his divorce from fellow American Consuelo Vanderbilt in 1921. Her admirers included Rodin, Bernard Berenson, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Proust wrote of her: “I never saw a girl with such beauty, such magnificent intelligence, such goodness and charm.”
Her marriage to the Duke of Marlborough proved an unhappy one and she was evicted from Blenheim by the Duke in 1933. The only remaining signs of her are two sphinxes bearing her features on the west terraces and mysterious blue eyes in the grand portico. Becoming ever more reclusive, her final years, until she died aged 96 in 1977, were spent in the psycho-geriatric ward of a mental hospital, where she was placed against her will. Vickers visited her there regularly over two years, became an intimate friend and was intrigued to unmask the truth of her mysterious life.
Vickers, whose first book was 1987’s Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough (Hamish Hamilton), said: “Finding a curious reference to Gladys Deacon in 1968 when I was 16 set me on a journey into her life that has continued for over 50 years. She remains the most fascinating and enigmatic person I ever met. It has been such a joy to unearth her story.”
Webb added: “Hugo Vickers is a hugely admired royal biographer and we’re delighted to be joining again with Zuleika, following the success of The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy, edited by Hugo, to publish this fascinating biography which will I’m sure draw a whole new generation under the spell of the intriguing Gladys Deacon.”
Zuleika publisher Tom Perrin said: “We are delighted to be working with Hodder and Hugo Vickers again. Gladys’s bewitching life also reveals how Hugo set off on his journey as a biographer. His discovery of her and her influence on him is itself a moving and powerful story.”