After the car crash on the road to Cannes (see ) Elvira faded from the headlines. According to Cotes she changed her name (to what, I don’t know) and, although she stayed in hotels and at least one flat in London, spent most of her time in Paris with periods in Corfu and Mallorca, which appear to have replaced the South of France (where she was probably now unwelcome) in her affections.

Paul Cadmus Self Portrait, Mallorca 1932

Mallorca, in its pre-Mass Tourism days, is usually associated  (in English minds) with Robert Graves, who moved there with Laura Riding in 1929. But he was only one of several artists and writers who lived there in the early thirties – Robert McAlmon and Paul Cadmus being two of the better-known..Even by the standards of Expat Bohemia, Mallorca had a pretty wild reputation. Ethel Mannin, herself no shrinking violet, described the place thus, “it was infested by every kind of foreign undesirable, drug addicts, dipsomaniacs, crooks, idle rich, and every kind of Parasite.” These, dare I say it, sound just like Elvira’s sort of people.

Ethel Mannin

Mannin was in Mallorca, intermittently, between 1932 and 1936. She concludes ” There were too many bars and too much drinking; it might have been Montparnasse”.This is singularly apt, as Elvira spent part of her last night on earth in Montparnasse.

On the 2th December 1936 The Sunday Dispatch carried this piece


Since her acquittal, Elvira Barney spent her time between London and Paris. She lived in West End Hotels and later in a Belgravia flat.

The trial left its mark on her. Although still young, she looked middle-aged.

She tried to get work.

“I am fed up with doing nothing, ” she told me when I met her at a West End night club. “I could do with the money.

I want so much to forget what happened, but I am never allowed to. Wherever I go I feel that people are looking at me and talking about me.

The only people who want to know me now seem to be the type of person who wants to be seen with “the notorious Mrs.Barney”.

I am reconciled to the fact that I will never be really happy again. That is why I want a job that will help me forget.

I used to think I could kill the past by getting around and having a good time, but it just didn’t work out.

I am tired of clubs and parties. I just want a chance to settle down and live a reasonable life.

At present I am thinking of going into a flower shop, but I rather doubt whether it will come to anything.”

I asked her whether the rumours that she was to marry were true. She said she had considered remarriage.

“But I have a feeling that my hoodoo. I somehow feel that I’m not fated to be happy,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Elvira with Flowers 1932

Now, this all may be perfectly genuine. But remember, Elvira had died on Christmas Day, which the paper knew -hence the past tense in the headline. It does seem rather prescient of the Sunday Dispatch to have sent a “Special Correspondent” to interview her shortly beforehand.It was also a bit cheeky, since it was Elvira’s ghost-written memoirs in that paper that had really turned the populace against her.

The article itself is strikingly similar to those which appeared periodically about Elizabeth Ponsonby and Brenda Dean Paul, the more famous “Bad Girls” among the ex-Bright Young set. They too were full of contrition and regret and also featured the subjects’ attempts to find gainful employment. All of them strike me as geared to the general public’s wish to see a price paid for too much adventure and excitement. Middle-Class morality rather journalistic accuracy is the name of the game.

Brenda Dean Paul, Waitress at the Lansdowne Club 1941

If Elvira was tired of the night-life she had an odd way of showing it. On Christmas Eve 1936 she dined at  La Coupole in Montparnesse with a group of friends including Rene Cady. I’m trying to find out more about Cady, who is variously described as “Elvira’s fiance”, “a beautiful, blond young man”, a “homosexual”, “distantly related to French royalty” and someone “well-known to around Parisian Bars and Clubs”. He was probably all of these. The best candidate I have so far is Rene Jean Cady De Witte but I’ve nothing more concrete.

La Coupole was the most fashionable and Bohemian eating-place in Montparnasse. Opened in 1927 (with guests such as Jean Cocteau and Blaise Cendrars in attendance), it quickly became legendary. This from the restaurant’s own website ( )

“The pillars treated in imitation marble and the Cubist-inspired mosaics are listed on the Registry of Historic Monuments; the pilasters are adorned with paintings by the minor masters of the Roaring Twenties: La Coupole is the temple of Art Deco. It was brought to life in 1927 through the determination of two Auvergne natives, Ernest Fraux and René Lafon. Its grand opening was attended by the brightest stars of art, literature and nightlife: artists and their models, socialites and big spenders, easy women and impossible women.”

“The restaurant was off and running. Action flitted from the American bar tended by Bob to the rows of tables topped with linen or paper tablecloths. Painters such as Derain, Léger, Soutine, Man Ray, Brassai, Kisling and Picasso were elbow to elbow–sometimes with their fists raised… Aragon met Elsa and Simenon dined with Josephine Baker. Breton slapped Chirico and Kessel downed his glasses. An unknown writer with tiny round glasses, Henry Miller, took breakfast at the bar; Matisse sipped beer while Joyce lined up his whiskeys. When Mistinguett made her entrance surrounded by her boys, the room stood to applaud her. After France was liberated, the party began anew. The “Ladder” painters designed a fresco and work was displayed by artists from the School of Paris. Yves Klein wanted to paint the obelisk blue; La Coupole gave him a cocktail. César shared an intimate dinner with the bust of President Auriol, Camus celebrated his Nobel prize and Jean-Paul Sartre left hefty tips at his regular table, no. 149..”

“In May 1968, Cohn-Bendit climbed atop a table. Patti Smith played guitar on the terrace, Renaud busked and Gainsbourg and Birkin came for Sunday lunches. The years flew by… In 1984, Chagall celebrated his birthday at table 73; a few years later François Mitterrand sat at table 82 and ordered his last meal, a lamb curry. In 2008, the interior dome was decorated by four artists to reflect La Coupole’s original spirit – nature, women, celebration: Ricardo Mosner, Carole Benzaken, Fouad Bellamine and Xiao Fan. The world goes by and the enchantment continues.”

After La Coupole, Elvira and party went to Cady’s flat where, strangely perhaps, Elvira insisted on listening to a broadcast of Midnight Mass. They then hit Montmartre and were spotted in several bars and clubs, until Elvira, having already passed out once, pleaded tiredness and returned, alone, to her hotel room.

Cady arrived the next afternoon. Elvira was dead, still in her clothes from the night before. There was blood around her mouth. She was not quite thirty two years old.